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Season Of The Devil: Billionaires, Mobsters...And The Girl From Palm Beach

 SEASON

OF

THE

DEVIL

 

 BILLIONAIRES,

MOBSTERS

AND

THE GIRL FROM

PALM BEACH

 

PAMELA

SOUTHWOOD

 

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. All rights reserved, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

The publisher is not responsible for websites or their contents that are not owned by the publisher.

 

 

Season Of The Devil

Billionaires, Mobsters…

And The Girl From Palm Beach

 

PAMELA SOUTHWOOD

© Copyright 2017

 

For Shakespir Distribution

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEDICATION

 

 

For All My Angels

 

And

 

A Few Devils…

 TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

1 *] [*DEVIL’S ISLAND

2 *] [*THE BOY NEXT DOOR

3 SHARK BEACH

4 *] [*SUGAR DADDY 101

5 *] [*DARK GAMES

6 *] [*BOTTOM FEEDER

7 *] [*THE PYRAMID FALLS

8 *] [*FOR A NIGHT LIKE THIS

9 *] [*DINO

10 LIEUTENANT WALSH

11 *] [*RETURN TO SHARK BEACH

12 *] [*THE WHITESTONE

13 ANTHONY FIORE

14 TESTING THE WATERS

15 *] [*PRELUDE

16 *] [*A.K.A. “TONY”

17 TURNED TO SALT

18 BLACK SUN

19 BÊTE NOIRE

20 OUT FROM THE SHADOWS

21 *] [*UNDER WATER

22 *] [*SIX MINUTES

1 DEVIL’S ISLAND

 

And on the eighth day God created Palm Beach…

 

  

   Palm Beach was bustling with activity as the global elite toasted another new year and migrated back to its gilded shores via yacht and private jet. The shop windows reflected their polymer and spray-tanned faces as they strolled down Worth Avenue on their way to dine at Bice, Ta-boo, and the other exclusive restaurants. Their flawless diamonds sparkled under the quaint streetlights.

   The town was open to all, but only the hand-picked few were truly allowed to enter and embrace the dream. This select inner circle was deeded access to the private collections, reserved tables, and the invitation-only galas that were held inside the magnificent turreted estates. Their net worth, secrets, and lies, remained securely locked behind those grand doors. It was surprising that the tiny island didn’t sink into the ocean with the sudden shift of weight from the sizable egos that returned each winter to walk its pristine paths.

 

The “Season” had begun!

 

 Everyone knew about the philanthropic side to Palm Beach and the generous charities, but very few were aware of its nefarious underworld and the island’s covert societies. Many of their affairs took place at the Whitestone Country Club where the members convened without their spouses to attend these darker soirées. Though no one was privy to the club’s register, it boasted the names of prominent men throughout the world. They were the leaders, the scholars, the athletes, and the kings of business. They devoutly swore to uphold the club rules, and above all, they always knew when to give the Devil his due. One could only speculate what sacrifices these successful men made to attain their power. It seems that nothing could ever hold them back in their quests.

 In Palm Beach, only the insiders knew what really went on inside the Whitestone, and within its ranks, even fewer knew about the founder and his top echelon known as the Black Veil Society. It was a rare treat to be invited to a Whitestone party and the decadent frivolity could go on for days. An invitation to a Black Veil affair was quite the opposite, and it was never a privilege to be the Guest of Honor.

 Kristen Stratford was the quintessential Palm Beach girl. Both her parents were silver spooned. Her mother was descended from fine English lineage with not just one; but two occupants from the Mayflower. The matriarch was blue-blood WASP all the way, belonged to the “Daughters of the American Revolution”, and never failed to let everyone know it. Kristen’s father was the CEO of a major aerospace company and very active in politics.   

   Kristen was born very late into the Stratford marriage and even with the great difference in age, her busy father always found the time to dote on her. It was not easy being the youngest in a family filled with narcissists. Each new birth was greeted with resentment from the other siblings who realized the meaning of having to share the wealth. Kristen was somewhat of a mouse, and felt so intimidated by them that she distanced herself. She might as well have been an only child since she felt so alone at home.

  Of course, according to Mrs. Stratford, since Kristen had won the baby lotto, it meant she was supposed to be living the American dream with the perfect husband, Mercedes, and the majestic house in Chicago’s affluent suburbs on the north shore of Lake Michigan. It was also socially mandated that she wintered in Palm Beach in an equally impressive ocean-front mansion.

   This is what “North Shore Brats” grew up to expect. It was deemed to be a non-stress life of the Garden Club, charity balls, and an ATM card that never came up declined. By no means, was there ever to be a struggle to just merely exist…

   Now it was already mid-January and Kristen would have normally left for Florida by now and would be lazing in the sun, instead of freezing. But this Season was different and sadly she would not be included in the usual festivities. This was definitely not going to be the year for her! She was sliding into her last large chunk of change and was considered broke, by peer standards, until Margaret, the new Step-Witch passed. Only then, would Kristen receive the “big” money from both of her parent’s estates.

   The illustrious Arthur Stratford never imagined that he would suddenly be struck to the ground by a heart attack a week before his 75th birthday. He had been in perfect health and not a gray hair in sight. The “Old Gold Digger”, who he married a short time before he died, was probably floating in the Stratford’s Palm Beach estate pool right now and Kristen couldn’t bear the thought of that.

   It was very obvious from the beginning that Margaret resented Kristen for being her father’s favorite, and the Step Witch had it in for her. After a while, Kristen gave up trying to get the new wife to like her. It made her sad and she felt like Cinderella. No one else, except her two sisters and brother, knew that Margaret had recently cut her off. And as long as her siblings stroked Margaret, they were assured of extra funds and a family heirloom doled out early here or there.

   To Kristen, money represented security, not greed. And unlike the others in her world, she actually cared about people and helping them. High Society was an evil entity and it was difficult not to be sucked into its game. Kristen would laugh at the absurdity of it all, but half-heartedly she continued with the charade since it was expected of a Stratford.

   Kristen was quite the romantic and was only out to find true love. As she aged and began her ascent to the next tier, she became less sure of her footing. The wealthier men that she now encountered had more acquired tastes and a higher threshold for excitement. She either needed to conform to meet their demands or present a challenge in order to hold their interest. She hoped she would never become jaded. In the meanwhile, she had many frogs to kiss and needed to learn more about herself before she could rise to that point where she could find her prince.

  And, if Kristen ever managed to regain her rightful position on her beloved island again, it was inevitable that she would eventually meet up with someone from the Whitestone clan. They already had her in their sights…

 

2 THE BOY NEXT DOOR

 

  Kristen was a beautiful blonde debutante with light blue eyes and perfect facial structure. She was 5’6, all legs, and very fit. Like her mother, she had been groomed to marry a successful man and let him take care of things. Kristen always joked that she wanted “clones” of herself, and she was aware that it would make her mother very happy. She knew exactly who she wanted their father to be. She had a major crush on her next-door neighbor Michael Hansen. He would be perfect! He was tall, with sandy hair and strong model looks.

   Although Michael was only two years older than Kristen, he was so much more mature. He was very popular and was always busy dating the cheerleaders and prom queens. He seemed to have a special light about him that touched everyone that he was with.  

   Michael always had a soft spot for Kristen and he treated her like his little sister. During the summer, Michael worked part-time at the local sailing beach. After spending a day of sunning, Kristen would often find herself wandering over to the boat shack to visit him. She would help Michael pull in the smaller sailboats across the sand and mount them on their racks. The two of them would then huddle together and tell each other their dreams.

 When Kristen was sixteen, the Hansen family took her on vacation with them to the Caribbean. Mr. Hansen had arranged to have a private yacht at their disposal. Kristen and Michael had the vessel all to themselves one afternoon and he decided that Kristen should learn how to fish. She leaned over the railing, casting out her line while he kept his strong arm around her slight body, preventing the wind from carrying her off. She loved his scent of cocoa butter and musky cologne. Michael patiently coached her until she reeled in her first one. He gave her a smile as he removed it for her and she proudly held it up as he applauded. She then insisted that it go back in the water. Michael gently released the fish and when he turned back, he gave Kristen a long kiss. No one was there, except the ocean, and they couldn’t stop once they started. The magnetism was so strong.

 Kristen challenged him. “Michael, do you like me?” Michael gave her a cocky look “Of course I like you Kristen. You’ve always been my buddy!” Kristen pressed on. “Not like that Michael. You know what I mean.” Michael stood back from her like a bee had just stung him.  

 He didn’t have a chance to answer her. Unexpectedly, his family arrived back early pulling up in a dinghy and boarded the yacht. His father laughed “So, did you two have a good time together?” Michael just smiled at him and went below deck. Kristen told Mr. Hansen about her fish as she lamented to herself at the loss of her opportunity to land Michael too.

 There were several other incidents where Michael and Kristen would find themselves alone, but Michael wouldn’t let anything happen. There were no more kisses, nor any opportunities to lead her on. Kristen was still crazy about him. She couldn’t help it. She had unwittingly placed Michael in the middle of her one-sided teenage fantasy.

  Eventually, fall came and Michael went away to an Ivy League school out east. His parents flew out to see him whenever he had semester breaks and he didn’t come back to Illinois. Kristen missed him greatly and realized she had very strong feelings for Michael. She thought out loud as her heart jumped. “He’s the one!” She just knew he felt the same.

   As the seasons moved on, Kristen was now ready for college herself and decided to live at home and attend the prestigious Northwestern University which was only two miles away. She enjoyed writing and chose Journalism as her major. A few weeks later, Mrs. Stratford unexpectedly died during a cosmetic procedure. Kristen was in total shock and felt like she lost her best friend. It started feeling extra lonely in the Stratford house and her father seemed to be out of town on business more often.

  It did not take long before a Golf Club Manager introduced her father to Margaret. She was a sixty-plus socialite that had been a widow for a short time. Margaret had the term Gold Digger nailed down to perfection. She had risen far above her ho-dunk roots deep in Georgia. She was a real southern belle. A real snake!

   It had been too easy for her father to move on and Kristen now came to believe that her young and beautiful mother had only been a business prop to him. It seemed that she was just someone to wear on his arm. Kristen was also thinking that the Stratford children were also part of the show. They all looked like the perfect family smiling from the gold framed photo on his office desk. She hoped that no man would ever treat her solely as a possession.

   It only took a short time for Margaret to work her charms and to Kristen’s dismay, Mr. Stratford plowed ahead and married her. Kristen moved into an apartment near campus and she never saw a family holiday again. When that time of the year popped up, Margaret always made sure they were either on a cruise, or with her grown children.

   Mrs. Stratford had cared deeply for her four children and arranged for an early trust fund for them. Just a little something to get them by. Each one was to receive a lump sum and then a distribution each month. The rest of their mother’s family money would then be made available whenever her father’s estate was divided after his death. 

   Time passed uneventfully. Kristen was doing very well in college and decided that she wanted to be a fashion writer. She began working free-lance and would submit articles to various publications. Her father was proud of her and began to communicate more often. Kristen wondered if something was adrift in his marriage since lately he never seemed to mention his wife to her.

   His birthday was the following week, so Kristen decided to call him and ask what he wanted. The phone rang a long time and the machine did not pick up. She was about to hang up and was pulling the receiver away from her ear when she heard a familiar voice. It was her brother John.

 Kristen practically yelled in utter fear “What are you doing there?” Although he always buttered Margaret up, Kristen knew John hated the Step Witch even more than her; in fact he was the one that named her. It was rare that he would ever go over there to visit. He said quietly “Kristen, Dad is dead.” Kristen felt her heart absolutely rip apart inside. A cold mass of air filled her lungs and she almost went black. She started crying, emitting a primal noise “Oh no! Not my baby. Not my father!” 

 John continued “He died Tuesday morning. We’ve been trying to reach you all week, but Margaret said she did not know your newest number. We don’t even know where you live. The funeral is tomorrow at 10 AM. I can’t talk right now. I will see you there.” 

 Kristen sadly walked into her bedroom and felt lonelier than ever. She softly cried for most of the night. She was definitely not looking forward to tomorrow or seeing Margaret. “What a liar. The Step-Witch did indeed know her number.”

 Once again, Kristen dressed in black and drove to their church. She hated funerals. She was always in such bad shape at them. She ran into her sisters and brother before the service started. Wide-eyed, her oldest sister told her that the night before a big water pipe crashed through a guest bedroom ceiling at her father’s recently built house. Also, a swarm of bees invaded the living room while Margaret was sitting in there.

 John, who had an unhealthy fondness for Cutty Sark, seemed like he was a little drunk. He mumbled “Do you think Margaret black-widowed him? That’s too weird all that stuff happened to her. Maybe, Dad was trying to tell us something from the grave. You know, it was exactly a week before his 75th birthday, when I think his life insurance expires. I think Margaret is the sole beneficiary!”

 Her sisters, who liked Margaret, groaned, and even Kristen had to choke out a laugh from underneath her tears. John looked as if he really believed it. Kristen said sarcastically “Maybe it’s true!” She looked at John’s face. “Oh, come on John, you know she didn’t. Go sober up, will you?”

 The church was packed with extended family members, friends, and Mr. Stratford’s club and business acquaintances. The back room was also filled to capacity with guests watching the service on a large television monitor. Kristen sat on the opposite side of the pew from the Step Witch and sobbed quietly. She noticed Margaret kept her head down but did not shed a tear; and twice she pulled out her phone to scroll through her text messages.

 After the service, they had the funeral luncheon in a banquet room for closer friends and relatives. Funeral parties were not an easy thing for Kristen to enjoy. She hated it when people would see her grieving in public. The guests always seemed to whoop it up too much at these events. It was good to see everyone, but it was too hard for her to be there.

 Kristen did not see Margaret the entire time until they were in the restroom together. They were both standing at the sink when Margaret said “Kristen. Just who were you crying for at the funeral? It surely wasn’t for your father.”

 She then walked her tight butt out of there. Kristen stood there dumbstruck. She could not believe how mean that woman was. To avoid another run-in, Kristen decided to drive home and not go back into the party.

 A few weeks later Kristen was surprised to receive the first distribution check of what inheritance she had immediately coming to her. It was made abundantly clear that Margaret would only have access to the interest, and never the principal. The interest was still a lot of money for Margaret, but Kristen guessed the Step-Witch was taken by surprise and not pleased knowing that she did not have total control of the whole estate. If she had, Kristen and her siblings would have never seen a penny. Margaret had fought off the pre-nuptial, and it was good to know that her father finally succeeded in the end with preserving the family money which was intended to be passed down through the generations to come.

  Kristen knew the obvious choice was for her to immediately move down to Palm Beach. That was the place that always made her the happiest. But she did not have the amount of straight cash that was needed to secure a home there. That was going to have to wait until her big inheritance.

 Within a week, she arranged her move and was ready to hit the road. The drive went well, and on the second day she entered Georgia. It was in the upper 70’s. She had held onto her winter coat for just this occasion and threw it into a dumpster outside of Taco Bell. 

   When she finally entered Florida, the sky seemed wider and it lightened up like a blanket that was pulled down from her eyes. The road shot straight down the middle of the state and she could sense the Gulf and the ocean growing closer as she continued on to the southern tip. Kristen had the air conditioner on full blast and was tempted to stop at a hotel just so she could plunge into a pool. But the urge to finalize the journey kept her going and she finally reached Palm Beach around midnight.

 As the street sloped upwards, Kristen could now see the illuminated bridge ahead. Crossing the Intracoastal, she was greeted by the magnificent royal palms as they lined themselves in a meticulous row along each side of avenue. She had returned to her promised land and looked forward to seeing the ocean in the morning. It would be another new beginning.

3 SHARK BEACH

 

 The horizon emerged from nowhere cascading deep reds into the abyss. It hung heavy above the water, devoid of motion. Suddenly, a large black fin shot up, growing larger and menacing in silhouette against the shadows.

 Kristen jolted up from behind the wheel of her car and watched it make a stealth pass through the few feet of water just off the shore. It then seemed to melt back into the dark.

 She could not believe that she finally saw her first shark! And, so close! She was enjoying making herself feel quite fearful and in a state of awe, until she snapped back and noticed the sun was taking an unbearably long time to show itself. She was growing impatient.

 As she parked at the curb awaiting the sunrise, she had a copy of yesterday’s newspaper with her. Holding it rumpled in the air, she squinted and pushed it up on the ceiling toward the map light. She paged over to the weather blurb.

 

Moonset: 6:54…  Sunrise: 7:00…

What happens in the six minutes in between?

 

 “For God’s sake! The sun rose a heck of a lot earlier at home.” This delay was ruining what started out as an almost sacred event for her. She had not done this in years and was determined to see it through.

 What does happen during the six minutes? Those minutes were the blackest early moments when the shark appeared.   

 They always say “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” That just about summed up her life. She always had to suffer before things improved. Even rich people had their own set of problems. She noticed as soon as it began to brighten that the waves started up again and gently rolled into the shore. 

   She could now see the dim outlines of a few people on the beach and more early birds sitting in two cars down the block from her. It seemed that the redness only developed more.  

 She got out of the car and sifted through the sand to the water. She was hoping to see the shark again. She sat down on the damp beach perching on top of her hands and noticed a couple approaching about a hundred feet from her. They kicked off their shoes and ran into the water. Kristen knew she should warn them, but kept silent. She cringed when they took a dive right where the shark had been. It was like watching a movie, she felt she couldn’t move or speak. The pair laughed and played around as Kristen witnessed with morbid curiosity. The shark did not re-surface. Complete exhaustion finally caused her to abandon the show. She was slightly amused by the fact she never said anything to them. That wasn’t like her. Now that she was back on the island, she felt herself changing. She wondered why? She wasn’t feeling like herself anymore.

   She slowly walked back to her car and drove to the hotel. Later that morning, she felt she should tell someone about the shark. She called up the town hall and they patched her through to someone in lifeguard services. The man who answered seemed disinterested as she told him of the sighting. He said large sharks were a common occurrence as they migrated back north and they did indeed come in close to shore. That was news to her. Kristen decided to never go swimming in the ocean again.

The next day Kristen obtained a copy of the town’s newspaper which was fondly nicknamed the “Shiny Sheet”. She only saw a few ads for house rentals. There was a month to month place near the beach. It cost an incredible amount, but it was perfect for Kristen’s needs. Sight unseen, she pounced on it and sealed the deal on the phone. In Palm Beach, that’s what you had to do. Rentals were rare and went fast. After her truck arrived from Illinois the next day, she went over to pick up the key from the realtor’s office. The owner planned to eventually sell the small house, so it was empty when Kristen showed up. They had kept the pool open and Kristen jumped right in.

 She loved Palm Beach! The flowers were always in bloom and tropical birds abounded. The white egrets replaced the black sparrows that she was used to seeing up north. Being on a barrier island, it had that extra humidity with a cooling wind that always lulled her into a tranquil state. It made her dry winter skin feel delicious. Her hair felt softer and her mind was rested.

 The owner decided to come by and personally bring her the final papers to sign off on. Kristen was in the pool when he walked up and surprised her. He was in his seventies and very distinguished looking. He was down south taking care of a few details before heading back to New York where they had another estate. It seemed that he was enjoying the time away from his wife and asked “Can I join you in the pool?” Kristen answered “Sure.” He added “I’m sorry, but I don’t have a suit with me.” Laughing nervously, she quickly started up the pool ladder. “I think I have already had too much sun today. I am going inside. But you can go ahead and swim.” 

 He walked up to her and stroked her arm. “Come on, you’ve got a great body. No one will know.” Kristen put her towel around her and started to walk back into the house.” He followed her “I’ll lower the rent. Let’s party.” She answered “I’m saving myself for Le Bar tonight.” The bar was the newest hot spot on the island and everyone wanted to be seen there. He then invited her to go to dinner with him at Club Collette, an exclusive restaurant which was only for members. She loved the place and had often dined there with her parents, so she eagerly accepted the offer.

The Landlord showed up in a chauffeured Rolls, which was standard transportation for the Palm Beach crowd. She climbed into the back seat and guarded her knees from him with her clutch. He smiled a lot at her. Maybe he thought he was going to get lucky at some point, he was probably used to it. He looked at her legs “I see you didn’t wear nylons. I like that.” Kristen said “I know that’s how the girls roll on the island.” He answered “You are right dear. You fit right in. You are a lot classier than most of them, especially for your age.” He lowered his voice “Are you old enough to drink?” She nodded her head affirmatively. Then she said sheepishly “Well, almost. My birthday is August 8th. I’m a Leo.” He chuckled like a dirty old man “Well, then young lioness, you are too old for me. I’ll go easy on you.” The driver announced their destination and swiftly went to open their doors.

Club Colette was a beautiful building set back hidden on a narrow street. If you didn’t know to look for it, you could easily miss seeing its small white gate. As they walked in, the room was filled with expensive perfume and pretentious toupees.

 It was a much older crowd than she expected. The Palm Beach Originals may be getting on in years, but the new money hadn’t quite taken over the island yet, and they still ruled supreme. Club Colette was one of their last holdouts and Kristen felt like she was at a party at her grandparents.

 They had a wonderful meal and many glasses of wine. As she finished her dessert, her landlord knew she was frothing at the mouth to get over to Le Bar. She really wanted to see what all the buzz was about. Though he was nice, she didn’t want to waste her time with him; he was too old, and there was so much that the night had to offer her. But she didn’t want to go alone into the Le Bar either, so she happily pulled him along behind her.

 Kristen had a great time dancing and mingling with the others. Contrary to belief, the local crowd was not snooty and was usually very friendly. But that was the case only if they knew you belonged there. The bartenders were also a lot of fun and openly poured drinks. They went through countless bottles pleasing the crowd and not the owner’s coffers.

 Kristen easily met several wealthy men. They always welcomed a fresh young face to the scene. Her date didn’t mind and was busy hiding from his wife’s friends by keeping mostly to their table which was hidden in a corner.

As the night progressed, the crowd became younger and he felt safe to be seen again. He was quite the “duck” on the disco floor and Kristen enjoyed being out with him. 

 When the night wore out, he escorted her to the front area and parked her while he went to the Men’s Lounge. Kristen posed and smiled as the crowd walked past. A handsome figure approached her. His tight black shirt was unbuttoned to his chest and enhanced his sculpted muscles. He had long blonde hair and looked like a bronzed god straight off the cover of a drugstore romance novel. Best of all, he looked to be around her age.

 She stood to the side to let him by, but he walked right up and took her hand. He leaned over to kiss it and held it lightly in the air as he introduced himself.

 “Hello Beautiful.” He brushed a long bang to the side of his forehead and smiled at her. “I have been watching you all night. I am Gregory.” Kristen laughed and told him her name. He kissed her hand again. “What will it take to get you to go back in and dance with me?”

 Her landlord returned and he gave a nasty look at Gregory as he grabbed her arm. “Come on Honey, it’s time to go home.” Gregory looked confused as The Landlord tried to pull Kristen away from him. She looked back and forth at the two of them and was ready to say something, when her landlord whispered into her ear. “That guy is one of the most loathsome “Lotharios” on the island. I don’t care for the company he keeps. You do not want to ever meet his friends from the country club. I have heard that they are probably a bunch of devil worshippers. They do some kinky stuff in there. You need to go with me now.”

 Kristen gave Gregory a worried look and didn’t say a word. The Landlord did it for her. He firmly said “We are going now. Enjoy your evening Sir.” He turned Kristen around and steered her toward the door. Gregory sputtered “Who is that guy? Your father?” Kristen glanced back at him and smiled as she was walked off. The Landlord shot Gregory an angry look.

 The Landlord was full of information about Gregory and gave Kristen an earful as they were driven back to her house. She was not that appreciative of his one-sided cautionary words and did not reply. She thought Gregory was hot and was tempted to drive back to the club on her own and find him. The Rolls pulled up in her driveway and she quickly got out. 

 The Landlord did not try to prolong their date because Kristen had made it quite clear throughout the night that she had no interest in him. He didn’t mind since he had enough young girlfriends to keep him occupied, and they never presented a challenge. She thanked him for dinner and walked inside.

   Kristen woke up early and decided to walk to the beach instead of staying by her pool. She always managed to get a much better tan at the ocean. She enjoyed that there was barely anyone else there. Even with thoughts of Gregory keeping her warm, there were no men anywhere in sight, and after a short time Kristen was starting to get bored. Two girls crossed the sand and laid their towels down by her. The trio started talking and she learned that their names were Linda and Melanie. They were very interesting and it seemed that Kristen had the good fortune to meet up with kindred spirits that were her age. 

 The girls were from Southern California and were staying in Palm Beach at a Penthouse condo owned by Melanie’s boss. She told her that he let them stay there whenever they wanted. Kristen figured that Melanie probably had a thing going with her employer. What a deal! As long as they weren’t married, Kristen somewhat wished she had that type of arrangement with men so she could stay at different places around the world.

 They all had a great time until the sun became unbearable and mutually decided to go get a late lunch. They walked back into town and went over to Green’s Pharmacy. Green’s was very popular for its small and low-key vintage luncheonette which was straight out of the 1960’s. It seemed oddly out of place in such a stuffy atmosphere as Palm Beach. The menu was simple and the prices were cheap. The diners wore everything from designer cocktail dresses to tennis outfits to sandy bathing suits.

 It was a lively place to be, complete with some tough talking waitresses and the aroma of hamburgers sizzling on the greasy grill in full view just a few feet away. In Green’s you could see the richest men in the world elbow to elbow at the same long lunch counter with uniformed landscape crews. Everyone was on equal turf here and very friendly to all.

 Kristen and the girls managed to procure a small table. They sat down on the thinly padded chairs and ordered the specials. The dining area was very cramped and you couldn’t help listening in on the conversations from all sides. It was a great place to people-watch.

 The women were busy eating their salads when an unexpected guest approached them. Kristen observed as Linda stood up and gave the middle-aged gray haired visitor a quick hug. The man then sat down with them. Melanie began devouring her meal which had now been served and didn’t pay much attention to him. “Well, how are you bathing beauties doing today?” Linda laughed “You look like you could use a tan Bernie.” He chuckled “I will get around to it later. I flew in for a bash at one of the country clubs. I am one of their top members.” He made small talk for another five minutes and stood up to leave. “You girls should really get in on some new ventures that I have going.” He pointed at Kristen. She replied “Don’t look at me. I love money too much to invest it in anything that isn’t a guaranteed return.”

 Bernie shook his head with a frown. “You need to take a small risk or two if you are going to make any money. You really need to talk to an investment counselor.” He gave Linda a kiss on the cheek and handed Kristen his business card. He then went over to a table filled with men in golfing outfits.

 Melanie laughed “When Bernie Madoff speaks, you should listen! He is one of the major players on Wall Street. Many of the people and foundations on the island are hooked up with him and making a lot of money. My boss introduced me to him.”

 Kristen looked disinterested and did not comment. When they finished eating, they stood up and tightened their towels around their trim waists. Kristen didn’t have any pockets and left Bernie’s glossy card on her plate. As appreciative eyes followed them, the new friends filed out of the diner and returned to the beach. It was a lazy day!

 The girls flew in almost every week-end from L.A. and they spent the next two months partying together and hitting up every club on the Gold Coast. Her friends were much wilder than Kristen and she learned a few things from them.

 Another sunny day arrived and the girls spent a long afternoon on a boat that they rented from a marina in Boca Raton. They enjoyed the attention they received from all the men on the other boats and found it to be a very useful dating tool. The sun was brutal and soon they had enough of it.   

   Kristen went home to change and then later in the evening she went over to the penthouse to meet her friends. After some refreshments, they walked the three blocks to the Le Bar. They kept on the grass and carried their heels. A few sports cars drove by and whistled as they now made their way down Cocoanut Row. They were getting close and about to cross over the large parking lot, so they stopped to put back on their shoes. A Rolls-Royce pulled in front of their path. An older Italian man with obviously dyed black hair jumped out of the back seat.

 “Girls, girls, get in! Let me take you on the town.” Kristen was still trying to get her shoe on and keep her balance. She looked up to see that he was headed straight for her. He took her arm to steady her. “Thanks.” Kristen smiled. 

 He said in a sexy Italian accent “And whom may I have the pleasure of escorting?” “I’m Kristen,” she said. The other girls were watching them. “We’re going ahead” Melanie whined. “Not enough attention here for us.” They walked over to the Le Bar entrance.

 The man said to Kristen. “Come in my Rolls for some champagne.” Kristen slowly thought about it and said, “Alright, that would be nice. What is your name?” “I am Rosario. Rosario of Palm Beach” he gave a sweeping bow. Kristen inquired, “Is that your first name or last?” He shrugged and said “Does it matter? I am like Cher! Everyone knows me. I just need one name. “OK then,” Kristen laughed, as the driver let her in the vehicle.

 She looked around the car saying “It seems all the men on the island have at least one Rolls.” Rosario explained “This is just my car when I am planning to drink. I have four other cars that I had shipped over from my house in Milan. I do all the driving with those babies!” He started naming them off “Testarossa, Lamborghini…” Kristen cut him off “OK, I know all of those. That’s great. I love Ferraris!”

 Rosario whispered in her ear “Stick with me for a month and I will buy you one.” Kristen looked at him. He looked serious. She replied “Well, let’s see if we can make it through this bottle of champagne first.” Rosario said “This bubbly is one of the finest. It is for sipping and enjoying. If you want to get drunk, we’ll go inside.” He seemed a little bossy. It was probably because Kristen was acting somewhat childish. She needed to adjust herself for these older and cultured conquests. She was still in her advanced Palm Beach adult learning phase and it was hard to restrain herself. She had to act less excited.

 Kristen said “Yes, let’s go inside. I want to be with my girlfriends.” Rosario had the driver pull out of the spot and take them all the way to the front door which was only twenty feet away.

 The Manager made a special trip outside to greet Rosario. He said “Rosario! I have your favorite table ready by the dance floor. It’s good to see you again.” He smiled at Kristen “Any friend of Rosario’s is now my friend. I am here to provide you with anything you need. Tell me your name and I will keep you on our list.” She cheerfully handed him her card and thanked him.

 Kristen knew that this was a major asset needed to survive in Palm Beach. Being a VIP always had its perks. Lately, Le Bar was trying to keep gawkers and non-essentials out by charging a steep cover and making them wait in long lines. During Season, those unfortunates simply did not get in. It was just too crowded, every day of the week.

 The couple was taken to Rosario’s table and handed menus. Kristen wasn’t hungry, but decided to order an appetizer. Rosario waved to her girlfriends and they came over and sat down. He had them order a full dinner for themselves and then bothered Kristen about being skinny. She finally gave in and asked for a chicken sandwich.

 Now Melanie and Linda were trying to hit on Rosario. They needed a Sugar Daddy to take care of them whenever they came in from California. Rosario was only into Kristen and once the other girls had eaten, he encouraged them to go find partners on the dance floor.

When they moved on, he said “Thank God, now I have you to myself. They were giving me a headache with all that Valley Girl twang.” Kristen chuckled. She knew that she was never going to suck into Rosario. He was too controlling and cranky. But she played along with him, and it was going to be tough trying to keep him at bay.

 Rosario kept refilling her glass and tried to keep her at the table. Kristen stood up and announced “I really want to dance. I’ve got to work off this food.” Rosario said “Tonight, I am not in the mood to boogie. Please just sit here with me.” Kristen said “I’ve got to move! I’m getting worn out sitting.”

 She started to walk in the direction of her girlfriends. Rosario called out “I will wait for you. Please behave yourself.” Kristen waved at him and cheerfully walked up to a herd of men that had Melanie and Linda surrounded.

 Their group moved to the other side of the bar and out of Rosario’s line of vision. They found a safe spot and stood there as countless people milled about them. Kristen enjoyed getting some fast dancing in before her feet called it a night. Her heels were too high to be comfortable in.

 She slowly walked back to Rosario. His table was now filled with women and they were also standing around him. Kristen recognized two popular soap opera stars. It sounded like he was telling them a wild tale when she came up to them. A waiter hurriedly added a chair for her and put her right next to Rosario. He patted her knee “You are such a beauty Kristina!” Kristen smiled at him “Grazie Rosario!” Rosario was impressed with her Italian and he dramatically shooed the women away. He said “I want to take you for a ride. But no Valley girls allowed!” Kristen replied “That’s OK, I guess.” Kristen had a waiter go to her girlfriends to tell them she was leaving; her feet were too sore to do it herself.

 The Manager walked up to Rosario to bid him “Arrivederci”. He patted Kristen on the back and said “Take good care of him.” Kristen gave him a special look so he knew she had no intentions of any hanky-panky with Rosario. The Manager seemed to understand her and laughed “Kristen, I’ll see you back here soon and I will personally keep you happy.” He gave her a wink and then a flirtatious pat on her butt. Kristen scooted forward to slip away from his hand. Rosario was walking ahead and didn’t notice anything.

 When they went outside, Kristen was expecting to see the Rolls-Royce. Instead, Rosario must have had someone bring him his race car, because a hot red Ferrari Testarossa was revving up in front.

Rosario said “You said you liked Ferraris Kristina. So, we ride in my Ferrari.” Kristen applauded “Molto Bene!” She jumped in. “Let’s go!” Rosario gunned the engine and tore out of there with a big screech. Everyone in the lot turned to look.

 They zoomed over the Intracoastal Bridge and took a fast turn on Flagler. He had a wild streak in him that she connected to. They talked about Italy and his business. Rosario’s family had been exporting Italian marble and other materials globally for over sixty years and he had homes in several countries. He said he only was in Palm Beach maybe one to two months of the year and sometimes for week-end visits. He had a mansion on the ocean located in the South End.

 Kristen was starting to like him now and would happily dine with him, but she never entertained the thought of progressing it into his bedroom. He was way out of her age range and Rosario just didn’t have that effect on her. If Kristen wanted someone; she knew right away.

 They headed out by the turnpike and he drove the car at 140 MPH for a long stretch. No one else was on the road. He would have gone faster, but Kristen asked him to slow down.

 Rosario then drove back to the island and deposited her back at her car by the penthouse. He gave her a tired kiss on the cheek. “Good night Kristina. It was fun. I should take you to the Whitestone sometime. They throw great parties. I will call you.”  

 She replied “How can you call if you don’t know my number?” Rosario said “Don’t worry.” Kristen just looked puzzled and thought, “These rich men are strange characters. You never know what they want or what they are thinking.” Kristen did not like it when someone did not make their intentions clear. She felt if they were not going to pursue her, she was just going to move on, she didn’t need their game. As she emerged from the car she straightened up and could feel the sunburn from earlier intensifying on her back.

 Kristen woke up to a fresh day and renewed her attitude. She really did prefer it in Florida more than up north. She was always eager to play a lot of tennis, golf, and ride horses. She was probably the only person there that especially loved the excessive humidity. When it wasn’t The Season, life was still a party, but it just wasn’t the same.

 But then, after a few more weeks, Kristen decided she was getting bored with the whole scene and wanted to move back home. She called up Linda and Melanie and told them her plans and that she would start flying out to Los Angeles to party there instead. She drove back to Chicago a few days later. She liked the idea of being less accessible and living the true island life, so she kept the house lease open. She decided to go back to Palm Beach whenever she had a whim. It would be costly, but she needed that spontaneity. It kept her more exciting!

 When Kristen returned to Illinois, she immediately rented a large house in her hometown. She didn’t plan to stay in it long. She just needed to breathe while thinking of where she was going to buy permanent quarters. Instead of being happy, she only felt like a fish out of water again, and knew it was a mistake to leave Palm Beach. Her plans were too grandiose to be stuck back at home again. She felt like she needed to re-invent herself; otherwise she was going to jump out of her skin.   

   At least Kristen’s persistence with trying to advance in her career now paid off. A few of the top fashion magazines wanted to take her on as a regular contributor. They paid well and liked that she had her own fresh outlook with regards to the industry and trends. This extra income was certainly welcome and would help to feed her voracious wardrobe needs and demanding lifestyle. She would also earn the last of her college credits that were needed to accelerate getting her degree.

   One late afternoon, after spending hours going through her style manuals, Kristen felt extra bored and knew that an outing downtown was just what she needed. She rounded up her girlfriends and set the plan in motion…

4 SUGAR DADDY 101

 

 Cabaret was dimly lit with red lights reflecting off the crushed velvet on the wall. It gave off the essence of a bordello with a hint of sophistication, and surprisingly enough, it was one of the classiest restaurants in downtown Chicago! It was also well known for the executives and tourists that trickled in and congregated around the bar area without their wives.

 Kristen loved Cabaret. It came alive when the other places closed, every day of the week. Tonight, there was still a great assortment of extremely well-dressed men, and lucky for her, a minimal number of gold diggers and pros.

 It was a long night and she had easily outlasted her girlfriends. They had abandoned her two hours before. Kristen was just there to get a bite to eat before she went home. The restaurant area was closed, but they still had food in the lounge.

 She had just finished eating when she looked across the bar. A tall, handsome man was staring at her. He was one of the sharpest dressers she had ever seen! He had black diamonds on his collar pin and the look of unchallenged power. Kristen could always tell who the president of a company was, and who was not. Tonight, she could smell Multi-National wafting across the bar.

 She was startled from her thoughts when the bartender suddenly placed a bottle of Dom Perignon on ice in front of her. She was aware of whom it was from and she knew what to do.  She smiled at the bartender “I don’t want this.” He looked shocked and put it back in front of the obvious sender. Without a flinch, and with a chuckle, her generous stranger looked completely delighted. He poured himself a glass and gave a toast to her across the bar. Kristen thought she would be funny. She asked the bartender for a bottle of beer and uncharacteristically took a swig from it and toasted him back.

 The man smiled and slowly rose from his seat. He picked up the silver bucket and walked around the bar towards Kristen. There was a gentleman to her right side that was slumped over his drink. He looked up, and with a non-verbal acknowledgement of a higher presence, he swiftly vacated his post.

 Mr. Important sat down very casually as the bartender quickly cleared him a space. The man slowly poured Kristen a glass of champagne and handed it to her. She was blushing by now and was absolutely impressed. She knew it was going to be hard to play any further games with him. He was too amazing; he was too much of what she wanted. 

 Of course, she had to ruin the moment. She slowly forced her eyes to look at his left hand. And, to no surprise, the gold ring gleamed right back at her. He saw her looking at it, gave her an evil grin, and said “Aww, too bad! You still want me, don’t you? My name is William, and you are Kristen. Am I correct?” Kristen looked a bit puzzled. She had never seen him before or she would have remembered. She wondered how he knew her name. The bartender came sheepishly back up to him. “Excuse me, Mr. Bensinger. Can I get you some strawberries?” William replied “I’m alright, but you better go check up on our other guests who are still left at the end of the bar.”

 Kristen inquired “You own this place?” The mystery thickened. William smiled at her without an answer. He had turned his head away and Kristen saw that he was looking toward a matronly, jewel-soaked, and overbearing woman who she knew was Liz, a regular. Liz walked over and pushed her way in between them. She shoved her ample chest in his face and said “I think it’s time to go now William, I’m tired!” He replied “You go on. I’ll be there in a bit.” He refused to say another word or even look at her. She gave Kristen a murderous look and huffed out.

 William administered another glass for himself and quickly gulped it down. He said “So much about me. What about you?” Kristen smiled. He reached over for her hand and said “Let’s dance.” The piano player was tapping out a romantic tune. William put his arm around her, drawing her very close. With her head resting on his shoulder, she knew this was the beginning of a long acquaintance. They danced and talked for the rest of the hour. 

 Kristen could see out of the corner of her eye that the place was slowly emptying out. Soon the lights were turned even lower and they were the only ones left. The ice was melted and the piano became quieter. He kissed her on the forehead, gave her his business card, and led her to the front of the lounge area. She stumbled a little as she walked and pulled out her valet ticket.

 William looked concerned and said “You’re not driving. Cabaret keeps a suite at the Hilton for our favorite patrons.” Kristen quickly replied “I am not drunk. I am just very tired and trying to break in these new shoes.” William smiled “I’ll have my driver take you over there and one of the boys will drop your car off in the hotel lot so you’ll have it in the morning.” William added “Actually, I can come and fetch you for lunch.” Kristen said “Thank you; it is a long drive home. I would rather do it in the afternoon.”

 The limo pulled up. William opened the door for her and gave her a long and meaningful kiss as he placed her inside.   As they drove off, Kristen could see that he was still watching her. She looked back at him as he walked across the street from Cabaret and into one of the ultra-luxury high-rises that had just been built in the neighborhood.

 Kristen leaned forward from her seat and knocked on the driver’s privacy window. He slid it open. “Who is he?” The chauffeur politely told her that he had no information to offer. She realized she still had his business card clenched in her hand and looked at it. William was the CEO of one of the larger international corporations. It also sunk in that he was “The” William Bensinger who played golf with U.S. Presidents and was the benefactor of many. He was very well known and was always in the papers.  Susan saw that he had written down his private number at work and his cell phone. She smiled as she secured this treasure in her purse.

 The limo pulled up to the Hilton. The night manager came out and personally escorted her up to her suite. She collapsed on the bed and fell asleep.

 When she woke, she opened the curtains and could tell the sun was high in the sky. She guessed it must have been around noon. She noticed the message light on the hotel phone was blinking, so she pushed it to listen.

“Good morning Kristen.” It was William! He said “I am hard at work right now and I am sure it is late in the morning by the time you are listening to this. When you are ready, just go to the front desk and they will bring your car around. Feel free to get some lunch first and charge it to my account.”

 Kristen showered and dressed. She was embarrassed that she was still wearing nightclub garb and it was obvious she had stayed out all night. The fact it was a week-day made it all look even worse. She went to the front lobby pulling her coat around her to hide her sparkly dress. 

 Her car was brought quickly to the front and she got in. She took another peek at William’s business card. She noticed his office building was close-by, so in a bold move she pulled up in front of it and dialed his cell. Surprisingly, he answered it. “Hi, it’s Kristen. I’m in front of your building. Why don’t you come and have lunch with me like you said you wanted to last night?” William laughed “Tell you what. Let’s get a liquid lunch over at the Palmer House. Just pull your car into our parking garage and I’ll meet you at the door there.”

 As she waited for him, Kristen felt even more embarrassed as she stood on the busy business district street in her four inch heels. She felt like a hooker and wished that night would come again so she would feel more comfortable. She pulled her hair over to the sides to hide her dangling earrings.

 A black limousine pulled up. The tinted back window lowered a few inches and two fingers stuck out wiggling at her. William and the driver both emerged to let her in the back door. William waved him off, and with a sweeping grand gesture, he opened it himself. He gave her a little pinch on the rear as she climbed in. It felt very cozy being with him on the spacious leather seats. He eased her shoulders back down and climbed on top of her passionately smothering her with kisses.   

  Kristen pushed him away. “Whoa Cowboy! You’re going to have to wine a dine me first. A lot!” He gathered himself together and sat back away from her laughing. “Oh, come on, you’re not an easy girl?” Kristen laughed and answered quickly. “Not until I get a lot of money and some jewelry out of you first. Just kidding. You know it’s all about the pursuit. Right?”

 He looked at her wisely. “It’s all too true” He nodded his head with a mocked sadness and then dropped it to his chest, like he ran out of air. He then popped up and started tickling her. “Come on fun girl. Let’s go!”

 They had now pulled up in front of the Palmer House. He put his arm around her as they walked downstairs to the world famous Tiki Bar. As they sat down, Kristen glanced around at the tropical setting. William said “What will it be? Food or Booze?” She answered “How about both? I’ll take a steak sandwich and a Mai Tai.” “I concur” he said and summoned the waiter.

 William seemed very relaxed. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and turned it off saying “I guess the world will have to wait.” He took a long sip of his drink, drew Kristen closer, and began kissing her neck. They seemed to be the only ones in there now. The lunch hour rush was over.

 They sat there for hours pounding down island drinks one after another. William was getting loose and started telling her about his earlier years in the Air Force and about his rise in the business world. He told her that he had his wife safely tucked away in the distant suburbs and that she was completely aware of both his business dealings and his philandering. He said she didn’t mind that he kept his penthouse in the city and was only home a few days a week. It usually bothered Kristen if someone was married, but William had a long track record and it was obvious his wife didn’t care in the least. She really liked him and hoped they had a future together.

 They talked for a long time just holding hands and had a great time. People slowly started streaming back into the Tiki Bar for the after work Happy Hour. William took this as his cue to get out of there. Kristen wondered if he thought he would be noticed by someone. It would be great fodder for the tabloids. William was pretty buzzed and was staggering a bit. He leaned on Kristen for support. “Let’s go to my place”, he whispered in her ear and gave a little chew on her lobe. They plopped into his limousine and headed towards Michigan Avenue. He had one of the most prestigious addresses in town.

 They kissed as they went into the elevator and the attendant produced a key card, shooting them up non-stop to the top. She was surprised when the door opened onto the foyer of his actual residence. He owned the entire top floor.

 Kristen’s heels clicked on the exquisite marble floor. It was buffed to perfection. She gazed up at the dramatic cathedral ceilings and the carved woodwork. The walls were mirrored and Kristen thought of the Palace at Versailles when she saw them. She felt very small amidst this great opulence as she gazed at the antique furnishings. It felt like she was in an exclusive museum. “Please remove your shoes” William said as he worriedly looked down at her pointy heels. He surveyed the path she had taken across the floor to see if she had scratched it up yet.  

 Kristen took her shoes in hand and tiptoed over to the couch. “Not in here,” William said. He quickly grasped her arm and led her through to his bedroom. Kristen looked around at the very seductive setting. She wagered his wife had never been to William’s sex hideaway in the city. His boudoir was quite the opposite from the motif of the rest of the residence.

William embraced her and bent his neck down to engage her lips as she weakened in his hold. He slowly loosened her clothing and massaged her skin filling her with sensation and longing. He kissed her even more strongly as she stood on her toes to reach him. Keeping his arms around her, he walked her over to his majestic bed.

 He laid her down without ever leaving her mouth and then draped himself over her body as he caressed her until she begged him to take her. He was a world-class lover and Kristen was entranced in his passion. When it ended, she lay still as he slowly pulled himself from her and went into the other room.

 William came back with a glass of water and stood above her looking down. Kristen looked fondly up at him and smiled. He leaned down and gave her a brief kiss. “We have to go; I have a business dinner.”

 The magic was over! Kristen looked disappointed. William thought “It would be nice if you came with me, but you can’t wear those clothes.” He handed her six hundred dollars. “Neiman Marcus is near-by. Go over there and spend this on something you love. Then meet me at The Italian Village. I’ll be there at 7:30 PM.” Kristen was worried. “Is it alright for you to be seen with me? You are married.” William chuckled “I am? That is never an issue. I’ll see you then.”

 William walked off to his study. Kristen enjoyed the luxury multi-head shower and quickly dressed. She walked out rubbing her hair with a towel. William didn’t look up from his papers and said “You can go get your locks styled too.” He held out two hundred dollars. He then turned in his chair “Make sure you are not late.”

 Kristen knew that it might be hard for William to fit her into his schedule. In between his mistress, his family, and his business, it left him with little time. Kristen knew that Liz had more pull on him than his wife and she was identified to be the only obstacle in the way to her goals.

 Kristen had a lovely dinner that evening. His two clients enjoyed her company and didn’t act like it was strange that she joined them. Before dessert, William took her downstairs and said “Don’t you think that dress is kind of short?” He stood her in front of a hall mirror and pointed. Her tight dress had worked its way up and was sitting at the top of her thighs. “Whoops” she said and pulled it down.

 William admonished her “You need to dress better than that if you wish to be seen with me.” He smiled and gave her rump a pat. “My fault, I guess I should have given you more money for the dress. Why don’t you go over to Cabaret, I will see you in one hour. I need to talk business now.” He handed her cab fare. “Thanks Daddy” Kristen said. William frowned at her.

 William showed up two hours later and had Kristen return with him to his Penthouse. They sat in his living room enjoying cocktails. His land phone kept ringing. After, the third time, he unplugged it from the wall. Kristen knew it was probably Liz calling and she obviously knew exactly who William was entertaining. She was afraid that any minute she would hear knocking on the door. It made it hard for her to enjoy William when he began making love to her again.

 When they were finished, Kristen decided that she did not want to get murdered in her sleep and told William that she was going home. He had his driver take her in the limousine back to her car. She was glad to see it. She needed her mobility.

 Kristen saw William frequently for the next two weeks. He always chose the finest restaurants and introduced her to several politicians and friends.

 Another steamy Wednesday night made its appearance. The city was always scorching compared to the suburbs. Once the sun set it just seemed like the humidity became even more overpowering. Kristen was in Cabaret where even the air conditioning in there was struggling to keep up. She was posed at a table with her summer drink displaying an abundance of orange slices hanging off the sides. Since it was mid-week, it was mostly only business parties and a few tourists present.

 Kristen was waiting for William to show up to take her out to a formal gala somewhere. She was wearing a sequined evening gown and had her hair in a low chignon. She looked quite dignified and about ten years older because her bangs weren’t hanging in her eyes. She knew that William would like this new look. She still wondered why he risked his reputation being seen with young women and old Liz when everyone knew he was very married.

 She thought about his relationship with Liz.  She doubted the old bag accompanied him all that much. She had that spent, cheap hooker look with that awful blonde dye job and fake eyelashes. She wasn’t one to show off to others.

 The businessmen went back and forth from their tables and gave Kristen a grin as they walked by her. They were down to their shirt sleeves and working themselves up on the dance floor with the few girls that were in there. Kristen chose to remain cool and turned down a few offers to whoop it up.

 She twiddled her ice cubes around with her straw and was feeling impatient. She thought “How long is William going to be?” She wanted to get out of there before Liz came in. She felt that there would be a confrontation if Liz knew where William was taking her. Usually, Liz just ignored her. Kristen wondered why she still wanted William when he was obviously falling for Kristen. If, Kristen truly wanted William, it would only be when he was ready to leave his wife for her. Right now, she was fine with their situation.

 A tall man with dark blonde hair wearing a suit strode past her and Kristen gave him a smile. The man almost reached the table where his work companions sat, when he did a double-take and came back toward her. “Kristen? Kristen Stratford?” She answered “Yes, I am. Do I know you?” He looked excited and sat next to her “Sure, you do. It’s me! Michael Hansen, your childhood friend. Come on. It hasn’t been that long.”

 She said happily “Of course it is. I was being spacey. I didn’t recognize you in a suit. Michael, you look great! How are you?” He said “I’m doing very well. I am here with some of my company’s executives for dinner.” He pointed over toward them. He pushed her drink slightly out of his way and kissed her on her cheek. “Yum, Yum, you smell delicious. And you look gorgeous! Going out with your husband after this?” Kristen said “I’m not married, just waiting for my boyfriend, he owns this place.”

 Michael looked confused and said “William Bensinger is your boyfriend? Isn’t he kind of old for you? He looks kind of like your father.” He then laughed “Do you have some kind of Daddy complex going on?” Kristen was very annoyed by his comment. “He’s not that old. He’s a wonderful man.” She said sarcastically “So, Michael, where’s your wife?” He answered “Never married, still can’t find the right woman.” He gave Kristen a sad look like she should understand what he meant. Kristen looked him over and said politely “Well, you are quite a catch, and still young, shouldn’t be long.” He looked into her eyes. “Kristen, there is something I need to ask you…”

 One of his dinner friends came up and interrupted him. “Mike. I’ve got Pittsburgh calling on my cell. You need to come over and talk to him.” Michael looked at him and nodded his head. “Kristen, I have to go, it’s an important call.” He leaned closer to her “I really need to talk to you. I will be right back.”

 Kristen started to finish up her drink. She wondered what Michael had to say to her that was so important. He looked very handsome and very successful. She was curious what business he was in. She had a faraway look in her eyes when William finally came up to her.

 “You look marvelous! Are you ready to go?” Kristen managed a weak “Oh. Hi William. Of course, I am ready. I’ve been waiting for a while.” William looked apologetic. “Sorry. I am having business problems. Let’s vamoose!” William was wearing his black tuxedo. “Well, don’t you look handsome” Kristen said as she looked him over and perked up. “This must be some special place we are going to.”

 She glanced over at Michael. He was still on the phone and with his other hand he was lighting the cigarette of a lanky brunette wearing a crimson Dior number. Kristen speculated “That’s probably his girlfriend. What’s he doing with a smoker? He is too much of a jock.” Kristen was surprised that she felt jealous.

 She was looking forward to going out with William, but also did not want to leave Michael. He still made her heart pound out of her chest and she needed to resolve these unfinished feelings for him. She wanted to give him her number, but there was no easy way to do it, and she knew William would not like that at all.

 She took William’s arm and they went outside to his waiting limousine. Kristen inquired “So, come on! Where are we going? What’s the big mystery?” William chuckled at her “My princess, you are going to meet royalty tonight!” Kristen’s eyes grew wide! “Are you kidding? We’re going to that ball at the Field Museum?” William said “That’s right! Are you excited?” Kristen nudged his shoulder “Of course I am! That gala is one of the most happening events this year. You are such a Schnook not to tell me.” She laughed “I would have worn a tiara.”

 William said “I’m hoping to get a private dance with one of the royals that should be there. I am one of the biggest contributors to the charity and our table is right by the main one.” Kristen squeezed his hand and exclaimed “This is going to be fantastic William! Thank you.

 Unknown to Kristen, Michael Hansen noticed her leaving Cabaret and abruptly hung up on his important business call. He ran out after her, but was too late! Michael stood sadly in the middle of the street watching as Bensinger’s limousine headed off towards the east. Michael wanted her to know he always had special feelings for her since they were young, and that he had always wanted to tell her that. He wanted her to be with him now and he would take her anywhere she wanted to go.  

 Now, he lost his chance. He wondered if there would ever be another opportunity. Michael knew he could find out her phone number if he wanted, but he thought he would wait until he ran into her again when she was alone somewhere. For now, her dance card looked filled.

 When the couple arrived at the party there was a long line of limos dropping off their expensive cargo. Without hesitation, William’s driver sped past the others and pulled right up to a roped-off area to let them out. The museum was all decked out for the occasion and there were some very impressive evening gowns in attendance. Kristen looked over to where a crowd was standing. She could see a few of the princesses who hailed from different countries. They all looked very lovely.

 In between dances, Kristen stood shyly in the corner and smiled as William schmoozed with a bevy of socialites. A woman dressed in mint green chiffon came billowing up to her. “So, how did William find you? Yellow Pages?” Kristen shrunk backward. The aggressor continued “I used to date William long before he ever met Liz. We almost got engaged. But he has always cared more about his company, and it is not good business to be involved in a messy divorce. It scares the shareholders!”

 Kristen just looked at her blankly and did not comment. The woman started to speak more when William walked up and took Kristen’s hand. He looked unhappy and said “I see you have met Mitzi, the Welcoming Committee.” He gave Mitzi a cold peck on the cheek. William said “I can only imagine what you two are discussing. Let’s go back to our table Kristen.” He ushered her away.

 As soon as they reached a safe distance from Mitzi, William let go of Kristen’s hand and without a word, he walked off to speak to a group of his business associates. Kristen felt abandoned again as she made her way back to another part of the room to position herself next to the orchestra. This was not the type of setting that one should be left so obviously alone. Kristen felt very uncomfortable that William seemed to be keeping her away from these friends. Maybe, he really was worried about not being there with his wife, or God forbid, Liz! It was more obvious to Kristen now that she was just a prop when he wanted her. Tonight, it seemed he was trying to look more available to the other women. She felt unwanted and contemplated hiding out in the Women’s Lounge for the rest of the evening.

 A waiter came walking towards her carrying a tray of champagne and Kristen stood ready to receive him. She leaned down to lay her silver clutch on the table and when she turned back, her flute was being handed to her by a tall stranger.

 “What is an exquisite beauty doing here standing alone?” She was drawn in by the deep voice and looked up at him. His steel blue eyes met hers and she stepped back as she felt overpowered and seduced by a strange coldness. An elegant creature was before her and Kristen felt very small and insignificant in his presence.

 She softly thanked him and his hand wrapped around hers as she took the glass. Instead of the anticipated fire, she was surprised when she felt her fingers ice up. She gave a small shudder and the man reached out and gently pulled her evening wrap tighter around her.

 He moved in closer on Kristen and slowly isolated her further into a corner. “To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?” Kristen was charmed by his English accent and answered “My name is Kristen Stratford.”

 He tilted his head to one side and said “I am Karl. Are you the daughter of Arthur Stratford?  We were club members at the Whitestone together in Palm Beach. I attended his funeral. I am sorry for your loss. He was such a great man. He always said that he wanted me to meet you. He said that you were special.” Kristen sadly smiled.

 They conversed for a short while and then Karl took her glass and walked her over to the orchestra leader. He put his hand on the man’s shoulder and made a request. The music quickly changed from an upbeat tempo to a slow and romantic pace.

 Karl led Kristen straight into the middle of the floor and held her at arm’s length as they lightly waltzed. He didn’t say a word as he looked down at her. Kristen had a curious look planted on her face and his remained indifferent, but his eyes never left hers.

 William was across from them dancing with someone’s wife as he worriedly viewed Kristen. He turned his partner so that he faced towards them. He impatiently continued dancing, and as the song ended, William quickly headed the couple off as they walked. Karl stiffened and gave a curt smile as William reached to take possession of Kristen. He extended his hand in a firm shake. “Hello William. How are you this evening? I was just keeping your lovely granddaughter company; I hope you don’t mind.”

 William emitted a short laugh at the insult and quipped “I thought you liked them even younger and much more obedient Karl. This one is too much of a handful for your likes. So, Karl what brings you all the way here from the UK? Or did you just have an easy flight from your other place in New York?”

 Karl answered “Just in for the night to fork over my money like you. William, you must tell me. Where did you find Miss Stratford?” Kristen was enjoying being the center of attention and reached for her glass of champagne. She sipped it demurely as she watched them.

 The men continued to politely banter, but neither one cared for the other, nor were they interested in what was being said. Kristen took notice that Karl seemed to command the conversation. William was the first to back off and he made his way to the head table to seek out his allies.

 He firmly held Kristen’s arm, keeping her close behind him. He whispered in her ear “There is something off with that guy. I have never liked him.” Kristen was intrigued and she dragged her heels and felt herself pulling back to stay with Karl. Without turning to look, she could feel Karl’s eyes follow her.

 For the rest of the evening, Kristen thought about Karl and wondered if he came by himself. She had been so distracted by his glacial charm that she hadn’t even looked at his hand to notice if he was married or not. William stayed steadfast by her side and did not let her out of his sight. As she half-heartedly danced the rest of the night with him, she strained to watch the back of Karl’s head in the distance and see who he was with. He had a never-ending stream of beautiful partners.

 There was an abundance of bubbly flowing that evening and poor William never got his dance with a princess, or even a countess. They were too busy being whirled about by the celebrities that showed up. The event was a success and a lot of money was made that night.

 Kristen was very tired after the gala and William had an early flight in the morning to Houston. Her car was still parked at his restaurant. The limousine dropped her off in front and the Cabaret valet retrieved her vehicle as soon as he saw them pulling up. 

 Kristen considered going back inside to find Michael, but quickly decided that he was probably long gone. She would have loved to catch up on things with him. She went home thinking about how wonderful being with William was tonight, at least the party was.  She hoped she would be going to all the best affairs with him this year. She especially hoped she would see Karl again!

 In the weeks to come, William worked harder at being the perfect boyfriend, but the magic from their first meeting was quickly fading. Kristen knew it had something to do with Karl. It probably just brought out the competitive spirit in him and nothing else. He called her faithfully every day and they spent all his available moments together enjoying each other at either his place or a five-star hotel. But soon that momentum fizzled out just like she knew it would.

 Kristen now felt very comfortable at Cabaret. At least all of the staff members thought she had a strong relationship going with William and they always gave her top service. They were mostly glad that there was a possibility that Liz was about to be replaced by this new girlfriend. They told Kristen that Liz was usually pretty nasty to them, even before she met Bensinger. She was very demanding and a complete terror!

 William must have been fighting something fierce with his mistress lately, because he was even bold enough to sit with Kristen and make out with her in plain sight. Kristen felt very uncomfortable with this and tried to subtly pull away from him. She could always feel Lizard’s eyes boring holes into her whether Liz was there or not.

 Cabaret was usually filled with celebrities and plenty of men to meet. Kristen was ready to move on. As long as William did not commit to her, she had no guilt checking them out. Who knows what other girlfriends he had? Kristen always enjoyed having free drinks and food with her friends on his tab. But on the downside, William was too busy with his business dealings to pay any attention to her, even when she was standing right next to him.

 One late Cabaret evening, Kristen was surrounded by a group of men all dressed in similar suits. About the only people who dressed like that would be the Secret Service. The alleged employees said they were part of the President’s advance team. He was going to be in town in a few days and was dining with William. The agents were all probably married, but were very charming, and Kristen was having a great time.

 One of the agents was particularly interested in her and was trying to convince her to go to a hotel with him. The others were watching him make a fool of himself and did not try to discourage him. He told Kristen that if she hung out with him during the week, maybe she could meet the President. Kristen cringed when he said that because she knew that William definitely had no plans to introduce her to him.

 The other men kept a few steps away, but well within earshot. After a while, it was obvious the agent was being overly friendly and a bit obnoxious, so his comrades convinced him it was time to leave. He insisted on Kristen’s phone number and she gave him a fake one. After he left, she wished she had given him the correct number. She thought “The White House. The Lincoln Bedroom. Now that’s a goal to pursue!”

 William had a business trip to New York the following week and decided to take Kristen with him. Kristen was surprised at the invitation, because lately she felt she would soon be losing William. She really liked him and was excited for the opportunity to be alone with him with no outside interference. This is exactly what they needed to rekindle their relationship.

 They flew first-class to JFK, where a limousine awaited them, and were driven to the Four Seasons Hotel where William reserved one of their finest suites. Kristen was finally reaping the benefits of dating him. It made her forget about the parts that weren’t so good.

 For their first night, William took her out for a classy meal and a Broadway show. After it let out, they took a long and romantic stroll through the city. When they finished, they took a cab back to the hotel and shared a passionate night. Kristen finally felt like she belonged with him.

 The next day he had a luncheon to attend with two friends who were Senators. Kristen pleaded “Can’t I come with? I don’t want to be by myself.” William was now in his business mode. “No, I am sorry Kristen, it wouldn’t be appropriate, they know my wife.”  Kristen replied “That has never bothered you before? Why now?” William said “Please, don’t argue about this, it just isn’t right. I’ve got to go.” He thought for a moment and opened his wallet. “Here, take one of my credit cards. Buy anything you want. Seriously. Anything.”

 Kristen happily agreed with this compromise. She decided to first get a massage and skin treatments at the hotel’s fantastic spa, and then would hit the stores later.

 She was feeling very refreshed by the time she took the car service over to Saks. Although she had given in, she still felt that William needed to be punished for not including her, and she did not hold back. She had the car wait for her in front as she bought three outfits totaling fourteen thousand dollars. She then decided to go over to a few of the designer boutiques and look for shoes to go with them. 

 As she was gathering her items at the counter, she looked across at another station and saw a familiar figure. It was Liz! What was she doing here? Before she could see her, Kristen hurriedly grabbed her garment bags and fled.

 Kristen sat in the car and fumed. She knew that William paid the ticket for Liz to come to New York too. She wondered how long she had already been there. At least she wasn’t on the same plane. Or, maybe she was and had been hidden back in Coach. William was such a sneak! She also bet that Liz was there on her own shopping spree with one of his other cards! Or, even worse, she probably had several cards in her own name that William always paid the bills for.

 Kristen’s anger took over and she went right back into the store and bought five pairs of shoes. They cost over eight thousand. That would teach him to give her a credit card after screwing around with her!

 When she returned to the hotel, William was sitting in a chair dressed for dinner. He had grown tired of waiting for her and looked angrily at all her parcels “Why were you gone so long? How much did you just spend? What is going on?” 

 Kristen nastily replied “Where are you hiding Liz?” William looked like a cat who had just snuck milk “Uhh, What about Liz?” Kristen yelled “You know exactly what I am talking about. You brought Liz here too! Why would you do that to me? Aren’t I enough? Who are you? Rasputin?”

 “Calm down, calm down” he looked very annoyed. “I needed Liz here for some of my business meetings.” Kristen dropped one of her shoe boxes and screamed “What? You lied to me? You took her to that lunch today with the Senators! How appropriate was that?” William defiantly answered “Liz knows how to work a crowd. You’re too young for that.” Kristen said “Yeah, but not too young to have sex with, right?”

 She grabbed all her bags and stormed out. She still had his credit card and she took a cab to another hotel to stay at. She didn’t care that she left her own suitcase behind. She would send for it as soon as she checked into her new room.

 Kristen stayed in New York for another three days. William left her several phone messages, but she refused to listen to them. She feared he might try to cancel his credit card, but he never did.

 She bought another first-class ticket and finally went home. She eventually talked to him after a while. He never apologized and she never gave him his card back.

 Over the next month, he saw her only a few times for dinner or at Cabaret. They didn’t have sex anymore and Kristen wondered if he was stepping things up again with Liz. She thought about the old bag. She knew that Liz mostly resented Kristen because she was young. Maybe she saw a shadow of her earlier self. William’s tastes were changing. As he grew older, he went down another age level for his choices. Luckily, the next level below Kristen was jail bait, so she was safe, for now.

 Kristen knew that Liz had been through a lot of William’s dalliances and she had survived every one. Liz was an expert at getting what she wanted out of him and kept him flattened under her thumb. Kristen wished she had that kind of nerve. The only thing Liz couldn’t get him to do was to divorce his wife. Kristen was aware that if she and Liz actually loved William, they would both be thinking differently. They obviously enjoyed his status and the rest was all pretend. He probably knew it and didn’t care because he used them right back.

 Another week went by with no calls from William. Kristen made sure she now partied away from Cabaret. Chicago had a lot of other choices to offer, but it seemed like too small of a town whenever Kristen saw Liz at the other venues. And lately, she noticed that Liz wasn’t sulking.

 Kristen knew something was up when she ran into an off-duty Cabaret waitress who told her that Liz had convinced William to buy her a million plus vacation condo in Fort Lauderdale. She had insisted the deed had to be in her name, not his, not his company’s. 

 Kristen had been right about everything. She went to Cabaret the next evening and confronted William. He was sitting at the bar flirting with his door hostess. She walked up to him and said angrily “How can you say you are putting Liz out to pasture when you went and bought her a condo?”   

 William was annoyed at the question. “Whoa, go easy on her, will you? I have been with her for years. She deserved it.” Kristen retorted “I have been putting out for you for a few months now and all you have been doing is stringing me along.” William said “You knew about me and Liz from the start and you were alright with it.” Kristen yelled “Well, I’m not now. I can get any man I want. I don’t need to compete with that dog for you!”

William enjoyed her berating him. He did seem to have a submissive streak. It was probably why Liz could control him so easily. Kristen tested this theory and really dug into him. She felt so wronged by him that she could not help blurting out “You know I could use a condo too. I need money too! I am running out of it. I really need 10,000 dollars and if you want me to stay with you, that is what it’s going to take. I know for sure that any of the men that I have met in Palm Beach would be happy to help me.”   

   William was surprised and looked at her with great arrogance. “Well, I am not going to give you any money. You don’t mean that much to me. It is very strange that ever since that ball you have been very moody and lately you seem overly obsessed with being a Gold Digger. You went crazy with my credit card in New York. When I met you, you were different than the other women. That is what attracted me to you. Chicago is a very small pond. You belong with the other sharks in Palm Beach. You are always talking about it. Why don’t you go back there and leave me alone?”

   Kristen screamed at him “You are so cheap. We’re through!” William made another nasty comment about his credit card. She threw her drink at him and ran out of Cabaret.

 Arriving home, she thought about how he had treated her during their time together. He had never given her anything of real value except some clothes, here and there. He had never taken her to Europe or anywhere interesting. They only went to parties and boring business dinners.

 She was just the equivalent of an escort, except she never made any money. She was mad she didn’t flirt with more of the rich men at all those functions. She needed some more back-ups in Chicago. Good Riddance! She hoped that William’s wife would find out about Liz and shoot both of them.

Then Kristen thought back on what she was thinking. William was right, she had started acting very shallow and materialistic, and it first started during her last visit to Palm Beach and then became increasingly stronger after meeting Karl. It wasn’t in her nature and she couldn’t explain it.

5 DARK GAMES

 

 The last Sunday of the month was extra warm and sticky. Kristen had nothing to do. It was too unbearable to tan at the lake, so she turned up the air conditioning and plopped down on the black leather lounger. She turned on the TV and flipped through all the cable channels. “What a rotten day, nothing is even on TV,” she moaned. 

   She decided to challenge the elements and drove downtown to go shopping. She parked in a city garage and then wandered from store to store along Michigan Avenue. After she could not find anything that interested her, she made her way over to the patio of a major restaurant and planted herself in a corner. She ordered a Pepsi and sat quietly watching the tourists as they came down the sidewalk.

 As she looked to the north, she saw a familiar male figure walking her way. He was dressed in black pants and a white shirt with a dark silk tie. It was Karl from the ball! He had noticed Kristen too, and made his way over to her. He ducked his head under the table umbrella and sat down.

 He nodded politely. “Miss Stratford, I am surprised to run into you.”  Kristen gazed at his handsome, dark looks and felt shy. She replied “Hello Karl. Are you back in town for a while?” Karl half-smiled “I do business in Chicago very frequently. One of my major divisions is located here.” He acted uncomfortable answering her question.

 He looked at her glass. “Is there alcohol in that?” Kristen said “No, I am not one that usually enjoys drinking during the day. I am out to shop. I am on a mission.” He looked around “I can see you have not completed it. Where are the bags?”

 Kristen shrugged “Guess, I can’t quite get in the mood. I was going to try again later.” Karl said “I would like to take you and find you some outfits. Let’s go.” It was apparent that he was telling her that she was to come with him, it was not an offer.

 Kristen gave him a curious look as she rose from the chair and reached down for her purse. Karl went over to her and held her elbow. He left a fifty on the table for the waiter and walked Kristen down the street and straight into Prada.

 He looked around and went toward the shoe displays. Without asking her what she liked, he picked out three pairs, all with very tall and spiky heels, and handed them to the clerk. “Please go to the back and find us these in a Size 8.” Kristen didn’t say a word as he again took her arm and they left.

 The shopping continued as Karl took her to more stores and now picked out her outfits. It was uncanny that he knew her sizes and had remarkable taste when it came to style. He even picked out matching scarves and several articles of lingerie for her.

 Whenever Kristen tried to speak up, he would give her a look, and she would instantly clam up. She seemed to be maturing by the minute as she learned to restrain herself. She barely knew him, but she felt like he owned her. She was intimidated by his cold demeanor. There was nothing romantic between them, but strangely, Kristen loved being with him.

 Both of them had handfuls of bags with no room for more. They sat down on a bus shelter bench for a brief rest. Karl looked over Kristen and said “I think you should have short hair. We are going to take care of that now.” Kristen blurted out “What are you talking about? There is no way I am cutting my hair! I barely know you. This is too weird. I am going home.”

 Karl looked at her sternly “You know that the only place you will be going is back with me to my hotel. I want to see how you look in your new wardrobe. We will pass on the hair for now.” Kristen gave him an incredulous look and was ready to protest again. But she was so fascinated by him that she longed to see what would happen next. She was afraid to disappoint him and feared he would lose interest if she did. He was so gorgeous. She was dying to have him.

 Karl hailed a cab and they arrived at the Ritz-Carlton a few minutes later. He kept her in his grasp as they walked in the large doors. Karl frowned at her when she smiled at the doorman and held her arm even tighter. He ushered her across the long lobby and into the elevator.

 As they ascended to the top level, Karl moved closer to Kristen. He looked at her for a brief moment as if he wanted to kiss her. She readied herself to embrace him. He then straightened his body and said “You are correct. You would look awful with short hair.”

 The bell sounded their floor and Karl collected most of the bags and nudged her with them. “Down this way.” Kristen walked in front of him. Karl had a very luxurious suite and he put the parcels in a corner. He then reached for hers and said “Please be seated Kristen.” She began to set herself down on the couch. “No. Over there.” He pointed to a large wing chair in the corner.

 She slowly walked over to it, sat down and gave him a defiant look. He made no comment and turned his back to her as he carefully pulled all of her clothes out of the bags. Kristen knew that he had spent a small fortune on her and wondered what he was now expecting in return. She wasn’t sure whether his attitude was just an act and was hoping for a quick warm up. She was ready.

 Karl held up a strapless white leather dress and reached for a pair of silver shoes with glass heels. “Please put these on. You may choose your undergarments.” He tilted one of the larger lingerie bags towards her as he looked away. Kristen gave him an amused look and reached in to find the sexiest ones. She thought to herself “This should make him cave in. I will just come out wearing these!” Karl knew what she was thinking and stated “Please reappear in the entire ensemble. Then we will have you try on something else and go to dinner.”

 Kristen walked off into his bedroom and closed the door. She put on the outfit and fixed her hair and make-up. She looked great, but felt depressed, and sat down on the bed wishing that he would join her.

 Karl knocked on the door. In his no-nonsense English accent, he said “Come out of there please. I assume you are ready?”  Kristen did not answer and Karl came in. He sat down closely next to her. “Kristen, what do you expect from me?” She didn’t know how to answer him. Although he remained reserved, she could feel his heat emanating around her. She was so sure he liked her. Why wouldn’t he show it? 

 She considered making the first move. She began to lean into him and he abruptly stood up. “You are dressed. Now please go back out to your chair.” He proceeded to walk back to the couch and she sat reluctantly in the chair. He walked quietly up to her, reached to her neck and put a silver dog collar around it. He then clipped on a thin black leather leash.

 “On your knees please.” Kristen looked at him in utter disbelief “You have got to be kidding me.” Karl replied “No, I am quite serious. Please walk over to the hallway. He lifted her from the couch to the floor and added “You will be rewarded.” Kristen thought that maybe he would be the prize, so she obeyed.

 As Karl held onto one end of the long leash, she began to paw her way through the plush carpet. Karl watched with no emotion. She knew she looked cute, but she felt ridiculous and rolled over on her side with her arms and legs sticking straight up like a dog. “This is so lame. I am not doing this!” Karl quietly answered “That is fine Miss Stratford. Please return to your chair.” Kristen just stayed on the floor and looked at him for a short time. Then, without another word from Karl, she knew to pull herself up and return to sit down.

 She said “I don’t think I am into this. I am sorry.” Karl stood up “No need to apologize. You are just afraid to like it. It goes against what you have learned through the years.” He then reached into one of the bags. “Hold out your hands please.” Kristen raised them and he swiftly wrapped one of her new scarves around them. She could feel the softness of the silk as he pulled it taut. She looked into his blue eyes and fell into them. She felt a longing deep within and was starting to enjoy this!

 Karl said “There. That will keep your hands off of me.” Kristen wondered if this was all some lame English joke and decided to appease him.  She tritely said “What next Master? Where’s the whip?”

 Karl was not pleased. “You don’t know who you are addressing. Until you do, it is best to keep quiet. I will mix you a drink to calm you down.” Kristen whined “Karl. Can’t we do something else?  I really mean it. I am just not into this.” He frowned “No, but you are into me and I know you want to please me.”

 He stirred her to her greater depths and she was dying to make love with him. She softly asked “How can I do that?” He answered “By listening to me and not talking.” She retorted “I am not a child.” Karl laughed “You know that you are and you will be treated like one.”

 He looked aggravated and said “Kristen, you are boring me. Time for you to go. There will be no dinner.” Kristen said “Oh please Karl, I don’t want to go. I want to stay here with you!” He untied her hands and pointed to the door. “Please enjoy the items I bought you.”

 It was difficult for her to gather up all the bags, but she managed. She started to walk out the door and began telling him her phone number. “Karl, please write it down, I want you to call me.” Karl replied “There is no need to be begging me. This meeting is adjourned. I have a limousine out front to return you to where we met.” He then closed the door behind her.  

 When morning came, Kristen felt a bit depressed, but she managed to make it through the day. It was weird, but she felt like something had been yanked away from her. She figured that Karl didn’t care when she tried to give him her number, and would probably never call. What was worse, she had given him her home phone and not her cell.

 For the entire week and into the next one, whenever she went out she would always wonder if he had called her. She continuously dialed her answering machine, but to no avail.

 Kristen knew she wasn’t acting like herself. Normally she never let men affect her this way. She usually knew to always keep her distance to ensure that she would never get hurt.

 It was Wednesday night. She had a big day of lunch with the girls and shopping ahead of her, so she went to sleep at 10:30 PM. An hour later, she was jarred awake by the phone clanging against the vase next to her. “Oh, God, let me sleep!” She groaned, rolling away from the direction of the ring and back-handed the phone knocking it off the nightstand. Silence.

 The phone rang again. Kristen then remembered, “Karl! Maybe it’s him!” Frantic, she struggled off the bed reaching down to pull the phone back off the floor. She fell off the bed scraping her ankle against the frame and made a lot of noise. “Oww!” she yelped. She then steadied the phone “Hello” she said calmly. A low voice inquired “What are you doing?” “Oh, nothing much.” Kristen replied rubbing on her ankle and trying to straighten out her body, which now seemed locked in a pretzel. Karl said “What was all that commotion?”

 He sounded normal and then quickly snapped back into his stern voice. “Did you expect me to call?” Kristen said “I wasn’t sure if you would and it didn’t really matter anyway.” He was aggravated by her answer and continued “I have no time for game players. I am going to hang up.” Kristen pleaded “No, no I was hoping you would call. Please talk to me.”

 Karl smugly said “Very well, I assumed you would be glad.” God, what arrogance. She loved it! He seemed pleased. “I have been very busy. Then he paused. “Excuse me. I need to call you back.” Now Kristen was feeling very nervous. She started propping herself up higher on her pillows and smoothing out her hair. She turned on her small lamp and pulled the phone off of the table and onto her lap.

 “Ring already!” The phone just sat there. She waited another eight minutes without making a move. Now, she was just feeling stupid. She got out of bed pulling the phone cord behind her and stretching it out into the hallway as far as it would go. She sat down on the staircase with the phone between her legs. She groaned “Oh, no, not again! He’s not going to call. I can’t take this.”

 Just as she was about to pout, he called back. She scooped up the phone trying to remain cool and sophisticated. Karl said “I think we should meet again. Do you have a fax at home?” Kristen said “Yes, same number, but I will have to hang up.” He clicked off.

 The fax began to ring. Slowly a page emerged. She curiously watched as it came out. It was a grainy textured picture, very dark and hard to make out. She tilted her head. It looked like a woman on a bed with tubes coming out of her that were attached to a machine. A man in a mask was standing over her. More pictures followed and they were almost completely obscured by blackness. Her cell phone now rang. Kristen was puzzled that he knew that number. “How do you like them?” he asked. “I like” Kristen said.  

 Karl began to speak about bondage and his perception of it. Kristen listened intently. After an hour, she was more than curious and told him she wanted to learn more. They spoke late into the night. Before they hung up, Karl asked “Kristen. Are you planning on going to Palm Beach anytime soon? She answered “Why do you ask?” Karl replied “Oh, it’s nothing. I was just wondering.” Kristen was now sure that she had Karl all lined up. But the problem was, he never set a date or said when he would call again.

 Kristen thought about the bondage scene again. She realized there were people out there that followed BDSM like it was a religion. Obviously, some of them were warped to begin with. She figured Karl just did it for kicks, but she was not sure, and it scared her. Maybe he had a strict upbringing or a scary English governess.

 For herself, she was only thinking about it as something different to do, to experiment with, and to test the limits. She felt a need to experience it before she was ready to go back to how mundane things could be. She sensed an element of true danger to it and she wanted to find the real players. She knew that Karl was perfect for what she was looking for. She wanted in!

 The next day, Kristen was very anxious to start this new adventure and she was very annoyed that Karl had chosen not to call her back again. She wasn’t sure if he was back in New York or was in Chicago. She thought about him for another week and then one late morning, she felt extra impatient, and decided to scroll through her caller I.D. logs. Karl had blocked the first call that he had made to her home phone that night. But he didn’t when he re-dialed. She easily spotted the New York City prefix.

 She felt very unnerved as she entered the number into her cell phone. It rang for a while and went to generic voicemail. She lost her braveness and did not leave a message. 

 She felt like she had made a big mistake trying to call him and went downstairs to make some lunch. After twenty minutes, she decided she was really craving to talk to him, so she tried it again.

 The phone did not even ring and it was answered. Kristen said “Is this you?” His strong voice replied “You know it is. Why are you calling me?” She meekly spoke “I don’t know why. I just feel like I should.” He said indifferently “You know why; you just don’t understand it yet. You should really know that it is not for you.” Kristen understood what he meant.

 Karl said “I know I should not see you again, but I am still stuck in town and this place is not New York, so I am bored. Some friends of mine are having a gathering tonight in the West Loop. Give me your e-mail. You need a pass to get in.” She relayed it to him and he hung up.

 Kristen looked at the message when it came in. Karl had typed the address and when she clicked on the attachment, all it showed was a black square. She thought that was funny and wondered what type of event this was going to be.

 The address was for an art studio and she was instructed to go in the back door at midnight. It felt like Halloween! She printed out the page and cut along the black square. She started thinking about calling up one of her girlfriends to come, but she was afraid to call Karl for permission. She feared that he would be mad and she would be uninvited.

 She looked in her closet for an outfit that would really fit in with the bondage scene and found one of her short skirts that she used to wear in her punkier days. It was black and lined with little strips of metal. She then threw on a black leather teddy, stilettos, and left to meet him.

 It was a pretty creepy section of town that he directed her to. The streetlights were not working on that block and she looked up and down for the art gallery. She just saw houses. She could barely read the addresses on any of them.  Most of them were abandoned and boarded up. 

 She saw lights on at one house and thought it was the right one. There were no numbers on it and she knocked. No one answered. She waited for a while and thought they were partying and could not hear her. She turned the doorknob and walked in. The hall smelled like someone had been heavily cooking with spices. She walked around and saw beat up furniture in the living room and toys on the floor. “Oops, I don’t think this is right!” She heard a commotion upstairs and rushed out. 

 She ran fast down the block. She couldn’t believe that she walked into someone’s house. She leaned over and tried to catch her breath. “What are you doing?”  She heard Karl’s voice behind her. He was standing by the rear of another house. He blended into the shadows wearing a dark suit and black shirt with no tie. She went over to him and started to explain. He just looked at her and she knew to stop talking. He didn’t say another word. She produced her black square and he didn’t even look. He walked. She followed.

 They went into the backyard and he opened a screen door. It looked like steps leading to a basement. He had her walk in front of him now. She tried to make it down the narrow wood stairs in her stilettos without stumbling. At the bottom, there was a light bulb in the ceiling that had black paint sprayed on the end of it and it was difficult to see. She didn’t hear anyone making noise and was afraid that she was alone with him. She didn’t know why, but Kristen began to worry that she didn’t know his last name and had never checked him out on the internet. She only was aware that he was a prominent businessman. Even though William knew him, if Karl wanted to get freaky and hurt her, this was the perfect place for it.

 They went through a couple of doors and walked into a cold cement room that was painted black. In the corner were iron poles that came out of the walls which had handcuffs hanging down. There was a small platform only a few inches off the ground.

 “Welcome to Hell” Karl said deadpan. Kristen’s throat grew tight and she was very frightened. She knew she had really made a big mistake and now it was all over for her. It was too dark to see the expression on his face. She thought she should try to kick him and escape, but he was exceptionally strong and she was absolutely paralyzed with fear.

 He walked slowly over to a wooden table and lit up a large candle. Kristen thought she saw three long knives laying on it. He pulled a black scarf from his coat pocket, turned her around suddenly, and tied it over her eyes. She thought she was going drop right down on the floor, every muscle in her body grew weak and she slumped. He held her up around her waist and brought her to the structure. “No please” she meekly cried out. Karl said “You will need to remain completely quiet. Raise your feet.” She lifted them one at a time and he removed her spiky heels.

 Kristen submissively let him raise her arms and place each hand into a cuff. She could feel the coldness of the metal against her veins. She could feel him place mittens on her hands that didn’t have thumbs.

“Open your mouth” He inserted a very small ball that tasted like dirty rubber and strapped it around her head. She could hear him step back from her and then she felt the platform move away from her feet. Her toes still touched the floor, but she was in a stretched position and uncomfortable. She could hear his shoes as he walked out and then the door closed. 

 He left her hanging for what was probably an hour. “Karl?” She muttered with the ball in place. It was getting really cold in there and she could feel her feet start to numb. She thought maybe she could try to work at the poles with her weight and pull them out of the wall. She tried several times to reach up and then bounce down. She felt the pole bend slightly, but it was still secured tightly. It made a loud clanging noise. 

 She heard heavy footsteps coming down the stairs and she stopped her movement. The door opened and she could hear more than one person walk in. She realized that maybe there were three of them as she heard folding chairs being opened and placed in front of her. Kristen was terrified. She tried making noises with the ball in her mouth. There was only silence. 

 One of the chairs squeaked as it pushed back. She could hear footsteps and then a sound that she thought was a knife being lifted off the table. She could sense someone was coming up to her and she could feel the warm breath close against her face.

 “Uhh, Uhh” Kristen tried to make grunting noises as she struggled and pushed back her body away from the stranger. She could smell cologne and she knew it was a man. “Karl, Karl?” she tried to get the words out.

 The ball went deeper into her mouth and she was gagging on her own saliva. She could feel the sharp point of the knife being pushed slightly into her throat. It was then run down the length of her chest, barely touching it. 

 She started making choking noises. She could feel hands on her face. The ball was then unstrapped and a wad of cloth replaced it before she could scream out. It smelled like medicine and tasted like lemons. She could hear another figure coming toward her. She then felt the dull side of a blade being brought up along the inside of her leg and under her skirt. It stopped.

 The chairs were now being folded up and pulled along the floor. She could hear them being stacked against the wall. The door closed and she could hear all of them go back upstairs and into a room above her. She was alone for several minutes.

 Someone came silently in the room and walked up to her. Her cuffs and mittens were taken off. A stiff hand guided her out of the room and into another one. She could feel there was heat in there and began to feel better. But she also thought this was the end and that someone was going to kill her.

 “Kristen.” She heard Karl’s voice from the other side of the room. She felt strangely comforted. The cloth was taken from her mouth and that person walked away. Her blindfold was then removed by someone else. It was Karl! He returned it to his pocket. She did not talk and knew not to express anger or any emotion. He made her feel safe. Now she thought she knew what it was all about…

 Kristen felt listless as she walked around her house for the next week. She accepted that the encounter had definitely affected her and she was becoming darker. Her fear had drawn her closer to him. It was sadly true that perhaps Karl was actually incapable of romantic feelings when it came to her, but she still wanted to break through that stone exterior. She knew that she was not in love with Karl. She was addicted.

 The fact that he didn’t want her made Kristen desire him more. She kept picturing them in bed together and her emotions could not be suppressed.  She thought of more excuses to talk to him. She wanted to ask him about the cadre of men that night and what they were doing while they were watching her.

 Kristen knew he had more in store for her if he thought she could handle it. It had been long enough not hearing from him. She couldn’t resist calling him again and dialed the number. There was no answer and no voicemail.

 She was afraid that he had left town and had no further use for her. Kristen couldn’t stand it. She had to talk to him! She kept re-dialing the number. After the fourth try, a voicemail came on. She said “Karl, I need to talk to you. I am ready.”

 Her phone rang immediately. She picked it up and started rambling “Karl, I need to see you, I really do.” Karl sounded annoyed “Will you calm down? I am not someone you want to get to know.” Kristen said “I know you will like me, just give me a chance.” Karl answered firmly “We are not playing a game Kristen; you are not ready.” He hung up.

 Kristen went outside and walked around the block. She kept her cell phone with her. She felt very nervous. Karl called her back “Meet me at midnight. 3242 W. Market Street.” Kristen wanted to ask him if that address was in the city, but he was already gone.

 She was excited all day long. Around 8PM she was already dressed and decided to hang out with Ashley downtown before meeting him. When Ashley saw her, she said “What is going on with those eyes. You look like a punk!”

 Kristen had put several coats of eyeliner and mascara on for a dramatic effect. She was wearing fishnets, a lace bustier, a short black spandex skirt, and of course her tallest steel heels.

 “Come on Kristen, you can’t look like that, we’re going to a Jazz bar.” Kristen replied “I don’t want to go there. Let’s go to one of the alternative bars. I want to hear a real band.” They headed over in their separate cars.

 When they went into the place they immediately saw some friends and sat at a large table. Ashley danced non-stop while Kristen got as intoxicated as possible. She needed to be completely out of it in order to feel normal with Karl. It was finally nearing midnight and Kristen announced she was leaving.

 Ashley had no idea where Kristen was going and said “I’m coming with you.” Kristen said quickly “You can’t.” Kristen went to her car and drove off. Ashley called after her. “What’s wrong with you?” Kristen muttered to herself “You would never understand.”

 The meeting place turned out to be nightclub that Kristen thought had closed down. She pulled up. Karl was outside talking to some men. As usual, he looked very polished. She emerged from the car and walked slowly up to him. “You look like a clown” he said displeased. She walked behind him into the building.

 The place was crowded and it looked like an S&M party was going at full speed. There were topless waitresses walking about carrying small silver trays and handing out hors d’oeuvres and beverages. They were wearing dog collars with very pointy spikes on their necks, black thongs, thigh highs and nothing else.

 There were decidedly more men in the place. Kristen thought many of the girls looked like they were hired to be there since they had similar outfits on. Most of the men were wearing wedding rings. She had never noticed before that Karl was not wearing one.

 Karl planted Kristen on a low couch and walked away. He had not said a word to her since they entered. She saw him walk up to an older Asian woman who was wearing a red rubber jump suit. He pulled her by her pony tail into another room. Kristen watched jealously and wanted to go after him.

 A short, fat man came to her dressed entirely in white leather and a tiny derby hat tilted to the side. He resembled a dented marshmallow and was carrying a whip. “Stand up!” he barked. He looked like he was getting ready to go at her.

 A large bouncer in black t-shirt came up to him. “She’s Karl’s.” The man nodded and strode off.

 Kristen had nothing to do but observe. The room filled up as more people filed in and then would break off into the various back rooms. Kristen desperately wanted to go in there and see what was going on. It also seemed obvious that no waitresses were coming up to her with the free drinks like they were offering everyone else. She wanted one!

 She saw the bouncer still standing by her and wondered if he was assigned to her. She thought she would make a run for the back zone to see if he would try to stop her. Karl had now been gone for almost an hour and she was getting impatient. She was in the mood for trouble!

 Kristen smiled at the bouncer “Where’s the bathroom please.” He looked down at her and pointed towards a hall by the front door. Kristen slowly got up and walked towards that direction and away from him.

 She grabbed a drink off a tray that was sitting on a table. She sipped it and kept looking behind her to see if he was watching. She then turned and walked quickly along the wall back towards the other rooms.

 “Her” bouncer came towards her taking long steps and stopped her. He picked her up and carried her down some stairs to the right of them. He said “You are being a very bad girl.” Kristen was tossed on the floor of an empty room. She sat on the floor rubbing her thigh where she landed on it. The bouncer leaned over her. “Sit up.” She complied and he abruptly put a black hood over her head.   

 A few minutes later the hood was pulled off and she was relieved to see Karl standing there. His eyes were very dark. She noticed his perfect hair was now messy, his tie was loosened, and his suit coat was not on him. “Are you trying to embarrass me in front of my friends? What is it? What are you expecting?”

 “I don’t know Karl? I know I want you, and I don’t know why?” Karl pulled her off the floor and half-smiled as he stood her up in front of him. Then with no emotion, he stiffly put his hand on her shoulder and took her into another room.

 There was a bed in there. It had restraints attached to each side. He put Kristen on the bed and buckled the brown leather straps around her wrists and her ankles. Karl said “I don’t know whether to have sex with you or kill you! I don’t know what to do with you.” He walked out of the room.

 The anticipation was driving Kristen crazy. She tested the straps and knew she could slip out of the ones on her hands if she wanted to.

 It had not been long before three men walked into the room. They were all clean-shaven and wearing dark, expensive business suits. They looked to be in their fifties.

 The trio stood in the corner by the door watching her. One lit up a cigarette and tapped the ashes on the floor. Kristen did not say anything. She was scared and felt like they were making some kind of decision about her. She thought they might be the group from the other night.

 A woman was screaming in the room next her. Kristen wondered if she was going to be taken into there.

 One of the men turned off the overhead lights. They continued standing there and Kristen could see the glow of the cigarette every time it was inhaled. The air was very quiet. There were muffled moans coming through the ventilation system. They seemed like they were far away.

 Kristen started slipping her hands out of the restraints. The buckles made noise. The man with the cigarette flicked it on the floor and turned the lights on. With no expression on their faces, they left the room. Karl came back in. “You need to grow up and stop playing games” he said while loosening her ankle cuffs. “I told you, this is not for you.” He led her into a large room where one man and two women were tied up to three metal racks. They all wore long black veils over their faces. It resembled the Crucifixion and no one looked like they were enjoying it. Their male dominants were standing next to them and were dressed in black hooded executioner outfits.

 The pair quickly passed through and Karl brought her upstairs. “Kristen, you are not to call me again. Understand?” She kept her head down and nodded. Karl opened the front door and she walked out.

 Kristen waited the whole week and the following months for Karl to phone her. It never happened. She couldn’t get him out of her mind. It made her restless knowing that she could not have him. It was maddening he wouldn’t call her! 

 More than ever, Kristen could feel that she was becoming a different person. It was a strange sensation that she could not control. To her, there was now nothing more seductive than slow dancing with danger. It left her with an unfulfilled hunger for new thrills.

6 BOTTOM FEEDER

 

 You could tell spring was coming at some point because Kristen had an irresistible need to party and it was only a Tuesday night. She tried to rally her friends to the cause, but there were no takers. Even though it was the first week of February, the cold air was lingering under the thirty-degree mark and the ground was still frozen stiff. 

 As Kristen walked to her car she could feel the wind nipping at her legs. She drove to the only spot she thought an abundance of humans might be present on a work night. It was called The Patio, and it was a very popular outside bar during the summer. It was also located near the airport, so you could always be assured that plenty of married men from out of town would be there, especially whenever a convention was in town.

 Kristen noticed there was no valet and parked herself. As she walked through the front door the only one to greet her was the warmth of the building. It definitely was an off-night. There were only a handful of people sitting at the bar and one bartender on duty. He gave Kristen a free drink and she walked to the middle of the room to sit down at a table. As Kristen sipped slowly, she lowered her eyes and subtly observed the scene. She quickly surmised that there was no one interesting to look at. Kristen started gulping her drink and was ready get out of there.

 Just when she started pulling out her seat to leave, she felt someone put their hand on the back of it and push it back in. A male voice behind her laughed, “Whoa, where are you going?” He came around the table and sat on the other side of her. “What are you doing out tonight?” Don’t you work?” Kristen looked at him like she was ready to insult him and then she stopped.

 He was very, very, good looking and probably rich. He was dressed in a dark gray business suit and had a wonderful head of light brown hair styled perfectly. “This place is a drag,” Kristen buried herself deep into her glass muffling the words.

 “Oh, it’s not that bad,” the stranger replied. “I’m Robert, I am from Los Angeles. Where else is there to go on a Tuesday around “This here horse town?” Do you want to go downtown for some jazz? I have a driver outside.”

 “My Mummy told me not to talk to strangers”, Kristen coyly answered. “I’m saving my energy and staying here because I’m going downtown tomorrow with my girlfriends. You can go by yourself, I am sure you will be just fine.” Kristen turned her back on him, walked over to the bar and shoved her half empty glass toward the bartender.

 The stranger walked up “Here let me get that. Make it a double for the lady and give me a Jack straight up,” he said to the bartender and pushed his way in, clearing off the ashtrays and glasses on the bar.

 Kristen looked annoyed, “You’re not from around here are you? Why should I even bother talking to you? You’ll just be on a plane tomorrow.” “No, I’m here for a while; I’m setting up a new division for my company in Chicago. The babes are stuck with me for now. I’m going to become a fixture and make some lives miserable.”

 He emptied his drink down his throat as the bartender handed one to her. “Hey! You look like a party girl. I’ve got a limo. Let’s go downtown!” Kristen took a look at him and figured he was harmless. She was really bored and the evening’s outlook looked pretty dismal so she said “OK, I’m game!” He pulled her coat off the back of her bar chair and gently put it around her shoulders, almost like he was hugging her. He hooked his arm around hers, and as he led her out the door, he grabbed her drink and handed it to her.

 The temperature had dropped during the short time Kristen was in there. Robert pulled her closer to him. The driver emerged and opened the door for them. As they neared the limo they stepped on a thin sheet of ice and both of them flipped backward together landing on the ground with their heavy coats softening the blow. It was almost comical, and she managed not to spill her glass.

 The limousine was warm and the leather smelled great. Robert reached down and pulled out a bottle of vodka and glasses from the bar. “Martini, my dear?” “Yes, thank you”, she said as she put her other drink to the side.

 The limousine slowly turned around to take off in the opposite direction of the city. Kristen said “Where are we going? I want to go to Chicago!” Robert replied “So you just came in here with me for that, I’m hurt.” Kristen said “Well, that was the only reason that I did agree to do this.” Robert said “I am sorry, but I need to go back to my hotel first.” Kristen yelled to the driver to stop, then she opened the car door and laughed “Nice try. Not happening.” She walked back into the bar while Robert’s mouth hung open watching her.

 The rest of the week blurred by and the new week started up without much happening. Valentine’s Day was today and Kristen had no current love to celebrate with. Kristen thought about Robert. He was so handsome! She figured he was mad at her for ditching him. It didn’t matter anyway, he was from out of town and she would probably never see him again.  

 That evening some of her girlfriends, who also did not have permanent boyfriends at the time, joined her to go downtown for Valentine’s dinner and some bad Lounge music. Her friend Ashley drove the group to their favorite place on Rush Street and they commandeered a choice table by the piano player. They all ordered Chocolate Martinis. Being as it was Valentine’s, the place was packed with dates and the Rose Girls circled about.

 Kristen was sipping her martini when one of those girls walked up and handed her a large American Beauty. Kristen looked surprised, not pleased. “OK. What jerk sent this over?’’ She looked around the room. As she was turning her head back, Robert slipped in from the side holding his finger to his lips to indicate to her friends not to say anything. Her girlfriends remained quiet and watched.

 Kristen saw him and blurted “Oh, no!” “Another round for the girls” he said as he winked at all of them. “And bring some more roses too. And let’s get some Dom and strawberries over here.” Her girlfriends were immediately interested and were even more curious when they saw that Kristen was not amused. Robert inquired “Aren’t you going to introduce me?” Kristen gave him a blank look. He became boisterous “Hey, you know what girls? I don’t even know her name.” 

 “What a Vamp,” laughed Ashley. “You don’t even let men know your name anymore.” “It’s Marilyn Monroe,” Kristen said cynically picking up her drink and departing from the table.

 Kristen walked down to the end of the bar where a good-looking man turned away from talking to his date to admire her as she stood there with her foot tapping impatiently. Kristen could hear her friends all laughing hard together and could tell Robert was quickly turning them into his new admirers. It would be hard to go back there. 

 Robert came up to her after a while. “Oh good,” Kristen said “It’s safe to go back now” and turned to walk to her seat. He said, “Aww, Kristen. I come in peace.” Kristen glared down the bar at her friends for betraying her by divulging her name. Robert smiled “There is a really great private party going on right now a few blocks away. A friend of mine from Hollywood is throwing it. Do you want to go? “Kristen looked at him suspiciously and said slowly “Well, maybe for an hour.” He was definitely hard to resist. She wasn’t ready to give up on him so easily.”

 He said, “Now, this might upset you, but I really need to go back to my hotel first and get my cell phone. I can’t live without it.” Kristen looked reluctant. Robert pleaded “It will be fun! The limo is out front waiting.” He started to walk away. “Well?  Are you coming?” Kristen looked over at her friends and gave them a nod. She then said “OK, I’ll do it.” Her girlfriends laughed as she left and called out “You go girl!”

 Kristen dragged her feet as she followed him and said “You better mean it this time.” The car was at the curb and it seemed that the driver was gone because Robert opened the door for her. He helped her in with his arm around her waist. The minute she sat down, he tried to kiss her. Kristen pulled back. Robert laughed, got out of the car, and went to sit in the front seat. Kristen was feeling a bit mean now.  “You know Robert; I don’t know if I should trust you. You are good looking, but you kind of have a pasty and pale appearance, and you don’t look like you are from Los Angeles. Did you just get out of prison or something?” Robert reached up towards the rear-view mirror and turned it directly at her. She watched his face in it and thought he looked surprised at her, like she was right, like she was on to something.

 “Maybe you had better go Kristen” he said drawling her name out. He then turned the mirror back and pushed the button to close the privacy partition. He waved as it blocked her off.

 By then the driver had returned. Kristen knocked on the middle window and said “I am sorry; I won’t insult you anymore.” Robert re-opened the partition, turned his head and flashed a big grin. “Now that’s better Kristen. That’s what I want to hear.” He opened the door and went back to sit close to her. Kristen let him put his arm around her shoulders and was now feeling quite cozy and adventurous. 

 They only drove a few blocks and ended up at the Intercontinental. Robert graciously helped her out and they held hands as they walked into the spectacular lobby. Robert said, “Kristen, Take the elevator to the 4th floor, I’ll meet you in the hallway.” He pulled out his phone and walked over to a corner. Kristen stared at him “I thought you said your phone was here?” Robert nonchalantly answered “Guess, I was wrong.” He then motioned to her be quiet and started speaking into it.

 Kristen was ready to turn around and walk the short distance back to her girlfriends, but, she pushed the elevator button anyway. She waited upstairs for him a full ten minutes before she heard the bell announce his belated arrival. They walked in silence to his room. He inserted his key card and said “Don’t worry I’m not going to touch you. I just want your company tonight.” Kristen did not know why, but she felt a strong attachment to him. She went off to the restroom and had to go through his bedroom to get there. She sat down on the bed to remove her heels. She noticed on his table that there were a few boxes and red heart gift wrap paper lying on the floor.

 One of the gifts was a man’s watch that was sitting propped up in its box. The bed was messed up and it looked like he had just had an “afternoon delight” with someone else and that was probably why he wasn’t interested in her tonight. “Oh, how lovely for him” Kristen said. She read the little gift tag on the box. “I love you so much sweetheart! Happy Valentine’s. Love, Jeannie.” The watch was cheap looking, maybe worth twenty dollars, tops. Kristen now realized that she would just be wasting her time with him. 

 She went back to the other room. He was sitting back comfortably with a large cocktail and did not even ask her if she wanted one. She sat next to him. Robert promptly got up and went into the bedroom for a minute. When he came back, he had a DVD, and was now wearing a pink T-shirt and tight black jogging shorts. He went over and inserted the DVD in the player and sat down in a chair on the opposite side of the room. The picture came on the screen showing two figures wearing clown costumes holding whips. Kristen could not distinguish their gender.

 She looked away disinterested and said “Is everyone into S&M these days? What is it with you guys? You are all so twisted! Aren’t you at least going to make me a drink?” Robert intently watched the movie and totally ignored her. He was really starting to annoy her with his inattention. He then inserted another disc. This one was in German with subtitles and pictured a man wearing a baby bonnet and a diaper sitting inside a bird cage.

 Kristen groaned “Oh, come on Robert. Pay some attention to me or I am leaving.” She was feeling very frisky from the Martinis she had at the lounge and she jumped on his lap. Robert flipped her over and pinned her down on the couch. He began kissing her. “What do I have to do? Should I tie you up to get some peace?”

 He giggled and went over to his suitcase. He pulled out a monstrous roll of white twine. He had her outstretch her arms and tied up each one. He buzzed around like a bee and ran the twine through the furniture and off the wall sconces, all through the room.

 One-third of the room ended up looking like an elaborate spider web. He tied open each of her legs and attached the string to the front door and bedroom doorknobs. She was defenseless and laughing hard. 

 He pulled a can of whipped cream out from the bedroom. Kristen knew he had this from his earlier date too. He caught her off-guard and shoved his head up her dress pulling off her red lace thong with his teeth. He covered her completely in the white, frothy cream and then kneeled before her and completely dug his face into it. Kristen writhed in the throes of an incredible orgasm. It was too intense. She couldn’t take it and tried to push him away. As she squirmed, her legs stretched out and the door would open and close. They both went into hysterics. Robert then had to stop because he was laughing so hard he was snorting the cream up his nose.

 Robert left her tied up while he went over to the small bar in the corner. “Enough of this crap! Cut me loose!” Kristen laughingly demanded. He opened a drawer and brought out some scissors to free her. She then went to go clean up. 

 A few minutes later she could hear the front door shut loudly. She rushed out to find Robert was gone. Kristen was astounded and proclaimed to the ceiling “Who is this guy? So much for the one-night stand. What a jerk!” She then gathered her things and left. She didn’t care if he came back or not.

 A few days later when Robert was almost banished from her thoughts; he called! He started right in apologizing and did not give her a chance to talk. “I know Kristen we started out on the wrong foot, but I really want to make it up to you by letting you in on a great investment opportunity. Just bring yourself and your checkbook to the Westin Hotel tonight and I will explain it all. Seriously. You will want to know about this. Be sure to dress up.” Kristen was curious and she still wasn’t sure if she wanted Robert out of her life yet. He was so darn interesting!

 When she arrived that evening, Robert was wearing a designer suit and sitting in a booth with three men, also in expensive attire. She walked in looking fantastic in Yves St. Laurent and Louboutins. He looked impressed. and handed her a menu. “Order some dinner. Anything you want.” The men started talking business.

 Through the snippets of conversation, Kristen was now learning more about Robert. It seems that he was the head of an investment company in Los Angeles. His companions were there to get in on the action of a takeover he was waging on a smaller company. He was there to raise more money to buy their stock.

 The dinner lasted two hours and then the men began to depart. The waitress handed the bill to one of them. “How nice” Kristen was amused, and not surprised that they paid for the meal, not Robert.

 Robert made two phone calls. During the first one, he was talking in hushed tones and it sounded like he was talking to a girlfriend. He saw Kristen watching him and covered his hand over his mouth. He then got up and walked into the hall. He was on the phone for about fifteen minutes.  

 Kristen was thinking of walking out on him and began to stand up. He smiled and waved at her from the hall, holding up his finger to gesture it would just be another minute. He then made another call and started walking back toward the table. She heard him telling someone to come and meet them. She gave him a curious look as he sat back down and jiggled his ice loudly in his glass. He reached into his briefcase which was on the floor next to him and pulled out some papers.

“So, you want to get in on the action?” He laid several documents in front of her. “All you need to do is write me a check for $125,000 and I can give you back $100,000 right away as soon as we go to war with these guys.”

 Kristen looked confused and began to ask him a question, when an anorexic-looking, middle-aged brunette walked into the room. Kristen recognized her from The Patio bar. Her name was Anne and she squeezed in very close next to Robert. He said “Anne, did you bring the contracts?” She answered “They are right here.” She opened a briefcase with her bony hand. Robert took back the documents he gave Kristen and replaced them with the new ones.

 Kristen looked down at them. The first page listed the principals of his company. For the top officers, it showed Robert St. Germain, someone named Reynolds, and Anne was listed as Vice-President. “Anne as Vice-President?” Kristen thought “What the heck? How does she know him? He just came to town!” Kristen was never really friends with Anne, but she had seen her around the bar scene for years, knew some of her friends, and thought she was a credible person. 

 Robert spoke up. “Anne just passed her CPA test and has an MBA. I recently met her and knew she would be perfect for my newest company. In fact, she is flying to L.A. tomorrow to conduct due diligence for me.”  

He continued “Anne has invested $50k with me and she knows a good deal when she sees one.” Anne nodded in agreement. Robert gloated “I am already giving back returns for some of the investors!” He rose to go back to the lobby, started dialing on his phone, and left Anne alone with Kristen. 

 Anne started to lay it on thick. “This is really a good offer. I checked him out thoroughly. You should invest!” Kristen started thinking about it. She flip-flopped and liked Robert again, especially, since it now did look like he was a rich businessman. She started feeling a bit obsessive about him and was afraid she would lose him. Maybe she should do it; she had the money. Why not? It was a win-win situation.

 Robert came back to the table carrying a fresh drink. He was all smiles and sat back down on Kristen’s side. Anne gave a brief look of disappointment at him. He pushed the papers closer to Kristen. “So, you want in?” Kristen smiled at him and said “I think I might.” He seemed legitimate. Those men had looked like they were big wheels and they were doing it.  

 Anne pulled out a pen and handed it to her. There were only a few places to put her signature. “So, how do I do this? Do I make a wire transfer to the company?” Robert said “No, it’s easier than that. Just write out a check for $125,000 payable to me.”

 Kristen said referring to the papers “Your name is St. Germain? Who is Reggie Reynolds? He laughed “Reynolds is my partner and attorney. You will meet him soon. I have known him forever. We are like twins!” Kristen said “Funny that I have never known your last name.” She hesitated and said “I am sorry Robert; I don’t usually make investments. I just know how to spend money, and I’m not ready to do this right now.”

He indignantly walked out of the room dragging Anne behind him. He then had Anne pull her car up and they quickly drove away. Kristen did not hesitate and decided to tail him. She had to find out what he was up to!

They only drove a few miles until Anne dropped him off in front of a restaurant. Kristen wanted to see who Robert was meeting, so she left her car in the front while she went in and looked around. Right in the middle of the room, Robert was looking like a family man sitting with a pregnant girl in her early twenties who had a small boy next to her.

 She at first thought the girl could be a daughter or something, but then it dawned on her it was probably the Jeannie who gave him the watch! Kristen walked right up and stood in front of him. “So, I knew you were up to something. Hello Jeannie.” The girl looked confused. Robert calmly said to Kristen “So, are you hear to tell me the news about Anne? Is she still at the hospital?” Kristen was dumbfounded. “What?” He continued “Anne. How is Anne? How did her tests go?”

 Kristen could tell he was creating some kind of wild story to explain her being there.” She just replied “Anne is going to be alright”, and walked away. It was pointless to stay there. Robert said “You are so kind to let us know” he really sugar-coated it. Kristen thought “God, he is such a loon!”

 Kristen began to walk out and was surprised to see Robert following behind her carrying his briefcase.

He braced it against one hip as he fumbled with the latch to open it. He pulled out papers and placed them on a front counter in the lobby. Kristen watched him carefully.

 “Kristen! This is it. You need to sign now or I am going to offer this opportunity to a man who is on his way to join me here. He started explaining the venture all over again and made it seem like easy money. She started feeling that it was a low risk, so she thought it might be alright.

 Robert continued “Are you ready to do this?” Robert remained very businesslike and shoved the papers towards her. As Kristen slowly reached for her purse, Robert perked up. He put his arm around her shoulders as she looked over the contract carefully. It seemed very official. She was afraid to upset him, and with great hesitation she said “I am only willing to put in $75,000, not $125,000.” Robert’s smile disappeared. Kristen quickly added “And I am paying cash!”

 His eyes almost popped out as she pulled several stacks of bills from her purse. He now stood behind her and produced a pen. Kristen took it from him and signed in the three places where he pointed. 

 Kristen said “Don’t you need a Notary for this?” He quickly answered “Don’t worry. Anne will take care of it.” Kristen wondered how much Anne was involved in all of this, and if she was sleeping with Robert.  Kristen thought again, and then greed entered the picture. “Wait Robert, I am going to invest $25,000 more. But I am going to have to do it with a check. I am out of cash.” Robert slowly smiled and had her sign another document. Then he pulled the papers from her like a hot potato as he grabbed the check. He scrawled his name and gave her the final page to serve as her receipt.

 Kristen stood up to leave. Robert began shoving everything back in his briefcase and said “I will see you later.” As she walked out into the parking lot, Kristen was feeling nervous about giving St. Germain the money. She sat in her car for several minutes to think about it. She then had an increasingly sick feeling and thought that she had better get out of the deal right away.

 She rushed back into the restaurant and looked around for Robert. He wasn’t there. Kristen felt panicky and sat at an empty table. There was nothing she could do about the cash, but she could stop the check. She called her bank’s customer service line.

 The bank agent told her not to worry because she had placed the stop payment right away. She put down her phone and was very nervous of how Robert was going to react to being blind-sided. She knew he wouldn’t be happy; but he certainly wasn’t a crook. She knew he would give her money back if she asked for it. And actually, she second-guessed herself, she still wasn’t sure if she really wanted to kill the deal yet.

 

7 THE PYRAMID FALLS

 

 A few days passed before Kristen heard from Robert again. He actually drove to her house in the early evening and pounded on the front door. She was afraid to open it, fearing retaliation for her stopping the check.

To her surprise, Robert said nothing except “I need to go back downtown. I had too many drinks at Mulligan’s.” He looked disheveled and shook his head like he was trying to wake up. “I am too messed up to drive my rental car back by myself.”

 Kristen replied “How did you even know where I live?” He didn’t have to answer. She knew it was one of her friends that had broken the “Girl Code” without even warning her!

 At first she refused him, but he had this charisma about him and she wanted to be around it. It was like she was enchanted by him. She knew this wasn’t the right way to be thinking, but she couldn’t help herself.  Things were different these days. The bad boys were more fun and definitely not boring. Her life was becoming an adventure!

 They left his car there because he was going to have the rental place pick it up later. She grabbed her car keys and soon they were on the expressway heading south. As they were driving, Robert said “I need to borrow a few hundred dollars to get something. I will pay you right back.” Kristen immediately said “No!” He quickly added “I’ll pay you back double!”

 She then raised her hands up like she gave up on everything. “Go look in my purse.” Robert reached for it and put it on his lap. Kristen had planned to make a bank deposit the next day and had plenty of money in there. Robert grabbed a handful of bills and held them up. “Is this OK?” Kristen looked and said “Sure, but, seriously, only if you are paying me this week.” Robert looked angelic and said “Of course I am. By the way, I am not happy that you stopped the check. But it is alright, and I understand. Kristen began to feel nervous and wanted to talk about her investment. But she didn’t want to make waves and decided to save it for later.  

 Kristen was about to take the exit to go towards the lake, but Robert said “Keep going. Get off at Division Street.” She exclaimed “Why do you want to go there?” He replied “Don’t worry so much, just drive!” He had her head east for a while and then suddenly yelled “Take a turn here.  Kristen said “Are you insane? This is Cabrini-Green, the low-income housing projects. We are in the ghetto! Don’t you know that it is totally dangerous here? I don’t want to get shot!” Robert said “It’s OK, don’t worry, it’s not bad. Go pull over by that corner and cut off the engine.”

 Kristen went ahead and parked. She could hear gunfire about a block away.  The area was dark because most of the streetlights had been shot out. She switched the car back on and said “I’m getting out of here!”

 She was about to pull out when a man wearing a dark cap, torn coat and black pants walked up to the car. Kristen almost died right there. Robert rolled down his window “Hey man, can you get us some rock?” The man leaned in the window. “I don’t know man, are you the heat?” Robert laughed like a lunatic. “No, we’re cool!”

 Robert poked Kristen and said “I need smaller bills. Give me sixty bucks.” Kristen protested “No way Robert! I can’t believe you are trying to buy drugs here, I told you I don’t do them. You are just going to get ripped off.” Robert said to the man “You wouldn’t do that, would you? You need to leave me with your wallet so I know you’re coming back.” 

 The man acted like he was going to just walk away.  Robert demanded the money from Kristen again saying “I’ll pay you back along with the other money I owe you tomorrow. I promise.” The man was starting to look angry, so Kristen stretched to reach over Robert and handed him the money directly. The man pulled his wallet from his pocket and tossed it in the car. He said “I’ll be right back. Do you want any weed too?” “Robert said “Just the coke.” The stranger walked off in between two of the projects into the dark.

 They waited for half an hour. Kristen angrily said “You know that creep isn’t coming back. I knew it! You are such a jerk! I can’t believe you have put me in the middle of a drug deal. What happens if we get arrested?” Robert said “He’ll be back. We have his wallet. I wonder how much money is in it?” Kristen watched as Robert opened it and looked in. All it contained was a driver’s license, no money, nothing!

 Robert held the I.D. up to show Kristen and chuckled. The picture on it was of a very young man with bright blonde hair. Robert laughed like he was going to fall over. “I guess it looks like our friend isn’t coming back. Let’s go.” Kristen saw a crowd of teens coming up on them and peeled out of there. She was livid at Robert. He was now deliberately endangering her life! She was so angry that she took him to his hotel, kicked him out, and sped off.

 Kristen was now completely sure that Robert was out of her life and she was starting to worry about how she was going to get her money back. She was not rich enough these days to handle that type of loss. It was going to have a significant effect on her plans. After two weeks passed, she received a bouquet of flowers from him with a note. She called him and agreed to meet that night at the new hotel that he was staying in.

 When she arrived, the door was slightly open. As she began to knock, an arm reached out, took her hand, and pulled her inside. Robert was wearing just a towel, fresh from a shower and his tight abs glistened as he brought her over to the couch. He handed her a large cocktail as she sat down. Kristen started to speak, but Robert touched her lips with his finger and said “I want you to take a big sip first! Then we will talk!”

 As she began to drink she felt an amazing rush and a total feeling of peace overtaking her body. Kristen loved the world and now him too. She wanted him to make love to her. Robert advanced toward her on the couch as the towel fell from his hips. He kissed her and bent over as he held the glass for her as she took another long sip. He then retreated to watch her curiously from the other side of the room.

 Kristen now felt her heart skipping and started to feel numb. Robert said “Finish that up. I have to go to a late business meeting.” Kristen moaned “Aren’t you going to make love to me? We still haven’t done that yet.” She took a few more big gulps and was now feeling very light-headed. Robert laughed. “We have plenty of time to do that later. I’ll come over to your house tonight and we’ll work on keeping you happy all week. I promise.”

 Kristen slowly sat up pouting and groggily said “Are you going to drive me? I don’t think I can do it.” Robert acted indifferently and said “You’re a big girl. Have the doorman get you a cab.” He then flicked the towel at her like he was fending her off and walked into the bedroom. Kristen followed him. “Aren’t you even going to pay for it like a gentleman?” The drink had now made her totally lose her inhibitions. “Please Robert, please make love to me! I need you so bad!” She started pulling at her clothes. He shut the door behind him.  Kristen whined at him “What about my money?” She then laughed. She was too buzzed to care. She tried to stand up but her legs gave way and she collapsed on the nearest chair.

  A few minutes later, the door to the other room opened. It all seemed very foggy as Kristen made out the shadow of a figure emerging from it and walking towards her. As she regained her focus, she saw Robert had now matted down his hair and had donned heavy make-up, a tight red skirt, and a pair of stilettos! Kristen rubbed her eyes and muttered “You have got to be kidding me! That’s it. This is too much, I am leaving!” Robert looked hurt and froze as she slowly pulled herself up and stumbled out the door. As she made her way to the elevator, she had to keep bracing herself against the wall.

   Finally, down in the lobby, the doorman took one look at her and summoned her a cab. Kristen shook her head and brushed past him. She was able to walk, but clearly wasn’t thinking straight and decided to take the train near the hotel that had a stop near her place in the suburbs. As she headed down Michigan Avenue, she began to feel a bit queasy. She quickly ducked into an alley so no one would see her.

 

 

Soon she felt like she was swooning. She felt a great heaviness in her neck and in her ears. It felt like someone was taking deep footsteps inside her head.

 

 Kristen grabbed the handle of a dumpster that was next to a brick wall and eased herself down onto the ground, her arms clutching behind her to keep upright. Sitting there with her legs straight out and her head slumped to the side, she went into black.

 After about a half-hour, Kristen began to come out of it. Her body was now completely beneath the dumpster and its gritty rubber wheel was hard against her cheek. She could feel the pressure of it as her senses faintly returned. Shaking her head, she said “Oh, God, what am I doing?”

 She pulled herself out from underneath it and became very scared. She was fully aware of everything now and was horrified this had happened. Kristen pulled herself up quickly and walked a few blocks more in the direction of the train station. There were two shady looking men at the entrance and thankfully they just glanced at her without much interest. A police car pulled up. The cop in the passenger side lowered the window down. Kristen ran down the stain-covered stairs to the platform as he started to say something.

 It was freezing out, but Kristen was burning up. Standing on the platform, she still felt dizzy and she could feel her throat choke her as she tried to breathe. Everything still felt like it was numb, like she had been strangled. Kristen reached at her neck and now realized that her necklace had grown very tight. She yanked it off breaking its clasp. “The drink or whatever it was must have caused this.”

 

She felt strong, then overwhelming, flashes, and even in the coolness of the tunnel, the heat enveloped her even more as she just stood there paralyzed.

 

 A train came from the opposite direction. Kristen could feel its deep rumble in her knees and as it came upon her. She was refreshed by the strong gust of cool wind that followed as it passed. Kristen leaned forward towards it and closed her eyes, tranquil in this moment. It comforted her, and then chilled her to the bone.

 A jittery unsure feeling in her ankles made her open her eyes and look down. Startled, Kristen pulled back from the ledge. She couldn’t believe she was standing so close to it. One slip onto the very electrified Third Rail and she would have been toast. Her thoughts were racing again, falling on top of each other. She felt way too high and was freaking out! “What did he give her? Was it poison? Her hands were trembling.

 Her train finally pulled up and she got on. There was no one on the car except for a couple at the far end. The ride was fast because no one was out that late to get off and on at each stop. Before she knew it, Kristen had arrived back in the suburbs.

 It was very late and Kristen was now afraid of having to walk the two miles to her place. As she pushed open the exit door of the station, it was like a dream. A bright white cab was waiting on the street! The owner was asleep with the window half-open. Kristen stood outside and reached in nudging him on the arm. He looked ticked off that she woke him. He was even madder when Kristen mumbled they would only be going a couple of miles.

 Kristen sank back into her lumpy seat watching as her knee started to shake uncontrollably. She screamed to herself in her head. “What the hell did he put in it?” She brought out her cell phone and planned to call Robert, but she could barely keep her head up. She started thinking she should seriously go to the Emergency Room, but decided not to because that could only lead to trouble.

 Kristen finally made it home, pulled the phone cord out of the wall, and just lay in bed with her eyes closed. She could feel her blood speeding through her veins. In the morning, she forced food into herself to ward off the effects. She also took a lukewarm shower topping it off with a cold blast. Kristen moped around another hour wondering whether she wanted to sleep in for the rest of the day or not. She remembered to plug her land phone back in, and just as she did, it rang.

  “How are you this morning?” Robert was on the other end and was talking excessively and painfully loud into her ear. Kristen was mad and said “What the hell did you put in that cocktail that you gave me?” Robert laughed “Oh, just a little something to make your night more interesting without me. Did you like it?”

 Kristen screamed “No! What are you trying to do? Kill me?” Kristen wouldn’t even allow him the chance to reply and said “What do you want? Actually, never mind, I’m hanging up” and she put the phone down hard. As soon as she did, her cell phone rang. “Did you really think you could get away from me that easy?” Kristen was very irritated. “Robert, I have nothing to say to you…” 

 He interrupted “I have something of yours. I have your ring.” Kristen looked down at her pinkie. She couldn’t believe she didn’t know it was missing. Since, it was normally pretty tight on her finger; he could have only pulled it off of her at the hotel. Kristen yelled at him “You stole my ring? When were you going to tell me?” He floundered a bit. “The maid found it on the floor.” Kristen said “That ring means a lot to me. You have to give it back!” Robert said “Don’t worry, I will.”

   “You better come to me,” Kristen demanded. “I’m not trekking down there! You can meet me somewhere around my place.” Robert said to her “Meet me over at Mulligan’s in one hour.” Kristen yelled “I can’t! My car is at your hotel.” Robert calmly replied “Look out your window.” He then hung up.

 Kristen opened her curtains and was shocked to see her car sitting out on the street. She still felt like she was both trembling and exhausted and just wanted to go back to bed. She threw a bland looking skirt and blouse on and then walked outside. It seemed like a lifetime since she last saw her car. The keys were in the ignition.

 When she got to Mulligan’s, Robert was sitting at the bar with a large cocktail and a full plate of food. Turning to her with his mouth full, he tried to turn her cheek towards him for a sloppy kiss. She pulled back and sat two stools down from him. “What did you lace that drink with? It almost killed me! I don’t even do drugs.” Robert laughed “Oh, come on. Don’t be so dramatic. It just had something special in it. No worries! Maybe you were allergic to it.”

 Kristen was very angry now. She did not even rip into him about what he was wearing the night before. In fact, she almost thought that part could have just been a side-effect of the drug and it didn’t happen. “I am not staying! Give me my ring.” She held out her hand, not looking at him. He leaned up in his chair a bit and fished it out of his pocket. Chewing still with his mouth open, he plunked it into his glass. “You Creep!” Kristen took the glass and started pouring it out on the bar until the ring slipped out. “You are a bigger Creep”, Robert said and motioned for the female bartender. 

 The bartender gave her a snotty look and threw a rag down expecting Kristen to clean it up. Kristen ignored her, pulled her stool away, and started walking out the front door. Robert said “Kristen, I forgot my wallet. Can you pay for this? I’ll get your money to you tomorrow.” Kristen groaned and went back in.

 She pushed Robert in the chest and said “What’s wrong with you?” She pulled two twenties out of her purse and handed it to the waitress. “If this will get rid of him, then here!” This time she almost ran out the door to get to her car.

 A week later, Kristen had heard that The Patio was going to undergo renovations and they were having a closing party that evening. She lined up two of her friends to go with her. When she got there, it was filled to capacity. Luckily, her friends were already settled and had procured a table. Kristen decided to walk around a bit to see who else had come out.  To her dismay, she saw Anne and Robert sitting on the other side of the room.

 Robert saw her and came rushing up putting his hand on her arm. “Hello! Come and join us.” He seemed jovial and this made Kristen even more nervous. He half-tugged her over to his table and pulled out a chair for her. He started making small talk. Kristen only wanted to know when she was going to get all her money back. She had no intention of waiting any longer for the pay-out. Anne said nothing and just glared at her.  The waitress never came by, so Robert got up to fetch himself another drink at the bar.

 Anne moved over a chair and really ripped into Kristen. “How the hell could you have done that to me?” Kristen had no clue what she was talking about and said “What do you mean Anne? I didn’t do anything to you.”

Anne attacked like a pit bull “You stopped the check! I gave Robert money because he knew that he was getting the $25,000 from you. That was supposed to be my cut. He never paid me back because you did that. I can’t afford that. You need to give me that money. I have to have it!”

 Kristen said forcefully “You are delusional. I am not going to give you, or Robert, or anyone my money. He has the $75,000 in cash too. Why doesn’t he give you some of that?” Then Kristen had a sick feeling. It suddenly was evident what Robert had been up to with her, Anne, and all his so-called investors.

 Kristen said cautiously, still unsure, “If you lost your money to Robert’s pyramid scheme, then it is your fault. Why the hell did you ever tell me you knew all about him and that he was a trustworthy person?” Kristen got up, slammed her chair back into the table, and went off to find Robert.

 He was now sitting at the bar and had ordered food. “Here” he patted the chair. “Sit down. I ordered you some dinner too.” Kristen wondered what he was up to again. Before she could question him, the bartender laid a full dinner in front of her and a Screwdriver. Anne started to make her way toward them.

 Kristen knew she had to handle this delicately or she would never see her money again. She could only hope for the best that the money was safely in his hands and that he was legitimate. She did not mention what Anne said. Robert just stuffed his face and did not talk. He then ordered a big dessert and told Kristen he was going to the washroom.

 That was it! Kristen raised her voice and startled the other customers near them. “Robert! I want my money. NOW! St. Germain jumped up like a mad man and yelled even louder. “No problem. No problem!” He motioned to Anne to come over. “Anne! Take a memo. Remind me to have my partner fax Kristen a promissory note for the money I owe her. There. That takes care of that!”

 Kristen grew bolder. “No Robert. This is a pyramid scheme. I want out. Robert looked at Anne and then turned bright red and looked like he was going to hit both of them. He yelled “What are you talking about? You just gave me that money. It’s going to take a month. You know that.”   He violently put his face up in hers. “You are crazy. It is tied up. I can’t give it back to you yet. I will try to work something out, but you are just going to have to wait. Flustered, he waved his hands in the air and started to walk in circles. “Please, be patient. Don’t be so paranoid. I’ll be right back. I have to call someone.” He then ran from the room.

 Kristen sat back down and began to finish off her food. Robert was taking a very long time to return. The bartender smiled and laid the check in front of her. Kristen remembered back to when Robert stiffed her with the check before, so she handed cash to the bartender and said that she was only paying for her meal and drink. Then she went to find her friends who were now out on the atrium.

 A very irate Robert found her a short while later. He complained to her that he didn’t have any money or credit cards with him and that Anne was mad at him and had already left. He told her the bartender said he was going to call the cops if he didn’t pay him for dinner.

 Kristen decided it would now be a good idea to leave since he might do something unpleasant.  She said “That’s your problem Robert.” He started to rush after her, but the bartender grabbed him and pushed him onto a stool. She hurriedly got her car from the valet and drove through the parking lot. As she sat in her car hidden behind some trees, she called her friends in the bar to tell them she was leaving.

 She then veered her car back and was headed towards the exit, when she noticed Robert standing in a telephone booth. She could see he was arguing with someone.

 She drove up to him and asked as obnoxiously as she could, “Where is your cell phone? I didn’t know they still had booths.” He covered the receiver with his hand. “The Manager said I had to leave the phone and my license until I got him the money.” Robert was really ticked off.

 She pushed further “Don’t you have your car to drive to the bank?” Robert looked rattled and said “I don’t have the car, long story. Can you please give me the money? It’s not that much. Please?” That was all she could take!

 Kristen screamed at him “No Robert. You’re getting out of this scrape on your own. I don’t trust you. I want all my money back now. You also owe me for those drugs or whatever else you bought with my money. I want it immediately or I am going to call the cops on you too. You need to give me something.” She said “What can you give me now? I want your watch.”

 Robert looked down at it. Kristen was really frustrating him, so he took it off his wrist and handed it to her. “Here, if this will get you to go away right now; then take it.” Kristen had no problem with this and grabbed it from him before he could change his mind. He looked very sad and still was not aware that Kristen knew it was from his girlfriend. It was the cheap watch that she had seen in the hotel room. 

 A car pulled up while they were still arguing. Kristen saw that it was the pregnant girl. Robert jumped in next to her and she handed him some money. Kristen got out of her car and went over to Robert’s side. He was very nervous and reluctantly rolled down the window. Instead of making a scene, Kristen just handed him the watch. “Here, Robert, you left this in the restaurant.” Robert’s girlfriend seemed puzzled to see Kristen again and looked over at him. Kristen could tell Robert was relieved and looked thankful. She thought “This was probably the one relationship that meant something to him. Maybe it was his baby. Poor girl!”

 Kristen drove off.  She figured she would find some way to get her money back. This time, it was really worth never seeing his face again!

8 FOR A NIGHT LIKE THIS

 

 Kristen was having a great start to her summer, but she was increasingly out of control in every direction. She had been spending money recklessly and watching hopelessly as the balance in her checkbook grew smaller and smaller.

 She was nearing the end and was down to only one bank account. She thought again about how much the $75,000 that she lost to St. Germain would really help her out now. She spoke to a lawyer friend about pursuing the rat but he said if there were drugs involved, she should decide to leave the whole fiasco alone. Kristen assured herself that when she got her big money, she would then go after him with a team of high-powered attorneys.

   She wondered where Robert was lately and who he was scamming now. She searched for his name on the internet and saw that there was plenty of information on him. He wasn’t even using an alias. Someone actually had a blog on him to ask that people who had been bilked by him to come forward and tell their story. It was unbelievable! He had been going across the country for several years and had a long list of victims. No wonder why he was so good at it. Men, women, hotels, and large corporations had all been charmed, and then coerced by him. She knew now that there would never be a chance to recoup her loss. He was the biggest nut that she had ever met. She wondered if anyone else had the special treat of seeing him in his red skirt. She could only venture guesses why his buddies were so willing to risk their livelihoods’ hanging out with him.  

   How could Kristen have been so gullible? She wished she had researched him like she was doing now when she first met him. She could really, really use that money!  She was mad at herself for throwing it all away and started calculating all the other stupid moves she had made. Such a waste! It was hard to remember the highlights and the good times. The thought of going broke, and her problems with all the men in her life, past and present, really began to stress Kristen out.

 But Kristen wasn’t one to readily admit defeat and she started to think how she could put this all behind her and come out on top.  To avoid the real issues at hand, she thought she would start first with the easiest way to change herself. And, of course thinking like the social bunny that she now saw herself as, that entailed reviewing her massive wardrobe for a possible change to her styling. She wanted to become more conservative. There were plenty of purses and designer clothes that she could sell at a consignment shop and get a considerable amount of money for. Then she would buy new items to fit her updated persona.

 She became very excited about this idea and went to burrow through her closet. Kristen was knee-deep in a pile of shoe rejects when her phone rang. There was a long silence and then he spoke. “Kristen, I have sensed that all is not well with you. Are you alright?”

 Kristen flopped herself down and held the cell closer. She removed a painful stiletto sticking in her hip and answered. “Karl? Is that you?” An impatient voice replied “Why do you always ask? You know that it is.” Kristen became flustered. “It’s just that I didn’t expect to ever hear from you again. You made that quite evident the last time we saw each other.” Karl said “Circumstances have changed. I am not one to abandon a friend. Plus, I have my own reasons for calling…”

 Kristen jumped in. “Are you back in town?” Karl was displeased at her disruption. “Seriously Kristen, you need to stop acting so eager. It is quite the turn-off. It won’t be much longer before I quit tolerating your childish behavior. You seriously embarrassed me in front of my acquaintances and you know that is why it ended.”

 Kristen was ready to start arguing with him but held back. She was curious as to why he wanted to talk to her.

 Karl scolded her a bit more and then his voice took on a smile. “Kristen, I would be honored to have you accompany me to a small dinner with the Ambassador to Britain. He will be hosting a small gathering in Chicago tomorrow. “He chuckled “I know you like handsome men. Here’s another chance to go international. Or would you rather stick with me?”

 Kristen laughed. “The jury is still out on that one Karl. You are not the easiest person in the world to please. I really have moved on. But, I do accept your offer because I feel that this would be a creative outlet for me. I haven’t done anything special in a long time. I just don’t know if I can afford the correct outfit for it.”

 Karl stiffened and replied “You know that is never an issue. I enjoy dressing you. I will have an associate of mine find you something and then I will come over tonight to put it on you.” Kristen became excited again and started bubbling “Oh Karl! I would love to see you. I can hardly wait!” On the other end Karl shook his head and smiled. He would never let on to her in person, but he really did enjoy the little girl in her. He answered on an upbeat. “Kristen, I will be happy to see you again too. I will be there at 7 PM.”

 Kristen abandoned her closet project and spent the following hours straightening up her place for Karl’s arrival. She showered and dressed and had barely enough time to finish putting on her make-up when her doorbell rang at precisely 7 PM.

 Karl made a grand entrance wearing an evening suit and sporting a slender and beautiful long black-haired woman on his right arm. He met Kristen’s dismayed look with a smirk. “This is Anna Marie. She is going to a party with me after we drop your outfit off.” Anna Marie was carrying the goods. She had a wardrobe bag and a few small packages containing what Kristen hoped were expensive shoes, and perhaps an evening clutch. Anna Marie looked bored and held them straight out in front of her.

 Kristen inquired “Are you two going to one of those parties?” Karl did not answer as he took the articles from his date. He pointed to a chair and she obediently went to sit. Karl unzipped the dress bag with a flourish and brought out a gorgeous couture cocktail dress. Kristen rushed over to see who the designer was. Karl looked disapprovingly at her. “Can’t you just appreciate the beauty? Why are you so crazy for labels?”

 Kristen stepped back and knew not to cross over the boundary line that Karl had created between her and the dress. But she was feeling bolder around him now and tactfully replied, “I am sorry Karl; you know how I love fashionable clothes. It has nothing to do with labels. You seem to have some off-kilter ideas about me.” Karl looked amused as she then looked over at Anna Marie who registered no reaction. Kristen then leaned in towards her and noticed that she had a glossy appearance and didn’t even seem to be human. She actually looked like a mannequin. It was entirely possible. She had yet to speak.

 Karl laid the other bags down on the couch.  He smiled “Kristen, we must be leaving now. I will send a car service for you tomorrow, again at 7 PM. Please be out front to receive him. Kristen was mad that Anna Marie was with him and was half-tempted to tell Karl that she had no interest in accompanying him and being used as a social accessory. But she knew that Karl was definitely not the person to react to in that manner. There was something about him that was frightening. She still didn’t know what it was or why he had that effect on her. He was a genuine mystery.

 She managed a weak “Good Bye Karl” as he gave her a brief kiss on the cheek. He then smiled again at her and gave her a slight spank that made her stand straight. “You had better be a good girl. I will see you tomorrow. Please wear your hair up. I have provided a lovely jeweled clip for you.” He then walked out with Anna Marie, head down, following directly behind him.

 Karl then stepped back in the door. “By the way, is there someone that you would like me to speak to for you?” Kristen looked puzzled. She immediately wondered if he was referring to Robert St. Germain. She had a gut feeling that Karl knew about him and what had happened between them, but of course, that was not possible. Still, she felt weird and shook her head. Kristen answered “No Karl. There is no one. Everything is fine.” Karl looked disappointed. “Very well then, until tomorrow.” He nodded as he exited.

 Kristen walked through her living room and gathered up her new items. She placed them in her closet without giving the dress a second glance. It was like an evil spirit was warding her away from it.

 The next morning Kristen met up with Ashley to go to the fitness club. They were very competitive and liked to jog side by side on the machines. Ashley was jealous when Kristen told her she would be meeting the British Ambassador that evening. She pleaded “Oh, come on! Get him to find me a date too. I want to meet the Ambassador. He is so cute and he is available! He recently got divorced.” Kristen looked at her in disbelief. “Since when do you know about the British government? Did you start reading newspapers?” Ashley gave her a rude laugh. “No. Of course not! I read it in Vogue. Complete with glossy pictures of him.”

 Kristen mockingly acted relieved “Oh, good! I would hate to think that you actually cared about what goes on outside your world.” Ashley poked her in the side and reached over to Kristen’s treadmill turning up the speed on it. “Diva! You should talk. Run! You need to work it girl. Work it!”

 Kristen had a great workout and felt enough ounces lighter to fit into her new dress. When she returned home she pulled it out of the closet and slipped it on. She still did not want to know who it was by, but it fit perfectly, like it was created for her.

 It took much finesse to gather her long hair and wind it sleekly up on top of her head. She gasped as she viewed the clip that Karl had given her. It looked like an heirloom and was encrusted with diamonds and rubies. She looked beautiful, straight out of a medieval romance.

 As instructed, she met the limousine on time and was rushed off to her special evening with Karl. The lights of the city blended into a dazzling display as they sped through the streets. As they drove down Lake Shore Drive and then turned west down Walton Place, Kristen realized that the party was being held at the Drake Hotel. This was a classy affair and she was ready!

 As she strode through the front door, Karl was standing in the front lobby waiting to greet her. He looked very handsome in a black tuxedo and she was daunted by his appearance. Her nerve endings began tingling with excitement as he took her hand and walked her into the banquet room. He smiled at her and said “You look ravishing my dear.”

 From the polished silver gleaming under the lights, to the beautiful tapestries on the wall, the room was old-world magnificent as only the Drake could do. There was a receiving line for the Ambassador, but Karl led Kristen straight up to him. The dignitary was very attractive with a firm build and straight, thick hair. He looked to be in his early 40’s. “Thomas. I would like you to meet Miss Kristen Stratford. She is the young lady that I mentioned to you.”

 Thomas pulled away from a group that he had been greeting and bent down to kiss Kristen’s hand. “Miss Stratford it is my great honor to finally meet you!” Kristen was taken slightly aback by his special attention. She wondered why Karl had even talked to him about her. Why were his friends so interested in her? Just exactly what did she mean to Karl?

 Kristen smiled at Thomas and then couldn’t help herself looking up into his eyes. He gazed back into hers and she felt an immediate connection. She felt her breath leave her as he pulled her towards him to kiss her gingerly on her cheek. His demeanor was seductive.

 Thomas then held tightly to her hand and had her stay by him while he continued greeting his guests. Kristen knew it would not be polite to step away and she wanted to be with him, in fact, she felt compelled. Curiously, Karl seemed more than alright with this, and stood off to the side with his back turned to Kristen while he chatted with a few men.

 The guests gave their fond greetings to Thomas and as they walked past Kristen, she could not help noticing how perfect they all seemed to appear. The men were relatively the same age with their handsome faces frozen in time with no hint of aging.  Their partners were all much younger with the same lustrous skin as Anna Marie from the night before. The couples all seemed to be matched sets! They were eloquent in their speech and manners and were dressed immaculately in trending fashion. Above all, they seemed at peace.

 The Ambassador dominated Kristen’s attention throughout the evening. He had her placed next to him at the long dining table, and Karl was seated at the other end with two gorgeous women adorning each side. He seemed quite happy with the arrangement.  Kristen enjoyed the Ambassador’s attention but still didn’t understand why this was happening.

 Occasionally, Karl would look towards Kristen as if he was evaluating her and Thomas. He seemed as if he was acting more like a matchmaker than her date. It was too strange how this was all taking place, as if it was planned.

 After dinner, there was some light dancing taking place, and at this point, Thomas departed from the room. Kristen was left sitting at the head of the table by herself.  She was glad to see Karl’s familiar face as he walked up to her and held out his hand leading her to the dance floor.

 Karl pulled her close and said “Kristen, I hope you are enjoying Thomas. I know that he is also enamored with you.” Kristen looked up at him in confusion and was ready to refute his statement when Karl held her more tightly. “Thomas and I would like you to accompany us to another gathering that is being thrown in his honor later tonight. He really wants to get to know you better. That is something that I want too. You can have the best of both worlds.” Kristen started to reply, but Karl brushed his finger across her lips to stop her. They silently danced a bit longer and then he gave her a friendly spank as he walked her towards her chair.

 Kristen knew exactly what he had been proposing and finally opened up. She slyly replied “Karl, if you think I am going to do a twisted threesome with you and the Ambassador you can just keep dreaming on. It’s not going to happen.” Karl’s eyes blackened with anger. Kristen grew fearful as he snapped “We have not even had relations with each other. How can you go so low to make that statement? Get your pretty head out of the gutter Miss Stratford. This is neither the time nor the place to speak like that.”

 Kristen still believed that she was right. Though she enjoyed the Ambassador’s company, she still resented Karl for not paying enough attention to her this evening and especially for all past transgressions. She now sarcastically said “Please tell Thomas that I would love a hook up alone with him. You can watch us if you would like!”

 Karl replied with disdain “I can only assume Kristen that you have had too much to drink and that is why you are completely out of character right now. This is exactly why I have not delved further into a relationship with you. It is not that I am older than you; the problem is that you are just too immature for me and most everyone else for that matter.”

 Kristen still wanted to keep on annoying him. “I believe you know Karl that I am just enough woman for you. Tell me exactly what type of place that you want to take me to? Do I need to bring my black square with me? Is that the only way you can express yourself?” She gathered more courage. “Karl. Why can’t you show that you have feelings for me?”

 With that, Karl pulled her into his arms and consumed Kristen in a kiss for the ages. When he finished, as far as Kristen was concerned, she had become his and finally quit challenging him. He looked down at her with a knowing smile. “Now Miss Stratford… What were you trying to tell me?” Kristen said nothing as she clinged to Karl while he said his good-byes and then walked her out of the hotel.

 The couple climbed into a limousine and headed south. As the surroundings gradually looked more ramshackle, it soon became obvious that they were returning back to the closed nightclub in the questionable part of Chicago that he had taken her before. This time the building was dark and there was no one in sight.

 The front door was wide open. As they walked in there were sheets partially draped over the furniture and the place had a musty smell. Karl led her through the main room and then downstairs to the lower level.

 Kristen had still not said a word. Karl took her into the room with the three crosses. This time they were all facing downwards. He lit a large floor candle and then held Kristen up towards the middle crucifix and gently strapped her hands onto the crossbar. As she hung from it, he slowly walked behind her. Kristen cringed as she felt the teeth of her zipper scrape against her skin as it was being pulled downwards. He then held his arms around her as he slid the dress off her body and onto the floor below. His strong hands followed the curves of her slight frame as she pulsated against them.

 Kristen closed her eyes and longed for Karl to press his body against her, to become one with his dark mind and be taken into his world. She knew she was supposed to be with him…

 After a minute of silence, Karl’s deep voice brought her back from her thoughts. “I am sorry Kristen. It’s still not time yet. Please understand.” He then quickly pulled her out of the restraints. As he released her, she opened her eyes as the candle flame flickered and the room filled with light. She felt vulnerable without her clothes and pulled her arms across her body to shield it. She shivered in the icy room as Karl put out the candle, handed her garment to her, and walked slowly out of the room as if he were hesitating.

 Kristen dressed and then stumbled through the darkness as she made her way back upstairs. The club was still empty and Karl was nowhere in sight. She walked around the front area. “Karl? Karl? Where are you?” There was no reply. Kristen became worried and walked back outside. She was relieved that the limousine was still there. The driver was holding the back door open for her, but Karl was not inside it.

 Without a word, the driver closed the door and proceeded to her house. The partition window was dark and tightly closed. Kristen sat in silence. When they arrived, he appeared at the side of the car. She thanked him as he helped her out and asked “Where did Karl go?” He stood without expression and handed her an envelope. “He wanted me to give this to you. Good night Miss.” He then returned to the car and drove away.

 Kristen opened her front door and immediately went to her dining room table to read the note. As she tore open the side, a check for $75,000 fell out.  Kristen shook her head “How could he have known about Robert?”

 

Dearest Kristen:

[_I enjoyed your company this evening. I hope that it all makes more sense to you now and that our paths will cross again soon. No need to fear me. Please use this money wisely. Don’t be afraid to take it.  _]

Until then…

Karl

9 DINO

 

   No matter how much Kristen prayed, she never heard from Karl again. It felt like God determined he was bad news and had cruelly snatched him away. She could not get that kiss out of her mind! It slowly filled her with a relentless thirst for more dangerous men. She was becoming a real train wreck and her twisted course over the following months now led her to hanging out at Mafia nightclubs. And since it was Chicago, they were everywhere!

   One evening, Ashley and some other girlfriends dragged her to a new disco in the suburbs that was actually a popular nightspot, complete with a private Italian Social Club connected to it. How much better could it get? Kristen chose to drive the group. When they pulled up to the venue and she announced to the girls “We’re parking ourselves. I don’t want anyone in this type of place touching my car.” Her girlfriend pointed and read from the sign posted right in front of them “Mandatory Valet”. She laughed “Too bad Kristen.” 

   Kristen was then surrounded and forced to park by some very greasy men. It was a well-known fact at these clubs that if it says “mandatory” and you try to park on your own, that there was a good chance that they would either call a tow truck, would steal it, or you would find it vandalized when you returned.

   The girls walked inside ready for action. The music nearly blasted them back out as they entered. It was very techno and even had the flashing colored disco balls on the ceiling.

The lights contrasted with the Coliseum look of the place. There were several Italian marble columns and small religious statues atop fountains in the corners. The wall was padded with black plush carpeting and red vinyl. Kristen felt like she had stepped back into a bad Roman nightmare.

   Something else did not fit in with the décor. There were several tables filled with men only. Many were clothed in old brown coats and fedoras. As the women looked further, there was also a grouping of five tables with very snappy looking, well-groomed men wearing Armani and smoking cigars. Everyone was laughing loudly. Their gold chains and diamond pinkie rings flashed in the dark. The girl group simultaneously zigged towards those tables.

   As they came closer, the strong, permeating aroma of exotic cologne lured them even deeper into the men’s lair and they chose a table just a few spots away from them. Kristen viewed the dance floor. It was almost all women dancing with each other. They wore too much eye make-up and were garishly dressed. She felt like she was at the wedding reception in “The Godfather”. She now noticed that the men became quieter, put down their cigars, and were eagerly undressing her table of friends with their eyes. The girls shifted restlessly in their chairs. They weren’t sure how they were going to welcome this attention. They could smell the testosterone in the air.

   A waitress walked up to one of the men and he made a gesture toward their table. Like an obedient dog, she came up to the girls and asked them what drinks they would like to order. She said “They are on the house.” She smiled in the direction of their provider. He was short, good looking, with his hair in a classic bouffant. He seemed to be most interested in Kristen and summoned her with his finger. 

   She slowly rose and with her best slink, she made it over to him, precariously balanced on her five inch stilettos. One of the men quickly abandoned his chair for her and she sat down next to this generous stranger. He grabbed the leg of her chair and pulled it so close to him that she was almost on his lap. He said something in Sicilian to the other men and they nodded their heads. Three of them went up to her girlfriends and walked them out to dance.

   In a sexy, heavy Italian accent he said “I was telling them that you were the most beautiful girl in the world. My name is Dino and this is my place.” He then introduced her to his friends remaining at the table. The men seemed like they had been in a heavy discussion and were not completely pleased by this interruption. They politely smiled at her and continued talking with each other, leaving Dino free for her. 

   Her drink arrived and Dino placed the cherry from his glass into it. He held it up for her as she sipped. She smiled and looked into his eyes. They were friendly, but she also sensed a menacing feeling about them. He was definitely an “in-charge kind of guy”. At the table to the left she noticed two scary men, well-built with no necks. They were dressed in deep black. They were both watching the door and her every move. Dino saw the quizzical look on her face. “Those are my bodyguards, just ignore them.” She laughed, thinking he was kidding. Then she looked again. One man actually had a black gun sitting on the table in front of him.

  Kristen now felt a hollow tremble inside of her resounding into a feeling of sexual desire. Dino put his arm around her and she was ready for the taking. It was magic and it was trouble and she knew he was someone that she could not turn down. Kristen also knew she was a little too tipsy to think sensibly.

   When Dino began kissing her, the other men moved to another table and the bodyguards looked away. She noticed her friends were watching her from the dance floor and shaking their heads “No” at her. They felt intimidated by their partners and were afraid to quit dancing. They gave her a pleading look like they wanted to get out of there. Dino’s soft touch now became more aggressive and he was all over her, rubbing her legs and not so subtly fondling her. She thought he was going to jump her right there. He whispered “Let’s get out of here.” 

   They stood up. Amused, she noticed he was inches shorter than her, even without her heels. One of his bodyguards grabbed her purse and the other one got her coat. Dino hurried her out the front door. She looked back over her shoulder and could see her girlfriends looking at her like they should come to her rescue. But their partners pulled them further into the middle of the floor obstructing their view.

   A black Town car was waiting. Dino helped her into the back seat and they drove only a few blocks to a small hotel. His driver got out of the car and walked into the office. Kristen could see through the window that the desk clerk looked very nervous. It looked like the driver was demanding the key to a room and no money was being exchanged. He came back to the car, opened the back door for them and slipped the key into Dino’s hand.

   Dino pulled her into his arms and ushered her out of the car. They walked a short distance and into the small room. She noticed that his bodyguards were now present again and seated in a black sedan. The Lincoln driver had slowly followed Dino and was now parked directly outside the door.

   Kristen was disappointed. The lighting was bad and cast a dim yellowish tint to the walls. It was very seedy looking, a four-hour nap kind of place. Even worse, it was more like a half-hour set-up. She could smell mildew on the aged furniture.

   Like a cave man, Dino threw her on the bedspread. She was reaching for her shoes when he grabbed her ankles, pulled her to the foot of the bed, and said “Baby, leave those spikes on. Oh, God are they hot!” Then he plowed into her. She didn’t know if she could handle him. He was built like a stallion! When he was done ravishing her, the blankets and pillows were in a heap on the floor. It was like a tornado had swept through and Kristen was the collateral damage. 

   A short time later there was a knock on the door. She heard an Italian voice say “Let’s go.” Kristen tried hard to collect herself. Dino walked ahead of her to the car and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and nuzzled her neck. “You were a good girl. Now go with them.”

   His two bodyguards pulled up with the car. Dino shoved a business card in her hand. “Call me. I’ve got to do some stuff now.” She was given a ride back to the club as the bodyguards sat silently in the front seat. They deposited her at the street corner, not even at the entrance, and rudely said “OK, go.” Kristen now felt very cheap and was mad that she had been with Dino so easily. His bodyguards made her feel like she was just a whore.

   Kristen noticed that her friends were now standing in the lobby door. “Let’s get out of this place” they said nervously. One of her friends stared at her. “What happened to you?” She did not need to answer. It was obvious. She felt damaged and still weak. 

   She might be acting wild lately, but she felt she was still too classy to have a man treat her like he did. Back in her normal days, whenever they were, she was usually very conservative and did not sleep around. “Never again,” she said to herself. “What a jerk.” One of her girlfriends asked her “Do you want to go somewhere else?” Kristen replied “No, I just want to go home.” She drove off in her car and her friends took a cab to continue club hopping. Kristen drew a long warm bath and went to bed.

   She had only been asleep for an hour when the phone rang. Reaching down she started pulling the cord out of the wall. She wondered, “Who the hell is it?” She held up the phone and heard “Hello darling, did you miss me?” It was him. Bewildered and reluctant to talk, she said “How did you get my number?” He replied “Your girlfriend gave it to my friend.” “Oh, great. I’m changing this number tomorrow.” She thought to herself. “Won’t those girls ever learn I like my privacy.”

   Dino started angrily speaking Sicilian to someone in the background. She thought she heard a woman’s voice. Still groggy Kristen said “What do you want?” He said “I love you. I must see you again tonight!” She then heard the voice again. It definitely was a woman. “I’ve got to go” he said, and hung up.

Now Kristen was wide awake. Mad that she couldn’t fall back asleep, she went out to the living room and watched television. She was very confused. About forty-five minutes later, she heard a soft horn beeping outside. She ignored it at first, and then parted the curtains a few inches and looked out.   

   The two black cars were there under the streetlight. Then the phone rang. She was nervous and felt required to pick it up. She said nothing and heard “Darling, come down here. I need you.” She peeked out the window again. Dino was standing on the grass with one of his arms stretched in the air toward her. She said nothing and quietly hung up the receiver. 

   Two minutes later there was a strong knock at the door. It was his bodyguard. “He wants you outside.” He hesitated and then said “Now!” “I have to get dressed” she said very flustered. “I’ll wait” he stood in the doorway, his body filling the frame. The other bodyguard came up. The first “Neck” said “Tell him she’s coming.” She dashed to her bedroom and locked the door. She at first wondered if she should call the police. Then she threw on some tight jeans, kitten heels, and an even tighter silk shirt. With no time to add make-up, she slowly opened the door. Like a prisoner, the two hulks led her outside with her standing between them. This no longer seemed exciting for her. She was worried about what Mafia nightmare she had now gotten herself into.

   Dino walked up to her and kissed her. She did not return any affection. “I’m very tired. What do you want?” “You’re coming with me now” he replied, mad at her reaction to him. Sullenly, she sat down in his car. Dino yelled “What’s the matter with you? What’s the matter?” His accent was thickening the madder he got. She felt daring. “Who was the woman?” His eyes widened and glaring “What woman?” He looked puzzled and then said “Oh, on the phone. That was my wife, forget about it.” He gave her a chilling look.

   She instantly shut up and he put his hand on her knee and began gently cuddling her. “Come on baby, I’m crazy about you.” She looked out the window. It was that very silent part of the night when dawn was still far away. This was the time of night when bad things happened, when no one could hear you scream. 

   He buried his head into her chest like a baby. She felt distant for another minute and then he nosed in some more, looking up at her winking. She now felt more relaxed and started patting his head. He had a great head of hair that was stiff with gel and still perfectly styled. “Hey, hey, easy on the hair, I need to look beautiful” he said. She started liking him again and reached down kissing him behind his ear.

   Kristen noticed they were driving in the direction of his nightclub. When they arrived, it was still lit up brightly and in full swing. They walked into the lobby and went up a side staircase with the bodyguards following behind. Dino led her through a wide door as the men took their places on each side and stood guard.

   The upstairs area was circular and set up like a VIP room with a private bartender. There was a railing that you could lean over and see the dance floor below. Kristen figured that Dino kept a fishing rod handy to pluck his women from the floor whenever he desired.

   Six older men were seated at a card table. Dino walked his date over to a couch and gave her a kiss. “Here honey, you stay over here. I have to talk business with these guys. I just wanted to have you with me tonight and to keep you near me.” 

   Dino and the men were deep in conversation. They were speaking Sicilian and seemed serious. Kristen knew some Italian and could understand snippets of what they said. She preferred not to know what they were actually talking about since from what she could gather, it didn’t sound legal. His comrades seemed nervous about her presence and kept stopping to stare at her. She ignored them and slunk down in the couch cushions, easily dozing off. 

   When she woke up, Dino was sleeping on the other side of the couch. The room was very bright now. It must have been late morning. The door was open and no bodyguards were present. She tried tapping Dino on the shoulder, but he only turned over. She looked around the room and then out the window. His Lincoln was parked in front. “I’m going home” Kristen announced. She began rocking him “Can I get a ride?” Dino mumbled, “Sure, sure just tell the driver. I’ll call you later.” With his eyes still closed, he smacked his lips and blew her a kiss.

   She made her way down the stairs and outside. She thought “Why did he even bother getting her?  They didn’t even do anything.” She tapped on the driver’s window. He was busy talking on his cell phone and ignored her. She went to the back door, got in, and without instruction, was driven to her place.      

   As their relationship progressed, Kristen was never sure if she wanted to be a part of it. She could tell Dino was seeing more than a few other women, and it didn’t really bother her. She just wished he’d fall for one and leave her alone. The more he sensed her dissatisfaction with him, the more possessive he became whenever her feelings started wandering off.

   When Dino brought her to the club with him he often would leave her sitting alone at a table. Plenty of his friends were ready to jump her, but, they never did. In addition to “Omerta”, the second rule was never mess with the “Goomah” of the boss.

   This night, Dino was in his upstairs office. Angelo, one of her favorite admirers, was sitting near her. He was very handsome! Kristen noticed he was avidly watching her and she smiled at him.

   Kristen stood up to go the restroom. As she walked down the hall she sensed someone was behind her. It was Angelo! He grabbed her shoulders, shoved her against the wall, and started sucking on her neck. He then swung her into the Ladies’ Room and locked the door. Kissing her savagely, he pulled his gun out of his waistband. He laid her out halfway on the sink counter and pushed her up against the mirror. “Oohlah” was all Kristen could muster in between heavy breaths. She then laughed “Angelo! Get off of me. What are you doing?”

   Angelo rasped “You need Angelo, don’t you?” “You’ll want me forever now and I’m going to give it to you whenever I see you.” She was trying to push him off and said “You know I am dating Dino. I don’t want you. What are you? Crazy?”

  Angelo yelled and pounded his fist on the wall. “Screw Dino, Screw Dino, I’m gonna kill that guy, I’m gonna whack him.” His phone started buzzing. The voice on the other end was speaking loudly “Get out of there Angelo! Dino is back downstairs.” Angelo swiftly lifted Kristen off the sink. “I will see you later baby.” He then swaggered out the door.

   Kristen straightened up, cautiously opened the door and looked both ways down the hall. She also glanced up at the ceiling to see if any cameras had caught the action. There was one mounted there but it was facing the other direction, so she scurried down the corridor. 

   Kristen returned to her table. Angelo was now gone from his. Her body temperature was off the charts and she tried to cool off by ordering a chilled glass of wine. She was too busy looking down and fumbling in her purse for a comb, so she didn’t pay any attention when the drink arrived.

  A hand placed it on the table before her. She looked up. It was Dino! Kristen became very nervous and started fidgeting with her feet. He sat down next to her pulling in closer. “Oh God, he’s going to know,” she could feel her already red cheeks growing crimson and started to sweat.

   “What’s the matter with you, you look so flushed?” He took her wine glass and rubbed it against her face. “You weren’t dancing without me, where you?” She then saw beyond his shoulder that Angelo had come back and was sitting at his table watching them. Now she started to tremble. “What do you do when I leave you for so long?” Dino scolded, “How come you never come up and visit me?” He turned his back on her and stared a hole right through his nemesis. Angelo gave him a cocky look and talked to his friends out of the side of his mouth. He then reached for his cigar which had been left in the ashtray from his earlier hurried departure. 

   A very young waitress, probably not even legal drinking age, came up to Angelo offering him a light. He started puffing to get it going, never once taking his eyes off Dino. Angelo then very deliberately put his arm around the waitress. 

   Kristen didn’t know that Dino had a thing going with the waitress, but Angelo did. Dino saw them and whirled around angrily and grabbed Kristen a little roughly. “Let’s go.” She protested “Where?” He growled, “Let’s get some dinner.” She noticed Angelo was still flirting with the girl and was rubbing her back as he watched them leave.

   One of the bodyguards walked up to Dino and he whispered something to him. The bodyguard nodded his head toward Angelo. Dino then waved both of the bodyguards off and they went outside. Dino walked down the block in silence with Kristen until they reached a small Italian café.

   As they were seated at a small table, she could see that Dino was preoccupied with something. He kept polite talk with her but wasn’t acting normal. “Could he know?” she thought. He was such a poker-face with his emotions she couldn’t figure out anything with him. He was taking long gulps of his drink in between the awkward pauses of their conversation.

   After an especially long stretch of silence, he blurted out “What’s wrong with you!” She instantly wanted to crawl under the table. “I know what you’re doing.” She looked scared. “You’re playing me. You don’t think I notice?” He started swearing at her in Sicilian.  She wouldn’t respond and was studying him.    

   Even though she was innocent, she couldn’t see how he knew about Angelo, so she waited for him to offer more information before pleading guilty to anything. She giggled at him. “What are you doing with yourself when

you’re noticing me?” Dino whined “No, come on, be serious, what are you doing to me?” She asked “What is wrong with you?” He said “Just don’t play me, don’t do it, I don’t want to hurt you.” He threw some money on the table for the bill. “I’ve got to go.”

   He rushed out of the café leaving her at the table. She was amused and quite pleased with herself “What was that?” She loved the fact that he was unnerved, maybe this meant he truly liked her. She was going to definitely see how far she could take this and how much she could financially get out of him. She needed some guilt-free spending money. Kristen knew she no longer actually liked Dino. She just wanted to mess with him. This new vulnerability he was showing had really turned her off. She was going to have her fun with him and then end it.

   As she walked back down the street from the café, Angelo came speeding up in his Lincoln. He pulled up to her, leaned over, and opened the door for her to get in. “I am ready to try for that other round beautiful!” She giggled and sat next to him. Too bad she was with Dino. Angelo was much hotter and taller. Angelo got right to work. He whispered “You’re mine now! I am going to make you feel really good!” He pushed the button to recline the seat and then pushed himself on her. Kristen wanted him too and felt like she might surrender this time. She grabbed at his belt.

   Lights flashed in their eyes and a dark car pulled up quickly blocking the Lincoln at the front right corner of it. A woman jumped out of the car and ran over to Kristen’s door. She flung it open. “You Bitch! Get out of there! You are a whore!” She grabbed Kristen and pulled on her until she dropped out hard on the pavement. Kristen was petrified!  

   The woman then dove in the door and started hitting Angelo. He grabbed her hands and pulled her into the car laughing at her. “Calm down honey, calm down! I’m not doing anything. We’re just talking, she’s Dino’s girl. I was just giving her a ride back to the club to meet him.” The enraged woman looked at him like she didn’t believe him.

   He got out of the car and helped Kristen off the ground. “Are you alright? You can get back in. Everything is fine.” Kristen said “Who the hell is that? Your wife?” He answered “No, no, it’s just one of my girlfriends. My wife would never be that stupid. Come on. Let me drive you to the club.” Kristen said “No way!” She quickly walked away from him.

   The woman got back in her car and followed his Lincoln to “God knows where!” Kristen had just seen her life flash before her eyes. That woman could have easily had a gun, and in that brief encounter, it would have been curtains for her. Kristen now swore, with the exception of Dino, that she would never knowingly mess around with a married man ever again. She couldn’t believe she had been so callous and selfish in her thoughts about this before.

   She pulled out her cell phone and hurriedly dialed her girlfriend. “Hey, come and pick me up. I’m free tonight, let’s go downtown.” Her friend arrived a short time later and they sped towards the city. The women had a great time dancing and flirting in different clubs. They stayed out until even the latest bars closed. All the time, Kristen had a strange feeling that she was being watched. Now that Dino had planted that in her head, she was feeling very uneasy about it. She knew it wouldn’t take much to get him to sniff her out and then snuff her. He could make things happen.

   It was totally laughable whenever the press said the mob no longer existed in Chicago. It was just that no one knew where the secrets were buried. They weren’t as open these days when they whacked someone, but it still happened. And everyone that needed to know; did.

   As the weeks wore on, Kristen contributed as little as possible to her relationship with Dino. She showed less interest in having sex and he didn’t push it. He seemed more interested in focusing on his club and hanging out there. He had now opened a small casino in the basement that was only for his crew and closest buddies. There were several slot and poker machines down there, two craps tables and even a tiny stage for select comedians and Sinatra wannabees.

   Kristen usually chose to remain upstairs in the disco zone. But tonight, there was not much going on up there, so she went downstairs. She saw a few men playing the slots. She didn’t see Dino and walked into his private room where the door was half ajar. 

   Dino was sitting at his desk with a big pile of money in front of him. Seated on his lap was the young waitress that Kristen had always suspected he was fooling around with; her cleavage was pulled completely out of her uniform. Dino, with cigar in hand, looked like he was ready to do a ‘‘Bill Clinton” when he saw his girlfriend in front of him. 

   Kristen screamed “You JERK! You’re worried about me all the time. What the hell is this?” He was caught off guard and struggled to reply. He whispered something in the girl’s ear. She bounced off his lap, adjusted herself, and walked like she didn’t care, out the door. He now looked at Kristen. “Oh, come on baby, it’s nothing, you know that” he said and stuck his cigar in his mouth.

  Dino thought he could easily dismiss the confrontation by virtually ignoring her. He started counting his money. Kristen drew her arm back and took a big swat at the pile, knocking it all over the desk and floor. She then reached down, took a big handful of it and then ran upstairs screaming “I deserve this Dino for all the crap I have taken from you.” He did not follow her. The waitress was outside in the hall. She watched Kristen leave and then came back in his room while he closed the door.

   Once she was back in the disco, Kristen sat down and tried to stuff the bills into her purse. She must have grabbed around five thousand in hundreds. Luckily, she didn’t grab the dollar bills. She was feeling very freaked out and was afraid Dino was going to come up after her. Some of his friends looked at her from their table and were quite amused. They were shaking their heads. It was obvious that she had just had a fight with him.

   Kristen wasn’t afraid enough to leave. She wanted a drink and she didn’t wait for a waitress. After all, Dino was probably doing all of them! She went straight up to the bartender and demanded her own bottle of Absolut vodka and a shot glass. She then went back to her chair and pounded them down. One of his friends laughed and had a waitress deliver a carton of orange juice to her, not even in a pitcher.  

   Kristen looked so mad! His friends just watched her and felt sorry for Dino, and what she was going to do to him once she was successfully loaded. She sat there by herself for a half-hour. She noticed Angelo come in the door and he had a date with him. This made her even madder.

   No one approached her. No one asked her to dance. So she went outside carrying the bottle with her and sat on the curb. She saw Dino come out of the basement entrance by himself. His driver pulled up about a hundred feet from her. Dino got into the car and did not even notice Kristen. As he drove off, she threw the bottle at the car, just bouncing it off the tire.

   For the next month, whenever Kristen saw Dino’s number on her caller I.D. she would hang up the phone. She began going out every night to Rush Street with or without her girlfriends, and danced all night, building up quite a presence. At the best clubs, she would always pounce her way into the VIP section and have her pick.

   Although she didn’t hook up with them, there were many Hollywood celebrities that flew into town that she got to know. They would often keep company with her because she was easy to talk to and she knew to just act normal and not gush all over them. Chicago was a much easier place to have access to the stars than other places. They came out because they were probably bored at their hotels and they didn’t have to usually worry about paparazzi here.

   One night, she was at one of her favorite retro bars. Kristen was making her way to the dance floor, when a well-dressed, slim-built man came up to her. “I noticed you have long fingers. Can I see your feet?” She thought it was a funny request, so she pulled off her shoe. He reached down, stroked it lightly, and looked like he was getting excited.

   She liked his weirdness and grabbed him to dance. In between twirls, the man told her he was a movie producer from Hollywood and invited her back to his hotel just to party; nothing else. Kristen did not even have to think about it. She politely said she was not interested. He seemed to understand and gave her a big good-bye hug. He practically smothered her and she had to pull back because his cologne was so overpowering. She could taste it in her mouth.

   As she was walking back into the bar she looked at her cell phone and noticed that Dino had called an hour ago, but did not leave a message. Even though it was late, she knew he wanted her to call back and she was wondering why he would still talk to her. She was afraid that it was about the money she took from him.

   She decided to start driving towards his nightclub before trying him. When she got about ten minutes away she dialed his number. One of his waitresses answered. “What are you doing with Dino’s phone?” Kristen demanded. “Who the hell is this” the girl replied even surlier and said “His phone was sitting on the bar.”

   Dino came up on his employee and grabbed the cell. He saw it was Kristen’s number. “Hello Trouble-Maker. How are you Beautiful?” “Hello Dino!” Kristen was glad that he was happy to talk to her, and a bit relieved.

   He said “Where are you Honey? Come and see me tonight. I want you!” Kristen questioned “Are you sure you want to see me? You’re not mad at me?” He laughed “You bet I’m mad at you. What where you doing that night? I miss you Honey! Get over here.” Kristen agreed to drive over.

 “I’ll see you in my office” he told her. “Which one?” she asked. “Upstairs? Or in the basement?” He replied “Basement. I’ve got to keep my eye on the slot action. I’ve got a couple of guys there now making too much money off me.” Kristen was not sure if she trusted Dino enough to meet him down there and she thought it was suspicious that he did not seem angrier at her. After all, she did grab a lot of money and had already spent it. And, she had no intention of paying it back!

   When she got to the club, there was no valet. So, she left her car parked in front of the Social Club entrance and went in. Not even a bouncer was present in the lobby. “Pretty strange” she thought. She went down the narrow cellar stairs. There were only two men at the slot machines and no one at the card tables. The dealer was sitting in a kitchen chair in the corner with his head down on his chest sleeping.

   Dino’s office door was half-open. As she approached, she saw a man sitting in a wooden chair with his arms tied behind him. One of Dino’s bodyguards had a leather blackjack and was hitting him in the knees. Dino was sitting on a large couch, which was a new addition to the room since she last saw him. He was casually smoking a cigarette. “Come in, come in” he gestured. Kristen was too nervous to say anything about the man.  She looked carefully around and walked in, keeping her cell phone close in her hand. The bodyguard untied and pulled the man out of his chair, taking him down the hall. He looked at Kristen with a pleading look in his eyes. She heard a door slam.

   Dino said sweetly “Sit, sit” patting the cushion next to him. She sat down with hesitation and he put his cigarette out. He immediately tried pulling her into his arms and she inched back from him afraid that he would smell the Hollywood producer’s cologne on her. It was that strong! She abruptly stood up. “I have to go to the restroom to freshen up first.” She departed down the hall. Safe in the bathroom, she tried washing off the scent, but it was too pungent. She was afraid to return to him.

   Kristen slowly walked back. Dino wasn’t in the office. She went out to the bar area and fixed herself a drink. Sipping it as she walked back in, she noticed the gamblers had left and so had the sleeping bartender. The room where the man had been taken was now empty.  

   Kristen went in and closed the office door. She turned on the TV and sat in his chair to wait for him. A short while later she heard someone lightly knocking on the door. “It’s open Dino” she called. Another knock. She laughed “Dino! Get back in here!”

   The door opened wide and an enormous man with dark hair and a very deep tan was standing there in a T-shirt and a pair of red gym shorts. His neck, arm and leg muscles looked like they should be on an Olympic weightlifter. He also had a prominent bulge in his shorts that was stretching them tightly forward. He looked like a freaking gorilla.  

  Kristen was completely surprised and didn’t know what to say at first. She just stared at him. Right when she was saying “Who are you?” Dino’s top bodyguard, who Kristen hated, but was now relieved to see, peered in from the side of the giant and said “The boss wants you to take care of him.” She yelled “What are you talking about?” He sternly said “He wants you to make him feel welcome. He’s fresh off the plane from Sicily. His name is Rico.”

   Kristen was ready to throw her cell phone at him. “Are you kidding me?” She figured it was a big joke and that Dino would show up next laughing. “No, seriously, he wants you to do it with him!” The hulk repeated him in broken English “Do it with me.” The bodyguard told him “Show her what Dino gave you.” Rico’s shorts were now almost ripping in front with how hard he was. He smiled at Kristen and pulled out a very tiny condom from his top pocket. Dino now came to the door and said to her impatiently, “What’s the matter? Do him! He needs it. He likes you. Get nasty! You know what I mean!” He then started speaking in Sicilian to the monster. His bodyguard left laughing.

   Dino then walked fully into the office pulling the gorilla’s arm. “Come on Kristen, you’re a little whore. Show him how much.” “Come on, you slut, here I’ll pay you.” He walked towards her “I know you’ve been messing with Angelo and everyone else!” He reached over to his desk drawer to get some money.

   Kristen started screaming “What are you talking about? Let me out of here!” She pushed by both of them to make her escape. She ran out into the bar area. “Dino, you pig, this is it! I’m going to make it so we are really through.” She grabbed her cell phone and pushed one of the speed dial buttons. It was for Dino’s home. Kristen waved it at him. “I’m calling your wife Dino. It’s over Loser!”

   Dino started to rush towards her tripping on the stairs as he tried to go up them. Kristen ran ahead, trying to keep her balance while holding the phone up, out of his reach. She heard a woman answer on the other end. Kristen screamed into the phone “Dino is a crazy bastard and he cheats on you all the time!” She kept running as she heard his wife swear and slammed the phone. Dino yelled “I am going to kill you!”

   Kristen pushed the upper door at the top of the stairs closed and threw a chair at it. She ran even faster outside to her car. She fumbled to click her key chain to open the door, pushed the panic button instead, and the car began beeping. Dino was now right on her heels. She slammed her knee on the wheel as she threw her body inside. She started the car as Dino reached her door handle.

   The car started to move. Dino now came in front of it. She was so scared that she veered and jammed her foot on the brake. Somehow, Dino doubled over and rolled off the hood. Kristen swore she saw him reach to his side for his gun. She managed to tear off, driving over the club’s front lawn, through the bushes, and almost into a tree. She kept the accelerator pedal dangerously to the floor for several more miles. She knew she could not go to her house. She really did it this time! Dino was going to be out to get her! He was not the one to mess with.

   Kristen kept thinking “Why is this happening to me? Why can’t I find someone nice? Why are they all such creeps?” She had serious thoughts that it now seemed to her that something truly was controlling the outcome in her life and she had no say in it. Her shallow behavior, her tramping around, being conned by Robert! It was only getting worse…

 

  

10 LIEUTENANT WALSH

 

 Kristen spent the next three days at a hotel in the far suburbs. Luckily, one of her girlfriends dated a bodybuilder and Kristen had them sneak over to her house and pack her a large suitcase.

 She was at first going to hide at her friend’s house, but, she knew that she needed to get farther away from Dino in order to be safe. She decided to go to New York City until she knew what to do and to let him cool down.

 She kept her place in Illinois, and the money from Karl greatly helped her to afford a furnished apartment outside of NYC on a month to month lease. Kristen knew her way around New York. She had been there a few times before to visit acquaintances, including the disaster trip there with William.

 Kristen was a true believer that you can’t look for love. It finds you. And sometimes it really is just out of the blue! “Police Blue!” And, this was the case with Doug Walsh, a Lieutenant with the New York City Police.

 Kristen had decided to keep away from the rich men for now and check out someone completely different. She decided to go over to Rocco’s. It was a NYC Cop bar that she had been to many times before with a friend who was married to a cop. In those days, Kristen was strictly there to accompany her and had no interest in meeting anyone. Rocco’s was notorious for their late liquor license, and its attraction to all the yuppies that plowed out of the earlier bars when they closed and headed over there.

 And when it was time for Rocco to close, he chased those civilians out of his bar, locked the door, and then would keep the bar going for any of the cops that remained, and for his favorite girls.

 Earlier that night, Kristen’s friend had told her to check out a private “Shield Party” at Rocco’s. She had just had a baby and couldn’t go with her. Kristen was on her own tonight. She parked her car at the curb and walked up the crumbling steps. Someone peeped through the spy hole in the front door and let her in. Once inside, she realized that it was Rocco himself.

 Even though it was very late, it was not much of a party yet, and there were only about ten people in there. Half of them were from the Los Angeles police force for which the party was being thrown. They were in town for a police seminar and leaving in two days. They all seemed busy talking to each other and took no special notice of her. She sat at the end of the bar and started talking to Rocco.

 As he handed her a beer, she noticed a uniformed NYC cop with enough insignia on his white shirt to indicate that he was a Lieutenant. He was sitting two seats from her hunched over his drink and not talking to the rest. Rocco looked at who she was gazing at, gave her a devilish grin, and then walked over in front of the lone cop and placed a shot and a beer in front of him. Rocco said “Doug, I would like you to meet Kristen.”

 Doug turned his head slightly to the side to get a look at her. He smiled “Well, well, we’ve got ourselves a cop groupie.” Kristen laughed and thought to herself, “This is great. He’s onto me from the start.” She loved a man who could figure out her game. She smiled back as he shifted stools to sit right next to her shoulder to shoulder. She felt the electricity the minute his arm was resting next to hers and he smelled great!

 Doug was 6’5 and all muscle. He was handsome and clean-shaven with dark blonde hair in a short military haircut. You could tell he was a cop from the old school. Kristen absolutely loved cops that acted like real macho men, not like the “Mama’s Boy” Illinois suburban cops that gave out tickets for speeding in 25 M.P.H. zones.

 Doug was definitely a “Cop’s cop!” She would soon learn that he was someone who would never bore her and would always keep her guessing. Doug was acting sexy and said, “So, how come I’ve never seen you here before?” Kristen smugly replied, “I guess it’s because I am just visiting from Chicago.”

 He gave a low chuckle, “Chi-Town. Oh, so you’re one of those bad girls from the Windy City. I’ve never been there, just been in NYC my whole life.” Kristen couldn’t help but add “I am also from Palm Beach.” Doug just lowered his eyebrows and gave her a blank look. He then ordered another shot and a beer and a super shot for Kristen. She could tell he was getting looser with each gulp. As she was talking to him, he was somewhat ornery and had a need to be in charge. Whenever she said anything that he did not agree with, he would challenge her, like it was a fight to the end.

 After about an hour, Kristen started to feel that she didn’t like him after all. This was until he put a big arm around her shoulder and whispered in her ear, “Let’s get out of here. I’ve got a better place we can go over to in my precinct.” They went outside and decided that she would follow him in her car. She felt she would be safe, after all she did have her own vehicle and he was a policeman. He led her on a wild ride through the back streets of the city and into neighborhoods that got worse with every turn. He drove like a maniac, like he was taunting her to keep up with him. At least, he knew he couldn’t get arrested. The police were “above the law”, no matter whose turf they were on. 

 Finally, he came to a dead stop right in front of a precinct house. He parked, sticking his car halfway into the street. He exited carrying two beers, handed her one, and then held her arm while they went into the old cement bunker-like building. Since it was late at night, the office was somewhat deserted except for a white-haired officer seated at the desk. Doug left her standing there while he walked towards the back. It was kind of awkward. Kristen felt like she should be hiding her beer and kept it lowered at her side. Absorbed in his paperwork, the officer didn’t seem to care or even acknowledge her.

 She heard a loud yelp of pain from the backroom. Doug scurried in, a little red in the face, and bustled back up to her. She said “What was that?” He nonchalantly replied that one of the arrestees was using a precinct phone without permission. He told her that he came up behind him and kicked him in the rear end, hard enough to knock him over the desk. Kristen looked shocked and felt uneasy. She guessed this activity happened all the time in the city. She knew it could be worse.

 Doug turned to the other officer. “I want you to add theft of phone services to his sheet and don’t mention my name. I think I threw that guy’s brother out of a window in the projects once. They might remember me.” In the same breath he said, “Just kidding Kristen.” He then yelled towards the desk. “Hey! Where are the boys?” Without turning his head, the officer pointed to the side door. Doug rushed Kristen out and down the stairs into the squad car parking section. Towards the back, by the trees, she could barely make out a group of shadowy figures.

As they walked closer, she saw a large ice chest filled with beer and a party in full swing. One of the cars had two speakers on top and the music was blasting. It seemed like “anything goes” in this precinct.

 She thought they were pretty gutsy to be outside drinking this late. She could tell by the group’s reaction as they approached, that it was obvious that Doug was their leader, and they all had respect for him. The ones that looked like rookies seemed nervous and almost in awe of him as he strode up to them.

  Doug was immediately handed a beer and chairs were cleared for them to sit down. Kristen listened to all of them talk. They were very boisterous as they avidly exchanged their war stories. That’s all cops ever seemed to talk about, “the catch of the day”. After a while, some detectives arrived and they had girls with them who looked like dispatchers. They each gave Doug a pat on the back and reached into a cooler for a beer. One of them said, “Hey, Doug, I want to see that new tattoo you got with Joey last week.” Doug gave a sly smile at the girls. “Do you mean this one?” He pointed to a skull tattoo on his right arm. He waited a few seconds and then rolled the sleeve up to his shoulder to expose an Irish flag. “Do you mean this one?” Grinning some more, he then pointed to his crotch, “Or is it this one?” He unzipped his pants and pulled out his ample appendage exposing a long barreled neon blue gun covering the length of it. He then waggled it at the giggling dispatchers. “Do you girlies want to touch my loaded pistol?” 

  One of the girls actually leaned toward it and then retracted when she saw Kristen pretend to glare at her. Kristen then just looked away, shaking her head and laughing. “What a character!” She thought “I absolutely love this.” Doug stood there for another minute with it hanging out as he raised his bottle up high above his mouth and downed his beer. He cherished the attention. He then grabbed Kristen around the waist and said to the crowd “Let’s go to O’Donnell’s.” It was now 4:30 AM.  Everyone walked out and formed a raucous caravan to drive only two blocks away. They pulled up to a darkened bar. The door was unlocked and they all piled inside, falling over themselves. Some of the guys picked up the bartender, sat him on top of the bar and gave him a cigar.  Then they walked in back of the bar to the coolers and grabbed a bunch of beers. 

  Kristen could tell that the bartender didn’t mind being under siege. All the drinks were “on the house” for the rest of the morning, whether he liked it or not. Doug grabbed a bottle of top shelf vodka, took a swig and put it in front of Kristen. The bartender poured her a glass of orange juice, filling only a fifth of the glass. Doug generously filled it the rest of the way with alcohol, picked it up, and told her to open her mouth. “Oh, please no Doug. It’s too late for me. I’ll get sick.” “Nonsense, I don’t want to drink alone” he demanded. 

  Kristen frowned, stood up, and left him to go outside.  As she unlocked her car, he came up from behind her, pulled her arms back and handcuffed her. He then marched her back in. He sat her down, undid one cuff, and then locked it to the chair. He then took away her drink, grabbed himself some beers, and left her sitting alone while he went over to the rest of the gang. Kristen sat there and started to think it was pretty funny. He ignored her for about twenty minutes.

   She felt he was waiting for some type of reaction. She caught him from time to time taking a side glance at her out of one eye, like a pirate. Finally, he sent one of the rookies over to unlock her. She still sat there and did not go over to him. Then, another officer, who was pretty cute, sat with her. When Doug saw that, he immediately rushed over to the table. The officer politely excused himself, somewhat in fear. When Doug was drunk, no one was going to mess with him. Kristen acted like nothing happened and grabbed Doug’s beer and drank it. He smiled approvingly, like she had just passed some kind of test with him. She looked out the window and could see some cruel hints that the sun was thinking of rising. He said sweetly to her. “Are you ready to go now?” She stood up and walked with him. He stood by her car and opened the door. He then said very graciously. “May I kiss you?” Kristen smiled at him and he leaned her against the car and very sensuously engaged his lips with hers for a very long time. At this point, Kristen was sold.

   Even though all the warning signs were there indicating a volatile relationship was in the making, she was intent on pursuing it. He said “Would you like to follow me to my house? I don’t live too far from here. I don’t know if it will impress you like your fancy pants Palm Beach boyfriends. I have never dated a rich girl before.” Kristen giggled “Don’t worry. I am not that rich right now. You can handle me.” She then smiled “But I am sorry to tell you this. I would like to go home. Is that alright?” Doug smiled back “We have all summer.” He then helped her into her car and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

   Doug was right. For the rest of the summer, Kristen spent almost every night at his house. And it had not taken many dates before she got a close-up look at “the gun” fully-loaded! As the days burned by, she started to learn the Lieutenant’s story. But it came from his fellow officers, and not Doug. They told her he was recently divorced and had a small daughter. The more they talked, Kristen realized that he might be a loose cannon.

    As the relationship wore on, the excitement wore off and Kristen could tell that Doug was just basically an irritable person. She felt that whatever initially turned her on, was the mere fact that he was a cop. If he hadn’t been one, she doubted they would have gotten this far.

    Suddenly, she didn’t hear from Doug. She had no plans to call him, because this gave her a chance to party and stay out late without him knowing about it. After a week, it started to gnaw at her. She was out in the uptown bars and it was late, so she decided to drive over to Doug’s bar by his precinct building.  As she walked in, the overwhelming stench of bad cigars greeted her and it looked like a retirement party was in progress. She sat down on a stool, looked around and didn’t see Doug. However, she did see one of the officers from his shift. He walked up to her, sat down, and handed her a fresh bottle of beer. He was very good-looking, around her age, and his name was Joe. The same one Doug had gotten tattoos with.

  The one rule with high-ranking cops is that their women never mess around with the men they are in charge of. It shows disrespect. It is just like the Mafia rule about not pursuing a made man’s wife or girlfriend. Kristen looked nervously behind and around her. Joe knew why she was in fear and said, “Don’t worry, he’s not coming in. He’s at home acting like a baby because he hurt his knee.” Kristen said, “How did he do that?” Joe answered, “He was running after a bum and he tripped. He hasn’t been back to work.

  Kristen wasn’t sure if she believed him. Joe continued, “He was in here earlier and had to leave when he heard his Captain was invited to this shindig too.” Joe moved closer to her, “It’s just you and me babe.” Suddenly her cell phone rang. She just knew it was Doug. She was scared to answer it and let it ring a while. When she finally did, his voice was gruff and drunk. “Get away from Joe right now or I am taking you both down.” Then he hung up.  Joe smiled, “That was Doug, wasn’t it?” Kristen was about to tell Joe that some spy was watching them, when the phone rang again.

  “I’m loading my gun. Get up now. Be over here in forty minutes or else! I’ll leave the back door unlocked.” He was slurring and his words were almost unintelligible. “Get me a pack of cigarettes.” Kristen was half-tempted not to leave, but she knew he would take it out on Joe. “Joe,” she said, “Someone hates us here and turned us in, I have to go. Doug seems to have a following.” 

  Kristen went out to her car. She turned on the engine and laid her head down on the steering wheel and groaned. “I just want to go home.” She really felt tired of things and was experienced enough to know that it was time to end it. But with Doug, even if he didn’t like her anymore, it was still a control issue, and she wasn’t going to get free, unless he made the choice.  She drove fast to his house, and just to annoy him, she didn’t buy him the cigarettes. Then she worried that he would get mad about that and turned the car around to go home.

 Kristen refused to see Lt. Walsh for at least two weeks and was now thinking of going home to Illinois. But there was something about Doug that she just wasn’t ready to give up on yet. She was always able to find an excuse for things. No wonder why she continued to find the wrong men.

  One morning she woke up depressed and felt even more strongly that she was done with New York. She started pulling moving boxes out of the closet, when her phone rang. It was Doug! He sounded very sober and said “I want to start treating you better and actually take you on a real date.” His offering was hard to get tickets for a dinner show that night featuring Rat Pack imitators. Kristen liked Sinatra, but this era was still way out of her age range. She pretended to be excited, was a bit apprehensive, but accepted his offer. She told Doug to call her when he was about ten minutes away so he could just pull up and she would run downstairs. Parking in her neighborhood was ridiculous, if not impossible.

   Kristen cleaned up her apartment and decided to put the boxes away for now. When she was through, she decided to go shopping for a new outfit to wear that night.

  By the time she returned home, there wasn’t much time left to get ready. Just as she jumped in the shower, there was a knock on her door. Kristen scrambled out of the bathroom dripping wet and looked at her clock. It was only 5:30 PM. She thought it must be her landlord and she chose to ignore him. The knocking then became very loud. “What the hell?” Kristen walked out of her room and stood naked by the front door. She asked in an angry voice “Who is it?” A rough voice answered “It’s me. It’s the police! It’s time for our date.” Kristen felt panicked. “Doug?” Doug was mad now “Who the hell else do you think it is?” Kristen complained “It’s too early. You were supposed to call first.” Doug replied “We need to get a jump on traffic. We are going into the city.” Kristen was very annoyed. She hated being rushed. He leaned on her door and said “Do I hear someone in there? What’s going on? Is that why you haven’t been seeing me? I’m going to shoot through this door if you don’t open up now.” Kristen replied calmly. “No, I’m just getting ready.” She was now considering calling the whole thing off, she really didn’t think she could handle being with him again. It was too much work. She needed some more time to think.

  Kristen lied, “Doug, I’ve got to wait for my landlord to come by. Can you go to the bar at the end of the block? I will meet you over there in a half-hour.” Doug looked through her peephole, and of course could not see in. He moved his fingers and tried to see if he could screw it off. “Are you sure no one is in there? Don’t jerk me around!” Kristen was exasperated “Doug, come on. I’m not ready. I’ll meet you at the bar. OK?” Doug thought about it and answered slowly “I guess that will be alright. Hurry up, will you? We have to get going.” Kristen assured him “I’ll be there.”

   She listened by the door to hear his footsteps creak down the hall. She then looked out the window to make sure he was getting in his car. Kristen dried off and started to slide herself into her new dress. She then looked for her pearls and earrings in her jewelry box. As she walked by, she did a twirl at the mirror. She looked great and was definitely ready to take Manhattan! On came her black Louboutins with the silver-lined heels for the finishing touch and she proudly strode out the door.

  As she drove to meet Doug, she was very nervous and almost turned around twice. Pulling up to the bar, she saw his car parked well over the curb. She frowned and said out loud “I guess he thinks he owns this place too. One last chance to escape Kristen. Do it!” She maneuvered in very close to his bumper and went inside.  

 Doug was sitting at a table drinking a beer. He smiled at her and said “You look beautiful. Are you ready to go?” She was surprised to see that he was wearing an expensive suit and had a new haircut. Maybe he was a new Doug, one she could like again. The traffic was awful as they drove into Manhattan. Doug pulled the car in front of a large restaurant. He reached into the glove compartment, grabbed his extra gun and put it in his pocket. He then let the valet take the car. It was very windy and cold for September and she pulled her coat closer as they walked in.

 Kristen was very impressed with the place. It looked like it was filled with New York’s elite. The waiters started serving dinner and half-way through it, the lights dimmed and the show started. The actors did a decent job looking like the Rat Pack. With the exception of a really bad wig on the Dean Martin impersonator, they were pretty convincing. But it wasn’t her thing.

 She began feeling bored and started looking at the very handsome men around her and thinking about how she would rather be with them. She could feel her cheeks getting hot. Doug interrupted her thoughts “Are you enjoying the show?” Kristen lied “Sure, it’s great. Thanks for bringing me.” Doug thought he knew what she was thinking “Don’t worry. It will be over in a minute.” Kristen said “I’m kind of tired, I wouldn’t mind going home.”

 The show finished up ten minutes later. As the audience clapped, Kristen gathered up her things and was ready to leave. Doug left to get her coat and she looked around the room at the patrons ending their evening. On the other side of the room she saw a familiar figure that was standing behind his date’s chair and helping her up.

 It was Michael Hansen! Kristen felt her heart go into her throat and she started to tremble. At the same moment Michael noticed her too and quickly made his way over, leaving his girlfriend at the table with an astonished look on her face. It was clear she was floored by such a blatant abandonment.

 Michael practically pulled Kristen from her chair and gave her a bear hug and a big kiss on the cheek. “Kristen, I am so glad to see you. What are you doing here in New York?” He didn’t give her a chance to answer and then hugged her even harder as she managed a little squeak “Michael, it is so great to see you too.”

 The attraction was still there. They both looked at each other and it was apparent that they would have started into each other madly if Kristen hadn’t regained her composure. Kristen said “Michael, I am on a date with a cop and he might shoot you if he sees me talking to you.” Michael laughed “Aww, come on you’re kidding…” Then he suddenly became quiet.

 Doug had returned and the expression on his face soured when he saw Kristen talking to another man. Michael looked at him and said “Wow, I better get out of here! Where do you find these loons? You know there are nice guys out there. I don’t want to be judgmental, but maybe you should be looking in another direction. What are you doing to yourself? I really need to talk to you Kristen. Can’t you give me your number? Just say it quickly. I’ll remember it. Please, I seriously need to speak to you!”

 But there was no time. Doug walked back to her as Michael scooted away. All the niceness that Doug had displayed earlier was long gone. He growled “Who the hell was that pretty boy?” He pulled Kristen roughly from her chair. Kristen answered coldly “I know him from Illinois. He’s a neighborhood friend. Don’t worry about it. What’s the problem?”

 Doug just stared and was ready to confront him, but then snapped back and decided against it. He smiled at Kristen, taking her hand gently and said “Please don’t react like that Kristen. I was hoping we might get tighter than we have been. I want to spend the night with you. Are you ready to go?”

  Doug turned and walked in front of her. Kristen looked behind her and noticed Michael was now reasoning with his date. It looked like he was having a very difficult moment. Kristen laughed to herself.

  During the ride home to her house, Doug chattered away about sports and Kristen sat quietly. She was now thinking fondly about Michael. That empty space in her heart for him was growing wider. They pulled in front of her building and Doug took her hand. He smiled “Are you sure you don’t want to stay out? Don’t you want to go dancing?” It was very creepy that he was acting so nice to her and she really didn’t trust this new personality on him. It was how movie murderers acted before they were going to hack someone. Kristen thanked him and said “No, I am still calling it a night.” Doug said “I’ll call you.” Kristen answered half-heartedly “That will be nice. Good bye.”

  Kristen kept herself busy the next day completely mystified that Doug had been so nice to her the night before. She continued to see him at a lukewarm pace and

only saw him a handful of times that month. She would meet him after work at the cop bar, but was always finding new excuses not to finish off with him at his place. 

  One night he called her late sounding very drunk, and said she needed to come over right away. She was very apprehensive about going there. He was waiting for her at the door looking very red-eyed. Kristen cautiously said “Hello Doug. What’s up?”

 He took her hand and mysteriously led her upstairs to his attic and switched on the light. A little siren went off. She looked ahead and saw a collection of police awards and memorabilia adorning the place. There was also a black bulletin board which featured a few pictures of dead men lying on morgue carts with their eyes staring open. Kristen felt sick seeing them and turned away. Doug announced proudly “This is my Wall of Honor!” He reached into his top shirt pocket and slowly pulled out another photo, “Umm, fresh kill.” He then pushed it on the board with a thumbtack.

 Kristen didn’t want to know who the picture was of, or who was responsible, she could only guess. Doug’s pupils were very black. It seemed he was heavily medicated and looked like he was existing in a far-off place. He also seemed nervous and probably now regretted letting her into the room.

  Kristen looked closer and noticed there were three more thumbtacks. He knew what she was thinking and laughed, “I figure by the time I retire, I will have the complete set.” Kristen thought she was going to become ill. Doug kept on with his morbid story. “You really need to come by the precinct during Christmas. The homicide guys always have a great tree with the pictures of this year’s murder victims on the ornaments.”

   Kristen could not figure out why he would bother her with all of this and she sensed he was going to get nasty with her. She didn’t want to end up on the board or even up against it. Doug laughed at her reaction and kept swigging on a bottle of scotch as he walked over to grab his cigarettes. He then went down to his bedroom. “Are you coming?” 

  Kristen followed him to the second floor, sat in a hallway chair, and tried not to cry. She was trying to determine the consequences if she left. She saw his gun belt on the table next to her. Kristen thought to herself “If he comes back out here, I’m going to use it on him”. She sat there for at least five minutes and heard no noise from the bedroom. She peeked in and saw him passed out on his bed. He was still holding the bottle, with the scotch leaking onto his sheet. His cigarette was burning down to the filter in the ashtray. Kristen knew it was time to escape and tip-toed downstairs and through his kitchen to the back door. As she turned the knob, she could hear the floorboards creaking above her and she knew he was now awake. Running to her car, like the Devil was chasing her, she looked back and could see his outline in the front door watching her. The whole way home she was terrified that he would come after her.

  That was it. This was too much and Kristen just wanted to get out of there. She gathered her purse and ran down the attic steps. She could hear him coming out of the bathroom as she reached the first floor. Running to her car, like the Devil was chasing her, she looked back and could see his silhouette in the front door watching her.

   Kristen thought over the next few days how weirded out Doug was becoming. She wondered if she should tell someone what she saw in his attic. Her girlfriends back home would have thought she was “certifiable” to be dating a guy like this. She now devoted herself to hitting the town and enjoying it as much as she could. One late night, as she entered her apartment, she could see the red light on her answering machine blinking against the shadows. She was afraid to push the button to listen to it. She walked past it a few times and then pressed it.

  “Kristen, Kristen…” It sounded like a nursery rhyme. “Where are you? It’s 3 AM! Why aren’t you home whore? Death to your kitties…” Then it clicked off. Kristen shook her head like she was exorcising a bad demon. “What the heck is he saying? I don’t even have cats!” And that was the last time she ever heard from Doug.

  Kristen decided that Doug, Karl, and Dino could go screw themselves. Why couldn’t she find someone like Michael? 

 She wanted to go back home, she was now definitely done with this place. A friend had told her that Dino had never mentioned her, and also everyone else that knew about him thought it was safe for Kristen to return. He was still cheating on his wife and was last seen downtown dancing with two teen-age girls. The mobster seemed very happy and was keeping plenty busy. What Kristen most desperately desired was to go back to Palm Beach and pursue classier men, but she still could not afford to live there yet. Dangerous men, rich men, they all had a common underlying thread and always wanted to be in control. After some quick arrangements, Kristen left for Illinois…

   A few months later Kristen was sitting at her desk at a boutique advertising firm in the suburbs where she was the Operations Manager. She was proud that she had kept the job this long. The only reason she liked it and could tolerate sitting at a desk, was because she was usually the only one in the office. The others were always out in the field and she had no one to bother her.

    Kristen’s cell phone rang. One of her sisters was calling her to let her know that the Step-Witch had been recently admitted to an assisted care facility and had passed away.

Kristen politely said she was not able to leave town and to extend her condolences. Her sister knew it was pointless that she even asked her to come. Margaret had been so awful to Kristen, but she still felt bad when she thought about whether Margaret had done any suffering while she was ill. Her sister told her that she was to immediately call the Trust Vice-President of the major bank that was handling her father’s money and gave her the direct number. Obviously, her sister wanted to get the process started.

   Kristen carefully dialed, and was surprised when the executive answered the phone himself. He told Kristen that he was unaware that Margaret had passed away and said he would start the wheels in motion as soon as he confirmed it. He told her that due to the fact that this trust had been around for a while that it would not be difficult to get it set up for the final distribution to Kristen and her siblings. 

   That was such great news. It was unbelievable that she now was going to get a lot of money. Though she had been far from hitting the skids, she would finally know again how it felt to be financially secure for life. She also liked the fact that she had enough that she could also do good things with it for others. It was such a sense of relief. She had to sit down and slowly absorb it all in. She was glad no one was in the office. She did not want them to know she was getting money and would probably be quitting soon. There was another hour before she had to leave work. She started looking on the internet for flights to the Palm Beach airport.

    The Vice-President called her back right away. He told her that he now found out that it might take a few months or more to close the trust, because it turned out that Margaret’s financial advisors had brilliantly manipulated the legal loopholes to defer paying any taxes on the principal’s interest that she had collected. Thus, they would all have to wait until Margaret’s own estate was settled before they could finalize her father’s holdings and also release the remainder of her mother’s money. He said he could issue an immediate check to her for only one hundred thousand. 

   Kristen just wanted to get on with her life. That was definitely enough to get by on, she didn’t mind renting a place again on the island. For some mansions in Palm Beach that was not even enough to pay for one year of property taxes. She was too excited to stay at work, so Kristen grabbed her purse and left early. When she arrived home she burst through the door and immediately called the first long-distance mover she saw on-line. She pulled all her old boxes out of the closet and started packing. She was off to Palm Beach three days later and had the bank wire the money to her account…

11 RETURN TO SHARK BEACH

 

Several sunrises later…

 

Sunset was fast-approaching when a large industrial barge sporting a tattered foreign flag lumbered its way through the murky waters of the Intracoastal. It slowed its pace as The Royal Park Bridge prepared to allow for its passage. The gears began to grind and the grated structure creaked as it slowly made its ascent.

  As its shadow settled in at the foot of the bridge, a magnificent Rolls-Royce Phantom appeared. The Bridge Master shot his balding head out of the tower window and waved his dingy white short-sleeved arm towards the vehicle. Without hesitation, he reversed the controls to return the overpass to its sedentary position.

  From the backseat, Karl smirked and gazed down at his lucent reflection on the laptop. It was all about the power, and the look, and he had it! He raised a hand carefully to move his titanium designer sunglasses up onto his head as he further admired himself. Karl had always been the perfect specimen. His toned physique rivaled no other. He pointed his nose up into the air and surveyed his firm chin. Satisfied, he then closed the cover. He was indeed a handsome “Devil” and was far, far superior in every way.

  It truly seemed to be all about him these days and the world was just as he wanted it to be. He fit in comfortably amongst the chaos and flourished above the struggles of mankind and the downwards trend away from all that was good. Karl in all his blackness was quite content. He was unyielding and unapproachable with an iron will that was forged from the depths.

   As his driver continued over the bridge, Karl felt at home again. It had been too long since his last visit and he had arrived days ahead of the “usual” time to attend to the more important matters. He was back, and this definitely was “his” town. He knew that his prize was awaiting him and all was prepared for his arrival…

Kristen had now been permanently settled in Palm Beach for well over a year now. She still hadn’t found someone, and she was getting anxious. She needed to have a true friend who could also love her unconditionally, and more than himself.  All of her father’s estate matters had been quickly taken care of and Kristen, was now sitting comfortably by the pool in her new house that she bought two months ago. It was 10,000 square feet, which was small compared to Palm Beach standards, and it was only a few blocks from the ocean. Kristen deeply wished it was on the ocean. That had always been her strongest desire since she was young.

 Kristen hired two popular designers to help make her furnishing decisions. The house had both a modern and tropical feel to it. Her share of the family antiques was finally whisked away from Margaret’s house and they blended into Kristen’s abode very nicely. She had considered buying another place in her hometown for hurricane season, but decided against it since she was still one of the rare ones that truly enjoyed Florida year-round. She also thought of a summer rental in The Hamptons. But to see the same social crowd both there and Palm Beach seemed a bit tiresome. 

 Kristen was now more concerned these days with her charity work. She was quite talented in helping to make a lot of money for all of the good causes. She had been invited to sit on a few committees, and she was aiming to be a chair for a major gala. She was finally an “Insider” and was recorded in the elusive Social Register under her name, not her father’s. It would still take a lot of finesse in making even more connections. It was all about who you knew in Palm Beach to get into those higher types of positions. She also needed to be in the appropriate age range.

   The Season was back on and she was feeling a bit restless. She decided to call up some friends to go with her to a new nightclub on the island. It was on the lower level of a small hotel which was located on one of the narrow side streets. The club was going through another re-incarnation. Every other Season the place would fold up, remodel and change its name. It was always a place to go, but it never really caught on, no matter how exclusive it was, what its name was, or what famous chef or group owned it. It seemed like the lot had a curse on it.

 Kristen sparkled herself up and put on her most comfortable dancing shoes. Their group arrived fashionably late after midnight and was immediately seated at one of the reserved tables. The small room was packed and the music was blasting. It was surprising that any of the sleeping occupants on the floors above could tolerate it.

 Kristen sipped at her glass of wine observing the heated bodies turn colors under the pulsating disco lights. She noticed right away that Gregory, her luscious hunk from her previous stint on the island was there. He was dancing with two women. Kristen patiently waited for him to recognize her.

 After twenty minutes, Gregory was still on the floor and it was apparent that he was oblivious to his surroundings. So, Kristen grabbed one of her girlfriends and swished her way out through the dancers. She moved right up on him with her body about three inches behind his. She stepped backwards and gave him a little thump. He bumped and grinded hard right back on her.

 He then turned around laughing and began dancing and rubbing on her body. He yelled above the noise and into her ear “You don’t think I noticed you, did you? What’s the matter are you jealous? You had to have me?” Gregory then made it obvious to his dance partners that their time was up and they sulked off. Kristen was magnetized by Gregory’s charm and she couldn’t pull herself from him. It had been a long time since she had first met him and he had not aged a day. He was more sophisticated and was wearing a coat and tie. Sadly, he no longer resembled a long-haired Norse god.

 But he was still gorgeous, tan, and his muscles were even more ripped, with every one of them protruding from his white pants. Gregory held her closely and pushed his lips into hers. She felt the warmth of his breath and they stood transfixed in the middle of the dance floor as they welded together. The room seemed to spin around as they kissed.

 Gregory whispered “We are getting out of here. I have to have you now!” They walked off the floor with Kristen hanging on him. She gave a weak wave to her surprised friends as they left the club. She had long been waiting for this moment, and willingly went with him.

 Gregory grabbed his keys from the valet and headed to his Bugatti Veyron which was placed right at the front door. He gave it a pat on the hood as he walked past it. While unzipping his pants, he nudged Kristen towards a tall hedge at the side of the parking lot. “No, no” Kristen scolded. “Not here, not here.”

 Without a word, Gregory went back to his car and loaded Kristen into it. He kept the windows rolled down and they drove off at a high speed. Kristen noticed a tattered piece of black lace on his rearview mirror that was flapping wildly in the wind. She pointed at it “What’s that?” Gregory looked towards it. “Oh, that’s just something from my sister’s wedding.” Kristen laughed “She wore a black dress?” Gregory looked uncomfortable and twirled his finger around it to roll it back up and tucked it out of sight behind the mirror.

 They continued towards his estate which was located at the end of the island. They arrived at the gates in less than five minutes. Gregory kept his arm tightly around Kristen as they walked through the front door. The house was very dark looking, both inside and out. The pitted wooden walls were painted brown and reminded Kristen of an old ship’s galley. Rustic chandeliers hung in all of the rooms. Although it was immaculately decorated, it still looked very sterile, like no one actually lived there.

 He began pulling off her party dress and it slid to the foyer floor. Gregory led her upstairs and into a room with a large Victorian bed. He pushed her down and propped the satin pillows underneath her legs. He then stroked her deeply until he had her completely inflamed and then thrusted himself forward. His rigid loins moved her body with unrelenting passion up against the headboard. He withdrew slowly as he teased her with his fingers until she sat up and pulled him back into her. Her muscles stretched and clamped onto him like a vice. Kristen moaned as the sensation overwhelmed her and they both ascended to a shattering finish. “Oh my God” she cried out! Kristen lay there breathing heavily. Gregory arrogantly said “I’m a bit much to handle. Aren’t I?” He knew he had her under his spell.

 He suddenly jumped up and said “Let’s go. I want to get back to the club and find another girl or two to have a second tumble with. Maybe you can join us.” He left her alone on the bed as he went downstairs.

 She continued lying helpless on the sheets. “Kristen? Are you coming down? Chop, Chop girl!” Minutes later, Kristen joined him. Feeling unsteady, she slowly gathered her dress from the floor and put it on. He tried to reach for her to kiss her and she turned away. She said “Too bad Gregory, guess you are just like the rest of them. I thought you were different.”

 He laughed and said “I’m just getting started. There are a lot of beautiful women on this island and they all want me.”

 Kristen didn’t think he was amusing and refused to talk to him on the drive back to the club. She thought maybe it was better if she did lose her powerful attraction to him. He was not good for her.

 When they pulled up, Kristen just wanted to call her friends to meet her outside and then leave. But he put his arm around her waist and made her go back into the night spot. It was almost 3 AM and there were even more people there now. Gregory bought her some shots and she warmed up to him slightly. He was all over her and it was obvious that he would be bringing her back to his place again for the night. He was just teasing her earlier.

 They maneuvered themselves back onto the floor and he held her close to him as the music played a slow dance. She could still feel his raw heat between her legs from earlier and was ready for him again. She laid her head on his shoulder and buried her nose into his neck as she closed her eyes and gently moved her body with his.

 “You SLIMY RUNT!” Kristen was abruptly pushed to the side as a tall dark-haired woman screamed and started pounding on Gregory with her fists. She reached over to a near-by table, grabbing a full glass of red wine and threw it at his head.

 Gregory had no time to duck and his white clothes were soaked with stains. He retreated from the floor pulling the offender with him. They disappeared into the shadows.

 Kristen walked behind them but couldn’t keep up and didn’t see which room they walked off to. Gregory had vanished almost as quickly as he had emerged back into her life a few hours earlier. Hoping to catch a glimpse of him, and get an explanation out of him, she drove by Gregory’s house the next day. With the assistance of daylight, she was surprised to see that it was right next to the Whitestone Country Club. In fact, it was on its property.

 In the following weeks she didn’t see him out at any of the places on or off Palm Beach. She wondered if he was married to that woman and if that creepy mansion belonged to her. She recalled what her landlord said about him when she first met Gregory at Club Colette. Maybe he was someone that she should keep away from. Kristen always believed when things happened, they were meant to be. She also hoped she would know when someone was bad for her. Unfortunately, she was still working on that talent and had a long way to go.

12 THE WHITESTONE

 

 The Whitestone was located at the end of Palm Beach on a small bluff. It was built right next to what was fondly called Hell’s Tunnel, a deep vortex in the ocean which was considered by some to be an endless energy source. There had always been the belief that the tunnel had no bottom to it, and that the past inhabitants, mythical, ideological, or otherwise, offered up their human sacrifices to the volatile waters in order to be sucked into the hole to feed the demons below.

 The present-day members kept their yachts moored at the docks by an entrance carved into the rocks that led to the lower cavern of the club. It gave them the special mobility to enter and leave with their guests without being noticed.

 The club had always followed a strict protocol. It was exclusively male, no exceptions. Its initiates were selected at an early age and mentored to ensure their entrance to the finest schools, and then onto the exalted positions throughout the world. Often, the Whitestone key was passed down from father to son. It was obvious through the ages that the public had never been allowed to have a say with what went on behind the scenes with these top decision makers. It was always left up to the master plan.

   The Black Veil Society was the driving force behind the club. They were the true fallen angels and their blood lines were impeccable. Brandishing their gold-star spouses and scrubbed spot-free backgrounds, it would seem that these individuals were intentionally superficial; almost as if they were created or molded by an outside entity. And in return for their good fortune, they were consistent in paying homage to the club’s enigmatic founder. His dark prophecies structured their lives.

   As the regular club members conducted their daily and mundane social rituals, The Black Veil had their own dark rites. And, in essence, the club served mostly as a front for those activities that occurred in the shadows. The Black Veil members were only concerned with maintaining their power and status and were banded together by their unique tastes. When it came to The Black Veil’s partners, there were those who were tried out and then cast off, as readily as the men used the universe and everything else in their lives. On the long way down, the search for their final companion was exhaustive until the special one was found who touched their thorny hearts. As for the rest, they merely served as sweet sacrificial lambs.

  The lowest section of the Whitestone building was at sea level and contained the club’s boardroom. It featured only a long wooden table and four empty chairs. To the east, a large wooden door opened directly out to the ocean. Within those confining walls, judgments were passed and absolutions granted. A long winding staircase led to another cavern below. No one knew of its existence or purpose except The Black Veil.

 Kristen innocently carried on with her life on the island. There was not much left that surprised her, or that she didn’t

have insider knowledge of, except the elusive Whitestone Club. She didn’t know why, but lately she had been having strange dreams about it. Even in the daytime, she couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was the only place that she had not been invited to yet for an engagement or a meal. She felt like it was being kept from her. The men that went there were the crème de la crème! Kristen began learning more about the club through off-the-cuff comments and muffled whispers. It piqued her curiosity and she wondered when she would meet one of its members, or if she already had. She often considered planting herself in the Whitestone parking lot to perhaps have a chance run-in with one.

   One perfect Palm Beach afternoon, floating in her pool and fueled by red wine, Kristen was obsessing again about the Whitestone. Curiously enough, she recalled from her childhood that her father had items bearing the club’s name on them hidden away in the back of various drawers in their Palm Beach house. She had never thought to question him about it and figured it was just another silly club.

 As Kristen re-filled her glass, her imagination switched to overdrive, and she began to really go out on a limb. She knew that if she ever did hook up with a member, that it would not be just by coincidence. She would never put it past her father to have made some type of arrangement to ensure this type of fate. It would be along the same premise of “offering your first born to the Devil in return for his blessings.”

 She began laughing to herself “Of course, that wouldn’t work because I am the youngest.” Then she thought again. Since her father had been extra successful, maybe he ran out of children to hand over, and now she was next?” Her sisters certainly acted like they married “Stepford” husbands.  She giggled as she paddled through the water, “Yes, I would definitely not put that past him.” 

 Mr. Stratford had always been somewhat secretive about belonging to Skull & Bones at Yale, and being a prime member in The Council on Foreign Relations. These groups had always been clouded in controversy and conspiracy theories. Whitestone seemed to be right in line with them, maybe even more so. 

 As she climbed from the pool and reached for a towel, she thought again about her last meeting with Gregory. She took one last sip of wine, and further discerned that she was getting too old for dalliances with playboys like Gregory, no matter how sexy he was. She had to get back on course and keep looking for the man she desired on all levels and couldn’t live without. She sensed she would soon find her answers. She knew she was getting closer, she could feel him, he was on the island somewhere…

13 ANTHONY FIORE

 

 Kristen was quite looking forward to going out tonight. The Season was nearing and she enjoyed the fact that once again, there was a global selection of rich men. More yachts arrived each day at the docks at the end of Australian Street.

 At the last moment, her two friends called and said they weren’t going to go. One said it was because she was “sick of the old Palm Beach men”. “That’s just peachy” Kristen thought. “If they want to keep looking for losers in the off-island bars, then that’s what they are going to end up with.” She really didn’t mind going solo because she knew she would not be alone for long.

 She wished that Ashley would move down there from Chicago. She would never back out on plans, especially on the cherished Friday night. She was a great friend and always liked the same things that Kristen enjoyed.

 Kristen started assembling her best attractants which included her new Dior cocktail couture with the exposed back and her Chanel clutch. It took two hours before she approved her hair and make-up. It was getting close to prime time at the lounge and she needed to force herself away from the vanity.

 She clacked her way to the car in four inch Manolos. It was the perfect night, very tropical, and just the right amount of humidity.  There was also a full moon out and it lit up the ocean as she drove past it. Kristen felt hopeful and sensed that it was going to be a special night for her.

 She pulled up to one of her favorite venues and was instantly greeted by the valet service. As she walked in, the bar was alive with pop quartet music and conversation. The lights were set low to create a romantic ambience. They were also dim enough to hide the cheating spouses at the back tables from inquiring eyes.

  A few women turned towards her as she walked in. They looked over her outfit and shoes with subtle approving nods. Palm Beach was still one of the places where you were expected to dress to look like you fit in, or you were ignored, even by the staff. Jerry, the bartender greeted her and gestured toward the only empty seat left. He scooped up the reserved sign and placed her usual Absolut and orange juice in front of her.

 “How are you doing tonight?” he said as he leaned over to give her a kiss on her cheek. Kristen said “I’m on the hunt by myself tonight. It’s really better that way.” Jerry smiled and placed a bowl of cashews in front of her. “Are you dining at the bar?” Kristen laughed “No, I am just going to drink my dinner.” She looked around and saw it was a better crowd than usual. Normally, this establishment was for the more mature patrons over age sixty, way over. And the older they were, the younger their dates seemed to be. Tonight, it was refreshing to see that plenty of men of all ages were present, and not too many of the groups of young girls from West Palm. Those wannabees usually bowed out early when they realized they could not afford the drinks. 

 The circular bar had a line of liquor bottles on shelves in the middle that obscured the view of the other side. If you didn’t eventually see someone you liked on your side, you needed to pick up shop and go over there. A well-grayed man to her right began talking to her and pointed to her drink. Jerry promptly came over and placed a fresh one in front of her. Kristen was not sure she wanted the obligation that came with the drink since she was on a roll tonight and wished to remain independent until she found someone that she really wanted to converse with.

 She graciously tipped her glass towards him and gave a nod to thank him. He asked her if she would dance the next slow song with him. He was from Boston and was half-interesting to talk to as she kept her eye roving around the room for others.

 As Kristen peered through the bottles, she noticed a man staring back at her with a quizzical look. She saw him pull out a pair of glasses and studied her more intently. The song changed and she now accepted her neighbor’s request. He took her hand and maneuvered her through the couples on the dance floor.

 Even though Kristen had her back to the man who had been watching, she could still feel those eyes on her. She glanced over her shoulder at him. He had now moved a few seats closer to get a better look at her, practically leaning off his chair.

 “Robert St. Germain!” Kristen completely froze up in fear as she realized who it was. “I’ve got to get out of here. Please help me!” Kristen begged her partner. He realized how scared she was, put his hands protectively around her shoulders, and rushed her into one of the private side dining rooms. 

 Jerry, the bartender observed this and hurried over with her purse. He came into the room with them and locked the door.  Jerry said “What’s wrong?” Her dance partner looked baffled and Jerry told him “I’ll take care of her.” The man returned to the bar.

 Jerry put his hands on her shoulders to stop her trembling. Kristen said, “There is a man in there who wants to kill me!” Jerry kind of gave her a doubtful grin. Kristen said “Seriously Jerry, I knew him from Chicago and he is a real nut case.” Jerry now looked a bit worried. “How can I get out of here? Kristen pleaded.” He said, “There is a door in here that goes through the garbage area and out to the side street. You valet parked. Right?” Kristen nodded. “I will tell the valet to meet you over there. Don’t worry, you will be alright.”

 Kristen was thankful he did not try to ask her any more questions about Robert, it was too long of a story, and she had to get out of there now. “Thanks Jerry, you are seriously a life-saver.”

 As Kristen rushed out the back exit, she was very frightened, but, she was also mad that her evening was cut short right at the beginning of it. The valet was waiting with her car. Kristen decided that she was not ready to surrender the night, and that she would go to a boutique hotel down the street and hide out in their small restaurant. She gave the valet his tip, hopped in her car, drove down the short block, and then passed it onto the next valet.

She looked nervously behind her as she walked in the hotel entrance. She felt safe now. Although it was popular, she doubted Robert was classy enough to know about this place. Most of all, he wouldn’t be able to use his phony credit cards here.

 Kristen walked through the lobby area. Next to it was the quaint area were a few people dined at the small tables. Most likely they were all married, or on dates. She continued past them as she made her way towards the Women’s Lounge. She narrowly brushed by a table of four businessmen. She noticed they stopped talking and took a look at her. She gave them a shy smile keeping her head slightly down and walked on.

 When she entered the restroom she gave herself a worried look as she checked herself out in the mirror. She straightened out her hair and put on a fresh coat of lipstick.

 As she came back out, Kristen was trying to decide if she wanted to leave, or stay and just have a bite of something. She still felt like partying and then considered going to a more “happening” place on the island and started back out towards the front door area.

 She couldn’t help noticing that one of the businessmen, who had been at the table, was now sitting at the bar with his high chair half turned out facing her. He was tall, his arms were crossed, and his long legs were comfortably stretched outward. It seemed that he was deliberately trying to block her from walking by.

 Kristen looked down at his very expensive shoes anticipating that he would pull them back in. They didn’t move. She then looked up at his face. He was laughing at her. “No, no, you’re not getting out of here without letting me buy you a drink first.” The other men from his table were watching and were very amused. “Oh, if you must” Kristen said with a pretend sigh. She sidled in next to him. “Come with me. Let’s go sit in the love seat”, he said, and motioned to the waiter. He helped her off the chair and held her hand lightly as they walked over to a private area which faced away from his friends.

 His companions all waved at them and went back to their discussion. The waiter came over with a very impressive bottle of red wine and glasses and set it on the low glass table in front of them. “Will there be anything else Mr. Fiore?” “No, that will be all, thank you.” Kristen thought to herself, “Ooh, la, la, another Italiano. Maybe not ready to go that route again.”

 Mr. Fiore leaned over and poured Kristen a glass and then one for himself. Kristen enjoyed his attention. He handed her the glass and then raised his, saying “Here’s to meeting my dream girl.” Kristen was surprised that he was talking like this. She looked him over. He was wearing a light summer suit and had a strong build, structured limb by limb and coated with a great natural tan. His hair was dark brown, designer-cut, with a kind face and dark green eyes that were inviting. He had that handsome Palm Beach look, like he had just come off the golf course or his yacht.

 Kristen felt a bit out of her league and didn’t know what to say. She just coyly smiled at him as she took large sips of her wine for courage. He tried to read her moves. “So, does the dream girl have a name?” “Kristen” she mumbled into her glass. She never acted like this before. She was so nervous. She straightened up and said “Kristen Stratford” and held out her hand. He pulled it towards his lips and softly kissed it. Kristen felt a slight rush of adrenalin.

 “I am Anthony.” She now felt her cheeks slightly blushing and her body warmed another ten degrees. She drank the last of her glass with a flourish. Anthony stood ready with the bottle and topped her off again. Whatever courage she had briefly mustered up, now slipped away. She sunk back in the seat tapping her foot and didn’t know what else to say. He was really going to have to pry a conversation out of her.

 He seemed to be a mind reader and said cheerfully “Let’s do some shots. A lot of them.” He ordered a tray of the best whisky in the house for their group. His friends toasted his idea with their empty glasses. Anthony handed Kristen a shot and held another one in his hand watching her intently. She drank it with ease. He handed her the other one, like a mother bird with a worm, and smiled as she tossed it down even faster. It smoothly descended through her body, warming her all over, everywhere

 Anthony guzzled two shots and then turned his body towards her pushing her into the cushions and began kissing her. They were locked together for a few minutes. Anthony abruptly remembered where they were and straightened both of them back up. They laughed and held onto each other’s hands tightly. The tray of shots was empty. His friends were now pushing back their chairs and announced that they were going over to a bar up north that had late hours. One of them said “You two coming with?” Anthony said “Maybe I’ll catch up with you later.” He stood up and shook their hands. He then turned to Kristen. Leaning down, he offered her his arm. “Well, we can end this meeting the proper way and I’ll give you a call…” Kristen looked at him like she was afraid to lose him. “Or, we can get a balcony pool suite here and enjoy this beautiful tropical night together. No obligation. We can just relax.”

 Kristen knew this was right for her and didn’t think of how it looked or when it would end. She had a strong feeling that she just wanted to be with him. It felt like they belonged to each other, like they had already been together for a long time. She remained quietly seated while he walked over to the front desk. He then came back for her and held his arm snuggly over her shoulders. He seemed to walk for her as they went down the hallway and then up the stairs to their room.

 The suite was cozy with a large bed that was arrayed with a plush comforter and ruffled pillows. Anthony walked over to the balcony door and dramatically opened it with both hands. A warm and floral wind swirled playfully through the room. The moon was softly peeking out through the Royal Palms, it was so romantic.   

 Kristen walked outside, gazing below at the tranquil pool. Anthony came silently from behind, slowly swaying her in front of him. He ran his hands along her dress and raised it upwards over her head. He pulled her tightly against him, rubbing and kissing inside her shoulder and slowly down her skin. She trembled as he reached in front of her, sliding off her black silken panties, caressing her with his fingers from each side. She felt him hardening on her back. Anthony kissed her passionately, leading her to the bed and laying her down gently.

 Melting into one, their heated bodies writhed with each strong, penetrating stroke. He brought his head down to meet her lips. He was so wonderful! Anthony gave a long moan as he released and they both climaxed hard together. Kristen lay breathless as he kept his face softly on hers.

 When she awoke hours later, Anthony was holding her and smiling sweetly. He was still deep within her. Without words, he made love to her again. This time he was very tender and she softly sighed as they spiraled. They cuddled together and fell soundly asleep.

 It was almost check-out time when they awakened. There was a large whirlpool bath and they climbed in together. They were both too tired to even think about sex. She lay back into his arms with her eyes closed as he took a washcloth and bathed her in suds. This was definitely not a one-night stand. They both were acting like they very much cared for each other. There was not much conversation, it was all emotions.

 They dressed and headed to the lobby. Anthony gave the valet the tickets for both of their cars and they were swiftly brought to the front. He had a fantastic black Ferrari! He embraced her, leaning her against her door, and gave her a long kiss. She lowered herself into the car and he kissed her again through the open window.

 “Give me your phone” he said. Kristen reached into her purse and handed it to him with no questions. He dialed his number into it and she could hear his phone buzzing in his suit coat. He patted his pocket and said “There, now we both have each other’s number.” I will call you later today before I head out to New York. I am in the middle of a business deal and I need to be on the mark.” He stood in the driveway and waved as she drove off.

 Kristen spent most of her day being lazy and nothing was accomplished except a darker tan. As promised, Anthony called her that afternoon. They had a wonderful time talking and were as comfortable as old friends. When they finished, he promised to call her again soon after he returned from his trip. He was leaving in an hour.

 Kristen was in a great mood for the next two days. She wondered if Anthony was going to turn into an actual boyfriend. That was until Monday afternoon when she saw the Palm Beach Daily News. She had turned to the society section and on the front page was Anthony twirling a countess at a gala that had been held on Saturday night when he was supposedly in New York. She was a raven-haired beauty and was drenched in emeralds.

 Kristen felt a knot growing in her stomach. She was angry that she had just been treated like a “one-night stand”. It was her fault. She knew she should not have slept with him right away.  She lamented “Why can’t I find the right man? Why is this always so hard?”

 Later that day Anthony phoned her and she chose not to answer. He left her a voicemail but she was too depressed to listen to it. An hour later the phone rang again. It was Anthony! This time she wanted to talk to him. She was too excited to think about the other woman. There was a lot of static on the line and Kristen was having great difficulty trying to understand him. “I’m on my boat” he told her, cupping his hand over the phone. Kristen could hear the wind hollowing out his voice. Kristen said “Well, it’s the perfect day for that, wish I was there.” Anthony replied “I’ll take you out tomorrow, ever snorkel?” She did not want to tell him that she was too afraid of sharks. “Just in a swimming pool.” Anthony said “Well, I am going to take you to an amazing spot. You will love it. You can swim fast, can’t you?” Kristen said “Yeah, I swim pretty well.” Anthony laughed “Then, I am going to bring you over to my house tonight and I will chase you around the pool. The wind was getting too strong for him to talk further. She could barely hear him say “I will call you later.” Kristen never thought to challenge him about his New York trip.

 Anthony arrived at Kristen’s in the early evening for their date. His nose was very sunburned from his boat. He swept her up and lapped her face. “Ooh yuk, she giggled. Anthony was extra enthusiastic. “So, are you ready to go swimming with me?” Kristen said “If we are in your pool, I don’t need a suit? Right?” He laughed “You need one for where we are going.” Kristen questioned him “Where is that?” He said “We’re popping over to the Bahamas for the night. Go grab your bikini and your passport.”

 She excitedly ran to find them and her purse. When she returned, Anthony grabbed her and pulled her out to a limo. Kristen protested “No, I can’t go like this, I need to bring more things.” Anthony said “You don’t need anything, you look great, and we’re going now. My jet is already out of the hangar.” He patted her behind and tackled her into the supple leather of the back seat. His driver closed the door behind them. In his next move, he had Kristen’s legs in the air reaching for the ceiling as he burrowed into her. She couldn’t even catch her breath. He was on her like a horny Tom Cat.

 After they were done, they both sat back breathing hard. Kristen said “I thought we would have saved that for your jet.” Anthony said “Oh we’ll do it again. We’ve got an hour flight. I’m going to be on you the whole way!”

 He meant it. The flight was a little bumpy and it made the sex even better. Kristen didn’t think she would be able to get her land legs back when the jet touched down on the runway.

Anthony was well-endowed and she needed some recovery time. He had calmed down now and looked peacefully out the window holding her hand. He said “This might just be the second time we have been together, but I think this is going very well for us, I really enjoy your company. Kristen agreed with him. “I am loving this!”

 Anthony reserved one of the best suites at The Atlantis. It had an elaborate floor plan. They decided to stay for two days and spent most of the time inside walking around naked. They made love in every room and even on the balcony. 

 Late at night, they went out to one of the garden pools and swam in the humid darkness. Amid the night’s stillness they were under stars so close that Kristen reached up to touch them. She could almost feel their heat. The couple appeared to be falling hard for each other and Anthony never left her side.

 Kristen was feeling so strongly for Anthony that she thought she should confront him about the party on the jet ride back. She was not willing to let her feelings overtake her until she knew where she stood with him and what he felt for the Countess and others. She did not want to compete for him.

 She was blissfully lying back on the long window couch with his arms wrapped around her. They were getting ready to land when she finally mustered up the courage. “How is your Countess doing? Was she in New York with you last week?” Anthony was puzzled, and then looked resentful. He asked “What do you know about her?” Kristen said “I saw your pictures in the paper. I believe that was a party in Palm Beach, not up north.” Kristen was dismayed when Anthony stiffened and pulled himself away from her to sit farther down the couch. He quickly answered “Her date backed out at the very last minute. I delayed my trip to attend the party. She is an old friend.” Kristen said nothing. Anthony now turned on her. “You’re not going to really act like this and question me, are you? I had only just met you the night before.” Kristen looked even more distraught at his reaction. He continued “Maybe, this just isn’t the start of a healthy partnership. I don’t have the time for your insecurities, if you are that type of woman.”

 Instead of trying to act sorry for asking, Kristen said “Maybe you are right Anthony. I can meet plenty of playboys and you don’t need to be one of them.” She stood up and walked to the front section of the jet to sit near the pilot. Anthony grinned and waved when she reached behind her to pull the curtain across the aisle.

 When they landed Anthony helped her down the stairs. They were both very polite with each other. He gave her a peck on the cheek “I’ll give you a call.”

   Kristen went on with her week like nothing happened and she forced herself not to think about Anthony. Instead, she tried to lose herself in her childhood memories of Michael Hansen again. She could only see his face now, not Anthony’s, and she fantasized about how handsome he was and what it would be like to have him with her right now. She knew that he would love her unconditionally and always be faithful to her. It was ingrained in his character.

   But, if Michael had ever thought about her in this manner, why didn’t he ever tell her? It had been a long time since her idyllic younger life on the North Shore. Michael obviously never saw Kristen in his future plans or he would have done something about it by now. He always seemed happy when he saw her. Why wouldn’t he pursue her?

   She decided it wasn’t healthy for her to keep day dreaming like this or to worry about her love life, so she planned to immerse herself into other activities. She spent an extraordinary length of time at the health club and began to attend various party committee meetings. She even made the big move to join the island’s chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Her mother would have been overjoyed! Many of her mother’s friends were still members. Kristen was easily one of the youngest there and found the luncheons a bit boring.

 At one meeting, she had the great fortune to be seated next to Ariel Whitcomb. She was a top socialite in her seventies. She knew practically every person on the island. She invited Kristen to a very exclusive party being held at one of the local country clubs on Saturday night. Best of all, she did not need to have a date.

 When Kristen returned home she called up Melanie and convinced her to fly in that week-end with Linda and go to the party. Melanie thought it would be great time and booked their flight as soon as she hung up.

 Kristen spent the rest of the week preparing for the event. She needed a better tan and she hated spray-tans. So she drove over to the Breakers Hotel and lay on their private beach alongside a glistening assortment of the most perfect bodies on the planet. One had to adhere to the impossible standards when you were in Palm Beach. There was an invisible bar that was always raised just outside your grasp. It made you strive to be the best and reach higher. It was a different mentality from the life on the other side of the Intracoastal Bridge.

 On the exclusive island, there was always an international selection of women that were meticulously groomed, waxed, and manicured to compete with. It was cut-throat business when it came to looking for rich men. The women always had to be on their game or they wouldn’t get a second glance.

 Some of these ladies were the nastiest, materialistic, and vainest beings that were ever created by the Devil, or by a God, who most certainly was a female. But you would never see that side of them as they smiled sweetly standing by their man or someone else’s. What they didn’t have when it came to money, they had to make up for it tenfold with their appearance. They were the trophies and playmates of powerful men and were constantly in fear of being traded in for a newer and younger version. There was always a disproportionate ratio of plastic surgeons, stylists, and vitamin supplement gurus to the seasonal population.

 It was also the unspoken truth that if you did land one of these millionaires and he wanted a pre-nuptial; that it was advisable to secure a top attorney for yourself, and also get pregnant immediately. This was to ensure a lifetime income from alimony or at least child support to sponge off from.  

Kristen felt she just needed to be herself. Usually, her sunny personality was enough to easily charm the men that she came across. Of course, she had her princess moments too, but she was relatively manageable when it came to her needs and expectations. And again, she was honestly in it for love.

 Now that she was getting older, Kristen felt more of a need to do the looking. She had no time to wait for her prince to just show up on her doorstep. She certainly did not envision her future being an old maid with cats, but it could happen since she was too picky about what she wanted.

 She thought about how she handled the situation with Anthony on his jet and determined that she should have never brought the subject up. She should have tried harder to develop the relationship with him and see where it would lead. She hoped she would have another chance with him.

 On Saturday afternoon Melanie called and let her know that they had landed. The girls planned to meet up and then follow each other over to the party. Kristen spent a few hours dressing and changing her mind. When she finally decided what to wear, she only had five minutes left before she was supposed to see them.

 The girls laughed when Kristen walked up. They were all wearing white outfits and looked like their mothers had dressed them alike. Kristen groaned and went back home to change while Melanie and Linda went back to the penthouse.

 They re-grouped an hour later in front of the country club as they had the valet take their cars.  It was one of the older clubs on the island and it was quite a step up to be invited to it. The girls walked in sync like runway models as they strode through the main lobby. Men walking past with their wives and dates couldn’t help turning their heads to look at them.

 The girls were worried that they were the only ones there on their own. As they walked through the banquet room doors they were relieved to see that there were single men everywhere!

 Linda giggled “Guess we’ll be finding ourselves some husbands tonight.” She tickled Melanie in the side and almost made her fall off her heels. As Melanie tried to regain her balance, a gorgeous man with short blonde hair reached out his arm to help her.

 Kristen laughed “I guess she found hers.” The man smiled at Melanie and said with a heavy French accent “Please come sit with me. My group is over there.” Melanie began to walk with him and said “Sorry girls. Opportunity is knocking.”

 Linda and Kristen headed over to the open bar and were quickly joined by a small group of Swedish men vying to get their beverages and their attention. The women spent a short time accepting numerous after-dinner dance requests and business cards before they moved on to find Ariel and sit down at their table.

 They looked over to the right and saw that Melanie was very comfortable with her Frenchman near the front of the room. Linda said “Lucky girl. Guess she found herself someone in the upper ranks. Hope it works out for her.” Kristen and Linda sadly looked at each other and both knew what the other was thinking.

 They cheered up when three very handsome men walked up to the table. Ariel had obviously arranged to have them seated next to the girls. The man that was handpicked for Melanie stared down at her empty seat and looked puzzled.

 Kristen looked at the exceptionally dapper gentlemen and thought it was possible that Ariel had paid for them to be their escorts. She was very wise when it came to throwing successful parties.

 Escorts on the island were not for sex; they were social and dining necessities for unattached and widowed women in order for them to attend the parties. Kristen looked closer at their tuxedos. They were not cheap, but they also were not designer issue. They had that shiny rented look to them. She nudged Linda and whispered.

  The girls enjoyed their male company and conversation during the elaborate dinner, but kept their eyes discreetly searching around the room for other choices.  If they were truly escorts, then the men would understand. After dessert, Kristen and Linda graciously excused themselves and slowly made their way to the far side of the room. They grabbed Melanie by her arm as they walked past her and pulled her up. Kristen said “Sorry Melanie, you are going to have to suffer with the rest of us.” The Frenchman stood up to protest her departure. His attempt was futile. Melanie just smiled at him and said good-bye.

 The trio found another table near the dance floor and lowered themselves to sit. The Frenchman defiantly came right back to Melanie and regained possession. He took her out on the floor for a slow dance. It was not long before Linda was soon scooped up and Kristen was left to sit by herself. She looked around at what prospects were left and saw Anthony standing over by the bar area talking to a group of men. She turned her chair slightly to avoid looking straight at him.

 He must have just arrived. She thought about inviting a man to dance to save face, but she remained still and confident. One of Ariel’s daughters, a girl self-titled with the name Kittens, saw her and sat down next to her. It was obvious that she had a few drinks in her.

 They talked for a while and then Kittens decided to give Kristen a short history of all the men in the room. She told her interesting facts about three of them when Kristen stopped her and subtly pointed towards Anthony.

 “What about that one? Do you know anything about Anthony Fiore?” Kittens sighed “Oh yes, Anthony! Every girl in Palm Beach wants to know about him. But he is a true enigma and no one can get through to him. I have never seen him with an actual girlfriend. Though, I have heard rumors about some girl that broke his heart in New York. Then I think she got killed somehow. That’s all I know. He seems to date a lot, but usually just socially. I have never seen him on many second dates.”

 Kristen looked again at Anthony and felt sad for him. When she was with him in the Bahamas they were so intimate and free with each other that she felt there had been a strong bond between them. She didn’t think he was hiding his heart from anyone. Anthony noticed her and gave her a nod and a sad look. Kristen returned a small smile. He never came over.  

 Kristen’s spirit was no longer at the party. She thanked Kittens and then went back over to Ariel’s table and watched Melanie and Linda with their partners from a distance. Kristen didn’t dance and Anthony didn’t either. He just stayed in the same place as different groups of friends approached him. He seemed to be enjoying himself.

 The party ended at midnight and Linda and Kristen went to the front steps to retrieve their cars. Melanie left with her Parisian. Linda said “We will call you in the morning to go shopping if Melanie ever surfaces. We are not leaving until Monday.” Linda studied Kristen with a worried look.  “Are you going to be alright?” As the valet pulled up, Kristen said “I’m fine. Thanks for coming.” She gave Linda a half-hug and climbed into her car.

 Kristen wearily drove home. She walked into her house and sat down at the kitchen table. She opened her small clutch to look for some aspirin and noticed that her phone indicated that a text came in. It was from Anthony. All he had done was type out his phone number and put a question mark after it. Kristen felt better but didn’t think she was brave enough to call him back. She said out loud “Can’t he make a better attempt than that? Does he really care if he hears from me?” She wondered what prompted him to contact her and where he went after the party.

 That night, her moments with Anthony vividly played themselves out in her dreams. They were together as long as she did not wake up.

14 TESTING THE WATERS

 

 Kristen woke up early and walked down to the beach. It was a cold morning and the wind whipped through her hair as the ocean angrily pounded the shore with its waves. Kristen preferred the wilder days to the tranquil ones. It was raining hard and it masked the tears that slowly escaped from her eyes. It was the perfect setting to match the turmoil that was going on inside of her.

 Kristen knew she should be happy that Anthony sent her a message, but she wouldn’t let herself get hopeful and project that they were going to be together again. This had been something special and she had to guard herself and not anticipate anything or it would really do a number on her. She didn’t know why she let him make her feel so down. Maybe she just was feeling tired.

 She walked for a long time picking up small shells and tossing them back in the water. She put her cell phone down, took off her leather sandals, and began walking out into the water up to her waist. She was too upset to worry about any sharks this time.

 She could feel the warmth surround her as the swell came up higher. Her toes dug into the bottom and she felt the sand sift through them as it loosened and sunk her deeper. She just wanted to emotionally release herself, and she thought this would revive her. Taking a deep breath, she let the next wave submerge her. Kristen kept her eyes tightly closed as the tide then lifted her up and carried her away. She could feel her body being tossed in different directions as the wind changed its mind. She remembered she was near the tunnel and almost wished that it would pull her to its core.

 When she opened her eyes, she saw that she was an uncomfortable distance from land. She looked sadly towards the horizon and then turned around. Laying back she watched the dark clouds grow blacker as another wave swept into her and washed her gently back up on the shore.

 Kristen sat on the beach for a long time with her head down as the fog enveloped her. She began feeling cold, so she stood up, shook out her sandals, and made her way back to the street. As she looked up she noticed a dark car was sitting far down the block. She couldn’t tell what make it was or if anyone was in it. She hoped it was Anthony, but that was too much to wish for.

 Her phone vibrated and then rang. Kristen looked toward the car and then to the phone to see who was calling. It was only Melanie. She said “Well, I feel like sludge because I stayed up all night, but let’s go shopping!” Her enthusiasm perked Kristen up and she said “OK, I’ll meet you two over at Neiman’s in an hour.” As she was hanging up, the car slowly made a U-turn and drove off in the opposite direction. Kristen thought it had out of state plates, so it couldn’t have been him. 

 The afternoon lightened up and being with her friends brought Kristen out of her melancholy. They decided to get manicures, see a movie, and then hit up the clubs off the island. Melanie didn’t mention her friend from France. If she wasn’t offering information, Kristen knew better than to ask.

 After the girls returned to Los Angeles, Kristen felt a little lonely through the weeks that followed. Melanie and Linda were two of her favorite friends. Besides Ashley back in Chicago, her other girlfriends never seemed to fill the void. They just all seemed to use each other to get through the week-ends or to have someone around so they weren’t alone if they wanted to go out. Some of them didn’t even talk to her unless it was the day before they were supposed to do something. Many of her acquaintances, especially the Palm Beach ones, couldn’t even be trusted enough to introduce to a new boyfriend.  She made sure that none of them knew about her and Anthony. Kristen always felt that if you really liked a man that you never let another woman know how wonderful he was, or they would move right in on him. The true friends never did that.

  One of her island “friends” called to tell her about a charity bachelor auction that was taking place that night. She had heard that celebrities were even flying in to participate. Kristen was not even aware of it. She wondered how that slipped by her. She quickly agreed to go.

 At 7 PM a limousine pulled in front of her house and Kristen climbed in to join her four girlfriends that were all more than dressed to kill. They were passing around a bottle of champagne and enjoying the limo’s psychedelic disco effects as the wall panels changed patterns with the music.

 The auction was being held in a large restaurant. The attendees sat down to a five-course meal before it started. It was a festive atmosphere and it was just what Kristen needed to get in the groove again. The men for sale were scattered about wearing large cards on their suits with their numbers on it. They were doing very well at flirting with their prospective owners and drumming up enthusiasm.

 The event finally started with the single members from the Palm Beach Police and Fire department being auctioned off first. They were wearing their uniforms and looked very hot! One of Kristen’s friends laughed and started the bidding at ten thousand.

 A half-hour later Kristen walked out to the lobby to see if any more of her friends had arrived yet. As she opened the glass door and peered out onto the street, she felt a hand on her shoulder and turned around.

 “Kristen, I am so glad to see you.” It was Anthony! Kristen looked startled and nervously noticed he was wearing a number. He poked at his card and laughed “I’m going to be one of the bargains tonight.” Kristen felt shy and smiled at him.

 Anthony was bubbly and said “So why didn’t you call me? Didn’t you get that text?” Kristen didn’t know how to answer him. She felt like she was in a dream that he was talking to her. It had been long time since she had last seen him.

 Anthony looked concerned at her silence. “Kristen, I need you to do a big favor for me.” Curious, she finally spoke. “What would that be?” Anthony pulled his checkbook from inside of his suit coat “I don’t have much time until I am up. I want you to buy me. I like this charity and I want to make sure it makes enough money tonight. One of my friends is on the committee and talked me into this.”

He pulled out a check and started writing on it. He handed it to Kristen. It was made out in her name for $80,000. She loosened up with him now. She held it up laughing “You think you’re worth that much?” Anthony gave her a friendly leer “Depends on what you want to do with me.”

Kristen replied “You mean I will really win you?” Anthony said “Absolutely! You are the only woman that I want to have own me.” Kristen felt her emotions returning. Anthony was getting ready to walk back in to the room. “Kristen, we need to talk about what happened. I don’t want to lose you. You need to know I reacted on the jet as I did because I am not used to sharing my life with anyone. I like to keep things private. That includes my business and my feelings. Believe me. It is better for you that way.”

 He paused and carefully continued. “I saw you in the ocean last month. I have been very worried about you.” Kristen looked at him. “That was you in the car? How did you know I was down there?” He answered “Kristen, I make sure that I know everything about you. You are very important to me.” He had no time to keep talking and started to walk.  

 Kristen was a bit puzzled by what he said but cheerfully followed him into the room. She went back to her table and was feeling very happy and relieved. She understood in some part what he meant about being private. She knew even more that she needed him in her life. One of her friends looked at her “What are you beaming about?” Kristen smiled “You’ll see.”

 Anthony now joined the small line of men left that were waiting to go on the stage. He didn’t tell her that he was the last one and was the grand prize. His number was finally called and he hopped up the stairs. He looked just like a GQ cover. His dark hair and classy Italian looks made him stand out. He was so debonair!

 The bidding resumed and the opening amount was $50,000. Kristen worried instantly that she was not going to be able to afford him. She tried to catch his eye to get some sort of sign from him on what to do, but he was too busy charming the audience.

 The women in the place were going wild. Kristen raised her hand to bid the $80,000, but the price kept rising as the crowd reached a fervent pitch. It was like being in a male stripper club! She wondered if Anthony knew that he was going to be that popular tonight. She thought about bidding much more but didn’t want to do that unless he had approved it. She was also thinking of putting her own money into it, but decided not to.

 The final bid was $150,000. It was made by a famous heiress from Germany. She was obviously single and was beautiful! Kristen nervously watched as she went up on the stage and pretended to stuff her winning check down the front of his pants.

 The crowd had a good laugh as Anthony pulled her hands off him and up over her head. He then kissed her cheek, put his arm around her, and they walked off the stage and into the hallway.

 A lady in the audience said loudly “Wow! Is she lucky! They really look like they were made for each other. They look like Barbie and Ken dolls.” Kristen remained at her table having a parting drink with her friends. She wasn’t sure what her next move should be.  A minute later she could feel her phone buzzing in her purse. She pulled it out and saw a text from Anthony. He had inserted smiley faces into it and it read “I will call you tomorrow. I miss you.”

 Kristen was very happy with how he was now acting. Her girlfriend broke the spell when she stood up and went over to the banquet table in front of the stage. It had the lists of what the bachelors promised to do for their dates. Her friend held up Anthony’s itinerary and started reading aloud. It was for a date the following day in St. Croix. Anthony would be flying the winner there on his private jet. Kristen’s heart sunk. This was more than she could bear. Anthony looked a little too happy when the heiress won him. She now just felt like going back to the ocean and swimming away.

 Still deflated, she was very quiet on the limousine ride back to her house. Her friend asked “Why were you bidding 80,000 dollars on Anthony Fiore? Do you know him?” Kristen shook her shoulders “I’ve seen him around. I was just doing it for the charity.” All the girls laughed in unison “Yeah, right Kristen. What aren’t you telling us?” One of the girls added “He’s going to have a memorable time with Margit. She’s an infamous man-eater.” She studied Kristen to watch her reaction, but she remained stoic.

 Kristen arrived home and prepared for bed. She was just about to turn her cell phone off when it rang. Anthony was laughing on the other end “Why didn’t you bid more for me? Don’t you want me?” Kristen answered “I wasn’t sure you would want to go that high.” He said “How was I to know Margit would bid that much. I’m scared!” Kristen replied “You’re a big boy, you will be alright.” Anthony said “I am going to tell her I have to sit with the pilot in the cockpit and help him fly.” He begged “Seriously Kristen, I am going to send the jet back for you and I want you to meet me in St. Croix for dinner. I am only obligated for the day in paradise, not the night. I don’t want this wrecking anything between us. Will you please come and meet me?”

 Kristen said “No, no that’s crazy. You don’t want that.” Anthony insisted “Yes, I do. I am going to wear a parachute and if she tries anything I swear I will jump out!” She started laughing hard “I’ll be sure to rent a boat and rescue you then. You will be fine. I am not going. I have a late luncheon to go to for gala planning.” It seemed that Anthony was satisfied that he did his best trying to convince her. Kristen wondered if it was just an act. She wasn’t all that worried anymore. They talked for a bit longer and then signed off with Anthony saying “Good night Dream Girl.”

 Kristen went through the motions the next day but her heart wasn’t into what she was doing. She was going to feel uneasy until she saw Anthony again. As each hour passed she kept picturing what she thought her new boyfriend and Margit were doing that moment in St. Croix. She couldn’t get it out of her head.

 She went to her gala meeting and was very surprised when they appointed her Co-Chair for the next year’s event. They must have been impressed by her high bid the night before. The title carried a considerable amount of prestige along with the work involved to bring it all together. That day, several more women in the group acknowledged her and started telling her about various social functions that they would like to invite her to. Kristen was feeling like she was the new “darling” of the island social network. She felt like her mother. She hoped that Anthony would be by her side through all of it.

 Kristen survived through the evening and into the next afternoon without a call from Anthony. Her worst fears were confirmed when she saw the Palm Beach Shiny Sheet. Again, Anthony was pictured and now looking very comfortable lying on the beach with Margit. There was a caption that read “Palm Beach Lovebirds” and it featured a spread of various cozy shots of them on their date.

 Kristen thought “If this date didn’t mean anything to him, he was doing a great job of acting.” She wanted to call up Ashley or Melanie and cry about it, but decided against it. She didn’t want everyone else to know what she was going through. They would tire of it if dating Anthony continued in this manner with all its problems. She didn’t want her friends to be afraid to pick up the phone.

 Kristen made a decision to not give him another chance to upset her. She didn’t even want to hear about the date and that nothing happened. Judging by the pictures, everything was happening! It seemed effortless for Anthony to like someone. He really was just a Playboy and her heart would never be strong enough to accept that. She had to change course for her own good.

She had no plans for the evening and made a bowl of popcorn and lay on her couch watching television. She was wearing her “comfy” clothes and looked like a mess.

   There was a light knock on her door. She stood up and shuffled in her slippers to peek out the side window to see who was outside. She was surprised to see Anthony on the steps. He called through the door “Kristen please open up. I know you are standing there.” She slowly let down on the latch and he pushed the door open. He didn’t give her a chance to speak and raised her up in his arms and carried her over to the front room couch. He lay her down as he kneeled on the floor and intensely kissed her.

 The copy of the newspaper was near-by on the coffee table and he reached back with his hand to pick it up. After he pulled his lips from hers, he held up the paper. “I was afraid you would see this. That “Twit” hired a photographer to follow us there. It was all staged. Look closely at the shots. Can’t you tell I don’t look happy?”

 She tried to take a look, but he went in again for more kissing and Kristen couldn’t see or breathe. She was at one with him and did not want to stop. He was so romantic and tender. His lips were so sensuous that she felt faint.

 He started talking again “We had some bad weather over there so we couldn’t fly back until this afternoon. I was afraid to call you and figured that I should just come over to show you how much I care for you now. I am sorry if I made you feel bad at any time.”

 Kristen believed him and now tried to talk but Anthony would not let her. “Kristen, I want you to be my girl. I can’t imagine being without you again. Please let this happen. I think we were meant to be. I have never felt like this before. Let me show you.”

 He picked her up from the couch and carried her up her stairs to her bedroom. They fell on the bed together and tore at each other until they both were naked.

 Anthony raised his powerful thighs and began making love to her. He was filled with raw, pulsating emotion. She lay paralyzed as he consumed her. When they reached their pinnacle, he held her tightly and was determined to never let her go. 

 After an hour of lying reposed and completely silent, the couple embraced again. Anthony whispered in her ear. “I am staying with you tonight. I can’t bear to be without you. I love you Kristen, you need to know that.” Kristen put her arms around him tighter and said softly “I love you too Anthony.” Anthony smiled and said “You are mine forever.”

15 PRELUDE

 

 The romance between Kristen and Anthony continued at a strong, unrelenting pace over the following months. He was always full of surprises and would often fly Kristen off to quickie excursions to South America and the Caribbean. 

  They also traveled from the major European cities to the quaint chateaus in the country. Anthony spoke French and German almost as fluently as Italian. He knew his way around and had friends throughout the world. Kristen had traveled to many of the same places before on her own or with her parents, but she now enjoyed seeing the world through his eyes. She never had a chance to grow tired of him. He had so much to offer.

 Kristen was never in doubt again that Anthony was very serious about her when he showed her his family’s hometown in Sicily and introduced her to several of his relatives. He started buying her jewelry and priceless artwork. Their tastes were similar and he always delighted her.    

 In his spare time, they would lie out on his yacht sunning or occasionally snorkel. They had a verbal agreement. She was only willing to get in the water if he stayed right next to her so he would get eaten first by the sharks. He made her cut up her credit cards and he opened new accounts for her, footing all the bills. He encouraged her to buy a classier wardrobe and set her up with designers. They attended all the top parties and charity functions. Kristen was proud to be seen with him. He was well-liked by everyone.

 One day he surprised her with the news that they would be attending a major ball at Mar-a-Lago. It was considered to be one of the top events of the Season and was always attended by dignitaries from around the world. Kristen was excited for the next three weeks awaiting the night.

 Anthony paid an exorbitant amount to have her ball gown custom made by a top fashion house and rushed to her in time. It arrived the day before the gala in the late afternoon.

 Kristen spent the next day dressing for the party and Anthony was absolutely stunned when she paraded herself in front of him. “My God! You look like a Princess!” He proudly smiled at her as he took her arm and led her to the white limousine waiting outside.

 Kristen loved everything about Mar-a-Lago! It was filled with magnificent paintings and furnishings. She especially loved the lion statues in front. She was readily provided with a handsome military escort as she strode down the red carpet into the ballroom. The gowns that were present at the event were breathtaking and all were very unique. Nothing off the rack at this party. Everyone shimmered!

 She danced with Anthony and smiled up at him with adoring eyes. He was truly her prince! He looked down at her and pulled her even closer. They were the perfect couple and it seemed that they were put on earth for each other. Kristen could not imagine finding anyone else that she could be happy with. They were for keeps!

 Anthony introduced Kristen to the various royalty and Hollywood moguls that paraded past them. She was now on a first name basis with the wealthiest people in the world and she loved this life. Even though her parents had been well-known in various circles, she now outshined them. She wished they were here to enjoy it too. She knew this was one of her mother’s favorite balls. Kristen was sad when the magical night ended, but her fairy tale life continued on the enchanted island.

 Kristen enjoyed all of Florida, and especially loved the discos of South Beach. The couple would drive down to Miami in his different sports cars to go to the newest clubs. Anthony was a silent partner at the latest hotspot to be seen, and brought Kristen with him on one trip to check up on the staff. It was well into the wee hours. He left her seated at a table accompanied by a large glass of flavored vodka while he went to the back office. Kristen watched the crowd dance and was quite content that she had her man and no longer needed to be part of the dating ritual. She looked around at all the excitement going on around her and saw a figure approach her through the smoky haze.

 As it drew closer, the familiar face of Gregory slowly materialized. He had been dancing and sweat was soaking through the white satin shirt that clung tightly to his muscles. He came up to her and gave her a kiss on the lips. A spark went through her body and she sat straight up in her chair. “Kristen! How nice to see you! What brings you way down to Miami?”

 Kristen hesitated; she still liked Gregory and did not want to ruin it by mentioning Anthony. She knew he would walk off. She avoided the question. “Gregory! You look great! How have you been?” Gregory sat down next to her, pulling his chair closer. He nuzzled her neck. Kristen closed her eyes and swooned, just a bit.  She thought “He is so alluring. I can’t stop this. It is always like he has a weird hold over me.” She laughed to herself “Maybe they do worship the Devil at that club. That would explain it all!”

 Gregory said “Kristen, I have been thinking of you quite a lot since I last saw you. Why did you disappear?” Kristen laughed “You were the one that took off. Who was that woman anyway? Your wife? Was that her house that we went to?” Gregory shrugged “Does it really matter? We are here now, together once again; fate is such a sweet thing. You are quite the temptress.” He moved in on her very vulnerable neck again and Kristen pulled back.

 Gregory looked puzzled. “Don’t you want me Kristen? Why the distance?” He whispered in her ear “Let’s go get a room. I am staying in the hotel next door. You know you want me.” He then started murmuring in hot breaths what he wanted to do with her. As he slid his hand in between her legs, Kristen braced, longing for him to explore further. As he began to push upward, she melted into his touch until she realized where she was again. She shifted her body just slightly from his advance and picked up her drink. She was really surprised at herself and blamed it on the late hour and the liquor. But, it could not be denied. Gregory was really something!

 Gregory pulled the glass from her. He dipped into the liquid and parted her lips with his finger. Kristen looked over his shoulder and saw Anthony re-emerging from the back. Kristen gave him a little push. “Gregory, you need to go. I am here with someone.” Gregory just ignored her and began with his hand starting on her knee again. Kristen stood up, straightened her dress, and rushed over towards Anthony.

 Anthony had his back turned and did not see who she had been sitting with. He put his arm around her shoulder “Ah, there you are. Come in back. I want you to meet one of my partners.” As they walked, Kristen did not see it when Anthony slowly turned his head to the side and shot a stare straight at Gregory.

 But Gregory did notice Anthony. He took a drink from Kristen’s glass and sat there, legs spread apart, casting a defiant look right back at him. He then lit up a cigarette and blew a nonchalant smoke ring into the air. Anthony cocked his chin up at Gregory and nodded at some of the staff members that were standing against the wall. Gregory looked a bit closer and it finally dawned on him who Kristen was with. He now looked worried and immediately stumped out the cigarette. Two bouncers began to approach him as he stood up and quickly proceeded to leave the club. They followed quietly behind him.

 Anthony spent another hour at a desk in the office as he kept Kristen carefully planted in a corner. He did not offer her any more alcohol. Then they left for the long drive back to Palm Beach instead of staying the night down there, as originally planned. He never mentioned Gregory to her, and as far as Kristen knew, he never saw anything. But Anthony realized that the time was coming soon when he needed to clearly mark his territory.

 Kristen continued to have a very good month. She loved being in Palm Beach and all the culture and beauty that it offered. Her love also grew even more for Anthony. In the short slice of time since she had met him, besides the few moments of doubt, he had been nothing but perfect to her at all times.

 She had a special date with him tonight since it was Valentine’s Day. He had just flown back from New York after an exceptionally long departure and she could hardly wait to see him. He told her that he had an extra nice gift for her.

 Kristen spent the day in Palm Beach Gardens looking for a dress. It was the only day she would think of wearing red. It didn’t take long to find a Valentine outfit. Most of the display windows were specially set up for the day. Red was everywhere!

 She kept shopping for other accessories, including four new pairs of shoes. She had wanted to shop in Boca that day too, but evening was approaching, and there was no way she would make it back in traffic on I-95 in time.

 She traveled back to the island and decided to go over to one of the cafés on County Road to get some lemonade. As she walked down the sidewalk, she began feeling like someone was behind her. She turned around a few times but only saw small groups of tourists. She reached the adobe walls of the café and decided to sit on their patio.

 The waitress brought her drink in a tall icy glass. Kristen began sipping it slowly and debated whether to get another one with some alcohol in it. She turned her head to look at an impressive sports car stopped at the corner. A man sat down quickly at her table and put a hand on her arm.

 Kristen turned back and was very startled. She knocked over her drink on the table. “Oh God! Oh no!” Her worst moment was happening. 

 Robert St. Germain was there! He picked up her glass and fumbled as he put the ice cubes back into it. He then put his cold hand on her leg, “Bet you didn’t think you would see me again, did you Witch?” Kristen was scared. He looked extremely threatening, and this time there was nowhere to run off to.

He was right up in her face, keeping his voice low. “You know I went to jail for two years because of you!  You thought I would never find out that you were behind everything?” He kept a tight grip on her arm.

 Kristen looked around frantically and saw they were they only ones in the patio section. She insisted “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He painfully pushed down on her arm. Kristen sharply said “You screwed me over. You owe me money. A lot of money!” She bravely shook her arm from his hand saying “You know Robert; there are a lot of people looking for you across the country. Why do you think I did anything?”

 Robert got even madder “Don’t even try to get out of this. I know it was you. But I can’t figure how you set it all up? Either way, I am going to remove you from this planet! You have to go!” Kristen was scared, but calmly said “You are a paranoid psycho and you know it.” She knew he was just throwing things out there.

 Luckily for Kristen, the waitress came back out and gave St. Germain a curious look. Kristen said “Can I have my check please?” The waitress started to walk off to get it and Kristen followed close behind her like she was her safety net. St. Germain just sat there fingering her glass and was deciding whether to come after her.

 Kristen paid her bill with cash and walked quickly outside to where a cab stand was. She jumped into one and told the driver to take her to West Palm Beach. She did not want St. Germain to see her car and wanted him to think she was leaving the island so he couldn’t figure out that she lived there.

 Her cabbie was the only one available on the street, so Kristen knew Robert had no choice but to run to his car, or whatever he got there in, to go after her. She had the driver travel in different directions for the next half-hour before she told him to go back over the bridge to head to her place. It was crazy that Robert thought she was responsible for him getting arrested. In fact, she knew exactly what happened back then. Kristen had heard from friends in Illinois who frequented the Patio bar that Anne, the woman he also conned out of money, knew where Robert was living right after he skipped town. Kristen heard that the Feds contacted Anne and she was afraid that they would implicate her in his schemes, so she told them where to find him.

 St. Germain was always trying out different high-level cons and skipping out on hotel and credit card bills. He was the one who got himself caught, nobody else. Kristen couldn’t believe the stones on this guy. He was an obvious mental case to think he could get away with all these crimes for such a long period of time. She was dismayed by the fact that he was now in Palm Beach and guessed he was looking for bigger fish.

 When Kristen arrived home, she managed to compose herself and did the best that she could to quickly get dressed. It was almost time for her date with Anthony. Her hand was shaking as she tried to put on her make-up. She was very scared that she saw Robert and she debated whether to tell her boyfriend.

 As the sun began to settle down, Anthony appeared. She was relieved to see him and instantly felt better. He gave her a bouquet of red roses and held her for a long time. Kristen put the flowers in a vase by her front door. Anthony had his red Lamborghini with him for the occasion and he drove her over to an intimate restaurant on the island.

 Romance was in the air and there were roses on all the tables. Kristen wondered which table would be for them. Instead, of waiting to be seated, Anthony led her out of the main dining room and onto the terrace.

 Soft classical music was playing and it was beautiful under the stars. There was a sole round table set in the middle and Anthony placed her lightly onto the chair. Their only light was from a small tapered candle. Kristen watched as the shadows flickered across Anthony’s handsome face as he sat across from her.

 They began their meal with red wine. He held up his glass to her and said “Here’s to my Dream Girl. Happy Valentine’s Day!” She toasted him back smiling. He leaned over the table and gave her a kiss.

 Anthony then rose up and walked over to Kristen. He kneeled down on one knee and pulled a black velvet box from his pocket. He opened it gingerly up with his thumb while presenting it to her.

 “Kristen Elizabeth Stratford, I have only known you for a very short while, but I want to spend the rest of our time as your husband. I love you. Will you please marry me?”

 Kristen was enchanted. “Of course I will marry you Anthony. I love you too!” He slid the ring onto her finger. It was breathtaking and sparkled in the candlelight. Kristen was absolutely touched and delighted. She didn’t know that this was the gift he was talking about.

 Anthony rose back up and pulled his chair right next to her. They kissed for a long time. His lips were so sweet and she felt like she now officially belonged to him. Anthony grinned “I wanted to do this after dinner, but the time was perfect and I didn’t want to wait.” Kristen said excitedly “I don’t know if I can eat now. I’m all butterflies!” He smiled, “Now, for your gift, we might as well get that out of the way now too.” Kristen said “There’s more?”

 They walked out to the side gate. There, in front of the restaurant, was a white Ferrari convertible with a wide red bow wrapped around it. Kristen ran up to it. A single white rose lay on the front seat. Anthony kissed her on the cheek and said “Happy Valentine’s Honey!”

 Kristen said “Now I’m definitely not going to be able to eat. I want to drive it!” Anthony pulled on her arm “Come on. Let’s go back. I want to tell you about our honeymoon.” She reluctantly and happily returned to sit at the table. Anthony had already ordered for them and the waiter arrived with lobster. Kristen squealed “Oh goody, this is just what I wanted to eat!” Anthony asked her “Would you like to get married in April, right before the end of Season?”

 She looked puzzled “This April? That soon?” Anthony said sweetly “I was hoping you wanted to do it this year.” Kristen thought about it and then assured him, “I would love to get married right away. Are we eloping?” Anthony replied “No, no, we are going to have a fabulous wedding. I know it takes time to plan, but I have all the connections to make sure that everything you want to do for it can be taken care of right away.”

 She took his hand. “If that can happen, then let’s do it!” Anthony then asked her slowly “And where is your favorite place for a honeymoon?” Kristen gleefully said “Bora, Bora!”

 Anthony smiled broadly and reached over to hug her. “That’s what I thought you would say. That’s my dream place too. I have never been there. We’re going. I booked it!” Kristen cooed “Going to Bora Bora in the spring is the best time to do it. It’s all perfect!”

 They decided to get married early in April, two weeks after Easter. Season would still be happening on their wedding day and many of their guests, which were mainly his friends and associates, would still be in the area. Kristen said “Wow, I need to start calling my girlfriends tonight. Hope they can all make it!”

 They enjoyed the rest of their dinner. Kristen kept holding up her ring and admiring it. After they finished their dessert, they jumped into her Ferrari and took off for the ocean. Anthony and Kristen held hands walking down the sidewalk along Ocean Drive. Kristen wanted to walk in the sand, but didn’t want it ruining her new car, so she changed her mind.

 As they walked, they talked about having kids. They both wanted them right away. Anthony said “Christ, we aren’t getting any younger! Let’s start making them tonight! I have a reservation for us at The Breakers.” Kristen wedged up right next to him as they went back to the car. She wanted him to drive. He kept his arm around her as they motored back to the restaurant. Anthony wasn’t about to leave his Lamborghini on the street overnight, so they drove their cars side by side and smiled at each other on the way to the resort.

 Anthony and his fiancée shared a beautiful and romantic night. He arranged to have some of their clothes delivered to them, so after breakfast, they went to the golf course for a quick nine holes. Before Anthony let Kristen go back to her Ferrari, he held her and twirled her around saying “I want you to move into my house with me.” Kristen was hesitant “I’ll live with you, but I’m not selling my place until after we’re married.”

 Anthony looked a bit defeated “I am going to buy you a mansion on the ocean, just like I know you want!”  Kristen chuckled “Well, if you are going to do that, then I would probably try to start selling it now. But I won’t close the deal until after the honeymoon.” She loved the fact they were planning a life together. She had been on her own for too long.

 Anthony looked at his Rolex and said “I would love to reserve the Breakers for another night, but I need to go home to New York to help my brothers handle some issues. I don’t know how long it is going to take, but I’ll call you every night and put you to bed.” Kristen pouted “Can’t I come with?” He answered “No, I want you here. You can start moving your stuff in and I will have my House Manager make all your arrangements.” Kristen said reluctantly “OK, I guess. I am going to miss you!”

 Anthony said firmly “I want you to stay out of the clubs. Look at your ring every time you think about going out. You’re mine now! Stay home, and start knitting some baby booties.” She looked at him like he was joking. He was smiling, but she couldn’t be sure. “I’m going to impregnate you next time I see you. So, stop taking the pill.” Kristen laughed “Not until we’re married. We are doing this the right way!”

16 A.K.A. “TONY”

 

 The minute Anthony Fiore embarked from his private jet onto New York soil, he became Tony.

 “Tony” Fiore was proud of his Sicilian heritage and admired his long line of ruthless card-carrying family members of the Cosa Nostra. His father Franco recently died from cancer while serving ten of his eighty-year sentence for racketeering and murder. His grandfather Antonio, who Tony was named for, was gunned down in a Manhattan restaurant several years before.

  Tony became a “Made Man” on his twenty-first birthday. Instead of taking him to his first bar, his father brought his son down to the docks to help kill three longshoremen who worked for him. They had been causing a lot of trouble and keeping the contents of the shipments they were hijacking for themselves.

 The Fiores walked carefully through the dilapidated buildings until they sensed the men were inside one of them.  They burst through the door and took them by surprise. Once they had them cornered, it was Tony’s time to impress his father, but he was not sure that he was comfortable with the thought of killing someone. He braced himself and raised the gun at two of the men. Then he let it drop by his side.

 His father looked at him with impatience and walked over to him. He firmly lifted Tony’s arm and pulled the gun out of his hand. He then aimed at the men and shot them point blank. He glanced over at Tony who now had his eyes tightly closed trying to force back tears. The third man took off running and Franco then pulled out his own gun, stopping him in his tracks.

 “Come on Tony, let’s go.” Tony followed his father with his head hanging down. He knew that he had disappointed him.  They left the dock area and walked to the car. His father’s minions later took care of hauling the bodies out of there and feeding them to the carp.

 As they drove, Franco said “Don’t worry about it Tony. You are a brave boy, but I have always known this life has never been for you. You are not like your brothers, you are special. Today is going to be our secret. But no one besides our family can ever know. Otherwise, we can’t survive if others don’t think we are all united. If we show we are vulnerable in any area, we will lose all respect. Tony never forgot those words and always kept on his game face in the years to come.

 It had always been obvious which direction Tony was heading. While he was growing up, he had preferred to go to school instead of hanging out in the streets with his friends and his two younger brothers, Marco and Vincente. Later, he made top grades and ascended to Yale. Like Kristen’s father, he was inducted into all the right groups there. Anthony easily earned a degree in Chemical Engineering and went on to Harvard Business School, graduating with honors.

 Now he was the founder and CEO of a chemical manufacturing company that was based in Miami, and predominant in the world market. He was very active at the helm. His father was very proud of how Anthony had succeeded, but still let him know he would always have his family obligations. There was no way Tony could have chosen any other life. His path was determined way before his birth.

 Tony was loyally fierce to his roots, and when his father passed away, he stepped up to take over. Without Franco, the once powerful Fiore family was now near the bottom of the New York hierarchy. As time progressed, by Anthony’s choice, they gave up most of their holdings and only managed some minor gambling and loan operations. Tony still kept a close watch on what was left of the family business, aided by his two brothers.

 This year, Anthony temporarily delegated most of his corporate duties to his Vice-Presidents to micro manage, and now only concentrated on the chemical company’s bigger issues and more importantly, courting his clients on the golf course, or his yacht. The fact he was such a powerful CEO, helped disguise all his earnings and let him enjoy his boat, jet, and all his toys in the open.

 Tony was under the radar and the general public was not at all aware of him. But he was well-known to the other New York factions, those “in the know”, and of course, the government. He was under constant surveillance.

 Though it was the Sicilian tradition for the oldest son to carry on, he was trying to groom his brothers to eventually take over. Right now, the Fiores were in the midst of a major power play. With his father gone, others felt they could move in on their territory. There had been some unsanctioned hits on their group and the Fiore family was out for retaliation. Though Tony truly wanted to break up the family business, he still needed to preserve their honor. His father and grandfather had worked too hard for it.

 Luckily, his brother Marco wasn’t above grabbing a gun and getting it done by himself, thus eliminating the middle men and the rats! He enjoyed the hunt. It was better than sex! Right before he died, his father told Marco about the dock incident and that Tony was not truly “made”. Marco instantly lost respect for his brother and was now constantly challenging his authority.

 Marco knew that Anthony wanted out of this life and was waiting for the day that Tony would pass over his power to him and disappear in the background. “Anthony” only seemed to get in the way and Marco blamed him for the Fiores losing their place in New York. There were other options to get Tony out of the picture, but Marco would never consider those. The brothers had a strong bond. They were blood, and that was good enough, for now.

 Kristen was only aware of Anthony and had no clue about Tony. She wasn’t happy that he was making more and more trips to New York. But she knew she had to live with it because it was what she signed up for when she agreed to marry a corporate icon. She just wished he would be involved with more of the wedding planning.

 Anthony loved the Kristen that was beneath the beautiful and at times, spoiled brat exterior. She had an edge to her and was never boring. She was easy to talk to and very accepting. He knew that someday he could tell her about his other life in New York and that she would be alright with it. Nothing much fazed her. She wasn’t freaked out and was not like most women who only constantly thought about themselves. She was one of the guys and he knew she would make a great mother! Anthony truly did resent the fact that he did not have the extra time to be with his fiancée.

 As their relationship solidified, Tony’s trips up north became more frequent. Kristen hated that he went there all the time and couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t let her go there too. She began complaining about this to him and finally one day he said “OK, I am taking you to New York with me on my trip there tomorrow. We are only going for the day. I want you to meet my brothers.”

 Kristen was sleeping peacefully the next morning when Anthony rolled her over and said “Get up Stratford! Time to go. We’ll grab some breakfast on my jet.” Kristen was very groggy and looked for a small suitcase to pack. Anthony stopped her and smiled “I told you, we are only going for the day. Let’s go!”

 She followed him down the stairs and out to his Lincoln. There was a substitute chauffeur who was wearing a rumpled suit and munching on a doughnut. As he opened the car door for them, Anthony took one look at him. “Really man, really?” He handed him a fifty and said “Get that suit pressed before you pick us up again. When is my regular driver coming back?” “Don’t know” the man mumbled. Anthony rolled his eyes at Kristen. She just smiled.

 The trip to New York was swift. As they walked down the stairs of the jet, they were greeted by a well-dressed man who looked just like Anthony, but was shorter and built more like a solid hunk. His hair was greased back and his suit and pinkie rings were super flashy.

 Anthony patted him on the back and said “Kristen, I would like you to meet my brother Marco.” Marco gave Kristen a big hug and took her arm. He looked her over approvingly. “Not bad, not bad. Thanks Tony!” Anthony laughed “Oh no you don’t Marco” and he pulled Kristen back next to his side, keeping his arm around her waist.

 As they walked, Anthony said sarcastically “Where is our baby brother Vincente?” Marco looked at him like he should know and answered. “He is out doing some things. I don’t think you will be meeting him today Kristen. Hopefully, I am enough for you.” He laughed and he took Kristen’s hand. The three of them headed towards the exit with her in the middle.

 As they approached the terminal, a stretch limo pulled up. Anthony placed Kristen on one side and pointed to the seat furthest away from her for Marco to sit in. Marco gave him a comical look and held up his hands in mock defense. The trip took a while and ended when they reached the wealthy suburb where Marco lived.

 Marco’s house was very large and set in front of a small, picturesque lake. He gave Kristen a quick look around as Anthony sat at the bottom of the staircase absorbed in several phone conversations.

 When Kristen was returned, Anthony walked up to her and looked apologetic. He put his hand on her shoulder and said very businesslike “I am so sorry Kristen. I need to head over to Jersey and help Vincente out with something. I will be back tomorrow.” Before she could say anything, the stretch returned out front and whisked him away.

 Both Marco and Kristen watched as he drove off. Kristen felt a sharp pain in her heart and thought of how Anthony’s indifference was reminiscent of her father who had also been continuously preoccupied with his work. Marco said “Wow! That was cold.” He then turned to Kristen. “Don’t worry, I will keep you nice and warm.” Kristen looked at him and nervously laughed. Marco smelled great! His cologne was strong and he was such a stud!

 In his own mind, Marco felt that Kristen was mildly attracted to him. He always enjoyed putting the move on Anthony’s girlfriends. Even though his older brother was blessed with the classy looks and all the brains, Marco knew he had what it really takes and never missed the chance to go out of his way to prove that he was better than Tony.

 He sat his brother’s fiancée down at the dining room table and they started to talk. Kristen learned that Marco was one year, and Vincente was two years younger than Anthony. Marco laughed as he told her that Vince was extremely short and was very touchy about it. Kristen laughed “I’ll remember to slouch if I stand next to him.” Marco thought that was very funny and laughed “We also have three sisters who are all tall. Guess the genes got mixed up.” Kristen figured they all must have been a real handful for their mother. Marco shared common interests and they had a lively conversation for a few hours as he tried his best to charm her. He started thinking that Kristen was more suited to him than his brother and he began laying it on thick.

 Marco’s maid walked in later that afternoon to prepare them a meal. Marco immediately sent her upstairs to set up a room for his guest. Kristen announced “Thank you Marco, but I am going to the city and stay in a hotel there.” Marco protested “No, no, Tony would expect it of me to keep you right here.” The maid had returned and looked back and forth at the two waiting for an answer. Kristen said “I will call him and let him know my plans. It wouldn’t be right to be here alone with you.” She gave him a mischievous smile.

 Kristen dialed Anthony and it went right to his voicemail. She left her message and turned back to Marco. “See, all taken care of. What’s the cab service called out here?” Marco looked like his pride had been hurt. “No chance. I am driving you personally and we will have a nice dinner before I drop you off.” Kristen said “I am going to stay at The Plaza and we can eat dinner at their restaurant. I love it there!”

 Marco smiled at the thought of feeding her and then bedding her upstairs at a swank hotel. “Great idea” he said. He went up to his bathroom to pile on more mousse and for an extra blast of cologne. He then strutted out to his driveway and selected a silver Porsche for their ride.

 As she got into the car, Kristen told him right off “Marco, we are having dinner and that’s it. I need you to understand this before we leave.” Marco took his hand off the wheel and gestured “Sure, sure, I know that. Don’t you worry.” He then peeled off towards the city. The two made polite small talk during the ride and Marco pointed out several points of interest along the way. He was quite charming to be with and Kristen now felt more relaxed around him.

 When they arrived at The Plaza, Marco left the engine running and looked at Kristen. “I can tell you are nervous about this, so I am going to let you go and you can eat your dinner in peace without me.” Kristen looked puzzled “I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings earlier.” Marco assured her “No, I just don’t want to have to do any explaining whatsoever to Anthony. He never trusts me around his women. Kristen looked puzzled as she thanked him for the ride and the doorman came up and helped her from the car. She checked in and then went up to her suite, opting instead for room service. Unless she was in a special mood, she couldn’t felt comfortable eating alone in public.

 Tony had never left New York that day. In reality, he just drove to another part of the city to attend to the serious tasks that only he could take care of. Vincente had joined him and the brothers quickly drove over in one car to an Italian neighborhood near-by. Tony calmly asked his brother “Are you sure we don’t need Marco with us?” Vincente answered “I think we can do this by ourselves. We just need to talk to some of our renters. They are expecting us.” The “renters” were various businesses in the area that were obligated to pay the Fiores protection money in order to stay operational without any hitches.

 Normally, Tony and his brothers would not get involved at this lower level, but these were larger places that brought in a considerable amount of income. Their owners felt they were above this type of thug treatment and had recently banded together to oppose the Fiore family’s hold on them. The Fiores were concerned that they might look towards their rivals for help.

 The brothers drove up to a small pizzeria and parked. Without any words, four men filed out of the building and got into a large van. These were their back-ups in case there were any problems. They followed closely behind them.

 The group soon arrived at a large car dealership. They were greeted at the door by an elderly and surprised-looking owner who was wearing a purple leisure suit and had an unlit cigar hanging out of his mouth. He patted Tony on the back and led them to his conference room. The salesmen on the floor took a look at the men and quickly walked out to the parking lot. The air was filled with tension.

 Tony told the owner to sit down. He looked scared when Tony and his men remained standing, a bead of sweat rolled down his forehead. Tony started “Nick, I came here in advance only to talk to you. You can relay this to the rest of your buddies who think they have a say in the matter.” Tony’s men moved in closer, surrounding him.

 Tony said firmly “I know you have a gun on you Nicky and I need you to very slowly put it on the table.” The owner looked up at him like a child and obeyed as he reached into his suit jacket. Tony continued with no expression. “I will make this short. You will all continue to make your payments like you have for years to our family, or I will hold you personally responsible for any further delays by the others. I will hear nothing more about this. Right?

  Nick looked like he wanted to speak up, but he knew that would be a big mistake. He meekly answered “OK, Tony, I will tell them.” He gazed toward his gun. One of Tony’s men quickly picked it up and put it in his own pocket.

  Tony then leaned down and said “I don’t think you heard me. I will hold you personally responsible. Now that my father is gone, things are not different, despite what you may have heard.” He looked into his frightened eyes and spoke very slowly. “Do you understand me now? Nick said quickly “Yes, I do.” Tony finished “Alright then, I won’t be talking to you again.” He then walked out of the room with Vincente.

 The car dealer’s eyes followed Tony as he left. The four men stayed behind and the owner slowly turned back towards them as his body sank further into the chair and a hopeless look came over his face.

 Tony was now in a good mood because it seemed that everything had gone well and in a peaceful manner. He gave Vincente a friendly pat on the back. The brothers drove over to the pizzeria to have lunch. Their men showed up forty-five minutes later and joined them. There was no talk about what happened after Tony and Vincente left.

 As Tony left to go to another part of the restaurant, Vincente turned towards the men and gave them a questioning look. They all nodded in silence. Vincente said “OK, that’s good, you took care of him. I will keep in touch.” He then got on the phone and made a call to Marco.

 After they had a big meal and downed a few bottles of wine, the men departed. Anthony listened to his messages and decided to return Kristen’s call. She answered right away and he cheerfully said “Hi Honey! How are things going with Marco? Are you ready to flee from him yet?” Kristen laughed “Funny you should ask. I already escaped him. I am at The Plaza.”

 Anthony now took on a serious tone. “Are you kidding me? What did he try on you?” Kristen quickly answered “No, no, nothing like that. I just decided I would be more comfortable here and then it would be easy to get back to the airport to meet you whenever you come back from New Jersey. It will be great. I can go shopping all day tomorrow. I am where I am meant to be!”

 Anthony said “Are you sure he did not hit on you?” Kristen was surprised at his jealousy. “Marco has been quite the gentleman. There is nothing to worry about.” Anthony apologized “I really should have brought you with me. Then you could have met Vincente too. At least I can trust him.”

 Kristen cut in. “So much for our trip together. When am I going to see you again?” Anthony said “I should have things wrapped up tomorrow morning. We can fly back in the late afternoon. Is that good for you?” She replied “Sure! Just give me an hour warning so I can get back to the hotel from the stores. Do you want to meet me here?” Anthony agreed, “Sounds like the plan. We’ll get dinner on the island somewhere after we land. Have some fun, but not too much. Good-bye Dream Girl.”

 Kristen smiled as she held the phone. She was so happy with how everything was going for them. They already felt like a married couple with a future. She could not even imagine how any dark clouds could ever get in their way.

 

 

17 TURNED TO SALT

 

 Palm Beach was a very small town, even during Season, and it was inevitable that you would eventually run into everyone at some point. The Shiny Sheet kept close tabs on them all, whether they were in town or in The Hamptons. Nowadays, the paper wasn’t quite as gossipy. But in the inner circles, tongues were clucking around the clock. 

 As Kristen gained more access to the top rungs she became even more conservative in her dress and her ways. She was excited becoming a mother soon and wanted to be the perfect role model. She also needed to be the ultimate trophy wife to be seen on the arm of Anthony. He was in an elite class and not someone to embarrass. She needed to show grace and poise at all times.

 It was late March and the wedding now appeared on the horizon. Kristen was head over heels in love with her fiancé, but was getting nervous and a little apprehensive about actually going through with it. To do this meant total responsibility and commitment. It was not an easy thing for her to say “I will love you forever”, especially since she was still young.

 Kristen thought “It must be a full moon coming up if I am thinking like this.” Anthony was in New York again and she was lonely. She decided to cheer up and go to a lounge on the island that night. Melanie was in town from California, so she called her up and arranged to meet her inside one of the Breaker’s Hotel bars after 9 PM. Kristen was feeling a little dark and searched through her closet for a nasty, but appropriate “little black dress.”

 She decided on a leopard print and to wear her hair down tonight. She sat at her dressing table and sipped on a Chocolate Martini. She spent about fifteen minutes straightening her locks completely flat. She viewed herself in the mirror and was surprised that she looked like she was in her early 20’s again.  Kristen then worried and thought that maybe she should try a different look in case she ran into any Fiore acquaintances. “What the heck! I only have less than a month left to party.” She assumed Melanie was dressing to kill and she had to outdo her!

 She valeted Anthony’s Black Ferrari and slowly walked into the hotel. She found Melanie sitting at the bar talking with a gentleman from Canada. The bartender also seemed interested in her and was leaning on the bar with his elbows, trying to join in the conversation.

 Kristen sat down next to her. She ordered wine and turned her chair to observe the people. The bar was half-filled and just some of the tables were occupied. Kristen thought that there must be a major party going on somewhere else. The rest of the crowd would probably show up later towards closing.

 Kristen was on her second glass, and Melanie, on her first kiss, when a man with three very young redheads dressed in white walked in. He chose a table only ten feet away and she watched as he ordered a bucket of champagne. He turned his head to look around and his gaze rested immediately on Kristen. He sat up a little taller.

 The man’s hair was perfectly coiffed and he was wearing an expensive dinner jacket. Kristen looked through his blue eyes and saw the blackness in them. It was Karl!

 He smiled at Kristen and his face now came to life. It made him look like a different person and approachable. She nodded nervously as he left his chair and came over to stand next to her. Kristen could smell his spicy cologne and again felt attracted to him. She couldn’t help herself. He was actually excited to see her and shed his former demeanor to give her a kiss on her cheek.

 Kristen was feeling very shy. Karl said warmly “How have you been doing Kristen? It’s been a while.” Instead of Kristen immediately bringing up the subject of how their last meeting in Chicago had ended with him disappearing, she replied politely “I am doing well Karl. What brings you to the Palm Beach?” He answered “I have always had a place here at the end of the island. I am still in New York too.” Kristen thought Karl looked happier now, just like a human.

 She wasn’t used to this Karl. He seemed miles away from his dominant personality. Kristen looked at the girls at his table and wondered if they were submissives. An old feeling came over her. She was jealous! She was surprised at herself. These were not the feelings of an engaged woman. She thought it must be the alcohol, but she knew it wasn’t.

 Karl and Kristen now looked at each other like lost lovers. He acknowledged this saying “Kristen, I have done nothing but think of you since I last saw you.” Kristen turned away. He said “Strange days. Weren’t they?” Kristen mustered up some words “Are you still into that?” He gave her a familiar mischievous look. “It has hardly been that long since I saw you last. Of, course I am into it. It’s not a choice.” He lowered his voice “There happens to be a strong underworld element to this island. But I am sure you have not seen it.”

 She was afraid to speak. The old Karl was coming out and again she feared him. “I am going to a party tonight on an ocean estate and I would like you to come with me.” He pointed over to his table and laughed. I will forgo my foursome with “The Furies” in order to enjoy your company instead.” She looked toward Melanie to avoid Karl’s eyes.

 Kristen had been so wrapped up in seeing Karl that she was not aware that Melanie and her Canuck were now on the other side of the lounge. Kristen shifted in her chair. Karl was becoming impatient and said like he always did, “Kristen, this is not a game.” Kristen replied quickly “I’m not playing games Karl. I am no longer looking for a thrill. It doesn’t interest me. Game over.” She stared straight at him. “Again, that scene is not for me. It just seems boring if you aren’t really into it. And I am not the type who is going to pretend to enjoy it just to get myself a man, including a very rich one.”

 Karl said “You never knew what it was really about. Maybe you don’t want it, but I know you still want me.” Kristen had never heard Karl actually try to talk to her. She was used to him just dismissing her. He now acted like she had some significant impact on him back then.

 “Kristen, pain and humiliation are not the key, it goes deeper.” He continued “It is about control. It is about trust. I saw a quality and a need in you that I wanted to explore further and I regret that I never called you again.” Kristen said “It’s alright. I knew there was nothing going on. I was just curious about things. It wasn’t you.”

 Karl looked at her dead-on. “Don’t delude yourself, or pretend for my sake. You know what it was.” He was surprised at her new ability to put up defenses. He said sadly “I can tell you won’t let yourself feel anymore. Will you?”

 Kristen just looked down at the floor and said “I feel.” Karl preached on “You’re just acting these days. You have chosen what your destiny should be, but you’re not on-board, no one is here for you, no one can be. You are just showing the Kristen they want to see.

 Kristen was very uncomfortable and wanted to change the direction of the conversation. She gave him a perky reply “So, Karl. Where’s the party?” Again, he knew that she was trying to avoid him. He laughed “It’s on the North End. It’s a normal, boring affair. No S&M.” Kristen was dying to tell him that she was engaged and chase him off before she fell for him again. She had deliberately not worn her ring that night and now wished she had.

 Karl started acting like he was truly interested in her. “Come on Kristen, the party doesn’t matter. I want to be with you, just to talk. We can do whatever you would like. I do have feelings for you. We’ll do it your way this time.”

 Kristen was now the strong one and shrugged defiantly “I can’t do that Karl. I am here with my friend and not leaving anytime soon. You can go back to your girlfriends, I won’t mind.” Karl regained his composure and grinned at her “OK, Kristen. I will do that.” He handed her his business card. “Here you go, I hope you will call. I won’t play games anymore either.”

 She took it and held it, rubbing on the edges. She hesitated “Karl, I don’t know if I can call you.” Karl said seriously “We’re both on the same island now. We will run into each other again, I am sure.” He smiled and walked back to his table, doing a few Cha Cha steps for his girls as he came up to them.

 Kristen walked over to join Melanie who had just found out that her male friend was married. She was ready to go somewhere else. Kristen wanted to sit in the Breakers a while longer to see who else would come in. She kept looking towards Karl. She wanted to go with him, but felt a stronger obligation toward Anthony. She knew she loved her fiancé and she didn’t understand why Karl still held a place in her thoughts. She was afraid she was never going to resolve it. Palm Beach was too small to share.

 Karl and his entourage stayed for another half-hour and then they departed. Kristen watched as he put his arms around their shoulders and laughed loudly as they walked to the lobby. She wished Karl could have acted as light and superficial around her when she first met him. There might have been a different ending. Now it was too late.

 She thought “Why does he have to be so deep?” She knew that even if he tried to act normally towards her now, that he would be the one doing all the acting. He would always have his dark side. If this had been another century, she would have sworn he was Satan.

 When Kristen returned home, she was surprised when Anthony called her right after she walked in the front door. She laughed as she picked up the phone. “What are you? A Psychic? I just got home.” He wasn’t as cheerful. It was late for him and his voice sounded tired. “Where were you earlier? I tried to call you.” Kristen said “You should have tried my cell instead; I was out with Melanie.”

 He said “Did you have a good time?” Kristen said “It was OK, but I would have rather been with you.” He chuckled “That’s my good girl, I’ll see you tomorrow. I am flying in at noon.” Kristen said “Great! I’ll see you.” He said sweetly “Good night Kristen, I love you.”

 Then his attitude changed. He firmly said “Stay home! Will you?” Kristen thought it was strange that he said that. He sounded like he really meant it. It was still tough for her getting used to living with someone. It kind of felt like prison. She was too used to being free to do whatever she wanted. Lately, Anthony seemed to be more possessive and she was not comfortable with how he was acting. He also seemed to be critiquing and judging her. It was as if he was setting new standards for her to adhere to. She wondered if she was just imagining this.

 The next day Kristen prepared a lovely lunch for Anthony’s return. She pulled out his best china and even went to a florist to buy an elaborate arrangement.  She sat at the massive dining room table drumming her fingers impatiently. It was already 2:30 PM. He should have been already home from the airport since it was not very far away.

 Another half-hour went by and not even a phone call!  She took his plate of food outside to the garage and shoved it in the garbage can. She returned to the table and stripped it bare so he would never know that at least, she was thoughtful enough to make things so nice for him.

 Anthony had been flying to New York too many times lately and it always bothered her that he refused to say why he was needed so much by his brothers. He said there was a family business, but he never told her exactly what they did. He just didn’t want to talk about it, so she knew not to further ask. Lately, it seemed that he was more concerned with it than he was with his multi-million dollar conglomerate.

 She was bored and mad and decided to go over to the boutiques on Worth Avenue and do some major damage to one of his many credit cards. She took her anger out on her Ferrari and pushed the pedal to top speeds along the ocean stretch before slowing down to 25 M.P.H. when she was back in the residential section.

 And just in time! There was a Palm Beach cop sitting in a driveway hidden behind a large ficus hedge.  He waved at her and smiled. He knew exactly how fast she had been going. The police never interfered with the island’s occupants or they knew they wouldn’t be working there much longer. Kristen had never read about any resident ever getting a DUI or anything. It was always the outsiders that had crossed the bridge from West Palm that made the local paper.

 When she reached the Worth Avenue shops, she gave up her car to one of the valet boys and went inside her favorite shop. She already owned most of the items in there. She considered driving to Bal Harbour, near Miami to have a really good shopping experience, but she knew that Anthony would eventually get home and wouldn’t be happy if he learned she went so far away. He probably had plans for their evening.

 Kristen asked the Manager if there were any new cocktail dresses. Her wish was granted as his assistant went to the backroom and re-emerged with six hangars of really cute outfits in her size. She tried on each dress and decided on a very hot looking black and silver one with shiny adornments on it. It was cut very low and would need to be kept hidden in the back of her closet. It looked like something she would have worn back in her wilder days, a time that she had almost erased from her memory.

 She then walked over to one of the top hair salons on the block. For her, there was never a need for an appointment. She had a relaxing Mani-Pedi and lightened her tresses. While her feet were soaking, she called around to find someone to meet her for dinner. One of her married girlfriends was also mad at her husband and would be the perfect companion to drown their sorrows together. They agreed to meet at Ta-boo’s bar first for drinks.

 Kristen returned home and placed her bags on the foyer table. Anthony was still not there, so she happily dressed in her new risqué outfit and headed out. It made her both excited and a little nervous knowing how she looked. She was asking for trouble, and unless Anthony called, she was going to have a late night! They hadn’t been together long enough for him to start taking her for advantage. He needed to be taught a lesson.

 She was reverting to thinking the way she would have in her past and decided not to leave a note to tell him where she was. She turned off her cell phone too. On the ride over she thought even more about how bored she was being the perfect girlfriend and keeping up her Anthony-imposed Palm Beach Princess facade. It was so contrived and phony!

 When she arrived at Ta-boo her friend had already found them a pair of the most highly coveted bar stools in town. This was a feat during Season since the place was always packed! The crowd was very jovial tonight and Kristen started feeling better as she downed icy Strawberry Margaritas. She just wanted to numb herself.

 She hadn’t been in there very long before Gregory appeared. She had not seen him since Anthony’s Miami nightclub. Tonight, he had slicked back his hair and was looking fantastic as usual. She felt the heat follow him as he walked in the door. She was strongly attracted to him again and she wondered if she would ever be happy with just one man. She forever wanted to taste all the new candy that came her way and she knew Gregory was the most delicious! Of all her past mistakes, this was the one that could generate the worst repercussions for her future plans and happiness if she repeated it. She was so close to everything being perfect.

 Gregory now knew she was engaged to Anthony and this made Fiore’s fiancée even more desirable to him. Kristen was the one girl he could see himself settled down for and seriously married to. He had immediately felt her presence too and looked around to see if Fiore was in sight. Then he quickly slid into the small space next to her. In just that short time since he last saw her he had missed her.

 Like a moth to a flame, Kristen looked into his eyes and couldn’t prevent a blush from sneaking out on her cheeks. Her girlfriend smiled at him and excused herself, gesturing him towards her chair. Gregory sat right down and ordered the girls another drink and one for himself.

 Kristen knew that she was still capable of falling hard for Gregory, but his only problem was that he couldn’t commit to anyone. She still worried about that other woman. Just who was she to him? 

 She felt her nerve endings fire up as his hip pushed into her side. He was deliberately doing it and he looked down for her reaction. She let her body discreetly rest back on him and it almost felt like she was having sex with him again.

  Again, Kristen could not understand why she could not control herself around him. They both knew that the pull between them was too strong and that there had to be some way for them to come together, if not just for one more night. Being this close to him, Kristen was now in very serious doubt that she was marriage material. Again, she had the uncanny feeling that she was not calling the shots.

   Gregory did all the talking because Kristen found it impossible to even speak. She was mush. Gregory reached his hand towards her face to touch it and admired her necklace. “You look absolutely beautiful tonight” he said. Kristen could only smile. Her eyes held the answer for him, they were filled with desire. He slowly stroked the small pendant on the chain with his thumb as he continued. “Where is your betrothed tonight? Why isn’t he with you? I would never leave you alone…”

 “He’s right behind you CREEP!” It was Anthony! Both Gregory and Kristen froze. Anthony grabbed Gregory off his stool by his suit lapels and shoved him against the wall. He kept his voice low so Kristen couldn’t hear him. “I think you know exactly who I am and that you better leave right now!”

 Gregory did know all about Tony. He started whimpering

“I’m sorry Tony. Really sorry!” He knew that he had crossed the line and that he would be very lucky if Tony just let him leave. He knew not to even say he wasn’t doing anything. That could get him killed!

 Tony let him loose “Alright then. Get out of here!” Gregory ran from him and past the tables. The patrons stared in surprise for a brief moment and then returned to their meals unaffected.

 Kristen had turned around and was watching the men. She had never seen Anthony show such aggression before and she was scared. She knew he was going to be very angry with her for her obvious flirtation. Anthony straightened up his suit and walked back to Kristen. He firmly pulled her up saying “This is what you do when I am out of town? You’re out by yourself trolling for losers? Aren’t you happy with me? Don’t you know what that very expensive ring on your finger really means?”

 Kristen calmly replied, “I am not alone. I’m here with my friend. She’s in the restroom. I was just sitting here and he came up to me.” Anthony looked disgusted “I saw you! You very cozy until I walked up. Don’t deny it! Miami, and now this?” Kristen at first looked puzzled and then became defensive “Nothing was happening. How did you know I was even here?”

 He was even angrier at her denial. “I flew in. You weren’t home, so I started calling around until I was told that you were here. You know I have connections. You have nowhere to hide.” Kristen sat back down “Hide? Who the hell are you? Why do you think you can treat me like this? Just who do you think I am?”

 He pulled out his wallet and handed her a credit card. “I know that I am someone who doesn’t want to see you in my bed tonight! Go check yourself in somewhere. I am going back to New York tomorrow morning. You can go back to the house after I am gone. I don’t even want to talk to you now.”

 He walked out, shaking the Manager’s hand as he left. Obviously, he was the one who told him she was there. Kristen waited for her friend to return and told her she had to leave. She didn’t say anything about the scene with Anthony. Her friend was puzzled and lingered behind while Kristen took off to stay at The Colony which was only a few blocks away.

Kristen knew she was still having a rough time realizing a good relationship when she had one. She wondered why it scared her so much when it came to “happily ever after”.  She knew she was afraid to give up her heart and set herself up to get hurt. But just this once, couldn’t she trust that Anthony was that someone that would be there for her. She needed to stop her instability. She needed to get married or she was going to live a lonely life. She hoped she didn’t blow it with him.

 As she walked into the hotel, Kristen thought more about what Karl had said to her at The Breakers. Maybe he was right, that she was just pretending that her life was going smoothly. Maybe if she truly loved Anthony there would be no room left in her heart for anyone else. Kristen always believed that she would only get married if she was totally in love and she thought Anthony was the one. Now she wasn’t sure. She planned to talk to him when he returned about postponing the marriage.

 The next day Tony sent one of his “buddies” to talk to Gregory. They knew just where to find him. He was informed that Tony had no intention of leaving the island, so the choice was obvious. Gregory hurriedly packed only one suitcase and promptly left Palm Beach that afternoon.

 As soon as Tony returned to New York, he set up a meeting with his cousins, who were his top crew members, and his two brothers. His bad mood from catching Kristen flirting stayed with him. Her betrayal consumed him! She was engaged to him and shouldn’t be acting like this! As he drove, he became even more enraged and began making rash decisions about his future.

 By the time Tony arrived at their family’s social club, he was much calmer and had made a decision. He took Marco to the side before joining the others. Marco pulled out a cigarette and said “What’s up Tony?” Tony answered “Marco, I’ll be brief. I am going to do something I should have done when our father died.” His brother looked puzzled. Tony looked hard at him. “I’ll just say it. I don’t want to be involved with the family business anymore and I know you want to be the boss, so here is your chance.”

 Marco looked at him in complete surprise “Are you kidding?” Anthony said “I am completely serious, I don’t know the exact protocol, and it is probably not even possible if we are doing it the old Sicilian way, but I am through. I know that you and Vincente feel very strong about restoring the Fiores, so I no longer want to stand in your way.

 Marco lifted his shoulders and proudly said “Well, then I am more than happy to take over. It has been long overdue and I think Dad would have approved this.” Anthony smiled like he knew that would be his reaction. “Alright then, let’s go tell them.” He put his hand on Marco’s shoulder as they walked into the room.

 Everyone was sitting at the table with plenty of drinks on-hand and laughing. Anthony started the meeting “I have something to say and I am only telling you this because we are all related. Please don’t let it go outside of this room.” 

 The men became more attentive and listened. “As you know, I have never been interested in acting as the head of this family. I am aware that as the first-born I am supposed to be handling everything, but lately I have been pretty much just calling it in because my heart is not into it.” He paused “That is why it is now very easy for me to tell all of you that I am passing the torch on to Marco.”

 His cousins put down their glasses and seemed stunned. “So, that is it! That is all I have to say. I am sorry.” Anthony looked around the room and saw that no one objected, so he sat down.

 Marco swaggered over to the end of the table, drunk with his new power, and stood in back of his older brother’s chair. He brashly began speaking as if Tony was not even sitting in the room. He began “We all know that Tony doesn’t have any balls and he has never done us any favors by keeping things so sophisticated. He wasn’t showing any honor trying to run our part of town like his fancy chemical company.” Marco then looked toward Vincente. “In light of our current situation, I am now going to resort to the way my father handled the business.” He pounded his fist and began yelling “I am tired of negotiating with those guys and I am ordering hits on…”

 Tony stood up and motioned for his brother to sit down in his head chair. He said quickly “I don’t want to hear any of these kind of details. I’ll return to New York off and on to take care of some of the paperwork, but that’s it. You are on your own.” Without another word, he then shook everyone’s hand and left.

 Vincente followed him out. “Seriously Tony, don’t get too comfortable in paradise. I don’t think they are going to let you go. You know this isn’t how it is done.” Tony answered quietly “Well, I can only try.” He then walked to his car.

As soon as he was gone, Vincente went back into the room and moved over to the seat next to Marco. They winked at each other and smiled broadly as they lit up cigars.

 All Anthony wanted now was to return to Palm Beach, marry Kristen, and share a peaceful life with her. He was through with the centuries of Fiore traditions! His brothers could carry on as they chose. He no longer cared.

 As Kristen awoke that morning she could feel the weather was getting muggy again, just the way she liked it! She was badly hurting from the previous night’s banishment to The Colony. She skipped breakfast and knew she was too depressed to return to the house. She was unsure of how things stood now with Anthony, so she left her car at the hotel and took a long walk over the bridge to the West Palm Beach side. She planned to eventually end up at the Yacht Club on Flagler Avenue to get some lunch. She needed to do a lot of thinking about Anthony.

 As she walked by the docks she saw a dark-haired man sitting on the back ledge of one of the larger yachts. He had a captain’s hat on and a champagne glass in his hand.

 She heard a familiar English voice call to her. “Kristen! Come up here and see me.” It was Karl! Kristen shuddered slightly and was unsure of what to do.  He said loudly “I told you Palm Beach was a small place. Come on now. Don’t be afraid.”

 As she slowly approached, he laughingly reached over the side to take her hand. She went onto the vessel and he guided her over to a small white leather bench. She sat down and he stood in front of her. Gazing up at him, she blushed in shyness. “So, you have really embraced the life here Karl. Is this your boat?” He answered proudly “Yes, it is. I just had it custom built for me. I have been waiting for a year!” Kristen said “It is very nice.”

 Karl said “I plan to keep it over at the docks on the island by the Whitestone. I would like to take you out to sea sometime for a few days. Would you like that?” Kristen became nervous and stated “I am sorry Karl; I can’t do that. I failed to mention to you the other night that I am getting married soon.” Karl briefly glanced at the ring on her finger. He did not even ask who her fiancé was and he did not seem surprised.

 “That is unfortunate Kristen. You have never allowed me the chance to show you how my feelings are towards you.” Kristen boldly said “Well, that’s something you were quite capable of long ago. Why now? What’s so different?”

 As he sat next to her, she trembled and felt helplessly drawn back into his web again. She thought “Didn’t she learn her lesson yet?” Karl silently watched her. Then he strongly pulled her to him and kissed her. Kristen weakly sunk back against the boat as his power overwhelmed her. They kissed for a long time and she could feel the old Karl no longer existed. Neither did her fiancé. Anthony was probably through with her anyway. What did it matter? She was free to roam!

 Karl spoke first. “I told you Kristen, I am ready to be with you now. In no way, would I ever treat you as disrespectfully as I did when I first met you. Obviously, you are not that immature brat anymore.” Kristen was feeling such desire and still could not speak.

 Karl could feel the pillar of strength that had shielded him for so long begin to dissolve. A small tear came to his eye as he pleaded with her. “Kristen, I need you to give me a chance. Please don’t get married until you see how wonderful we could be with each other.” With that, Kristen started feeling like herself again. She wasn’t sure she was attracted to this mushy version of Karl. She liked him better when he was a challenge. Kristen felt uneasy and tried to come to her senses again. “Karl, I really love my fiancé. He has been everything that I have always wanted…” It all sounded so false to her now and it was a useless attempt. Karl stopped her from continuing as he kissed her again. This time he eased her down until she was lying flat on the cushion. He raised himself up and looked around at the people walking near-by the boat. “We need to go below deck.”

 He put his arm firmly around her waist and led her down the stairs to the cabin. Kristen could not let go of him. They walked together through the narrow opening to his bedroom.

 Karl’s personality immediately changed. He tossed Kristen onto the hard mattress and put her hands together above her head. She worriedly looked behind her and noticed there were small shackles attached to his wooden bed posts. 

 His face reddened and he was ready to take her, until he noticed the scared expression on her face. He then softened and slowly brought her arms back down and around his back. Kissing her gently, he lowered himself onto her and slowly began removing her clothes. Kristen pushed up at him to stop. “Karl, I can’t do this.”

 He rolled off and lay next to her, propped up on his elbow. As he looking lovingly down at her, he brushed her hair to the side of her face. “Kristen, I am sorry I just acted like that. I want you to know that being with you means everything to me. I am not just here for a fling; I need you in my life. I will do whatever it takes to have you. Just let me know what you want because I can give you everything. The world will be at our feet. Seriously, I can do that for you. You need to know that it’s true.”

 She smiled and said softly “Karl, I feel very close to you right now and I am glad that I am here. I am pretty sure it is over with my engagement, but, I am just not ready.” As Kristen said these words, she again knew she did not mean them. Karl had something over her and she desperately wanted to be his. They innocently wrapped themselves in each other for hours as they listened to the waves lightly rocking the boat.

 When the night arrived, Karl had dinner delivered to them. Kristen was not hungry and now had a change of heart. “Karl, I can’t stay here, I need to go home. My fiancé might be coming back tonight. He gets very jealous.” Karl looked angry “Yes, I know all about your boyfriend and his temper. You sure you want to put up with someone like that? He is all wrong for you, and you are too naïve to realize that. I don’t need you to measure him up against me. The fact you are here with me now speaks volumes. Why do you think you are willing to cheat on him so easily?”

 Kristen did not like that he was belittling her and groaned “Oh, please. We didn’t do anything! Again, stop with your Karl lectures and start speaking to me like an adult. My feelings for you have always been based on curiosity. Now the mystery is solved. You are human. Now I can go on with my life.”

 Karl began to look angry and Kristen knew she was pushing it too far. He arrogantly replied “You don’t even have a clue about me. There is so much more you can learn; you haven’t even scratched the surface. Then he lightened up again, “Kristen, I need to return tomorrow evening to the UK for a while and I want you to accompany me.” He reached for her again and kissed her.

 Kristen knew that he still hoped to make love, and in a sense, she strongly wanted it, but also knew that she had to leave. She was afraid to pursue it with Karl; she could never be confident around him. She never knew how he would react; he was so complex. There was something unsettling about him and she still felt slightly afraid.

 Kristen sadly said “I can’t go with you; I have my life here. I am sorry.’’ She walked around the cabin and gathered her things. She stood at the door “I am going to walk. I’ll see you later Karl.” He sat on the bed and watched as she ascended the stairs. He did not follow her.

 The night air was still very humid and Kristen enjoyed her stroll back to The Colony to retrieve her car. The sky was filling up with stars and the palm trees made rustling noises as the wind passed through their leaves.

 When Kristen arrived home, she looked up towards Anthony’s house and saw it was dark. He was not there to greet her or to question her.  She had left her cell in the car when she went by the marina and now looked down at it. Anthony still hadn’t called her. Not even a text!

 She considered phoning him, but she was also thinking about her time with Karl. She was still longing for him to touch her again. She thought about England and wished that Karl had been there for her earlier. Things would have been different. But it just wasn’t the same with him. She had no idea where she stood in his life and definitely did not know how he figured into hers. The afternoon had been special and innocent, but she felt guilty and couldn’t continue to enjoy thinking back on it, so she went to bed.

 The next morning, Anthony resurfaced from his trip. Kristen was still sleeping when he came up the stairs. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her awake. “Where did you go yesterday? What do you think you are doing?” Kristen was trying hard to come out of her slumber to answer him. She said tiredly “What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything. I just hung around here and then walked around.” She sat up on the bed and looked at him through her long messy hair that was hanging in her eyes.

 Anthony picked her off the bed and stood her straight. “Don’t lie to me! Where were you?” Kristen just looked puzzled. How could he know anything? She said “What is your problem? You never called me yesterday. How would you even know if I was home or not?”

 Anthony just looked exasperated. Kristen ran off to the bathroom and locked the door. “Get back out here” Anthony yelled. “I am not finished with you yet!”

 Kristen sat on the edge of the bathtub and would not answer him. Anthony pounded on the door and began swearing at her in Sicilian. She waited it out until she heard him go downstairs.

 Ten minutes later, she heard his car engine start up and he tore off. She slowly dressed and went down to the kitchen. She saw that Anthony had brought her flowers and then, obviously had second thoughts, because he had pulled them out from their vase and threw them on the floor before he left. He was so angry at her. She didn’t know what she should do. She couldn’t understand how he found out about Karl!

 She looked at the settings on her phone and wondered if he had a GPS tracker on it. But that wouldn’t make sense, because she didn’t take it with her yesterday. Maybe he didn’t know about her afternoon. Maybe, he just thought she did something wrong. She certainly did not want to ask him and even more, she did not like being treated like she was his incorrigible teen-age daughter.

 As Kristen sat at the table she noticed a black sedan pull up with three men in it. They sat in the driveway with the engine running. She could see them watching her through the window. She quickly stood and went to turn the house security system on. One of the men opened the back door of the car and walked up to the side of the house. He knocked on the window “Where is Anthony?” Kristen held up her hands and mouthed “I don’t know.” She then yelled loud enough for him to hear her, “Who are you? What do you want?” The man said nothing and returned to the car.

 They sat for about half-hour when Anthony came roaring up in his car with another car following behind that contained two large men. They blocked the other car and Anthony quickly walked up the driveway. The first car rolled down the front window and Kristen watched as Anthony leaned in and angrily talked to the driver. The two men in the other car came up to join him and protectively surrounded him. Kristen looked closer, they all had guns! She wondered if they were the security for his chemical company.

 Kristen reached for her phone and thought she should call the police. This just didn’t look good. She held it as she continued to watch and considered running upstairs and hiding. There was nowhere else to go.

 Anthony walked away from the car and up to the front door. He turned around and began yelling in Sicilian. His men returned to the car and both vehicles left and headed back towards town.

 Anthony walked in the door and Kristen stood there nervously. He did not say a word and went upstairs. She could hear him rummaging through the hall closet. When he came back down he had changed out of his suit and was now wearing black jeans and a dark t-shirt. In his hand was a large gun.

 Kristen asked “Anthony. What is going on?” He growled at her “Don’t worry about it. It’s nothing!” She was mad now and scared. She yelled “YOU NEED TO TELL ME! WHO ARE THEY?” Anthony put the gun in his waistband and then grabbed her, pushing her firmly onto the living room couch. “STAY OUT OF MY BUSINESS. YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW ANYTHING!”

 Then he calmed down slightly “I am going back to New York until tomorrow. Do not leave this house until I call you.” He started texting on his cell and ran out the door. The car with his two men had returned. Anthony grabbed some things from his own car and then left with them.

 On the drive to the airport, Anthony angrily called his brother in New York. “Marco, what the hell did you and Vincente do with that car dealer? What are those lugs after me for? What are you two trying to do? Get me killed? You know that I am out of this! Can’t we make this work? I am on my way back to NYC right now. You and Vincente better be waiting for me at the hangar.”

 Back at the house, Kristen started to cry. Anthony was being so awful to her. She was afraid it was only going to get worse. She thought about Karl’s proposition. It wouldn’t hurt to get away for a little while. It would be a vacation. She needed to think. She called his phone and left him a message.

 She went upstairs to pack her suitcases. As she hurriedly piled the clothes in, she thought more about how Anthony was treating her. She needed to make a major gesture, so she took off her engagement ring and left it on the bed table.

 An hour later, she heard a car pull up in the driveway. Karl had sent a white limousine for her. She was surprised this was happening so quickly. It was too easy. She knew he would take care of her. She hurriedly packed another suitcase for all of her shoes.

 The driver came to the door and she had him fetch her luggage. She sat in the back of the limo feeling very proud of herself and very independent. She said to herself “There Anthony. That will teach you!”

 The limo delivered her to the airport. Karl was standing next to a private jet. He immediately noticed she was not wearing her ring. He rubbed her finger and took her hand. He was sure now Kristen finally belonged to him!

 

18 BLACK SUN

 

 When Karl and Kristen landed, the mist cast a pall of gray over the morning. Kristen was happy to be with Karl and the weather did not bother her. It suited England very well.  She loved it there and its side of the ocean too!

 Karl’s driver picked them up at the airport and they embarked on a long and scenic drive to his estate which was located in the suburbs outside of London. Kristen was in awe as they entered his neighborhood and proceeded down a dense tree-lined street to his outer gate. As they went up the driveway, Kristen stared ahead at Karl’s mansion. It was gothic and oppressive with beastly gargoyles lined up along the stone roof’s edge.

 Karl followed her gaze and laughed. “Ahh, my sweet home! How grand to be back!” They continued up to the stately front door. It was very fitting for Karl. It looked just like Dracula’s castle. Kristen looked up the grand staircase as they entered and at all the artwork and antique oil paintings. “Wow, you live in a museum!” She then laughed when she saw a large bronze statue of Aleister Crowley wearing Mickey Mouse ears in his foyer. She nervously looked at it and said “You’re not into the occult, are you?” Karl pretended not to hear and led her on a short tour, and then into his more modern kitchen. He went to the refrigerator and handed her a small glass of orange juice. She thanked him and drank it down.

 Everything seemed cheerful in this part of the house, except for a large rusty iron door at the end of it. It had an old-fashioned keyhole and no doorknob. Kristen curiously asked “Where does that lead to?” He looked quite serious now. “It goes to the basement. You might call it my playroom.” Kristen remembered Chicago and said “Another one of those? I don’t think I want to see that.” Karl said curtly “You’re not invited.” She seemed surprised at his abrupt answer and was no longer feeling comfortable being alone with him. Karl reached for her hand and said “Let’s go upstairs and I will show you your quarters.” They went up the creaky back steps to the next level and walked down the long hallway passing several rooms. Many of them had large padlocks on them. Then Karl stopped and pointed. “This is your suite Kristen; I hope it is to your taste.”

 She questioned “Aren’t I staying with you?” Karl said “I feel you would be better off in here. When I desire you in my bed, I will summon you.” Kristen felt like this was getting real creepy. “Karl, I have decided that I am just going to stay here for a few days.” Unaffected, he answered “That is fine Miss Stratford, as you wish. Just say the word and I will charter you a jet back.”

 Then he slowly put his arms around her waist. “Now, you don’t really want that? Do you Kristi?” He gave her a hard kiss. His eyes controlled her as they blackened. It was like he was two people. Again, that feeling came over her and fear now filled her with desire. She strongly felt the need to make love with him. She was powerless to resist.

 Karl then stood back. “Kristen, I will leave you now so that you may bathe and get unpacked. You need to catch up with this time zone or you may become ill.” He walked downstairs.

 Kristen took a long shower. As she was drying her hair with a small towel, she sat down on the bed and started thinking about Anthony. She felt strange being in another country and wondered how he had reacted when he found out that she had left him. He had not even bothered calling her yet. She reached for her cell phone and held it up to dial. It would not go through. She said “Strange, why can’t I get a signal?” She tried it again.  She called out “Karl, why won’t my phone work?” There was no answer.

 She walked downstairs and did not see him anywhere. She walked outside and observed that all of his cars were still there. She still could not get any reception so she walked to the front gate. Down the street, she noticed a woman trimming her bushes. Kristen walked up behind her. Startled, the woman turned around and held her trimmer like a weapon. She then saw it was only Kristen and placed it on the ground. “My dear, are you alright? Do you need help?” She looked suspiciously towards Karl’s manor.

 “I am fine. Do you know if there are telephone signals out here?” The woman looked at her phone and said “I am sorry. I don’t own one of those gadgets. My phone in the house works. Do you need to use it? Are you in trouble?”

 Kristen wondered why she kept asking that. The woman then said “Why are you here? Don’t you know you are in danger?” Kristen looked alarmed “What do you mean?” The neighbor became very nervous and said “I have seen a few women go into that house, but I never see them leave. He throws those parties all the time for his men friends…” The women’s eyes widened and she stopped speaking. Kristen turned around and saw that Karl had walked up.

 “Good afternoon Millicent. How have you been doing?” She just ignored him, picked up her trimmer, and went back to her bushes. Karl took Kristen’s arm and began walking her back to the house.

 “I thought we would take a drive back into London for a nice dinner. Would you like that?” Kristen looked towards Millicent and then back at Karl. “Yes, I would enjoy that. Do you know why my cell won’t work here?” Karl said “I don’t know Kristen. Mine works just fine out here. Maybe you need a British carrier.” Kristen shook her head “This phone has worked on all my trips all over the world. It doesn’t make sense.” Karl gave her a stern look. “Who are you trying to reach that is so important?” Kristen would not answer him.

 They walked back into his living room and each sat in a velvet throne chair.  Karl started the conversation. “So, did you have a nice chat with Millicent?” Kristen said “I didn’t have much of a chance. You showed up. Is she afraid of you?”  Karl chuckled “She is afraid of most humans; she doesn’t get out much. Just holes herself up with a bunch of cats.” Kristen laughed “Well, I don’t think she cares too much for you. She told me that girls disappear whenever they come over here. I am curious. Where do they go?”

 Karl lowered his eyes and said point blank “Why, into the sea, of course.” Kristen looked hard at him.  Then she laughed “Oh, come on Karl, quit being so silly.” She now knew she had been worried for no reason. “So, where are we going to eat?” Karl seemed to be absorbed in thought and answered “Let’s just start driving and then I will pick one, I usually don’t need reservations. You will need to dress up. Let me know when you are ready and I will bring the car around. I gave both my driver and the butler time off for the rest of the week; I want to be alone with you.”

 Kristen stood up from the chair and Karl walked to her. He held her in his arms and said “Always trust me Kristen. I only have the best of intentions.”  

 As Kristen dressed, she heard Karl honk the horn. She tried her cell phone again. This time she just wanted to call Ashley in Chicago. It started ringing and then went to her voicemail. Kristen was surprised it was working and pushed the number again for Anthony. It was just dead air. She said “What is going on here?” She tapped the phone on the dresser and dialed. It still remained silent.” She sighed, put it into her purse and went to join Karl.

 They had a lovely meal near Trafalgar Square and Karl took her on a long walk afterwards to see London’s lights. As they walked over the Westminster Bridge, Karl lovingly sat her up on the railing and began kissing her. “Kristen, I desire you in my bed tonight. I need you to know that you are my “Intended”. I need to take possession.” Possession? Those words bothered her. She was afraid to show him any negative reaction and thought even more about contacting Anthony. She just managed a small smile back at him and did not reply.

 As they drove back to his estate, Karl kept watching his side mirror. Kristen saw this and glanced at hers. She noticed that a car appeared to be following them. Karl put on his brakes and pulled his car to the side. The other car slowed to a stop as if it were hesitating, and then eventually started forward again and passed them up. The windows were tinted and they could not see the driver.

 When they arrived at his mansion, Karl went into his den and locked the door. He stayed in there until late and there was no attempt to take any “possession” of Kristen. She was relieved and wondered what had changed his plans. She stayed up most of the night thinking how horribly everything was going. She realized it was a big mistake to leave Anthony and she hoped he could forgive her. It was maddening she had no contact with him. It was pretty obvious that Karl did something to her phone so she could not call him. Something was very wrong with all of this!

 The next morning Kristen announced “Karl, I want to visit with some old friends of mine in London. I am not sure, but I might even stay overnight.” Karl answered “That would be nice for you. You should go. I have my own plans in the city this evening too.” He held out his car keys and walked off. Kristen was caught off-guard by this and wondered what was up with him. She was very puzzled that he made no attempt to offer to go with her.

 

  It was after midnight and the rain-soaked cement resonated as two stiletto heels traveled alone down the dead-end street in West Soho. They came to a pause at the curb as a black high-end sedan pulled up under the dim streetlight.

  A weathered female face leaned into the car window as it opened halfway. “So, love, you want me to take care of you?” A male voice replied “Get in.” She gave the driver a hard look, but his face was in the shadows. She inquired “Don’t you want to know how much?” He gave an impatient reply. “It doesn’t matter. Are you the only one here?” She laughed “No other girls would come out on a night like this. I’ve got the street to myself.”  He said quietly “Then let’s have a go at it.”

  He reached over to push the door open and the woman climbed in. She slid over the seat to get close to him. “Not here!” he snapped and the car drove off.

 

  Kristen enjoyed the time with her friends and she was happy to get on one of their phones and was finally able to leave Anthony a message. In fact, she left several of them throughout the day. She was surprised that he did not return her calls. Maybe he needed time to forgive her.

 Kristen returned late that evening to Karl’s instead of staying with her companions as planned. The house lights were not on and he probably had already retired to bed. She went through the front hall and into the kitchen to fix herself a small snack. She ate it standing up, thumbed through a newspaper for a while, and then put her dishes in the sink.

 As she walked out she couldn’t help noticing the strong aroma of cheap perfume. She turned and looked at the basement door and was surprised to see a large key in the lock.

 She heard rapid footsteps coming from outside in the yard.  The back door flew open and Karl rushed into the kitchen apparently out of breath. His clothes and hair were disheveled. Kristen exclaimed “Well, what’s up with you? You look like a mess?” Karl explained “I heard some animals on the roof earlier and I was just in the shed looking for something to throw at them.” Kristen laughed “Did you succeed?” Karl half-smiled “Yes, they were a bit unruly at first, but I took care of them. They are gone for now. Guess I’ll call an exterminator in the morning.”

 He walked up closer to Kristen. He smelled like sweat and his face had scratches on it. She stood back “You stink Karl! You need a bath. I am going to bed.” Karl looked at her and said “Did you have a nice time with your friends?” Kristen said “Yes, it has been such a long time and we had a lot of catching up to do. If you don’t mind, I was considering staying with them for the rest of my time here. We were thinking of taking a side trip to Ireland. I have not been there since I was a child.”

 Karl looked hurt. “I don’t see why you want to do that. Aren’t you enjoying the estate?” Kristen did not want to upset him. “Karl, I thought things would be going differently by now. You really don’t seem to have much interest in me and it’s only my second day here, but I am already getting homesick for the beach and the sun. You understand? Don’t you?”

 He said “I know I have been sending you mixed messages, but Kristen, I didn’t want to rush you. After all, you were just engaged. I am very attracted to you and I enjoy kissing you, but it just wouldn’t be proper to start up relations with you now.” Then he moved closer to her. “But I am more than willing to go forward with this if you give me a second chance and start showing some actual affection towards me again.”  

 She hesitated, “I don’t know Karl. I have a problem with liking people once they show no interest in me, even if it was just for a moment. It is a real buzz kill. I am very confused about my feelings about you, and especially regarding the ones I still have for Anthony.” Karl seemed upset “I told you not to mention his name around me. He is not for you. You don’t seem to realize that. I know that if we have a nice day tomorrow that I can change your mind. I know a beautiful spa in Switzerland we can fly to for a few days.”

 Kristen acted like she was considering it. But in fact, she didn’t know why, but she had a panicky feeling that Karl was not going to willingly let her go home. She was now thinking that she might even have to escape him, and this would be the perfect opportunity. She looked at him, and with a planted smile still on her face, she started planning her exit. She figured she could ditch him once they arrived at the airport.

 Karl’s voice brought her back from her thoughts. “Well, Kristen, are you going to answer me? Don’t you think a trip to the Alps would be nice?” She knew she needed more time and now quickly replied “Well, that might be nice. But I don’t want to go this soon. Can we wait a day?”

 To change the subject, Kristen sniffed at the air. “Seriously Karl, what kind of cologne were you wearing earlier? It really smells in here.” Karl suspiciously looked towards the iron door and then back at her. “I guess we can postpone our foray, but if you are going to insult me Kristen I am going to bed. Good night.” He went to the sink to wash off his hands and left to go upstairs.

 Kristen waited until she heard his bedroom door close. She looked towards the iron door and put her hand on the key. It was hard to turn and when it clicked she had to pry the heavy door open with her fingers. There was a light switch on the wall. She turned it on and looked down the long staircase. The flowery scent was even stronger now.

 She took an uneasy step down and felt very scared. Then she heard Karl from above. “Kristen, are you coming up yet? Do you need something?” Kristen meekly let out “I’ll be there in a second Karl. Thanks. I don’t need anything.” She stepped back up and leaned on the door to quietly close it. It was even more difficult to turn the key back to its position.

 She hurried up the staircase and scuttled into her room. Once she closed the door she breathed a sigh of relief and locked it. She began to put her final plans in place. She picked up her phone and was able to text a friend in Palm Beach. She told her that she might need her help by coming to the airport to pick her up.

 The next morning Kristen found it very hard to get herself out of bed. She felt very faint, like energy was being drawn from her. She weakly called for Karl. He did not answer.

 Kristen went back to sleep for several hours. She had horrifying nightmares where she was continuously being chased by men in dark robes. She tried hard to get away and could not awake to escape them. It was late afternoon by the time she was able to get up again.

 She slowly walked downstairs. Karl was still absent. She made a large pot of strong coffee and carried it carefully as she sat down at the television. She flipped the channels back and forth between talk shows and then turned it off to get dressed.

 As the screen faded to black, Kristen was startled when she saw a dark silhouette showing a large man from his shoulders up. She clicked on the remote again, but it stayed displayed on the screen. She started to get scared and rushed over to the wall and pulled out the cord. She cried “This place is getting too spooky for me. I have got to get out of here!”

 She decided she was definitely going to ditch Karl tomorrow while they were at the airport. She ran upstairs to her closet and noticed her suitcases were no longer there. Karl must have moved them somewhere. It was obvious to her that she was only going to be able to pack a few things for the Switzerland trip or he would know she was planning on leaving him. She didn’t want to call him to ask where her luggage was in case he should he try to ask her any questions. She just wanted to keep her distance from him as much as she could or she was afraid he would catch on. He had an eerie way of knowing most everything that was going on in her mind.

 She walked down the hallway. There were so many rooms to choose from. She hoped that her luggage was not being kept in the ones that were locked. She was now feeling gutsy and much more alert as she walked into Karl’s room. She was pretty sure they were not in there, but was curious, nonetheless. He had an area adjoining the bedroom that contained his closets.

 Kristen opened the first door. It was filled with all his dark imported suits. “Boy, he has as many outfits as I do! What a Fashion Ho!” She then looked over to a line of cabinets that were much larger and probably used for storage.

 She slowly opened one of them. The door stuck a little bit, but she pushed it with her foot. She saw a set of boxes. At the end of the closet a sole black veil was draped on a hangar. Kristen’s heart took a leap! It was just like the veils she saw on those people hanging on the metal crosses at the party back in Chicago. She also thought about the three men who had watched her that day. She wondered if they were British and were Karl’s friends from here. Maybe they went to the parties that Millicent was talking about.

 All she knew was that she had very ominous feelings about remaining even a minute more in this house. She quickly closed the closet and rushed back to her room. She didn’t know what to think. She scribbled Karl a note and explained she went back to London to shop with her friends and that she would return tomorrow in time for their trip. She looked for the keys to his Mercedes and then went out to the car and started it up. As she backed down the driveway she saw a car pull in. Her heart skipped a beat. Then it backed out and went the other direction.

 An hour later when Karl returned, he read her note and was surprised that she had gone back to London. He suspiciously walked throughout the house to get a clue of why she might have left. Nothing seemed out of place or unusual. He looked over towards the neighbor’s dwelling, Millicent was nowhere to be seen either.

 With Kristen out of the house, Karl settled down in his den and looked over contracts that his secretary had a messenger deliver to him. He was about to finish signing them when there was a knock at the door. He placed his pen on the desk and looked out the window. He could see the front grill of a limousine.

 As he opened the door Anthony Fiore stood before him. His driver was leaning on the car keeping a careful watch over him. Karl looked amused. “Mr. Fiore, what brings you to jolly Old England? How nice of you to visit me.” Anthony did not smile back at him. “Where is Kristen? She left me several messages. I want to know what you have done with her!” Karl stepped back and said “Excuse me for just one minute Mr. Fiore.”

 Karl closed the door halfway and walked back into his den. He opened the desk drawer and fished around for his gun. Anthony pushed the door open and went in the house. Karl was just turning back from the desk when Anthony pinned him up against it. He swiftly took the gun out of Karl’s hand and put it on a table. Anthony pulled Karl close to his face “Who do you think you are dealing with? Where is Kristen?” Anthony started calling loudly “Kristen! Kristen!”

 Anthony pushed Karl down into his swivel chair and said “You are such a loser! Just another Marquis de Sade wannabee.” Karl snickered “Well, then you know that Kristen has been my favorite pet for quite some time.” He began to straighten his tie and remained very calm. “Miss Stratford is not here. She is in London with her friends. I have no reason to tell you anything different. She has indicated to me that she has no desire to ever see you again. She will be taking up permanent residence here. In fact, I am planning to ask her to marry me.”

 Anthony pulled him out of his chair. “Kristen loves me! And until she tells me in person that she doesn’t, I am going to look for her. If you have touched one hair on her for any reason, I will kill you!”

 Karl clucked “Oh, such harsh words coming from such a big man. You know that I do not fear you. In fact, I am going to call the police on you right now.” He reached over for his desk phone. Anthony took his fist and smashed it. He then held Karl up as his driver punched him in the stomach a few times.  Tony was back, and perhaps, he never left. Anthony gestured to his aide to stop “Alright, that’s enough. It looks like this freak is starting to enjoy it too much.”

 Karl held his stomach as he spoke again. “Mr. Fiore there is no need for this violence. You need to know that I am growing tired of Kristen and I am thinking that I just might let you have her. I have not made up my mind yet.”

 Anthony angrily said “I am not going to listen to your crazy bullshit. I am leaving now. Tell Kristen I am looking for her and you had better see to it that she does call me today.” The two men walked out.

 Karl put the gun back in his desk and pulled out his cell phone and dialed three digits. A man answered. Karl said only two words “It’s time”.

 After spending the day in London, Kristen decided that it was completely the wrong way to leave Karl as she did. It would be better for her to come back and then leave him at the airport as she had planned. She didn’t want him calling the police to say she stole his expensive car.

 When she returned late that night, she was surprised to see three cars lined up outside of the gate, obscured by the tall hedges. She left her shopping bags in the car and walked around to the back in order to avoid seeing Karl and any guests that may be present in the living room.

 She pushed the door open and walked into the kitchen. She immediately noticed that the door to the basement was wide open and the stairway light was on. Then something caught her eye on the kitchen counter. She saw it was a black paper square! Kristen looked in disbelief at it. She stared in the direction of the cellar and thought she heard someone coming up the stairs. She grabbed a large knife from a drawer and held it tight as she ran out the front door. Without a thought, she took Karl’s car again and drove away as fast as she could towards London and the airport.

 When she was safely inside the airline terminal she looked for a pay phone. She was still scared and the weapon was inside her purse. She was afraid that Karl would follow after her and she was not afraid to use it. She just had to find Anthony. She needed his help!

 She placed a call to his house but no one answered. Then she had the operator try his cell phone. It began ringing. Kristen pleaded “Don’t go to voicemail. Oh, God Anthony please pick it up!”

 A man’s voice answered “Hello?” Kristen’s words rushed out. “Anthony! Please save me! He’s going to kill me!” Anthony was overjoyed to hear her and quickly asked her “Where are you? Kristen cried “I am at Heathrow. Please help me!”  

 Anthony was relieved she had left Karl’s house. “Were you going to fly home to me baby?” Kristen started sobbing “Yes, Anthony I love you. I need you!” Anthony said “Don’t worry, that jerk is not going to kill you” and gave her instructions on what to do. “Go over to the private jet area. I will meet you in there.” Kristen cried out “You’re here in London? You are at the airport?” Anthony replied “Almost, my jet is there and I will arrive shortly. Go meet me over there. I am on the road right now to London. I have been looking for you. Kristen, I am so glad that you are alright!”

 Kristen said “Anthony, I am so sorry I ever left Palm Beach. Can you forgive me?” Anthony said softly “I am the one that chased you away. I am the one who should be saying that they’re sorry. Just hang tight honey, I will be there soon.”

 Kristen was afraid to leave the booth. She just wanted to keep holding onto the phone. It was a lifeline.

 When Anthony arrived at his jet, there was no Kristen in sight. He walked frantically throughout the airport until he finally found her crying and sitting by the same phone. He reached down and picked her off her chair kissing her. “Kristen, I thought I lost you!  He then became serious and he looked her over. “Did that psycho touch you?” He swallowed and said sternly “Have you ever slept with him? If you did, we are over.”

 Sadly, the moment was ruined because the old jealous Anthony had returned. Kristen was a bit upset and said “I have never had sex with Karl. I don’t think he is capable of a normal relationship. Honest Anthony, you can believe me.”

 Anthony looked in her eyes and kissed her again. Kristen looked down at her purse. “Anthony, I have a knife in here. I don’t know what to do with it.” Anthony’s eyes grew wide. “Are you kidding me? What did that monster do to you?”

 Kristen said nothing. Anthony took her purse. “I am going to throw it out in the Men’s Room. You can’t have this inside an airport. Just wait for me here.” Kristen reached into the purse to take out her cell phone.

 As soon as he walked off, Kristen’s cell began ringing. She saw that it was Karl and would not answer it. When Anthony returned, it rang again. Kristen gave him a helpless look and he knew just who it was. Anthony grabbed it from her and yelled into the phone. “I am here with my fiancée. Why are you calling her? She is terrified and thinks you want to kill her. I am coming back over there and take care of you once and for all!”

 He almost hung up when Kristen grabbed his arm and said “Tell him his car is at the airport.” Anthony yelled back in the phone again. “Your car is at Heathrow. Do not come for it until tomorrow. Understand?” Karl coldly replied “Please inform Miss Stratford that I have relinquished her.

 Anthony hung up on him and put Kristen’s phone in his pocket. “We are going to get you another phone. He won’t be bothering you again.” Anthony reached into his coat and pulled out her engagement ring. He gently lifted her hand and placed it back on her finger sweetly saying “You don’t know this, but I have changed my life for you and I won’t be giving you any more reasons to take it off again. I promise. I love you!” He hugged Kristen tightly as he kept his arm around her shoulders and walked her over to the other terminal where his jet was. They held hands as they climbed up the stairs to board. Kristen stayed close by Anthony’s side the entire trip. She was afraid to leave him.

 

19 BÊTE NOIRE

 

Only the ocean knows what secrets lay beneath her watery shroud.”

 

 There had been a rumbling beneath Palm Beach for several days now. As the waters warmed and the currents changed their course, small bubbles could now be seen rising out of the tunnel. Strangely enough, there was a consistent low tide only present on the ragged shores by the Whitestone. It made it easier for its members to dock their yachts day or night.

 This occurrence could easily be written off as a weather phenomenon that occurred at different times of the year, but to those who believed in the folk lore and pirate’s tales, it indicated that the demons were ready to be fed again. Of course, it also meant something even more significant for the members of The Black Veil.

 There was a flurry at the airports as several members arrived that week to attend a special Whitestone event. It was similar to an awards ceremony and involved the elevation of certain members to the next threshold. Except for the tennis courts, the club had been closed for two days in order for renovations to be completed to prepare for it.

 Karl was also back in Palm Beach. His return was to be brief so to attend the Whitestone affair that evening. It was uncertain what else his intentions were besides that. He then planned to return to England for an indefinite period. And, even though he had the recent confrontation with Anthony, he was not concerned should he run into him anywhere.

 Earlier that afternoon Kristen walked over to Publix, the local grocery store, on her way to the beach. She went inside to pick up a cold drink to bring with her and was surprised when she saw her brother John pushing a cart through the wine aisle.

 “John What are you doing here?” Her brother turned around “Kristen, how are you? It has been a very long time. What’s new?” Kristen held out her left hand “I am getting married!” Then she frowned. “But you know that. I left you a message and sent you an invitation. Why didn’t you respond?”

 John brushed it off “Oh, you know, I have been very busy, out of the country, things like that. I am not sure if I can make it, that’s why I did not reply yet.” He gave her an insincere pat on her shoulder “But I am very happy for you. I know that Fiore is making great strides in business and he should keep you adorned with all the gifts that I know you need to keep you happy.”

 Kristen looked at him like he had just insulted her and it took her enthusiasm to see him down a notch. “Alright John, well, do as you please and let me know. Maybe we can have dinner sometime while you are here.” He smiled “Yeah, sure, that would be nice. I have to get going now; I have a date waiting in the car for me. I am taking her to Dad’s old club. She gets hot wearing her collar.” He chuckled at his own attempt to be funny. “I’ll see you around Kristen and will let you know soon.” Acting like he was in a hurry, he rushed over toward the front check-out.

 Kristen grabbed a can of Pepsi from the cooler and a small bag of potato chips. She stood at the register and pulled some crumpled bills from the pocket of her shorts. As she was waiting for her change, she looked out the window and saw John drive out of the parking lot. He had a very young woman sitting by herself in the back seat with her eyes closed and her head slumped against the window.

Just down the road, a shiny stretch limousine arrived at the front doors of the Chesterfield Hotel. The driver opened the door and Karl emerged. Karl walked through the front patio, and politely nodded to the desk clerk as he walked into the building and down the hallway leading to the cigar room.

   As he entered, three men, who were dressed impeccably, and seated comfortably in the overstuffed chairs, rose to greet him. Karl said “Good afternoon gentlemen, I hope you all had a peaceful flight back from overseas. Have the arrangements been made yet for this evening?” The three nodded their heads. Karl smiled “Very well. It should be quite an eventful occasion. I am looking forward to it.”

   As Karl sat down, two beautiful women with their long black hair twisted into tight buns, came through the side doors and stood in front of him. They were attired in tight red tube dresses and six inch heels. They obediently dropped to kneel as he patted their heads. “Very nice ladies, it is a pleasure to see you again.” One of the three acquaintances spoke, “That new member has been processed as you requested. It took some time for him to grasp our ways.” Karl simply replied, “I guess it wasn’t in his nature to obey. Not acting very presidential, now is he? Soon enough, he’ll learn who he needs to bow down to. They all will.

“Very well.” Karl then stood up and snapped his fingers. The women threw themselves up towards him rubbing on his arms and nuzzling his neck. Karl slid his hands down their backs and grinned, “We are going upstairs to one of the suites for some appetizers. I will see you much later this evening.”

   Back at the Whitestone Country Club, all the trappings were in place. The usual employees had been given the day off and a mini-bus pulled in carrying a special staff for the event. They alighted from the vehicle wearing pointy hooded sweatshirts. As they began to take their positions throughout the club, the catering vans pulled away. There was great anticipation waiting out the few hours before the sun was to set.

 It was a clear full moon night. Towards mid-evening, several Rolls and limousines arrived and the members alighted with their guests. They kept a tight hold on the arms of the beautiful women and men as they accompanied them through the doors.

 The type of parties that Karl had thrown in Chicago were similar to this, but had only served as a casting call. The ones that passed their test up north and at other locales were usually invited to this occasion for another performance. And perhaps, a final curtain.

 An hour later, the men of The Black Veil entered separately and alone. Their dates were already being held for them inside. Upstairs, a lively party was taking place in the banquet hall. A small pop band provided the music, and champagne flowed from a magnificent silver fountain as the partakers filled their glasses and danced with abandon. In dimly lit corners, bodies were sinfully laid out in various configurations as envious others continuously clawed at them to join in or replace them. The rafters filled with their raucous laughter.

 This excessive debauchery was always more prevalent among the lower ranking Whitestone members. In contrast, off the main room, the seniors were settled comfortably in large leather chairs as they sipped their cognac and engaged in chess and serious discussion.

 The Black Veil ceremony was set to take place at midnight in the club’s lower level. In the backroom, the select invitees were being prepared for their debut. As the clock tolled the end of the twenty-third hour, they were disrobed and silently escorted by their respective hosts down into the grotto.

 With only their veil to keep them warm, “the chosen ones” were led into the boardroom to be presented and judged. Four of the eight red velvet chairs were now occupied by masked men attired in black robes. One of them rose, and in a low voice, he began an incantation. As they all listened, the guests were lightly pushed down to kneel before him.

A cold wind twisted itself throughout the room and blew the heavy metal door closed. One by one, each time a decision was rendered; the members would bow, take their guest’s hand, and depart down the stairs to the chamber below. Those who remained, still had to wait to hear their fate. In the opposite direction, the portal leading to the ocean was propped open by a large boulder for the rest of the evening…

 

   The next afternoon, Karl was at the Whitestone’s guesthouse packing for his return to London that evening. He carried his suitcases outside and left them by the front door. As he was adjusting the handle on one of them, he looked up to see a West Palm Beach squad car and an unmarked vehicle pulling into the driveway. As the patrol car remained stationary, two men emerged from the other one attired in polyester-blend suits.

 Karl remained stone-faced and said “Good afternoon gentlemen. Is there something I can help you with?”  They cautiously walked up to him. The taller one sported a buzz cut of dark red hair and seemed to be the senior partner. He sarcastically said “Oh, I think you know what we are here for.” Karl chuckled “Sorry, but tea time has passed and I must be going.” He began to pick up his suitcase as the man announced “My name is Detective Morton. We need to ask you some questions and I am going to have to ask you to come with us downtown to the station. We are not talking here.”

 Karl was still not miffed “Ah, but my good man, my driver is set to arrive now and I must go or I will miss my flight. Seriously, what is the nature of your business?” Karl did not wait for an answer and turned to walk towards the house. The other “suit” went back to the patrol car and reached out his arm. The officer inside looked inconvenienced and handed him the radio transmitter.”

 A few minutes later, two more marked cars pulled up. They jumped out from their vehicles and Karl was no longer amused as he stood on the front step and found himself surrounded by officers. Detective Morton said “Now, once again, I am asking you to merely come with us back over to West Palm.” Karl became defiant and stated “Not until you tell me exactly what you plan to ask me.”  The detective carefully guarded his words, “We feel that you are a “Person of Interest” involving a certain young lady from across the bridge that was alleged to have been last seen talking to you a few nights ago. You weren’t exactly in a part of town that would be considered very “Palm Beachy”. One of our regular informants that shares the same alley with her wrote down your car’s license plate number.”

 Karl indignantly answered “Well, then I was probably just asking her directions. Why are you bothering me with this?” The detective began to look angry “There has been quite a few of her “friends” disappearing in some of the other towns too lately. Do you know anything about them?” Karl just gave him a disgusted look.

 With that, his partner opened the back door of their car. Morton and two officers stood behind Karl as if to herd him in that direction. The detective advised “You have your choice. It’s our car or the squad.” Morton looked around wide-eyed at the mansions at the end of the street and at the Whitestone club members going back and forth in the parking lot right next to them. “Tell me, do you really want all this fanfare?” Karl laughed. “Very well then.” He took his luggage back into his foyer and closed the door. Walking back outside with his cell phone he said “If you must go through with this charade, I can spare about a half-hour for you, but that is all.” The detective did not reply and ushered, what he knew was his prime suspect, toward the car. He carefully lowered Karl’s head under the door frame as he placed him in the back seat.

 On the brief ride to headquarters, Karl had voluntarily agreed to appear in a line-up so that the informant could take a look at him. A squad was immediately dispatched to pick her up and meet them there.

 Karl was very calm as he was escorted from the car to the building and led into a small room. He was not under arrest and they weren’t doing anything fancy for him. He was just told to stand against a white wall with five other men that had been left over from a previous session. Only two of them slightly resembled Karl, and one was obviously a policeman.

 A middle-aged prostitute dressed in a faux leather halter top, hot pants, and shamelessly baring fresh needle marks on her arms, walked into the front corridor. She gave a toothy grin to the cops that she recognized and was directed where to go. She was told that all she needed to do was look through a small window at the top of the metal door.

 As she rapidly chomped on her gum, she leaned her head in. Instantly, her eyes roved to the far end and rested on Karl. She recognized him immediately! The woman started to point and was about to speak when she became very shaky. She leaned on the door for support and held her hand above her eyebrows to take a second look. This time she thought she could feel Karl’s eyes penetrate her through the glass. She began to feel very feverish and knew the meth she had just snorted was still affecting her. She asked an officer if she could sit in a chair.

 Detective Morton came out of the back room and grabbed her roughly by the arm. “Well, can you identify him or not? Why the hell are you taking so long? Hurry up!”

 The witness was completely consumed in fear now and was looking desperate to leave. She had enough street-smarts to know not to mess with Karl. She brashly answered the detective, “What can I say? I don’t know what the hell is going on. The guy’s not there. Let me go!” The detective pulled her from her seat and shook her “What about the car license plate number? You told us it was his car.” She cried “Please let me go. I don’t think I wrote it down right. It was dark out and I really don’t think it was even the car color I thought it was. I was really high. Come on. You have to let me leave. I am going to get sick right here!”

 Detective Morton growled at the cop next to him. “OK, let her go. If I ever see that whore on the street I am going to lock her up. Don’t any of you ever tell me she is credible again.”

 The detective went back in the room and brought Karl out. He apologized to him “I am sorry, but I guess you aren’t our man. I kind of doubted it anyway. A guy with your kind of money doesn’t usually need to pay for it.” Karl gave him a haughty look and said “That’s right, I don’t.” He looked disdainfully at the detective’s cheap suit and gave a parting shot “But by the looks of your threads, it looks like you probably need to.” He gave a high-pitched laugh and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket to call his driver.

 As Karl left the building, the prostitute was walking right in front of him. He leered at her derrière and gave a low wolf whistle. She nervously turned around and looked back at him. Karl winked and flashed a smile at her. Terrified, the woman tried to walk faster, but her legs felt like they were melting beneath her. As Karl turned the next street corner, she had vanished from sight.

 Karl’s driver appeared and opened the door for him. He had his luggage in the trunk and they sped towards Palm Beach International. Karl sat back, put his legs up, and relaxed with a glass of fine Scotch. He had never been worried about this minor distraction and always knew that he would make it to his flight both on-time and unscathed. He was untouchable and no one would ever come close. He had always been in charge, and always would be…

20 OUT FROM THE SHADOWS

 

 April was fast approaching and Kristen was sitting by the pool at Anthony’s. As usual, she was alone minding the fort. She didn’t care about his trips anymore and actually relished this time by herself to take care of all the final wedding preparations.

 Lately, her fiancé had been going out of his way to make sure that she knew how much he loved her. All of the bumps were now smoothed out and she was ready to take on a life with him. He finally figured out how Kristen ticked and all the right things to say to her. They loved each other very much and she now accepted that it was a lasting love and that she was mature enough to handle it.

 Anthony made good on his promise that Kristen could have the greatest wedding that Palm Beach had ever seen. He truly acted like he wanted to make all her dreams come true. The fact that he had modified his own life so that she could live in Palm Beach full-time and have her dream oceanfront mansion attested to this.

 It was not easy, but Anthony was able to book a church on the island in time. It had been close to impossible to achieve this. Kristen had always wanted to marry there ever since she was a child and first fell in love with the town and Anthony did not want to let her down.

 She was very excited about her guest list. Almost everyone had already been invited and there were only a few declines. Anthony said she could fly her favorites in on his private jet.

She began thinking of her childhood friends that she could invite at the last minute. The first person that came to mind was Michael Hansen. It had been a while since Kristen saw him at the New York dinner show. She assumed that he was still living near the North Shore and thought it would be great to have him there.    

 It was pretty easy to find him. She logged into Facebook and he was on there! She looked at his list of friends and saw a lot of familiar names. She then looked at his photos. There were many pictures of him at sporting events and posing with different girls. She made more inquiries and came up with his addresses and the companies he had worked for. Seems that he was now the Chief Financial Officer for a manufacturer that was headquartered in Chicago. She still didn’t see any mention about a wife anywhere. Good. Still single! She wondered if he knew his personal cell phone number was out there for all to see. It probably was long disconnected. She decided to try it anyway. 

 She dialed the number and it immediately went to voicemail. She waited a minute and tried again. This time it rang. Kristen became very nervous and wasn’t sure what she would say if this was still Michael’s number.

 A familiar voice answered “Hello?” Kristen bubbled “Is this Michael?” She took a sip of her frosted orange juice. “It’s Kristen Stratford. How are you?” He said “Kristen! I’m glad to hear from you. Where are you calling from? Are you in Chicago?” Kristen was excited “I am down in Florida, actually Palm Beach.” 

 Michael was amused. “You really live there? I always knew you would end up in that place. What have you been doing with yourself since I saw you?” Kristen couldn’t hold it back and blurted “I’m getting married!” There was an uncomfortable silence. Michael said “Really? I thought you would have already done that with that nutty cop I saw you with in New York. Actually, I thought you married that antique Bensinger long ago. Isn’t he dead now?”

 He then chuckled “Who is the lucky guy? Anyone I know?” “His name is Anthony Fiore” she replied. Michael hesitated, “Anthony? You mean Tony Fiore?” He sounded upset and said “The” Tony Fiore from New York?” 

 “That’s him!” Kristen replied, wondering where this was leading. “Oh, that’s great” he faked. Kristen could tell Michael was unable to gather up any enthusiasm and she didn’t know why? “I want to invite you to our wedding. It’s coming up pretty fast and is kind of a last-minute thing.” Michael said “You want to invite me?

 Kristen laughed “Yes silly, that’s why I am calling you.” Michael answered, “I would love to come see you. I need to talk to you.” Without addressing what he had just said, Kristen kept on. “Great, just fly into Palm Beach International. We are having the wedding on the island. There are plenty of hotels near-by.” Kristen looked at her watch “I really have to go and I will e-mail you the information. Let me know if things change.”

 The next day, Kristen thought back to her conversation with Michael on the phone and she kept wondering why he seemed concerned when she said Anthony’s name. Her wedding was only a little over a week away and she really didn’t know anything about the Fiore family except for the relatives she had met in Sicily and her short visit with Marco in New York.

 Kristen decided to take a look on the internet and look up Anthony. A slew of items instantly popped up about “Franco Fiore”. She assumed this was his father. There were pages of references dating way back.

 She knew his father had passed away a few years ago from cancer, but that is all she knew about him. It also displayed information about Antonio Fiore, his grandfather. She made comments to herself as she read. “Wow! Both of them were notorious mobsters.” She was relieved to see that there was no mention about her very own Antonio Gianni Fiore except his accomplishments in the legitimate business world that she was well aware of. He certainly took a different path from the rest of his family and Kristen was very proud of that.

 She knew she was about to marry a very accomplished and wonderful, generous man. She was overjoyed that they were going to have some really great kids together. She was also very proud that she felt better about herself, and the fact that she now deserved this knight in shining armor. She felt very worthy. He was lucky to have found her.

 Kristen kept browsing. She always liked to read the gossip in the New York papers. While turning to that section, she couldn’t help noticing today’s headline “New York Mob Continues Cleaning House”. There was an article about another series of mob hits that had happened in the last week. She glanced at it briefly. There were some pretty brutal photos. She said “Yuk, no wonder why I don’t watch the news anymore.”

 Kristen thought about Anthony and wondered why he wasn’t back from New York. He hadn’t called her in at least three days. His trip was supposed to only be for a day, now it was stretching out. What was so important? He needed to get ready for the wedding! Kristen didn’t have the time to keep surfing. She had several errands to run, including the second round of her wedding dress fitting. She also needed to pop in on her real estate agent and see how the search was going for her ocean manor.

 So far, there were no oceanfront properties available in the area that she wanted to be in on the northern part of the island. She didn’t like the houses facing the ocean towards the middle of town because people drove up and down the road all the time gawking at them.

 It was pretty insensitive and a bit crude, but her agent said there were a few elderly residents in the area who were failing in health. Kristen was having her keep her ears open about any possibilities. She really wanted her special place and would do anything to get it. What she didn’t have was patience.

 Anthony’s current island mansion was beautiful, but she really needed that ocean view. Kristen’s house was still on the market. There had been a few offers over her asking price and she was getting ready to accept one and move out, but not until that gold ring was on her finger.

 Palm Beach was the only place she would ever consider to live. There was no place like it! She had never seen water anywhere else with such a beautiful blend of gentle blues that changed its mood and color at different times of the day as the sun moved around. She never understood why people thought the Gulf was so great looking. It was flat with no waves, and it had a greenish-gray tint to it whenever she saw it.

 A few more days crawled by. Even though she was very busy preparing for the wedding, she was getting bored hanging out at Anthony’s house without him. She was sitting on the living room couch looking at a fashion article when Anthony returned from his trip and came through the front door. She practically jumped into his arms. 

 “Hey! Whoa! How are you doing honey?” Anthony then kissed her like a soldier who had just returned from battle. Kristen exclaimed “I missed you so much! He put down his suitcase and said “I am super hungry. Let’s go over to The Grill in West Palm and get some dinner.”

 Kristen looked at him and noticed his hand was completely bruised and wrapped in a bandage. She touched it softly and said “What happened here? Did you punch someone? She laughed, I hope you can still carry me over the threshold.” Her fiancé looked worried and answered “No, nothing like that. I just got it slammed in a door. No big deal.” He then said excitedly “I think I am done with the trips to New York. The business is all straightened out.” “That is great news!” Kristen smiled and hugged him. She ran upstairs to change her dress and heels. Anthony went outside and pulled his car up.

 The restaurant was relatively quiet, even for a Monday. They were seated right away and ordered without having drinks first. It was quite pleasurable not having the usual chatter all around them. They enjoyed their meal and decided to have a drink and fruit cups for dessert.

 Kristen was looking down carefully scooping around the melon balls when she noticed Anthony was looking intently at someone standing behind her.

 “Hello Kristen. It’s been a long time.” Kristen turned slowly around and looked straight into the eyes of Robert St. Germain. She didn’t say anything. She just squirmed and felt panicked. Anthony sensed her fear and stood up saying, “Can I do something for you?” St. Germain replied “No, I don’t think so. I have some business to take care of with Kristen.” Anthony approached him in order to block him from his fiancée. He continued forward until Robert started backing up and held up his hands in defense. “Oh, I don’t want to cause any trouble.” He was trying to laugh it off. “I guess I’ll be going.” Anthony said with a firm tone “Yes, I guess you will be.”

 St. Germain walked out the front door and through the parking lot. Anthony quickly walked out behind him. Kristen couldn’t see from the window what was going on. 

 Anthony was gone for ten minutes. When he came back in he sat down perfectly calm and finished his drink. Kristen said “Did you talk to him? Is he staying at that hotel over there?” Anthony would not answer her question, but assured her that the man would not be bothering her again. He now ordered more drinks for them and asked her who exactly the man was and how did she know him.

 Kristen knew her fiancé was not jealous; she could tell that it was important for him to have the truth. She told him the long story, including that she thought he tried to drug her. As she said that, he reached for her hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. She then told him that St. Germain had conned her out of money, that he had gone to jail, and that she felt that he had mental issues and that he was going to try to hurt her or even kill her.

 Anthony became angrier as she talked. His face darkened. Again, Kristen had never seen this in him before. It began to terrify her and she wished she had never told him anything.

 Anthony excused himself and walked back outside. He stood by the restaurant window talking on his cell phone. She couldn’t stand the fact that Anthony was brought in on this whole mess. She just wanted to leave this in the past and be done with it. “What in the world was Robert St. Germain really doing in Palm Beach? Was it just because of her?” Anthony came back in and gently took her arm. “Let’s go” he said helping her up. He protectively held her close as they went out to the front. The valet had already brought up the car. Her fiancé was very quiet during the ride home. When they arrived at the house, he went off to his study and stayed in there. Kristen watched television for a while and then went up to bed without him. She nodded right off…

 

Robert St. Germain was back in his hotel room, which was in fact, as Kristen thought, next to The Grill. It was late. He carefully laid out his clothes on the bed and went in to take a shower.

 

When he came out of the bathroom, his room was strangely dark. He stumbled around to look for a light switch. As he turned towards the wall, he felt a strong hand on his shoulder. He tried to yell, but another hand appeared and clamped over his mouth. “Sit down on the bed” a stern voice said.

 

There were two very large men in the room with him. They were dressed in dark suits and built like bulls. One of the men held a gun on St. Germain while the other closed the drapes.

 

Here, put these on.” His shirt, pants, and shoes were handed to him.” One of the men checked around the room and the closet. They grabbed his briefcase and suitcase and pushed him towards the door.

 

His legs buckled as they half-carried him into the empty hallway and down the service elevator. It led to a door off the back of the hotel. They shoved him in the back seat of a waiting car and got in on each side of him.

 

The driver turned around and gave St. Germain a chilling grin. Robert started crying. “Please, I’ll give you money! Just look in my briefcase. There’s a ton of cash in there. Please! Please!”

 

One of the men slugged him in the face. It knocked him out. They drove east towards the ocean.  A short time later, the driver got on his cell phone and said “It’s all done boss…”

 

 Kristen suddenly woke from her dream when she heard the phone ring downstairs. “Who is calling this late?” She looked at the clock and saw it was 1:30 AM.

 A few minutes later, Anthony came upstairs and got into bed beside her. Kristen was very groggy and mumbled “Anything wrong?” He snuggled into her neck and whispered “Everything is alright! We are going to have a beautiful life together baby. You are safe now.”

21 UNDER WATER

 

 When Kristen woke up the next morning, a rose from the garden was lying on the pillow next to her. Anthony left her a note that he had to leave town again for business. It did not say where he was going. She figured it was New York again and thought “Was he insane? He’s never going to have time to get ready for the wedding on Saturday!”

 Kristen was overwhelmed, there was just too much to do. Some of the guests would be arriving from out of town tomorrow. She took her pillow, covered her head and went back for more sleep. She was awakened a few hours later when she heard knocking on the front door.

 She looked out the bedroom window and all she could see was the head of a tall man that was standing below. She quickly brushed her hair back and dressed in a summer cocktail dress. She felt a sense of excitement and ran down the stairs barefoot. She thought she had an idea who it was and glanced nervously at the mirror to the side of the door. All was good. Kristen closed her eyes and slowly turned the door handle.

 She then opened them wide and was now looking through the eyes of a sixteen-year-old. It was Michael! She felt like she couldn’t breathe when she saw him standing there and smiling at her.

 He reached out for her, taking both her hands. She felt faint as he slowly pulled her into his arms for a light embrace. He quietly said “It is so wonderful to see you again. So, you’re getting married in a few days. How exciting is that?” Kristen beckoned to them, “Come on into the house.” Michael looked at the exterior and the imported hand-sculpted Italian statues near the door. He kept nodding his head “Wow, this is pretty impressive.” He followed Kristen into the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator and handed him a Heineken. Michael sipped at his beer and apologized to her for his surprise visit. “My cell phone signal isn’t strong enough here. I couldn’t get in a call to you. I came a day early to work on my tan so I can wear shorts again. It is still pretty cold back at home.” He stuck out his arm. “I’m pasty!”

 She gave him a big smile. “Well, I am very glad to see you. Every time I ran into you I never had the chance to get a good look at you.” She laughed, “You seemed to have ripened very nicely.” He was still very muscular and even more handsome. His blue eyes were so trusting and sweet. They both gazed at each other. Michael came closer to her and Kristen felt her heart pounding against her chest!

 The phone in Anthony’s study suddenly rang. Kristen looked in that direction and said “I am sorry. I have to go see who that is.” She was gone for five minutes. When she came back she looked apologetic and said “I am sorry to cut this visit short Michael. That was Anthony and he needs me to go into town and do some bank business for him right away. Is it alright if you stop by again later this week? Maybe you can meet him them. I forgot to tell him you were here.”

 Michael quickly replied “Of course, Kristen. I need to get over to a golf game I set up anyway. I will give you a call.” He then lightly brushed her cheek with a kiss and went out to his rental car. Kristen smiled as she watched him walk down the driveway. She was sad to see him go.

 The wedding week flew by. Just one more day! All the guests started trickling into town. The rehearsal dinner was coming up in a few hours and Anthony was still not back from New York yet with his two brothers. His sisters and mother had already called and left a message that they were poolside at The Colony with a pitcher of Margaritas and a bunch of cousins. Kristen was thinking of joining them, but still had too many things to do, and alcohol wouldn’t help with that. It was nice that Anthony had so many relatives.  

 Kristen’s sisters were not coming because they were off on a trip to South Africa together with their husbands. They were a bit annoyed that Kristen didn’t plan her wedding more in advance. Kristen didn’t even worry about her brother John, she had no clue where he was since she saw him on the island, and she didn’t really care. He knew she was getting married and made no attempt to contact her about it. She had no other immediate relatives. Her Godfather, who now lived in Naples, and well into his eighties, would be walking her down the aisle. 

 It was Kristen’s best girlfriends that were her real family. Her three bridesmaids and Ashley, who was her Maid of Honor, were ready to go. Melanie and Linda were also flying in from the West Coast.

 Kristen spent the rest of Friday in meetings with her make-up and hair stylist. Anthony finally called her from the airport and said that they had just landed and that he would see her over at the rehearsal. He was headed over to The Colony first to meet up with his relatives. Kristen said she would pop over as soon as she was able. 

 She made one more call before getting ready. It was to Michael. He was still over at his hotel and had just finished playing tennis. He was walking off the courts when he answered her call. Kristen was pacing her living room and straightening it up while half-holding her cell to her ear.  

 “Michael, I hope you are enjoying the island. I am sorry I haven’t had the time to get back to you. It doesn’t look like there is going to be anytime to meet Anthony. He just flew back into town and we have to go to our rehearsal soon.”

 Michael laughed “Don’t worry Kristen. I know you are probably overwhelmed.” Kristen was happy that he was so understanding. He then said “I am going to come over and see you today because I know you will be too busy for good-byes tomorrow. I need to talk to you. Are you going to be at the house?” Kristen replied “Yes, for a little while, so please come by now. Then I have to get over to the church. I will see you soon. Bye!” She put down the phone and was excited about seeing him again. She was glad they could be alone.

 She waited for him out on the front walk. A half-hour later, the rental pulled up. Michael pulled his 6’3-foot frame out of the tiny sports car. He looked fantastic and was fully dressed in a dark business suit.  He was carrying a bouquet of exotic flowers and walked up to her, then kneeled down to present them to her.

 He bowed his head and said “Only the best for such a beautiful woman.” He rose and placed them into her hands. Kristen giggled. “Thank you, sir! How lovely.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek, his cologne was heavenly.

 Michael looked around and immediately asked “Is Tony here?” Kristen said “No. He is meeting me at the rehearsal. He is busy rounding up his family.” Michael looked relieved “Great! Can we drive over to the beach?” Kristen said “That will be nice.”

 He opened the door of the car for her and held her hand to guide her in. As he got in next to her, Michael gave a long look into her eyes. Kristen gazed back at him for a moment, and then cocked her head curiously, before pulling her eyes away. She was starting to feel a little warm.

 He started the car up, drove past the beach that was by the house, and kept going. Kristen watched the side of his face and thought about how chiseled his profile looked. He kept driving until he reached a magnificent stretch of road overlooking the finest views of the ocean that Palm Beach had to offer.

 He backed the car into a parking spot across the street. With the excitement of a child, Kristen asked “Do you want to walk along the shore? We can’t access any beach here.” She pointed “I know of a little pathway off the side down there.” Michael said “I’m game” and stood up outside the car taking off his suit coat. He reached down and untied his shoes. Kristen got out and walked around the hood. She put a hand on his back while she steadied herself removing her sandals. Walking carefully over the hot cement, Michael helped her down a small incline which led to a very narrow, long strip of sand.

 They were now hidden from the street above. The ocean majestically laid itself before them. It was a windy day and the tide was in. Large waves rolled by and splashed up against the gray and weathered boulders. Kristen could feel the mist in her hair and loved the salt spray on her face.

 The two of them walked along the shore while Kristen poked nonchalantly at the tiny sea shells, sorting them with her toes. Michael paused and sat down on a wide rock halfway in the water. He rolled up his pant legs and reached for Kristen to sit next to him. The surface was soft and they let their feet dangle in the water. She felt like they were teens again back on Lake Michigan

 Michael said slowly “I can see why you want to live here. It is so peaceful.” She nodded and smiled. He continued “Kristen, I have missed you greatly for all these years. I can’t believe that I didn’t try harder to talk to you when I ran into you. But you were always with someone and I was afraid to get you alone. I feared that you didn’t share that need to be with me. You need to know this now.” He paused and looked nervous. “I think I have always been in love with you ever since that kiss on the yacht back when we were kids.”

   She looked at him in total surprise. He put his arm around her and pulled her closer whispering “I have always wished that it had led to something more.” Kristen touched his arm “I never thought you cared.” Michael kissed her gently and looked at her. Then, he kissed her again deeply. Kristen fell into his strong arms and became lost in the past. For the first time in such a long while she felt the dark veil lift off of her and she rejoiced in the feeling of how wonderful it was to love someone! It was overwhelming how fast her old feelings re-surfaced. They clung to each other for minutes.

     She felt so special and protected being with Michael. He kissed her harder and passionately started in on her neck. She arched her back while his firm hands moved across her. He sweetly laid her on the rock with his arm for her pillow and smiled lovingly down at her as he began to explore her body with his lips. He began to slowly unbutton the front of her dress. Always the helpless romantic, she could only think of Michael now. She wanted him to make love to her and be as close as he could…

     A giant cold and angry wave crashed on top of the couple and pulled them violently away from each other, and off the slab. Kristen was submerged under the water and struggled as her back scraped along the coral bottom. She started choking as the water filled her lungs.

   Michael managed to pull himself up as he trudged through the churning waist-high currents looking for Kristen. He finally spotted her and swiftly reached down to help her. He held onto her tightly as he carried her to the beach and carefully sat her down. She coughed for a while and shook the water off her head. Their moment had been swept away.

 “Oh, damn! My hair is ruined.” They both laughed. Kristen looked down and started adjusting her dress “I need to get back to the house and get myself fixed up. I only have an hour.” Michael was concerned “Are you sure you feel alright? I can bring the car closer to the hill.” Kristen said “I’m OK, how are you?” His expensive suit pants were sopping wet and sandy. Michael said “It’s going to be a drag getting the car all wet.” Kristen added “Yeah, and in this humidity, it will never dry!” Holding hands, they ran up the hill to the lot. 

 When they got back in the car, it was like leaving a time tunnel. Kristen pulled her hand back from his and started looking at her nails to see if her polish chipped. Michael turned to her smiling and said “Well…?” Kristen seemed withdrawn.

 She was now obviously back in the present with a myriad of responsibilities facing her and her love for Anthony still intact. She cut him off, “Honestly, Michael, I think that all this has ever been about was that “ancient kiss” looking for a resolution.” Businesslike, she wiped some more sand off her neck. “You should have looked for me sooner and maybe if that had happened, things could have been different. I really need to get over to the rehearsal.”

 She looked down at the door handle. She knew she was avoiding some heartfelt issues, because Kristen did feel strongly for Michael. But she couldn’t let him know it or he would stop her plans. Even though Anthony seemed to be distant at times and more interested in being in New York, he was still the one she wanted unless something else changed everything.  She couldn’t sabotage her life any longer for a moment that couldn’t easily define its outcome.

 Without saying anything more to him, Michael understood what she was thinking. He pulled out of the parking lot and headed back to Anthony’s to deliver his bride.

 Kristen was running late and rummaged through her closet to grab her special dress that she was wearing to the rehearsal and dinner. She was very upset that the water wrecked her hair. There was no time to get a hair dresser over there. She was tempted to go look for an old wig she had for just this reason, but feared it was in an unmarked box somewhere. She heavily moussed her ends and holding her head upside down, she voraciously blew it with a dryer as she saturated it with styling spray. The results made her look a bit wild and rough around the edges, instead of the sophisticated look that her dress called for.

 Anthony had arranged for a limousine to pick her up. She had just finished slapping on her make-up when the driver pulled up and called on her cell. She hurriedly applied her lipstick as she went out to the driveway.

 As they made their way along the ocean, the water was darkening and Kristen turned to her right to see the sun setting to the west over the treetops. It was a beautiful night. She calmed down a bit and was looking forward to meeting everyone. She was especially anxious to see Anthony again.

The church was dark, but the altar area was lit up. Anthony had a special agreement with the priest to enable them to come there this late instead of the afternoon. All of the wedding party was standing up there watching the door. As Kristen walked through it, they looked relieved. Anthony walked down the aisle with a frown on his face to greet her. He gave her a quick and worried kiss on her forehead.

 Pulling hard on her arm, he said “You look like you’re ready to hit the clubs. What’s with the hair?” Kristen felt a bit annoyed “I had some disasters trying to get ready.” Anthony snapped, “I really need you to make a good impression. My family doesn’t think I’ve known you long enough.” Kristen was wondering where this nasty attitude came from. She teared up a bit and just looked steadfastly ahead. She then took her first look at his three sisters standing in the front. She couldn’t help but be amused and thought, “He’s worried about what I look like?”

 As Marco had told her, they were very tall! The oldest of the girls had big hair, a low-cut orange top, and a very tight purple mini skirt with tiger stripes on it. Kristen swore she could hear her popping her gum. The other two were a little more toned down, but definitely not by Palm Beach standards, not even Long Island’s. His two brothers were standing off to the side with his mother and some unidentified “hot girl”. Kristen looked again. She definitely was not in the family. She was beautiful with a super model look. She had very straight long blonde hair and was wearing a chic outfit.

 Kristen nudged Anthony in the ribs. “Who’s that?” He said quietly “That’s Antonia, my ex-fiancée, she flew down with us.” Kristen said “Are you kidding? I thought she died?” Anthony dismissed her “Not the time to discuss.” He walked off to talk to the priest.

 Kristen really couldn’t believe how he was acting. Was this all show for his group? Kristen went up to say hello to his brothers Marco and Vincente. They were both wearing pin stripes and wide ties and looking at her like wolves. Marco leaned over and whispered something in Vincente’s ear and they both grinned. Like Marco, he also wore his hair slicked back. They had the gangster look that Kristen loved.

 As she came closer, she could tell Marco had a very large gun in a holster inside his suit coat. He gave her a kiss on the cheek and handed her a small jewelry box. He was on his best behavior now. With his thick New York accent he said “Kristen, it is great to see you again! Here’s something blue for my new sister.” Kristen opened it up. It was a beautiful sapphire necklace. “It’s wonderful Marco, just like the ocean. I love it!” He was very happy and gave her a big hug.

 Vincente raised himself up on his toes and gave her a light embrace. He said warmly “Welcome to our family.” Kristen said “Thank you! I look forward to getting to know my other new brother-in-law. I hope we can find the time during dinner.”

 Marco eagerly brought her over to his mother Sophia. She greeted her in Italian and they conversed for a short while. Kristen then kissed her on the cheek and held her hand while they waited for the rehearsal to begin.

 The quasi-ceremony went without a hitch. While they were waiting for the limos to take them to the dinner afterwards, Ashley was now acting quite dishonorable with Marco. They were sitting on a bench outside with his hand under her dress and well above her knee. She had her eyes closed and looked a little too relaxed.

 Anthony helped stuff Kristen, three bridesmaids, her Godfather, his mother and sisters into the first stretch car that pulled up. Kristen watched as the other limo filled up with his brothers, Ashley, and Antonia. His ex-fiancée slid in very close to Anthony.

 Anthony’s car started to follow behind. Then it did a U-turn and tore off in another direction. “What the hell!” Kristen said out loud. She couldn’t restrain it. One of his sisters laughed and said, “He probably forgot something at the house. I think they are all a little drunk, it was a long flight.”

 Kristen picked up her cell while stating “New York is not that far away.” She dialed Anthony, but it went to voicemail after a few rings. She didn’t leave a message. He knew it was her calling and she angrily forced the phone back into her small clutch.

 Kristen and the women waited at the restaurant’s bar for over an hour before Anthony showed up disheveled looking, with his shirt hanging out, obviously more drunk and laughing with his limo party, minus Marco and Ashley. Antonia was right by his side. Her hair was now clipped back.

 The bridal party had a private dining room reserved and the Maitre d’ was getting anxious. Anthony made a grand gesture to encourage them all to go into the table. He pulled Kristen behind. She said “Where were you? Where are Ashley and Marco?” Anthony chuckled “Where do you think? They’ll be here sooner or later. We dropped them off at Marco’s room at The Colony.”

 Kristen said with contempt “That’s just great. You know Ashley is engaged, don’t you?” Anthony was acting like she was bugging him and replied “Guess, he made her an “offer she couldn’t refuse.” A really big one!” He pulled at her arm again like earlier. It was so out of character for him. “You know, things aren’t going as I planned in New York and I had a very tough time there. I don’t need this crap from you right now.” Kristen was frustrated and shot back at him. “Why are you acting like a pig? We’re getting married tomorrow. Remember?”

 Anthony started to walk off “I guess I’m a little tired and edgy. I had my bachelor party last night.” He patted his crotch and said with a nasty jab “It was memorable!” Kristen shook her head in disbelief as he went off to the heavily decorated table and sat next to his mother and Antonia. He ignored Kristen and made no attempt to clear a seat for her, so she planted herself by her bridesmaids and Godfather. She couldn’t understand his behavior.

 Dinner consisted of several courses and a lot of wine. Kristen circulated around the table in order to spend time with Anthony’s family so she could get to know them. His sisters weren’t quite what she was used to mingling with, but she liked them and thought they were funny. She avoided Antonia like a disease and noticed that she had been watching Kristen closely and her interaction; which was null, with Anthony.

 When it came time for the toasts, Anthony came back over to her and sat down, putting his arm around her for show. Marco walked in the door as if on cue, but no Ashley was in sight. Kristen was a bit upset that her Maid of Honor didn’t come back to the dinner. She was an important part of the festivities. Marco did the traditional best man toast and roasted his brother to shame, speaking half in Sicilian, before congratulating him. He was very flattering in his remarks to Kristen. She had put on the necklace he had given her and she gave it a fond jiggle and a wink when he looked her way.

 When the dinner was over, they still had a late party to go to back at The Colony for all the relatives that didn’t come to the rehearsal. Anthony walked out with Kristen into the hallway. He still seemed a bit distant to her. Kristen wanted the truth “What is wrong?” He replied in hushed tones trying to be discreet as the others filed out around them “So, you really want to know why I am acting like this? I think you know. You know what you did.”

 He walked her into a side parlor area and asked her to sit down. He stood in front of her and said “What is it with the old boyfriend? Why is he here? You are bringing dishonor to my name and embarrassing me in front of my family.” Kristen said “You know that I invited Michael to the wedding. He’s just an old friend. He lived next door.” This angered Anthony even more. “Friend? Why were you with him down at the ocean overlook?”

 Kristen could not believe it. “What are you doing? Have you been having someone watch me?” Anthony said “I know everything you do!” Kristen started to question him, but Anthony cut her short, grabbed both of her arms and lifted her out of her chair. He started speaking loudly, then looked around and lowered his voice again. His face was contorted in anger and he pushed it close up to hers. “No one crosses me! No one! Especially you! We are not even married and you are already cheating behind my back. I thought you loved me? Or do you just love the money?”  

 Kristen couldn’t believe this was happening. She wasn’t sure how much Anthony learned about her walk with Michael. As usual, she decided to just let him do the talking, to see what he knew. Anthony fumed “You had that man in my house, MY house! What is wrong with you? What type of whore have I met?” Kristen tried to diffuse the tirade. “Calm down Anthony, you are obviously drunk, nothing happened.”

 He got even angrier and raised his hand “Do not lie to me!” Kristen was now upset. She looked fearfully at his hand and protected her face crying “What are you doing? Are you going to hit me? Are you a mean drunk? Don’t you care what you are saying to me?”

 Anthony started to turn away “Quit acting so fragile! You know you’re acting. You’re not so innocent!” He started walking. “And one more thing. I am not so sure I want to give you your dream house and keep living here in Palm Beach. The island is being taken over by all those jerks and celebrities who have too much new money that they didn’t work hard enough for. They aren’t aging very pretty, and worst of all, they are letting everyone know about Palm Beach and telling them to move here. They are going to ruin it.”

 He knew he was hitting on a sensitive subject and paused for a moment to study her reaction. Kristen just shook her head like she didn’t care. Then he said “I am going to the party. Are you coming?” He angrily took Kristen’s hand. They both put up a front as they went outside to the limousines.

 There were no more chances to talk to him in the car, his mother and Vincente were in there with them. Anthony sat coldly next to her and pillaged the liquor station the entire way until they finally arrived at The Colony.

 Outside of the car, in front of his mother, Anthony gave Kristen’s cheek a friendly rub and said sickeningly sweet “I reserved bridal rooms at The Breakers tonight for you and your friends. Your dress and everything is already there.” He added, “Marco told me that Ashley was dropped off and is passed out in her room. You might want to check on her. If she doesn’t wake up tomorrow, my sister can fill in.” He went ahead of her and huddled with Vincente. Then the brothers walked off to the patio each talking on their cell phones.

 The Colony’s lounge was packed and everyone was swinging to a Mo-Town band. The Fiore family was scattered all over the room and also out by the pool area. Kristen took turns dancing with all the male cousins. Anthony mostly ignored her and stayed in a corner with Marco and Vincente, engrossed in conversation. 

 Kristen paid no attention to him and went off to the restroom. When she came out of the stall, Antonia was standing there, tall and even more foreboding in her very high heels. Kristen thought that she might have followed her in there. “Oh, hello Antonia” Kristen said as she washed her hands. She reached for her Chanel compact and brushed on some powder. Antonia moved closer to her. “I can tell Tony is mad at you about something.” Kristen moved back a bit and looked at her from the mirror saying “Everything is great. No concerns.”

 Antonia pushed on. “You haven’t been seeing him very long. I can tell you about him if you want. I don’t think you really know him.” Kristen was perturbed and turned to her. “I don’t think I need to talk to you about him. I know him just fine.” Antonia kept on “We were very much in love and he still loves me. I was his childhood sweetheart!” Kristen challenged her, “Then why didn’t he ever talk about you to me? It doesn’t look like he liked you that much. I heard from someone that you even died. What did you do?”

 She said flat out “I slept with Marco a few months before the wedding and then I was dead to him. He couldn’t forgive me.” She continued, “But now he has and I have been spending a lot of time in New York with him this month. He’s getting cold feet about you. He just told me tonight that you have been sleeping around on him. He wants me back! We…”

 Kristen interrupted and tried to walk past her to get out the door “I don’t want to hear any of this. You don’t know what you are talking about!” Antonia blocked her way and leaned on the door. She seemed amused. “I know for sure that you don’t know who he really is. Do you? If you did, you wouldn’t still be here. You would be as far from him as you could.” She looked nervous “Don’t you know the Fiores still run part of New York?” 

 Kristen scoffed it off. “I know his Father and Grandfather were in the Mafia, but they’re gone now. Anthony is a businessman.” Antonia laughed “Antonio’s main business will always be family business. He’s the Boss! Don’t let the Harvard connection fool you. The apple fell straight down the trunk with this one and his brothers are right there in the dirt rotting with him. They all lay low and Tony tried to pull out, but they are still making him plan everything. Why do you think he has been up north so much lately? Don’t you read the papers?”

 Kristen was confused, she remembered what Marco told her about his older brother not being the same as them, and couldn’t believe that Anthony was any part of it. He wasn’t the type. If he was true Mafioso, it meant he was a killer, and that couldn’t be true.

 Kristen said “You mean he hasn’t been going up there to sleep with you?” Antonia looked like she was lying as she tried to assure her “No, No, Anthony hangs out with me, but he is still too mad at me and Marco. He’ll never touch me again.”

 At that moment, Kristen came to the believable conclusion that Anthony thought she was cheating on him with Michael and there was a slight possibility that he might be out for revenge-slamming with Antonia. It was a remote chance but it still wouldn’t make sense, since he did want to marry Kristen and not her. Either way, she would get the scoop from Ashley later.

 Kristen also surmised that Antonia was lying to her about everything else because she wanted to break up their wedding and she only had a few hours left to do it. Kristen adamantly believed that Anthony was not capable of being a mobster. Again, maybe his brothers could do it, but not him. He was too busy with his chemical empire to bother with the trivialities of an outdated way of life that was fading fast. There was no way he would endanger himself or his business, he was too established, too well-known. Kristen had never heard inkling about the Fiore family being involved in anything these days. All these thoughts now spun around in her head.

 Kristen said “Antonia, get out of my way and stay out of our life!” She brushed past her and walked out the door. Antonia called after her “You’re in denial. Your kids will be just like him, exactly like him!”

 Anthony was standing there in the hall when she exited. He looked at Antonia following behind his fiancée and gave her a suspicious look. He called to his bride-to be, “Kristen, I’ve been trying to find you, I think you need to get some rest. I’ll have the driver take you back to the hotel now.”

 Anthony kissed her warmly. Kristen wondered why he was back to normal again and said to him “That Witch is not welcome at our wedding!” He agreed “Don’t worry. She’s a troublemaker. Don’t ever believe what she says. She can’t get over me.”

  Kristen got in the limo and Anthony gave her another romantic kiss. “I will see you tomorrow honey. We’re doing this! Right?” He closed the door. Kristen looked at him through the window and faked a faint smile. Now she was very worried about moving forward.

22 SIX MINUTES

 

 Daylight came to Palm Beach and found Michael lying halfway in the bushes in the Publix store parking lot. It was a block away from Cucina, the island’s latest night spot, where he had been whooping it up at closing time. He had been trying to drink away his sorrows. A trickle of blood flowed from his mouth and tiny geckos scurried over his body.

 He groaned and rolled over on the hard pavement, covering his eyes from the sun. “Ouch! What happened?” He slowly lifted himself and sat up. All he could remember was that he was dancing and two short men wearing flashy suits came up to him. They held guns in each side and made him quietly go with them, throwing him in the back seat of a limo. He wasn’t too sure where he was now, but he could see the sun’s location in the sky, so he stood up and headed east. Once he reached County Road he knew the Breakers hotel was not far from there. His cell phone was cracked and everything was gone from his pockets. He painfully limped on a swollen ankle.

 When he arrived at the hotel he stopped by the fountain and splashed water on his face to wash the blood off. The men at the outside valet desk stared as he straightened up to walk by them and into the hotel lobby. 

 In another part of the hotel, Kristen began preparing for her ceremony. She knew Michael was staying in the same place and she didn’t dare try to contact him since she was uneasy that Anthony might actually be keeping spies on her. Kristen badly wanted to ask Michael’s advice, and what he thought about the Mafia claims that Antonia made. Even more, she desperately wanted him to tell her again how much he had always cared for her. She also wanted to hear him say that it was a big mistake that she was getting married to Anthony. She really needed this, she couldn’t think for herself anymore. It was all closing in on her! Anthony had acted terribly the night before and she was no longer convinced that she wanted to be with him. Her impassioned moment with Michael wouldn’t let her.

 Kristen took a long shower and tried not to think at all.  She placed a towel on her head and waited for her hair stylist. She was surprised that Anthony hadn’t called her yet. She drummed her fingers nervously on the wooden coffee table as she glanced at the television.

 She heard a knock. The stylist was right on time. Kristen now devoted herself to getting ready but felt like she was just going through the motions because her heart was not into it.

 Michael lay on his hotel bed and felt like a kicked dog.  He was depressed that Kristen was almost his yesterday and then he lost her to cold reality. He moaned in pain as he rolled off the bed and headed to the closet. The wedding was now an hour away but he wasn’t sure if he should still go since Kristen didn’t mention it either way when he left her at the beach. It was too much to see her marry that jerk! But he also thought of her happiness and that she would value his blessing, so he decided to attend.

   Michael had an imported Italian suit that he knew would outrank the groom. As he was trying to find a tie in his suitcase he thought about the men that beat him up.  It was a sure bet that they were friends of Tony, or maybe they were his mobbed-up brothers. He was worried. If Tony Fiore was gunning for you it wasn’t good news!

 He thought about grabbing some food first and then realized where he was and yelled in exasperation “There’s no McDonald’s on this God forsaken island. This day completely sucks!” He just wanted to go rent a jet ski and get lost in the ocean somewhere.”

 Michael reluctantly finished dressing and left his room. He was very worried about Kristen. She had no clue what Fiore was about and what she was getting herself into. And he was afraid to do anything about it because he would probably get himself killed. But Michael still couldn’t help thinking that this was something she could not handle by herself.

 On the floor below, Kristen had finished having her make-up done and her hair decorated with small flowers to make her look like a goddess. She waited patiently until her bridesmaids arrived. Ashley showed up first and looked sheepish as Kristen greeted her. She had recovered from her drunken tryst with Marco, was forgiven, and was handed the garment bag containing the wedding dress.

 The group walked into the hallway. Each woman was carrying an array of accessories to bring to the church to finish dressing there. The bridal party reached the first floor and headed to the white Rolls-Royce awaiting them outside. Unfortunately for him, Michael’s elevator landed just after the girls.

 The women traveled only a few short blocks to the church. On the street stood a white horse and a Cinderella carriage covered in flowers. Kristen was touched. It was amazing and Anthony was wonderful to do this! She was now caught up in the moment and the beauty of the day and all the wedding embellishments. Just the act of getting married appealed to her. Though, she still had many doubts about Anthony, she buried them for the moment.

 The group alighted from the car and into the church, looking around in awe. Sunlight filtered through the magnificent stained-glass windows and every pew was adorned with orchids. It smelled like a tropical garden! They hurried to the dressing room because the guests were going to be arriving in a few minutes. Laughing and sipping champagne they helped Kristen dress. Finally, when she was as perfect as she could look, the maids left to go take their places.

 Kristen sat for a while at the dressing table and studied herself. She looked radiant! But she didn’t look happy. She tried to laugh when she caught herself looking up at the small window above her. It was the only way out! She thought “Might be a tight fit in this dress.”

 Her heart was now a hard pit in her stomach. She closed her eyes and envisioned Michael and her on the rock. The water was peaceful. They were now making love. She needed to be with him.

  Maybe it was jitters, but she sure knew she had doubts about getting married today. She just wasn’t ready! She needed to find out more about Anthony. She now absolutely felt that the reason that she had always been so unsure about him since the day they met was why she always found it so easy to be rescued by Karl and Gregory. Or, maybe the strong allure of the other men was caused by something else completely? Something she had no control over? She was so confused.

 Tap, Tap…her Godfather cheerfully knocked at the door with his cane and entered. Kristen arose. He was overjoyed and said softly “Oh, you look so beautiful. I wish your parents could see you!” Kristen smiled at him “Thank you for being here today. It means a lot to me.” He gallantly held out his arm and she lightly laid her gloved hand on it. They started to walk out together when Kristen turned and said “I forgot something, I’ll catch up with you in a minute.”

 Inside the church the guests had all taken their seats. Anthony’s mother was wearing a large flowered bonnet and sobbing in the front row. Her daughters and Vincente were leaning in around her and hugging her.

Anthony and Marco playfully stood at the altar waiting for Kristen’s grand entrance. Marco joked “Think your bride is going to show up?” Anthony winced and stiffly answered “I have no reason to believe that she won’t.”

   At the back of the church, the bridesmaids were milling about preparing to begin the ceremony. Ashley said “Where the heck is she? I am going to go over to the room to get her if she doesn’t come in here soon.”

   Outside on the street, Michael was taking a breather before the service. He was surprised that Fiore’s henchmen weren’t stationed at the door to keep him out. He had already selected a seat near the exit. He wanted to be far enough away so he could not see Kristen or Anthony’s faces.

   Through the open window, he could hear the organ start playing. The wedding was starting early! Michael had second thoughts and decided that he was not going to go inside. He could not bear losing her and he began to walk away.

 Then he thought again that someone had to save her. He would have to put his own feelings aside. She was his childhood friend and he owed it to her. She had no one else.

 

 Michael opened the heavy wooden church door and held it with one hand as he looked at his watch.

It was six minutes before the hour…

He straightened his shoulders and confidently said to himself as he entered the church,

 

I am the one.

 

 The door swung closed with a loud thud behind him and he quickly hurried down the aisle towards the altar…

   

 As he looked ahead he noticed Anthony and Marco waiting with their backs to him. There was no Kristen in sight! People in the middle pews turned their heads around and watched him curiously. Michael turned on his heels and retreated back out the door.

 Figuring that Kristen was still in the church somewhere, he made his way over to the side of the building to look for another way to get inside. He found an open door leading to a back area. As he stepped in, he heard someone sobbing at the end of the hallway. He rushed down it and saw Kristen in her room slumped over the dressing table. Michael quietly stood behind her and patted her shoulder.

 Kristen looked up. She couldn’t believe he was there. He lifted her from the chair and held her as she cried, “Oh, Michael. I don’t know what I am going to do? I can’t marry Anthony. He’s like a stranger now!”

 Michael sweetly smiled “It’s alright Kristen. Just come with me. I’ll get you out of here.” She looked sadly at her wedding bouquet and picked it up. Michael put his arm around her shoulders and led her back outside. She felt safe with him.

 They started walking and realized neither had a car there. All that was available was the Cinderella carriage. As they approached the Coachman, Michael said “Let’s go!” The man looked confused that the wedding was finished so early. He had been waiting for the newly married Fiores and had no idea that Michael was not the groom.

 Kristen began to climb into the small seat, but then changed her mind and stepped back down. She said “Michael, I should probably go back in there and explain things.” He looked nervously towards the church and replied, “I don’t think that would be a good idea for you to do that. You really need to get out of here!” Kristen said “Anthony deserves the chance to tell me his side of the story.” He won’t do anything to me.” Michael softly answered “You can’t be sure of that.”

 He knew that Kristen had a lot going on in her life and that he had not been around for most of it. Being with her now, it was even more painfully obvious that he was not quite in the picture yet. Michael knew he had to come on stronger. “I might not be the one you want Kristen. But I am going to make damn sure that Fiore isn’t either. He is a Mafia head. Don’t you know what that means? What is wrong with you? We need to leave now!”      

   Kristen stood back from Michael and held her hand up. With a glazed look in her eyes she said “That’s enough! I can’t go with you. I have made up my mind. I know Anthony loves me and I am not willing to lose him. I am so sorry.” Kristen slowly went up the church steps. As she opened the door she glanced back at Michael and smiled. “Really Mikey, I will be alright.” Defeated, Michael looked at the ground and said quietly “I’ll be around. You’ll need me.” He watched her disappear and knew he should follow, but the heavy weight in his heart held him down.

   Kristen wrapped her hands tightly around her bouquet and walked over to the side foyer. Her bridesmaids were overjoyed to see her and surrounded her as they finally prepared to get in line for the processional. The organ struck a low chord and Kristen appeared in the doorway. Her Godfather came up and took her hand as Kristen drew in a deep breath and began her long walk towards Anthony and her destiny…

  

     Anthony watched his bride with adoring eyes as she approached. As she neared the altar, Kristen felt her legs grow weaker with each step. Her thoughts began racing and she suddenly pulled her arm from her Godfather and said “I am sorry, I just can’t go on with this. I have to find Michael.”

   Just as she turned to go back, the church door burst open and light filled the chapel. It was Michael! Without a word, he raced to Kristen and gathered her up into his arms. Kristen was overjoyed! “Michael, I am so glad you came back for me! You were right. I was lying to myself that Tony wasn’t such a bad guy, and for the first time in my life, I know that I am finally doing what is right for me.” He smiled and held her tighter as he ran back with her, kicking the heavy church door with his foot. Kristen squinted as the bright sun now danced into her eyes.

   As Michael placed her firmly back onto the ground, she looked toward the street and saw that the Cinderella carriage was now gone. Michael laughed. “Looks like I am going to have to carry you all the way off this island.” Kristen whispered and softly held his hand. “Please don’t leave me Michael. Please don’t let me go.” Michael began to kiss her as he pulled her back into his arms. “Don’t worry Kristen, I love you. I have always loved you. I will never let go of you again!”

 

 THE END

 

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Season Of The Devil: Billionaires, Mobsters...And The Girl From Palm Beach

Meet The Hot/Devilish Billionaires Of Palm Beach And The Girl Who Loves Them... Why Do YOU Think The World's Most Powerful Men REALLY Go To Palm Beach To Live & Play? Hit Novel From Kindle Scout's Hot & Trending List! Find Rich Men, True Love, And Keep Your Soul? For More Paranormal Twists-See the other version-Billionaires, Mobsters, Devils...Love & Evil In Palm Beach-Also Free For Downloads! Kristen Stratford is beautiful, blonde, and quite naïve when it comes to her men. She has a knack for finding the wrong ones! She is expected to marry within her elite social circle; but the wealthier they are, the more secrets they have! Palm Beach is being even more mysterious as the prestigious members of the Whitestone Country Club are running amok trying to "secure" dates for their highly anticipated Black Veil soiree. At this shadowy event it is never considered a privilege to be the "Guest of Honor", and poor Kristen is perched right in the center of their sight lines. And, with these edgy billionaires, their global playrooms take on a whole different meaning. Only the island insiders know exactly what "sacrifices" these chosen few make when they return every season. It has been quite a quest for the young socialite while searching for her prince. She hooks up with a top executive, a Mafia nightclub owner, and a quirky New York police lieutenant, as she tries to avoid kissing all the other frogs along the way. Her trust fund is also preyed upon by Robert St. Germain, a high stakes con artist who she just can't seem to escape. Kristen finally finds her true love, but then forsakes it all for Karl, a handsome and somewhat "devilish" British tycoon that she meets at a charity ball. As he lures her into his dark realm, Kristen is now unsure of exactly who is in charge of her future. Billionaires, Mobsters, Devils: Love & Evil In Palm Beach is filled with steamy romance, a hint of the supernatural, and unforgettable true to life characters. Its unexpected twists provide for an adventure on every page! In Palm Beach There Are Only Two Seasons. Hurricane Season And "His" Season... Settings: Chicago, Palm Beach, New York, London Coming Soon: Shadow Over Washington-Political Thriller Love & Evil In Beverly Hills-Romantic Suspense

  • ISBN: 9781370936847
  • Author: Pamela Southwood
  • Published: 2017-04-08 18:05:21
  • Words: 92491
Season Of The Devil: Billionaires, Mobsters...And The Girl From Palm Beach Season Of The Devil: Billionaires, Mobsters...And The Girl From Palm Beach