Shirley was dead, and he was starting to stink. He must have been there several hours when she found him. Shirlow Ty Baker was a six foot five, two hundred and sixty pound linebacker, or at least he had been. He had also been wanted in no less than four states for murder, armed robbery, drug charges and various petty offenses just to fill out the long resume of a criminal’s career. Today, a sweltering hot Louisiana Sunday when most people were in church, ‘Shirley’ was face down on a patch of neatly cultivated azaleas in Mrs. Francine Hupper’s Shreveport lawn. Across the street, at the oak shaded park on Loony Street (fitting name, she decided) white canvas tents were set up for a wedding, or maybe a funeral, since the cemetery was right next to it. Once guests began arriving over there, someone would likely find ole Shirley, or worse yet, notice Bijou poking around in the area. She was after all, hard not to notice.
Bijou St. Claire called herself Bee because the name Bijou St. Claire would have gotten the crap beat out of you on a playground, and as a 27 year old adult, the result was not much more friendly. She was Creole, quadroon if you fancied the 19th century vernacular, with skin pale enough to “pass” and hair curly enough to never. Her eyes were the piercing green of her father, and her lips the full, sensual cupid’s bow of her mother. She was short. All the women in her family were what her mother called runts, but no one had ever complained. She was five foot and a squeaking one inch tall, and though her frame matched her name, she was no waif. New Orleans cooking and a spice for life had made its way to her breasts and hips, and it was only by the power of daily crunches and five mile runs that her waist remained small and trim while the rest of her was boom-pow. She might have looked more in place wearing a cocktail dress at some deb’s ball with white gloves, but instead she was here, in the leafy lawns of Shreveport, in jeans, boots and a Rolling Stones tee shirt. She did not own a cocktail dress and had no interest in one.
Bee had been tracking Shirley for two months, which was twice as long as it usually took to track someone down. The trick to this one was that the client did not want Shirley found. Shirley had run off with some boss’s daughter and taken with him a load of cash from Daddy Kade’s safe. A typical enough story. It only got complicated because Daddy Kade had employed Shirley as a do-bad man long before the daughter was involved. Shirley did plenty of hits for Daddy Kade at $20,000 a pop, which was twice what Bee made on the rare occasions when she took on a job like that. She did not fancy herself a hit-man… woman, but she had played the role of assassin exactly twice before, both sticky situations where there was not much choice involved. But that was another story. The fact was that Daddy hired Bee to track down Shirley and ‘keep an eye on him.’ The daughter had split two weeks ago, gone back to her cushy life as Daddy Kade’s Daughter with all thoughts of a Bonnie & Clyde lifestyle abandoned. With Daughter out of harm’s way, the private eye job had been upgraded to a hit. Bee took no pleasure in such tasks, but she was in more than a little bit of a bind. Her father, to put it mildly, had a gambling problem. He ran up a $60,000 IOU on the steamboat gambling halls owned by Gino Fatelli, or “Fats” as many called him, but never to his face. Fats may have had a name that sounded like an Italian mobster, but in fact, he was a 300 pound blues man that played at the Pink Oyster Bar on Iberville Street in New Orleans. He owned that joint too. Fats played the blues every Friday night to a packed house full of tourists and was known for eating an entire pizza on his own, often on stage between sets. The Pink Oyster was famous for Fats. Bee always wanted to ask him why the hell he named his blues joint a name that sounded like a lesbian bar, but she had enough problems without letting loose her big mouth.
Fats wanted payment. He wanted payment fast. He had made it clear that if the cash did not arrive soon, her father would pay the bill with blood. Fats was no fool. He knew Reggie St. Claire was not good for it. He also knew Bee’s skills. Her skills were worth more than a gambling debt. He came to her and made a deal; if she did a few jobs for him, he would scratch Reggie’s debt off his little black book. Meanwhile, Reggie better not even consider leaving New Orleans. Fats had eyes everywhere. So, Bee had taken jobs she would never consider otherwise. Gambling habit aside, her father was a good man, a simple man, and he had strived to be a good father to her, even in the worst of times.
When her mother had split when Bee was ten, Reggie raised her and her little brother Lucas on his own. No easy task for a man who only made it through the fourth grade. Now, creeping around this shotgun cottage at sunrise, she was too late. Someone beat her to Shirley. He was up shit creek with so many people it could be anybody, really. She didn’t know who and didn’t care. She could make a guess that one of the many people Shirley had screwed over had found him and shot him in the head, but she wasn’t sticking around to make a case for it. Shirley was dead. She would go back to New Orleans and tell Fats she had done the job. This was the last one. Her father would be off the hook, at least for now. She sighed a breath of relief, switching the safety back on her .38 special and checking her steps in the flower bed. Down the street, she had parked her motorcycle inconspicuously near the cemetery’s back gate. Pulling her black helmet down over her mass of dark curls, she revved the engine and made her way toward New Orleans.
It was raining hell-bent when she rode into the city. The designated meeting place was a top floor room of the Pontchartrain Hotel. Fats may have been a greedy assed gangster, but the man had style. He tried to get up Bee’s proverbial skirt since day one, and flattered her with champagne, expensive gifts and what he called his “priority personal attention.” None of these things would ever work on Bee. The man was holding her father hostage and had the audacity to flirt. She parked her bike and checked into the hotel under the alias “Dorothy Nine.” Fats told her she reminded him of the starlet Dorothy Dandridge, and said that Bee was a ‘nine’ because if she were a ten she would be out of his league. Fats had reserved the room himself.
She dropped her backpack on the four poster bed and checked her face in the antique mirror. The rain had washed what little make-up she wore and now her trace of black eyeliner was smeared down her freckle- speckled cheek like one of those goth kids she had seen in the downtown clubs. Her hair was damp. She fluffed it up with her fingertips and slicked on some lipstick. She would have cleaned off the smeared eyeliner, but she heard the lock open on the door. That would be Fats. She was surprised when it wasn’t.
With one long-legged stride, Alex Devereaux was standing entirely too close for comfort in the room… her room. Devereaux Gino’s right hand man, an unlikely one. For one, he was white. And white collar to boot. Even more unlikely, he was English. Tall, ashen hair, with startling blue eyes and a sexy crooked grin, Alex had picked up a charmer accent from a childhood and college years in Britain. The fact that he was pure bred Cajun had been long buried, but Bee knew it because Fats liked to brag to her about the unusual henchman he had acquired. Fats had tried his best to ‘acquire’ Bee as well, wanting her on the regular payroll, particularly to partner with Devereaux, who Fats called “Dee” as a joke. Dee and Bee. They would be the dream team, Fats liked to say. Devereaux and Bee went way back. She met him when she was nineteen, and he had seduced her with his charm, a wickedly sexy sleaze that should not have been sexy, but made her panties wet every time she thought about him. He was older than her, by fourteen years, and he called her ‘SugarBee’ in that odd British-New Orleans accent he had. No one else on Earth had that same accent. That was his alone. Later, when he had gone to work as Gino’s right hand, she stayed away, but he left his mark on her and she was not immune to it now.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, startled instantly by almost supernaturally blue eyes.
“You know why I’m here, Bee,” he grinned, slouching against the door frame with his hands in his pockets.
“Oh, I see. You my babysitter now?”
“You look a mess, SugarBee. Rough night out?”
“Try not to be an asshole, if ya please.”
“Fine then. Down to business. Yes, I am your babysitter, if that’s what you want to call it. Did you finish the job?”
“Shirley’s dead. It’s all done.” Well, that’s not exactly lying, she told herself.
“Fats will be pleased. So will the client.”
Daddy Kade was probably sipping brandy in some gentleman’s cigar room. His daughter was probably telling her friends how she lived a few weeks of the wild-life with a wanted man. It would make her popular. Her little debutante friends would get a squeal out of that story. Shirley was probably still rotting in the azaleas, and by now the wedding party had probably discovered him there and called the police. She told Devereaux as much.
“Good. The deal is done then, but of course, you’ll need to stick with me until there’s proof.”
“With you? I was expecting Fats.”
“Fats is a busy man. He sent me instead. You don’t mind, do you? I mean, you and me, this beautiful room… I’ll order in some wine.”
“Shut it down, Alex. I’m not that easy. I know the game. The hit will be on the news soon enough.”
“Switch on the telly then,” he said.
She liked the way he said television. ‘Telly.’ It would be cute if he didn’t look like he might devour her in the next couple of minutes. He had that way of looking at her, like he was mentally pouring barbecue sauce on her and licking his lips. She wanted to be able to honestly say she found this repulsive, but the truth was, it was making her nipples hard and she crossed her arms to conceal this fact. She tried to stop staring at his long, elegant body standing there, locking the door behind him. She switched on the television and found the local news station. There was a chance the news would mention the murder today on the eleven o’clock, but there was also a chance they would pick it up tomorrow, which meant that she would have to spend the night, in this room, with Alex Devereaux. The thought unnerved her, and much to her shame, sent a flush of heat between her thighs.
She flopped down in one of the oversize reproduction wingback chairs, and crossed her legs, trying to look cool and at ease. He smiled at this, as if he knew she was full of shit, and he probably did. She pulled the little table closer to her chair and fumbled through her backpack to find the deck of cards she always carried with her. Laying the cards out on the table she started up a quiet game of solitaire, pretending he was not in the room. It amused the cocky bastard greatly, and he chuckled, pulling up a chair himself.
“C’mon, luv, don’t be that way. How ’bout we play a hand of gin. It’ll keep you amused.”
Annoyed, she reluctantly agreed. Engaging him might be better than trying to hide her interest.
He shuffled the cards expertly, showing off a little and feeling her heart flutter at the wicked glimmer in his eye. She dealt the cards face down and before he picked them up, he glared at her with that grin,
“How ’bout we make it interesting, luv. Whoever loses a hand, takes their kit off.”
What a piece of work. The man was suggesting the loser get naked.
“The whole thing? That’s too rich for me,” she replied, and with a start realized she was not objecting.
“Alright then. One piece per hand lost. By point count.”
For reasons she could not explain if she tried, she nodded and made a flourish of picking up her cards and glancing at them, then smiling.
“Strip gin. That’s a new one,” she smiled.
As it turned out, she won the first hand, by a long shot. He flashed that devilish grin again and stood up to shrug out of his button up shirt, tossing it onto the floor. She pretended not to care, but when he was not looking, she stole a glance at the body she remembered from years ago. The years had not taken away any of his beauty. He was lean and fit, sinewy muscle and raw sexuality right at the surface. She saw the scar he had even back then, some cut from a bar brawl he had mixed up in right across one rib. She mentally scowled at the sudden urge to lick him right there and taste it. The second hand, he won. She bit her lip and unlaced her boots, shucking them off and kicking them aside.
“What a shame,” he said, eyes roaming over her body. “I was hoping to see you naked, with just those boots on, SugarBee.”
“Play your damn cards and hush up,” she said, hoping he could not see the evidence of the reaction her body was having to him. She was wet, and if she didn’t cross her legs, he could probably see it on her jeans.
Much to her dismay, he won the next hand as well. She stood up and pulled her tee shirt up over her head, trying to be casual about it, and laid it over the back of the chair. She wanted it close by. He watched her do this, not making any effort to not stare. He drank her in. Goosebumps raised on her skin, and her nipples were as hard as pebbles. Didn’t know why she was playing along with this game. Someone had taken over her body, and she was just floating there. Another hand, and dammit if that bastard didn’t win again. She stood up and glared at him, trying to ignore the wicked grin. He licked his lips as he watched her unbutton her jeans and peel them down, leaving her in just her panties. Two hands left. She won the next one, making it so far, a tie. She smiled, feeling triumphant.
“Go on now,” she said. “Kit off.” She imitated his accent, and he gave her a grin.
He stood up and kicked his shoes off. She tried to hide her disappointment. She had forgotten about his shoes. She was hoping to have his pants off. She went still then, suddenly realizing,
“What about the winner in the end? What does the overall winner get?” she asked, regretting it the instant the words escaped her mouth.
“The loser gets to climb between those pretty legs of yours and lick you till you come.”
“Oh, you think I will win then? That bodes well for me.”
“I’ll let you win.”
“Then what does the winner get?”
Her face flushed pink, and she felt her legs tremble. She was past the point of caring if he noticed. Of course, he noticed.
“Last hand,” she announced.
It seemed to draw on forever, building the hand and laying down the cards.
“Gin,” she said, barely above a whisper.
She won. He did not give her time to think. He stood up swiftly and in one smooth sweep; he pulled her up into a kiss. It was rough and delicious, the way she remembered. His mouth tasted of whiskey and honey. The three days of stubble that never seemed to go away scratched against her cheek, exciting her more. She forgot everything else. He always had that effect on her. He pushed her back onto the bed, and she sat up, looking at him, wanting him more than she cared to admit. He stood up to his full height, more than a foot taller than her, and he gave her a wink, unfastening his pants and sliding them down his long legs. He wore simple pale blue boxers underneath and she could see that he was hard. He discarded them quickly, letting his cock bounce free. It took every bit of restraint she possessed not to drop to her knees and take it into her mouth instantly. She remembered that long, heavy cock; it’s curve and the way it felt sliding over her lips. He stood still, letting her consider it, and when she leaned in to touch the tip of it with her tongue, he pushed her back, legs up, and roughly slid her panties off her legs.
“That’s my girl. I love how wet you get. It’s beautiful, luv, it really is.”
She might have died a little inside of embarrassment, not of her arousal or the evidence of it, but at her obvious want of this man, this raw and predatory man whom she always fell for, always submitted to, even though she knew she shouldn’t. He scooped up her breasts in his hands and sucked at them. He knew what she liked. There was no soft caress or the hesitant touch of a new lover. No, he knew exactly how she liked it, as if he had mapped out her body from years ago and memorized the plans to draw every gasp and moan from her lips. He pulled and tugged at her nipples, snapping them back and sucking them hard enough to leave little delicious bruises. His fingernails scratched down her sides to her hips, moving to her thighs and then inside, parting her open and finding the hard nub of her clit quickly. She jolted and gasped at the sudden shock of pleasure his fingertips created. He laughed then, smug that he could do this to her so easily. She hated him for it.
“You won, luv, but you’re still gonna beg me for it,” he said then, dipping his head to flicker his tongue against the swollen nub, making her jolt again.
“Fuck you,” she gasped.
He laughed again.
“Oh, I will, but now be a good girl and beg for it.”
“You arrogant ass. I’m not begging you.”
“You’re beautiful when you’re angry, luv.”
He dropped again, this time sucking her into his mouth. He worked her there, expertly with his mouth and fingers. She rocked her hips up against his mouth, not caring if it annoyed him as it might another lover. Alex was an animal. He fucked like an animal. She was close. She would come in just a second, in just a…
He stopped, pulling away and giving her a swat on the thigh. She wanted to slap him, to take him by the hair of the head and push him back down, making him lick her again, force him to finish. But he was torturing her. He sat back and laughed, even his evil asshole laugh was sexy, and she hated that he turned her on so much. Well, to hell with him, she would finish herself. She slipped her fingers down between her legs and tried to bring herself off that way, with him shamelessly watching. It didn’t work, and he knew it. She wanted him. It was past wanting. She needed him. Her fingers stilled and he bent down to look into her eyes,
“All you have to do is beg, luv. No one will know but me. Beg me to do it.”
“I hate you! You arrogant bastard!”
“Of course you do, SugarBee, but all you have to do is beg. Beg me and I’ll lick you till you come.”
She bit her lip, gritted her teeth and submitted.
“No, no, luv. You know how this works. Beg.”
“Please do it. Please let me come. Please, I’ll do anything…”
“That’s more like it. That’s enough, luv. I don’t want to completely break you. We’ll leave that for later.”
He licked his lips and vanished between her legs. He sucked at her again, pushing his fingers into her and making her soar as only he could. She came with a keening moan, and he did not stop. He kept drawing the orgasm out of her until she lay breathless on the bed, exhausted. Only then did he raise up with that demon grin, his lips wet with her juices. He pulled her up again, standing up and wrapping her legs around him so that he leaned back a little, supporting her on top of him. He bounced her there, impaling her and drawing another breathless moan. She clung to him, arms wrapped around his neck as he thrust into her. He backed her against the wall, then put her down, turning her roughly to bend her over and take her from behind. He made her come again this way, laughing as she moaned and thrashed like a cathouse nymphomaniac, then he finished himself. It was dignified and quiet, which made her hate him more. Alex always had to keep the control.
When they finished, she went into the bathroom and locked him out, quickly showering and admonishing herself in the mirror for letting herself screw around with Alex Devereaux. Especially now, when everything hung in the balance. She had no right playing around with him when all hell could break loose any minute. She wrapped a towel around herself and emerged from the bathroom to see that Alex had already gotten dressed and was now indulging in a glass of whiskey from the crystal decanter near the bar.
“You alright?” he asked.
“Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?” She fastened the buttons of her jeans and slipped her tee shirt on, not bothering with her bra.
“Just because I’m an asshole doesn’t mean I don’t care about you, luv. Your dad’s made quite a pickle for you. It can’t be easy.”
“No,” she admitted. “It’s not.”
“It’s over now,” he said softly.
“Gino called while you were in the shower. He got a tip that your mark is in fact, dead. Cops found him about an hour ago in some bushes in an old woman’s yard. It seems you nailed him as he was breaking into the old lady’s house.”
She took a deep breath, reminding herself not to blow her cover. She had nothing to do with Shirley’s death, but it looked like she had to Gino and that was all that mattered.
“So, it’s really over?”
“Yeah. Gino is taking off your father’s debt, with a stern warning of course that it not happen again. Understood?”
“And you’ll make your father understand?”
“Of course. It won’t happen again.”
“Then I suppose I can go, since you don’t need a sitter anymore. You’ll be alright on your own?” he asked, knowing full well she would be. He was stalling.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just want to go home.”
He looked at his watch and stalled another minute, awkwardly.
“Hey SugarBee? You be careful out there, alright?”
He tilted her face up to meet his and there it was, that soft, gentle side he had. Underneath the swagger, there was concern.
“Yeah, I’ll be careful. Thanks Alex.”
He said nothing, just gave her one last kiss and walked out. She gave him time to get out of the hotel and be gone, then she grabbed her backpack, slinging it over her shoulder. It was all over, and she was going home.