Read an Excerpt
By Sandra Hill
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
Her chips were definitely down....
The scent of salt water always made her sick.
Which was really unfortunate for Veronica Jinkowsky, because not
only was she being sucked into a venture that would place her on the
high seas, but also here she stood on the boardwalk in freakin'
Atlantic City, the saltwater-taffy capital of the world. On a sucky
scale of one to ten, her day was hitting about fifteen. And it was
not yet over.
The rhythmic click of her high-heeled Christian Louboutin pumps on
the boardwalk planks vibrated throughout her body and up to her
head, which, not surprisingly, throbbed with a killer headache.
Swinging through the back beachside door into the Taj Mahal, she
blinked against the assault of cigarette smoke, raucous music,
flashing lights, and the ching-ching-ching of slot machines. It was
midnight, and the gamblers were out in full force. In the midst of
all this "splendor," she stood out like a sore thumb in her beige
silk designer suit.
Distracted, Veronica bumped into a short, elderly woman with red
curly hair carrying a purse the size of Idaho. The jolt forced the
woman against a slot machine, which began to make loud noises:
"Wheel ... of ... Fortune. Wheel ... of ... Fortune ..."
At first, Veronica was alarmed. The woman, a combination ofSophia
Petrillo from The Golden Girls and Granny Clampett from The Beverly
Hillbillies, had to be at least seventy years old. That's all she
needed-to knock down some old lady in a casino.
But the old lady righted herself and asked in a heavy Southern
accent, "You gots any idea where the Chippenduds is dancin'?" She
was so short she had to crane her neck to peer up at Veronica.
Huh? Ohmigod, she must think I work here.
Then the old lady asked, "Are you a hooker?"
"I beg your pardon! Why would you ask such an absurd question?"
"You doan look like the other folks here. No offense. Some of my
best friends is hookers down on Bourbon Street. Well, okay, one of
them was ... back in 1952. Marie Boudreaux, bless her heart.
Anyhow, you look like yer high class, and I heard they has lotsa
hookers here in Atlantic City, and I figgered you mus' be one them
call gals or sumpin'. You know, high-priced ladies of the night.
Ain't you ever seen that Elizabeth Taylor movie Butterfield 8?"
Veronica clicked her jaw shut. She hadn't realized she'd been
gaping. Me? A hooker? Is she blind as well as batty? Veronica
refused to answer such a ridiculous question. "Back to your
question-your other question. I've never heard of Chippendudes. Do
you mean Chippendales?"
The lady furrowed her already-wrinkled brow. In fact, she had so
many wrinkles she could probably screw a hat on.
"No. They's definitely dudes, not dales."
Veronica had to smile, despite her foul mood. "Are you looking for
"Tsk-tsk-tsk! Do I look like I could do anything with a nekkid boy
Not in a million years was Veronica going to answer that question.
"Now, Richard Simmons, thass another story. Hubba-hubba, that boy is
ten kinds of sexy! Betcha he's got a real nice hiney. Betcha it's an
onion butt. My niece Charmaine says an onion butt is a butt that's
so nice it brings tears to yer eyes."
"Nope. I come all the way from Looz-ee-anna to rescue my
great-nephew. He jist grad-je-ated from college and got hisself a
summer job flashing his bee-hind in front of a bunch of horny
wimmen. Talk about!"
Oh, boy! Leave it to me to find myself a looney bird after only five
minutes in a casino. Why me? "Sorry. I don't know where there are
any male strip shows. You might try asking at the front desk."
"The rascal's prob'ly hidin' from me. That Tee-John allus was
slicker 'n hog spit. But I'll find him, guaranteed."
"I've got to be going." Veronica backed away. But her innate sense
of kindness wouldn't let her abandon the woman, who was clearly lost
or, worse, stranded here. "Are you alone?" Please, God, don't let
her be. I can't solve my own problems, let alone someone else's.
"I came with Henri Pinot. He said he'd be back quicker 'n a gator
kin blink. That means in a minute. Henri is my third cousin. A
widower. But his dead wife, Margie, talks to 'im all the time.
Margie was a voodoo priestess. Henri went to the restroom. Between
you and me, he has a little prostate trouble."
Way more information than I need. Time to make a getaway. "Uh, nice
meeting you. Good luck."
Granny Clampett had already turned around and was putting a paper
voucher in a slot machine.
Veronica inched away. She felt a little guilty leaving the aged
damsel in distress, but Veronica was a woman on a mission herself.
And she damn well wanted to get it over with as soon as possible.
Wending her way through the casino-past a city of slot machines and
roulette, craps, and blackjack tables, she finally arrived at the
poker room in the front of the hotel. A banner proclaimed, "U.S.
Poker Championship." A poster read, "No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em ...
$1 million Grand Prize."
ESPN camera crews were there filming, and somewhere in the
background, probably coming from another part of the casino, she
heard that catchy country song by the duo Big and Rich.
Coincidentally, the rowdy song was the lead-in to some of ESPN's TV
poker programs. Something about a guy who walks into the room,
passing out hundred-dollar bills, buying the whole room a double
round of Crown, and "it kills and it chills...."
She shook her head in disgust, definitely chilled. Inside the room,
spectators were cordoned off by velvet ropes from the finalists'
table about fifteen feet away. Six players were still in the game
with piles of chips in front of each of them. The tour director was
calling out the action: "Sabato bets ..." "Molene raises ..."
"Here comes the river ..."
She didn't recognize the middle-aged guy in the cowboy hat or the
young Vietnamese fellow, but she did know the others.
Grace O'Brien was a cynical ex-nun. Correction-a cynical ex-nun with
a sense of humor. The first time Veronica had met her, four years
ago, Grace had cracked a joke: "What do you call a one-legged nun?
Hopalong Chastity." Veronica had been to Grace's Cape May cottage
several times and liked her a lot.
Mark Molene was a Denver oncologist who'd given up his high-stress
medical practice a couple years back. Mark was dark and a little
scary, giving new meaning to the word unsociable.
And Angel Sabato. Veronica had to smile, seeing the guy with the
long ponytail who was famous for his collection of Harleys-and
Harley groupies. She recalled a harrowing trip she'd taken with him
one time down the Garden State Parkway. Angel, not surprisingly, had
posed for Playgirl last year. His photos had appeared below the
suggestive headline, "His Poker Is Hot." She wouldn't admit it to
just anyone, but Veronica had checked out the issue-only because
she'd wanted to see if he really did have piercings in his penis, as
had been rumored. He did. And, yep, it was hot.
Then there was the last player. You could say that she was
acquainted with him. Well acquainted. He was her ex-husband, Jake
Actually, he was her fourth ex-husband.
Okay, he was her only ex-husband. They had married and divorced four
times, each of the marriages ending in a standoff and Jake
Trying to have a sense of humor about their multiple weddings-it was
either laugh or cry-she and Jake had given names to their four
First was the Sappy Marriage, where they had been so much in love it
practically leaked from their pores. They'd foolishly thought love
conquered all. The wedding had involved a church service and a
lavish reception, despite her grandmother's disapproval of Jake. The
marriage had lasted a record three years.
Next had come the Cowboy Marriage. Hey, what woman could resist a
guy in Aruba wearing cowboy boots, a cowboy hat, and the sexiest
grin this side of the Texas panhandle? All she knew was that she'd
somehow landed in the honeymoon suite of a local hotel with Jake,
him wearing nothing but cowboy boots and an open snap-button shirt
and her wearing nothing. Whew! She got shivers just thinking about
that one. Too bad it had ended two years later.
Third came the Tequila Marriage. Think Mexico and a gallon of
tequila. Enough said! One year for that mistake.
Fourth was the Insanity Marriage. They had actually gone into that
one with their eyes wide open. No heated rush. No booze. Just a
pathetic hope that they could make it work. That marriage went out
with a roar in a pitiful three months.
Thus, four marriages and divorces.
It was embarrassing, really. She was a corporate lawyer, albeit a
burned-out, bored one. Presumably intelligent. She was sensible to
the max. And yet she didn't have the sense to stop marrying and
divorcing the same guy over and over.
She continued to watch Jake as he played.
Some people thought he looked like a leaner, younger George Clooney.
She thought he looked better. The years gave her cellulite; they
gave Jake charisma. Her heart skipped a beat then hammered against
her chest, making her breathless. That was the reaction she always
had on first seeing her sinfully handsome ex. You'd think the
hair-trigger attraction would have faded in the two years since
she'd seen him last.
Not that any of that mattered.
Veronica shook her head to clear it of the unwelcome temptation.
He was thirty-five years old, wore a baseball cap over his short
black hair, and sported day-old whiskers. He had on his lucky gray
T-shirt with the logo "Up that!" She'd bought it for him sometime
during the Tequila Marriage. Dark sunglasses covered his compelling,
pale blue eyes.
"How much are each of those chips worth?" she asked the elderly
gentleman next to her.
"This is the cadillac of poker tournaments, so ... Let me see, the
orange ones are one thousand each. Gray ones, five thousand each.
Buy-in fee was ten thousand dollars."
"Holy moly!" Stacked in front of Jake was about-she did a rough
mental calculation-four hundred thousand dollars. He sure had come
up in the world, if gambling one's life away could be considered an
achievement. There was an old Armenian saying: "What the wind
brings, the wind blows away." She and Jake had been in more
windstorms than she could count.
She must have spoken louder than she'd thought because Jake's head
shot up and turned right to her. He lowered his sunglasses down his
nose and peered over them to get a better view of her. Then a slow
grin crept across his lips, just before he slid the glasses back up.
Instantly, he morphed into his zen mode, something he'd perfected
over the years. Focus, focus, focus-that's what was needed to be a
winning poker player in the Bible According to Jake. He gave away no
"tells" once he was in that mode-not a blink, grimace, or gesture,
nothing to indicate whether he held a winning or losing hand.
Everyone at the table seemed tense. She knew from living with Jake
that in no-limit Texas hold 'em, fortunes could change from hand to
hand. Some pros refused to enter this kind of game because of the
The three flop cards were already on the table. As spectators looked
on, the dealer flipped the turn card, which left only Jake, Mark,
and the Vietnamese guy in the hand. Mark bet $400,000, enough to put
Jake and the Vietnamese player all in. Jake folded some thought, but
the Vietnamese called and was disgusted to see that he was "drawing
dead." As the meaningless river card hit the felt, Mark scooped up
his winnings, and the tournament clock hit zero, indicating the end
of the level and a short break for the remaining players.
Jake immediately made his way toward her, which she'd expected. He
knew she wouldn't step foot into a casino, or come searching for him
after all this time, unless it was important. People kept patting
him on the back and shaking his hand, but he merely nodded at them
and continued on his way. Even the ESPN reporter was waved off.
When he got to her, he took her elbow and steered her down a side
corridor labeled "Employees Only." Not a word did he utter. But then
she was a bit speechless herself.
He stopped and stuck one hand into his jeans pocket, something he
did reflexively when he was nervous. No one but she knew that he was
probably fingering the silver worry beads she'd bought him during
their Sappy Marriage. Or was it the Cowboy one? Taking off his
sunglasses, he leaned his left shoulder against the wall. "Hey,
Ronnie," he greeted her in that low, husky voice that made her melt.
Had made her melt at one time, she amended.
"Jake," she said back, matching his husky voice.
It was a greeting routine they had played often in the past. To her
surprise, he didn't appear pleased. "What's up?" he asked with equal
measures of irritation and concern.
She leaned her right shoulder against the wall, facing him. Forget
old feelings of tenderness ... or lust. She was angry once again.
"My grandfather," she snapped.
He arched both eyebrows. "Frank?"
"Yeah, Frank." Veronica had called her grandfather Frank from the
time she was only a few years old. Grandpa or Gramps was too soft
for the man, even then.
"What's the old geezer done now? Did he find any more gold toilets?"
Her grandfather owned a treasure-hunting company, Jinx, Inc., a play
on his last name, Jinkowsky. A treasure detective, that's what he
called himself. Sort of like Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt, she
supposed. Sometimes his projects involved deep-sea expeditions,
sometimes archaeological digs, and sometimes just tracking down
mysterious, missing objects. While he supposedly had a great
reputation among historians, scholars, and museum curators for
having made some important discoveries, he was known to take on
infamous cases as well. Last year, he recovered a solid-gold toilet
once owned by Mussolini. Some Italian prince paid a million dollars
for the stupid thing. The story made all the newspapers. Frank had
been quoted as saying something about even Mussolini needing a
crapper and other unsavory observations. Her Boston family was not
Veronica refused to play teasing games with Jake, though. This was
business. Serious business. "He signed Jinx, Inc., over to me."
Jake's mouth dropped open before he clicked it shut. "You're
She had his attention now. "But not only the treasure-hunting
company. He's given me his boat, Sweet Jinx; the Barnegat warehouse;
his Long Beach Island house; and a bunch of his personal belongings.
Without my permission, by the way."
Veronica had become increasingly dissatisfied with her job as a
corporate lawyer this past year. But that didn't mean she wanted to,
or would ever, become a treasure hunter, for Pete's sake. That would
be like Donald Trump deciding to become a hula dancer. No, it was
the field of corporate law that no longer appealed to her, not the
Jake was clearly startled by her news, but he remained silent,
waiting for her to explain. Talking to Jake was like playing a game
of cards-she never knew what he was thinking, unless he wanted her
Jake laughed. "You? Running a treasure-hunting company? Last time I
talked to Frank, he said he was planning a venture that involved
deep-sea wreck diving. Hell's bells, Ronnie, you get seasick in the
bathtub." He was still laughing.
"It's not funny. I have a job in Boston. A steady job," she added
for his benefit. "I have no time for this nonsense."
Jake didn't rise to her "steady job" bait. He'd heard it enough in
the past. "So? Decline all the ... gifts."
"I can't. His lawyer says the trust he's set up is ironclad. I just
came from Harley Winston's office in Asbury Park."
Jake's eyes swept over her. "So that's why you're all dolled up."
She felt herself blush, though she hadn't a clue why. Jake had said
and done much more to make her blush over the years. "I went to a
charity event for my grandmother in Spring Lake before I met with
He nodded, his face suddenly grim. Jake didn't like her grandmother
any more than her grandfather did.
If he only knew how her grandmother had flipped when Veronica had
told her where she was going tonight!
"Can Frank do that-give you something you don't want? Isn't it
illegal or something? Oh. Forget I said that."
Excerpted from Pink Jinx
by Sandra Hill
Copyright © 2006 by Sandra Hill.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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