Guilty Pleasures 5
Copyright © 2012
The irritating rap burst once more into her dream, rousing her from the best sleep she’d had in ages. Lia Constantine pulled the pillow over her head, trying to recapture the pleasant state she’d been in.
The noise invaded her senses again, setting her nerves on edge. “Go away,” she mumbled, fighting to return to the highly erotic dream she’d just been enjoying. A gorgeous guy, with the physique of a Greek god, was just about to make love to her. The unwanted interruption couldn’t have come at a more inappropriate moment.
A third annoying rap broke into her dream. This time, Lia recognized the sound. There was somebody at the front door.
“Okay, okay, I hear you, I hear you,” she shouted, stumbling from the bed and dragging on a robe. “Give me a minute, for Christ’s sake.”
An unenviable reflection greeted her as she walked into the hallway. The full-length mirror captured her image mercilessly. Through bleary eyes she saw the destructive effect of a night out with her best friend. Her thick blonde hair stuck up in great, long tufts. Makeup was still on her face from the night before, but totally rearranged. Were panda eyes fashionable? Still, she’d had a great night out, celebrating Monica’s twenty-fifth birthday. Last night was the first time she’d really enjoyed herself since the untimely death of her father one month ago.
Whoever was at the door would just have to take her as she was. After walking downstairs, she tentatively opened the door a few inches and wearily peered through the gap. A handsome young man with an infectious smile greeted her. He held a huge bouquet of lilies in his arms.
“Flower delivery for you, ma’am.”
It was the biggest bouquet of lilies Lia had ever seen, and she’d seen more than her fair share during the last year. “Are you sure they’re for me?”
“Well, unless you know of another Lia Constantine who lives at 43 Mount Drive? Perhaps you have a secret admirer, ma’am.”
“I doubt it,” she scoffed as they were thrust into her arms. As the young man walked away, Lia wondered whom they could be from.
Still half-asleep, she made her way to the kitchen and placed them on the table, then prepared herself a strong black coffee. It took enormous effort to keep her eyes open as she poured the hot beverage into her favorite mug. Once it was made, she sat at the table and cupped the steaming liquid in her hands, feeling like death warmed up.
“Never again,” she whispered to herself. “I’m going teetotal from now on.”
As Lia idly sipped her coffee, she noticed a small, pale pink envelope lying within the blooms. She fished it from the bouquet and tore it open. Inside was a card.
My deepest condolences on the death of your father.
I have arranged a meeting for 2:00 p.m. today at my place of work.
I strongly suggest you take the opportunity to attend.
Owner, Arabian Nights Casino, Las Vegas
Lia scratched her head in annoyance. “Jake Benetti? Who the hell is Jake Benetti? And who the hell does he think he is?” I strongly suggest you take the opportunity to attend? How dare he? She turned the card over looking for an explanation. “Damn.” There was nothing but a photograph of the casino itself—a tall building of some fifty floors or more, glittering like a tacky jewel in the Las Vegas night sky.
“What the hell does this Benetti guy want from me?” she mumbled into her coffee. Surely he had the wrong woman? She looked at the card again. How did he know her father was dead? Did he even know her father? She couldn’t imagine he’d have any connection with a seedy casino owner. She assumed it was a case of mistaken identity.
As someone who hated crass gambling clubs, she tossed the card dismissively away. Wild horses wouldn’t make her visit a casino. Her mother had always taught her that gambling and the pursuit of money was the root of all evil. Considering she lived within ten miles of the Strip, the nightlife of Las Vegas had been hard to ignore. The Nevada economy thrived on the gambling fever that constantly swept through the state. But her parents had not succumbed to its glitzy, tawdry lure, choosing instead to make their living from the clean, honest labor of running a simple grocery store, in one of the outlying Vegas communities. However, Lia was worldly enough to know that money from the casinos filtered through to them. The neighborhood was pretty poor, and many of the people they served in her parents’ store had taken jobs in the casinos in order to make ends meet. Just like the casinos themselves, it was something her mother chose to ignore.
Lia shook her head. As always her mind drifted to her family. In the last twelve months she’d lost her father, and her wonderful fiancé, Joe. It had been a tough year. One that she wished not to dwell on. She moved the bouquet into the sitting area, placing it next to the photograph of her dead parents. She picked up the framed photo of her fiancé, Joe, and gently kissed his image through the glass.
“No one could ever replace you. Sweet dreams, honey. I’m going back to bed.”
Last night had been great. It was time to start living again. Whoever Jake Benetti was, she didn’t like him, and she wouldn’t be accepting his invitation any time soon.
* * * *
Three days later
Every morning before breakfast, Lia always took an early morning jog. Since the devastating news of Joe’s death, and then some eleven months later her father, she found it therapeutic to haul herself out of bed and pound the streets in search of some normality. The exercise released the endorphins in her brain and helped her make sense of the crazy world she currently inhabited. The cool morning air and the solitude as she ran around the block set her up for the long day ahead at the fitness center where she worked as an aerobics instructor. It had been her goal to start her own business as a personal trainer. Her father had left her the money to achieve this in his will when he’d died, and she’d already taken on three new clients. Fred Constantine had been a wonderful man. He’d been marvelous when Joe had been killed in that terrible car crash all those months ago. She took a deep breath, reliving the awful incident. She’d been in the passenger seat, but had just barely survived. Her father had taken care of everything. He’d even paid for a top psychiatrist out of his own pocket when she’d been unable to cope with life anymore. The loss of the man she loved so dearly had hit her hard. She hugged her arms around herself, still feeling his warm, gentle presence. She still couldn’t believe he was dead.
Lia quickly glanced at her watch as she jogged past the school gates. Right on schedule. In twenty minutes she’d be home, showered, and ready to start the day. All she had to do was cross the road and run up the drive to her home. A home she had once shared with her parents. Her father had wanted her to move back in with him when her fiancé had died. Little had she known that she would eventually be left on her own.
When she heard a car approaching from behind, she moved to one side, beckoning with her arm for it to pass. She was surprised when the black sedan pulled up alongside her, and a darkened window slowly started to lower.
A craggy-looking man in his forties peered over the glass. “Lia Constantine?”
“I don’t know you. Go away.”
“I’ve told you. Go away, creep.”
“Mr. Benetti wants to see you, and he won’t be happy until he does.”
Benetti? That name sounds so familiar. Where have I heard it before? Yeah, the guy who sent the flowers.
“I don’t care. Leave me alone, or I’ll call the cops.”
Keep jogging, Lia. Keep moving. Don’t let these creeps see you’re scared.
The black sedan suddenly screeched to a halt. A door slammed, and then another. Lia watched the two men stride up to her. One of them spoke. “Lia Constantine, you’re coming with us.”
Lia looked around for support. It was six in the morning, and there was no one but her and these two very menacing-looking guys. Dressed in black suits, they were huge, the size of pro football players.
The taller of the two guys continued speaking as he stared intently at her. “Hey, Juno, for a minute I thought…” He laughed. “The boss is gonna do a double take.”
The other guy with a receding hairline let out a long, slow whistle. “Fuck, Moose. It’s like she’s come back from the dead.”
Feeling threatened and very alone, Lia stepped back, putting some distance between them. “Please. Look, I don’t know who you are. Please just go away and leave me alone.”
Without warning the bigger guy took hold of her arm, and almost lifted her from the ground. “Get in the car.”
Instinctively she clawed her nails down his cheek and pulled herself from his grasp and began running, running, running for her life. “Please, God, somebody help me,” she screamed. Nobody. Nothing.
She felt stagnant male breath getting closer and closer before finding her progress halted completely. “Hey, Juno, grab her other arm. For fuck’s sake, buddy, get her in the car before we’re seen.”
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