Liz waited until Shad was sound asleep in their hotel suite. Then she took a cab to the Latin Lady, one of Miami's trendiest night spots. The battalion of paparazzi entrenched on the sidewalk shouted her name and frantically snapped her picture.
Liz heard a voice in the crowd gasp. "She looks so old!"
But I'm only twenty-four!, thought a distraught Liz, as she slipped like a shadow through the red door.
Liz ordered an extra dry martini from the swarthy, brown hunk behind the circular bar. In the center of the crowd, like the eye of a hurricane, she spotted Nick 'The Sailor' Lowry, surrounded by four tall, willowy young women in shimmering, silken sheaths.
Liz waited until the song ended and Nick and his entourage left the floor. Then she blazed a tenuous trail through the tumultuous crowd to a private table, on the far left of the room.
Nick's brown eyes lit up when he saw her, and his lips stretched wide in a dazzling smile. "Why, hello there, beautiful. Have a seat."
She squeezed into an empty chair between an effervescent blonde and a raven-haired beauty, who offered Liz a threatening look.
"It's been what?" Nick asked. "Over a year now? The night I fought Luiz Contreras in Las Vegas. Boy, I sure messed up that poor guy in a hurry!" He laughed. Sometimes, when he laughed, he sounded like a braying mule. Unfortunately for Liz, this was one of those times. "So, how've ya been, babe?"
Liz refused to lean across the table, although it was difficult to hear him above the excited din of the crowd. "Fine. And you?"
"Fantastic. How's that reporter boyfriend of yours?"
"Freelance journalist," Liz corrected him.
"Whatever," he grunted with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I never did thank him for that piece he wrote about me for SI. He claimed the Contreras fight was fixed. He said all my fights were fixed."
"Well, Shad's pretty knowledgeable about these things. If he says your fights were fixed, they probably were."
"I suppose I should sue him for slander. Or better yet, pound his face into the nearest sidewalk. Where is he, anyway. I'd like to thank him in person."
"We're not together, anymore."
"Good. I'm glad. You want a real man? Here I am," he said, flinging his brawny arms wide. He brayed like a mule again.
Liz smiled demurely and took a sip of her martini. "So, what are you doing in Miami?"
Nick looked amazed. "Haven't you heard? I'm here to fight Steve Kilabreski. This time tomorrow night, there's going to be a new heavyweight champion of the world. Me. You wanna come? I'll leave a ticket for you at the door. And one for your ex-boyfriend, just in case he decides to show up. I'd love to rub his nose in it. You know the champ personally, don't you?"
"We went to high school together."
"You, the freelance journalist, and Kilabreski?"
"Well, if you run into Kilabreski between now and ten o'clock tomorrow night, give him a message for me, will ya? Tell him if he's smart, he'll stay at home and save us both a lot of time and trouble. Otherwise, I'm just going to have to beat him up and knock him out."
"You're pretty sure you're going to win, aren't you?"
"It's in the bag."
Liz laughed, one light, lilting note. "Is everyone from Deer Creek, PA, in Miami, this weekend?"
"Just us---the privileged few," Nick said and raised his glass of bourbon in salute. He drained his drink and set his empty glass on the table. "Monique, get me another one, will ya? And try not to spill any of it this time, okay?"
The raven-haired girl snatched his glass and started for the bar. But not before she shot Liz another withering look.
The music started again. Liz accepted the hand Nick offered her and allowed him to escort her onto the dance floor. As if on cue, the four young women in their glittering gowns joined them, and started to shake and rattle on either side of Liz and Nick like cobras in a pit.
Nick's eyes gleamed in the sharp glare of the colored neon lights and his lips curved upward in a sensuous smile. Liz returned his smile with a cool, impervious smile or her own, which promised him nothing.
Nick attempted to rub his rugged torso against her chest, but she floated away from him. He appeared hurt and disappointed, just like the spoiled, little child he really was. Liz waited a beat, then drifted back to him. That insatiable hunger returned to his face and eyes, and he smiled again.
While Liz and Nick danced, the girl Monique kept slipping between them. Liz endured the sight of Monique's slender back for five seconds. Then she sidled up next to Monique and rammed her hip as fast and hard as she could into Monique's hip, causing her to stumble sideways into a nearby couple.
When they returned to their table, Monique glared at Liz with her dark, menacing eyes. "Look, grandma," Monique hissed like a snake. "Why don't you do us all a favor and leave now? Nicky doesn't want you. You're too old. He wants me. I'm young. I'm going to be his wife."
To prove it, she flashed a large diamond ring in Liz's disbelieving face.
Liz stared deep into Monique's impenetrable eyes. This was the second time in the same night that someone had called her old and she didn't like it. For just one second, she experienced an irresistible urge to lean across the table and slap Monique as hard as she could across her cheek. She thought about how nice it would be to throw her drink in Monique's face. But how would it look if someone found out that world-famous model Liz Cadiz had stormed out of one of Miami's most fashionable night clubs after being snubbed by a teen-aged nobody who wasn't even worthy enough to kiss her stiletto-heeled shoes? The tabloids would have a field day.
She smiled a frozen smile. "Do you buy diamond rings for all the women you sleep with?" she asked Nick. To Monique, she said, "Honey, I hate to have to tell you this, but he's already married. he has a wife and baby waiting for him at home."
Anger flashed like lightning in Monique's eyes. She leapt like a leopard from her chair. The ring refused to leave her finger. She had to yank on it to get it off.
"You stinkin' liar!" she screamed and hurled the ring at Nick, who raised his big hands to protect his pretty face. The ring bounced off his elbow. It landed with a soft plop! in his bourbon and sank to the bottom of the glass.
Monique stormed off and was gone.
Liz permitted herself to be enticed onto the dance floor one more time. They danced until they were the last couple on the floor and everyone had left for the evening.
A burly security guard escorted them to a rear exit. A red Jag waited for them in the alley. The gleaming machine's expensive grillwork leered at Liz with sinister disdain.
At that hour, the Miami strees were dark and empty, and all the traffic lights in that part of the city seemed as if they were stuck on red. Nick flew through each intersection without bothering to check and see if there were any cars headed in their direction.
The lobby of the Fontainbleau was bright and deserted. In the elevator, Nick wanted to fool around and Liz obliged him, pulling away when he went too far.
His room, on the seventeenth floor, reminded Liz of the suite she shared with Shad at their hotel, across town. The moment the door snicked shut behind them, Nick sprinted like a crazy person to the bathroom.
When Nick came bounding out of the bathroom, ten minutes later, his lackluster eyes were bright and shiny, and his gaping, goofy grin looked like it had been permanently carved on his face like the crooked grin on a Halloween pumpkin. The tip of his nose was red and raw, as if he had a serious cold, but Liz knew better. He had looked the same way when he'd come back from using the men's room at the club. Liz had snorted enough lines of coke in her career to know that glazed expression when she saw it. He looked ridiculous standing there in nothing but a leopard spotted Speedo.
Nick took a quick, running start and jumped onto the bed, landing on his knees on the cushiony comforter. He threw back his head and laughed, cackling hysterically.
"What's so funny?" Liz demanded.
"Oh, yes, there is. Something's funny. Tell me what is is."
"Well---did anyone ever tell you that with your hair all rolled up at the back of your neck like that, you look a lot like Olive Oyl in those old Popeye cartoons they show on television?" he asked.
Again with the word old, she thought. "I know you didn't say that to be mean or unkind, so I'm not going to slap you," she said.
"Come here," he commanded, patting the comforter.
She should've left then, but she didn't. Like a stubborn and spiteful child, she stayed, making all the right moves and whispering the words Nick wanted to hear, until he passed out. She put on her clothes and grabbed her handbag, rode the elevator downstairs, and called a cab from a courtesy phone in the lobby.