ebooks by Phillip Thomas Duck

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Only 6 days left...HURRY!

Contest ends MARCH 15th to read and review "TRIAGE", and be automatically entered to win $25 gift card to Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  See details in post below.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Win $25 gift card...Energetic Readers Wanted!

Looking for energetic readers
 to read and review 

The prize: $25 gift card 
(choice of Amazon or Barnes and Noble) 

How to win: 1) Read Triage 2) Post a review of Triage on Amazon (Amazon verified purchase reviews only) before March 15th 2012. 3) To gain additional entries post the review at Goodreads or any blog/website (email us at ExcuseMeMissPTD@hotmail and let us know where you posted the review).

Additional info:  The content of your review will have no bearing on your entry.  All reviews will be entered into drawing.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

RT to win a $25 gift card...

CONTEST:  Retweet or post the following at Facebook (you may do it multiple times for multiple chances) and your name will be entered to win a $25 gift card from either Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  

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Craving Jack Reacher? Check out a new breed of tough guy! FREE!  (RT 4 chance 2 win $25 gift card)
You may RT or post at Facebook as many times as you like within the next few days as long as Triage remains FREE.  The name will be drawn the day after Triage stops being free.  Thanks for all your help.  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Conscience in Foreclosure...

Introducing.......TRIAGE: A Thriller 

Now available on Kindle: Click here to see at Amazon!


“‘YOU HAVE WEAPON? You have weapon?’” JW said, glancing up at me. “Remember that, Shell?”
I nodded. We were in his den. It was still clothed in the dark colors he had chosen for it during his bachelor days. A breeze fluttered in through an open window just beyond us and carried the alcohol on his breath toward me. The sun had yet to make an appearance. A gray day.
“Oriental whore,” he went on, “had us both confused. I don’t remember what city we were in.”
 “Asian,” I said.
“What?” Perplexity became his mask.
I sat down on the arm of the chair next to him and looked into his face. “You said ‘Oriental’. That’s considered offensive. Asian’s more appropriate.”
The years of friendship we shared drained from his eyes as he looked at me in turn. “Always the first to correct me,” he said, smiling without showing his teeth.
“It’s no big deal,” I said. “‘You have weapon? You have weapon?’ I think I might’ve actually patted myself to see if I did. That whore messed my head up. Yours, as well.”
I paused so maybe we could laugh at the memory together. It’d been awhile since we’d laughed at anything.
When the laughter didn’t come I said, “Then she pulls out a condom. Holds it up. ‘Weapon! Weapon!’ It finally dawned on me, she meant protection.”
He frowned. Pain showed up as lines at the corners of his eyes.  “You still had to explain it to me, Shell. I didn’t get it right away.”
I embraced the silence that had become common between us.
 “The Coppa family didn’t hire me for my brain, that’s for sure,” he grumbled.
“What made you think of the whore?” I asked, changing the subject.
He sighed. “Sex has always been so…accessible. That’s a word I’ve heard you use. Did I use it correctly?”
I nodded.
“What the hell happened in there?” he asked, changing course as I had done a moment before, the Asian whore forgotten.
I did not flinch at the bite in his voice or the memory of in there.
 “It went to shit so fast,” he added. “Like they were on to me from jump.”
“I keep telling myself I’m blessed,” he said. “Lefty Guns is no longer with us. They said his arteries were clogged like a toilet. I can still hear him wheezing just from climbing stairs. As far as I’m concerned that guy wasn’t living anyway. At least I’m…”
“You shouldn’t drink, JW.”
“The hell I shouldn’t.”
“I have to get going,” I said, rising from the chair arm.
“Stay for a bit. You got nothing going on,” he said.
“Taj is gone. She isn’t coming back even if she wants to. And I don’t believe she wants to, anyway.”
I frowned.
He did, too. “That came out messed up, Shell. I’m sorry.”
“I’m going,” I said.
“What’s death like?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t know, JW.”
“Not death,” he corrected. “You know what I mean. How’s it to kill someone? You feel anything after?”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”
“They ever beg you for their life?” he went on. “I bet they do, all the time. Don’t they?”
“You shouldn’t drink,” I said once more. “You’re being very careless right now, JW. Some things shouldn’t be spoken about.”
“The bastards killed Veronica and Ericka. When you finally got hold of ‘em I bet they begged hard. Am I right? As crazy as you were after that shit happened to the girls. I wouldn’t have wanted to deal with you.”
“I could slap you silly right now, JW.”
“Slap?” he said, smiling. “You’re not one for slapping, especially when you’re angry. Slap? Hell. That a euphemism for putting me to bed for good?” His smile widened. “Euphemism, good word, huh, Shell?”
My nostrils flared.
“Don’t take it so rough,” he said. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“You’re lucky you’re…”
“What?” he said. “Useless? Go ahead and say it.”
“Why do you do this to yourself, JW?”
“Saline,” he said, looking away.
I took several long breaths. It worked. I calmed some. Some.
“Saline,” he repeated in a whisper.
I owed him more than just conversation, but I would start with this. “What about saline?” I asked.
There was a tennis ball in his lap. He fumbled to secure it, and then tossed it my way with surprising strength and accuracy. I almost said something insensitive about the success of the toss. Luckily, I was able to bite down on the words and just caught the tennis ball. He squeezed tennis balls to try and keep some strength in his hands. I felt dirty for holding it.
“Look at it,” he said.
“It’s just a tennis ball.”
“Look closer.”
I frowned but did as directed while he fussed at the toggle switch on his electric wheelchair. The motor whirred as he powered the chair across the room, its sound grating on me. It was a reminder of my best friend’s paralysis. A reminder of my role in the tragedy. What the hell happened in there, Shell?
I bit down on my molars and examined the tennis ball. Words were written on it, with a black felt marker, in JW’s shaky handwriting.
The whirring of the wheelchair ceased. I looked up.
He’d maneuvered the chair behind his big wooden desk. A smile lit his handsome face. Despite my best efforts I was unable to suppress a frown. It had been ages since I had smiled myself.
He said, “Crazy, right?”
For a moment, I was unsure of what he meant, but then I noticed his gaze focused on my hands. On the tennis ball.
“Saline. Sodium thio…thiopental. Potassium chloride and pan…pancuronium bromide,” I read. “What is all of this stuff, JW?”
“The sodium thiopental’s a sleep-inducing barbiturate.”
My frown deepened.
He had only gotten through college because of his athletic prowess and my willingness to peril my own bright future by writing his papers and sneaking him the answers on all his exams. I myself, though more than physically capable, had eschewed football because it was not violent enough to nourish my natural tendencies.
“The pancuronium,” he went on, “is a muscle relaxant.”
I swallowed. “And the potassium chloride?”
Another smile. “Now that’s the interesting one, Shell. Stops the heart.”
“What the—”
He raised his hand. “Relax, Shell. I read up on all of this stuff—euthanasia, lethal injections—but that’s it, just reading. I wouldn’t even know how to get my hands on all those drugs. And it would take courage I don’t have to take that slow sleep.”
He opened one of his desk drawers then, and my body tensed even more. In the days to come I’d question myself about those seconds I stood there and watched him peering into that drawer.
 “Who would’ve ever thought I’d make it to the NFL?” he said, still looking dazedly in the drawer. “That’s some crazy shit, huh, Shell?”
But his mind was somewhere else. I’m not sure he ever heard my voice.
“These concealed carry laws are a bitch,” he complained. “My father toted around a shotgun like it was the second son he always wanted.”
“Your father was a degenerate alcoholic shithead, JW. You’re headed down the same road.”
“You gotta conceal, basically leaves you with the choice of either a 9mm or a .380. Little pisser guns, the both of ‘em, if you ask me. And I don’t wanna hear that shit about ‘a .380 in the pocket is better than a .45 in the truck.’ Screw that.”
I should’ve crossed his den at that moment.
Should’ve moved to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
“So I go with the .380,” he said. “Bersa. Guy sells it to me tells me how similar it is to a Walther, but cheaper.” He paused, smiled again. “One more year and I would’ve been eligible for the damn NFL pension. Then I never would’ve gotten in bed with the Coppa family.”
An ACL injury had cut his career short.
“Don’t beat yourself up about that,” I said. “You have a family to look after.”
Wrong thing to say. I’d have done better to chant ‘Asian’ until I lost my voice.
His smile turned to a frown. “Family? Kat lives on the Internet looking up shit. Vacuum pumps, dick injections, some extra-powerful vibrator ‘sposed to wake my peter piper all the way up. It’s all too complicated and messy for me. We tried something once and I shit the bed. Now Kat’s saying the doctors can get at my sperm other ways. Imagine that? That sound like any way to start a family? I don’t think so, and I doubt Kat is as enthused by it all as she pretends to be.”
Kat was the nickname he’d given his wife.
“Kat”—I cleared my throat—“loves you, JW. Even when you act like an asshole. All she’s ever wanted was for you to do the right thing.”
He either didn’t hear that or didn’t care. “The Coppa family is standup, Shell. I know you have your issues with them, but they’ve offered to take care of me. Some type of wounded-in-the-line-of-duty bullshit.”
“Honorable,” I said.
“Honor. Tradition. Respect. Dignity.”
“You…” His hand reached in the drawer and turned my thought to an ellipsis.
“Some things should be quick. To hell with a slow sleep,” he said, hefting the aforementioned Bersa. “Twenty-three shitty ounces.”
“Holeup.” The precise diction and intelligence left my voice as I called out to my best friend.
Forever I’d think about how his last word ever was “ounces”.
Ounces. Weight.
The Bersa’s bark wasn’t that loud but its bite was shocking. I nearly vomited on the carpet. Tears stung my eyes. The room clouded with the stink of my best friend’s blood and voided bowels. I thought of Veronica and Ericka as I took in the sight of JW’s broken body slumped over in the wheelchair I’d put him in.
I had given up the killing game, but like a scorned lover it had a great willingness to still insinuate itself into my life.
No, they didn’t always beg for their lives, JW.

Product Description:

Jack Reacher…

Leonid McGill…

John Rain…

Now a new brand of tough guy…

There is serious trouble brewing on the cracked streets of Newark, New Jersey, and Shell, a former killer-for-hire, finds himself at the deep center of it all. Nevada, a past love interest, has gone missing from a seedy motel, leaving behind nothing but an impression in the wet spot on the bathroom sink counter consistent with the shape of a laptop, a haphazardly parked SUV in the lot, and blood splatter on the pillows and wall tile. What happened in the shabby motel room? Speculation ends with just one conclusion: Nevada had fallen into the rough trade of sex for money, nothing more than a trick/john transaction gone terribly wrong.

Case closed.

It makes sense for Shell to chalk it up as another dose of the bad luck and trouble that dispirited him on the killing game. But walking away is always easier said than done. The thought that Nevada is out there somewhere, hurt and praying for a savior, simply will not leave him.

He has no choice, really, but to roll up his sleeves.

In the blink of an eye, Shell is traveling a path littered with shocking betrayals, brutal ambushes, and senseless murders. One day he is ensnared in a Mob beef, and the next he is confronting an assortment of men linked to Nevada: a community activist with the comportment of a street thug, a possibly bent politician, an understated college professor, and a slick fire-and-brimstone preacher. At best, they are all very dangerous; at worst, at least one of them is a murderer.

And to survive, Shell is going to have to return to what he worked so hard to distance himself from being: a violent man with a conscience in foreclosure.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

MODESTY....FREE at Amazon thru 1/18

MODESTY (Excuse Me, Miss Series #2) is currently  
FREE on Kindle!

Product Description

Eight calls…

From an unfamiliar number…

For rape survivor and “infidelity photographer”, Terri Welker, the question is far greater than should she answer. The question is: What should she do now that she has been found? Run again? Or stay and fight for the new life she has created photographing cheating spouses for James Boston Investigations?

The breathtaking continuation of the Excuse Me, Miss Series

Sunday, January 15, 2012


NOW FREE at Amazon...ONE QUICK KISS: Sexy Short Stories!

Product Description

A collection of short stories about sex, love, and every emotion in between. From the light and whimsical, to the highly charged and erotic, this collection offers something for everyone who has ever been under the intoxicating spell of a relationship and desirous of…ONE QUICK KISS.

On the eve of her wedding anniversary the wife in COTTON COMES TO NINA has but one wish for a present. She wishes the calendar would simply skip the date. But how does she explain this to her eager husband?

Boxing is known as the Sweet Science. A brutal sport that requires the extreme sacrifice and commitment of its combatants. Rule number one: no sex before a big fight. For the two lovers at the heart of G.O.A.T., getting beyond rule number one might be as difficult as the coming fight itself.

The wife is the last to know. Discovering that her husband has been unfaithful is surely a terrible shock for the devoted wife and mother of IN THE DARK. But an even greater shock than that is still to come.

I am my brother’s keeper. So many things come to mind with thoughts of brotherhood. Camaraderie, fellowship, looking out for the wellbeing of another. The brother in FLIMSY AND RAGGEDY wonders if lusting after his brother’s girlfriend can be added to the list.

This collection also includes an excerpt from the romantic suspense novella, EXCUSE ME MISS and its forthcoming follow-up, MODESTY.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

FREEBIE!! Tale of a Sexy Decoy...

EXCUSE ME, MISS currently on sale for FREE at Amazon

Product Description

“Fidelity anthropologist”, sexy decoy to most, Victoria Frost will discover the answers you seek…

The night it all begins to change for Victoria Frost is no different than usual. She spends it seducing another woman’s husband, easing up beside him and lingering there like too much perfume. And that quickly for him, his wife is forgotten. The ensuing conversation is an erotically-charged game of cat and mouse. Afterward, Victoria moves away feeling all the more sorry for mistreated wives and all the more angry at women who aid and abet these cheaters.

Then she meets Tyson Foster. And everything changes.

Victoria’s surprising lust for this married man will move her in a direction she’s never before traveled. A direction that ultimately puts her life in jeopardy.

In EXCUSE ME, MISS hurtling events and richly drawn characters collide in a sexy story of betrayal, the desire for loyalty, and the consequences of unfaithfulness. One woman’s determination to uncover the truth for badly broken wives instead unleashes a host of personal dilemmas, and in the end the truths she discovers are mostly about herself.


THE NIGHT IT ALL began to change for me was no different than most. I spent it in the usual fashion, seducing another woman’s husband. The seduction took place at LOOK, an art gallery in Jersey City, New Jersey. Close enough to New York to carry some of the same sounds and smells, but a touch less frenetic. The art gallery immediately drew me in with brick walls painted chocolate, gypsum plaster walls painted a light cream, and a hint of cinnamon and vanilla in the air. Muted lighting, low key. I almost didn’t feel the usual pangs of guilt for what I was about to do.
I spotted Beverly Marie Kingston’s husband by a painting that took up most of a cream-colored wall. Age forty-five, but he looked a decade younger, the benefits of three days each week at an LA Fitness. He was cloaked in black slacks and an attention-seeking lime green shirt. Expensive leather shoes, Piaget timepiece, a diamond-encrusted platinum bracelet on his right wrist. He sipped at a glass of ginger ale, my favorite soft drink as it turns out, letting his shirt sleeve snake up his arm with each sip so all of the attractive ladies in attendance could catch the gleam of his jewelry and put two and two together: wealthy and content spending that wealth on a variety of gaudy and unnecessary items. What many women foolishly considered a good catch.
I headed his way.
When I eased into his personal space he glanced at me briefly but casually went back to admiring the art. There’d been a slight hitch in the gesture, though, and so I knew he was in play. I lingered there beside him, like too much perfume, before moving on. But even after I’d stepped away I wasn’t completely gone from his imagination. His mind was fixated, I’m certain, on the beautiful stranger in the form-fitting, red dress and three-inch heels. That quickly I’d become the muse in all of his fantasies. That quickly I had his nose wide open. I had experience with his type, so I knew this as fact.
I found my way to an admittedly eye-catching sculpture and stopped there contemplating love at first sight. As I expected, Beverly Marie’s husband sidled up next to me a moment later with his lies carefully thought out. A sip of ginger ale made his sleeve slip back once again.
I ignored him and the platinum bracelet on his wrist.
“Natalia truly outdid herself this time,” he said.
I didn’t respond, but lingered long enough to further infiltrate his thoughts. Then I left him standing there and moved toward another sculpture.
“Excuse me, miss?” he called out for me in a deep baritone. A radio voice.
I kept moving, putting plenty of sway in my hips.
“Miss?” he called again.
I took that perfect moment to go ahead and turn back. Everything I did was calculated.
I eyed him, but still offered no words, just stood there smoking him over. His skin was a shade darker than nut brown. Hair cut close and absent of any visible gray; his face clean-shaven, free of razor bumps. Much taller than what I’d prepared for. About six-two. Wide-shouldered with strong hands that belonged wrapped around a woman’s waist. Beverly Marie’s preferably.
“I didn’t mean to alarm you,” he said.
“You didn’t,” I replied.
“But you walked off.”
The first hint of his arrogance. It was beyond the realm of possibility, in his mind, for any woman to walk away once he’d spoken.
“I don’t know a Natalia,” I explained.
Under different circumstances I wouldn’t have explained myself. I’d have walked away for the second time. But I couldn’t do any of that with Beverly Marie Kingston’s husband. That bothered me, my lack of say in the matter.
“Hovhannisyan,” he said, and, no doubt noticing the furrowing of my brows added, “She was born in Yerevan, the Republic of Armenia. Fascinating woman. She has some stories to tell.” He smiled as if he expected me to be impressed by the people he knew and their depth.
I said, “And?”
The smile was nudged aside by a frown. “Natalia’s the director of the gallery.”
I simply nodded and resumed my assessment of the sculpture before me.
“Ceramic and bronze,” he said, undeterred by my dismissal. “By exploring figurative and narrative subjects, the sculptor raises questions about the human condition with impacts form rather than confinement to realism. It’s without question a thing of beauty. As lovely as art gets.”
I wanted to concur. His analysis sounded intelligent and at least as well thought out as his lies to come. If I had a stomach for art I would’ve been impressed. Intelligence turned me on.
“A perfect blend of objective reality with mythology and flights of fancy,” he added, to keep the conversation flowing. “Wouldn’t you say?”
I started to say, “Yeah, all of that,” but I heard myself reply, “Comic surrealism at its finest.”
I’d done my homework.
“Yes. Exactly.” He turned to me. Something as pretty as a flower bloomed in his eyes.
I prepared myself to move on once again.
He quickly asked, “You’re here alone?”
I turned back yet again. “Sure am. And that’s just how I prefer it.”
“That’s a troubling worldview from someone so beautiful.”
“Who said that was my entire worldview?”
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“And why should I tell you?”
“I asked nicely.”
“So did Ted Bundy, I’m sure.”
I sighed as a show of exasperation. “I have to know about more than just art,” I told Beverly Marie Kingston’s husband. “The world is full of evil, and I have to be aware of that.”
“I’m not evil,” he said.
“So you say.”
“I’d just like to have a name to attach to your pretty face.” He raised both arms in surrender. Ginger ale splashed his wrist and forearm but he didn’t seem to notice. “Pardon me.”
I had to know the correct steps for this dance. I’d pushed it as far as I could. Time to waltz some more.
“Vicki,” I said. I’d stopped giving out false names because I would oftentimes forget the name I’d originally given. My employer wasn’t too happy with that decision, believing it exposed me to unnecessary danger, but my charms won out. It was too taxing on my brain to remember the details of a fake name. In my line of work awkward recoveries were anathema.
“Vicki,” Beverly Marie’s husband said, tasting it on his tongue. “I like that. Very sexy.”
I smirked. “Come on now. You’re definitely reaching. There’s nothing particularly sexy about my name.”
“Maybe it’s your carriage, then,” he said, smiling, his teeth straight and as near to white as teeth could be.
“My carriage?”
“Can I tell you something, Vicki?”
I tsked. “I see how this works. You don’t answer questions, you just ask them. Controlling are we?”
“Most women appreciate a man willing to control some things,” he said, smiling with mirth.
Things came out sounding like thangs.
He was getting comfortable with me.
I aided and abetted that comfort, sexy-moaned, “Mmm. I can’t argue with you there.”
That caused him to clear his throat and swallow, hard. I did my best to keep a shadow from crossing my face.
“By the way, Vicki, my name is Benjamin Kingsto—” He actually smirked as he caught himself, and cleared his throat. “Benjamin.”
I frowned in displeasure. “Benjamin. And here I was hoping for something sexy to match your…carriage.”
His laugh was a great boom of a thing that had likely broken more than a few women’s hearts. Now that we were deeply engaged in easy conversation not-sexy-named Benjamin had morphed into a natural born lady-killer. He reached forward and took my willing hand. “I’m certain I could make Benjamin and sexy synonymous in your mind, Vicki. Believe that.”
“That a proposition?” I teased. He still held my hand in a warm grip.
“A solid verbal commitment,” he replied.
“Speaking of commitments…” I eased my hand away, finally, and turned his left hand over. I fingered the knuckle of the naked digit on his matrimonial hand. Thought of my own naked digit and smiled.
“That’s right, baby. I’m single and free to mingle,” he said, biting his lip.
He thought my smile was for him. Good.
I continued examining his finger. No mark whatsoever on it. I’d always held some measure of respect for the men with a pale ring of skin where the wedding band should’ve been, or those that moved to stuff their hand in their pocket when I looked in that vicinity. He was neither. I can’t deny holding that against him.
“Okay,” I said. “That’s good to know. I don’t get involved with married men. That’s a deal breaker right there.” I paused and sexed up my tone. “So tell me about yourself, Benjamin.”
“I’m an architect,” he said. “And you?”
I couldn’t help but laugh and shake my head. Brevity is the soul of wit? “Quick on the draw there, Benjamin. I’m not sure I appreciate that. I need a man with some staying power.”
Everything I said had a hint of sex behind it.
“Trying to move beyond the preliminaries so we can get to the good part,” Beverly Marie’s husband replied. “The good part, you’ll relish that, Vicki. Trust me when I tell you.”
“Trust.” I let the foul word dangle in the air.
“The key to all happiness in a relationship,” he had the nerve to tell me.
It took the strength of the God I no longer prayed to, that and a desire to see this situation through completely, to keep me from slapping not-sexy-named Benjamin’s handsome face.
“Where do you live, Benjamin?”
Pause. “All over. I travel a lot.”
“What address is on your income tax return?” I prodded.
He cleared his throat. “Chicago.”
His lies and the ease at which he told them were more impressive than his knowledge of art.
“Chicago’s nice?”
“Beautiful city.” His gaze drifted away from me for the first time.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “So how come you don’t have a better half to share that beautiful city with?”
His eyes were on me again, narrowed, looking out over a smirk. “As I said, Vicki, I travel a great deal. That leaves me little time to establish relationships or work on starting a family. Unfortunately.”
That one word, unfortunately, and the disingenuousness of how Benjamin Kingston used it, would be the top soil over his grave of lies. I took then to ease into the million-dollar question.
“I guess you’ve cleared all of my hurdles, Benjamin. You don’t seem like a psycho.”
“I’m passionate but harmless, Vicki.”
“So what do you want to do tonight?” There it was.
“You mean after we leave here?” he asked without hesitation.
“Yes,” I said, nodding.
I was art on the cream-colored gypsum plaster walls, that’s what not-sexy-named Benjamin’s eyes spoke to me. “You’re an out-of-towner or you live nearby here, Vicki?”
“I live close by,” I admitted.
“I won’t disrespect you by asking you to my hotel room. But maybe we could go to your place and do our thing?”
“You think getting me is that easy?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Quite the opposite. But you do look as if you could use some company. I want to be that company. Hopefully I’ve earned a chance to fill your need.”
“I don’t need anything,” I told him.
He wasn’t the only one capable of a lie.
“Everybody needs something, Vicki. Especially companionship and love. There’s no shame in being lonely from time to time.”
“I’ve had my fill of players.”
“Only game I’m interested in right now is Love Connection.”
“Mmm,” I sexy-moaned. “Chuck Woolery. I always loved him.”
“Let me be your Chuck Woolery,” he begged. So deep were his needs and desires he’d probably lie down and bark at the moon and roll over and fetch a rib eye bone if I asked him to.
“So come again,” I said. “Tell me exactly what it is you want from me?”
“You make it sound so selfish, Vicki. It’s not what I want. What I want to give.”
“Altruistic are we? I’m listening, Robin Hood.”
“I’m being serious, Vicki.”
“You’re not being quite clear enough is what you’re being, Benjamin.”
“I want to undress you, sex you, and lay next to you,” he said.
I smiled. “You are from Chicago. Jesse Jackson wants his Mack returned ASAP.”
“Not nice, Vicki, I was trying to be romantic.”
“That’s right up there with ‘never trust a big butt and a smile.’”
“You can trust me,” he lied.
I asked, “Natalia from the Republic of Armenia have a restroom somewhere in here, Benjamin?”
“Turn right by the arrangement of lilies you passed when you first walked in.”
His smile belonged to a man without a mortgage and other equally significant commitments. I noticed the perfect crease of his pants, the high shine of his expensive leather shoes. His smile belonged to a man that didn’t have an attentive wife waiting for him at home.
“Let me go freshen up real quick and we can go to my place,” I said.
Not-sexy-named Benjamin’s eyes brightened and I wondered if he’d ever looked at his wife in that manner, and if he had, why he had stopped. Or did he still carry the pretenses of a truly faithful partner? Did he still kiss Beverly Marie in all of her favorite places? Did he in fact create new favorite places from time to time? Was his wife wondering at that very moment if she were losing her mind? Making things up that didn’t exist? Obsessing? Creating fire where there wasn’t even smoke? I myself wondered how a married architect from Kenilworth, New Jersey became a single architect from Chicago who traveled too much to start a family. Unfortunately.
“Don’t keep me waiting too long,” Benjamin said, breaking my thoughts.
“I won’t.”
Harmony bleated a song out of my sexy walk, my movement one of poetry. I’d worked on the walk forever. It had to encourage duplicity. I looked over my shoulder, caught Beverly Marie’s husband watching me. He turned away, not quite bashful, gave the sculpture more study.
I slipped past the arrangement of lilies near the front of the gallery, straight through the lobby, and out into the cooling air of the evening. The heat from earlier in the day would return tomorrow. Augusts’ scorching heat is the only faithful thing in this world of liars and cheaters.
I was at my car, keys in hand, when I felt my shoulder jerk back violently.
“What kind of game are you playing, Vicki?”
Not-sexy-named Benjamin lurked over me. There was fire in his eyes but he didn’t let it completely inform his tone. He still held out the hope that I’d be letting my kitty off the leash. He didn’t want to ruin his chances. I peered over his shoulder, scanned the lot. The backup I’d never needed before was somewhere out there waiting at alert in the shadows. Ready to pounce at a moment’s notice if I didn’t smooth my way out of this royal mess.
“What’s going on here, Vicki?” Benjamin asked.
I realized I hadn’t spoken yet. I gathered my wits.
“I started thinking while I was in the ladies’ room, and even though I’m attracted to you, I can’t go through with this. I was just going to slip out and save myself the embarrassment.”
“Bullshit,” he fumed. “I watched you. You didn’t even go in the restroom.”
Cardinal sin number one: giving more information than needed. I’d messed up.
“This one night stand business isn’t for me, Ben.”
He grabbed my wrist so quickly I couldn’t react. “You enjoy playing with people’s emotions?”
I tried to wrestle my hand free, but his grip shackled my wrist like cuffs. He moved in close and pressed me up against my car. An indication of his eagerness to proceed with the evening as planned poked me in the stomach. I said, “You don’t want it like this, Ben. Please. You don’t want to have to take it. You’re much too handsome and debonair and suave for that.”
“Don’t patronize me, bitch.”
I raised my leg with a plan to whittle away his expectancy with my knee, but not-sexy-named Benjamin grabbed my ankle and lifted it. I was close to toppling backward. I didn’t think my head and the pavement could be friends. My heart hammered in my chest because of that.
“Is everything alright here?”
Not-sexy-named Benjamin wheeled around and faced down the masculine voice. It belonged to a man that looked as though he’d jumped out of a Bronco or Jeep advertisement. He was tall enough to look down at Beverly Marie Kingston’s husband. Benjamin made a quick decision. My foot touched down on ground again. “Everything is copasetic,” he said to my savior. He then turned to me and brushed off my clothes, smirked, and quickly stepped away, disappearing into the night. In another hour he’d be shirtless, lounging on the bed in his boxers while Beverly Marie massaged his tired muscles. She’d rub him with everything she had even though her thoughts would be on the revelations, good or bad, to come tomorrow. Women didn’t go halfhearted, even when our broken hearts would be forgiven for a diminished output.
My employer, James Boston, walked over. His long blond locks were tucked inside a turtleneck. I couldn’t understand how he wasn’t burning up in that thing. He considered our investigations rugged work, though, and thought it essential that he was always dressed in the fitting attire. For him, usually a dark turtleneck, black Calvin Klein jeans, a pair of scuffed boots.
“Are you okay, V?”
Dark aviator shades, another part of the ensemble, hid his ocean-colored eyes. But I could still envision the concern in them.
“I blew that one, “I said. “I didn’t notice him coming behind me. I let my guard down.”
“Yes,” James said. “I need to have a talk with you about the self-defense course I sprung for you to take last summer. I’m not sure I got my value. You were more jujubes than jujitsu.”
I neared tears. My emotions of late had been gumbo. Sad, happy, morose, ecstatic.
James placed a comforting hand on my shoulder, squeezed with just the right amount of pressure. “I’m teasing, V. You did just fine, kiddo. You made Mr. Kingston out for the scumbag he really is. Every fact finding expedition isn’t going to go as smoothly as we would like it.”
“Fact finding expedition?” I said, surprised. “I’m an anthropologist now, James?”
“Certainly, V. Why not? I’ve been thinking long and hard about what you could put on your curriculum vitae instead of ‘sexy decoy’. Fidelity anthropologist. Tell me that doesn’t have a nice ring to it.”
“Curriculum vitae,” I said, whistling and ignoring everything else. “It’s just raining intelligent men tonight.”
“Résumé is much too pedestrian for you, V.”
I gestured with my hand. “I feel the love. Keep it coming.”
“You might become conceited,” James said. “I’d hate to plant that ugly flower in you.”
“Not tonight, boss-o. I’m in too good of a mood. Benjamin Kingston notwithstanding.” I couldn’t contain a smile.
“The sight of my handsome face?” James pondered.
I touched the only finger that mattered on my left hand. At that moment it was naked like Benjamin Kingston’s. But not for too much longer, I believed. “I think tonight’s the night. The anticipation is finally over, James. He asked to meet up at a very chi-chi restaurant after work.”
He was the man I expected a proposal from.
James attempted a smile. There seemed to be a thought on his lips, but it stayed there.
“My audio was clear at least?” I asked, back on track.
James nodded. “Mrs. Kingston will be pleased.”
“You think so?”
“At least now she’ll know the truth, V. That’s what we’re after. The truth. She can have peace of mind now.”
“Peace of mind,” I whispered, touching my wrist. It was already a bit tender.
“You sure you’re alright, V?”
I smiled. “Fine. Thanks for covering my butt. I’m getting out of here now.”
“Hershey’s kisses and an engagement. How wonderful.”
“Hersey, not Hershey,” I corrected. “And stop hating on my man. I don’t ever say anything untoward about the great Chloe Tripp. Doyenne of the South Carolina Tripp girls.”
James whistled. “Doyenne? I do believe I’m suitably aroused.”
“Is that so?” I looked down. “I can’t tell.”
His laughter was chicken noodle soup. “The doyenne has no complaints,” he said.
“Wow!” I exclaimed. “You two are actually making love now? Keeping things close to the vest are we nowadays, James? I had no idea. When did Chloe get over her…inhibitions?”
“See if I’ll ever share my less than finer moments with you again, V.”
“You love me, James.”
“You’re the only one that doubts it,” he said.
“Chloe has a birthday coming up doesn’t she?”
“Next Tuesday,” my savior-boss said. “I have some shopping to do.”
“The drop earrings I suggested with the citrines and diamonds, correct?”
“Saving that recommendation for you, kiddo,” he said. “An engagement gift perhaps?”
“Are you now?”
He nodded. “Congratulations are in order. Hershey’s a lucky man.”
“I’ll give him your regards,” I said, chirping my car locks, and easing inside my vehicle.
I wasn’t in my clean but unadorned car of the moment. My mind skipped ahead. “Just Married” was marked on the rear and side windows with white chalk. Empty coffee cans tied to the bumper danced on the pavement. I hiked up my frilly white dress and took off my shoes and reclined the passenger seat and smiled at my new husband and rested my feet on the dashboard.
“I’ll try my best not to object,” James called out. “Ruin your perfect day.”
I blew my savior-boss a kiss as I turned the key in my ignition.
That time James didn’t just attempt a smile, he managed one.
He was still standing there, smiling, as I pulled out of the lot.
The evening had gone horrendously wrong, but I’d made it through it relatively unscathed. If you’d asked me at that moment I would’ve told you I finally realized all of the potential hazards in my line of work. Not-sexy-named Benjamin had opened my eyes wholly.
Yet it would’ve never crossed my mind that I might fall in love with one of the married men, or, even worse still, that one of them would try to kill me. Neither scenario was plausible to this soon-to-be-engaged Fidelity anthropologist.
I’d find out in due time that my eyes weren’t as open as I believed.
That a little more digging would unearth more than I ever expected.