Authors: Janna Shay
The next morning, Dani stopped at Julie’s counter on her way to the registration desk.
“Dani, what’s happening?”
Leaning on the counter, she said, “Nothing much. What’s been happening with you?”
Before she could answer, Julie grabbed her arm and stared at her tennis bracelet. “Girl, where did you get this intense set of stones? Okay, spill the beans. What did you have to do to get this?”
“Isn’t it beautiful?” She turned it on her wrist, admiring the way the light made the diamonds sparkle. “Jace gave it to me for my birthday. He’s so sweet.”
“Honey, sweet is a box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers. A diamond bracelet is definitely not sweet. A diamond bracelet is either payment for something really stupid he did, or payment for something really great you did. If it’s not payment for something, then it’s major love.”
Dani laughed. “You’re too much. It’s none of the above. It’s because he’s just nice.”
“Damn. I knew he was better than he looks. You have all the luck.”
Swatting her friend’s hand, Dani said, “Oh stop. You can’t tell me that Steve’s not better than he looks.”
Nodding, Julie said, “You’re right. He’s terrific, and I’m crazy off my rocker about him.”
“Listen. Next week is Jace’s birthday, and I want to give him a party at Hot Ice. Will you help me get it all together?”
“No prob. I’d love to. Let’s get together today at lunch and plan it.”
“Okay, around twelve?”
Dani reached over and hugged her. “I don’t know what I’d do without you. You’re the best. I really appreciate it.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere. Keep it coming.” Glancing over her shoulder, Julie saw she had a customer. “Gotta go. See you at noon.”
“Okay. Thanks again.” Dani turned to go when a woman came up to Julie’s window and asked if someone could direct her to the casino owner’s office.
Dani approached her. “I’m going that way. I’d be more than happy to take you there if you’d like.”
“That would be great if it’s no bother.”
“No bother at all.” Extending her hand to the woman, she said, “Hi, I’m Dani, the casino host for the Diamond casino.”
“Hi, I’m Arlene. Nice to meet you.”
As they walked, Dani glanced at Arlene, noticing she was a beautiful woman in about her late twenties with a body like a model. Her clothes and jewelry, being of the finest materials and quality, indicated she was wealthy. Curiosity getting the better of her, Dani turned toward Arlene and asked, “You here on business?”
“Oh hell no. I’m here purely for pleasure. You see Jace and I go way back. I’d guess you’d say, I’m his on-again, off-again girlfriend.”
Jealousy reared its ugly head. “Oh, I thought he was seeing someone.”
“We allow each other a great deal of space when we’re not together. I’m not worried. Now that I’m here, he’ll dump her like yesterday’s news.”
Dani’s heart shattered into a thousand pieces. Was Arlene telling the truth? Had Jace been using her this whole time? She refused to believe it. She would’ve known if he’d been stringing her along. Or would she?
A few hours later, Dani sat reading in her suite, waiting for Jace, when the phone rang. Excited, she answered, only to be plummeted into misery. Jace wasn’t coming over. He had dinner plans with a friend who was in town. Crushed and feeling discarded, she cried herself to sleep.
The truth of her situation struck her hard the next morning. Her relationship with Jace could never be permanent, but she’d hoped, thinking she could find a life with him. Foolishly, she pretended that life was perfect, and when the time came to leave, no one would get hurt. Well, the shoe was on the other foot, and she now knew how Jace would’ve felt when she left. Maybe this was for the best. Jace wouldn’t be alone, making it easier for her to call it quits.
Even though she’d worked everything out in her mind, jealousy still ate at her. When Jace phoned later wanting to see her, she lied, saying she was busy because Julie was heartbroken and needed her.
At one of the side lounges in the casino, Dani stopped, her breath catching in her throat. Jace and Arlene were sitting together at a table. Her heart skipped a beat as she watched Arlene grab Jace’s arm and lean into him, smiling. Unable to turn away, a scream building in her throat, Dani watched as they locked their lips in a kiss. Tears stung her eyes as her vision blurred. Pain rushed through her body, nearly doubling her up.
Then anger took over. Jace should’ve had the decency to at least tell her himself that it was over, instead of making her witness it with her own eyes. What an insufferable bastard. How could he make love to her the way he did, while all the time he was with Arlene? Well, Arlene was welcome to him. Dani squared her shoulders. She was through with men. They were all the same. They took from you any way they could, then hurt the hell out of you. Jace was no different, except he took everything she had to give, then demolished her. Not wanting to make a spectacle of herself, she rushed to the nearest restroom to get composed.
Depressed, she went to the bar to get a drink. Drowning her troubles would numb the pain eating at her body and she didn’t have whales to worry about at the moment.
“Hi, Dani, what’s up?” asked Tom, who was manning the bar.
“Hi, Tom. How’s everything with you?”
“Fine. What can I get you before I go off shift?”
Needing something that would burn through her veins, numbing everything in its path, taking the hurt away, she decided on straight shots. “I’d like a chilled triple shot of goose with a splash of cranberry juice.” Tom’s eyebrows shot up at her order. “Do you have a problem with that?”
He raised his hands in defense, then fixed her drink. The minute she grabbed the glass, she downed it in one gulp. “I’d like another one please.”
As he mixed her the drink, he asked, “What’s bothering you?”
Focused on her misery, it took a second for his question to register. “Nothing. I couldn’t be better.” She downed the second one faster than the first, then asked for another.
Tom leaned on the bar. “Come on, Dani. What’s bothering you? We’ve been friends for a while, and I know you rarely drink shots. And when you do, it’s never a double, let alone a triple.” He pointed at her empty glass. “That’s your second triple shot in a matter of minutes. It’s obvious your mind is elsewhere. I know something’s bothering you, but if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay. Just remember that I’ve got a shoulder if you need it.”
“I’m fine,” she said with emphasis. “In fact, I’m so frickin’ fine, I want another drink.”
Tom raised his eyebrows, then fixed her another.
The alcohol was doing its job. She could feel it numbing the hurt and fuzzing her brain. Just what she was looking for. “I’d like another, and I could use that shoulder now if you have time.”
He chucked her under her chin with a grin. “I’ve always got time for you. Go ahead and vent to your heart’s content.”
“Men, that’s my problem. They’re all a bunch of lying, cheating bastards. First they tell you anything they think you want to hear, so they can get you into bed. Once they do, it doesn’t take long for them to find new territory to conquer. They’re never satisfied.” With a smirk of derision and a click of her tongue, she vented. “Got to put another notch on that old headboard. They don’t know when to leave well enough alone. Nope, they have to push and push until they break down all your defenses.”
She pointed at Tom. “You’re all alike. We can’t live with you and no, we can’t live with you. Who the hell wants to live with you anyway? Not me, that’s for damn sure. I’m through will all men,” she said with a slur.
She picked up her glass and handed it to Tom. “Fill ‘er up.”
“Are you sure you want another drink? How about a cup of coffee?”
Fire spewed from her eyes as she fixed him with a stare. “Do I look like I want a cup of coffee? I intend to celebrate my celibacy, and I don’t intend to do it with coffee. So are you going to get me a drink, or do I need to go somewhere else?”
Tom fixed her drink, she felt certain he’d watered it down. After four of his diluted shots, he cut her off. “You’ve had enough, sweetheart. I’m cutting you off.”
Dani glared at him. “Don’t call me that. Don’t ever call me that. I want another drink.”
“If I get you another drink, I’ll be fired. You don’t want me to lose my job, do you? How about going for a ride with me on my bike? I’m in the mood to feel some wind on my face, but I don’t want to do it alone. The air will do you good. What do you say?”
“Why, are you trying to pick me up? Are you trying to break my fences, too?”
“It’s me, Tom. Remember? Just friends?”
“Oh yeah. Sorry.”
“Come on, be a friend, go with me,” he coaxed.
“Okay, but no funny business. I’m sellamut ... sellitub ... sillabud ... not sleeping with him anymore. So there!”
After finally getting rid of Arlene, Jace went to his office. Dodging her all day had taken up all his time. What a pain in the ass. To make matters worse, when he did find a little time, Arlene had found every excuse to persuade him to be with her. Hell, he even went to dinner with her yesterday to placate her, as he knew she could be a veritable bitch if he pissed her off. She’d have spewed her poisonous venom at Dani, if she found out that he and Dani were lovers, and that was something he wouldn’t tolerate. Being Arlene, she’d come right to the point. She’d visited with the sole purpose of getting him back. She’d even tried to kiss him in the lounge. Even if he weren’t totally in love with Dani, it would be a cold day in hell before he’d go back to Arlene.
He turned on the monitor in his office and thought of Dani. God, he missed her. It had been two days since they’d been together, and he couldn’t wait to see her. During that time he’d come to the realization that he loved her.
His eyes narrowed when he spotted Dani on the monitor. She wasn’t with Julie. She was walking through the casino with Tom. Tom had his arm around her waist and she was leaning into him. What the hell did she think she was doing?
He pushed his chair back angrily and stood. She was his, and he’d be damned if he was going to sit idly by and watch her go off somewhere with Tom. She had some explaining to do. With jealousy riding his shoulder, he went after them to find out what exactly was going on. He rushed through the casino, trying to catch up, but missed them as they left on Tom’s motorcycle. Jace left instructions for the valets to inform him the minute they returned, then fumed as he backtracked to his office.
The thought of Dani leaving with Tom made his stomach twist in knots. The bottom of his world dropped, leaving him dangling with no foothold. What was she doing with Tom? What happened with Julie needing her help because of a broken heart? The time had come for them to sit down and have a long talk. He decided to tell her he was in love with her. If things went well, he’d suggest they move in together.
What could have provoked her into leaving with Tom? Maybe she was mad about something, although he couldn’t recall her showing any indication of it. If this was because of Arlene learning of his relationship with Dani, he was going to make Arlene leave. Whatever was wrong, he was going to have to get to the bottom of it, and fast.
When she and Tom returned, Dani tried to walk straight, but fell over. On the ground, she laughed hysterically.
Exasperated, Tom bent over, picked her up, and cradled her in his arms. “Come on. I’ll help you.”
Dani put her hand on his cheek. “You’re so nice.”
Jace stood watching the scene unfold, his hands balled into fists, feeling a strong urge to pummel Tom to dust. With his anger barely leashed, Jace spoke through clenched teeth. “What the fuck is going on, Tom? I thought you had more sense than to get her this drunk. And where the hell do you think you’re taking her? I hope you didn’t think you were going to take advantage of her while she’s in this condition.”
Tom placed Dani on her feet. He put his hands up in a gesture of defense. “I was just helping her out. Nothing happened. I swear I didn’t touch her. I wouldn’t have anyway, we’re just friends.”
Slowly Jace’s hands unclench. Tom went on. “Look, Jace, I’ll tell you the truth. Dani came over to the bar pissed off about something and got drunk. I tried to help her clear her head by taking her for a ride, but that’s all. I swear to God nothing else happened.”
Dani staggered as she walked up to him, nearly falling on her face. He clutched her around the waist to steady her, but she jerked away. Placing her hands somewhere in the vicinity of her hips, she said indignantly, “Don’t you dare put yer hands on me, yew threw-timing, lying bastard, yew.”
Jace shook his head in exasperation, then put his arm around her waist to help her get to her apartment. Dani pushed him away and nearly fell on her face again. She pointed her finger as she glared at him. “I said, take yer gruffy hanz off you, I mean me, I think.”
He sighed heavily, shook his head, then caught her shoulders to steady her. “Come on, let’s get you to bed so you can sleep it off.”
She poked him in the chest as she wobbled. “Stand steel when I am yelling at you, yew basssard. Who are you telling me to do what? That’s all you want to do, make sex. Iham no good for good nothing ... nothing for good ... for sex.” Her eyes narrowed. “How could you kiss her? It didn’t take very time to replace me. First you want me, then first you don’t. Yer just like everyone that’s a man.” Her eyes darkened. “I don’t need yew or anything. From this day on Iham sillibud. Damn it! Cebillut ... oh hell, not sleeping.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” He picked her up and threw her over his shoulder to carry her to the elevators. “You need to sleep this off, sweetheart.”
Dani wiggled on his shoulder, so he smacked her butt. “Stop moving. I don’t want you to fall.”
“Owww, that hurtz, yew ... yew ... man you.”
He tightened his grip, then shook his head as he carried Dani to his apartment. One thing he was sure of was, they needed to talk when she sobered up. He laid her on his bed, then began undressing her so she’d be comfortable. Dani gave him a crooked smile, locked her arms around his neck, then tried to kiss him, but missed his mouth completely and landed a slobbery kiss on his cheek instead.
“Oh wutz wrong now, mister stud, don’t have sex? Yer always wanting to make me want you. Why, Jace? Why? I can’t stop being in want. I have to get you out of here,” she said, pointing to her head. She touched his face, tears running down hers. “I can’t have you anymore. They’re coming and get me. I want you ... can’t have you ... have to run. You can’t know they’re coming, cause you’ll hate me. But it’s all right cuz you have Arlene. Iham the old and in the new one-you’ll forget.”