Midnight in Ruby Bayou, p.26Elizabeth Lowell
Walker looked into her clear brown eyes and knew she was every bit as tough and smart as her partner thought she was. “Where I come from, no one yanks on a chain attached to a junkyard dog.”
Farnsworth almost choked on a swallow of coffee.
Peel laughed. “We’re going to do fine, Walker. That’s what people call you, isn’t it? Walker, not Owen.”
“Yeah. My pa was Owen. I never took to being Junior or Little O. Wouldn’t answer to either name, never mind how many times they took a switch to me. We all compromised with Walker.”
Absently she scratched one of the bites she had picked up since she had spent the night on the ground. “Tough guy, huh?”
“More like stubborn,” Walker said easily. “That’s why I keep asking the same question until I get an answer. Why are you interested in the Montegeaus?”
Peel studied him over the rim of her coffee cup, trying to decide how much to trust him. “What do you know about the Mafia?”
“Domestic? Damned little.”
Eyes narrowed, Peel studied him. Then she looked at Farnsworth. He shrugged, then nodded.
“Tell you what, Walker. I won’t reveal sensitive information, but I will tell you what you might discover if you looked through public records long enough and started putting pieces together. How’s that?”
“The public record is always a good place to start,” Walker said. “Anybody can get information from it.”
“Precisely,” she said. “For instance, if you go online and start checking property tax lists and state incorporation papers, you’ll find that your host, Davis Montegeau, is in partnership on a land deal with a New Jersey corporation named Angelini Construction, headquartered in Newark. And if you dig into the New Jersey records, you’ll find that Angelini Construction is owned by one Salvatore Angel, nee Angelini. Sal Angel, as he prefers to be called, is a capo in one of the most aggressive crime families on the East Coast.”
“Davis and Sal Angel are partners?” Walker asked.
“Real estate partners,” Farnsworth said. “On the street, they might even be called crime partners.”
Walker grunted. “Go on.”
“Not much further to go yet,” Peel said. “We’re trying to build a racketeering case against Sal Angel. We know he’s involved in gambling, prostitution, insurance fraud. He’s been capering for years. Now he’s trying to branch into legitimate business as a means of laundering all his dirty money.”
“And you think this real estate deal is financed with that money.”
“We know it is, just as sure as that sun will finally come up in the next few minutes,” Peel said, glancing off to the east. “But knowing it and proving it in a court of law are two different matters.”
Walker wondered if the agents knew about the attack on Faith by the young thug named Buddy Angel. While he considered the implications of the FBI knowing – or not knowing – a big heron flew by with prehistoric grace. He watched the long-legged bird slant down to land at the edge of the brackish bayou. Instantly the bird froze, as though posing for a sculpture called Patience. Dawn washed over the heron in shades of pink and tangerine and gold.
“The Montegeaus are in trouble,” Walker said. “How deep?”
“Davis Montegeau likes to think he’s a big shot,” Peel said. “He isn’t. He’s just a packager putting together deals. He did one for Sal and another hood named Joe Donatello. The deal went south. Sal and Joe lost a quarter of a million each. They can afford it, but they can’t afford looking like schmucks. We figure they’re going to even things with Davis. We want to be close by when that happens.”
“What good will that do you?”
“Davis isn’t a tough guy. He’s an old drunk. When Sal and Joe start breaking knees, we’re hoping Davis will get scared enough to roll over for us.”
Peel glanced at the thermos. Walker poured her the two swallows that were left.
“Or we might get lucky and tag the leg breaker that Sal and Joe send to do the job,” Peel continued. “If we do, and if he rolls over, we’ve got something. Right now all we have is a few hundred bug bites.”
She handed her cup to Farnsworth, who took the final swallow. Walker liked her for that, but he still didn’t entirely trust her.
“Were you following Mel or Faith at the restaurant?” he asked casually.
Walker’s poker face was in place. He didn’t even blink over Peel’s outright lie. “Is Mel a suspect?”
“We thought the old man might be using her to courier payments to these loan sharks.” Peel shrugged. “Guess not. At least, not last night.”
Walker smiled grimly. “I’m guessing Davis isn’t making Payments. Judging from the shape of the old homestead, he couldn’t afford a fresh postage stamp, much less a courier service.”
“You’re guessing right,” Farnsworth said. “He’s so close to declaring bankruptcy that his lawyer is drawing up the papers.”
“Does he think bankruptcy will protect him from crooks?” Walker asked.
“Magical thinking,” Peel said. “Gets ‘em every time.”
Farnsworth tried to look like he cared.
Walker thought of the magnificent rubies gleaming like blood against curving gold. Even taking a steep discount, the rubies would pay off the Montegeau debt to the mob. Why would Davis be giving that kind of money to his daughter-in-law?
Then again, maybe he was trying to have his cake and eat it, too. Grab the rubies, or have Sal do it, and then go crying to the insurance company.
If Walker hadn’t been carrying the rubies, they would have been stolen in Savannah and the Donovans would have been stuck with the loss. Too bad, how sad, life’s a bitch and then you die.
The money would have gone from the Donovans to the Montegeaus with profound apologies for losing the rubies. No fingers would have pointed at the nearly bankrupt Montegeaus as possible thieves.
“So what are you doing here?” Peel asked.
“Guarding the rubies.”
“What rubies?” Peel asked sharply.
“The Montegeau rubies. Old family heirlooms, or so the story goes.”
Peel’s dark eyes narrowed. “Keep talking.”
“A few weeks ago, Davis called and asked Faith to create a wedding necklace for Mel. Davis would supply the rubies and the gold. Faith would supply the art and the work. As payment, she would keep the smallest of the fourteen rubies he sent.”
“Rubies, huh?” Peel frowned. “How much are they worth?”
“A million, easy. That’s wholesale.”
Farnsworth whistled softly. “Holy shit. Why doesn’t he use them to get Sal off his back?”
“Maybe Davis would rather have the rubies and the insurance money both,” Peel said.
“That’s what I’m figuring,” Walker said.
“Where did he get the money to buy them in the first place?” Farnsworth asked. “They sure as hell aren’t listed with his assets.”
“Could indeed be heirlooms,” Peel said. “A lot of them get passed down without being listed for inheritance taxes. Could be stolen, too.”
“If they’re stolen, nobody has posted them on the Internet,” Walker said.
“How do you know?”
“I checked before Archer agreed to insure the gems.”
“Archer,” Peel said. “That would be Archer Donovan, the oldest son. So he’s insuring the gems?”
“Until the wedding,” Walker said. “Then they’re on Davis’s ticket.”
Thoughtfully Peel tapped a fingernail against her front teeth. “Valentine’s Day. Whatever’s going to happen with those rubies will have to happen soon or it won’t do Davis any good.”
“Likely,” Walker agreed.
“You sure the gems are real?” Farnsworth asked. “Davis wouldn’t be the first one to insure high-class glass and then ‘lose’ it.”
The agents absorbed Walker’s certainty.
“Yeah. They’re on my head.” Walker began to gather up the remnants of the breakfast he had brought. He knew that Peel was looking for an advantage. He expected it.
They had their agenda, he had his.
He didn’t even mind that the agents had lied to him in at least one important regard. He knew that they had been shadowing Faith, not Mel, twelve hours before in Savannah.
What he wanted to know was why they were lying. He had a hunch that the answer to that question would cost him more than coffee and cold biscuits. Right now he didn’t have enough on the table to ante up. Time to fold and wait for a better hand.
Because the important thing was to stay in the game.
Walker slipped back into the house as secretly as he had left it. The gallery creaked when he stepped off the oak branch, but Boomer was either snoring too loud to hear or out somewhere chasing raccoons. Everyone else in the house was asleep.
“Where were you?” she asked the instant he closed the sitting room door behind him.
Standing just inside her bedroom door, he looked in at the pleasantly rumpled sheets and the even more pleasantly rumpled woman. Even in first light, her skin glowed. He knew he never should have touched her, but he couldn’t wait to do it again. Smiling, he toed off one shoe.
The other shoe thumped softly onto the rug. “Did I remember to tell you how beautiful you are?” he asked, walking to the edge of her bed. “Or was I in too much of a hurry?”
Her breath caught at the light and memories in his eyes. “You made me feel beautiful.”
She looked at the fit of his jeans and smiled. “Get undressed while I think about it.”
“Sugar, if I take anything else off, I’ll be wearing you real quick.”
A tingling rush of heat swept through her. “In that case, let me help you.”
Walker laughed as though she was joking. Then he felt her fingers tug at the steel buttons on his jeans. Suddenly it was all he could do to drag in a breath. He covered her hands with his own, stilling her busy fingers by pressing them hard against his arousal.
“I’m thinkin’ I might just have to tie you to the bed,” he drawled.
She looked up, startled and maybe a little bit intrigued. “You are?”
“Sure am. I keep fixin’ to take it slow and easy, then you get those clever, hungry hands in my pants and it’s all I can do to keep from hiking your heels up next to your ears and seeing how deep and fast I can bury myself in you.”
The tip of her tongue worried her lower lip. “Heels and ears, huh? Sounds uncomfortable.”
His slow, gentle smile lit fires. “I’d never hurt you in bed, sugar. You know that, don’t you?”
She sighed and flexed her fingers against him. The hard, vital surge of his life fascinated her. “If I had any doubts, I wouldn’t be here.” Unconsciously she licked her lips as she tugged down his jeans. “And I sure wouldn’t be, um, fixin’ to see how you taste of a morning.”
The shudder that ripped through him surprised both of them. He wanted to tell her how sexy she was, but he didn’t have the breath or the words. So he kicked off his jeans, ignored his smuggler’s shorts, and pulled down the sheets an inch at a time. His mouth tasted what his eyes could barely see in the darkness. Soon she was twisting and crying for him.
Slowly he hooked his hands beneath her legs and drew them up until she was fully open to him. He freed himself from the shorts and pushed against her steamy flesh, parting her just a little. She was a silky fire just barely kissing his sensitive head. He wanted more of that feminine flesh. He wanted it all.
He wanted her.
Slowly Faith’s eyes opened. In the dim light they were smoky, sensual, dazed with pleasure and a need that had her shaking. “Walker?”
“Right here, sugar.” He tightened his hips to make the point.
She moaned as she felt the sweet pressure opening her, penetrating her. But not enough. He was barely inside her. She knew what it felt like when he was locked deep, filling her. She wanted that.
She wanted it now.
“Why?” she managed.
“Why what?” he drawled despite the sweat sliding down his ribs.
“Why are you waiting?”
He didn’t know whether to laugh or swear at the sudden, lithe twist of her hips that almost succeeded in driving him deep. “I haven’t a clue, sugar. Tell me.”
“You’re a tease.”
“Now, that’s a first. I’ve been called a lot of names, but – ” His voice broke as her hips moved against him, her slick heat demanding its match. He groaned. “You’re fixin’ to kill me.”
“Now you’re getting the idea.”
“I want to make sure I give you what you want. What do you want?”
The tantalizing touch and withdrawal was unbearably arousing. He never went deeper than an inch, and each time he withdrew she felt like clawing him.
“You,” she said roughly. “Damn it, Walker, I want you!”
“You’ve got me.” To prove the point, he nudged against her hot, silky core.
So close… and not nearly close enough. She twisted, driving them both closer. “I don’t have enough of you.”
“How about this?” He penetrated her a bit more deeply and then withdrew. “Better?”
The liquid silk of her response followed him, licking over both of them. She shuddered at the heat clenching rhythmically inside her. “More.”
“Greedy, huh? I like that in a woman.”
Her fingernails bit into his flexed hips.
“I like that, too,” he said. “Go ahead, sugar. Show me what you want.”
“Deeper,” she said.
He gave her another inch and was rewarded by the silky warmth of her response pulsing over him. Slowly, deliberately, he withdrew. Though sweat gathered in his spine, the inches that had just been inside her felt cold without her. He pushed back in, then forced himself to stop halfway home. The scent and rushing heat of her response made him lightheaded.
“Walker,” she said hoarsely. “Why are you torturing me?”
“Damned if I know. I never wanted to have any other woman crying for me, but you’re different. You’re so sweet, I could come just teasing you.”
He slipped her legs over his shoulders and opened her even more, drawing her tight around him. He watched her as he traced her swollen flesh with his fingertips until he was as slick as she was. Then he plucked at the proud nub that had grown out of her softness. He felt the deep pulsing of her response even before he heard her throaty whimper. Shaking with restraint, he pushed deep into the clench and release of her climax, stretching her even more, sending her higher, then higher still.
Only when she was crying his name and her pleasure did he begin to move the way they both needed, hard and deep. She arched up against him and went rigid. He barely covered her mouth with his own before she screamed her release. It was no less intense for him, his shout muffled by her mouth as he pumped himself into her until the world went black.
Slowly Faith became aware of the room, the wonderful weight of Walker lying against her… and the fact that she could bite her own knee if she turned her head.
She laughed softly. “You were right.”
“Mmph?” Walker asked, too lazy to move his mouth from her neck.
“It didn’t hurt. Still doesn’t. I hope you don’t mind my saying that I’m amazed.”
Reluctantly Walker stirred. “Is this going to be one of those meaningful male-female talk things?”
She smiled and closed her teeth over the edge of his jaw. “Nope. Just an observation. The Kama Sutra has nothing on us.”
His laughter was silen
“Never read it, huh?” she asked, stroking his hair.
“In high school? Nope.”
He laughed again and she made a murmurous sound of pleasure at the reminder of how completely they were joined.
“Nope,” he said, nibbling over to her other breast.
“I refuse to believe you were reading in the womb.”
“Oh, boy. I’ll bet it was fun playing doctor with you.”
Laughing out loud, Walker wrapped his arms tightly around her and rolled over onto his back. She moved with him easily. When he realized the perfection of her lithe partnering, her unconscious adjustments to stay close, and the easy intimacy of their linked bodies, his laughter faded. He had never known a woman like Faith. Businesslike one moment, a dreamy artist the next. Slashing her heel down a mugger’s shin and weeping silently in the moonlight. Deceptively fragile. Deceptively strong. Deeply passionate. She lured him in ways he couldn’t describe, and she terrified him in the same ways.
For the first time he understood at a gut level why a moth flew into flame: it was better than staying alone in the cold and dark.
“… hear that?” Faith asked.
“What?” he said, shaking his head as though to clear it of his own thoughts.
“It’s Mel. I think something’s wrong.” Suddenly, faint and yet all too clear, a woman’s scream echoed through the silent house.
“God, I hope it’s not the baby!” Faith scrambled off the bed and searched for her clothes.
Hurriedly Walker adjusted his million-dollar shorts, grabbed the knife in its sheath under his pillow, and lunged out of bed. Sheath clenched in his teeth, he reached for his jeans. By the time he got his pants buttoned, Faith had raced out the door in the first thing she could grab – his shirt. He spit out the knife and took off after her.
Midnight in Ruby Bayou by Elizabeth Lowell / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes