Hector Levendakis stared down the barrel of the Glock and prayed for a quick death.
Who would’ve guessed he’d meet his end in the guise of a beautiful woman? Male pride edged past his fear. Better to have the Fates snatch him through a modern-day Aphrodite than some beast named The Hammer or Ice Man. A dying man’s last glimpse of cleavage and pursed lips sure beat the alternative of clenched teeth and spittle.
Not that his fiancé was blowing kisses his way.
At the other end of the Glock she narrowed her gaze. When the gun bounced in her grip, his stomach plunged to the pavement.
Holy shit. He was going to die. Right here, right now, on an empty stretch of road in the Appalachian Mountains. So much for a weekend getaway of wine and roses.
Charlene lowered her chin and peered down the barrel. “Give me good news, Hector. Tell me you didn’t lose all my money.”
“Not all of it.” He’d rescued some of her savings and a portion of the Two Musketeers’ cash during one of the worst weeks of day trading ever. From the way Charlene planted her feet, the Glock gripped tightly, he doubted it mattered. He told her about what he’d salvaged then added, “I left five thousand in airline stocks. Leave it there. I’m betting you’ll see a rebound before the month’s out.”
“You and your stupid bets,” she sneered. “You’re a no-good day trader who doesn’t know when to buy or sell. Didn’t I tell you it was too soon to move cash from the money market? And what about your stupid bet on the Spanish economy?”
“Hey! I figured a casino in Madrid was a no brainer.”
She swiped at her bangs, jiggling the Glock and his guts. “I trusted you with the money I’d saved. You lost it. You need to die.”
“No! Wait!” Flop sweat sprouted on his brow. “Baby, I’ll recoup your losses, every cent.”
“Liar.” She released the gun’s safety. The deadly click blurred his vision. “Say hello to my mama when you get to the other side. Tell her I miss her.”
“I’m not going to hell.” Charlene’s mother had been a drinker and a shrew. “If you want to talk to your mama, send a telegram.”
“How can you joke at a time like this?”
Tears pooled in Charlene’s limpid gaze. “Die, Hector.”
Terror jellied his insides and he squeezed his eyes shut.
This was it. He hadn’t even reached the age of thirty-five before Hades threw him into a boat on the river Styx. No kids to leave behind, no legacy, unless he factored in years of sequential and great sex with The Two Musketeers and then Charlene.
At least the Musketeers would cry at his funeral—well, Bunny would. Sil rarely succumbed to public displays of emotion even though her rectangular eyeglasses and buttoned up blouses hid a lounge singer struggling to emerge. She’d wear something sparkly to the viewing and throw herself across his coffin.
He’d just begun working on his petition for mercy from the Big Guy in the Sky when the squeal of tires snapped him to attention. The scent of burning rubber hit his nostrils and he pealed his eyes open. His teeth chattered in time with his fibrillating heart.
Sil’s red Beemer, the “Just Divorced” present he’d given her years ago, veered to a stop within inches of Charlene’s thighs. Catcalls and screaming, and Sil hurled a soda can at the woman with the weapon. Dodging incoming, Charlene leapt away from the bumper. Hitching up her thigh-hugging skirt, she rushed to the berm.
Admiration bloomed in Hector’s chest. Man, his fiancée had gorgeous legs.
Inside the Beemer his two ex-wives wrestled seat belts and muffled tears. They were genuinely concerned for his safety, the angels. On the passenger side, Bunny hurled herself out with her amazing breasts bouncing.
She rounded on Charlene. “Are you crazy? He didn’t lose your money on purpose!”
Charlene’s lower lip wobbled. “I trusted him—we all did. He should’ve pulled everything out before the market turned.”
“He’ll make good on your losses.” Bunny swung around, her strawberry blond hair whipping the air. “Won’t you, Hector?”
“We’ll show you how and you’ll listen to us. Right?”
“Whatever you say.” He had no idea what she was talking about but a wise man knew when to play along.
Sil, as lean and dark as Bunny was plump and blonde, dashed across the deserted highway. She towered over Charlene in a threatening posture. “Give me the gun now.”
The command snapped Charlene from her death-trance. Jerking her head to the side, she gulped down air. When she lowered the Glock, Sil rushed in to take possession.
Gingerly she deposited the gun in her purse. “Let’s all calm down. Charlene, I want you to call my office next week for a session. Here’s my card.”
“I don’t want your card. I want my money.”
“We’ll work on your wants later. What you need is more constructive strategies for handling aggression. We’ll work on it together.” Her features softening, Sil gave Hector the once-over. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, sugar pie.” Psychologists. You had to love their sensitivity.
Feathery lashes batted affection his way. “If you say so.”
But it was Bunny, a crack librarian who guarded the University of Virginia archives like a jealous Medusa, who surprised him.
Marching past the other women, she came toe-to-toe with his Peruvian loafers. Her cheeks were as red as Eve’s apple, her green eyes spit fire, and he would’ve moved away if he weren’t already pressed against the railing of the bridge. Hurtle down the embankment? Before their divorce, eighteen months of marriage revealed that Bunny’s sweet personality hid a temper worth fearing. If he skimmed by with only a mashed ego and bruised pride he’d consider himself lucky.
He was still trying to work out if accidental suicide was a mortal sin when she slapped him across the face.
“What’s the matter with you? Didn’t I tell you to stay away from a yoga instructor with control issues?” She bounced her thumb at Charlene. “Tell the assassin the marriage is off.”
“She was about to send me to Hades.” Rubbing his jaw, which stung like the dickens, he turned to Charlene. “Sorry, baby. We’d never make it as a couple.” When she shrugged he said to Bunny, “Just out of curiosity, why do you care if I get hitched again?”
Bunny clamped her hands on her sumptuous hips. “Because you should be in love before you walk down the aisle.” She whacked him on the chest. “Just because you’re friends with a woman doesn’t mean you should propose. Stop being so clingy.”
She poked him in the chest. “You’re a good man but you’re stupid. Fall in love, nitwit. Then get married.” She regarded Sil. “Get it from the car, will you?”
Nodding, Sil sprinted away with Charlene following.
For the moment at least, Hector wasn’t the main attraction.
The danger now past, his bones turned wobbly. His guts felt like pudding. Humiliated, he planted his feet in the choppy gravel. Men of the Levendakis tribe didn’t show weakness in front of women—they were protectors, not sissies. If he dropped his ass on the pavement he’d nick his own pride.
The wind rolled down the mountainside and stirred the leaves on a thousand trees until a wild fluttering lifted on the air. Sunlight fell in golden beams that warmed his skin, if not his heart.
Charlene and the Two Musketeers weren’t the only ones who’d watched their money evaporate in a bad spell of day trading.
Hector had staked his entire savings on established stocks and new ventures alike, certain the wealth bubbling up in the ever-expanding market would end his money woes for good. Five years from forty, he was starting over with nary a cent to his name.
Were the Fates done throwing roadblocks in his path?
The answer was an unequivocal ‘no’ when Sil returned from the car waving a sheet of paper. More bad news? He tried to firm up the pudding in his guts as she handed the sheet over.
He read quickly. A fierce looking old woman in Liberty, Ohio was offering six figures for the apprehension of a swindler named Wish Kaminsky. Dragging his hand through the curls carpeting his skull, Hector grunted.
“I’m not a bounty hunter.” He shoved the page at Bunny. “I’m an investment counselor.”
Sil, who’d pulled Charlene into a motherly embrace, rolled her eyes. “And you’re a traveling salesman, a scuba instructor, a weight loss guru . . . remember the pyramid scheme with Acai juice? How much did you lose on that plum, Hector?”
“You got your investment back!”
“Yes, you always protect the women even if you go down in flames.” She grinned. “Your chauvinism does have its perks. Now you need to recoup our nest eggs once again.”
Bunny hopped up and down. “You can do it, Hector! You can do anything you set your mind to.”
“For at least ten minutes,” Charlene added. She colored. “I’m not talking about sex. You drift from job to job but in some respects you have more than your share of staying power.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Hector snatched the page back, drawing a squeak from Bunny.
DEAD OR HOG-TIED
The no-good con woman and mistress of disguise
Wish Postell Kaminsky
Liberty, Ohio. Just his luck. He had a great-aunt in Youngstown and a herd of cousins in Akron. The Levendakis clan bred like rats and roamed like locusts. While he’d grown up in Philly most of the tribe oozed Greek culture all the way to the Indiana border. Clannish and superstitious, some of his relatives kept goats for the milk while others spit on the kids to protect them from evil spirits. They were all pushy and loud. Would a jaunt to Ohio mean he’d have to look any of them up? Dread climbed his spine and he shivered.
If he nabbed this Wish character quickly he could get the reward and get out.
Besides, apprehending a woman was easy. He’d been taking down the weaker sex since he’d first caught the love bug at the ripe old age of twelve. His problem was keeping one once he’d bagged her. Not that he had designs on romancing a grifter nearly twice his age even if she did look thirty years old in the nun’s photo Bunny showed him. How did Wish Kaminsky do it? He might not admire her chosen profession as a con artist but she was incredibly attractive in many of the photos. But he could do without the convenience store surveillance photo of her dressed like a man.
So he’d be a bounty hunter for a week or two. No doubt Sil and Bunny had already packed his RV for the long road ahead.
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