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Authors: Adrienne Giordano

1 Dog Collar Crime (3 page)

BOOK: 1 Dog Collar Crime
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“That’s the name I thought of for your company.”

Oh, no. She wasn’t starting a company. She was an investment banker. Four years at Notre Dame and an MBA said so. Unfortunately, the banking industry didn’t agree and when her company merged with a larger one, she’d been
rightsized
. And here she was, back in her old room. Gone was the Chicago loft with the corner window that gave her a six-inch view of the lake. That view might not have been much, but to her, it was the wide-open space of freedom. But freedom had a cost, and the lack of income forced her to rely on unemployment benefits and her savings, which wouldn’t go far. Being a fiscally responsible girl, Lucie chose to move home and regroup.

She stared at herself in the bedroom mirror and imagined herself shrinking, her body closing in from the pressure of the miniscule room. Miss Rise-Above-Being-A-Mob-Princess was busted back to her old life.

“Coco Barknell,” she said. “That’s got a ring to it. Banking is where I belong, though.”

Frankie shrugged. “You’re good at this crafty stuff.”

Lucie glanced at the princess desk that had been a mainstay since her twelfth birthday. She’d set up a card table next to the already cluttered area, and it held stacks of plastic storage bins stuffed with dog collars, shiny colored beads, rhinestones and rolls of fabric. It didn’t leave much room to maneuver, but she needed a workspace.

Coco Barknell. Maybe she’d fiddle with a business plan in her down time.

“I was quite the Bedazzler in high school.”

“You still are.”

Frankie grinned, but it wasn’t about dog accessories. This was the grin of lust and long nights, when Lucie thought her body would never get enough of whatever he offered.

Oh, boy. She blew out a breath and sat on the bed only to have him drop beside her. The sag of the mattress rolled her in his direction and their shoulders bumped. She scooted away. No sense in torturing herself.

“I
did
make good money at the trunk show today.”

“I’m telling ya, Luce, Coco Barknell.”

“I got lucky, Frankie. Mrs. Lutz recommended me to a few of her wealthy friends and it started this whole thing.”

“And here you are with a regular gig. That’s what I love about you. You never let anything hold you down.”

A burst of pride swelled in her chest. He loved her. She knew it, but hearing his approval gave her a boost. This was the gift of Frankie. And the reason women always got caught in his gravitational pull. They wanted to sleep with him, sure, but at his core, Frankie cared about people. He was also a guy’s guy who loved any form of sports. Yep, Frankie appealed to the masses.

She glanced around the cramped room.
How did I get back here?

He nudged her with his elbow. “Where’d you go, Squish?”

Her childhood nickname capped it. Tears threatened and she blinked to clear the haze. Such a long day. “I guess I’m officially back if you’re calling me Squish.”

He rolled his lips together and popped them open again. “It slipped.”

“It’s okay. This time.” She bumped him with her shoulder and the familiar heat that came with touching him made her want more. For that reason, she didn’t object when he slid his arm around her and pulled her close.

“Luce, moving home is a setback. It’s not permanent.”

“I keep telling myself that.”

“I said you could move in with me.”

She curled her lip. “That might be a tad awkward, being that we’re broken up.”

“That was your doing. And we can fix it lickety-split. All I asked was for you to give me a break about moving away from my family. It’s not a lot to ask.”

“We want different things.”

Frankie grunted, the sound packed with dynamite. He pulled his arm away and stood to swat the door closed. “That’s crap.”

“It’s not crap. The gossip doesn’t bother you.” She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Ooh, there’s that Falcone boy. His father is mobbed up. Don’t mess with him.”

“I can’t control what people whisper about. I like my life. I know who my friends are, and they don’t say crap like that. By now, you should know who
your
friends are. Our
friends
are the ones who know we’re more than what our fathers do for a living. They understand that you have an MBA, and I got a free ride to LSU. They get that, Luce. Screw everybody else.”

“You have to admit, it was different when I lived downtown. You came and stayed with me and we were nobodies. We were just a couple of up-and-comings out for dinner. Nobody whispered. I liked
that
life.”

Frankie shrugged. “So, we’ll go downtown for dinner. Why do I have to abandon my family for that? They’re important to me. This town is my home. It’s what I know and you want me to walk away.”

“All I want is boundaries. The thing I love most about you is your sense of loyalty. But that loyalty blinds you and it suffocates me.”

He closed his eyes and his lips moved in a silent three count. A Frankie Zen moment. A few seconds later, he opened his eyes. “
Suffocates
you?”

“You know what I mean.”

“I could turn this around and ask where
your
loyalties are, but I won’t. I respect
your
feelings.”

Lucie leaped off the bed. Nowhere to go. The blasted room was so small she couldn’t move. “You don’t understand.”

“Is this about moving to New York again?”

She spun away from him, took two steps and bumped the card table. Dammit. She turned back. “What’s wrong with moving to New York? I could get a job there. You could work anywhere as a sportswriter. Plus, if you want to be at a network, New York is the place to make that happen.”

The room went silent. Frankie stared at her and she wondered if she’d hit pay dirt. He worked for the
Chicago Herald
as a sportswriter, but he had bigger dreams and wanted to be behind a microphone calling a game. A flash of hope wound through her.

“My family is here. I may not agree with what my father does, but he’s been there for me. Supported every decision. How do I turn my back on him?”

Somebody get a mop because my flash of hope just got doused
.

She sat back on the bed, let her shoulders slump forward. “It gets old doesn’t it? This argument?”

Frankie dragged his hands through his hair. “I can’t do this anymore. I want a life with you, but I won’t walk away from people who have been good to me. You know where I stand. When you figure out what you want, let me know.”

Frankie pulled the door open but shifted back to her. She looked at him. He looked at her. Nobody moved. The stillness said it all.

* * *

Throughout dinner, Lucie kept her focus on her plate while chatting with Frankie’s sister. Why not? She’d always liked Angie and it kept her from having to talk to Frankie’s father. By the way he kept looking at her, he had something on his mind. Eventually, he’d come out with it. She’d just have to wait.

Frankie leaned back and patted his inflated belly. “Nice work, Theresa. I’ll be in the gym for hours tomorrow.”

“Well, thank you, Frankie.”

His mother, Giovanna, with her newly colored reddish hair—odd, that—turned to his father. “Al, that’s why I love this boy, he’s so polite.”

Lucie nearly coughed up a piece of meat. Somehow, this conversation would come around to her not marrying him.

“I taught him well.” Mr. Falcone clapped Frankie on the back and glanced at Lucie. “Where are we on this break-up?”

So predictable.

“What break?” his mother asked. “You two take more breaks than any couple I know.”

Frankie held up his hands. “We’ll work it out.”

“Joe isn’t happy,” Mr. Falcone said.

Lucie bit down. Hard. The spy had been revealed. No shock there.

“Pop,” Frankie said, “Did you have to mention it to him? Lucie has a lot on her plate. She doesn’t need her father pressuring her.”

How many dinners had she sat through as this argument raged on? Lucie waited for the remainder of the show. What was the point? No one ever listened. She simply sat while the crazies took it upon themselves to decide her future.

“Pressure?” Mr. Falcone said. “Seems to me
someone
should pressure her.”

“If she doesn’t want to be with me, I’m not forcing her.”

Lucie glared at him. “When have I ever said that?”

Mrs. Falcone slammed her hand on the table and the wine glasses jumped. “Why wouldn’t she want you?”

Lucie sighed.

“Of course she wants him,” Mom said. “Don’t be ridiculous. Nowadays young couples take their time. You two need to get into this century and leave Frankie and Lucie alone.”

Thanks, Mom
.

Frankie laughed. She knew he couldn’t help it. Things got nutty when the topic of their sometimes-impending nuptials came up. She glanced at Frankie, but he remained quiet, absolutely refusing to tell his parents to butt-out.

And wasn’t that part of their problem? His total failure to take up arms against his parents and tell them to stop harping on the marriage issue? Or about anything for that matter. He never went against his folks. Never. And if they got married, Lucie would endure a lifetime of his family’s interference.

But she loved him.

Angie waved her fork. “Leave the poor girl alone. She lost her job. Let her get her head together. I give her credit for starting her own business with those dog accessories.” She poked her fork at her son across the table. “Paulie, eat your string beans.”

Angie gave Frankie the do-something look. He crossed his eyes at her and she bit her bottom lip to block a smile. The magic of Frankie. Having received the result he wanted, Frankie turned to his nephew. “They’re good, Paulie. You’ll like ’em.”

Paulie started on the beans, chewing at the pace of a geriatrics ward. Since the boy’s father was never around, Frankie got to be the hammer. Someone had to do it.

“Are you still looking for work, Lucie?” Mrs. Falcone asked.

“Every day. The economy isn’t helping. The dog walking keeps money coming in.”

Frankie smiled at her. “And she’s doing great with the accessories. She unloaded a rhinestone collar today for over a hundred bucks.”

Angie’s enormous brown eyes took on the wild look of one of those old cartoon characters under hypnosis. “Stop it!”

“Honest to God. I’ve been telling you guys about the trunk shows. And get this, she had a show this morning, then she went to walk one of the dogs and the mutt got stolen.”

Lucie shot Frankie the hairy eyeball. Not that it seemed to be working on anyone today.


What
?” his father yelled.

Mom snapped her head in Lucie’s direction. “Why didn’t you tell me? Did you get hurt?”

“I’m fine.”

“Liar. You whacked your head. You need to get checked out.”

Not only did Frankie refuse to take up arms against his family, he was sometimes a traitor. This time the result was his father’s face twisting into a ball of rage. Lucie knew exactly where this was going. He’d go right to her father, who would blow an artery over someone laying hands on his daughter.

On and on it went. Her dad was already on a tear about her wasting her MBA. As if it was her fault that her company merged and she’d been
rightsized
. Add this to the mix and she might as well curl into a fetal position.

Angie cleared her throat, the universal signal she was about to change the subject. “I want to hear about these trunk shows.”

“She’s got another one tomorrow,” Frankie said.

Lucie fiddled with the stem of her wine glass. “Frankie thinks I should start a business. Coco Barknell.”

Mr. Falcone held his hands out. “Two weeks ago it was a hobby. Now you’re starting a business?”

Mrs. Falcone stood to collect empty dishes. “That is the silliest thing I ever heard.”

Lucie helped stacked plates. “Not really. At the height of the recession, pet accessories had huge profits.”

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Mom said.

“Sit, Mrs. R.,” Angie said. “Lucie and I will do the dishes while Frankie takes Paulie outside to work on his swing.”

Paulie swiveled his head, his droopy brown eyes looking encouraged. “How about it, Uncle Frank?”

Frankie wouldn’t say no to baseball. Considering he’d gotten a full college ride on a baseball scholarship, only to suffer back-to-back concussions that ended his shot at major league ball. That didn’t keep him from enjoying the game on a recreational level, or coaching Paulie’s team. The poor kid’s idiot father only knew how to handle a bat when it was connecting with someone’s skull.

“You got it, pal. Let’s see what you’ve got. Season opener is next week and you gotta be ready.”

Frankie turned to his father. “What do you say, old man? You wanna hit a few with me and the squirt?”

Mr. Falcone perked up. “Old man? I’ll knock your lemon in, kid.”

“So you say.”

“I’ll be right there. I forgot to make a call.”

Mr. Falcone dug his cell phone out and headed toward the front door in search of privacy. She’d been around this bunch long enough to know that meant
business
.

BOOK: 1 Dog Collar Crime
13.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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