Authors: Heather Hiestand
“My sister needs money for school.”
“She can get a loan. Why do you have to get involved?”
“If she has loan now, she cannot afford medical school
later. I can help. She would make good doctor.”
“What about you? Why don’t you become a doctor?” Rob could
tell she had the brains for it, despite her broken English.
Tida laughed. “I not that smart.”
“Sure you are. I think you are.”
Tida narrowed her eyes until they resembled a cat’s. “I not
work for those men if I have job with you.”
Rob shook his head. “I don’t feel right hiring you, Tida. I
have a great idea for working with you, but my company is being sold and it
isn’t fair. The new owners might cancel your contract after the sale goes
She shrugged. “Then I work with those men.”
She was extremely frustrating and stubborn, but he needed to
save her from herself. Rob paused with a sudden idea. “Can a nursing assistant
give shots and sew stitches?”
“I need a new nurse. My company nurse just quit. We pay
pretty well and we have good benefits. Mostly though, the job is looking after
Tida tilted her head up at him. “I can do those things with
supervision, but I thought you were going out of business?”
Rob folded his arms across his chest. “You would be working
directly for my family, rather than LeatherWorks.”
“How much money?” she demanded.
“How much do you make now?” he countered.
“Ten dollars an hour.”
After looking her over, he decided she was probably telling
the truth. “I’ll pay you fifteen.” Rob decided she was worth it for peace of
mind about his grandfather’s wellbeing. Jack had called that morning to say
Brisa had refused the flowers he’d had delivered and hadn’t even opened the
attached note, which had promised a raise.
Tida smiled for the first time. She had a beautiful smile,
Rob realized, white pearly teeth and healthy pink gums. He shook himself out of
it. He was treating another human being like a horse. Another reason to get out
of the business. Maybe Grandfather was right and he was getting jaded.
Tida stared into his eyes, as if trying to discern the
nature of his soul. “I will work hard. I am grateful.”
“Don’t be. I’m sure you’re worth it.”
Tida’s smile brightened. Rob gave her Jack’s phone number
and told her to make an appointment with his Human Resources manager to do the
paperwork. He might actually have made a good decision. The girl had a will of
her own, no matter how misguided. She would be the perfect match for his
grandfather’s roaming fingers.
* * * * *
From behind a large ficus tree across the carpeted room,
Melanie watched Rob and the beautiful woman shake hands and laugh together. She
had stopped in her tracks when she saw Rob as she left a presentation. If she
wasn’t mistaken, he held her hand a bit too long as the woman stared reverently
into his gleaming dark eyes.
I guess I lost my chance
, she thought. But after two
drinks the night before she had felt too woozy to continue her battle of wits
with Rob and his coworkers so had gone to her room. She had returned alone, not
sure she could trust herself with him though he had offered to escort her, even
if he had elected himself her protector from the demons of porn.
Why had she wasted her rare chance with a hunk by debating
the politics of male-female relations in the workplace? She was tired of
feeling old before her time, tired of being married to her job. Where was her
Melanie grimaced. There was still Tommy Joe.
She took one last longing glance at Rob, beautiful as always
in a burgundy polo and form-fitting black chinos. The woman with him leaned so
close her shiny black hair actually touched his chest.
I guess he didn’t
like me much, to so quickly turn to another woman. But I’ll show him.
Melanie hated to be so jealous, but she wouldn’t compete
with another woman for any man, not after Gerald and all his games. Only one
night left to go in Vegas and she would have a good time despite Rob. As soon
as she saw Tommy Joe, she would take him up on his offer of dinner. Her new
Versace knock-off wasn’t going to go to waste. She hoped Rob would see her
having the time of her life.
Melanie stood at the door of Tommy Joe’s room, taking deep,
cleansing breaths. Fun was the name of the game tonight. No sulking over attractive
blond men who preferred sexy Asian girls who appeared to be barely out of high
Especially when they couldn’t possibly be my soul mate.
smiled brightly and raised her hand to knock on his door but noticed it was
slightly ajar so pushed it open as she knocked.
At first she didn’t see anyone in the room, but then she saw
someone against his mirrored wall. Upside down.
“What are you doing?” she squealed.
Tommy Joe came down on his knees with a thump. For a thin
man, he had a nice butt, she noticed. From what she could see from this angle,
her potential devil-man was wearing black leather pants and a blue T-shirt
with…a black mesh shirt over it. Was he into rock and roll hair bands or what?
She hoped that whole mesh shirt thing wasn’t coming back into fashion. Melanie
herself was dressed provocatively in a long silky red dress with a heart-shaped
neckline and daring leg slits. On her feet she wore the gold sandals that were
supposed to have enticed Rob the night before. But now was no time to think
about that. She clutched a heart-shaped red silk bag containing her room key, a
twenty-dollar bill, one lipstick, one packet of Starbucks breath mints and one
condom. Because you never knew, tonight could be her lucky night. The night she
finally found out what sex was really supposed to be about, the passionate
kind, with sweat and orgasms and no fear of displeasing your partner. The kind
that was just for her.
Tommy Joe stood and grinned, a bit red in the face. Melanie
realized with a sigh that Tommy Joe was the same height as her, or even an inch
shorter. She was glad she had worn one-inch heels. So much for feeling
protected and secure.
“Thanks for leaving the door open,” Melanie said, “since you
were busy stretching or whatever.”
“I’ve been doing yoga since college,” Tommy Joe said, a bit
out of breath. “It makes you very strong and flexible.”
“No kidding,” Melanie murmured, feeling her breath catch.
Strong and flexible could be interesting. “Why are you doing it now?”
“Ummm…” If Tommy Joe hadn’t already been red in the face,
she would suspect him of blushing. “I was trying to make the blood flow into my
“I see.” She was dying to ask. “Have you gotten into Tantric
sex at all?”
Tommy Joe paled with some deep emotion. “Not yet, but I’m a
“Disciple?” An odd choice of words. “You make me sound like
“I’m at your service.” He wound his arms tightly around
himself. “I’m not kidding about that.”
His intensity unnerved Melanie a bit. “I guess we can buy a
book later,” she said, meaning it to be a throw-away line.
Tommy Joe’s eyes bulged. “Great!” He released himself and
clasped her hand. “I can’t tell you how glad I am that you’re finally
interested in me. Do you think the mall by Caesar’s Palace has a bookstore?”
“I’m sure it doesn’t. Not to mention I think I was kidding
about the whole Tantric sex thing, even if Jill did swear by it.”
“Oh.” He looked disappointed. Perking up, he asked, “What
about the adult conference? I bet they’ve got all kinds of, well, ideas up there.”
Melanie snickered. “Oh they do, all right. But I can’t go
She lost her smile. “I’ve had a little trouble with some
people attending that conference.”
Tommy Joe frowned and dropped her hand in favor of putting
his arm around her. “What kind of trouble? Let’s go take care of it.”
Melanie was beginning to feel safe and secure again. She
kissed him on his freshly shaven cheek. “Did you shave for me?” she asked.
She ran both her hands lightly down his cheeks. “It feels
good. My ex-husband never shaved for me.” Did she dare? She did and leaned in
to kiss his lips, remembering the long-lost joy of kisses with no whisker burn.
Tommy Joe pushed her hands away. “Don’t talk about him,
okay? I don’t want to hear about your ex-husband.”
“I’m sorry,” said Melanie, startled, broken out of her
“I just don’t like to think about anyone else owning you.”
He swallowed hard, his large Adam’s apple jerking in his throat.
Melanie took a step back. Owning her? But he was right.
Married at eighteen, it had felt a bit like she was being purchased. She had
given up diving willingly enough, she supposed, but what had Gerald given up?
His housekeeper? He had expected Melanie to keep the house up and she had, in
between her college classes. At least he had paid for her education. But as she
had gotten older and became more aware of her own possibilities it had seemed
little enough in comparison for what he received. The final straw had been him
pressuring her to quit her job just when she was in line for a promotion.
“You’re right. I don’t want to think about him either.”
Tommy Joe put his arms at her waist and drew her close then
kissed her ear and her neck. Melanie relaxed a bit but pushed him away when she
felt suction. She clapped her hand against her neck.
“You’d better not be giving me a hickey!”
“Don’t you like it?” He ran a finger down her neck.
Melanie shuddered. “No! For heaven’s sake, Tommy Joe, I
can’t go to sessions tomorrow with a hickey on my neck.”
“A love bite,” he corrected gently.
Melanie stared at him with dismay. Was this what
twenty-four-year-olds were like? Maybe she hadn’t been missing much. “Why don’t
we go eat?”
“Okay,” he said agreeably.
As they walked out the door, Melanie took a quick glance at
herself in the mirrored wall to see if he had left a mark. But like a vampire
can’t see himself in a mirror, she could see no sign of Tommy Joe on her neck.
She could still feel the suction though. She shuddered. This evening had better
improve soon or the condom in her purse was going unused for sure. How could a
guy like this possibly be her soul mate? If Tommy Joe was the person the
fortuneteller had in mind, then her comment “a bit perverse sexually” was right
on the mark in her opinion.
They went down to the main floor and threaded their way
through the noisy casino. Clinks and chings and ringing bells followed them as
they traversed the navy blue path woven into the wild geometric carpet around
the edges of the gaming area. Tommy Joe kept his arm at her waist until they
walked past a dollar slot machine named “Guinevere’s Luck”. There were five
columns featuring King Arthur’s face, Sir Lancelot’s face, swords, pentacles
and cups. Tommy Joe stopped their progress.
“Hold on for a second.” Tommy Joe ran a hand down Melanie’s
long hair, another proprietary gesture Melanie wasn’t sure she liked. “I’m
feeling lucky tonight.”
He fed a dollar into the slots and pushed the button. To
Melanie’s surprise, the machine started dinging as three Arthurs and two
Lancelots spun onto the screen. Coins began to pour into the slot and Tommy Joe
let out a Texas whoop.
Melanie grabbed a bucket featuring the casino’s magic show
and gave it to Tommy Joe, disbelieving the sight of the coins dropping so
“You’re my good luck,” he said, taking the bucket.
No kidding. “What’s the payout?” Melanie asked as the coins
Tommy Joe picked up the coins four at a time and dumped them
into the bucket. He had counted to one hundred and his hand was black before he
was finished. “This is going to be a magic evening,” he whispered in Melanie’s
ear. “I can feel it.”
She knew that if Rob had said something like that to her,
her heart would have thumped in her chest. She checked, but her heart rate
remained steady. Dull even. Melanie gave Tommy Joe a hug since she felt guilty
thinking about Rob on their date and he went to wash his hands and convert the
quarters into dollars.
When he was gone, Melanie took out a dollar of her own and
fed it into the machine. To her surprise, the machine dinged again as the
columns displayed Arthur, sword, sword, sword, Lancelot. She picked up five
dollars worth of quarters. For Vegas, that was pretty lucky too.
Melanie stared at the columns. As shown, Lancelot had dark
hair and Arthur had blond. Who was she kidding? Rob had rejected her, or at
least had chosen another woman—she didn’t have a choice. It was Tommy Joe or
nothing this last evening in Vegas. Wild living would be out when she returned.
Keeping her job would take all her energy.
Tommy Joe returned and they went to Tacos and Tiaras for
dinner, since Melanie hadn’t eaten there yet. They shared a platter of blue
corn tortillas with a spicy picadillo filling and each had a salad. The food
tasted great and the booth felt comfortable. Melanie relaxed again. When Tommy
Joe started playing footsie with her under the table, all the time keeping a
solemn expression on his face, Melanie didn’t move her foot away. In fact, the
game made her think of massages. Long, sensual, naked massages.
She sat up suddenly, remembered that slender, yet
phallic-shaped bottle of oil at Shari’s booth. “You were right before. We
should go the adult trade show.”
“Are you sure you want to risk it?”
Where was the “let’s go take care of it now” attitude of
earlier, Melanie thought, then impatiently pushed the thought away. “Yes,
let’s. This one stall had the best-scented massage oil, lemon and sandalwood. I
want to get some.”
Tommy Joe rang a stocking-clad foot up the inside of her
thigh. “I’m game.”
Melanie wondered why he was wearing socks in Las Vegas in
August, but then thought who would wear leather pants without socks? All things
considered, Tommy Joe would fit right in at the trade show. His saturnine face
would mix nicely with the feral leather-clothed conference-goers. He, like
them, looked a little dangerous.
Tommy Joe tossed some money on the table and they left the
mezzanine level via the escalator for the convention floor. Melanie was
beginning to think she’d never see true daylight again. The casino was always
brightly lit, but she hadn’t been outside in two and a half days. She made a
promise to herself to go to the pool in the morning and do laps, no matter what
kind of exercise she got in the meantime.
The trade show progressed in full force and clamored almost
as noisily as the casino floor. From the hallway it sounded like the circus was
in town, with all the yells and clapping. As usual, no one blocked the entrance
to the convention room and they walked right in. Part of the noise came from a
loud rock band in one corner. A troupe of dancers did a bump and grind in
rhythm to the music, all recorded by a camera crew. A crowd stood around them
and Melanie searched for a flash of blond hair but the only kind she saw flowed
long and curly, whether the possessors were men or women. Apparently the
romance novel cover heroes came out at night. Tommy Joe watched the dancers
circle scarves over their heads and rotate their pelvises. The gold and blue
scarves glowed in the spotlight above and the sight mesmerized, but Melanie tugged
at Tommy Joe’s arm.
“Want to dance?” Tommy Joe asked, but Melanie shook her
head. She didn’t want to get caught by one of the Huntley crew.
“Let’s get the oil.” They wandered down the corridors of the
trade show. Despite the post-dinner hour, some of the booths were open. They
found the booth with the oils, but no one was there.
“Rats. I can’t believe there isn’t anyone working the booth
again,” said Melanie with frustration.
“Which one did you want?” asked Tommy Joe, fingering a tiny
blue glass bottle.
“That one,” Melanie pointed at the amber bottle containing
her favorite scent.
Tommy Joe opened the tester and sniffed. “Good quality.
What’s the name of this company?”
“I don’t know.” Melanie looked up at the sign. “Shari by
“That’s close to home. Is this where you got your idea?”
Tommy Joe asked.
“Of course not,” Melanie frowned. “I talked to you about it
on the plane, remember?”
“Sure.” Tommy Joe put a drop of oil on his finger and licked
it off. “Mineral oil.”
“I don’t know if I really want to eat it, but it sure smells
nice.” Melanie leaned over the bottle, giving Tommy Joe a chance to check out
her cleavage, but he wasn’t watching her.
In a quick sleight-of-hand, Tommy Joe pocketed the flask.
Melanie gasped and glanced around them, hoping no one had seen his five-finger
discount. By intent or not, their bodies had blocked his actions from view.
“What are you doing? Put it back!” she hissed.
“No,” Tommy Joe said with a wicked grin. “It’s just a
tester, there isn’t much left. They won’t miss it.” He wriggled his fingers.
“Just enough for tonight.”
Melanie swallowed. Tonight? Whose idea had this been again?
“It’s not right.” The phrase “no regard for humanity” wafted
through Melanie’s mind. She was becoming more and more certain she didn’t want
a devil-man to be her soul mate.
Tommy Joe grabbed her hand and pulled her down the corridor.
She felt out of breath, even a little dizzy as he said, “Let’s see what else we
As they walked past booths, Melanie kept an eye out for Harvey
Long and Drew Huntley, but they seemed to be performing their nefarious deeds
elsewhere. She tried to pull her hand out of Tommy Joe’s, but he held her
tightly and she didn’t dare risk making a scene with stolen goods on his
person. Tommy Joe brought them to a pause at a video distribution booth. He
picked up a video. The title was
Knights and Knaves
and showed a man in
cheap aluminum armor and a woman in black holding a whip and looking
Tommy Joe put it down. “That’s a good one,” he remarked.
“Too bad we don’t have a VCR.”
Melanie’s eyes widened. She’d never even seen a porn flick.
She realized her horizons needed widening, but Tommy Joe, young though he might
be, appeared to be way out of her league. She was barely at beginner level
“wild thing”. He had shot past her to advanced a long time ago. What had she