Caterina Genovese still loved gambling, even after it had brought death to her life over and over. She enjoyed the sounds of cards shuffling, dealers calling out winners or losers, the clink of glasses and the smell of tobacco smoke that left random clouds over tables. A good spin of a roulette wheel only added to the atmosphere. Her appreciation for all that was why she’d closed her tattoo shop, crossed the street and entered the establishment of her father’s competitor.
Daddy dearest had competitors in every city on Callisto, but for some reason unknown to her, The Sweet Spot, with its red and gold color scheme, was the one Daddy worried about. Evidence of that was her brother’s threats mere hours ago, after she’d wrapped up her work for the day.
She took a seat at a pontoon table, pushing her long ponytail behind her shoulder, the tattoos on her arms visible and gaining a few side glances from a couple of guys already seated. No sense in covering up her personal advertisement for her current profession.
“Ante in,” the dealer announced.
She pushed forward a chip before cracking her knuckles.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Genovese in this place before.”
Fatch. She’d been recognized. “Surprising what a loaded gun will do.”
The dealer laughed and dealt the cards. She chuckled along with him, for appearances’ sake, even as her brother’s words replayed in her head.
Luca had laughed too. ‘You’re a regular peace-loving spacecase here and your mourning is over. This is about business, and doing what’s right for the family. Our family. If you don’t want violence, you’ll march your anti-killing ass over to that fatching club as I’ve requested. I’ll meet you there and we’ll have a nice evening.’
Luca had pulled out his gun, the shining surface glaring against the halogen beams overhead. ‘Yash’s wife and kid are going to find making ends meet a bit difficult if Daddy is no longer around to pay the bills.’
Her stomach curdled as the other players received their cards. This visit wasn’t for her pleasure. Familial obligation laced with the threat that her tattoo shop boss would die. More people killed because she wanted to be rebellious. Their deaths would lie at her feet. So, she shoved down the disgust, heaped bricks of anger on it and focused on the cards.
Rina tipped up the corner of the face-down card. A nine. Then came another nine, face up. She glanced at the three other folks sitting at the table. Each took their turn betting or folding against the dealer’s face-up ten. When the dealer, an older man with a bit of paunch, pointed to her, she flipped over the other nine. “Double down.” She threw a couple of extra chips into the growing pot in the center of the table.
Play continued and the dealer busted. She won on nineteen with both hands. The pile of chips tripled her original amount. And so it continued, the shuffle, the deal-out, the betting and finally the outcome. She kept playing, winning some, folding on others. Rarely did she go the full way unless she was sure she’d win.
Like riding a hover cycle.
She lit a clove cigarette, taking small drags. In between rounds, she glanced out over the crowd at the other tables, taking a gander at the faces of the gamblers. She could tell which ones were from ships, hardened by a life of never living in one place for too long. There were the women hanging on the backs of the high rollers, most of them house women, sent out by the club’s owner to entice patrons to invest their winnings via sexual escapade in the rooms somewhere at the top of a spiral staircase.
Rooms only the women working the floor could take clients to These housewives worked the gambling area and the bar, as well as cutting a rug on the dance floor.
Rina kept watch over everything, something she’d honed over the years she’d spent in her father’s club, as first an observer then as a manager.
“Bet’s to you.” The dealer’s voice got her attention back on her cards. She had an ace of spades showing and a queen of hearts underneath—the same as a pair of her tattoos. Instinctively, she reached up and touched the right side of her neck. Then she flipped the cards.
“Twenty-one. The winner is the painted lady.”
The patron beside her moved out and someone new sat down. A man, full suit, nice hat, rich brown skin, hazel eyes a gal could get lost in and full lips with a thin goatee. “Quite a run you’re on.”
“My day is definitely looking up.” She’d pack away a nice little sum for her first trip to this place. And I’m keeping every last leaf.
“Mind if I join you?” he asked, all half-tilted lips and already moving the seat up to the table. He extracted a stack of chips from the inner breast pocket of his suit jacket and placed them on the table.
“A little too late for me to object and it’s not my club, not my choice. Though I question why you’re sitting so close.”
He winked at her. “Hoping some of that good luck might rub off on me.”
I got something you could rub.
The round started anew, the cards falling. Rina was well versed in the addition of players to the table. It meant the cards she would have gotten were going to someone else. As she stared at her three and the upturned five, she grew envious of the showing ten her handsome stranger enjoyed.
Shit, have to fold.
Her new chair companion stayed in and, at the last second, she decided to stay with him. No extra betting had been thrown. She would see what the next card was. The dealer rounded the table and she noticed how the man played, not calling for a card. Staying. Yes. They faced off against the dealer, not other people like in Hold ’Em poker, but still she wanted other players to bust, to lose. That way the club manager didn’t feel the need to switch out the dealer. How many times had she watched a table switch dealers to kill the players high on lady luck and keep the money flowing to the business.
This was the only time in her life Rina had wanted the majority of the money in her stack. At the very least, she wanted to beat this man who’d woken up her libido by sitting next to her. She tapped the table, signaling for a card.
The dealer flipped it. “Eight of clubs.”
A sign. The eight was the date she’d been born on, the club matching one of the cards on the left side of her neck. She threw some chips into the pot, raising the amount of play. The two remaining players and the gorgeous suit next to her followed her lead. Then came the dealer, who ended with twenty, to the groans of the two other players, but she flipped her twenty-one in delight. The man next to her tied with two tens.
Rina was aware of this suit as a man, a good-looking one, but at the same time, she wasn’t here for flirting. She’d already caused enough death…her dead fiancé was proof of that. So she played it cool.
She lit another cigarette, inhaling deep. “Yeah, you too.”
“Anyone ever tell you that you have some amazing-looking skin?” He smiled, looking her over like a prize animal.
She sighed, sticking her cigarette in her mouth and rubbing her hands down her arms. “Yeah, I’m told it would look better without all the ink.”
He frowned. “Well, whoever said that is an idiot. The ink tells your story. Like ancient civilizations did on Earth-before-the-nuke. They’d mark up their skin with tales of adventures, courageous deeds and the battles they’d won.”
“I’ve haven’t been in any battles.”
“You sure about that?” He looked over at the dealer and gave a nod. “You didn’t get those without a reason. Each one tells a part of your story.”
She’d done what she came for…except getting noticed sat at the bottom of her list. “It’s not an interesting one. I can promise you that.”
“Table’s closing. Please cash in your winnings at the counter or continue play elsewhere.” The dealer made the announcement and started tucking away the cards and dealer chips in a drawer beneath him.
“Looks like it’s time to go.” She scooped up her chips, stuffing them into the pair of pockets on her vest before moving to the ones on her pants.
“You don’t have to go.”
Oh, but she really did. Especially since she’d figured out exactly who she was talking to. It was one thing to enter the enemy’s lair, but another to flirt with him. “I do, especially since you’re Akono Sweet.”
He grinned again. “I like it when you say my name.”
“I’m sure you do. I can imagine you like of lot of things if it lands you a beautiful woman in your bed.”
“How about we take this conversation to the bar and you can tell me more about what you like… Is that the offer you’re used to receiving?”
She shrugged. “Not sure. I’ve haven’t been in a position to receive offers as of late.”
A low profile was what she’d aimed to keep for the last six months. Something to separate her from the person she’d once been, to strengthen her new role as untrustworthy, wayward daughter to the biggest cutthroat business owner on Callisto.
“Well, let me be the first to extend an offer.”
She took a long drag. “I think I’ll decline and finish my cigarette.”
“I heard smoking kills.”
Rina smiled this time. “I’ll quit smoking the day I find something worth living this life longer for and that will be a cold day in space—”
“Just the two people I was trying to find.”
What the hell is he doing here?
Sweet didn’t take his eyes off her, but they narrowed and looked more suspicious than she’d seen them. “Do you know this woman, Luca?”
Her brother sidestepped Sweet and put a hand on her shoulder. “I do. Since the day I was born. She’s my sister.”