Authors: Deborah Coonts
A Lucky O’Toole Original Novella
you know my wife is seriously into chicks?”
The guy was brave, I’d grant him that. Approaching a woman in a bar with that line was no small feat, even in Vegas.
Waiting for an answer, the guy looked at me through clear, intense eyes as he leaned in close and braced himself with an elbow on the bar. He tipped his almost-empty flute of champagne at a woman at the end of the bar. “That’s her.”
He was a handsome man, with reddish-brown hair, a tan, creased jeans that looked and fit like European, and one of those new-style shirts with the subtle embroidery. Well turned-out; hip but not annoyingly so. “Two’s a date, three’s a fantasy?”
“Something like that.” The guy’s eyes settled on his wife with a warm glow. “She’s got the magic touch, if you know what I mean.”
His wife, the chick magnet, glanced in our direction and flipped her highlighted golden hair over her shoulder as she shot me a come-on look through lowered lashes. She too sipped champagne as she pretended to be interested in the men who swarmed around her.
“I guess it’s great for you—if she shares.” Never one to judge, I kept my tone impassive and my expression bland as I pushed myself backward off my barstool. Standing, I brushed down my pants. “You two are stunning. And I appreciate the offer. But, as an only child, I never learned to share. I keep what’s mine.”
“You’re missing a good time.” The guy’s eyes widened a bit as his gaze lazily traveled the length of me.
Most men don’t expect a woman over six feet, so I was used to his lingering apparaisal—not that I liked it. “I’m sure I am.”
“Another time, perhaps?” The guy wasn’t going to quit.
I didn’t know whether to be flattered or... what? I’d never tried a threesome and I remained confused by the whole appeal of the voyeuristic girl-on-girl men seemed to dig. “Thanks, but not my style.”
“Pity,” he remarked after taking a sip of champagne, and then once again raking his eyes down the length of me. I hated when guys did that—being very visual myself, I didn’t enjoy being the subject of their mental picture show.
I gave him a weak smile. “Sorry, no.” Separating sex from emotional attachment sullied both. The only thing those two cared about was how I looked naked—not enough attachment for this gal.
At my sign, the bartender closed out my Diet Coke tab for the evening—I was currently suffering through day twenty-two of the Lucky O’Toole Self-Betterment Program. Unfortunately, this state of austerity severely limited my beverage of choice, Wild Turkey 101, and thus did very little for my overall appreciation of humankind. Turning on my heel, I headed for fresh air to clear my head—before I did something I would be proud of, but would regret in the morning.
As you might have guessed, my name is Lucky O’Toole, and as the Head of Customer Relations for the Babylon, Las Vegas’s most over-the-top resort/casino, I hang out in bars. A lot. And, in a city where the action doesn’t even pretend to get going until at least ten-thirty—and doesn’t really ramp up until the wee hours—I put in twenty-hour days way more than I would like. Today was one of those days. But, as the Chief Problem Solver at the Babylon, I’m in charge of keeping people out of trouble... and staying out of it myself. Tonight, trouble lurked at my shoulder—not good in light of my dangerously low levels of self-control. I could feel bad karma stalking me, ready to sink its teeth into my jugular. And I had no one to blame but myself.
You know how you make a decision to do something months, or even years, in advance, never thinking you would actually have to follow through? Well, over a year ago I mortgaged my soul to the Devil, and now he had come to collect. What did I do that was so bad? I agreed to host the final competition of the reality show
The Forever Game,
where carefully selected couples would vie to win a Las Vegas wedding extravaganza. Had I known that the host, Trey Gold, could inspire women the world over to shoot first and ask questions later, I would have reconsidered. Now it was too late.
After months of auditions around the country, the final four couples were en route to my hotel. The insanity had already begun.
To make matters worse, all of the frivolity would be televised live—reality
at its finest.
I really hate reality. And, personally, I find putting reality on
like covering a cockroach in chocolate and calling it a “gourmet experience.” But, nobody asked me.
Lost in thought, I didn’t notice my mother, Mona, until she caught me at the top of the steps leading from the bar down to the casino floor. “Where have you been?” Her tone was accusatory as usual—a sharp arrow tipped with guilt.
Stumbling on the first step, I grabbed the handrail. “Fielding offers from a couple interested in a threesome. Apparently the wife thinks I’m cute.”
That stopped Mother for a moment. Long and lean, her body rippled under a spandex sheath of silver lamé, which was a little looser than her normal painted-on attire. Her bare legs, hinting at an athleticism she didn’t have, ended in five-inch stilettos, also silver. Fine bones and a plastic surgeon on speed dial kept her whittled in an envious shape. With her brown hair piled on her head, wispy tendrils tickling her well-kohled eyes, and her lips painted a pouty pink, she was the mother from hell. Beside her, I became interesting scenery on the fringes of her stage, adding color but little substance. Her eyes wide, brown saucers, Mona put a hand on my arm and leaned around me. “Really? A threesome? Are they cute?”
She chewed on her lip, a hint of mischief in her eyes. “It sounded interesting, that’s all. Sue me.”
“Convincing District Attorney Lovato to prosecute you would be even better. Come to think of it—he owes me a favor,” I groused. Mother had been manageable when she was ensconced at her whorehouse in Pahrump—sixty miles of very uninviting desert between us. But with her in the hotel, perpetually under foot, I lived on the verge of matricide.
“Really, Lucky. You need to get out more. Make more friends.” Mona gave me that look that mothers reserve for recalcitrant two-year-olds. “And those clothes, they take boring to a whole new level.”
“Silver lamé is frowned upon in the boardroom, Mother, even in Vegas.” After successfully navigating the steps, I pulled myself to my full height, brushed down my slacks, hiked up my belt, and took a deep breath.
“Well, I hope you’ve taken my lingerie advice to heart.” She hooked her arm through mine, pulling me close as we ambled across the casino. “Women who say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach aim a few inches too high.”
“You should know. But I wouldn’t waste your energy worrying about my sex life. Frankly, I don’t have the energy.”
She leaned in, her mouth close to my ear in order to be heard above the music and laughter of a casino full of gamblers chasing a dream. “How are you going to find Mr. Right if you don’t sample the fare?”
“Seriously, you want me to play with a husband pimping his wife to get chicks? I really see a lot of upside there.”
“Of course not.” Mona shot me a dirty look. “But . . .”
“And you haven’t forgotten Teddie, have you?” I pulled my mother out of the way of a man fist-pumping and bellowing. I couldn’t tell if he was happy or not, but since he ordered drinks for everyone, I assumed he was money ahead.
“Teddie wants to be a rock star. He’ll break your heart.” Mona stated this with certainty, as if the whole world could see the train wreck coming.
“Who’ll break your heart?”
The melodious voice set my every nerve afire. I turned to look into the smiling baby blues of the gentleman in question. “You.”
” Teddie fell back, a hand pressed to his heart. “Mona, you wound me to the core. Lucky is my life.” He wrapped me in his arms, pulling me to him. Our bodies pressed together and the world fell away. When he captured my lips with his, then deepened the kiss, my heart skipped and then raced, spreading warmth. Too bad he was a budding rock star with a future on the road. Nothing like one huge pothole in the rocky road to love.
When I came up for air, I met the scolding eyes of my mother.
“I may not know much,” she whispered as Teddie broke away to greet a fan, “but I do know men.”
made men her life’s work. Hopefully the years had taught her a thing or two, but I wasn’t going to bank my future on it. Besides, manipulation was Mona’s middle name. “This time you’re wrong.”
Teddie captured my hand as he returned. “You guys don’t want to hit the lobby. It’s a circus.”
“Three rings. I’m the ringmaster,” I reminded him.
“Well, there’s safety in numbers, right?” He extended an elbow.
I hooked one arm through his and the other through Mona’s. Side-by-side, we marched toward the lobby. For some reason I felt like Dorothy skipping toward Oz, full of misplaced confidence.
A wall of energy hit us as we stepped into the lobby, taking my breath away like a punch. Built of marble and multicolored inlaid mosaic, the lobby was a grand cavern invoking a Persian paradise. A flight of blown-glass hummingbirds arced across the ceiling. Fabric in rich hues tented over the reception desk, spanning the length of the far wall. Adjacent to it, behind floor-to-ceiling glass, a mountain of man-made snow beckoned those weary of the heat of the Mojave. For a small ransom, anyone could slap on a pair of K2s and slip down the slope. Angling away from Reception was the opening to the Bazaar, world class shopping at its excessive best. From Ferraris to Ferragamos, the Bazaar had it all. A placid stream wound its way through the expanse, lined with shrubs and flowering plants, populated with regal swans and a few ducks of different hues, and crossed at convenient intervals by arching footbridges. The waterway was the Babylon’s rendition of the Euphrates, minus the silt.
Tonight, the grand sweeping entranceway of the front of the hotel drew the focus of a burgeoning crowd, who nudged and shifted like cows at feeding time. Everyone craned to catch a glimpse of the finalists basking in their fifteen minutes of fame.
I pulled my little trio to a halt before we got trampled. “I just don’t get this whole reality
thing—ringside seats to disaster from the anonymity of our living rooms.”
“Oh, honey, it’s everybody’s chance at a dream.” My mother squeezed my arm as she shivered with apparent delight.
“After you throw your teammates or housemates or mates in general and your dignity—oh, and your values—under the bus.”
“It’s the real world.” Mona actually looked like she believed it. Logic never was her best thing—probably a coping mechanism. But, she did have a point: Civilization had abandoned civility in so many ways.
“This? The real world?” I unhooked my arm from hers as I caught sight of my assistant, Miss P, heading my way like a laser-guided missile. “I’m insulted. This is fantasy, smoke-and-mirrors.” I waved my free arm over the crowd. “A carefully crafted illusion that, even if only for a weekend, we can all be who we want to be and have anything or anyone our hearts desire.”
“What does your heart desire, Lucky, my love?” Teddie whispered in my ear. Before I could answer, he let go of my arm and was instantly swallowed by a swarm of fans. He whipped out a Sharpie and began decorating the various adoring females buzzing around him.
Momentarily distracted from thoughts of reality
, I watched all the sweet young things pressing their soft flesh to his in a not-so-subtle display of availability. My reality. How he resisted, I couldn’t fathom. How I would handle his temptations in the future was equally murky. A problem for another day.
Miss P trundled to a stop in front of me. “Lucky.” A statement, not a question.
Right voice, wrong person. I squinted and refocused. I still hadn’t gotten used to the hip, trendy, spiky-haired version of my old and frumpy right-hand man.
“I’ve been calling you,” she continued, with more than a hint of exasperation. “Why don’t you answer your phone?”
“For some silly reason, I thought I might take a moment to regroup without being hounded. I don’t know what I was thinking.” I grabbed my phone from my hip and thumbed off the silent switch. “Besides, I was momentarily distracted by an offer to join a threesome.”
Miss P looked at me for a beat over the top of her cheaters. “Do I need to call the paramedics?”
“Not necessary—my rapier wit is only set to stun today.” That didn’t get even a hint of a grin. I was going to have to either change my act or take this one on the road.
With the middle finger of her right hand she nudged her glasses farther up her nose as she raised her head to look at me full on, oblivious to the gesture she had just shot me. “The limos are five minutes away.”
“Reroute them to the Kasbah.”
“The crowd is reaching the boiling point—security won’t be able to hold them all back. Not good television and not the image of the Babylon I want to have splashed in prime time around the globe. I’ve already scrambled the
crews to the
entrance.” My tone clipped the wings of any argument.
“And Trey Gold?”