Dark revelations and secret love lead to personal resurrection.
Carolyn Madison didn't kill her husband but didn't mourn him either. The rapist deserved to die, or at least she thought so. Beneath a myriad of family secrets, Carolyn drags the skeletons out of the closet and in the arms of her true love, learns to love again.
Walt Tollhouse has pined for Carolyn since she was a shy seventeen-year-old. Little did he know Robert Dubois would steal her away, and then destroy the beautiful spirit he still loved. Beneath the guise of clean-up man, the martial arts instructor never pushes his battered love but gives her silent support she deserves.
Where is the devil?
From the doorway, Carolyn Madison’s gaze sharpened as she scanned the room. Her traitor ex wouldn’t miss the opening of a new ballroom at his favorite riverboat casino in Kansas City. She couldn’t wait to tell him the Odyssey casinos were still hers.
Great. He’s not here to ruin her evening.
Even after their divorce, Robert Dubois retained a position at the Odysseys. It galled Carolyn that her father had allowed her ex to remain on the board, although she knew Daddy wouldn’t have if he’d known the crime Robert had committed against her.
Unclenching her hands, she took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. She slid her moist palms down her black Halston evening dress.
Lanterns graced the walls, giving out a dim orange glow. Large, terra cotta pots of purple flowers and green shrubbery scattered throughout the area and a large fountain standing in the center added authenticity to the Mediterranean-style room.
Long tables were filled with hors d’oeuvres of Greek spinach and cheese pastries, spinach salads, and dishes of chicken, pork, and lamb. Ice sculptures of dolphins playfully cavorted at one end. The tantalizing smells of garlic, oregano, and basil from the serving pans conflicted with the guests’ perfumes as they enveloped her.
Women in elegant gowns and men in tuxedos stood in groups, chatting while sipping champagne. She’d created the perfect spot to entertain the high rollers, proving she was capable of running the casinos. The company was still hers despite Robert’s schemes. Strolling into the room, she sidestepped people as she maneuvered through the crowd, waving and smiling when she heard her name.
The touch of a hand on her arm made her turn. Carolyn smiled at the tanned, prematurely white-haired man who was their head of security and board member, too.
“Hello, Walt. I didn’t think I would see you tonight.”
She’d always talked to Walt Tollhouse more than with other men. In the last month since he’d informed her of Robert’s treachery, she’d spent more time with him and grown to trust him.
He grinned. “I wouldn’t miss your party for anything.”
“Thanks. I know you hate crowds and don’t usually attend these shindigs, so I appreciate your coming.” Walt’s dark brown eyes crinkled with a softness she’d never seen before and brought back a memory of being in love with him as a teenager.
The CIA had grabbed him for covert operations in the Middle East, and when he had come back, she was married. Still, the last few weeks stirred a longing she hadn’t known in years. She regretted not having waited until he came home instead of jumping into a loveless marriage.
“Is the board meeting on for tomorrow?”
“Yes. Changes need to be made immediately.” Carolyn knew Walt worried about the company. Robert had sold out to a competitor by hiring one of their people. He’d made it necessary for her to run the company in order to protect it from a takeover when her father died a few months ago. She’d called a special meeting to let the other members know he’d been removed from the board.
“Good.” Walt patted her shoulder. “I’ll be there.”
“I’m grateful for your extra effort and support, Walt.” She reached out and embraced him, her cheek brushed the lapel of his gray tux, and she noted his wide chest and clean good-guy smell. “We would’ve lost the Odysseys if not for you and my father.” She gazed at him with gratitude. He’d helped her to find the courage to do what she was doing.
His arms enclosed her in a brief clasp, then he stepped back and dropped his hands to his sides. “I’d never let that happen.”
“I know you wouldn’t.” Carolyn squeezed his arm, touching solid muscle. She regarded him more closely. He was a handsome man even at fifty, and a good friend to her family as well as head of security. They’d met when he’d worked as a cashier at the casino while getting his college degree. Back then, their age difference had seemed enormous; today it wasn’t such a stretch. Five years didn’t seem as much now.
She’d avoided men since her divorce from Robert twenty years ago after six years of putting up with his affairs. It could be time for her to move on with her life. The thought made her decide she'd better go mingle because she didn’t know if she was ready to share her time with someone. Her fear of Robert shouldn’t deprive her of other relationships. Her existence since becoming a mother was devoted to her children. Now that they were grown, it was time for her to move on.
“I’ll see you tomorrow at the meeting, Walt.”
“Okay. I’ll stay awhile longer to make sure a crisis doesn’t pop up this evening.”
“Thanks.” Smiling, she started to walk away, but stopped in time to keep from bumping into a group.
A twinge of a headache settled in her temples, and she rubbed the right side of her head. After a few moments the pressure lifted. There were guests to be entertained.
Carolyn waved to several people, then she spotted her children and decided to join them.
She was proud of them for working their way up in the company. Her oldest, Alan, dressed in his usual conservative dark suit, and her oldest daughter, Jolene, were total opposites. She was a peacock in a multicolored gown. Her youngest, Melanie, at twenty-two, wore a simple black sheath similar to her mother’s.
Melanie resembled a younger version of Carolyn, petite and pale. She clashed with this daughter because they were so much alike but mostly due to Robert’s influence on Melanie. At sixteen, Melanie had become rebellious, and her father encouraged her mutiny. He'd thought it was funny to turn her daughter against her. Although Jolene and Alan had their father’s dark hair and his height, six feet, they were nothing like him otherwise.
She turned to invite Walt, but he was gone. A movement in the doorway attracted her attention and her gaze fell on her ex.
He’s here. A spurt of anger slashed through her brain, the headache of a moment ago now screaming. She sped toward the entry where Robert stood, noting several ladies waved at him. Why would anyone be interested in a thieving, no-good drunk? Even though appearance wasn’t everything, his excessive drinking had put lines on his face and added pounds to his belly. She wove her way around people while fury surged into her chest like acid at the memories of his deeds.
She saw that he’d spied her and he turned away. He’d run, of course. Usually, since their divorce, she avoided him, so he had to know she was onto him. She pushed through the exit. He wouldn’t get away. She would let him know she’d learned of his devious plan in time to foil him.
“Darn it.” She tottered on stilettos and grabbed the rail just in time to prevent a tumble onto the bridge of wooden planks between the boat and land. Panic seized her, and she wondered if she was doing the right thing by confronting Robert; he had a history of violence.
Yes, the time had come for her to beat down her fears. She glanced ahead at the tree-lined and dimly lit parking lot. The shadows scared her, but she still followed him and reached his assigned spot before he could pull away.
She banged on the window. “Robert. Stop! I want to talk to you now. Be a man for once.” A man? Not likely. He was a rat; a big fat rodent, who sniffed and hunted for his next female victim. The motor revved and tires squealed. She jumped back when the black BMW’s back fender grazed her hip.
“You’re despicable, Robert!” She banged her hand down on the fender of the car next to her.
“Carolyn, are you all right?” Walt ran toward her. He reached for her and pulled her close. He rubbed his hands up and down her arms. “You’re not injured, are you?”
“No.” She wobbled and leaned against him. She wanted to melt into his dark chocolate eyes, but instead pushed him away. Their contact alarmed her--she liked his touch too much. Carolyn didn’t think she was ready for intimacy but maybe...“I-I’m fine.” Her hip ached like the devil.
“I’ll get him for this. Robert won’t harm you again.” He patted her shoulder tenderly. “Go back to the party. I’ll take care of Robert.”
What did he mean? Carolyn stared after Walt as he dashed off. She touched her arms where he’d stroked her. They radiated heat like dice rolled between two palms.
Would this gentle man really harm Robert? Remembering the stories of how he’d saved people at great risk to himself while in the Middle East, she shuddered.
* * * * *
Robert rolled his window down, fanning himself as he waited for the cars in front of him to exit. He’d run the company since the death of Carolyn’s father and hadn’t expected to see her at the party tonight.
She’d never taken an interest in the casinos while she raised the kids, but then she hadn’t needed to. He’d paid child support and maintenance to impress old man Madison, so she hadn’t needed to work, but she’d gotten an accounting degree. Hell, she could’ve been working at the firm. He wouldn’t have known it; he didn’t spend any more time there than he had to. She wouldn’t risk coming face to face with him unless she’d found out about his dealings.
Damn, she had to be onto him; otherwise she’d never chase him. He was in deep trouble, and he didn’t want to get into it with the ex-soldier before he left town.
Even though the old man had always treated him like a son, for the last few months he’d ignored Robert. He’d been left out of the loop and treated like a piece of shit by Madison before he died.
Suddenly, a figure rose outside his door. Before he could act, someone grabbed him by the collar and jerked his head through the window.
“You bastard. Come out here, you asshole,” Walt roared. “Time to learn some manners, Dubois.”
Stunned, Robert instinctively hit Walt in the jaw and yanked himself back inside the car. Damn. He had to get away from this madman. Robert tried to roll up the window while trying to push Walt out. “What are you talking about?” Damn these cars. Why don’t they move?
“You know what I mean.” Walt grabbed the handle, trying to open the door. “Get out here. Time you fight someone your own size.”
The car in front of them took off. Without even looking for traffic, Robert tromped on the accelerator, exiting the lot. The son of a bitch still hung on, running beside him.
“It’s not over, Dubois,” Walt hollered and let go.
Robert watched him in his rearview mirror. Walt hated him, and he suspected the man loved Carolyn from the way he hovered around her.
He’d only wanted to party one more night in his Kansas City casino. Barely seeing the road, he glanced at the railroad tracks and the trees lining the Missouri river as he sped along Highway 210 and groaned. He needed to get the hell out of town if he wanted to stay alive, but he couldn’t just quit gambling cold turkey.
Twenty minutes later, Robert glanced over his shoulder before he entered his favorite casino. Good! No one he knew was around him. He took a handkerchief from his suit pocket and wiped it across his forehead. The stories about Walt’s skills and the way he took care of Madison’s enemies made him nervous. Although Tollhouse stayed in the background, Robert knew he was capable of anything.
Robert headed to the high stakes table to get his usual line of credit. He strode across the room and smacked into a man in a loud red shirt surrounded by a large, riotous group of people, but with only a scowl, he went on.
He threw ten one hundred dollar bills on the blackjack table. “Give me five blacks and the rest in green.” Tonight he had the cash to back it up; he had paid the loan shark. Absolutely, never again would he get indebted to him.
A waitress walked nearby, and he waved at her. “Scotch straight.” He placed a couple of black chips worth a hundred dollars a piece on his spot and watched the dealer throw the cards out one by one to the players.
This time, he would leave the five blacks out. Someone sat beside him, and he glanced at the other player. Robert knew the man in the loud red shirt and greasy hair was a loser. He could spot them a mile away--he’d been snakebit. Quickly, Robert grabbed his chips before the cards were dealt.
“Here’s your drink, sir.”
“Thanks.” Robert handed her a green chip. He gulped the Scotch in one swallow and handed the glass back to the busty redhead. “I’ll take another, but I’ll be over there.” He pointed to the roulette table.
Moments later, Robert stood at the roulette wheel and called out, “Red,” as he placed a hundred on the table. The ball pinged around the wheel before it landed, then cheers went up. He’d won.
“Red again.” He let it all ride.
“Here’s your drink, sir.” The waitress handed him a glass. Robert clasped the drink and dropped a green chip on her tray.
“One more time.” A hand clapped him on the back. Robert winced at the touch and the swarthy man in the red shirt leaned forward to place his tokens on red. “I’m going to clean up with you.”
The jinx had followed him, but he’d leave before the man’s luck rubbed off on him. Robert shrugged him off and picked up his tokens. He handed them to the croupier. “Give me black.”
“Damn you,” the red-shirted man yelled when he lost his money.
Robert had known the guy was a jinx, but with a glance at the fellow, a pang of fear coursed his body. Was the man following him? Could he work for the loan sharks? Hell, he could even be following him for his partner, Bill Rutherford. A couple of days ago, Bill had questioned him about the stocks. When Robert told him everything was going as scheduled, his partner had sounded as if he didn’t believe Robert.
He walked to the special cashier’s cage for the high rollers.
“Cash these in, sweetie.” He surveyed the pretty black chick in a buttoned-up, long-sleeved green blouse, and lit a cigarette.
She might be the same girl he’d seen his son with one night. She was a little skinny for his taste; he liked more meat around the hips on his women. He watched her count out the chips and go to the phone. Alan thought he fooled everyone, but his old man was onto him. His son liked black chicks, too.
He stared up at the camera, gave it the finger, and blew smoke. He’d cashed in several thousand, so he was on their winners list, and surveillance watched his every move. They would take his picture and watch the count out.
The girl returned, smiling. “Okay, Mr. Dubois, we’re ready.” She pulled money from her drawer counting it out for him. “Ten thousand.” She turned her palms over and spread them causing her blouse to tighten and the buttons to almost burst. “Congratulations and good luck, sir.”
Nice tits. “It’s my night, sweetie.” He pushed a hundred dollar bill back to her. His gaze on her breasts, he heard a soft gasp.
She stiffened and her smile waned. “Thank you, sir.”
Oh, yeah, the ungrateful whore took his money, but she begrudged him a look. He lifted his eyes to her face and saw green eyes specked with chocolate widen in shock at his behavior. He smirked and blew smoke directly at her. Her choked cough gratified him as he walked away. He deserved some enjoyment. This place had taken plenty of his money in the past.
He went to the bar and ordered another drink.
At a crowded craps table, Robert gazed at the shooter, a lovely mocha-skinned woman dressed in a red sequined gown. He smiled at the woman and placed a black chip on the pass line. “Roll those dice, sweetie, and get me some big ones.”
“For you, sugah,” she drawled, and threw the dice.
They bounced off the opposite end of the table and came up ten.
A roar went up around the table followed by cheers and loud clapping.
“Way to go, sweetie.” Robert smiled at the captivating woman.
“Why, I’m doing it all for you.” She patted her hip. “You belong here at my side.” She raised the red lacquered nail of her forefinger and beckoned him.
“All right.” He moved to her side, put his arm around her, and pulled her against him, rubbing her hip against his. “You’re my lucky charm.”
“Sugah, I’m thirsty. It’s getting hot in here.” Her lashes fluttered.
“What do you want, sweetie?” He waved a cocktail waitress over.
“I’m in the mood for a screwdriver.” She winked.
His gaze on hers, he moved closer and rubbed his handover her snatch. “Anytime, I’m ready.” With one more push, he turned to the waitress. “Scotch straight, and a screwdriver.”
Loud cheers and applause made him turn back to find he’d won another large stack of black chips. He left five thousand on number ten.
“Okay, lovely lady, do it again.” Robert stepped back.
“For you, sugah.” She threw the dice.
The dice came up ten again.
Elated Robert waved one hand over his head and grabbed her around the waist, squeezing her bottom. Winning always gave him a hard-on, especially when there was a beautiful woman involved. “Way to go, lovely lady.” He rubbed his cock against her thigh. She would understand what he wanted from her now. Her almond eyes widened, but she smiled at him.
“Sir, here’s your cocktails.”
“Thanks.” Robert laid a black chip on the tray and picked up the drinks.
“Thank you,” said the waitress.
He nodded and handed the drink to his companion, tipped his head back and gulped his scotch. Placing the glass on a table, he decided it was time to quit drinking. He was feeling woozy and the bright lights made his head spin.
She took a sip. “Just right.”
“You won for me again.” It was a great night. Fifty thousand bucks—this is how he liked it—winning big money with a gorgeous woman at his side. He was on top of the world.
“Hmmm. You smell good enough to eat,” she whispered and nibbled on his ear.
Robert pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket while he watched her blow on the dice, and then rolled them.
Lovely lady, I’m taking you home with me tonight. He lit a cigarette. After taking a couple of puffs, he stubbed it out. It’s sure getting hot in here. He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his face, then gazed around the room full of people. Slot machines dinged and big jackpot wins were announced over the speakers. He would miss the excitement, but there were better places. He put the cloth back in his pocket.
Hearing cheers, he looked to see he’d won again. He raked his chips in. Swaying over the table, he decided he wouldn’t put as much out this time, only a thousand.
“Damn, if you aren’t the luckiest man alive.”
Robert saw the swarthy man from the roulette table. Damn! What’s with this man? Was he just a jinx or here for some other reason?
Time to leave.