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Authors: Heather Guimond

Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance

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BOOK: Shattered Perfection
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I asked, “What do I do now?  I don’t think these machines hold that much money.”

She grinned at me wildly, her eyes glittering with excitement.  You’d think she was the one who’d hit the jackpot.  “Just sit tight, sweetheart.  A casino employee will be along in a jiffy.  I’ll stay here with you until they get here.  You don’t want to be alone and have some asshole try to take advantage of you, or worse.”

“What do you mean?  Like someone would try to jack me for my machine?  Don’t they have security cameras and stuff around here to prevent that?” I gasped, practically throwing myself in front of my machine.  Perhaps the alcohol in my system made me a touch over-dramatic.

She patted my knee.  “People are just crazy, honey.  Money and desperation, both of which are in ample supply here, do strange things to people.  I didn’t mean to scare you.  I’ve got your back.  Don’t worry, nothing is going to happen.”

I looked at her a little dubiously, but decided to go with it. 

Just then, a cashier, in the company of a rather large security officer and a man in a suit, walked up to us.  The cashier had a set of keys and brushed me aside to open up my machine.  I had no idea what she was doing, but guessed the contraption had to be taken out of play for a while.

I presumed the guy in the suit was some sort of hotel official.  My suspicion was proved correct when he stuck out his hand.  “Congratulations.  I am Mr. Deangelo, the casino supervisor for the evening.  Your name is…?”

I stood and shook his hand.  “Um, Mimi Bishop.”  I swayed a little on my feet, partially from the alcohol, partially because I was dazed by the surreal quality of the moment.  Had I really just won more than ten thousand dollars?  American money?

My new friend patted me on the shoulder and whispered, “Congratulations, honey.  I hope your good luck rubs off on me.”  Then she disappeared into the crowd that had begun to form around us.

The security guard moved in a little closer to me as Mr. Deangelo placed his hand on my elbow, gently guiding me away from the machine.  “If you would come with me, Ms. Bishop, we have some paperwork for you to complete before we can distribute your winnings.”

“Sure,” I said, as a stray thought popped into my head.  “Is that where I get to take the picture with the big check?”   Stupid martinis.

He chuckled in reply.  “Yes, Ms. Bishop.  That’s where you take the picture with the big check.”

Chapter Five

 

An hour, a mountain of paperwork, one photo and cashier’s check later, I was wandering around the casino looking for Vance.  He wasn’t at the craps table where I left him earlier, and he was nowhere in its vicinity, either.  My warm glow had long since worn off and was beginning to be replaced with concern.  I dug into my purse for my phone, only to find I’d left it in the room at our hotel.

As I wandered about, I happened by a small ladies clothing store just off the casino floor when inspiration stuck, temporarily putting my concerns upon a shelf.  Looking at the mannequin in the window, I grinned to myself and slipped inside.  I strolled out about 20 minutes later with a devilish gleam in my eye and light package in my hand.

I returned to my search, hoping I would eventually happen upon him, but had no luck.  Then I remembered we were supposed to meet Laurel and Pete back in the lobby at two.  Of course, being a casino, there were no damned clocks anywhere.  I stopped a passing couple and asked for the time, pleased to learn I had ten minutes before we were supposed to meet. 

I made my way to the lobby, but no one else was there yet.  I spied a grouping of chairs and tiredly dropped into one to wait.  Promptly at two, a very loud and obviously “happy” couple came tripping into the lobby.  Pete and Laurel staggered over to me with big Kool-Aid smiles plastered on their faces.   They each flopped into an empty chair, giggling like fools.

“It looks like you both had a good time,” I said appraisingly.

“I’ll say we did!”  Laurel exclaimed, far too exuberantly, in my opinion.

“Oh yeah,” Pete chimed in.  “Your man, Vance, better be prepared to be pay up!”

“Is that so?”  I murmured quietly.  They were both looking very smug in spite of, or maybe because of, their obvious intoxication.  I wondered how much they actually won.  Unless Vance managed to lose his ass at the craps table, I didn’t think Pete and Laurel would top my winnings.

“Where is Vance anyway?”  Laurel’s brows drew down in a frown.  “Don’t tell me he’s ashamed to show his face.”  The thought obviously amused them both, because they erupted in another fit of giggles.

“Actually, I don’t know,” I said.  “We split up at one point tonight, and I lost track of him.  I was wandering around looking for him before I finally came here, thinking this is where he would be at two.  I would have called him, but I forgot my phone in our room back at the hotel.”

Pete pulled his cell phone out of his pocket.  “Let me just give the man a call.  He gave me his number earlier, in case we split up and needed to regroup.”  He scrolled through his contacts, then put the phone to his ear. 

“What’s up, loser?” he practically shouted into the phone.  “We’re all here in the lobby waiting for you.  What?  Why?”  He paused for a long time, obviously listening as Vance talked.  “I see.  Well don’t worry, she’s here with us.  I’ll find out what happened and get back to you as soon as I can, buddy.  Hang tight.”

Pete ended the call and looked at me curiously.  “What happened earlier tonight, after you left Vance, Mimi?”

“What?  I played slots for an hour.  Why?”  I said hesitantly, not wanting to give away my secret.

“Did anything unusual happen while you were playing slots?” he asked suspiciously. 

He clearly knew something was up, but I wasn’t going to admit to anything without some hard evidence against me.  “Why would you think that?”

“Well, it seems our boy, Vance, saw you being led through the casino by a security officer and a Mafioso-looking type.  He went to find out what was going on, but he needed to cash out his winnings.  By the time he did that, you were nowhere to be seen.  Consequently, our friend made something of a spectacle of himself.”

I covered my mouth in a half-gasp, half-giggle.  “Oh, no.”

“Oh, yes.  In his words, he, and I quote, ‘went ape-shit’.  So, I ask you again, Mimi.  Did something happen?”

“Yes, but it wasn’t anything bad.  Where is Vance now?”   I asked, trying to steer the conversation onto the more pressing issue.

“They’re holding him at security.  They’re under the impression he might be some kind of threat to you.  He tried to explain that he is here with you, but they’ve basically put him in a room and left him there.  They haven’t really given him much of a chance to sort things out.”

I jumped to my feet in a panic.  “We have to go help him right now!  I’ll talk to the security officers and explain we’re here together so they realize this is all a big misunderstanding.”

Pete and Laurel followed me through the casino back to the security offices.  In the small reception-like area that I so recently walked out of in a much different mood, there was a female officer working on what appeared to be some paperwork.  She had a very no-nonsense look about her.  I marched forward, intent on resolving matters as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“Excuse me, ma’am.  I’m here about a gentleman who was brought in about forty-five minutes to an hour ago.  His name is Vance Ashcroft.  There has been a big misunderstanding that I’d like to help clear up.”

She gave me a look that told me she was going to be less than helpful. 

“There is no misunderstanding.  Mr. Ashcroft is considered a threat to one of our guests and will remain detained until the authorities arrive to take him into custody.”

“That is completely unnecessary.  If only I could explain to someone in charge—“

“As far as you’re concerned lady, I’m in charge.  You can bond your friend out once he’s been charged and his bail has been set.”

“Jail?  Bond?  Bail!!!”  I sputtered.  “This is absolutely ridiculous.  This is really all one colossal mistake.”

“Mr. Ashcroft was attempting to follow one of our jackpot winners.  He admitted it himself.  There is no mistake, Miss…”     I finally reached the end of my patience with this aggravating woman.  “Bishop!  My name is Mimi Bishop!  I am that jackpot winner!  Mr. Ashcroft is my boyfriend!” 

I heard Pete and Laurel mumble “Jackpot winner?” behind me.  I turned and shushed them with an exasperated look.     

The security officer snorted.  “Sure you are.  Like I said, you can help your friend once he’s down at the police station.  Now, please leave.”

“There would be a problem with that, since Mr. Ashcroft is our ride!  Please call Mr. Deangelo.  I’m sure he will be happy to help sort this matter out.  He will definitely confirm my identity for you.”  I motioned to the telephone on her desk with my hand.  “Go on, call.  I’ll wait.”

She rolled her eyes at me.  “Fine.” she said tersely.

I turned my back on her and joined Pete and Laurel as we waited for Mr. Deangelo to show up.  I gave Pete my best stink-eye. 

“You could have stepped in at any time, Mr. Police Officer.  Couldn’t you have thrown some weight around or something?  Used some of your connections to spring my boyfriend?”

“We’re not downtown yet, Mimi.  Once the police show up, I might be able to do something, but with these guys I don’t think my badge would get us very far.  Besides, you just marched right up there like a little tyrant and started making your own demands.  You seemed to be doing just fine.”

“Hmpf.  I think Suzie Security would have been far more impressed with you than you think.  She obviously wasn’t with me.  Still isn’t.  I think she’s expecting Deangelo, the casino supervisor who helped me earlier, to throw me out of here.”

“So you won a jackpot?”  Laurel did her best to interject casually.

“Not now, Laurel.”  I gave her my best withering stare.  She raised her hands in submission.

“Fine, fine.  You can’t blame me for being curious.”

The door opened and Mr. Deangelo walked in looking just as fresh as he did earlier.  It was amazing to me that anyone could look so polished at nearly two-thirty in the morning.

“Miss Bishop!  What a surprise to see you again so soon.  I hope you haven’t had any issues in our casino since you left the office.  I heard about the unfortunate event with the gentleman who was attempting to follow you.  You can rest easy knowing he was easily subdued and detained.”  Mr. Deangelo did his best to look concerned and reassuring at the same time.

“Yes, about that.  There has been a terrible misunderstanding.  The man that has been detained is my boyfriend, Vance Ashcroft.”

He frowned heavily, his brows drawing together, causing deep grooves in his forehead.  “No, that can’t be possible.”

“I assure you, not only is it possible, it’s what happened.  He was only following me because he saw you and the security officer leading me away through the casino.  He thought I was in trouble, and was concerned.  Surely you can understand his distress when he was refused information and not allowed to come to my aid in a situation when he feared I needed assistance,” I explained in my most reasonable voice.

Mr. Deangelo’s shoulders sagged, and he looked a lot less polished than he did when he walked in.  He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger and called out in a slightly strangled voice, “Karen?”

“Yes, Mr. Deangelo?”  Suzy Security responded in a much more pleasant tone than she used with me.

“By any chance did anyone happen to speak to Mr. Ashcroft about why he was attempting to follow Miss Bishop?  I mean, in detail, after he was brought to security?”

“Yes, as far as I know.  However, it was determined that his story wasn’t credible and the decision to call the authorities was made.”

Mr. Deangelo tilted his head back, looking at the ceiling.  “Did anyone attempt to contact Miss Bishop to confirm the veracity of his story before deciding to call the police?”

“Well, no.”  Suzy—Karen—replied somewhat chagrined.

“Please escort Mr. Ashcroft out here immediately, Karen.”  He said with a long suffering sigh.

She jumped up from her place behind the desk and scurried through the door just to the right of it.  Mr. Deangelo looked at me with an apologetic smile, but didn’t say anything.  I knew I should feel grateful that they were looking out for my well-being, even if they were a little overzealous.  If it were a stranger sitting in the other room rather than Vance, I would have had a much different mindset.  Unfortunately, it was Vance and I was frustrated at the gymnastics I had to go through just to try to explain what happened. 

Before long, the door opened again and Karen walked in with Vance, who looked harassed.  When he saw me, the stress melted from his face.  He quickly walked over and took me in his arms. 

“I was so worried about you,” he began.  “These ass-clowns wouldn’t tell me anything, so I tried a little too hard to ‘persuade’ them, I guess.  They weren’t very receptive to my tactics.”

I laughed quietly.  “I’m sorry about the whole mess.  I should have looked for you before they brought me back here to let you know what happened, but I was in such a daze, I just blindly followed them.”

“What did happen, Mimi?  Why were you detained?”

“You mean they didn’t tell you?”

“No, they only accused me of being some sort of threat to one of their guests and stuffed me in that backroom and left me there.  They never talked to me again,” he explained.

“I wasn’t detained.  I won the progressive jackpot on the machines I was playing, and they brought me back to the casino supervisor’s office to complete their paperwork and give me the winnings.”

Mr. Deangelo mumbled quietly, but with a very amused sounding voice, “And to take the picture with the big check.” 

Vance glared at him, but still wrapped in his embrace as I was, I rubbed his chest soothingly.

“Yes, to take the picture with the big check.  That was very important to me at the time.”  I reached into my purse and pulled out the Polaroid they gave me and showed it to Vance. 

He studied it for a moment, smiling, then his eyes bulged and he whispered to me, “You won ten thousand dollars?”

“Ten thousand, two hundred thirty-two dollars and fifty-three cents.’  I nodded rather smugly, while whispering back.  “I think we’re a shoe-in to win the bet against Pete and Laurel.”

He leaned closer and breathed into my ear, “I do too, considering I won eight thousand playing craps.”

I leaned back and gave him a wide smile.  “It’s too bad you never settled on the terms of this wager.”

His face screwed up as he realized they did, indeed, forget to actually bet anything.

At that moment, Mr. Deangelo broke in, offering his olive branch.  “On behalf of Caesar’s management, I’d like to offer our sincerest apologies to you and your friends, Mr. Ashcroft.  In our haste to ensure Miss Bishop’s safety, we were less than courteous, less than objective and reasonable with you.  We would like to rectify this error in judgment and make amends, if at all possible.  We value your patronage and do not want this ugly incident to entirely spoil your experience at our casino.  Can I offer you all vouchers for a complimentary stay at our hotel and free meals while you are here, perhaps?” 

I opened my mouth to tell him we live in Los Angeles and it was not likely we would ever come back to this crappy town, much less his crappier hotel, but Vance cut me off.

“Your offer is very generous, Mr. Deangelo, and we will happily accept.  I have no hard feelings.  As you said, you were looking out for someone precious to me, so I can hardly be upset about that.”  Once again, I realized Vance was a much more gracious person than I was.

BOOK: Shattered Perfection
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