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By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2010 MRK Productions
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe newlyweds looked at each other. Myra was the first to burst out laughing. Charles, looking sheepish, finally grinned and then laughed along with his wife.
"Wearing these silly flowered clothes under all this glorious sunshine, sipping ridiculous drinks with little umbrellas in them, isn't doing it for me, darling," Myra said. There was now a smile on her face, but it didn't reach her eyes.
"We have to suck it up, old girl. This is a ten-day honeymoon, compliments of our chicks, so we cannot return to the mountain until our time here in the Cayman Islands is up. Having said that, what would you like to do when we finish these drinks that are as silly as the clothes we're decked out in?"
Myra adjusted her oversize sunglasses. "We've already walked five miles on the beach. We had our morning swim. We had breakfast and lunch. We gathered shells. Unless you want to build a sand castle, I suggest we meander back to Mr. Stu Franklin's island paradise, where we can sit on the lanai and sip a scotch and soda. In four hours it will be time for dinner. Oh, goody, I can't wait!"
"Who knew a honeymoon could be so deadly?" Charles smiled.
Myra giggled like a schoolgirl as she linked her arm with Charles's for the trek back through the sand to their honeymoon cottage.
Thirty minutes later Charles made alow, sweeping bow when he said, "Our honeymoon abode awaits us, Mrs. Martin."
Myra tilted her head to the side and looked at the thatched-roof cottage. It was quaint, the thatching covering a red-tiled roof. A Hansel and Gretel island house. It was more than comfortable, with wonderful cross ventilation, billowing curtains, humming ceiling fans, comfortable furniture, and state-of-the-art appliances in the kitchen. The bathroom was a modern wonder, with colored glass, beautiful tile, and a whirlpool tub, along with a double shower with eighteen showerheads. The only downside was there was no television, radio, or telephone.
The lanai was filled with hibiscus and every other colorful island plant. A parrot came by from time to time and chatted them up with his seven-word vocabulary. As Charles had put it, "If we were twenty years old and on our first honeymoon, I'd vote never to leave this place." Myra had seconded his assessment.
"What shall we do now, old girl?" Charles asked his wife as he led her around to the lanai. He fluffed the cushions on the chaise lounge that was big enough for two people.
A sour expression on her face, Myra said, "What we've been doing every day since we got here, take a nap. I'm napped out, Charles. I want to go home."
"Annie said they were going to turn the cable car off so we can't go back. Dear heart, neither one of us is capable of hiking up that mountain."
"Speak for yourself, Charles. I don't care if it takes me three days to climb to the top. I want to go home."
"Bloody hell, let's pack, and we're out of here. I'll call Snowden to arrange our departure."
Myra was off the chaise and running into the house before Charles could click on his phone. "Thank you, God. Thank you, God," she kept muttering over and over as she threw her suitcase on the bed and, willy-nilly, tossed their clothes in. She rushed to the bathroom and ran her arm across the vanity, and in one fell swoop, the contents went into a small leather satchel.
"We're good to go, Charles," Myra said breathlessly. "How soon can we leave?"
"Details, darling, details."
"I just called for a taxi to take us to the airport. We will have private transportation to the mainland, and from there, Annie's Gulfstream will take us home. We will have a two-hour wait once we hit the mainland, but I didn't think you'd care about that any more than I do. Does this work for you, old girl?"
"It does, Charles. It really does. Oh, I feel almost giddy. Dear, you aren't ... you know ... disappointed that our honeymoon was so ... boring, are you?"
"Myra, our honeymoon was deadly boring, but thank you for being so kind. By the way, I'm glad you pushed the envelope. Now, we have to come up with some believable story for our early return. A story the girls will believe."
"They won't believe anything we tell them. You know that. They're going to know, Charles. We'll be honeymoon duds!"
Tongue in cheek, Charles said, "And this bothers you, my dear?"
Myra thought about the question. "Annie will be relentless!"
"Well, we're going to have a good many hours to come up with a story that will work for Annie. And the others."
"Can we make it risqué, darling? Annie won't accept anything less."
"I'll put everything I have into it," Charles drawled.
Myra sighed happily. Her world was looking more wonderful by the minute.
Chapter TwoThe room looked like an overcrowded gym, with workout clothes, water bottles, and sneakers scattered everywhere, along with sweaty bodies. The only problem was, the occupants in the room were not working out, nor was there any kind of machinery. No treadmills, no Exercycles.
The women were lying in various positions on the floor, glaring and cursing at the evil-looking pole in the middle of the room, the only sign that possibly the pole was the source of exercise. The psychedelic lighting inside the pole added to the snarling that was going on.
Kathryn Lucas rolled over on the floor and groaned aloud. "I am going to take an ax to that damn thing. Then I'm going to kill you, Mom!"
Annie eyed the pole, which she and the others had not been able to conquer. "I hate a quitter," she mumbled.
"Quitter! Quitter!" Nikki shrieked. "Is that what you said? Look at us!" she continued to shriek. "We're black and blue from top to bottom. My butt is so sore, I'm not going to be able to sit down for a month! I am one giant cramp. You better say something, Annie, or I'm going to help Kathryn strangle you."
Annie sniffed. "Obviously, all of you are out of shape. Pole dancing is an art. You need to pay closer attention to the tutorial. I'm way older than any of you, and I've made the most progress. Your performance is pathetic! Now, we're going to get to work and conquer this goddamn pole or die trying. Up and on your feet! I want to see all of you on your feet, and this time turn the music up. We are not, I repeat, we are not going to allow this pole to conquer us. Shame on all of you! We're women. We're supposed to be able to do anything. Wusses!"
"I hate you, Annie," Yoko cried pitifully. "I cannot do it."
"You will do it. That's an order!" Annie said as she massaged her thighs, grimacing in pain. "Now, let's see some agility here! You're up, Alexis."
Alexis struggled to her feet, her expression mirroring Kathryn's as she stumbled to the stripper pole. She swiped her hands on her shorts, gritted her teeth, and reached out to the pole. The muscles in her upper arms bulged. The others held their breath as she leaped at the pole and got smacked right in the nose for her effort. She slid to the floor and started to cry. She rolled over to get out of the way as Isabelle, her face grim, shouted something obscene as she took a run at the pole, grabbed it, and swung around, her long legs wrapping around the pole. The beat of the frenzied music seemed to give her some impetus as she whirled around and around, then fell to the floor in a miserable heap.
"Bravo!" Annie shouted excitedly.
"Screw you, Annie. That's it! Do you hear me? I am never touching this pole again. Ever, ever, ever! If I have to, I'll chew it till it falls apart," Isabelle snarled as she, too, rolled out of the way so Nikki could take her turn.
All eyes were on Nikki's grim but determined face. The calves and thighs of her legs burning, she eyed the pole like it was her enemy, which it was at this point in time. She didn't run to it. Instead, she marched up to it, raised her arms, grabbed the pole, her knuckles white. Carefully, she swung her right leg, which was bruised from thigh to ankle, and wrapped it around the pole. Her left leg followed suit. Her jaw tight, her eyes closed, she straightened her back, took a deep breath, and started to rotate her hips to the beat of the music. Somehow or other, she managed to command her body to slither upward, then downward. And then she stunned everyone by doing three full swings around the pole before she allowed herself to slide all the way down in a crumpled heap.
Roars of approval and clapping hands made Nikki burst out laughing. She rolled over and clutched at her ribs. "That's it," she gasped. "I am never, ever going to touch that pole again! You'll have to kill me first."
The others seconded her declaration as they all managed somehow to get to their feet, moaning and groaning at the pain in their abused muscles.
It normally would have taken the Sisters five minutes to slip into their outer gear for the trek across the compound to the main dining room and kitchen, but this time it took almost twenty. They were through the door when Annie's cell phone chirped. She flipped it open and heard a voice command her to send the cable car to the base of the mountain. The Sisters stopped in their tracks when they heard Annie say, "But there's ice on the cable. All right, Charles. I'll do it."
Their pain forgotten for the moment, the Sisters all started talking at once.
"They can't be back already!"
"What kind of honeymoon is over that quick?"
"Maybe something happened!"
"What if the cable car gets stalled?"
"This is not good!"
Kathryn summed it all up by saying, "Now it's Myra's turn on the pole."
Annie was already halfway to the cable car and didn't hear Kathryn's comment.
Annie's hand was on the switch to send the car to the base of the mountain when Nikki reached out. "What if the car gets stuck halfway down?"
"At least it will get stuck going down, not coming up. The trip down will melt the ice. Coming up should be a breeze. It was an order from Charles, dear," Annie said, shrugging off Nikki's hand. She pressed the power button, and the hydraulics came to life.
The cable car slid out of its nest and started down the mountain. The women could see shards of ice flying right and left as the car made its slow, steady descent. All eyes were on the control panel, which marked its progress.
Annie's fist shot in the air when the cable car made contact with the hidden platform built into the base of the mountain. The Sisters sucked in their breath as one when the control panel showed the car was on the way up.
"I sure hope that guy Reggie, who Charles had working on the cable car, knew his business," Annie whispered.
"I remember Charles saying he was up on the latest on cable cars and that he worked on them in the Swiss Alps and this sort of thing happens all the time over there," Isabelle whispered in return.
"Why are we whispering?" Alexis whispered.
"Because we're afraid, and talking loud might ... might ... Oh, I don't know," Yoko said in a hushed voice.
"Trigger an avalanche of snow?" Nikki said, her voice short of hysterical.
"Anything is possible. However, I think it unlikely," Annie snapped in a normal tone of voice.
And then the cable car slid into its nest, and everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief.
The Sisters rushed to embrace the newlyweds and chastise them at the same time for their early return. Everyone started talking at once as the girls struggled to carry Myra's and Charles's luggage back to the main building through the snow.
Inside, the babble continued as Annie made her way to the kitchen to remove two long trays of brownies she'd set the timer to bake while she and the others worked the pole. She turned on the burner on the stove to heat the hot chocolate she'd prepared ahead of time.
The Sisters did their best to ignore their aches and pains, their bruises and abrasions, by bombarding the newlyweds with questions about their honeymoon.
"It was pleasant," Charles said.
"No, it wasn't. It was boring," Myra said.
"We ate a lot and walked on the beach," Charles said.
"Charles ate a lot, whereas I ate healthfully and sparingly, and we trudged on the beach," Myra said, correcting her new husband.
"We read a lot," Charles said.
"That's not quite true, dear. I read a lot. Somehow Charles found someone who allowed him to use his fax machine, and he read reports that came in to him at the speed of light."
"You look tired, Charles," Annie said pointedly.
Charles looked around. Well, he didn't just fall off the watermelon truck. He knew when he wasn't wanted. He pretended to huff and puff as he pulled on his jacket and made his way to the door. He was halfway there when he turned and came back. He kissed his wife soundly on the cheek and said, "Now, don't be giving away what we really did on our honeymoon. Some things should remain sacred, old girl."
Myra blushed a rosy hue as she waved her husband toward the door. The minute the door closed, she said, "It was a water bed! Do you believe that? We couldn't ... what I mean is ... We got seasick. We slept on the floor after ... well, after we found out it was a water bed. Charles was so ... inept."
Annie poured the hot chocolate. She sniffed. "That's probably more than we really need to know, dear."
"Hogwash. That's all you really wanted to know, dear, and you know it," Myra retorted. "Let me sum it up for you, Annie. The sex end of the honeymoon was a disaster. Charles has a bad back. He had most of the blankets and covers. One night I slept on the beach, because the sand was soft. But, I got sand in every orifice of my body, and I will never do that again."
"My-raaa!" Annie screeched.
"Oh, hush, Annie. You are reveling in the details of my honeymoon. But I am now willing to make a wager with you. I will wager my pearls against your pearls that I can master that ... that stripper pole with all the lights in it. I'm ready and willing to take on all comers. Do we have a date for the recital yet?"
The Sisters' eyes popped, their jaws dropped, and Annie sat down with a thump and immediately regretted it.
"Your ... heirloom pearls! Your one-of-a-kind, priceless pearls? The pearls you feel naked without? Those pearls?" Annie managed to gasp.
"Yes, Countess de Silva, those pearls," said Myra.
"Are you telling us you ... you practiced on a stripper pole while you were on your honeymoon?" Nikki managed to squeak out as she recalled her own dismal performance and the aches and pains that had followed her efforts.
"I am saying no such thing. Charles was glued to me the entire time, except for the night I slept on the beach. I wouldn't have even known where to look to find a pole to ... practice on."
"Then how ...?" Yoko managed to weigh in.
"Just you never mind, honey. So are you going to take my bet or not, Annie?"
Annie eyed her old friend warily. She tried to read something in Myra's expression but saw nothing to ease her fear that Myra had some kind of secret power that would make fools out of all of them. She had no choice but to take her old friend up on the wager. She tried to work some excitement and jubilation into her voice when she said, "You're on, Myra!"
Myra laughed, to Annie's discomfort. "Maybe we'll be able to take our show on the road. After the recital, of course."
"Drink your hot chocolate and shut up, Myra, while I try to figure out if you are snookering me somehow to get my great-grandmother's pearls, which are just as lovely as yours. You just want a matched set," Annie sniped.
The Sisters shivered.
"Let's talk about something else, ladies," Nikki, ever the diplomat, said. "Has anyone heard from Lizzie? I wonder how her first four days at the White House are going. We should have heard something by now."
The others said they hadn't heard a word from the Silver Fox.
"Maybe Lizzie can't make personal calls from the White House, or maybe she's afraid the walls have ears," Yoko said.
"She's nine to five. Her nights are her own. She could have called us last night or the night before. But there is Cosmo, so maybe she wants her free time to be with him. The last time I spoke to her, she said he would be here for a week, while, as he put it, she got her feet wet at Sixteen Hundred Pennsylvania Avenue," Alexis said.
"The New Year started off with a bang in D.C. There is all kinds of stuff going on that the president has to deal with. I guess that means Lizzie has to deal with it, too. Like, for instance, yesterday I saw in the paper online that one of the Supreme Court justices is going to retire when the court goes into recess. Then today the paper said that rumor was false. That's a whole big megillah for the president. I hope they pick another woman this time if it turns out to be true in the end," Isabelle said.
"Yesterday I read that President Connor is cleaning house. She's giving staffers a chance to resign and waiting to see how that offer flies. Wonder what that's all about," Nikki said.
"Maggie said when President Connor took office, she listened to the wrong people, and staffers and positions were hired under pressure. She's going to correct that situation, and Maggie thinks Connor waited until Lizzie was installed as chief White House counsel to do anything. Makes sense to me," Annie said.
"Well, I'm off to the hot tub," Nikki said as she got painfully to her feet.
The others quickly rose and, at the last minute, looked at Annie and asked whose turn it was to clean up.
"Myra and I will do it," said Annie. "Run along, girls, so I can pick Myra's brain about that wonderful honeymoon she just returned from five days early."
Excerpted from GAME OVER by FERN MICHAELS Copyright © 2010 by MRK Productions. Excerpted by permission.
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