Glassy dilated eyes.
Moments ago those same pale blues had been captivated by the clarity of the golden-hued liquid, nectar of the gods, topped with a foamy froth. Its power was unique—giving a fool courage, inspiring witty repartee, transforming a mouse into a lion. At what point had it become the enemy, delivering a bitter message before its ultimate betrayal?
Expect the unexpected is a karate motto. I had expected a rowdy Friday-night crowd going crazy drunk. Singles trying to get lucky. It was Oktoberfest in Kitchener—one of the biggest beer festivals in the world. I was hosting a get-together for my tour group, strangers wanting an unusual vacation with an emphasis on the Days of the Dead. Soon, we’d be in Cozumel finding out how they celebrate death. But Death had decided not to wait, making an unexpected early appearance.
I was standing on a long wooden table demonstrating the sway and toast-your-beer method practiced at the Stuttgart Club. “Ein prosit, ein prosit, zum Oktoberfest,” rang out from every table in the place, but I was here only in body.
My mind wandered to the place dreams are made of. Under a blue Caribbean sky, turbulent turquoise waves pounded on a powdery-white shore. On the beach blanket, a man sat next to me, his sapphire eyes, locked with mine. Windblown hair fell over his forehead. I brushed it away, my fingers lingering in the thick locks. The fiery heat from his body radiated out to me like the tropical rays of the sun. His abs felt firm and flat as I skimmed his velvety-smooth skin. “I have a truffle for you,” I whispered.
“I like chocolate,” he said, his voice husky with desire. Soap and ocean breeze assailed my nostrils. His arms wrapped around me, pulling me closer to him. The electricity of our kiss charged my every fiber.
From my ear to the hollow of my throat, sensuous lips captured my skin—his tongue silken and hot. He gripped the curve of my hip. His fingertips tightened…
“Wait.” I pushed him away.
He lifted an eyebrow.
“Find the chocolate.”
His eyes scanned my bikini-clad body stretched out before him. “I love treasure hunt,” he said softly. His finger played with my strap and the skin beneath before he pulled it off my shoulder. Warm hands stroked the length of my body.
“Hey!” My beer partner shouted, rudely jolting me out of my fantasy. “Adie, it’s time!” On the table George thrust his beer stein high.
George was massive. He’d gone Oktoberfest all the way. His white shirt was tucked into gray suede shorts held up by suspenders. Green wool knee-socks hid pale thick legs and practical bulky hiking boots completed his Bavarian outfit. A buzz cut did nothing to disguise an overly square face and monkey ears. His grin was more a gritting of teeth as tiny piggish eyes squinted down at me.
I climbed up on the table and waved my mug around for the tour group to follow my lead, shouting, “Prosit!” I wasn’t prepared when the impact of my mug sent my beer partner careening backwards off the table, landing on the dirt floor of the canopied festhalle.
“George?” I yelled, alarmed. He had dressed the part but was not a beer drinker—or any kind of a drinker. I jumped off the table and hurriedly circled around to the other side. He lay there stiffly, his legs straight out—his face a deathly white. Kneeling down on the ground in front of him, Fern, fingered his shoulder gingerly. “I think he’s passed out, Adie.” She tossed her wavy black hair back as she looked up at me. I glanced down at the poor schmuck. Bending over, I loosened his collar.
George moaned, opening his eyes wide. “Adie, this place is great, but how about you and me heading out and you know…” He didn’t finish that thought. His eyes shut. A snort blasted out, loud as a train whistle. This guy wouldn’t see another prosit anytime soon.
I waved at the bouncer standing at the doorway. He trudged over and looked inquiringly at me.
“I brought these people out tonight, but this guy,” I pointed at George, “couldn’t hold his liquor. He’s okay, though. Think he just needs to sleep it off. Could you move him somewhere? Please, Matt?”
The bouncer smiled cheerfully. “No problem, Adie. I’ll shove him behind the sausage stand for now.”
“Thanks, sweetie.” Matt was a friend from karate. He did the bouncer stint at the Stuttgart Club during Oktoberfest to pick up some extra cash.
When I returned, no one asked about George. They were too busy guzzling beer and gorging themselves with schnitzels and sauerkraut. Fern and boyfriend Bryan had just returned from dancing.
The Dinklemeister Band blasted a polka for the Bavarian Club Dancers—ladies decked out in dirndls, men sporting white shirts and lederhosen. I grabbed a big doughy pretzel from the tray on our table and bit into it, watching my tour group. I didn’t need anyone else punching out early.
A solid brunette in a slenderizing black sweater dress and matching boots, a former Miss Oktoberfest herself, Ingrid Fleischer, leaned unsteadily against the table. Her thin scarlet lips twisted in a frown. The blush on her olive skin did nothing to disguise the salad green complexion. Could be she’s about to… I didn’t finish that thought. Snatching her arm, I dragged her in the direction of the washroom. “Come on. Let’s go.” She wavered, but I’m stronger than I look. I maneuvered her into the crowded washroom the way they do with juvies. Just in time, too. When I pushed her into a stall, she heaved out the evening’s meal of sauerkraut and sausage. At that point I left. Ingrid Fleischer, the owner of Fleisher Travel was not my favorite person and the washroom had a putrid smell that would turn anyone’s stomach.
I needed clean air. Across from the washroom a cool crisp breeze rushed in through the open door. Wisps of shifting white haze shrouded the darkness—misty ghosts walking. I shivered, hugging myself against the chill of the night.
I was so ready to escape. Back to Cozumel where he lived. Oh, yes… On an isolated stretch of ivory shore, the sun caressed our bodies. He knew what I needed and wanted to please me in every way—my smoking hot man.
“It’s a treasure hunt.”
His incredibly sexy eyes searched mine. He smiled seductively. “No clues?” His eyes shot down the length of my body and back, stopping at my bikini top.
I arched my back and ran a finger down to the valley between my breasts. My skin felt hot and moist. Full sensuous lips kissed my shoulder and journeyed down to meet my finger, torching my restless body. His mouth sucked each fingertip before he loosened the ties on my top. Over my curves his hand, searched for the decadent treasure. As he lowered my top, his mouth found the chocolate resting on the peak of my breast—melting creamy-rich flakes on my nipple. He sucked it up—bit by bit.
“Hey, honey! What’s happenin’?”
Jerked out of my trance, I ignored the man—maybe he’d go away. Oktoberfest was full of players.
“Adie, it’s me.” I felt a hand linger on my shoulder. Shrugging it off, I swivelled around. Gelled dark hair and a facial growth. He was trim in an elegant black leather jacket, white muscle shirt, and designer jeans. He was slick—too slick. The host of Entertainment Tonight had a clone—Bernie Scharf.
“Watcha doin’ here, Adie?”
I glanced at Slick. “Same as you, I think, except I’m working.”
“That makes two of us. This is the most exciting thing they’ve found for me since those murders.” Slick’s gaze traveled up and down my body. “You’re lookin’ hot, Adie. You still together with what’s-his-name?”
“Um-hmm.” I wasn’t about to tell Slick anything. He was okay as far as reporters went, but not my idea of a boyfriend.
“Where’re you sitting? I’ll join you.”
“Over there by that pillar.” I motioned in the general direction of our table. I could see that Ingrid had rejoined the group and was now linking arms with boy-next-door, Bryan, Fern’s boyfriend. I was surprised she was joining in after what she’d heaved up.
Singing, dancing, and drinking, not to mention eating, was what this week was all about. There was some German culture thrown in somewhere, but it was kept to a minimum I thought, glancing at Slick’s Kiss Me I’m German button pinned on his t-shirt. That guy had made in Ireland stamped on his pale-freckled forehead, not even a smidgen of Kraut, unlike me. A painful nudge to the ribs knocked me out of my philosophizing mood.
I turned around. Telly, a tiny red-head with bow lips and a perky short hair-cut was Fleischer Travel’s manager. She looked flushed—a thin sheen of sweat coating her pink complexion. Telly was cute in a weird way, resembling one of those tiny chipmunks you see in the park, begging for peanuts. At this moment, she looked particularly enthusiastic with her arms thrust out to me appealingly, blue eyes bright with excitement.
“Adie, you’ve gotta come to the washroom with me,” Telly said, propelling me along. “I’m dying to tell someone. You’ll never guess…”
“What is it?”
Telly jerked her chin in the direction of the washroom. My curiosity piqued, I went. Remembering Slick, I pointed to the table in the main room. “Over there, at that table, Bern. Tell them you know me.”
People were ahead of us. We joined the line against the wall. Telly patted my arm. “Adie, listen to this. Ingrid said I could run the whole shebang.”
“Ingrid wants to take it easy. She came into an enormous amount of money and guess who gets to be the big boss?”
She hugged me and did a little hip wiggle. “Yeah! No more area manager. I’ll be CEO of Ingrid’s whole operation. That’s three agencies, Adie.”
I stared at her.
“It’s true, Adie. Her boyfriend was very generous. She’s got money to blow now that she’s redecorated everything and updated all the buildings.”
“What do you mean, her boyfriend?”
Telly stared. “You are so naïve, Adie. She’s had this old guy on the side for years.” She looked away to a woman coming out of a stall. “Not that she particularly likes old but rich is another thing…” She stopped abruptly in mid-sentence, caught my eye and grinned. “How did you think she got to wear those Italian suits and drive that Mercedes?”
“Oh-hh.” After considering the recent renovations at Fleischers—marble bathroom ensuites, and upscale décor in all the offices, especially in Ingrid’s, I said, “I just thought the travel business was doing well.”
“Ha!” She guffawed loudly, thudding me on the back. “You and Morris must be cut from the same cloth. He doesn’t have a clue, either.”
Ingrid had been married to Morris for eighteen years. Rumour was hubbie had filed for divorce. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t know Ingrid played hardball. “What about Maureen? Does she know about the boyfriend?”
“Doubt it. She’s a teenager.” Telly tweaked my cheek gently and smiled. “She probably doesn’t care either. Teens are into themselves, Adie.”
I nodded, thinking about my niece, Tasha. Besides being snotty, she was my sister-in-law’s clone and that was not good. “Isn’t Ingrid sending Maureen to boarding school?”
“For sure. She’s not the motherly type. Maureen was an accident, according to her. Boarding school solves that problem. Ingrid wants the support money, Adie, not that she needs it with all the hoarding she does. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has off shore accounts,” Telly said, swinging a stall door open.
I saw a free one and entered. I started to think about Ingrid and had to disagree with Telly. Ingrid liked the wealthy life style but it wasn’t money that turned her crank. It was control. Ingrid liked to control everything and everybody. Her other flaw was constantly changing her mind. She was capricious to an extreme. Telly had better get that job in writing.
But none of that was my problem. All I cared about was the Cozumel trip. Ingrid could be malicious on a whim. She’d better not change her mind about me heading up the tour group. With ice pellets in the forecast, I was counting on this trip.
“Hey! Hurry up in there. I’m desperate!”
I got myself together and swung the door open.
A heavy woman with dyed coal black hair glowered at me. “It’s about time!”
“Sorry. It’s the beer.”
“A little thing like you shouldn’t drink.” She huffed loudly before slamming the door shut.
I glanced around at the line of women staring accusingly in my direction, but where was Telly? I exited quickly and headed back. From where I stood, I could see the table ahead but my progress was snail-paced with a couple of paunch-bellied beer drinkers crowding the aisle. I watched Bernie chatting to a rumpled-looking Telly, her grubby mustard-stained t-shirt tucked into a pair of gray suede lederhosen. She was smiling but was obviously not a partier like Lola.
In a dirndl and a cleavage revealing blouse, the blonde on the tail end of fifty, polka-bopped in the aisle with every male who pranced by. Lola was fit and looked better than most of the younger women. She wasn’t a cougar, just bored with married life. Her partner, Dan, either approved or didn’t care. No slouch in the Oktoberfesting mode either, he was happily chug-a-lugging alongside Jim, when he wasn’t ogling women. Cheerful bald Dan was wearing a red plaid lumberjack shirt and relaxed fit jeans. He was round in every way, sixty-something, with a pregnant gut filled with fat, not baby. Jim and Tom, geeks with round wire-rimmed glasses and conservative hair-cuts were decked out in denim shirts and skinny jeans. They worked for Blackberry, a local company that specialized in cell phones. These boys had an excuse for checking out women. Neither had a girlfriend. Not that Tom was into any woman here except bodacious Fern. Every time she fluttered her long lashes, and whispered in his ear, he turned beet red.
Ingrid, hands empty, stood next to Telly, apparently ready to call it quits. With good reason, I’d guess. Ingrid’s olive complexion had lost its lustre. In fact, her face was a ghostly white. As far as I could see, Fern and her boyfriend Bryan were the only sober ones standing on that table other than nerdy Tom. They’d been sipping when everyone else had been slurping.
Fern was beautiful—long wavy jet-black hair, elaborately lined brown eyes, glossed plump pink lips and a curvaceous figure. Her funky leather-fringed clothes and feather earrings were Toronto rather than Kitchener. Her boyfriend with the freckles reminded me of a Best Buy greeter or Mark Wahlberg on a good day—light-blue shirt tucked into a pair of tan Dockers.
A few days ago, Fern had traipsed into the travel agency looking to book a vacation. I recognized her from college. When I suggested she join the Fleischer Travel group at the Stuttgart Club for an intro to Days of the Dead in Cozumel, she got all excited. That’s what she and Bryan wanted, so I gave her tickets for tonight and booked them with my tour.
I had to get back to my group but it was as busy as a bee hive in the festhalle tent. That’s the problem with being petite. It’s like being a five-year old kid trying to watch a parade between adult legs. No matter how much I pushed and shoved, I couldn’t get to the table. I could barely see it. A massive man with tree trunk legs and a head like a hippo blocked my view, rooting himself in my path.
“Excuse me!” I shouted, but I think the din had damaged his hearing. Standing, beer glass in hand, he rocked unsteadily with the music. When hippo lifted his stein up higher, I made my move and squeezed under his arm. Just then two couples polkaed into hippo, who jostled the tour group table. Bernie tottered and fell. His beer glass slipped out of his fingers and crashed to the dirt floor. I rushed over. But instead of getting up Slick started crawling under the table.
Who-a-h, Slick! You’re cut off.
I heard him yelling, “You okay, lady?”
Crouching down beside him, I peeked over his shoulder, not believing what I saw. Lumped in a crumpled heap, Telly’s pale blues fixed unblinkingly up at Bernie. Her mouth twitched.
I kneeled down. Her throat gargled and wheezed. “You know CPR, Bernie?”
Slick shook his head. He glanced at the crowd milling around and shouted out, “Anyone know CPR?”
People stared blankly and shuffled.
“Stay with her, Adie. I’ll get security.”
Tilting her head back, I poked a finger in Telly’s mouth, checking for an obstruction, but found nothing. Pinching her nostrils, I gave her a few quick breaths.
At that point the security guard arrived and took over. Paramedics came in next and worked on her. Finally, they put Telly on a gurney and carried her out.
Ingrid grabbed my arm. “What happened, Adie?”
“I don’t know.” When I stood I noticed my group was gone. As the band announced last call, I asked, “Where is everyone?”
“I told them to get the taxis before everyone else does. Bryan took George with him.” Thoughtfully, Ingrid placed a finger at her lips. “I figured it would be best if they left. If something happened to Telly, they might blame the agency. I don’t want anyone cancelling.”
“But what if someone did something to her? The police would want to question them, wouldn’t they?”
Ingrid patted my shoulder. “Don’t go drama queen on me.” Her eyes swept to the police officers coming through the doorway. “Listen, Adie, tell them she fell off the table. Okay?”
And I had thought she and Telly were tight.
A couple of cops came over—a man and a woman. The brunette Amazon pushed back her shoulder length hair and stared at Slick. “Hey, Bernster! Long time no see.”
“Janey.” He checked out her statuesque figure. “What’s shakin'?”
They seemed a touch overly friendly, considering the circumstances.
Janey smirked. “Whatever I’m hangin’ on to.” She glanced at us, but asked Slick, “What’s goin’ on?”
“I fell off the table and saw her lying there.”
“You know her?”
“Just met.” Slick shot his glance in my direction. “This was Adie’s party.”
The stocky male cop turned to me. “You know the woman, Ma’am?”
“Yes. Her name’s Telly Henderson.”
Janey tugged out her notepad. “What happened, Ma’am?”
“I don’t know. When I came back from the washroom, she was on the floor.”
Janey turned to Ingrid. “Ma’am? Were you there?”
She straightened her shoulders. “Ingrid Fleischer, Fleischer Travel.”
Janey nodded. “Right. What happened, Ma’am?”
“Everyone was on the table clicking steins. Telly was beside me when this man crashed into our table. She fell.”
“We should get going to the hospital.” I glanced at the officers. “Kitchener Central?”
Janey nodded. “I’ll let you go soon. I need some information for my report, first.”
Bernie took that as his opening to leave. He mouthed, “Call me,” before waving goodbye.
By the time the cops were finished with us, the crowds had thinned. I hooked up Ingrid’s arm into mine and steered her down the hallway to the front of the building. Taxis were lined up outside.
Ingrid swung the door open, talking over her shoulder, “I’m sick as a dog. Going home. You take this one, Adie.”
Telly was her employee, but it was useless to argue. I was freelance on contract for Fleischer Travel. I was tired, but Telly was alone and needed someone.
* * *
It was about an hour before they let me speak to a doctor. The news wasn’t good. Telly was dead.
On my way out I recognized a slim, dark-haired man in a trench coat at the empty volunteer station. Ilya Kharkov, a detective in major crimes, was on his cell. When he spotted me he shoved his phone in his pocket and came over.
“Adie. What are you doing here?” He pulled out a notebook and pen.
“I’m waiting. The manager of Fleischer Travel was brought here.” I found it difficult to voice the rest of it. It was unbelievable. Tonight, Telly had been on cloud nine with a promotion dream come true. Now she was dead.
His eyes scanned his notes. “Telly Henderson?”
“Yes. You’re here because of her?”
His dark brown eyes met mine. “Um-hmm. You’re leaving?”
“She died and they don’t know why.”
“I’m talking to the doctor. They should have something soon.”
“Could I phone you tomorrow?”
His mouth curled up at the corners. “You can call me anytime, Adie.”
My cheeks flushed. “I mean to talk about Telly.”
“Sure, sweetheart, but if it’s a suspicious death, you know I can’t tell you anything.”
“She was so happy today.”
He squeezed my arm reassuringly. “They’ll do an autopsy. Something is bound to come up.”
“I hope so.”
His eyes, the color of chocolate, glowed warmly. “We’ve got to start meeting under happier circumstances.”
I tried to return his smile, but I was too tired. “Good-night, Ilya.” A chill breeze blasted my face as I made my way out. With a drizzle of rain mixed in, it seemed colder than before. By chance, I found a taxi parked near the entrance. After I told the driver where I was going, I took out my cell and punched in Ingrid’s number. She was groggy, but miserable enough to start complaining about interrupting her beauty sleep.
“She’s dead, Ingrid.”
Only then did she stop her rant. “Oh-hh! Was it a heart attack?”
“They don’t know.” I was done with this woman. “Good night.”
“Adie, don’t hang up!”
I put the cell back to my ear.
“I want you to come in to work, tomorrow, Adie. It’s urgent. We need to…”
I pressed end.
* * *
I was glad to be home. My cats greeted me at the door, brushing against my leg. I filled their bowls and got a glass of water for me before I went upstairs. I made it to bed in record time and deliberately neglected to set my alarm.
Several hours later, I woke to the sound of ice pellets hitting my bedroom window. Outside, freezing rain had coated everything in sight. This meant closings around town. The police would be warning people to stay put.
I rarely go into work on Saturdays. I couldn’t believe Ingrid had asked. It’s not like I make bookings anyway. I take tour groups on trips out of the country. The job was all about freedom.
Throwing on my leopard-print robe, I trudged downstairs to the main floor kitchen and plugged in the kettle to make some green tea. I usually had herbal tea. Less caffeine. It’s better not to wake up some days.
I mulled over the events of last night. Telly had made it to the top and plummeted to the bottom in one night. She was forty-three. As I inserted a waffle into the toaster, my eyes flicked over to my phone. The red light flashed. When I pressed the text, it said voice mail.
The first one was from Slick. Henderson’s death is classified as suspicious. How about that? Call me. 570-2599.
My mom’s voice was next. Adelina don’t go out today. It’s icy. Call me.
The last one was from Ingrid. I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you. I really need to see you today. Please come in, Adie. It’s very important! I’ll wait for you!
Bringing my mug and waffle to the living room, I turned on the TV. A news flash had updates on a recent robbery. The rest was about the ice storm and shut-downs. A list of closings was read but Fleisher Travel was not mentioned. Predictable. Ingrid wasn’t about to lose any business no matter what the weather. Maybe she thought people would be more anxious than ever to get away. Telly’s death made the tail end of the clip but only as a suspicious death under investigation.
I had to talk to Ilya. He would be the man in the know. When I became involved in one of his cases a while ago, he’d almost made the mistake of arresting the wrong person—my gff. I sighed. She owed me big time for enabling her to live long enough to come into a fortune and meet the man of her dreams. Wish my life was as easy. I pressed his contact number and got the operator. She put me through.
“Ilya, it’s Adie Sturm.”
“Hey, sweetheart,” Ilya said, his voice husky. “How’re you doin’?”
“Yeah, join the club. What’s up?”
“A suspicious death.”
“I know that Ilya, but how?”
“She’ll get an autopsy. Three days, we’ll know.”
“But you must have some idea by now.”
“Ilya, remember what I did for you?”
“You didn’t give me that back massage you promised.”
“I think you’ve got your women mixed up.”
“It’s nice to know you’re one of my women.”
Ilya chuckled. “Yeah, I have those when I think of you.”
I felt heat rise to my cheeks. “Come on, Ilya. You owe me.”
There was a pause before he spoke. “You probably know the murderer.”
“So you’re saying it’s not from natural causes?”
“Nope. Something ingested, is the doctor’s guess.”
“And you want me to help because usually the victim is killed by someone she knows—like a boyfriend?” I frowned.
“She was your agency manager, wasn’t she?”
He had something there, but Telly and I had been acquaintances at best. I hardly knew anything about her personal business.
“Was she ever married?”
“Hm-mm. Let’s see…” Telly had a man’s short haircut and always wore dorky track outfits, but that didn’t really mean much. “Seriously, Ilya, I don’t know. She could have been gay or bi. Telly and I weren’t tight. I never heard her talk about anyone, come to think about it. Pottery was her thing. You could check with that pottery place on Victoria Street. Her parents passed in a car accident. Last few years she lived downtown—mingled with a sketchy crowd. No relatives, except a cousin in Hamilton that I know of.”
“Thanks. That helps.” There was a pause. “You know, Adie, this is the second time you’ve become involved in one of my cases. Could be you’re unlucky.”
“I was born December 6th, a day associated with death.”
“No kiddin’, eh?” He chuckled. “You’re one cute vampire. But hey, if you dig into this, you might be lucky for me and we’ll find Henderson’s killer.”
“So you’re saying I should help you solve this murder?” Wasn’t the cop usually anxious to keep a civilian out of police matters?
“Yup! You got it. This case is getting tossed to the backburner because of the robbery and something else really big.” I heard a beep. “Got another call. How about we get together Monday and discuss it over lunch?”
“Sorry, Ilya, I’ll be in Cozumel.”
“Again? This is deja vu,” he said slowly. “I’m always missing you somehow. When are you leaving?”
“Tomorrow night. Will you let me know about anything you find out regarding Telly? Text me.”
“Yeah. But one thing—be careful, Adie. You don’t want to end up unlucky and dead.”
I set the cell down. Telly was a good person. She didn’t deserve to die. She liked animals and always gave to charity. Sometimes she gave me the heads up about psycho Ingrid or a crazy client. No one cared about poor Telly—alive or dead. Outside raindrops speckled the window. I watched them roll down the glass. Tears for Telly. I felt an overwhelming sadness. With no family advocates the police would focus on high-profile cases and forget Telly. It was up to me to do right by her.
With the temperature rising, the ice was melting fast. Going in would ruin a stay at home curled-up-with-my-cats day. Anything to do with Ingrid usually ended up with stress but she had me curious.
I padded up the stairs to shower. While I shampooed my hair, I wondered what Ingrid wanted. I couldn’t get over how callous she’d been about Telly, especially since the poor girl had practically sold her soul for that job. But Ingrid had been practically begging. Grovelling would have been even better. She’d owe me big time if I went in. That decided it for me.
I put on a pair of jeans and a sweater. My boots were black with three-inch heels. Not the greatest for walking on ice but I liked to look tall and I’m good in heels. Besides, if I were looking down on Ingrid, it would really irritate the control freak.
Salt trucks and rain had cleared the main streets. The travel agency on King Street was located a few blocks from my karate club. As I eased my Beetle into my parking space, I noticed two cars in the lot. One was Ingrid’s silver Mercedes and the other was Suzanne’s blue Fiesta. No clients. Suzanne was sitting at her desk making a timetable for next week. She looked up when I came in. “Hey, Adie. Whatcha doing here?”
“Ingrid wants to talk to me.”
Suzanne whispered, “Adie, she’s acting odd and I don’t think it’s about Telly. By the way, did you know it was on TV?”
“I saw the clip. Is Ingrid making any funeral arrangements?”
“Apparently she tried, but one of the funeral homes phoned. Said Telly had prearranged her funeral. She wanted a cremation.”
“With Ingrid leaving for Cozumel, I guess there won’t be a memorial service either, or was there a friend that would hold one?”
“Telly was a loner. We might just do something with the people here at the travel agency. I’ll phone her cousin.” She leaned in closer. “Still it might be better with Ingrid gone. We can do it the way we want. Too bad you’ll be in Cozumel. I was thinkin’ of a wake.”
“She would have liked that.” Telly loved beer and pubs. “I hope Ingrid isn’t thinking of taking over the tour group and leaving me here.”
Suzanne kept her voice low. “No chance of that, Adie. She’s been on the horn with her lawyer and is royally stressed. Morris is putting the screws to her.”
“Really?” I thought back to what Telly had confided in me. “Do you know anything about Ingrid’s stash?”
Suzanne looked around furtively before she whispered, “Two words—Jordan James.”
“He’s the boyfriend?” Jordan James was loaded—ad agencies all over Canada. He’d been high profile but I hadn’t heard anything about him for the last few years. “He’s way older than Ingrid, isn’t he?”
Suzanne leaned back in her chair and pursed her lips. “In his seventies, I’d think. But don’t tell her I told you. If she knows I said anything, she’ll lose it. She wants to get rid of me, Adie.”
I nodded. Ingrid couldn’t do without Suzanne, but she liked to intimidate her employees with threats. “No, don’t worry about that. I won’t say anything.” I glanced down the hall. No sign of Ingrid. Was her office door open? She liked to eavesdrop on Suzanne, and anyone else for that matter. I bit my lip. I had better see what Ingrid wanted. Get it over with—like a trip to the dentist. I headed to her office and knocked.
Ingrid swung the door open. “Sit down, Adie.” Ingrid motioned to the plush gray leather chair. She picked up a cigarette and lit it. A large square-cut diamond flashed on her finger. “Drink?”
After all that beer last night, I was not keen. I sat down and leaned back too suddenly, painfully knocking my head on the frame. It was an expensive Italian chair but not exactly comfy, mimicking the tailored suit she wore.
Ingrid had a couple of shot glasses and a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps on the black coffee table. She picked up the bottle and inclined her head inquiringly.
“No, thanks. What did you want to talk about, Ingrid?”
Ingrid stared off into space for a few seconds and then focused on me.
I stretched out my legs on the ottoman and waited.
Ingrid directed her gaze back at the bottle and poured herself a glass of Schnapps. She sipped it slowly before she said, “I was interested in your Mayan frog. Looks old.”
Ingrid must have snooped in my office. How else would she know I just got it? “Yes, it’s Pre-Columbian.” A few months ago in Mexico, I had spent some time with Diego Francisco Bolivar Alvarez. He had a branch office in Toronto. When he came to Canada on business, we went out for dinner. I knew the frog was expensive but Diego had looked hurt when I suggested that it might be inappropriate for me to accept it.
“Spendy, I’d say.”
Ingrid studied my face. “Where’d you get it?”
“A friend in Cozumel gave it to me.”
“Would your friend be able to get a hold of any other antiquities?”
Diego’s family had an import-export business. “Probably.”
“When we get there, would you be able to introduce me to your friend?”
“I don’t know, Ingrid. I’ll have to find out if he’s in Cozumel.”
Ingrid’s lips formed an o and she blew out smoke like a row of Cheerios. “Could you call him?”
“I need your help, Adie. I would make it worth your while.”
Ingrid smiled. “We’ll have a tour to Jamaica in December. You’ve been there, haven’t you?”
“Beautiful beaches, sunshine and the bluest ocean in the Caribbean.”
“Sara’s been dying to go there.”
“But, you’d rather contract me to go if I…”
“Exactly.” Ingrid inhaled deeply. “Find out if he’ll be there.”
“I’ll check my office and see if I have his number.” I got up and crossed over to the door. Ingrid held it open for me.
I wasn’t eager to do this. Diego was devastatingly handsome and very rich. But my life was too complicated. He could misinterpret my interest when I phoned him to ask about his whereabouts. I made my way slowly to my office at the end of the hall.
It was small but comfortable with a teak desk and two blue upholstered chairs. On the wall I had framed ink drawings of my cats.
Thinking about Ingrid’s bribe, I watched droplets of rain splash my windowpane. October always was a mish-mash of weather—warm some days, others unpleasantly cool. I was glad Ingrid hadn’t switched my assignment, at least not yet. If she was upset, my next tour might be to some horrible cold place—like Edmonton. But then again, she had to be careful. If she messed with me, I wouldn’t renew our contract. Sara was a novice tour guide and Ingrid knew it. I picked up my cell and slid my finger down until I came to Alvarez and pressed the phone icon. I waited until it rang.
“Diga,” a deep voice drawled.
“Yes.” I ran my fingers through my hair nervously. “How are you?”
“Bien, mi amor. Happy, now that you’ve called. How was your castle tour?”
“The history was fascinating. I love Wales.”
“You like history, don’t you? Do you remember Tulum?”
“How could I forget?” A kaleidoscope of scenarios flashed through my mind—the two of us on the beach, swimming, kissing, and our run-in with death. “Diego, I am flying down to Cozumel tomorrow.”
“I will make sure they prepare the condo for you. And I look forward to seeing you.”
“That’s kind of you, but I’m not sure I will be staying there. My tour group has a reservation at the Don Juan Hotel.”
“Not the best place. Must you stay with them?”
“It might be the best thing to do—stay close to my clients.”
“Surely the condo will be more comfortable. You haven’t seen it, Adelinita. Don’t make up your mind just yet. When you get there, give me a call and I’ll show it to you.”
“So, you’ll be in San Miguel? You won’t be out of town?”
“Here and there I might be. Business.”
“Would you be able to speak to an associate about obtaining some Mayan antiquities?”
“Antiquities? Um, Adelinita, we should discuss this in person. Call me when you get in.”
“Chao, mi amor.”
“Chao, Diego.” I placed the phone back onto the receiver and studied my Mayan frog statue. Diego had been so sweet to give it to me. Glancing up, I saw Ingrid leaning on the door frame.
“He’ll be there, but I didn’t talk to him about getting the Mayan antiquities.”
“But he would know how to get them?” She fingered the frog gently, and turned it, examining the bottom.
“He’ll do it for me.”
“You know, Adie, I saw a piece similar to this at an art auction in Toronto. The buyer ended up paying fifteen hundred for it.”
“I didn’t realize it was that much.”
“We wouldn’t want this conversation to leave this room, Adie.”
“Thanks.” She swivelled around and made her way back to her office.
What now? With the city shut down, my karate club would be closed. I might as well go home and pack.
* * *
Rush hour had started. The ice was almost gone and the traffic was light. Soon, I was pulling into my driveway. Once inside my kitchen I realized I needed something to lift my spirits. The weather, Telly, and now the meeting with Ingrid contributed to the black cloud hanging over me. I stroked Minnie, my gray Turkish-angora, thinking a chocolate fix would help. Pleasure is chocolate. So which should it be? My mom’s chocolate cake or one of grandma’s blintzes? One with rich, creamy chocolate and the other with to-die-for, thick, smooth bitter-sweet chocolate. Choices—always choices. I closed my eyes and visualized a slice of chocolate cake.
There was almost nothing I liked more than chocolate, except maybe an afternoon wrapped in a passionate embrace with a man. I clicked in my mom’s number as I forked up the cake.
“Hi, Mom. What’s up?”
“Erika called. She’s worried about Wolf. She wants to know if he’s coming back from Cozumel. Apparently, he’s ignoring her.”
“Um-mm?” I didn’t think I liked this topic of conversation.
“I told her you’re going to Cozumel.”
“She wanted to know if you might check in on him. Get him to call.” I closed my eyes, the chocolate melting in the heat of my mouth. I conjured a picture in my mind. Mysterious, sapphire eyes.
My mom’s voice startled me.
“Wolf’s in Cozumel, Adie. She wants you to persuade him to contact her.”
That’s asking a lot. I bit my lip, remembering.
“Adie, he’s living in a house in San Miguel. The phone number is—got a pen?”
“Yes.” I looked at the mug on my table. It held an assortment of pens.
“81-2222. Have you got that?”
“Yes.” I scrolled down on my cell to where it said sea god. It was the same number.
“Write this down—Avenida 10, that’s the street, Entre 4 y 6 Nte, between the roads four and six north. You should stop by. Erika hasn’t heard from him since New Years.”
New Year’s Eve. Bringing in the New Year together—his full lips pressed sensuously against mine. Rockets had fired and soared through my body. “And if we talk?”
“Just tell him to phone home. You know Erika. She’s like a she-lion with her boys and Wolf is so independent.” Mom chuckled. “A lot like you.”
“Okay, but I may not have time to see him.”
“Please, dear. You should recognize him. I know it’s been ten years but he doesn’t look much different. Maybe a bit more muscular. You remember what he looks like, don’t you?”
My heart skipped a beat—he was unforgettable. “Yes.”
“Erika said it’s such a small place, you might just see him in the town, anyway. You know how close our families have been. Remember how you came up with us to their cottage that summer? The two of you disappeared for hours. I was worried. Thought the boat might have run out of gas. Erika thought you were up to no good. Blamed it all on you. Your father thought you’d…” Mom sighed. “Well, we were never religious enough for Erika but she’s a friend, so anyway, sweetie, do this for me, okay?”
I frowned. This certainly complicated matters. “I’ll try.”
“Have a great trip!”
“Thanks. Take care.” Pressing the end button, I rubbed my temples, thinking of my last trip to Cozumel. Steamy hot nights and a tongue that had set my body on fire—too much unfinished business. But life doesn’t always deal us a good hand. Sometimes we have to play the cards we’ve got, no matter what the stakes.
George was a big guy. About six-three and super wide like a NFL linebacker. His body took up more than his share of space—his beefy forearm smothered my armrest, long legs indented the seat in front. When the flight attendants told us to fasten our seatbelts and put our seats in an upright position, George wrenched the belt, flipping and twisting it, frustration burning his cheeks red. I took pity on him. After I got a hold of his seatbelt, snapping it shut, I pointed to a black button on the armrest and said, “This button adjusts the seat.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, George straightened his chair. “Adie, I’m so glad you’re here with me. You might not have guessed, but I’ve never flown before.”
“When will we get there?”
“We should land about six.”
George glanced nervously out the window at the engines starting up. His knuckles clenched and white, he sat silently until we ended our ascent and started flying steadily. The pilot came on the intercom and told us the weather in Cozumel was sunny and eighty degrees.
“That’s encouraging,” I said.
“What time will we get to the hotel?”
“If all goes well, probably sevenish.”
“Will you be having dinner with us?”
I was beginning to get the feeling this was not a casual question. “Probably not. I have plans with a friend.”
“A female friend?”
I had to nip this thing in the bud. “A male friend.”
“Well, let’s see. There’s Jim and Tom, but they’re not exactly your type, I’d think. So, with no single males your age on our tour, except me, I’d guess this guy lives in Cozumel?”
“What does he do there?”
I had to think fast—which male friend should I tell him about? “He runs an investment firm but his family also holds an import business.”
“I’m interested in investments. What kind?”
He was putting me on the spot. “Land.”
“Is he good at it? I might want to invest in some property.”
“Oh?” I asked incredulously.
George regarded me seriously. “I may not look it, but I have money. I have my own company.”
“What kind of company, George?”
“Oh…” I dug around for my book in the carry-on luggage.
“It probably sounds dull to someone like you.”
“Someone like me?”
“Yeah…” His face flushed. “You’re sophisticated.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“You know so much more about everything than I do, except software, of course. I’m an expert when it comes to computer programming.”
I opened my paperback to the first chapter.
“Computer software is where the money’s at.”
“Um-mm.” I blanked him out and read the first sentence.
“I took technology and business management in university. The computer field was just opening up. I mean, well, Bill Gates, Microsoft, and then of course, there was Mac and Apple.”
I couldn’t be rude to one of my clients, so I nodded my head in the manner that a psychologist would, before I refocused on my novel.
“Adie, one time I saw a special about Gates. You wouldn’t believe the stuff he did.” He slumped back in his seat. “The vision of the man.”
His voice was a boring monotone. George was smart enough but his voice could put anyone into a coma. As he droned on with details, I read. I was near the bottom of the first page when I felt George press his hand on my arm.
“So, do you understand, Adie?”
“Um-mm. There’s a radio station on two.” I pointed to the armrest, hoping he’d get the hint. He frowned but after he noticed I was back to reading, he picked up the newspaper the flight attendant had given him and opened it to the business section.
After an hour into the flight, we were served drinks and sandwiches. Tearing open the sandwich package the flight attendant had deposited on my tray, I noticed George’s eyes on me. I had the uneasy feeling I really had to follow through with Diego or George would catch me in a lie. Maybe, I’d have to find him a woman, as well. With all the money he said he had, surely there would be one out there for him somewhere—ready, willing, and able.
I glanced across the aisle at Ingrid. Her face was pale, fingertips nervously tapping the surface of her tray. Four nicotine free hours on the airline would be hard on a pack-a-day woman like Ingrid. There were two empty plastic glasses with swivel sticks on her tray and she was sipping on another one.
With Telly’s unexpected death, Ingrid had put Suzanne in charge. She was competent for someone in her twenties but didn’t have the experience to deal with some situations. It surprised me that Ingrid made her manager and went ahead with her trip to Cozumel.
When the flight attendant came to get our trays, I started thinking about going to the washroom and changing. It would be easier to do it now, before we started our descent.
“Excuse me.” I waited, but George continued to sit, staring at the flight attendant wiggling her way to the back. He looked zoned out, probably a combination of male hormones and getting up in the wee hours to make it to Toronto. George lived out in the sticks and with the long drive to the airport, he’d be tired. I spoke up louder. “George, will you excuse me, please?”
He angled his legs slightly away. That left me with an awkward climb over a pair of huge knees propped tightly against the seat in front of him. With the carry-on held high, I swung one leg over, my butt brushing something as I stepped into the aisle. Was that his hand? I glanced over my shoulder but George had closed his eyes.
I squeezed by a wheezing barrel-chested fellow coming down the aisle and waited for the occupied light to turn off. It was taking so long, I was wondering if I shouldn’t try the washroom at the back of the plane. Just as I turned to leave, the door jerked opened and Fern popped out.
She smiled when she saw me and touched my arm lightly. “Adie, hi! We haven’t really had a chance to talk since I booked this trip. Oktoberfest was something else. Thanks for including us. Never had that experience before.” She looked suddenly concerned. “So what happened to that woman from your office?”
“Huh?” Fern said, her dark eyes widening in surprise. “Died? I thought she had too much beer!”
“They took her to the hospital and a few hours later she died. They don’t know the cause yet.”
Fern’s brow furrowed. “That’s unreal. When Ingrid said we should hurry and get ourselves a taxi, she didn’t mention anything.”
“We didn’t know at that point and I think she didn’t want to put a damper on the night.”
Fern looked over my shoulder, her eyes shooting daggers in Ingrid’s direction. “No, she wouldn’t, would she?”
I was taken aback. “You know Ingrid, don’t you?”
“Yep.” Fern glued her eyes on Ingrid. “It’s a long story.” She changed the subject abruptly. “When do we land, Adie?”
“Soon. You might want to change, Fern. It’ll be hot when we get in.”
“Yeah, sure. I have some shorts in my carry-on. I might as well do it now. Thanks, I’ll tell Bryan.”
Getting changed in the washroom was like being a contortionist in the circus, without the applause. After I checked my hair, I tossed my things in my bag and headed back to my seat.
George had dozed off, his mouth open, whistling snorts coming out of his nose in irregular intervals. I crawled over him carefully, trying not to touch him, but with those massive legs I couldn’t avoid it. Relieved that he continued to sleep, I closed my eyes myself, but the train blasts kept me awake. After a while, I pulled out my book and started to read.
When the seat belt light came on, the flight attendant woke George to move his seat into an upright position. He looked nervous, sweat dribbles appearing on his temples and neck. I wanted to feel some compassion for him, but I had to wonder where his hand had been when I had stepped over him. If there was one thing that annoyed me, it was a guy that took advantage of a woman with some unwanted groping.
* * *
My tour group was outside the airport at the curb, waiting to board the shuttle bus. The sun was nearing the horizon, but the breeze was warm—no cold rain or ice pellets.
An island twenty-eight miles long and eleven miles wide, Cozumel rests off the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. In Mayan, Cozumel meant Place of the Swallows. The hotel zone was on the west coast because of the calm waters and its major attraction, the reefs. Our hotel, the Don Juan was located close to the ferry dock in San Miguel, the island’s only town.
Before I sat down, I spoke to our shuttle driver. “Hola, I’m Adie Sturm, Fleischer Travel.”
“Buenas tardes. You have come at a good time, señorita Sturm. The last few days have been sunny.”
“Great.” I hoped it would hold up.
“You have everyone?”
I looked up and down the aisle and did a head count. “Yup, we can go.”
Our driver was experienced dealing with pedestrians, not to mention the speed bumps called topes that interrupted the flow of traffic along the coast road. It should have been easy to drive with the avenidas and calles at right angles but these streets were often confusing with the one ways. When a bicycle swerved out at the last minute, I was glad I was a passenger and not the driver. In the hotel’s adjacent lot, the driver brought the luggage out of the shuttle and deposited the suitcases on the cement.
“Welcome to the Don Juan,” I said to my group, as I picked up my suitcase. The hotel was a two-story, yellow stucco building with a red tile roof. The double glass doors slid open and a doorman grabbed some of the luggage, bringing it to the central area near the front desk.
A cozy grouping of wicker chairs with floral cushions was set in the middle of the lobby. Apart from a young couple at the reception desk we were the only group arriving. It didn’t take long for my group to register and after everyone was given a room, I announced, “We have a reservation for dinner in half an hour.”
Hoots and clapping sounds filled the air. Airline food can only go so far. Jim, the geeky Blackberry guy, called out to me as I followed the bellhop. “Adie,” he motioned to Tom, “we thought we’d skip dinner here. Is there somewhere you could suggest where there’d be a little more action?”
“Carlos ’n Charlies. Tell the taxi driver.”
“Cool.” Jim beamed happily and grabbed his suitcase.
The bellhop’s lapel pin read Miguel. His nose held proof of his Mayan heritage, narrow, with a bit of a hook to it. He led the way to the second floor and inserted the key. “You have the ocean view, señorita.” He opened my door for me to enter first. Eagerly, I made my way to the patio to catch a glimpse of the Caribbean. The sky at sunset had a rosy hue that cast a lavender light on the turquoise waves. It was as I remembered it, and with that came those bittersweet memories of the days I had spent with a man I should forget. But his slow sexy smile and his mysterious eyes were impossible to wipe out of my mind.
When the bellhop left, I closed the door and dug in my purse for my cell and pressed Diego’s number.
“Hola, Diego, I’m at the Don Juan.”
“Are you free for dinner?”
Diego was a godsend—here was my excuse to get away. “Yes, but in about an hour. Is that okay?”
“Certainly. Where should I meet you?”
“The dining room. I’ll need to get my group settled in to their dinner first and then I can leave.”
“Soon then. Chao, mi amor.”
“Adios, Diego and thanks.”
Time was short and I had a few things to do before dinner. Unlocking my suitcase, I took my usual Caribbean hotel room precaution. My aerosol can of Raid was in a plastic bag in the outside pocket of my luggage. I pressed the button and aimed under the beds before I moved them together. I stepped away quickly—just in the nick of time.
A three-inch cockroach and his buddy raced by, inches away from my toes. I wasn’t fast enough to squish the first one but the second one wasn’t so lucky. I completed a rendition of the Mexican hat dance before I stopped stomping—Mexican roaches being hard-shelled suckers. I glanced around but the first roach had headed for the bathroom. I threw the can but it bounced right off and the beast kept on running.
Poison acts slowly, but eventually the noxious fumes would overpower the thick-skinned devil until it succumbed to its inevitable death. This brought back thoughts of Telly. Not that she had been ugly or roach-like. She’d been a good person and hadn’t deserved to die. Could she have been poisoned? As I wandered over to the window I looked out at the fronds of the coconut palms waving gently, and thought how lucky I was to be alive. Telly had been dealt a joker that shouldn’t have been in the deck.
From my suitcase, I dug up silver high-heeled sandals, a matching purse, and a gauzy halter-top dress. In the washroom, I touched up my makeup before I grabbed my key, placed it in my purse, and made my way outside.
The palapa-covered restaurant was nestled between the pool and the ocean. A breeze ruffled the red table cloths. As I stood waiting, the tour group started to arrive.
The maître d’ smiled a welcome. “Buenas noches, señorita.”
“Buenas noches. I have a reservation for Sturm.”
“For nine people?”
“I have set up a large table over there.” He gestured over to the part of the restaurant overlooking the ocean.
“Gracias. I appreciate it.” I waved to the group to come along.
Fern, Ingrid and I sat at one end. George tried to sit on the other side of Fern but Bryan took the chair before he had a chance. Poor Bryan. Even before our drink order arrived, George pushed up closer and started a monologue. “Nikons are the best, Bryan.” George had his camera out of the case and was pointing to the back. “If I hold the button long enough here, I can get the perfect night shot. Of course, it all depends on how long I time it.”
Bryan nodded distractedly, as if looking for an escape. The waiter carried our drinks over, ceremoniously setting my order of a strawberry daiquiri alongside Fern’s, the drinks tarted up with flowers and fruit.
I waited until the table was served before I stood up to propose a toast. “A muchos amores y a muchos pesos!” I winked. “Love and money.”
The group clicked their glasses.
“Cool!” George boomed. “I’d like a little of both.”
Dan chuckled. “There’s plenty of señoritas here, buddy. You go and git ’em.”
George glanced in my direction before he guzzled his beer.
I focused in on Fern. “So tell me, girlfriend, why is it that you’re not a travel agent?”
Fern turned to Ingrid with a grimace. “You want to tell her, Ingrid?”
Fern shot her a look. “I worked for Ingrid in her London office.”
Suddenly, Ingrid’s eyes riveted on the entrance of the restaurant. “Holy shit!”
Fern and I stared at a tall dark-haired man walking to the maître d′s stand.
“Delectable,” Fern whispered.
“Sinful,” Ingrid ran her tongue over her lips.
“Like chocolate.” My eyes ran down his body.
Ingrid nudged me. “Do you think he’s staying here?”
“No.” I took a last sip of my daiquiri.
“You know him?” Fern asked curiously.
Ingrid sat up straighter and craned her neck. “Adie! Look, he’s waving at us!”
My eyes shot to the man in white. He stared back. A lock of his hair fell on his forehead as the wind picked up. His full lips curved into a subtle smile.
I motioned the waiter for my check. Signing it, I took my leave of the group. “People?”
Eyes looked up at me.
“Sorry to interrupt. There is snorkelling tomorrow morning. Those interested should meet me on the beach at ten. Enjoy your dinner and have a fantastic evening!”
I turned on my heel and headed over to the man at the doorway. Santiago Francisco Bolivar Alvarez—also known as Diego to his friends.
* * *
When I got close, I felt suddenly shy.
“Adelinita.” His eyes sparkled, as they fell from my face slowly dropping down to my dress, lingering at the scooped neckline. “Lovely, as always.” He lifted my hand and brushed his lips on my wrist.
Not wanting an audience, I pulled him towards the double patio doors. “Let’s go, Diego.” Amused, he let himself be manoeuvred into the lobby and then stopped.
“You seem in quite a hurry, Adelinita.”
“I just need to get away from my tour group.”
“They’re that bad?”
“Some of them.” I glanced back through the glass doors. “Where are we going?”
“El Pescado. Have you ever been there?” Diego steered me out of the hotel with his hand on the small of my back. “It’s close, a block from here.”
“Yes, I know.” I thought back to a warm sultry night with another man.
Diego turned to me. “Does that mean you’d rather not go?”
“No, not at all. It’s a nice place. Do they still have a band?”
“Yes. Did you like the music?”
“Um-mm. Nouveau flaminco.” Moorish rhythms that had transported me to the desert—the heat of the man hotter than any desert breeze.
“That band has moved on to Cancun.” Diego flashed a white smile. “But this one has the mood of South America.”
“We could dance.” Diego took my hand as we headed along the broad sidewalk on the main street. The rush of the ocean soothed my senses as I breathed in the salt air. Couples strolled past us on the promenade along the busy Rafael Melgar.
“I’m so sorry, Adelina. I should have kept my driver waiting, but I thought he needed a night off and the restaurant isn’t far.” He glanced down at my sandals. “However, I didn’t count on your shoes.”
“Don’t worry. I can do almost anything with heels.”
Diego grinned. “My imagination runs wild, mi amor.” His eyes swept down my legs. “You look beautiful in them.” He stopped and pulled me close. “I missed you, Adelinita.” Diego’s lips brushed lightly against mine. Every nerve ending I had charged at his touch. Releasing me, he said, his voice husky, “Are you alone on this trip?”
It took an effort to concentrate on his question. “If you call being with a tour group alone, yes.”
“Does Wolf know you’re here?”
“No, Diego.” I turned my head away, upset by his question. “But let’s not talk about him, okay?”
Diego smiled. “No need to say more.” His eyes settled on a white stucco building. On a wooden sign, a large fish had been painted with the name, El Pescado in flowing red and blue lettering. “There it is, Adelina.”
Diego held the door open and I entered a dim room lit with candles. Under a thatched palm roof, the restaurant was perched high, overlooking the Caribbean.
“Buenas noches, señor Alvarez,” the maître d’ said. “Buenas noches, señorita.” Leading us to the table, he said something in Spanish that I didn’t quite pick up.
Soft strains of a tango filled the air as we were seated at a table with a magnificent view of the sea. The moist warm sea breeze tousled my hair as Diego pulled out the chair for me.
“The margaritas are exceptional here,” Diego said, as the waiter stood by waiting for our order. I nodded and Diego ordered. “Two margaritas, no salt for the señorita.”
“Si, señor Alvarez,” the server said, inclining his head before retreating to the bar.
Diego nodded. “I remember a great deal about you, Adelinita.” He straightened himself up in the wicker chair. “I’m having a party at my beach house on Tuesday. Will you come?”
Shopping in the town was the only thing scheduled for my tour group on that day. “Sounds like fun, but I have a little problem—maybe two.”
Diego took my hand, his eyes gleaming green in the candlelight. “Let me solve them for you, mi amor.”
“Would it be all right if I bring two people from my tour group with me? They want to speak with you.”
“Well, George has money to blow. He wants to make some investments and Ingrid, she…” My voice trailed off as the waiter arrived with the margaritas. I picked up my glass as Diego clicked mine. “Salud!”
“Salud!” His hazel eyes shifted to the color of brandy. “You were speaking about this Ingrid. Who is she?”
“She owns several travel agencies. Her interest is in Mayan antiquities.”
“Ah-h… You mentioned this on the phone.”
“There is a problem with that?”
“Yes and no.”
“I could speak to her, but Adelina, it would have to be kept strictly confidential. Perhaps, if you brought her to me at the beach house, I could see what she’s interested in exactly.” Diego stroked my hand gently. “Don’t talk about this to anyone, cariño.” He glanced around to see if we were being overheard and seeing no one near, he continued in a low voice, “Can she keep her mouth shut?”
“Is there something illegal about this?”
“There’s nothing to worry about as long as she’s discreet.”
I was beginning to kick myself for letting Ingrid drag me into this.
When the waiter appeared to take our order, we both settled on lobster.
After we were left alone, Diego leaned in. “There is something else I needed to talk to you about.” He downed his margarita and set the glass on the table. “You know Carmelita has modeled through the years?”
“Well, she’s expanded into designing. There’ll be a fashion show tomorrow night. Would you be able to see it?”
“Yes, of course. Where?”
“At the Hotel Maria. It’s a dinner-fashion show.” He reached into his wallet, pulling out a book of tickets. “Take these. You can give them out to your tour group, if you want.” He frowned. “I’m worried about her.”
A waiter arriving with a bottle of wine put a halt to our conversation. He opened the wine and poured a trace into Diego’s wine goblet. Diego drank some water and then picked up his glass. Swishing the wine, he eyed the color before sipping the berry-tinged liquid. When he nodded his approval, our glasses were filled. Another waiter set down our entrées before he retreated discreetly.
When the first server joined him, I asked, “Why, Diego? You don’t want her designing or is it the modeling?”
“It’s not that.” He stroked my hand absently, staring up at the ceiling fan a moment before he continued. “You know she’s had her problems with her husband.” He gritted his teeth. “Fede is a swine. If she didn’t love him so much, I would make sure he was…”
“No, Diego. Violence is not the answer.”
“I forget how forgiving you are, mi amor.” He sighed. “But Carmelita is my sister and needs guidance in the right direction and as her older brother…” A waiter refilled our water glasses and we waited until he left. “…in the absence of our father, the responsibility becomes mine.”
I nodded, watching him silently while he sipped his wine.
Lowering his gaze to my cleavage, Diego flashed a sudden smile. “I’m being too serious, aren’t I? Did I tell you it was a beach party? You’ll look sensational in a bikini.”
“Pale and sickly.”
“Not you, Adelina. You’ll have a golden tan by Tuesday.”
I smiled. “You’ve always been my biggest fan. Don’t I do anything you don’t like?”
“Just one thing. But I’m a patient man, mi amor.” He grinned. “But when it comes to you,” his fingers brushed a strand of hair away from my face, “I can wait for your love because I know it will be sweeter than honey.”
I felt a rush of fire flood my body but I ignored it. I changed the subject. “What is it that worries you about your sister?”
Taking a bite of lobster, he glanced at the wine. “First, let’s talk about the wine, Adelina. Do you like it?”
I swirled the dark red wine and then took a sip. “Velvety.”
He smiled and said, “You have an excellent palate. Let this be a challenge for you. Tell me what you taste?”
Diego nodded. “Anything more?”
I sipped some more wine. “There’s a hint of spice.”
Diego smiled slyly. “Correct…black pepper. And the finish?”
“It’s a bit bitter, but pleasant,” I said, puzzled. “I know this flavor but…” I looked up at the night sky and closed my eyes, focusing on the delectable taste.
“I’m so envious. You have that rare ability to discern the bouquet of the wine.” He sat back and stared at me. “A woman with this ability must bring an interesting aspect into lovemaking.”
Diego laughed. “Don’t be so serious. It’s all good.”
“Ah-hh! That was my clue, wasn’t it? Chocolate…dark chocolate.” I glanced at the bottle. “That’s so unusual.”
“Almaviva 97. Chilean.”
Diego was amazing—finding a wine with a chocolate finish. I took another sip before I took note of Diego’s furrowed brow. He had gone quiet. “Diego, tell me what’s bothering you.”
“Well,” he said, pulling out a cigarillo and lighting it. “Someone has been sabotaging Carmelita’s business.” He drew in smoke before he released it into the night air. “Something came to her in the mail.”
“A dead rat with one of her brochures. Carmelita’s head on the brochure was cut off.”
I dropped my fork and stared at Diego. “Couldn’t the police do something? Your cousin, the commander?”
“Um-mm. I called Hernan, but he said Carmelita made the unfortunate mistake of tossing everything in the garbage.” He sighed. “It was all taken out by the maid.”
Diego shrugged. “So, what could they do?” He glanced at me. “The cigarillo—it doesn’t bother you?”
I shook my head. “Does she have any idea who did this?”
“I was thinking if you perhaps speak with her, she might confide in you.”
“And then I would tell you?”
Diego nodded. “I would have Churo guard her, but she insists she can handle it on her own.”
“Do think it might be Federico?”
“I don’t know what the idiot would gain. Perhaps he wants Carmelita to quit modeling so that he can keep her at home. He’d prefer her waiting on him with a glass of brandy in one hand and his slippers in the other.” Diego glanced at me. “She’ll be in suite 101-102 at the Hotel Maria before the dinner show. She’s getting everything ready. I’ll call her and tell her to meet you at the bar at six. Her show doesn’t start until seven-thirty. Could you see her then?”
I patted his hand. “Don’t worry, Diego. I’ll talk to her. And thanks for the tickets. I’m not sure if some of the men in my tour group would be interested in the fashion show but I’m sure they would be happy to have dinner.”
Diego smiled. “Remember our breakfast together there? To have a woman like you, feeding me. I felt like a king.”
“And you were, well...my hero.”
Diego ran his fingers through my hair and searched my face. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t your only hero.”
“No,” I sat back in my chair, “but you promised not to talk about Wolf.”
“Of course. I’m curious as to what happened between you, but I suppose whatever it is, might be good for me.”
I frowned, not wanting to think anymore, especially about Wolf. “Diego, you never told me anything about the Mayan frog you gave me.”
“The frog is Pre-Colombian. It symbolizes the Mayan rain god, Chac—god of agriculture and fertility.”
“And you decided fertility was a good idea for me?”
“I like your features—slanty blue eyes,” he focused on my mouth, “and such pouty lips. Imagine what beautiful babies we could make.”
My jaw dropped. “Babies?”
“After you fall in love with me, of course.”
I laughed in relief. “I love you already.”
He grinned wickedly. “You never take me seriously, but you will someday. Why don’t we dance?” He stood up and took my hand.
It was a tango. Smoothly seductive, it was an intimate dance that stirred the senses. It was no wonder it originated in the bordellos of Buenos Aires. Diego’s hand felt warm and strong on my waist as he led me in the intricate movements. Walking steps on a diagonal, left crossing right, and a sudden turn. Diego’s compelling brandy eyes met mine. I shuddered as his hand stroked my hip and I urged myself to remember it was only a dance.
“Do you want to see the condo?” Diego whispered into my ear as he led me back to my chair.
I wanted to and yet I didn’t. Being with Diego? Was I ready to jump into that powerful current?
“Oh, I’m sorry, mi amor. I’ve forgotten—dessert?” Diego’s eyes glinted like sparkling emeralds in the candle light.
He’d be the perfect sweet to end my meal. If my body had to choose, it would definitely say yes. He was better than chocolate or at least on par to those to-die-for chocolate blintzes grandma made. But no, I couldn’t get involved. “No, thank you, Diego. And, if you don’t mind, I’d rather not see the condo tonight. It’s an early morning for me with the tour group.”
The waiter came over and said something in Spanish. Diego’s gaze swept my face. “Of course, cariño. You must be tired. A flight is always exhausting. Why don’t I call my driver to pick us up?” Diego picked up my hand and kissed my wrist. My nipples perked under the silk material of my dress.
Diego gazed at me as if he knew how my body had responded. “Regretfully I can’t see you tomorrow—a meeting in Cancun that will probably run late.” He helped me out of my chair.
“You said your party is Tuesday, but you didn’t tell me where.”
Diego picked up my hands. “My driver will pick you up at the front of the Hotel Don Juan with your guests at twelve. If you change your mind—you have the condo key?”
I nodded. I wondered if he’d take that as an invitation. By the heavy-lidded look he gave me, I knew I’d have to step carefully or plunge right in.
While Diego phoned for his driver, I leaned over the railing, feeling the salty breeze on my face. Even if this was somewhat of a working trip, it was worth it to be here again. The white-crested surf triggered memories—flashbacks of that night with Wolf. Diego’s hand on my arm brought me back.
“Come, mi amor. He’s waiting.” He took my hand and led me to the front door. Passing by an elderly woman selling roses, Diego gave her some money. She smiled her appreciation. Diego said something to her in Spanish and she wrapped the stem in cellophane and tied a ribbon around it. With a flourish, Diego handed the blood red rose to me.
“You are like this rose, my sweet Adelinita—vibrant and strong, yet so soft and fragrant.”
I bent my head to the flower and caught a spicy scent. “Gracias, Diego. I enjoyed our evening.”
“And I am pleased you made time to see me.”
The limo was waiting for us in front of the restaurant. A massive man with a square head sat in the front seat, his grim expression scary.
Diego held the door of the white limo open for me and I slid across the seat. “Hola, Luis!” I called out.
He bared his teeth, in what I supposed was meant to be a smile. “Buenas noches, señorita Sturm.”
“We will return señorita Sturm to the Hotel Don Juan.”
Luis nodded, easing the limo out into the street.
It was a short drive, with the Don Juan quickly coming into view. Diego glanced at me, hesitated a second before he drew me close. His hands dropped to my waist, stroking through the fabric of my dress. A delicious shiver of arousal ran down my body as his lips brought mine to life. Sinking back, I wondered what the rest of him would feel like.
Releasing my shoulders, Diego sighed. “I’ll look forward to Tuesday, sweet Adelina. Luis will come by at twelve.”
I nodded, picking up my rose and my purse.
Diego got out and strode to the other side. He held the door open for me, helping me out. My dress riding up to my thighs received an appreciative glance from my companion.
“I will count the hours.” Diego’s lips brushed mine.
From there, I floated into the hotel all the way up to my room, thinking how sexually deprived I’d been for the last few months. No wonder a kiss sent me into such a state. But it wasn’t just a kiss—Diego knew exactly what he was doing.