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Authors: Sharon Sala

Lucky

BOOK: Lucky
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S
HARON
S
ALA
Lucky

Dedication

Anyone who is willing to gamble, whether it be on life or on money, is a breed apart. Many of us go through our lives on a narrow, structured path, unwilling to take the chance that might throw us off of that track forever, while others waste their lives in a constant search for Lady Luck, in hopes she will bring them happiness forever.

This book is dedicated to those who are “lucky” enough to find the path in between.

Contents

1

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

2

The spring in Lucky’s step was not accidental. Among other…

3

Nick stood on the mezzanine above the gaming tables of…

4

“Nick! I can’t remember the last time you came home…

5

Except for Steve Lucas’s presence, the first four days on…

6

“There. What do you think?”

7

Lucky fought the covers of her bed while struggling with…

8

Lucky soaked in the bath Nick had drawn and tried…

9

Lunchtime came and went, taking Lucky’s nerve with it. By…

10

The room was dark, with no other light but the…

11

Lucky’s laughter echoed from her room and out into the…

12

They got out of the limousine, and before Lucky could…

13

The phone company readouts of the calls made from Charlie…

14

Lucky hurried down the hall from her room where, moments…

15

Manny was not prepared for the total devastation so apparent…

16

It was almost Christmas. Nick went through the motions of…

17

The loudest sounds in the room were the sounds of…

Epilogue

“Mrs. Chenault.”

A
shes to ashes, dust to dust.

Lucky Houston shifted restlessly in the nest she’d made of her bus seat, moaning softly as the dream carried her through the ride with no end.

Don’t let ’em do it, Lucky girl. Don’t let ’em bury me. It’s all a mistake. I’m not really dead
.

A tear seeped from beneath her sooty lashes and hung on the high curve of her cheekbone as the nightmare continued. She was unaware of the solicitous glances from fellow passengers across the aisle as she struggled with the horror in her mind.

Queenie! Something’s happened to Di! I can’t find her
. Lucky shuddered softly as the dream played on.
Queenie! Queenie! I can’t find you either! What’s happened to my family? What’s happened to my world?

The Greyhound bus had been her home for the better part of four days. Lucky Houston walked up the steps and
plopped into a seat with her head full of dreams, but now that she was about to arrive at her destination another kind of dream had superseded the first.

Her bones vibrated with every catch and jerk of the leather seat at her back while a thin film of sweat beaded across her skin. The nightmare danced behind her eyes as her head rocked with the motion of the bus’s maneuvers through city streets.

After days of despair, after countless hours of fear alternating with hope, the inevitable was at hand, and she was sleeping through it.

Clods of dirt hit the top of the white pine casket with a dull thump, splattering upon impact. Queenie’s fingers felt warm. And Johnny was so cold. Don’t put too much dirt on top of him! He won’t be able to breathe!

Lucky’s cry for help went unheeded. Someone had to stop them! They had to uncover Johnny before it was too late. Instinctively, her hand flew up; in her mind she could see the shovelful of dirt falling toward her. But it wasn’t dirt that she felt. It was the seat in front of her.

She woke with a start, then sat up, her eyes wild, her lips trembling. It was then that she realized that Cradle Creek and Johnny Houston’s grave were countless miles and too many days behind her to worry about it now. And with the squealing of brakes, reality came calling.

Amid blinding heat and a pall of diesel fumes, the Greyhound on which she was riding turned off of the busy thoroughfare of downtown Las Vegas and into the bus terminal with bulky finesse. Lucky leaned back in her seat, shaking from the leftover nightmare, as well as the
realization that she was in Las Vegas, the land of her father’s dreams.

Weak from the onslaught of emotions the dream had left her with, she felt her legs shaking as she struggled to get out of her seat.

“Good lord,” she mumbled, as she pulled damp, hot denim from the backs of her legs where it had stuck. “I haven’t even gotten off the bus yet, and I feel as used up and worn out as that prostitute looks who lived across the street from our old house. Oh, Queenie, I think I’m going to need backup and you’re nowhere in sight. What do I do now?”

No sooner had she admitted her misgivings than Lucky imagined she could hear the ghost of her father, Johnny Houston, whispering in her ear.
Just go for it, girl
.

Without giving herself time to panic at the thought of being alone in a city of this size and reputation, Lucky grabbed her carry-on bag from the empty seat beside her and slung it over her shoulder as she wound her way down the aisle behind other anxious bodies trying to disembark. Her quest for a new life was about to begin.

 

Nicholas Chenault was cursing. Silently and constantly, while the motley assortment of people who traveled by bus, as well as the hodgepodge who accumulated at the stations, kept coming too close to the shining chrome and mirrored glass of his champagne-colored Jaguar.

At thirty-six, and as a son of the privileged class of what Las Vegas residents called the City That Never Sleeps, Nicholas had never before had the dubious pleasure of visiting the bus station. And if it weren’t for Cubby
Torbett’s imminent arrival, he would have abandoned his post hours ago.

But his father, Paul Chenault, needed Cubby in more ways than could be counted. Bound to a wheelchair by the aftermath of a stroke, the once vital, elder Chenault’s activities had been drastically limited. Were it not for Cubby Torbett’s presence in their household, Nick would not be able to carry on the family business in such a close, hands-on fashion.

For the fifth time in as many minutes, Nick stuffed his hands in the pockets of his gray linen slacks and scrunched his shoulders, feeling the sanded silk fabric of his blue shirt slide and then stick to his back from the blast of heat and air swirling around the building. He didn’t know what was worse: what he’d been forced to deal with here, or what was waiting for him to cope with back home.

If Charlie Sams, chauffeur for the Chenault family, hadn’t been arrested yesterday, he would have been here picking up Paul Chenault’s valet/nurse. As it was, Nick was still trying to explain to the authorities that he had no idea a man in their employ had been buying and selling drugs, or that he’d been doing it while on duty, and without their approval, from a limousine belonging to the Chenaults. All Nick knew was that he’d trusted Charlie, and it had been a mistake. Something Nick rarely made.

A drunk staggered against his car and Nick swore beneath his breath as he watched the man shakily right himself and stare glassy-eyed and dumbfounded at the car, as if it had sprung out of nowhere.

“Careful, buddy,” Nick said, gently moving the man aside, rerouting his staggers to a different location.

If only he or his father had been able to talk to Cubby personally, then they would have had an idea of which bus he would be on. But Charlie Sams had been the one to take the call and, unfortunately for all concerned, Charlie wasn’t talking to anybody except his court-appointed lawyer.

Nick sighed and ran a hand through his hair, tousling the already windblown length. But he didn’t care. He was too busy trying to assess the latest batch of passengers to disembark from the incoming bus, hoping against hope that Cubby Torbett would be on it.

And then he saw her getting off the bus, and in that moment, forgot why he was here.

Beautiful women were as commonplace in Las Vegas as poker chips…and as plentiful. He shouldn’t have even noticed her. But he had. And now couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of her.

She was tall, but saved from appearing too boyish or slender by the generous curve of breast he saw pushing defiantly against her faded red shirt. Her features were a remarkable assembly of what would have been ordinary on another woman. But on her, the high, Slavic cheekbones, fine slim nose just the least bit upturned, and wide slash of mouth, did things to her face that Nick knew could cause men to make fools of themselves.

A wash of heat came with the wind gust that tunneled through the breezeway, but Nick didn’t feel it, or the crush of people around him. He was too lost in watching the
way that her long, black rope of hair swung back and forth against her shoulder blades like a pendulum, now and then bouncing against the bag she’d slung over her shoulder for balance.

As owner and manager of Club 52, one of Las Vegas’s oldest and more lucrative nightclubs, Nick Chenault had seen more nude bodies and bare skin than an entire army on leave. He should have been immune to the now-and-then glimpses he was getting of her brown skin through the tears at the hips and on the knees of her jeans. He found, to his surprise, that he wasn’t. He found himself wondering if her skin was as silky soft as it looked, and if she was that brown all over. He also decided that he must have passed boredom and had been in the heat too long when he began fantasizing about a total stranger dressed in tatters who had just walked off a bus.

He watched her from afar as she wandered around the station, calmly picking up free brochures of businesses and clubs in the area, as well as furtively claiming a discarded newspaper someone had left on a bench. In spite of his own connection to the world of gambling and all it entailed, he found himself watching intently as she saw the slot machines.

He recognized the look on her face. Or so he thought, until he saw her bend down and pick up a quarter lying on the floor beside one of the machines. He fully expected her to drop it in a slot and then stare glassy-eyed at the rolling fruits until the game had run its course.

But when she slipped it into the pocket of her jeans instead, he nearly dropped in his tracks. In all his thirty-six years of living in Las Vegas, he’d never seen that hap
pen. She’d put the damned thing in her pocket, not the machine.

“Well, well, well,” Nick muttered, “there must be a lot more to you than meets the eye.”

Casually, he scanned the crowd around her and found himself resenting the man across the way who was also staring at the woman as intently as he had been. She should have been fair game to whatever male chose to look and he knew it. Instead, he found himself fighting the urge to enfold and protect her. He had to convince himself that it was because he needed a woman. Not that particular one.

She disappeared from his sight while he was lost in thought. And the panic that settled in the pit of his stomach seemed out of place when he realized she was gone. Before he could do something so foolish as to walk away from his car to go in search of her whereabouts, she walked through a crowd of people milling in the doorway and then stopped and looked around with caution. The feeling of relief that surged through his system made him angry with himself.

Quietly, almost regally, she surveyed the scene before her. And while he watched, still fascinated by her behavior, she seemed to make some sort of decision and unexpectedly turned in his direction.

His heart surged with an odd sort of joy, and he almost lifted his arm in greeting and then remembered. He’d come for Cubby Torbett, not this ragtag lovely with stars in her eyes. Nick took a slow breath and held his ground.

As she came forward and then drew abreast, every promise he’d made with himself died on the spot. He
heard himself whistle softly beneath his breath and then forgot what he’d meant to say as she turned and glared.

He shuddered instinctively. Her eyes—a bright, vivid green—were the coldest eyes he’d ever seen on a woman. Her lips were smiling, but her heart damn sure wasn’t. It made him wonder why. It also made him do something he hadn’t done in years. He tried to pick her up.

“Just get into town?” he asked, and was rewarded by a slow, stunned blink from those same green eyes before she answered.

“Obviously.”

Lucky’s answer had been a reflex. Her pulse was pounding nervously as she quickly turned away and tried to wave down a cab. She thought of that cashier’s check for five thousand dollars that she’d stuffed in her bra this morning and resisted the urge to feel and see if it was still there.

All of her life she’d always known that if worse came to worst, she had her sisters…and a part-time father—full-time gambler, who’d come to her aid if need be. But now there was no one left to call on should Lucky get in trouble. Last week, they’d buried Johnny Houston. And by now, her sister, Diamond, was somewhere in Nashville with a man who’d promised to make her a star. Her older sister, Queen, was on a bus to somewhere else, destination unknown. Lucky couldn’t bear considering the fact that their paths might never cross again.

She took another deep breath, and as she did, relished the roughness of the cashier’s check poking against her skin. She had to take care of that money. It was the only backup she had left.

She heard the scrape of the man’s shoes against the pavement behind her, and she bit her lower lip as she continued to search the traffic for an empty cab to flag down, remembering all too vividly the diamond ring on his finger and the Rolex on his wrist. If Queenie was here right now she’d be having a fit. This was just the type of man Queenie had warned her about. He was probably a drug dealer…or a pimp. Where Lucky came from, no man was this good-looking, wore these kinds of clothes, and came by that kind of car honestly.

Don’t panic. There are hundreds of people around us. There’s nothing he can do to me in front of that many witnesses
.

“Need a ride?” Nick asked, telling himself all the while that if she was any kind of lady, she wouldn’t take it.
If she was smart, she would run like hell from a total stranger
, he told himself. He should never have asked. This scenario could only get worse. It quickly did.

Lucky smiled. Her lips carved a sardonic path across her face that years of living in humiliation and poverty in Cradle Creek had perfected.

“I need a lot of things, mister,” Lucky drawled, aware that her mode of speech had instantly labeled her as Southern and chose to ignore the slow grin that spread across the man’s face when she spoke.

She hated herself for her surge of interest in him. From the corner of her eye, she watched his face light up, and when he took his hands from his pockets, she had the distinct impression that he was itching to put them somewhere on her instead.

“Cabs are expensive,” Nick said, eyeing once again the
tears in her jeans, wondering if they were there for effect or from wear. Nowadays it was hard to tell chic from Salvation Army. “I’m picking someone else up. If you’re willing to wait, I’d be happy to give you a lift to wherever you’re going,” he added.

“Look, mister,” Lucky drawled again. “I know I look like I just got off the bus, which in fact I did. And I may look young and green to you, which I am. But I’m not stupid. I get my own rides, under my own steam, and I don’t need any worthless man to help me do it.”

“I didn’t mean…”

Lucky stopped him with a look. She blinked once more while the smile slid off her face and her features froze into a cool mask.

“Like hell you didn’t,” she said softly.

She walked away, leaving Nick with his ego in shreds, his libido giving off warning signals, and that faint, enticing glimpse of her bare backside showing once again through the tears in her jeans. Nick Chenault had just experienced a first: he’d been turned down. Not once, not twice, but three times by the same woman in less than a minute. It had to be a record.

BOOK: Lucky
5.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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