Read an ExcerptHUNGRY FOR IT
By fiona zedde
KENSINGTON BOOKS Copyright © 2008 Fiona Lewis
All right reserved.
Chapter One The light in Rémi's office was dim. Shades pulled. Speakers dead.
Just the quiet of her breathing and the trailing smoke from the glowing red tip of her cigar.
"You did well for yourself here." A voice, only an octave or so above the silence, emerged from the darkness opposite her.
"Thanks. I had some help."
Rémi felt more than saw the shape nod its head. Heard the slow intake of breath.
"So is this a business call, Wynne? Or are you on one of your rare American pleasure trips?"
"You know my business is always a pleasure."
Although she could only make out faint details, Rémi knew that Wynne lay relaxed on the couch by the door, her schoolgirl-thin body clothed in something pretty, maybe even cute. But the woman was a deadly thing, sure to be wearing weapons under those clothes. A gun, maybe. Knives, certainly.
Annoyed, Rémi pursed her lips. "Don't play games, cousin. Why are you here?"
The couch's leather sighed as the slim shape on top of it shifted and laughed. "Always to the point, aren't you?"
"With you, I have to be. Once we get that out of the way, then I can know how to treat you." Despite her cautious words, Rémi remained relaxed in the chair, her own feet booted and crossed on top of her desk. She puffed on her cigar, inhaled the pungent smoke, before blowing it back out into the air. The gray cloud floated toward Wynne.
"I got word that some trouble was going to start. For you."
Rémi paused with the cigar halfway to her lips. "From who?"
"Some guy who thinks you're his rival. It's nothing personal, I assume. He just wants your business."
It was Rémi's turn to nod. That explained why she'd been getting so much shit lately from people she'd always dealt well with. Shipments late or not arriving at all. Fights breaking out, inexplicably, in the middle of a busy night at the club between people she'd never seen before. And she'd heard rumors of a new place that just opened on the beach. Another club that hosted jazz and downtempo bands during the day and early evenings, but turned into a strip club after dark.
"He needs to get his own then."
"This greedy boy already has his own. Now he wants yours."
"Did he hire you?"
Rémi almost smiled at Wynne's insulted breath. Almost.
"I don't make trouble," her cousin said. "I make it disappear. Besides, that capon couldn't afford me."
"Good to know." The small muscles in Rémi's belly slowly relaxed. "So this little visit is pleasure then?"
A low laugh. "For now."
For now. Rémi could work with that.
"So I don't suppose you'd want to tell me who this pest is?"
"He's not hiding, cousin. You'll be able to find out soon enough on your own."
Rémi hummed a non-answer around her cigar. An annoyance. She didn't like this game. Frowning, she thumbed a speck of loosened tobacco from the tip of her tongue. "Do you have a place to stay while you're in town?"
"Yes. Thanks for asking." Cloth whispered in the darkness as Wynne stood up. "I'll be staying at Cecile's on the beach. You can reach me there or at my usual number if you need anything."
Rémi couldn't imagine what she might need her deadly cousin for but she nodded anyway. "It's good to see you," she said more out of politeness than truth. As much as she yearned to have family with her here in Miami, she'd rather get a phone call from Bronwynne St. Just than have her in the town where she lived.
Her cousin laughed. When she opened the door, light burst into the office, abruptly illuminating her features. Deceptively soft doe eyes. Sharp teeth flashing white against sepia skin. The lean body in blue jeans and a white blouse with tiny bows on the sleeves.
"Good to see you too, Rémi," she said with the smallest of nods. "By the way, nice review in the Herald. If you haven't read it yet, you should."
With a gentle click the office door closed behind her. In the wake of her cousin's visit, Rémi stared at the empty side of the door, brow knitted in thought.
The first time she'd become aware of her cousin was when her parents called her into the family room after school to tell her about the unfortunate Wynne who'd lost both of her own parents in a fire. Her cousin had miraculously become their responsibility while the girl's older sister, Celeste, had disappeared into the wilds of Canada rather than become someone's charity case. Barely a week after the revelation, Wynne was broodingly installed in their house. The girl was pretty, tall in the way of all the women on Kelia's side of the family. And the grief sat on her face like a bruise. Rémi, caught up in her own miseries, had mostly avoided her, but one evening she stumbled into Wynne on the porch. It was an unforgettable encounter.
The wind brought the smell of jasmine and burnt wood swirling onto the porch. Rémi let the door swing shut behind her and saw Wynne flinch. Her cousin turned. Face tear ravaged. Eyes like black holes. This was someone who had lost. This was-
"What would you do if your daddy was dead?"
The raw question rocked Rémi back on her bare heels. "He won't die."
"That's bullshit and you know it."
The fourteen-year-old's curse straightened Rémi's spine and she stood up stiffly on the porch in that scorched darkness. "We don't curse here," she said. "Papa won't allow it."
"My mama burned up. My sister ran away." Tears bubbled up with the words from Wynne's throat. "Everything I had was lost in that fire."
A rope of light snaked from the corner of Rémi's vision. She turned. And gasped. Fire climbed quickly up the birch tree across the lawn.
"Oh my god!"
"Everything you love can burn," Wynne said.
"Are you crazy?" Rémi shoved past her cousin and ran for the garden hose attached to the side of the house, calling "Mama! Papa!"
The grass stung her bare feet with cold. Bits of twigs stabbed at her ankles. Rémi grabbed at the hose, but it slipped out of her hands again and again and again. "Mama! Papa!" Her throat grew hoarse. Her fingers trembled. Finally the hose, wet and muddy from her mother's earlier gardening, stayed in her hands. Water gushed from it and into her face, slapping against her chest, plastering her T-shirt against her body.
Rémi ran with it, finally wetting the grass, eating the tail end of the fire.
"What are you doing?"
Her father appeared at her side, slapped the hose from her hands, and pulled it away. Rémi almost tripped up, tangling in the long green vine of plastic. Kelia dashed by her, a bucket in her hand. Water splashed the smoldering tree. Splashed Rémi. Then the fire was out. Her father, in unbuttoned slacks and bare chest, spun to her, the hose limp and spitting into the grass. His face was hard as a stranger's.
"What did you do?" he hissed.
Rémi shook her head and stammered, "Nothing."
On the porch, her cousin watched them with grief-black eyes, saying nothing.
Less than two weeks later Wynne was gone, leaving behind only a faintly apologetic note telling the Bouchard family not to look for her and that she would be fine.
Over the last few years, Rémi had intermittent communication with her cousin. Communication that left no doubt what kind of occupation Wynne had fallen into after she left Maine. To Rémi's knowledge, they'd never had a hired killer in the family before. She exhaled a cloud of cigar smoke and stared at the door her cousin had disappeared through. Then she reached for the desk lamp, and with a quick twist of her fingers, illuminated the uncluttered surface of her desk. Her eyes winced from the sudden brightness.
In the top of her inbox, newly exhumed from its depths by Wynne, Rémi assumed, was the article her cousin mentioned. It had been sitting on her desk for nearly two weeks now, and she hadn't made the time to read it. Her manager, Elena, said it was a good review and that was enough. Rémi opened the paper.
GILLESPIE'S-A NOT-SO-HIDDEN TREASURE
Walking into Rémi Bouchard's club was a new experience. For a couple of years now I'd been hearing about this place, how hot the clientele was and that it was the happening place to be on just about any night of the week. For these very reasons this reporter didn't feel a need to make a visit. But something on the wind spoke to me and so I found myself stepping through the doors of Gillespie's, expecting the expected. However, from the first breath of jazz-infused air to the last mellow note of the evening, my experience was anything but.
The stellar live band, intimate tables on both levels, the two well-stocked bars and attractive waitstaff aside, what made the experience shine for this reporter was the food: the presentation, flavor, and service of my unplanned three-course meal at the club was four-star quality. From the crisp yet tender circles of calamari to the intoxicating slice of iced rum cake, my dining experience at this jazz club was more than remarkable and very reminiscent of the late Auguste Bouchard's European-style restaurants in Canada and the northeast. Not surprising since the owner of Gillespie's is the renowned chef and restaurateur's older daughter.
Rémi put the paper down, unable to keep reading. Wynne was right, the article was very flattering. What she didn't appreciate, however, was the damn reporter's insistence on linking her business, her hard work, with anything that her father did. Even now, nearly two years since his death and fourteen years since he abandoned her, she still couldn't escape Auguste Bouchard. Just as she'd meant nothing to him, he meant nothing to her. So it was the bitterest irony that since the article came out, linking her and her club to Auguste, they had been overrun with reservations, having a waiting list for tables for the first time since they opened three years ago. At least now Rémi knew the reason for the club's sudden surge in popularity.
"Fuck him." She tossed the review aside.
"That sounds like an interesting proposition."
One of Gillespie's waitresses, Monique, stood in the doorway, delectable in the club's uniform, pin-striped tuxedo-style vest and slim-fitting skirt that showed off her stunning figure.
Rémi smiled. "Not really. What can I do for you?"
She felt Monique's eyes roam over her, a clean and ravenous glance that would have alarmed Rémi if she wasn't used to it. In that glance, she saw herself as clearly as if looking into a mirror: The relaxed weight of her tall and leanly muscled body in the office chair. Her short wavy hair with its tendency to grow out into inky curls that Monique loved to run her hands through, and her skin like the outside of a ginger root. All courtesy of her French father and Black Canadian mother. The waitress's tongue peeked past her full lips and she shifted in the doorway as if something under her skin itched.
Monique had never been subtle where sex was concerned. Whenever she wanted it, she wore that desire plainly on her face and all Rémi had to do was take it. Or leave it alone. The other woman never complained if things didn't go her way, just shrugged and continued on as if to say, "May be next time."
"Your friends are outside to take you to the airport."
"What? I told them to call me when they were ready."
Monique held up a cell phone. Rémi's. "I think they did."
"Shit. I must have left it in the kitchen."
"Something like that." Monique walked fully into the office, not bothering to close the door. "When will you be back?"
"In four days." Rémi stood up from behind her desk and leaned down to pick up her luggage. "Elena will be taking care of things while I'm away, but you can reach me on my cell if you need anything."
"Anything?" Monique slid the phone into Rémi's inside pocket, boldly touching her breast in the process.
Rémi made her voice cold. "Within reason, of course."
"Of course." Monique stepped back, eyes to the floor.
With her duffel in one hand and the folding leather garment bag slung over her shoulder, Rémi waited at the door for Monique to walk out of the office before locking up behind her. A black limousine idled at the curb. As she stepped into the lush Miami heat, the uniformed driver quickly came to take her luggage and open the car door for her.
"Thanks," Rémi murmured absently to the suit-clad woman, giving the curved backside a passing glance.
"You work much too hard," Sage said from the bright confines of the car.
Rémi buckled herself into the seat and smiled tiredly at her friends. Sage, not bothering with her seat belt, poured herself a glass of champagne from a nearly empty bottle. In dark jeans and a white tank that showed off the black tribal tattoos that curled the length of one arm and sunk into the skin of her throat and neck, Sage looked something like Maori warrior. Until she smiled, showing off pretty teeth and the feminine warmth in her face.
Her girl, Phil, blew Rémi a kiss from her sprawl on the opposite seat, looking pleasantly drunk although it was barely two in the afternoon. On her, the matching outfit of low rider jeans and white tank was sexier. Tighter. The diamond stud in her navel and gym-hardened abs pressed against the shirt.
"Yeah, I thought we'd pick you up from home, not work." Her nose wrinkled as she said the last word.
"There were a few last-minute things I had to do," Rémi said. "No big deal. Now I can focus on the party and Dez's wedding. Plus whatever else might come along."
Phil grinned. "Hm. I'm hoping for lots of 'whatever else.' Do you think Victoria has any hot relatives who might show us a real nice time?"
"Even if she doesn't, I'm sure you'll find someone to entertain yourselves with," Rémi said.
"True that." Sage chuckled.
The car pulled away from the curb and Rémi, unable to help herself, glanced beyond the tinted windows to look at her club. Even at two o' clock on a Thursday, traffic through the wide black double doors was already thick. Gillespie's was more than "work." It was her livelihood. The main reason she could play with her friends and not go crawling back to her family for money. Without it, everything in her world would collapse, and it was always a surprise whenever the realization hit that her friends didn't know that. But they'd never had to worry about money. Probably never have to. Rémi didn't have that luxury. Not since the day she came out to her father and burned all those bridges behind her.
She reached for the champagne. "So what time do we land in Montreal?"
Chapter Two Rémi had a strong feeling that a threesome with the brides was out of the question. The thought made her smile. Never mind that she and bride number one had often indulged in such excess. There was no way that Desiree Nichols was going to share her woman, especially the one she was about to get legally hitched to.
She stood at her friend's wedding, basking in her nostalgia. Dez looked nice in her tux and her femme bride was a firecracker in a red froth wedding dress with its deep cleavage and off-the-shoulder lace sleeves. If anybody deserved a wife like this one it was Dez. They'd gone through a lot to get to this place, the quiet little chapel in Montreal where the families and close friends of both brides watched with equal parts pride and disbelief. Rémi had been there for most of their courtship, saw the sparks that flew between them, but never thought in an infinity of years that her friend would pledge monogamy for always. But that just goes to show what I know about love, Rémi thought with a twist of her mouth.
The minister seemed to sense it in the couple in front of him, though. In his white robe and golden sash, he gazed benevolently down at Dez and Victoria as if they were his own children being sent off in the world together.
"Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other," he said, gray head nodding first at Dez then Victoria. "Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you."
From her position behind Dez, Rémi noticed the tears overflow Victoria's eyes. They ran, unashamed, down her face. She looked across at her future partner as if all the answers to her life's questions lay in the woman before her. Dez's jaw shook. Rémi put a steadying hand on her best friend's back and felt its tremor.
This was real commitment. Something strong and undeniable that had taken over her friend, like a fever, or destiny. Envy pricked behind Rémi's breastbone. Against her will, her eyes moved from Dez's dark-suited back, drifting to the attentive figure in white sitting in the front pew. Delicate but resilient, this woman was everything that Rémi had ever wanted. But she had never dared to ask. Had never been ready to ask.
Excerpted from HUNGRY FOR IT by fiona zedde Copyright © 2008 by Fiona Lewis. Excerpted by permission.
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