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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31





Chapter Fifteen

            The next few days passed quickly, which pleased Madison because she had no desire to sit around thinking about all the things she had learned. After her meeting with Victor, she immediately got into researching Antonio 'The Panther' Lopez. Only twenty-three and a real comer, he'd never lost a match. Now he was all set to fight the champion in Vegas. It seemed he was quite a character, with a colorful past for one so young.

            Sitting in front of her computer, she decided it would be good for her to get out of town. Vegas was a crazy place. She hadn't been there in a couple of years so it would be interesting to see how it had changed.

            Wednesday night she had dinner with Jamie, Peter and Anton. They went to their favourite Chinese restaurant and ordered everything on the menu.

            Anton was full of apologies. 'My dear,' he said. Waving his arms in the air. 'I would never put Joel Blaine next to you at a dinner party. I would never invite Joel Blaine to a dinner party. It was Leon I invited. Joel simply took his place.'

            'I should've guessed,' she said, taking a bite of her second duck pancake.

            'Don't think I didn't phone his executive assistant to complain the next day,' Anton said, fussily. 'That boy is a joke, trading on his father's name whenever he can.'

            'Don't worry about it,' she said, reaching for a honey-coated spare rib. 'I survived.'

            'You always do,' Jamie interjected.

            'If you're in the game, you gotta learn to play it,' Madison said, grinning.

            'That's what I admire about you, dear,' Anton said. 'You do not hold a grudge.'

            Half-way through the meal Jamie got up to go to the ladies' room. Madison accompanied her.

            'Guess what?' Madison said, when they reached the sanctuary of the small room.

            'What?' Jamie said.

            'I forgot to cancel your detective. She turned up Monday morning.'

            'My detective?'

            'Well, you were the one who wanted Peter followed.'

            'Shh.' Jamie said.

            'Shush what? There's nobody in here.'

            'You never know who's lurking.'

            'This is not Ally McBeal.'

            'Okay, okay,' Jamie said. 'It's all my fault, so I'll pay. How much is it?'

            'Who's worried about the money?' Madison said. 'As it turns out she was an extremely interesting woman. A Native American. Oh, yes, and there's something she said you should do.'

            'What?' said Jamie staring in the mirror while applying a pale pink gloss to her luscious lips.

            'Check out Peter's wallet, see if he's got a condom stashed there.'

            Jamie burst out laughing. 'Why would Peter be carrying a condom in his wallet?'

            'If everything's cool, he won't be,' Madison said. 'Only Kimm seems to think that once a wife suspects, that nagging inner voice is never wrong.'

            'Charming!' Jamie exclaimed. 'I can assure you I was wrong. Peter has never been more loving.'

            'So nothing lost if you take a look.'

            'And what am I supposed to do if I find one?'

            'Put a tiny mark on the corner of the package. Then look again in a week and see if the mark's still there. If it isn't and there's a new condom there, then you'll know he's cheating.'

            'What a scam!' Jamie scoffed. 'And complicated too.'

            'I think it's quite clever.'

            'We don't use condoms,' Jamie pointed out.

            'All the better. This way, if he's doing anything, you've got him busted. What can he say? That he was carrying it for a friend?'

            'This is ridiculous,' Jamie said, brushing her short blonde hair a touch too vigorously.

            'If it's so ridiculous, nothing lost by giving it a try.' 'We'll see,' Jamie said, putting her brush back in her purse. 'By the way, Peter met this guy at work he swears is exactly right for you.'

            'What guy?' Madison groaned.

            'A hot guy,' Jamie answered, spraying herself with a purse-size atomizer of Angel.

            'I am so fed up with people trying to fix me up,' Madison said, frowning. 'If there's somebody out there who's right for me, I'll find him myself.'

            'You're not doing a great job.'

            'Thanks.'

            'Well, it's true.'

            'Anyway, Jake Sica called me.'

            'Who's Jake Sica?'

            'That's guy I told you about- the one in L.A. who was lusting after some blonde call-girl, you know, the one who was busy getting involved with a total psycho.'

            'Sounds like L.A. ,' Jamie said crisply. 'What was it your called your trip?'

            'The Magical Mystery Psycho Tour,' Madison said, remembering how she'd befriended Salli T. Turner, the sexy TV actress, on the plane out to L.A. and the next day Salli had been murdered. Madison had genuinely liked Salli she'd possessed a sweetness and vulnerability that were irresistible to both men and women. The police had eventually caught the killer, who'd turned out to be TV talk show host Bonnie Deacon.

            Pure Hollywood tragedy.

            'What did this Jake guy call and say?' Jamie persisted.

            'That he's coming out here this week. Unfortunately my machine cut off so I didn't get to hear the end of his message.'

            'I hate machine. We're getting voicemail.'

            'I'd miss that blinking red light.'

            'You're such an old-fashioned girl at heart.'

            'Me?'

            'So, are you going to get together with him?'

            'Of course.'

            'Good,' Jamie said. 'But that doesn't mean you get out of meeting Peter's friend.'

            'I'm not doing it.'

            'We'll see,' Jamie said, smiling mysteriously.

            'No, we won't see.'

            'Peter says you'll like him a lot.'

            'What is your taste? It's been so long I've forgotten.'

            'Hmmm.' Madison said thoughtfully. 'Someone strong and truthful - oh, yes, and definitely faithful. And he has to have a finely tuned sense of humour plus a great butt!'

            'Sounds exactly like Peter's friend,' Jamie said, grinning.

            'Bullshit!'

            'How do you know that he hasn't got a great butt?'

            They both began to giggle.

            'This reminds me of when we were in college,' Madison said. 'The mainstream of our conversation was-' 'Guys, guys, guys,' Jamie chimed in.

            'Yeah, well, we didn't do too badly, did we? They were lining up outside your door.'

            'And they would've been lining up outside yours if you'd let'em,' Jamie said. 'No, I scored the nerds,' Madison said, grimacing. 'I was the brain, remember?'

            'You also scored a few professors. I seem to recall a certain hunk who taught art history - did he have the hots for you!'

            Madison smiled reflectively. 'He seemed so old to us then, didn't he?' 'He was.'

            'The man was forty,' Madison exclaimed. 'When reminds me, I'm going to be thirty in a few weeks.' 'I'm not far behind you,' Jamie remarked gloomily. 'Old, isn't it?'

            'Not really,' Madison said. 'Thirty's old when you're twenty. When you're thirty, forty is old. And I guess when you're forty fifty is old- and so on.'

            'It sure beats the alternative,' Jamie said cheerfully.

            'You got it,' Madison agreed.

            'So,' Jamie said, ' are we on for dinner?'

            'Don't do this to me,' Madison groaned.

            'Why? You'll have a great time.'

            'Says who?'

            'Me.'

            'Ha!'

            'Tell you what,' Jamie said, 'meet this guy, and I'll do the condom thing for you. How's that for a deal?'

            'Hey, let's get this straight. You're not doing the condom thing for me, you're doing it for yourself.'

            'That's true, but-'

            'Okay, I'll come to dinner, I'll meet the great guy with the perfect butt, and we'll get married and have six wonderful children. Does that make you happy?'

            'Stranger things have happened.'

            'Sure!'

            They returned to the table, still laughing. 'What do you women do in there? Peter complained. 'You've been an hour.'

            'We have not,' Jamie said, playfully punching him on the chin. 'If you must know, we were talking about you.'

            'Good choice,' Peter said. 'I'll be the first to admit that I'm a fascinating subject.'

            'You certainly are,' Jamie said. 'And you love it when you know you're being discussed.' She nuzzled in next to him, giving him a long, intimate kiss on his earlobe.

            'I find these public displays of affection quite sickening,' Anton complained.

            'I know,' Madison agreed. 'You'd think they'd have something better to do with their time.' 'We do ,' Peter said, with a dirty laugh. 'That's why I'm calling for the check.'

***

            Back at her apartment Madison could hear the phone ringing as she unlocked her door. She burst inside at the exact moment her machine picked up. Slammer jumped all over her as she grabbed the receiver. 'Hi,' she said breathlessly, thinking it might be Michael, or maybe Kimm with some information.

            'Gotcha!' Jake Sica said. 'I was about to hang up.'

            She recognized his voice immediately. 'How are you?' she said, happy he'd called again. 'I got your message the other day. I would've phoned back, only you didn't leave a number.'

            'That's because for the last few months I haven't had a number,' he explained. 'I've been roaming across America.'

            'Sounds elusive.'

            'You know how it is. I had to kind of .find myself.'

            'Difficult?'

            'Nothing to be discussed on the phone,' she said, deciding now was definitely not the time to burden him with her problems.

            'In that case I'd better take you to dinner or lunch or tea or breakfast. I'm in your city now, so what are you up for?'

            Would it be too forward to say she was up for all of those things? 'Let's make it dinner,' she said. 'I'm free tomorrow night.'

            'So am I. Haven't made any other plans.'

            'I'm glad.'

            ''Hey,' he said, 'it's really good to hear your voice again.'

            'You, too,' she said softly, feeling ridiculously pleased to hear from him. 'Where shall we go? Your choice, 'cause I'm not familiar with New York.'

            'Do you like Chinese?' she asked, thinking of the restaurant she'd eaten at earlier.

            'My favourite.'

            'I'll give you my address and you can pick me up.'

            'Sounds good.'

            'Where are you staying?'

            'Some fleabag hotel near Times Square. You know me - not into the fancy stuff.' 'What's the number? In case I break a leg or something.'

            'You're not planning to, are you?'

            'No.'

            'Glad to hear it,' he said, clearing his throat. 'Hey- I just had a thought.'

            'Is that unusual?' she teased.

            'How about now,' he said, stopping himself, ' you wouldn't want to do that.'

            'Do what?' she asked, a touch too quickly. 'You must've only just come home, so you've got to be dressed - right?'

            'Oh, please,' she said. 'You're not about to ask me what I'm wearing, are you?'

            'No,' he said, laughing. 'I was thinking how about if we go out somewhere now and have a drink?

            'Now?' she repeated, sounding like an idiot.

            'That's what I said.'

            Well, uh.yeah, why not? she thought.

            'Well, uh..yeah, why not?' she said.

            'Great. I'll come by and get you.' She gave him her address and hung up feeling inexplicably flustered. This was crazy, she hardly knew the guy, and yet her heart was pounding. She must really be starved of decent male company.

            Racing into the bathroom, she stopped and took a critical look in the mirror. She had on a white shirt, black jeans and a short black jacket. Jamie was always urging her to be a little more playful will her makeup, so with her friend's words in mind she grabbed a brush and added gloss to her full lips. Then she applied more mascara, and loosened her pulled-back hair. She'd always wished for long, straight hair, instead of which it was wild and curly. But tonight she had to admit it looked good as she fluffed it out with her fingers.

            Slammer gazed up at her expectantly, as if to say, 'So? Are we hitting the streets or what?' She buzzed down to Clavin, the doorman. 'Can you walk my dog?' she asked.

            'Sure, Miss Castelli,' Calvin said. 'Anything for my favorite tenant.' He had a mild crush, which came in useful when she needed anything.

            'Thanks,' she said, nervously rushing back to the bathroom mirror.

            Hmmm don't like the white shirt -too severe, she thought, grabbing a red cashmere tank from her closet. She put it on. It looked sexy.

            Do I want to look sexy?

            Hell, yes.

            Calvin rang her buzzer. He was a short, round-faced man with bright ginger hair and startled eyebrows. She handed over Slammer, who did not seem pleased. 'You look nice, Miss Castelli,' Calvin ventured, giving her a quick once-over. 'Like your hair.'

            'Thanks,' she said, practically closing the door in his face.

            Scent. She should put on some scent. A quick squirt of Jo Malone's Grapefruit. It used to drive David crazy. Not crazy enough to stay, she thought dourly.

            His loss. Yes, definitely.

            David should have realized that nobody would love him the way she had. Because when she loved she was totally loyal, and that wasn't easy to come by in a relationship.

            The red tank looked great, emphasizing her bosom and narrow waist. She added some gold hoop earnings. She hadn't felt this good in a long time - in fact, she hadn't made this much of an effort in a long time.

            The downstairs buzzer rang. 'Yes, Calvin?' she said, into the house phone. 'There's a gentleman here for you, Miss,' he said, not sounding very happy about it. 'Tell him I'll be right down.'

            Jake must have been phoning her from around the corner, because it couldn't have been more than ten minutes since they'd spoken. She took one last look in the mirror, grabbed her purse and hurried out of the apartment.

            The elevator seemed to take forever to reach the lobby. She stood totally still, attempting to compose herself. 'Hi, Jake,' she'd say. 'How nice to see you again. Oh, and by the way- how's that. Uh, delightful call-girl you were lusting after?'

            No, no, no - mustn't sound bitchy! Be cool. Be nice. 'Hi, Jake, great to see you again.'

            Yes. That's it. Cool and friendly.

            The elevator doors opened. He had his back to her. He was bending over playing with Slammer.

            How nice, he likes dogs.

            She walked over, casually tapping him on the shoulder. 'Hi there, stranger,' she said. He stood up and turned round. It was David

   


Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62