Just when you think life can’t get much better, a crashing wave wipes out your sand castle. Former spies Nick Seven and Felicia Hagens are taking a break from Key Largo to visit a casino owned by Nick’s friend, Rock Bianco. An unexpected, nasty encounter with one of Nick’s former lovers turns disastrous when she’s killed shortly afterward. The police and the girl’s wealthy father are convinced that Nick did it, despite the lack of hard evidence. The billionaire industrialist wages an online smear campaign to make Nick look guilty, including sordid details from his past career in the CIA. The stakes become more personal when the fallout impacts Felicia, testing their relationship. Nick fights back, but why is the man determined to hold him responsible for his daughter’s murder? Who really killed her, and why is their identity being shielded? Can Nick and Felicia resolve this crisis and reclaim their idyllic life in paradise?
Fort Lauderdale, Florida is part of the oceanfront strip known as the Gold Coast. It has long been the destination for fat-moneyed snowbirds who trek south every winter to escape the doldrums of Cleveland or Passaic. Basically a continuation of Miami Beach, it’s situated between Hollywood to the south and Palm Beach to the north. Port Everglades is one of the largest departure sites for cruise ships in the United States, serving three million passengers annually. The city boasts over a hundred marinas and sixty-odd golf courses, with a year-round climate that can best be described as pleasant, bordering on sultry. The perfect place for the haves to put distance between themselves and the have-nots that Hemingway so cynically described.
Three miles offshore sat a former cruise ship that had been converted into a casino boat called the Gold Flamingo. Water taxis and private craft converged on the boat in a steady flow, laden with gamblers hoping to win back what they’d spent on their vacation. The Monday night crowd was clad in a cross between tourist casual and trendy chic, as dictated by the fashionistas. The casinos were filled with the unmistakable sounds of gamblers in heat—coins being fed into hungry slot machines, dice rattling on the crap tables, followed by cursing when someone’s number didn’t hit. The high rollers dominated the Caribbean Stud and roulette tables. The more conservative bettors plied their skills at the video poker terminals while visions of jackpots danced in their heads. The tinkling of tokens hitting metal trays blended with the bright colorful lights and live music to create a cacophony of greed.
Nick Seven sat alone at a blackjack table with two stacks of chips and a drink in front of him. A small group of people stood around the table watching the action, eager to see who would come out on top in this high-stakes game. Nick looked intently at the dealer, decked out in the customary uniform of a white shirt, black bow tie and black sequined vest. Nick had opted for the Florida casual look of a white linen jacket over a powder-blue shirt and tan trousers. He and the dealer had been sparring for forty-five minutes, and the house wasn’t turning a profit on this game—yet. Nick’s gaze shifted to the six of diamonds and the four of hearts on display in front of him. The dealer had a king of hearts face up, and another card face down.
“Call or fold?” the dealer asked.
Nick rhythmically bounced a hundred-dollar chip on the felt-topped table while making a decision. “Call,” he said as he tossed the chip into the pot.
The dealer dealt Nick an ace of spades, bringing his total to 21, and gave himself a six of clubs. The crowd hushed as the dealer turned over his hole card, revealing a seven of diamonds. “Looks like you beat me again.”
The bystanders chuckled in appreciation. Nick smiled and raked in his winnings.
“Another hand?” the dealer asked.
Nick shook his head. “Daddy always said quit while you’re ahead.” He tossed the dealer a C-note chip. “Thanks for the ride.”
He slid his tall, lean frame off the stool, took his chips to the cashier’s cage then put the money in his wallet. Two grand. Not bad for a hundred-buck investment.
He walked through the casino toward the slot machines, where Felicia sat transfixed in front of a one-armed bandit. Nick’s gaze took in her Barbadian beauty—bronzed skin, long brown hair that came to rest on her upper chest, a petite yet trim physique and the most sensual brown eyes he’d ever peered into. She placed coin after coin into the machine and pulled the lever like she was on autopilot. Nick leaned in close and spoke in a low voice so he wouldn’t startle her.
Felicia pulled the lever again. “Close, hon,” she replied in her West Indies accent, her gaze not leaving the spinning reels that had her mesmerized. “This one’s about to spill its guts.”
Nick laughed. “Right. I’m going to the bar. You want a drink?”
“I’ll be along.”
He took a seat and ordered a scotch and soda. He looked over at Felicia again and felt a warm glow inside. When I got conned into coming back to the CIA for one last case a few years ago, I never dreamed anything good would come out of it, but when Felicia and I saw each other for the first time in five years it was like we’d never parted. I really got lucky when she decided to stay with me in Key Largo instead of going back to Barbados when the job was finished. He smiled. Maybe that’s why they always called me Lucky Nick.
He turned back to the bar and took a sip. They had decided to take a break from running Cricket’s Bayside, the club Nick owned on the Gulf side of Key Largo. He had always liked to gamble, and a trip to The Gold Flamingo seemed like the right diversion. The boat was owned by a friend, Rockland P. “Rock” Bianco, who had formerly owned Cricket’s until Nick won it from him in a high-stakes poker game years earlier. Nick glanced at his tanned reflection in the mirror behind the bar and absently ran his fingers through his thick brown hair. His gaze went to the quartet playing soft rock music on a stage next to the bar. But his relaxation was short-lived, interrupted by a female voice over his shoulder. It was a voice he didn’t want to hear.