We took a sharp turn, tires squealing around the corner of the quiet residential street. Had we been in a smaller vehicle, the tires would have left the road. Or worse, caused a roll-over; then we would have skidded through someone’s living room window. The demon in the driver’s seat turned the wheel hard, blew past the wrought-iron gate into the courtyard, and managed to leave the paint job on her black convertible Mercedes intact.
The two-story white Key West-style house was located on the outskirts of Tarpon Cove, the first exit going south off the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys. An inviting veranda wrapped around the upper level, with tropical flowers of all varieties in brightly colored pots lining the courtyard.
I inherited the house from my aunt Elizabeth. It had taken me a long time to put my personal stamp on the interior. For a long time I felt like a guest, much like when my brother Brad and I would come and spend summers with my aunt. After applying a fresh coat of paint, moving in my own furniture, and recovering a piece or two of Aunt Elizabeth’s furniture, it now felt like my home. I made the patio an extension of the house. It was a large entertainment area with comfortable furniture and an outdoor kitchen, a place that Aunt Elizabeth would be happy to find regularly filled with family and friends.
“Give me my keys,” I demanded, holding my hand out to my best friend and roommate, Fabiana Merceau.
Her blue eyes held a hint of humor.
“No.” She flung her long brown hair over her shoulder. “Who does all the driving? I do!” She poked her chest with her finger. “I need to keep the keys to make sure you don’t trick me and get behind the wheel.”
Fab and I met when she broke into my house and made herself at home, spoiling my cat.
We hopped out of the convertible black Hummer that I scored in a deal from our on-again, off-again employer, Brick Famosa. Brick owned a variety of businesses, including a car dealership in South Miami. Where I’d paid for my ride, Fab negotiated a trade in exchange for her high-end sports car. Neither of them discussed the details, but it left Fab far more obligated to Brick’s sleazy ways than I would ever have allowed for myself.
“I bet I have a better driving record — one ticket, ever. And you?” I snickered as I took the lead down the so-called ‘secret path’, a bare strip leading around the side of the house that had once been overgrown withweeds. The path ran along the side of the house to the back patio and pool. I had it cleaned out and paver bricks put down. How it retained the ‘secret path’ name I wasn’t sure, since everyone who’d ever been to the house knew about it.
“Aww, yes. Madison Westin, the slowest driver ever. Was your ticket for driving too slow?” Fab yanked on one of my red curls.
“Ha! Speeding.” I shot her a smirk before stopping at the back of the house, puzzled. The French doors that led into the living room, which always stood open in a welcoming gesture, were closed. This was especially strange since both of our boyfriends’ cars were parked out front.
“I can’t believe that one of the guys closed these doors in the middle of the day, even though I worry that the neighbors will walk in.”
“Trust me, word has gotten around that we shoot people.” Fab walked over to the pool and ran her hand through the water, testing the temperature. She passed by me, flicking water at my face. I ignored her and stared off in the distance, listening for the sounds of the ocean. I never got tired of life at the beach.
Fab slid her lock pick from the back pocket of her jeans. In seconds, she’d handily opened the door.
I sighed as I watched Fab. As usual, I felt unprepared. I only wore skirts, and the only ones with pockets were denim, which I reserved for jobs where running for our lives was involved.
Standing in the doorway, Fab burst out laughing. I followed, curiosity pulling me across the threshold into the living room.
The last thing I expected to see was Jax, tied to a straight back chair next to the coffee table, his long tan legs extended out in front of him.
“Madison… Hi, Honey.” Jax made the word sound like hon-knee. “Can you explain to these two assholes who I am and get me untied?”
It had been a while since I’d seen Jackson Devereaux, aka Jax. He looked like he’d just rolled off the beach in his white shorts and tropical shirt. The last time I’d laid eyes on him, he had one foot out of town, feeding me a vague promise to never return.
“He says he’s your husband?” snapped Creole. Creole’s blue eyes were frigid, his expression forbidding.
Creole, born Luc Baptiste, went by the street name that he used as an undercover detective with Miami’s finest. I never tired of looking at his caramel-colored skin, strong bone structure, and dark shoulder-length hair. His defined jaw, covered in day-old stubble, always made me want to rub my cheek along his.
Fab laughed and dropped onto the couch, draping herself on her boyfriend’s lap. Didier, no last name, was a male model who graced billboards and was as sought after as any Hollywood star. Both of them were French, sizzling sexy, and they liked to fight in their native language, effectively cutting off eavesdropping.
“He left off the ‘ex’ part.” I smiled at Creole.Creole and Didier glared at Jax, so I knew he’d been a pain in the ass. “Why is he tied to the chair?”
“Because they’re both dicks,” Jax snapped, tossing his head in their direction.
Didier’s pale blue eyes stared icily as his foot shot out and kicked Jax’s chair.
“Don’t leave out the part where you tried to break in like a common, vulgar criminal.” Didier’s black hairwas disheveled and standing on end, though it only made him sexier, if that were possible.
“Babe….” Jax winked and slowly perused my body, stopping to ogle my breasts before returning to my eyes. “I’m still tied up.”
Creole snarled at him.
“Please,” I mouthed to Creole. I really didn’t want any ass-kicking going on in my living room.
“Oh, brother,” Jax rolled his eyes. “What the heck has happened to you? I thought the last boyfriend was a jerk, but this Neanderthal…. Your taste in men has gone downhill since our split.”
I couldn’t help myself. I laughed at his audacity. Jax must have forgotten that his husband skills completely blew, the cheating not the least of it.
“You might want to keep in mind you’re not untied yet,” I said, crossing my arms.
Fab jumped up and jerked open a drawer in a side table, removing a switchblade knife.
“Let me,” she said with an unnerving grin. She closed the space between her and Jax, holding the knife out and running her finger along the blade for him to inspect.
“You’re crazy!” he yelled. He tried to lean away and tottered in the chair, barely saving himself from falling to the floor and taking the chair with him. “Why aren’t you on medication?”
“No blood on my hardwood floor,” I admonished Fab.
Fab handed me the knife, and I sliced through the rope with no mess.
“Now that I’m back,” Jax said, shaking his arms to get the blood circulating again, “we should talk reconciliation. We’ve missed you.”
“We?” Creole raised his brow and looked around.
“He named his…uh…,” she pointed downward. “Mr. Sir.”
Both Creole and Didier laughed.
Knowing Jax was about to give Fab provocation to kick his ass, I jumped in front of him.
“How’s your family?” Without waiting for an answer, I said, “Let’s go outside and sit by the pool.”
“Sit down,” Creole bellowed and pointed at Jax. “I want to know why you were lurking around and what you want. Even better, I want to know when you’re leaving.”
Jax sneered at both men and made himself at home on the daybed/couch, stretching out. At six feet, he was the shortest of the three men. His brown hair wassun bleached and lighter than I remembered.
Jax scooped up my hundred-year-old, long-haired black cat, Jazz, who’d just sauntered in from his food bowl. The cat stretched out on his chest and went to sleep. Animals and children loved Jax. He’d wanted custody of Jazz in the divorce, and I laughed in his face.
Jax would have gotten bored the first time the cat showed him his tail, showing off how insufferably spoiled he’d become from having the four of us to do his bidding. Jazz had certain expectations that had to be met or howling would ensue. The loud racket turned out to be quite an effective motivator.
Creole lowered his voice, explaining to Fab and me that Jax had woken Didier while he’d been lying on the couch. Jax had jerked the handles of the French doors and tried to force open the windows.
“Too stupid to notice they had locks,” Didier said with a smirk. The model had his best friend and workout partner on speed dial; he’d called Creole to ask whether he should wait until the prowler got in the house to shoot him. Creole told Didier to hold off unless the prowler actually got inside and promised that he’d be there in under five minutes.
At first Didier had been resistant to learning how to shoot. Then Fab bribed Didier to go to the gun range for target practice, and he quickly became her star pupil.
Jax blew me a kiss and patted the space next to him. I ignored him and sat in the chair he’d vacated.
“Are you in trouble?” I asked, knowing the answer had to be yes. Although we had remained amicable, helped along by rarely speaking to one another, I suspected his reason for being here was because my most appealing trait to him was that I could be helpful in a tight spot.
“I’m back in the Keys on a business deal. Thought I’d stop by,” he said, his eyes gauging the reaction of everyone in the room.
I could feel Fab’s eyes rolling, but I refrained from looking at her. Creole and Didier didn’t know him but I’d bet his slow response, as though he had to think up an answer, wouldn’t pass Creole’s detective sniff test.
“Let me translate: a drug deal or some other illegal deal went bad. You’re being hunted, and you need a place to hide out. Does that sum it up?” I smiled sweetly at him, knowing he wasn’t selling hymnals door to door.
“You know I turned my life around. No drinking, no drugs. Been sober for a while and I like it that way.” He reached out to touch me and I twisted away. He managed to grasp a lock of my hair that I wrestled away. My long red hair looked good today, and I had low humidity to thank.
“I do need a place to stay for a few days,” he continued.
Creole had paid attention to every word out of Jax’s mouth, but at the last he shot to his feet in protest.
“Not happening! Sleep in your car, under your bicycle, or on the beach, I don’t care. Don’t step one foot on this property again without an invitation.”
Jax rolled his eyes down Creole’s torn jeans, coming to rest on his dirty feet.
“He’s disgusting,” Jax said.
When one consorted with drug dealers for a living, dress was casual and precluded him from wearing a suit to sit in a dark, seedy bar working out the details for an illegal transaction. Often times he got arrested, and one of the detectives on his team would give him a free ride back to his office in a warehouse at an undisclosed location.
“You made a friend or two the last time you were here. Go stay with one of them.” I walked over and sat next to Creole and put my hand on his thigh, a gentle reminder that bodily harm to Jax wasn’t worth it.
Jax set Jazz aside, letting him have the pillow, as he stood.
“I really would like to talk to you…,” he paused, looking around, “alone. Can we go outside?”
I looked at Creole. His expression said that he didn’t like the idea, but nodded anyway.
“Text me where you are staying and I’ll come by in the morning,” I whispered, looping my arm in Jax’s and walked him to the front door. We stood on the front step. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” He smiled, his dimple deepening. “I just need a friend. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He started down the driveway, then came back and hugged me. “It’s really good to see you.”
He disappeared down the driveway. I stood for a moment and heard a car start a house or two away. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled…always a bad sign that I tried not to ignore.
I walked back in the house, shutting the door. I found Fab standing there, apparently spying through the peephole. She pulled me into the living room. The look on her face told me she hadn’t heard a word.
Creole raised his eyebrows. I hated that everyone stared at me.
“He didn’t say anything.” I practically sprinted into Creole’s open arms.
Fab broke the silence. “I know what will make you feel better. Tomorrow, I have a surprise for you,” she said, eluding Didier as he reached for her, a frown on his face.
Creole groaned and I wrinkled my nose.
“No, thanks. You know I hate surprises.”
Didier managed to drag Fab back onto his lap and whisper something in her ear, which she ignored.
“This one you’re going to love.”“If that were the truth, you’d tell me now.”
The Amazon link: Amazon link: http://amzn.to/1GL0AUAHere is the link to find first chapters of three more of Deb's books in the Paradise series - enjoy! http://deborahbrownbooks.blogspot.com