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Georgios Vilos sat behind the large mahogany George II desk in the office on the top floor of his Eaton Place mansion in London’s fashionable Belgravia. Outside, the trees had shed all but a few of their leaves, dry, brown stragglers that held on to denuded branches, rattling in the wind. The chill drizzle of a late autumn rain beat a steady tattoo against the mansion’s windowpanes. Within the sumptuous confines of his home office, Georgios Vilos was oblivious to the inclement English weather. While the lower floors of his vast mansion—one of the few in the neighborhood not yet broken up into smaller apartments—were abuzz with the endless activity required to maintain the residence in its opulent state, his office was a sanctuary. There Georgios Vilos often withdrew to contemplate the future of his empire, to plan and strategize, and sometimes to do as he was doing today: study the latest figures given to him by his accounting division.

The report from Adonis Papadrakis, his CFO, confirmed what he already knew to be true. Vilos Shipping, Ltd., the small company he had inherited from his father and expanded into an international empire worth billions of dollars, was sinking, like a torpedoed ship, under a load of staggering debt. Now, two of his chief rivals, Panos Simitis and Spiros Farmakis, who like himself were Greeks of middling origin who had built enormous empires, were making inroads on the Vilos empire.

Georgios Vilos closed the file, which was stamped CONFIDENTIAL in bloodred letters on its cover, and sat back in his mahogany and gilt Thomas Hope-designed chair. He ran his thick fingers through his silver hair, exhaled a sigh, and took off his gold-rimmed eyeglasses , placing them atop the report. His heavy-lidded eyes, often remarked on as mischievous and full of merriment, or, alternately, calculating and intense, came to rest on one of the two silver-framed photographs that decorated his desk. Her strawberry blond hair was swept back into a loose chignon, a few errant wisps of hair carefully arranged to better frame her beautiful face with its high, prominent cheekbones, mesmerizing blue eyes, and long, narrow nose. Her skin, so perfect as to be almost translucent, was as radiant as it was flawless. On her ears were diamond earrings, with nine-carat D color pendants dangling from clusters of seven smaller stones. A matching choker encircled her long swan neck. The jewelry had been made by the legendary old Russian firm Alexandre Reza, located in Paris since after the revolution, and Georgios vividly remembered the day he had successfully bid on them at Sotheby’s in Geneva. When the hammer fell and the diamonds were his, Fiona had turned to him in the salesroom and, in front of the roomful of assembled bidders, kissed and hugged him excitedly.

Georgios emitted another sigh, his gaze still fixed on the photograph. It had been taken several years after the auction, and the smile on Fiona’s lips was forced. Their marriage at that point had become a battleground upon which they waged perpetual war against each other. It had begun with his liaisons with other women, trifling flings of no consequence as far as he was concerned. But Fiona didn’t see his behavior in that light, and had reacted in kind, taking a series of lovers whom she flaunted in the most disgraceful manner. They had eventually come to a kind of truce and remained married, but in name only. The wounds they had inflicted on each other in the past had never quite healed, and though they occupied the same sumptuous homes and sometimes went out together, traveled together, and entertained as a couple, they lived separate lives. Fiona was civil, as was he, but he knew that it was only the money that held them together. He also knew that Fiona wouldn’t hesitate to leave him in search of greener pastures if his empire crumbled.

He abruptly pushed his chair back and rose to his feet, walking over to one of the windows, where he looked out at the dreary London day. His tall, big-boned frame practically filled the window. It’s the Germans, he thought angrily. Those goddamned German bankers. He loathed them. No matter how much of their money they loaned him to build new ships, he would never feel comfortable with them. Now the money was spent, the loans were soon due, and the banks were not willing to change the original terms of the deal. There would be no extensions, no reprieves, no negotiations, no further credit extended. Vilos Shipping, Ltd. would have to give the banks the two hundred and fifty million dollars they were due or his ships would be impounded. It was as simple as that.

My beautiful ships, he thought sadly. The most beautiful ships afloat. And the reason for all of my problems. At a time when other cruise lines were building bigger and bigger vessels carrying three thousand passengers plus another two thousand in crew, Georgios Vilos had chosen to go in the opposite direction. Deciding to add to his aging fleet, he had built two small, elegant ships that carried a mere eight hundred passengers in pamper-ed luxury. These ships weren’t merely small and luxurious, however; they were also the fastest ships ever built, capable of maintaining a speed of twenty-eight knots for long periods of time, even on transAtlantic voyages. The Queen Elizabeth II could go that fast, but the ship would shudder to pieces if it tried to maintain such a speed. His ships could cross the Atlantic and make the trek to Hawaii in two days—a feat that took most ships five. He was proud of the Sea Nymph and the Sea Sprite, but the cost overruns had been ruinous. Material and labor costs had skyrocketed during the long process of build-ing the beautiful vessels. Before they were anywhere near completion, he’d had to start seeking the funds to finish them, then more funds to launch them. The pride and joy of his fleet, they had proven to be his downfall.

He had sought credit elsewhere to pay off the note, but had come up empty-handed. Virtually no one would extend him credit in his current financial predicament. In fact, more than a few financial institutions had seemed to take great pleasure in refusing the great Georgios Vilos. Like a computer virus, word of his dire straits had quickly spread. He endured more than a few cold shoulders and outright taunts, even among the large, tight-knit community of enormously rich Greek families who had their principal homes in London and conducted their financial enterprises from there. Bastards, he thought. They love nothing more than to see one of their own suffer, to see one of their fellow country-men fall from the heights of glory.

He turned from the depressing sight out the window and went to the Regency library table that served as a bar. From the large silver tray he picked up the bottle of ouzo and poured a generous portion into an antique St. Louis crystal glass. From the silver ice bucket he took several cubes, dumped them in the glass, then swirled the drink around, watching as the ouzo became cloudy. He might have come a long way from the village he’d grown up in outside of the port of Piraeus, where his father’s small business had its offices, but he felt that his heart and soul were still Greek to the core. He took a big sip of the anise-flavored drink, then went back to his desk and sat down on the Thomas Hope chair, a chair that he’d always thought suited a man of his influence, wealth, and power. He set the drink down, then drummed his manicured fingernails on the desktop for a mere instant.

Well, I won’t give the sons of bitches the pleasure, he thought, smiling tightly. No, indeed. They’ve got a surprise coming to them. Georgios Vilos is not beaten yet.

He took another swallow of the ouzo and shook with a brief chuckle. They think the old man has had it, but I’ll show them what this old man can do. He set the glass down on the desk, and his gaze fell on the other silver-framed photograph that sat next to the one of Fiona. Makelos, his only child and heir. Georgios’s features suddenly took on an aspect that was a mixture of pride and puzzlement. Makelos—Mark, as he had anglicised his name—was one of the most handsome young men he had ever seen, and that, he knew, was not simply a proud father’s opinion. Makelos made heads turn walking down the street, and all eyes turned to him when he entered a room. The girls were crazy about him, and he had his pick among the international set with whom he socialized. His black hair and dark eyes, his chiseled features and hard, muscular body, and his graceful yet manly movements were riveting. He was an excellent sailor, as any man of Greek descent should be, Georgios thought, and he had done well enough on the rugby field. Now, he was a worthy adversary on the polo field and tennis courts. He was also intelligent and had done well at the expensive private schools where he’d been sent, and then had performed tolerably well at Oxford.

Georgios picked up the ouzo, swirled it around in the glass again, then took another sip, his gaze still focused on his son. Makelos—Mark! Would he ever become accustomed to the name?—was also, he knew, spoiled and arrogant. He was used to getting his way, and God help anyone who tried to stop him. There had been a problem or two with the girls over the years—nothing serious, he thought—and Georgios attributed them to his son’s inborn, high-octane testosterone, nothing more. Perhaps time would temper his interest in women and the endless round of parties that seemed to occupy the young man. For a long time Georgios hadn’t worried about his son’s perpetual dalliances, remembering his own wild youth. But there had come a time, he reminded himself, when that stage of his life had simmered down as his work had taken over, then consuming him, as he built Vilos Shipping, Ltd. into the international company that it had become. It was time that Makelos did something useful to help the company. His son owed him, he thought, and it was time he paid his debt.

His gaze swept around the magnificent office in which he sat, taking in its mahogany-paneled walls, the immense fireplace with its Adam mantel, the perfectly faded silk Tabriz on the floor, the antiques that glowed with rich patinas, and the Impressionist paintings that graced the walls. There were even a few Greek antiquities of impeccable provenance. No power on earth would force him to give all this up.

With that thought, he picked up the telephone and dialed his personal assistant. She picked up on the second ring. “Georgios Vilos’ line,” she said in her clipped British voice.

“Rosemary,” he said, “check to see when my appointment is with the bankers in Athens.”

“The appointment is at four p.m. on Thursday. That’s Athens time, Mr. Vilos,” she retorted. “They called to confirm this morning.”

“Good,” he replied. “Call the pilot to get ready for takeoff and tell Mrs. Vilos that we’ll be flying to Athens today.”

“Yes, sir,” Rosemary said. “Will I be going with you, sir?”


“Are there any files that I should bring with me?” she asked.

“I think I have all the files we need here,” he answered.

“I’ll make the calls and get ready right away, sir,” she said.

“Good-bye,” Vilos said, hanging up the receiver without waiting for a reply. He sat staring at the telephone, lost in thought. He found the idea of this meeting with the Lampaki brothers repugnant, but he had no other options left. There was a chance they would give him a loan to meet his obligations with the German banks, but they would charge an astronomically usurious interest rate. Simply repaying them would require a vast and potentially crippling cutback in day-to-day operations, above and beyond the trimming he’d already done. If it saved his empire, however, the costs, no matter how high, would be worth it. Should the Lampakis turn him down, he would have to use a backup plan, one that eliminated dealing with the banks altogether.

He picked up one of his cell phones—the one with his most private number—and dialed the number he’d memorized months before. He waited impatiently through three rings. On the fourth ring, his call was answered.


“Can you talk?” Georgios Vilos asked.

“For a moment.”

“Is the package I ordered ready?”


“Very good.”

“When and where do you want it delivered?”

“At my office in Piraeus, Greece, on the date we discussed.”

“What time?”


“The second payment must be in my account the day before.”

“That’s not a problem, I assure you,” Vilos replied.

“Then I will see you in Piraeus.”

“You must -” Georgios Vilos began, but there was no one on the line. Azad had hung up.

He flipped the cell phone shut, sat back in his chair, and took a deep breath. He disliked dealing with this revolting man even more than dealing with the Lampaki brothers, but as with them, he had no choice. The munitions dealer was by necessity secretive—and exorbitantly expensive—but he was also needlessly arrogant, Vilos thought. It was as if he could see the smirk on the man’s face the few times he’d spoken to him by phone. He could hear the condescension in his voice, as if he thought he was dealing with a helpless juvenile.

Georgios Vilos sighed. He had to tolerate the munitions dealer until his problems were resolved. Where else could he get the plastic explosives he might need on short notice? It took time to penetrate the veils of secrecy that surrounded underground munitions dealers like this one, and he didn’t have that luxury. If Lampaki didn’t give him the loan, he needed to be prepared.

Georgios Vilos took the last sip of ouzo in the glass, setting it down on the desk when he was finished. If the Lampakis turned him down, he would use the munitions dealer’s plastic explosives to blow up the Sea Nymph. Then the insurance companies would have to fork over the money to pay off the bank loans. He hated to see the ship destroyed—blown to smithereens, with hundreds of innocent passengers aboard—but if that’s what it took to save Vilos Shipping, Ltd. from certain ruin, then that’s what he had to do.

Picking up his cell phone again, he pressed the speed-dial code for Mark, hoping that he could reach his son. Yes, he thought again, it’s time for Mark to help me out. To pay me back for providing him with a life of unbridled luxury.

Chapter One

Crissy Fitzgerald ran her fingers through Beatrice Bloom’s long, bleach-streaked tresses. As nice as Beatrice could be and as generous as her tips were, Crissy was in no mood to spend the next two hours dying Beatrice’s gray roots and adding new highlights. Beatrice, a regular customer, hadn’t been to the salon for the last couple of months, and today her hair would require extra work. Crissy restrained from sighing aloud, however, and forced a smile to her lips. Holding a hank of hair, she looked up into the mirror and saw that Beatrice was watching her closely.

As if she could read Crissy’s mind, Beatrice said, “You’ve got a real job on her hands this time, sweetheart. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in.”

Crissy nodded. “It sure has, Beatrice,” she replied amiably, “but don’t worry. We’ll get you fixed up.”

“I was in Europe,” Beatrice said, “and I didn’t have my hair done the whole time I was gone. I don’t trust just anybody, so I decided to wait till I got home to see you.”

“Oh, that’s so sweet,” Crissy said, dropping the hank of hair and picking up a brush. She began brushing the woman’s hair in long strokes, examining it as she did. “But I’m sure there’re lots of great hairdressers in Europe. Where did you go?”

“Here and there,” Beatrice said, crossing her age-spotted hands in her lap. Crissy noticed, as she had many times before, the beautiful rings that the woman always wore. Large diamonds set in yellow gold. A huge aquamarine surrounded by diamonds. “London for a week, then Paris and Venice.”

“It sounds so fabulous,” Crissy said. She had been saving up for a trip herself, she just didn’t know where to go.

“Well, I can’t get enough,” Beatrice replied.

“Do you want to go with the same colors today?” Crissy asked. “We did two the last time.”

Beatrice nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I love the lighter and darker streaks the way you do them.” She laughed genially. “They help hide some of the gray when my roots begin to show, too.”

Crissy smiled. “I think you always look great, Beatrice,” she said, meaning it. “I’m going to go mix your color, and I’ll be back in just a minute. Do you want a magazine?”

Beatrice glanced at the stack on the counter. “I’ll take the Vogue,” she said.

Crissy handed it to her. “Be right back.”

Beatrice nodded and began flipped through the pages of the magazine.

Crissy went to the back of the shop and opened the door to the supply room, closing it behind her when she went inside. It was a relatively quiet refuge from the noisy shop. Today the pop music on the radio and the chattering of the hairdressers, manicurists, and customers were grating on her nerves. She took a sip of the coffee she’d left in the room some time ago. It was cold and tasted terrible, but she drank it nevertheless. Anything to jump-start my motor today, she thought. She pulled on plastic gloves to protect her hands from the dye, then chose the appropriate color for Beatrice’s roots, a medium chestnut brown. She put some into a plastic container, then put in the developer and began stirring the mixture thoroughly, taking longer than necessary. Usually cheerful and energetic, Crissy felt tired and grumpy today. What’s wrong with me? she wondered idly, even though she knew the answer to the question. She was bored with her job and bored with her life outside work. I’m just bored, period, she told herself.

Nothing exciting ever happens to me, she thought. Nothing. I’m in a dead-end job, and I don’t know what to do about that. I don’t have a boyfriend or any prospects. I never go anywhere interesting, like Beatrice, or do anything particularly interesting, either. I’m always listening to other people talk about the excitement in their lives, and I don’t have anything happening in mine.

She gave the mixture one last stir with the brush, then went back to Beatrice, who was engrossed in the pages of Vogue. “Here we are,” she said, setting the container down on the counter.

Beatrice closed the magazine and left it in her lap while Crissy began gently pulling up hanks of her hair and generously brushing in the dye along her roots, repeatedly dipping the brush in the plastic container to replenish the dye.

“You don’t seem so happy today,” Beatrice said in a quiet voice. Her head was angled downward, her chin almost resting on her chest, while Crissy went to work on the back of her head.

“Oh...I’m okay,” Crissy said, surprised that the older woman had picked up on her gloomy mood.

“No, you’re not,” Beatrice said. “I may be old, but I’m not stupid. You’re unhappy about something.”

Crissy laughed lightly. “You’re too shrewd, Beatrice,” she said.

“And you are young and beautiful and have your whole life ahead of you,” Beatrice retorted. “You shouldn’t let things trouble you so.”

Crissy felt flattered by what Beatrice had said, but she didn’t really believe the words. “You’re so nice to say that,” she replied.

“And I mean it,” Beatrice said. “What’s bothering you, sweetheart? Boyfriend trouble?”

Crissy shook her head and laughed again. “No. I don’t have a boyfriend,” she replied.

“Aha!” Beatrice exclaimed. “So that’s it. No boyfriend.”

“Not really,” Crissy said. Then she added, “Well, maybe that’s part of it. I’m just...I don’t know. I feel sort of tired, you know?”

“Crissy, sweetheart,” Beatrice said. “You’ll have a new man in your life in no time, I’m sure. You’re too beautiful not to. You must have men after you all the time.”

Crissy shook her head. “I wish,” she said, sighing. “But I don’t.” It was true, too, Crissy thought. She didn’t have men after her. Not like most of her friends. And she never had. Growing up in Albany, she’d always felt left out and different, in part because she was Asian American. She’d had girlfriends, but the boys had often teased her, calling her “slant eye,” “chink,” “China doll,” or “Tokyo Rose.” More recently, she’d heard men refer to her as “sushi.” She’d laughed, telling her friends that the growing popularity of Japanese food had provided a whole new vocabulary of slurs, but in truth she had been crushed.

“I find that hard to believe,” Beatrice said, abruptly raising her head and looking at Crissy in the mirror.

“Well, it’s true, Beatrice,” Crissy said. “I really don’t.”

“Oh, sweetheart, I didn’t mean to upset you,” Beatrice said. “I -”

“You didn’t,” Crissy broke in. “I’m sorry, Beatrice. I guess I’m just tired today.”

Beatrice shrugged. “No offense taken.”

They fell silent for a little while, and Beatrice turned back to her Vogue. “There are so many things in here that you’d look darling in,” Beatrice said at last, tapping a clear-lacquered fingernail against the magazine.

Crissy laughed. “Sure, Beatrice. Like I make enough money to buy anything in that magazine.”

Beatrice smiled. “They make great knockoffs nowadays.”

“Don’t I know it,” Crissy said. “I get a lot of ideas from there, then go shopping at discount stores.”

“You always look great,” Beatrice said.

“Thank you, Beatrice. You’re still very attractive, too,” Crissy said honestly, “and you’re certainly young in spirit.”

“Thank you,” Beatrice said. “I think that’s part of what attracted Sidney to me. We may have been in our sixties when we met, but we were both still interested in life and what’s going on in the world.”

“You didn’t meet him until you were in your sixties?” Crissy said. “I didn’t realize that. I knew he was your second husband, but I didn’t know you’d married that recently.” “I met him about a year after Harry died,” Beatrice replied. “I missed Harry, of course, and I was lonely. I have some good friends, you know, but it’s not the same without a husband. So, I set out to find one.”

“You did?” Crissy asked, somewhat astonished with Beatrice’s straightforward honesty. “What did you do?”

Beatrice laughed. “I went on a cruise,” she said. “A very long cruise.”

“No,” Crissy said with a laugh.

“Oh, yes,” Beatrice said. “I knew it would mostly be older people because it was a three-month-long trip. Most younger people can’t get that kind of time off if they work, so it was mostly retirees.” She laughed. “Also, it was very expensive, so I knew that the price would eliminate a lot of younger people. Usually only older people have the kind of money it cost.”

“You’re so smart,” Crissy said. “I would’ve never thought of that.”

“But it wasn’t just about the money,” Beatrice said. “It was the widowers.” She slapped the Vogue with a liver-spotted hand. “When you get together a boatload of old people, there’s bound to be some widowers aboard, even if they’re outnumbered by widows. And, sure enough, that’s how I met Sidney.”

She and Crissy both laughed. “I don’t believe it,” Crissy said.

Beatrice shrugged. “It’s called putting two and two together, sweetheart. The funny thing is, Sid was on the cruise for the same reason I was. Grace, his wife, had died a little over a year before, and he was lonely like I was.! We hit it lucky, and we’ve been happy ever since.”

“That’s so wonderful, Beatrice,” Crissy said.

“And you could do the same thing,” Beatrice said. “Maybe you can’t take a three-month cruise, but you could take a shorter one. Besides, sweetheart,” she went on, “you need to see some of the world. Something besides Albany, New York. And see it while you’re young and can still get around.”

“I’d love to do something like that, Beatrice,” she said. “I’ve always dreamed of traveling.”

Crissy proceeded to add the highlights. After the bleach mixture had done its work and Crissy shampooed it out, she began trimming Beatrice’s hair, taking pains to do a good job, studying her work both close up and in the mirror’s reflection. When she was finished, she massaged a light setting liquid into her hair, then blew it dry. “Okay, Beatrice,” she said, “how do you like it?”

Beatrice looked at her reflection straight on, moved her head to one side, then the other, and finally gazed into the hand mirror that Crissy held up so that she could see the back. “I love it, sweetheart,” she said. “You always do a terrific job.”

“Thank you, Beatrice,” Crissy said.

“And you’re the best colorist between here and New York City,” Beatrice added. “Everybody says so.”

Crissy laughed. “There’s not much competition, is there?” She helped Beatrice out of the protective smock she was wearing and shook it out.

“Don’t belittle yourself,” Beatrice said, looking at her with an arched eyebrow. “Good colorists are hard to come by, and you know it.”

Crissy nodded. “You’re right,” she said. She scribbled out a payment slip for Beatrice, then handed it to her. “Pay Rosy up front as usual.”

Beatrice gazed at the slip, then picked up the black alligator handbag she’d placed on the Formica shelf running along Crissy’s workstation. She rummaged in the handbag, finally pulling out a wallet. Crissy discreetly turned away while Beatrice got her tip out. “Listen to me,” Beatrice said in a low voice, holding out her gnarled hand. “Take this and tuck it away someplace safe. I want you to use it as a down payment on that trip you’ve wanted to take.”

“Oh, Beatrice,” she replied, palming the money without looking at it. “You’re so sweet.” She slipped the folded bill into the pocket of her smock.

At the front of the salon, Beatrice exchanged pleasantries with Rosy while she paid her bill, then slipped into the dark mink coat Crissy held open for her. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll see you soon, and remember what I said.” She winked, then left the salon.

Crissy watched her cross the parking lot to her big silver Mercedes, then turned to Rosy. “Who do I have scheduled next?”

Rosy looked at her over the top of the glasses that rested near the tip of her nose. “Connie Parker. She called and said she was on her way, so you’ve got a couple of minutes. Why don’t you make yourself useful and make some fresh coffee for us?” She stared up at Crissy belligerently.

“Sure, Rosy.”

She didn’t ask why Rosy hadn’t done it herself, since she’d long finished with her last manicure and had sat slurping coffee for the last twenty minutes or so, gossiping with waiting customers and beauticians while she flipped through People magazine. Instead, Crissy went to the back of the shop where the coffeemaker was and started a fresh pot. Then she went back to the storeroom and closed the door behind her.

She reached into the pocket of her smock and felt the crisp, folded bill that Beatrice had given her. She took it out and looked at it. Crissy could hardly believe her eyes. Beatrice had given her a hundred-dollar tip. For a moment Crissy was stunned. Then she took her pocketbook from the shelf and put the money in her wallet. Sitting down, she wondered at Beatrice’s generosity. What was it the older woman had said? Something about using the tip as a down payment for a trip? She already had built up a sizable next egg, and this would add to it nicely.

The door abruptly opened, and Rosy stuck her head in the room. “Why don’t you turn on your fucking cellie?” she groused. “Jenny’s on the phone, but I’m going to tell her to hang up an call your cell number.”

“I’m sorry, Rosy,” Crissy said, restraining herself from lashing out at the ill-tempered woman. “I’ll turn it on right now.”

Rosy eyed her malevolently, then slammed the door shut.

Crissy shot the bird at the closed door, then took out her cell phone and switched it on. She knew that Rosy was an extremely unhappy woman, obese, unattractive, and resentful, but her nastiness was hard to take. Crissy didn’t have much choice—not if she wanted to continue working at the shop. Rosy was the manager, and Tony Ferraro, the owner, trusted her completely.

Her cell phone rang, and Crissy answered it. “Hi, Jenny,” she said.

Jenny laughed. “That bitch told you to turn on your cell phone, didn’t she?”

“Oh, yes,” Crissy replied. “In fact, she told me to turn on my ‘fucking’ cell phone.”

“That’s just one of the things that makes her so attractive,” Jenny said. “Her lovely way with words.”

“She’s really getting hard to take,” Crissy said.

“Don’t let the bitch get you down,” Jenny said. “She’s just jealous.”

“I don’t know why she’s jealous of me,” Crissy replied. “She’s got a boyfriend, and she’s got Tony eating out of her hand. She runs this place like she’s some kind of a queen and we’re all her servants.”

“Oh, you’re feeling blue today, aren’t you?” Jenny ventured. “Come off it, Crissy. You know why that ugly bitch is jealous. You’re pretty and nice and popular. None of which she’ll ever be.”

Crissy sighed. “I guess.”

“Listen,” Jenny said. “Why don’t we go out tonight? There’s a hot new club on Central Ave. that’s got a great DJ. Nine One One it’s called, and I’m dying to try it out.”

“I...I don’t know,” Crissy prevaricated. “I’m trying to save my money, and -”

“Oh, come on, Crissy,” Jenny said quickly. “I’ll treat. I just got my alimony check from Pete the Prick.”

Crissy laughed. “Can’t wait to spend it, huh?” Maybe she should go out tonight, Crissy ruminated. Yes, she decided, that’s what she ought to do. She and Jenny always had a good time together.

“I’ll swing by your place about eight, eight-thirty. How’s that?” Jenny said.

“What’s this place like?” Crissy asked.

“Really cool, I hear,” Jenny said. “Fancy enough that a lot of the guys who work at the Capitol go there, expensive enough to keep the rednecks out.”

“You mean the parking lot won’t be full of pickup trucks with gun racks?”

“That’s exactly what I mean,” Jenny said, laughing. “Come on, say yes, and I’ll pick you up.”

“Okay,” Crissy said. “What are you going to wear?”

“Something sexy,” Jenny said.

“Tell me something I didn’t already know,” Crissy said. “I meant, like casual or what?”

“Probably slacks and a cute top,” Jenny said. “Maybe this new glittery number I’ve got that shows a lot of boob.”

“You’re shameless,” Crissy said.

The door to the storage room swung open, hitting the wall with a loud bang. Rosy stood in the door frame, her body occupying it entirely, with a highly unattractive scowl on her face. Crissy, her mood considerably improved by talking to Jenny, almost laughed aloud. Rosy looked as if smoke would pour out of her nostrils at any minute.

“Your next customer is here, if you care,” Rosy snapped.

“I’ll be right there,” Crissy said sweetly.

Rosy didn’t budge, nor did the expression on her face change.

“I have a customer,” Crissy said into the cell phone, “so I’ve got to run. I’ll see you tonight.” She pressed the call end button, flipped shut the phone, and rose to her feet. Yes, that’s what she should do. She decided she would really make an effort tonight, get dressed up and made up, and try to put a little extra zing in her step. Who knew? Maybe she would meet the man of her dreams at Nine One One.

Dear friends and readers: Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading this Sneak Preview. Sorry for being such a tease, but from this point on, you’ll have to read the book...

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