Part 6. You can read the previous parts here:
The opulence of the ballroom dazzled Sam. She felt dizzy and out of place, but Ilia gripped her hand in his, and the warmth of his skin allayed her misgivings. Somewhat. And you better start calling him Leiv.
Ilia glanced over his shoulder at her, and her throat went dry. Don’t swoon, you ninny. You are on a date with a criminal. A CRIMINAL.
“So, Leiv, how did you get into vacuum belt sales?” She tried to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.
“Family business.” His tone was absent, and he scanned the room as he replied. He guided her to a bar stool and waved in greeting at the bartender. “What would you like?”
“Whisky on the rocks.”
A smile twitched at the corner of his lips. “I have to take care of some business here, and then I will be all yours, Sam.”
“What kind of business.” Oh Lordy, don’t ask. What if he actually tells you the truth. You don’t want to know what is going on.
“I need to secure a deal on a recent shipment of belts.” The lie rolled easily off his tongue, and Sam’s stomach plummeted. “It shouldn’t take long.”
He covered her hand with his and pressed a gentle kiss to her cheek. She tried to ignore the thundering of her heart, but the damned organ was insistent. Ilia’s broad backside filled her vision until he disappeared around a corner. Snatching up the whisky, she tried to soothe herself with the smokey liquid, but it only seemed to fan the fire. This was a dangerous game she was playing, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave. Instead, she took another sip and focused on the way it burned through her.
A half an hour passed. Sam spun on the bar stool so that her back leaned against the counter and watched as people drifted by. She broke the boredom by creating backstories for the individuals who wandered close.
That person was a cop. Sam could see it in the hard lines of his shoulders and the weariness he carried in his eyes. Perhaps his wife had died. Yes, killed by a drunk driver, and he had been fired for beating a drunk after pulling him over. He’d been lost in the grief and rage.
The woman behind him was trying to find money. She’d spent everything on the dress she wore, hoping she might meet someone who would take her out of the slums. Her fingernails were painted, but not professionally manicured, and her simple makeup hinted at simple origins.
The man she was talking to had hard eyes, the kind Sam envisioned a killer might have. He looked weathered, like a mountain long exposed to harsh winters. His hard eyes turned on her and Sam flinched. Definitely a killer, probably murder for hire. She could easily envision his calloused hands holding a gun.
He’s coming your way. Sam turned her attention on her drink and took another fiery sip, and then one more. The man settled onto a stool beside her and cleared his throat.
“I don’t believe I have ever seen your lovely face before.” He extended his hand toward her, rough palm turned up. “I’m Anton.”
Sam opened her mouth to respond, but her throat constricted. His voice was one of the two she’d overheard in the abandoned building. Instead of greeting him, she stared mutely at his outstretched hand.
“Are you okay?” His voice broke the spell.
An intense blush burned Sam’s cheeks, and she glanced up at him, forcing herself to meet his eyes. “Sorry, your voice reminded me of an old friend’s, and it sent me down memory lane.”
He smiled at her, his lips taking on a facade of charm, but all she could see was his teeth glistening in the light. “Did you come alone, miss…” He paused as if waiting for her to fill in the rest.
Sam began to answer, but she was cut off by Ilia, who said, “Miss Hoffman came with me.”
Miss Hoffman? She smiled and elbowed Ilia before extending her hand and taking Anton’s. “Clara Hoffman. It is a pleasure to meet you.”
Anton pressed his lips to her hand and then said, “I assure you, the pleasure is all mine. If Leiv is foolish enough to leave you idle again, I would be happy to fill in for him.”
All these names, fake and otherwise, were making Sam’s head spin. Her smile was thin as she let Ilia lead her away from Anton. He guided her into a dark corner, his hand firm on her elbow. Before she could voice her displeasure at him, Ilia kissed her. His lips were soft, and they captured her surprised gasp.
Ilia pulled back and said, “Anton is a very dangerous man.”
“And you aren’t?”
A muscle jumped along Ilia’s jaw. He pressed his lips together, letting the silence speak for him.
“I think I should go home now.”Her voice was a whisper.
He swallowed and nodded. “I’ll pay our tab and then take you home.”
She shook her head. “No. I’ll take a cab.”
“At least let me see you off.”
She smiled, but it fell away as she said, “Okay.”
Ilia patted his breast pocket and then frowned. His wallet. You still have his wallet. There was no tactful way to return it, so she simply plucked it from her pocket and handed it to him. Blinking, his brows furrowed and he studied the wallet as if it were an alien item.
“You stole my wallet?” His voice was full of grit, and Sam could not tell if it was laughter or anger that deepened it.
“Curiosity,” She said. And masochistic tendencies.
At the curb, as the cab waited, Ilia kissed her again. She wanted to take it all back, to follow him up to the ballroom and dance with him, but she knew that doing so would be a mistake. Whatever Ilia was, he was involved with something more sinister than vacuum belts, and remaining at his side was beyond foolish. But God, that kiss.
Sam poured herself into the backseat of the cab and risked one last glance at Ilia. He stood stark against the bright street lights, his face carved into a mask that hid his emotions. The wind teased at his hair, playing with the long strands and pulling a few into his face. She closed her eyes and leaned wearily against the headrest.
“Where too, miss?” The cab driver’s voice startled her.
She pictured the slightly smudged numbers and letters inked onto Anton’s outstretched palm and said, “1645 Pier Drive.” Anton the killer, the dangerous man. What the hell are you doing?
I was challenged by a friend to write a story about a dull woman who becomes interesting. I hope you enjoyed the fruits of this challenge. I will continue adding to this story until it is complete.