The airport limo pulled to a stop in front of the Montecito.
Josiah stepped forward to open the door and offered a hand to the woman inside.
He couldn't help but notice her long graceful legs as she turned to get out,
her dress slipping higher up her well-toned thighs as she slipped off the
"Welcome to the Montecito." Josiah smiled and bowed slightly over her hand
before he released it.
"Thank you." She nodded at him and smiled back. "Can you tell me where I
go to check in?"
"I can do better than that." Josiah practically purred. "I'll show you myself."
He motioned to one of his valet staff to take his place and held out his
arm to escort her inside. "Are you here on vacation?"
"No, I'm here for the ballroom dance competition." She flipped her blonde
hair back away from her face and slipped her hand through the crook of his
"That explains how gracefully you move." Josiah's voice took on a more sensual
tone as he placed his hand over hers to escort her inside.
"My, you are a smooth talker."
"Not really, ma'am." He winked at her and half smiled. "I just appreciate
a lovely woman when I see one. Here you go." Josiah stopped at the registration
desk. "Sandy will see that you are taken care of."
Josiah turned to go back outside but stopped and looked back. "You're welcome."
Something about her tugged at a long buried memory, but he couldn't quite
place it. Maybe it was something in her voice. Maybe it was just his imagination.
He shook his head to clear his thoughts and went on back outside.
"No, I said orange lilies." Buck chewed on his bottom lip and took a deep
breath. "Not pink, not white, not yellow, ORANGE!" He paused and listened
none to patiently. "I don't care if they cost a thousand dollars a lily.
Ashton insists on three bouquets of two dozen orange lilies. He's got this
idea that since there were orange lilies in his room the first time he won
big, that he has to have them every time he gambles."
Vin Tanner paused on his way in to work and listened to the exchange. He
grinned when Buck looked at him and rolled his eyes.
"Just do it. They have to be in there within the next twenty minutes." Buck
snapped the cell phone shut and sighed.
"A wild one huh?" Vin asked.
"Yeah, to say the least. This guy is one of the most superstitious players
I've ever had to deal with." He shook his head as he looked over his notes
to see if he had everything. "Hey, I'll catch you later. I'm going to make
one last run through the suite and be sure everything is right."
"Sure, go ahead. I need to be getting to work myself." Vin parted company
with Buck and headed in the general direction of the corridor leading to
the surveillance room.
Buck practically ran down the hall to the suite Roy Ashton had reserved.
Once there, he was relieved to see housekeeping carrying the bouquets of
lilies toward the room. "Ladies, you are a sight for these sore eyes of mine.
Bless you." He opened the door and held it for the ladies to enter. "One
on the entry table, one on the table in the sitting room, and one on the
dresser in the bedroom," he instructed.
Once the flowers had been placed and the housekeepers had left, Buck checked
out the room. Three bouquets of orange lilies; check. One large fruit basket
that had each kind of fruit in threes; check. A bottle of champagne already
chilled on ice; check. Four extra down filled pillows on the bed; check.
Cucumber bath salts; check.
Buck continued on down the long list and things seemed to be in order, except
for one thing. He grabbed his cell phone and called down to catering. "Where
are the M&Ms? Ashton will be here in ten minutes, and I'm missing his
M&Ms." He relaxed slightly. "Good. Thank you." They were supposedly on
their way up, and they'd better get there in the next three minutes, because
he had to get back downstairs to meet Ashton personally. Buck hoped that
the whale would not show up early. "Thank God! Over there!" He pointed to
the table by the overstuffed chair. "You sure you have all the brown ones
picked out? If he finds even one brown one, he'll be more than upset."
"Yes, Mr. Wilmington. We had three people working on this. Two of us sorted
the brown ones out and the third one double checked before they went in the
bowl." The young waiter looked nervous and tried to edge toward the door.
"You sure you have ten pounds there? Not ten pounds before they were sorted
or ten pounds including the bowl. Ten pounds of M&Ms are in the bowl
"Yes, sir, ten pounds exactly."
"Okay, you can go on back. Thanks." Buck looked the bowl over from every
angle and was tempted to get in there and stir them up just to check on his
own, but he didn't have time to get any gloves, and he wouldn't handle the
man's candy with his bare hands. He would just have to trust that the kitchen
staff had done as they were told.
"Oh, shit!" He glanced at his watch and realized that he had only five minutes
to get to the lobby. He dashed to the elevator, hit the button, and fidgeted
while he waited for it to reach his floor. Once deposited on the ground floor
he hurried to the check in area, paused a moment to catch his breath, and
then he went on outside to wait for his whale.
The long black limousine pulled to a stop and Josiah stepped forward to open
the door for Roy Ashton. "Good Afternoon, Mr. Ashton! Welcome to the Montecito!"
Ashton looked around critically. "It remains to be seen if it is good," he
said. "We'll see if the Montecito lives up to its reputation." He signaled
to his driver to open the trunk to retrieve his bags.
"Mr. Ashton? Buck Wilmington," he said as he reached out to shake the man's
hand. When the whale looked at the offered hand with distaste, he dropped
it back to his side. "I am your casino host. Anything you need, all you need
to do is ask and we'll get it for you." He nodded toward the door. "If you'll
follow me, we'll get you signed in and I'll show you to your room."
After the formalities of check-in were completed, Buck walked ahead of Ashton
and opened the door to the suite for him, then stood aside to let the man
enter first. He waited just inside the door while the whale inspected the
rooms. "Is everything satisfactory, Sir?"
Ashton stopped and ran a hand through the M&Ms and seeing only the brightly
colored ones, he grabbed a handful and munched on them as he took his time
completing his inspection. "It does appear that things are in order. If I
find anything amiss, I'll have you paged."
"Any time, day or night, Sir," Buck said. "Would you like me to set up a
game for you?"
"I'll play after dinner. You have arranged for my evening meal to be delivered
here at precisely 7:00 PM I assume." Ashton dropped his bulk into the overstuffed
chair and grabbed another handful of M&Ms.
"Yes, Sir. Oysters on the half-shell for the appetizer. Fillet Mignon medium
rare, baby asparagus with hollandaise sauce, baked potato with all the trimmings,
and Caesar salad for the main course, and a whole New York style cheesecake
topped with cherries for dessert and your snack later tonight. The wine steward
will bring up a bottle of our best white wine to go with the oysters, and
a bottle of our best red to go along with the fillet." Buck ran through the
whole order from memory.
"All right. I'd like to hit the craps table at 8:00 PM." Ashton waved a hand
in dismissal. "You may go now."
"Thank you, sir. I'll go arrange your game. Would you like me to come and
escort you down?" Buck bristled at being treated like a servant, but some
of those billionaires didn't have a clue how to treat real people.
"That won't be necessary. I can find my way there, and the pit boss should
be able to see that I find my game." Once again he waved his hand as if to
shoo Buck out. "You may go."
"Thank you, sir." Buck performed a slight bow and then ducked out the door,
but not before seeing Ashton stuff another handful of M&Ms in his mouth.
"That man's a heart attack waiting to happen," he muttered to himself as
he stepped onto the elevator.
"Who's a heart attack?" Nathan asked, concern spreading over his handsome
"Roy Ashton. He's a first class, stuck up, snooty, 'I'm better than God,'
billionaire, who is one giant walking mass of sugar and cholesterol." Buck
leaned back against the wall of the elevator and tried to relax.
"That bad, huh?"
"Yeah, or worse. He's gotta be getting close to four hundred pounds." Buck
shuddered. "I got nothing against people carrying some extra weight, but
this man is a time bomb waiting to go off."
"Well, let's just hope it isn't while he's here." Nathan turned serious and
frowned. "Think I'd better get things ready just in case though."
"That would probably be a good idea."
The elevator reached the ground floor and the men prepared to part ways.
"I think I'll go check my office and see if I have everything in easy reach.
Hell, if this man hits big he's liable to keel over from the excitement."
"I've gotta go set up his 8:00 craps game." He stopped after a couple steps
and looked at Nathan's retreating back. "Hey!"
"What?" Nathan paused and half turned to face Buck.
"You going down to see Rain's show tonight?"
"Thought about it if I don't get snowed under with work."
"I'm going to try. I haven't made it yet, but maybe tonight will be the
night." Buck grinned at the uncertain look on Nathan's face. Everyone
knew that the young doctor had been completely smitten by Rain the first
time he saw her. "Of course, when you're there, I hear she only has eyes
Nathan blushed and ducked his head to avoid eye contact. "Don't know about
that," he mumbled and then hustled off to his office.
"He's got it bad." Buck grinned and started trying to think of ways to get
those two stuck in the same room together, so Nathan would have to swallow
his nervousness and actually talk to the dark beauty.
"Greg, I'm going to take a break. Take over here." Josiah turned over his
place to one of his staff and headed inside. He rolled his shoulders to relieve
some of the stiffness that had settled there. A cup of coffee and piece of
pie was just what he needed to boost his energy reserves. He made his way
straight to Wolfgang's where he was greeted at the door and taken to a table
near the kitchen. Employees always got the least desirable tables so the
guests got the best ones.
"Hi, Josiah." His waitress smiled and automatically poured him a cup of black
coffee. "What else can I get for you today?"
"Just a piece of cherry pie." He gingerly sipped the hot coffee while Louise
jotted down his order.
"Anything else? Ice cream with that?"
"Oh you are a temptress, aren't you?" Josiah grinned and winked at her. "No.
I will not be tempted with your offer of sinful indulgence," he said in his
best preacher's voice.
Louise giggled and left his table, grinning widely.
Josiah savored the coffee, and started to relax. He looked around the room
at the few diners who were there at this off time of the day. It was then
that he saw her again. The woman with the incredible legs and the voice that
still stirred up echoes in his mind. He was sure that he had heard it before.
He watched her, hoping for some spark of memory, but none was forthcoming.
She wasn't as young as most of the dancers he had seen checking in, but she
wasn't old either. He figured she was a few years younger than him.
Louise came back with his pie and sat it in front of him. "I warmed it for
you. Just the way you like it."
"You know me too well." He tasted the pie and moaned, rolling his eyes in
"Not as well as I'd like," she said with a wink, as she left to take care
of her next table.
Josiah watched her go and smiled. The two of them had been playing this game
of cat and mouse ever since he came to the Montecito to work. She was an
attractive woman, probably somewhere in her late thirties, and he liked her.
But he never knew whether to take her flirtations seriously or not, and he
didn't want to ruin things by reading too much into her remarks.
His attention wandered back to the other table and the woman seated there.
He couldn't shake the feeling that he knew her from somewhere.
"Louise," he caught her as she passed his table on the way to the kitchen.
"Do you know who that woman is?" He nodded toward his mystery lady.
"No, she's not in my station." Louise took a closer look. "Is there a problem?"
"No, nothing like that," Josiah said. "She just looks familiar."
"Think I'll do a security sweep." Vin stood up and stretched, his back cracking
with an audible snap.
"Ow! That hurt just to hear it." JD cringed when he heard the loud crack.
"Yeah, well it would hurt me a lot more if it didn't crack like that," Vin
said. "It keeps me limber."
"What ever you say." JD shook his head and shuddered. "I think I'd rather
not be limber."
"I'll be back in a bit. Just need to stretch my legs."
"Sure. Hey bring me back a Snicker bar would ya?" He handed Vin a dollar
bill and then turned his attention back to the monitor.
Vin made his way through the back corridors to the door that took him out
onto the casino floor. He looped around the perimeter, deciding to start
with the lobby and gift shop area so he could pick up JD's candy bar in the
gift shop. From there he headed back to the main Casino, stopping to talk
to each of the individual pit bosses along the way.
When he got to the opposite side of the room he caught sight of Ezra and
went to join him. "How's it goin'?"
"Everything is going fine." Ezra nodded toward the whale at the craps table.
"Buck's whale is here and isn't having a very good run of luck at the moment."
"Not good for him, but good for the casino and for Buck," Vin commented.
"True. But if he doesn't win occasionally, he might decide to cut his stay
short, and that definitely is bad for the casino." Ezra frowned when he saw
the whale bust on yet another roll.
"Well, maybe something will happen to turn his luck."
"I hope so, Mr. Tanner." Ezra checked his records. "He's down a quarter of
a million already."
"Ouch. That's gotta hurt." Vin couldn't imagine being able to drop that kind
of money and not bat an eye about it.
"He's got more money than God. It's not his purse that's the concern, it's
"Hopefully something works out." Vin gave Ezra a companionable pat on the
arm and started for the door leading back to the surveillance room.
He stopped and looked around the floor as he was passing the craps table.
He had stepped on something, but couldn't find it at first. Then it caught
his eye where it had flipped under the edge of the table, and he picked up
the hundred-dollar chip. It had to have fallen from Ashton's pile of chips.
"Sir, I believe you dropped this." He tried to hand the chip to the man in
between passes of the dice.
"No," Ashton pulled his hands back as if Vin was trying to hand him a live
rattlesnake. "I can't touch that once it's been on the floor. It's bad luck."
"Oh." Vin pondered what to do next. "Well what if I put in on your stack?"
"No, I'd still have to touch it. Bet it." He nodded toward the craps table.
"Put it somewhere in the betting area for me. If it hits, I'll split the
pot with you."
"That won't be necessary, but I'll put it on the line for you." Vin placed
the chip on table on the pass line and watched while Ashton shook the dice,
passed his hands over the table in a circular motion three times and then
tossed the dice.
"Eleven!" the boxman called out. "Pays one to one."
Ashton grinned. It was his first win in over half an hour. "Young man, take
these," he handed Vin several chips, "and place the bet anywhere you see
"No, I couldn't go doing that," Vin protested. "I really should be gettin'
back to work."
Ashton frowned and looked toward Ezra, who immediately joined them. "I'm
sure, Mr. Tanner would love to assist you. Wouldn't you, Vin?"
"Now, don't you worry about getting back to work. I'm sure I can clear it
with your superior." Ezra's look told Vin he'd better not argue, that this
was too important. "But shall we take a moment and see if that will be
necessary," he suggested.
Ashton nodded for Vin to place the bet and he placed it back on the line.
He deviated from his ritual slightly by holding the dice out for Vin to blow
on them, before he rolled the dice.
"Seven!" The boxman slid over a stack of chips to Ashton who was grinning
like a Cheshire cat.
"You, my lucky young friend, are not going anywhere any time soon." Ashton
patted him on the shoulder. "You are my good luck charm." At Vin's stunned
expression he quickly added. "I'll make it worth your while."
"I'll talk to Mr. Larabee." Ezra grinned at Vin and quickly called Cheryl
in to cover for him while he went to talk to Chris.
"Uh...I appreciate the offer, sir." Vin felt like all eyes were on him, and
a quick glance around confirmed that feeling. "But, I really don't see how
I could stay here the whole time you play."
Ashton glowered at Vin and signaled Cheryl over to him. "I suggest you get
Mr. Wilmington down here immediately."
"Yes, of course Mr. Ashton." When she turned away, she frowned at Vin.
Vin sighed. Great, Now there would be a scene, he thought to himself.
He looked up to see Buck coming at him in high gear and suddenly wished he
was anywhere but here.
"Mr. Ashton, what can I do for you, sir?" Buck turned on one of his most
"It seems that the staff at the Montecito isn't very accommodating," he
complained. "I think that I should take my business over to the Mirage."
He started to stack up his chips to cash out.
"Whoa there. Now who is it that hasn't been agreeable to you?" Buck glanced
at Cheryl and she gave a slight nod of her head toward Vin.
Vin saw the action and resigned himself to the coming storm. "Buck, I'm needed
in surveillance. I can't just spend the whole day being a good luck charm."
Buck pulled Vin aside and spoke to him in a low voice. "You can, and you
will. Mr. Ashton is one of the top ten whales in the world. Getting him here
was a major coup for the Montecito. So you go make him happy. I don't care
if he asks you to do a strip tease in the middle of the craps table."
"You can't be serious?"
"I am serious, about all but the strip tease. There are lines that the staff
does not have to cross, but you will suck up to him in anyway you can, and
you'll act like you are having fun while doing it." Buck shot a withering
look at Vin. "And you don't go sneakin' off either."
"You really think Chris will approve this?" Vin was incredulous.
Vin sighed, aware that he had been out maneuvered. Reluctantly, he turned
back to the craps table and took his place beside Ashton. "Well, sir, it
seems that I am available after all."
"That's more like it." Ashton picked up the dice and nodded to Vin to place
the bet. "Take all from that last win and bet it."
Vin placed the bet, hoping that there would be a sudden losing streak and
Ashton would decide he wasn't such a good luck charm after all.
"Blow!" Ashton held the dice up to Vin's mouth and waited. After Vin blew
on the dice he started his usual ritual. He shook the dice exactly three
times in his cupped hands, passed his hands over the table in a circular
motion, three times, then three more shakes with the release at the bottom
of the last shake.
The dice rattled across the table and all eyes strained to see if it was
another lucky roll. Ashton began to grin, and slapped Vin on the back. "I
knew you were the turn in my luck."
"Winner!" The boxman announced and pushed another stack of chips his way.
Vin closed his eyes for a few moments and took a deep breath. It was just
his luck that Ashton finally hit his stride. Forcing himself to not to react
negatively, he smiled. "Reckon you're just making up for lost time."
"Too true, and it is all thanks to you." Ashton nodded toward the table.
"Keep it going. Don't let those dice get cold."
A crowd began to form around the craps table. As Ashton's excitement grew,
he got louder attracting the attention of others nearby. Any time people
noticed a crowd forming at one of the tables at a casino they were attracted
to it like mice to cheese. There was always such an air of excitement around
a winner, and some of the spectators undoubtedly hoped some of the luck would
rub off on them.
Vin felt somewhat claustrophobic from the press of people around him, but
he didn't dare say anything. He tried to sound confident. "Let it ride."
Picking up the dice, he passed them to Ashton.
"Now you're getting into the spirit!" Once again, he held out the dice for
Vin to blow on them and went through his regular ritual before releasing
the dice to bounce around the table.
"You did what?" The look on Chris' face could not have been any more stunned
if Buck had walked in naked and painted blue.
"I told Ashton that Vin could stay with him as his good luck charm." Buck
stood his ground.
"It is as I said," Ezra commented, "Mr. Ashton is too important to allow
him to become disillusioned with his experience at the Montecito."
"Ezra, as I said several times already, I need Vin up here." Chris locked
gazes with his head pit boss. "It isn't up to either of you to decide when
or where my staff works."
"Chris, you know I would never try to cut in on your domain, but this is
an extreme situation." Buck tried to be Chris' voice of reason, and usually
if he had enough time he could get his old friend to see the light.
"I concur," Ezra added. "He had threatened to walk if Buck couldn't get this
set up for him. This is a casino, and Mr. Ashton is one of the biggest whales
in the world."
"Casino." Buck held his left hand out. "Vin." He held out his right hand.
"Which interest is most important in this situation?" Before Chris could
respond, Buck answered for him. "Casino. Okay between these two. Vin or
.Ashton." He looked at Chris as if daring him to dispute his
conclusion. "Now, between Ashton and the casino?" He grinned and charged
on ahead. "The casino, naturally, and what is in the casino's best interest
is to keep Ashton happy. Last, between the casino and you?"
"Okay, you've made your point," Chris grumbled. "How long do you think it
"There is no way to know for certain." Ezra shrugged. "If Mr. Ashton's luck
holds it could take several hours, or even days. He's scheduled to stay two
nights at the Montecito. If he luck fails, it could be minutes or a few hours."
"Chris, all we can do is wait and see how it goes."
"Correct me if I am wrong." Chris nailed them both in place with his piercing
gaze. "Isn't the whole idea for people like Ashton to lose money here?"
"Of course, but they have to win sometimes or they won't come back," Ezra
explained. "And we do want Mr. Ashton to want to come back."
"Fine. Just keep me posted." He waved a hand toward the door, signaling them
to leave. "Buck, not you. I still need to talk to you."
Ezra shot him a sympathetic glance as he wasted no time getting out the door,
and Buck smiled back, trying to act more confident than he felt. "What ya
"I know, that you know, that I understand how things work here. I am aware
that it is important to keep the whales happy." Chris leaned back in his
chair, crossing his arms across his chest. "Don't ever undermine my authority
again. Before you go reassigning my people, you talk to me about it first.
"Yeah, I understand, but
"No buts. You talk to me first and give me a good enough reason and I'll
see that you get who you need, but cross me again, and you'll not get them.
"Yeah. I got it. Sorry." Buck knew better than to argue with Chris when he
was this pissed off. "I just had to make a snap decision."
"That's what those headsets are for." Chris pointed to the clip on Buck's
ear. "It takes only a minute to use it. That's it." He motioned toward the
door again. "Now get out of here, before I decide to change my mind and yank
Vin back here."
"I'm gone." Buck ducked quickly out the door before Chris could make good
on his threat, and he had no doubt his old friend would do it too.
Josiah continued to think of the lovely dancer when he went back out to his
post in front of the hotel. He knew her; he had no doubt of that. Suddenly,
an idea popped into his mind and he hurried back inside for just a minute.
He'd seen some brochures about the dance competition, and he thought there
might be a chance something in it would jog his memory. He picked one up
from the front desk and went back outside. Things were quiet for the moment
so he took time to sit on one of the benches, under a light, and peruse the
Inside he saw the schedule for the competition, a description of the events,
and in the back a list of the judges. There she was, staring back at him
from the glossy page, looking as lovely as she had in real life, Emma Dubonnet.
Memory came flooding back when he read the name. How could he have not recognized
her? They had been a really hot item back in his younger days. At one point
they had even talked of marriage.
But then he had found himself in need of some spiritual guidance. He loved
Emma, but he could not ask her to share his life until he could come to terms
with himself. There were things in his past that still haunted him even today,
and back then the turmoil he was in was far worse.
He had left her, to study various religions and philosophies in the hopes
that one would help him, and he told her he would be back for her in a year.
She had promised to wait for him. However, his year turned into two, then
three, and before he knew it five years had passed before he found his way
When he went looking for Emma, he found that she had left town. She had gone
to follow her dream of being on Broadway. Broken hearted, he had gone to
New York to try to find her, but she was nowhere to be found. After a year
of searching, he had given up.
Now here she was, right here at the Montecito. She'd changed over the last
twenty-five years. No wonder he hadn't recognized her. She was older with
a much trimmer figure, and her blonde hair probably had a little help from
Miss Clairol. Now that he knew who she was it seemed so obvious, and he felt
like a fool for not recognizing her the minute she stepped out of the car.
He looked at her picture again and smiled. She was still a beautiful woman.
He read the bio next to her picture and found out that she had made it to
Broadway, as a dancer. Somehow in his search for her, he'd missed her.
"Wonder if she'll remember me?" he said to himself, under his breath.
"Wonder if who'll remember you?" Nathan asked as he plopped down beside him.
"Someone from a long time ago." He handed the pamphlet to Nathan and pointed
to her picture. "Emma Dubonnet. This is just between you and me. If you go
spreading gossip, I might have to hurt you," he threatened, but without any
sign of malice. "You know I could do it if I wanted to."
"Sure do," Nathan agreed. "If you don't want any of this spread around, I
can keep a secret."
"So, tell me about her."
Josiah sighed and looked longingly at the picture. "She was twenty, and I
was in my mid-twenties when we knew each other. We met at college. She was
studying the performing arts, and I was studying world religions. That was
back when I was seriously considering becoming a preacher. It was a whirlwind
romance, and we both fell head over heals in love."
"So, why didn't you marry her?" Nathan asked.
"The timing was wrong I guess. She wanted to make her way on Broadway, and
I needed to spend a year traveling for my studies." Josiah visibly drooped,
dropping his gaze to stare at the toe of his shoe. "She promised to wait
for me, and I promised to be back in a year. I got so caught up in what I
was doing that I withdrew from school and went on studying on my own. I ended
up gone for five years."
"And when you got back she was gone?"
Josiah nodded. "Yes. I tried to find her in New York, but I couldn't and
finally had to give up."
Nathan patted the older man on the back and smiled. "Well, now you have a
second chance. I hope you find what you are looking for."
"Thanks." Josiah smiled back at the casino's doctor-on-call. "You might want
to stick around though. I might need you to mend another broken heart."
"Or, if things work out, you might need me to make a toast at your wedding."
Nathan winked at him, and then he headed back inside, leaving Josiah to moon
over Emma's picture.
Josiah finished his shift and turned his place as valet over to one of his
team. He usually got off around 11:00 PM, a couple hours earlier than the
others from security. People started checking in at 3:00 PM, and he had to
start a little before that so he could find out whom to be expecting and
at what time. The only thing he didn't like was that the others were still
working, and he hated to go straight home to an empty house. Most nights
he treated himself to a couple of drinks in the bar before calling it a night.
The bar was still fairly crowded when he first got there and he took a seat
at the bar instead of one of the few empty tables. As much as he would have
liked to have a good shot of whiskey, he made himself be content with beer.
He tried to avoid anything with a high alcohol content since he had to drive
himself home. He nursed the first beer for close to half an hour before signaling
to the bartender to get him another one and ordered a sandwich along with
When his second beer arrived he glanced around and saw that the bar was clearing
out somewhat. He decided to move to one of the tables where he would be more
comfortable. "I'm moving to a table. Will you signal me when my sandwich
"Don't worry about it," the bartender said. "I'll bring it out to you."
"Thank you." Josiah started for a table in one of the back corners when he
noticed another late night loner in a booth toward the back. He changed course
and headed toward the booth instead.
"Emma?" Josiah watched her eyes as she looked up at him, looking for any
signs of recognition.
"Yes. Oh, hello again." She smiled up at him, but he could tell she was just
remembering him from earlier in the day. There was nothing in her expression
that indicated that she recalled their long ago romance.
"If you aren't waiting for someone, would you mind if I joined you?" He knew
he was being a bit forward, but he just had to talk to her.
"I'm not expecting anyone," she said. "Some company would be nice."
Josiah eased into the seat opposite from her before speaking again. "Thank
you. I hoped I'd get a chance to talk to you before you have to leave."
"Oh, really?" Her brows furrowed as she looked at him quizzically.
"Yes, really." He grinned at her and was glad to see her relax. "Do you recognize
me at all?"
"I saw you today when I arrived."
She looked at him closer and shook her head. "No."
"Emma, it's me, Josiah Sanchez." He watched as the name sank in and she started
to remember. He could see the light come on in her eyes as memories started
to come to the surface.
"Josiah? Oh my god! Is it really you?"
"In the flesh." He tried to keep the mood light. "It has been a long time."
"Twenty -five years."
"Emma, I'm sorry I didn't make it back like I said I would." He wished now
that he could turn back time and not make that same mistake again. "I got
so caught up in my studies, and before I knew it five years had passed. I
came back, but you were gone."
"I waited. You said you would be back in a year, and I waited for two before
I gave up and moved to New York." She reached across the table to lay her
hand over his. "I missed you so much."
"I missed you too." He turned his hand over so he could clasp her fingers
in his hand. "You never did get married? You're still a Dubonnet?"
"No. I never found the right person. What about you?" She smiled at him and
made his heart skip a beat.
Over the next couple of hours they caught up on what they each had been doing
over the last twenty-five years, while they shared the sandwich he had ordered.
Their conversation came as easily as it had all those years ago.
"After I left Broadway, I found a partner and competed in the ballroom dance
circuit." She smiled at the memory. "We were practically unbeatable, but
after a while age starts to creep up on you and you realize that you need
to find something else. My dance partner and I started up our own dance studio.
Since then several of our students have gone on to win in some of the contests."
"And now you are here as a judge?" Josiah didn't really care what they talked
about as long as they kept talking.
"Yes. I was invited to judge, based on my history with the competitions.
You should come and see the competition. It is always beautiful to watch
"I'll see what I can do about my schedule so I can be there."
They talked into the wee hours of the morning before Josiah escorted her
to her room and then headed to his own home. He walked with a much lighter
step on his way out to his car, and he looked forward to the next day.
Vin's feet were starting to ache from standing there for so long, and he
really needed a break. He was thirsty, hungry, and he really needed to hit
the restroom. Ashton was just going to have to give him a few minutes whether
he liked it or not.
"Mr. Ashton," Vin leaned close to the man's ear to speak. "I don't want to
do anything to ruin your luck, but I have to have a break."
Ashton looked at him like he was speaking Swahili. "Come again?"
"I need to go pee. Plus I need something to eat and drink. I've been standing
here with you for over four hours." Vin shifted from foot to foot and made
ready to bolt from the spot as soon as he got the word. Heck even if he didn't
get the word, he was going to anyway.
"Has it really been that long?" Ashton checked his watch. "Of course, go
ahead and I'll send for food and drinks for us."
"Fine. I'll be back in a few minutes." Vin hurried away from the table and
headed straight for the men's room. He sighed in relief once was finally
able to empty his overfull bladder. After washing his hands he splashed some
cold water on his face and took his time drying off. The sooner he got done,
the sooner he had to be back at that craps table.
As he slowly headed back into the main casino room a voice sounded in his
earpiece. He'd forgotten he still had it on.
"How's it going down there?" Chris asked.
"I don't think this guy's ever going to quit winning," Vin grumbled. "I'm
more tired from just standing there with him than I would be from working
a sixteen hour shift."
"Well, hang in there. He can't keep winning forever. You'd better be getting
back over there. He's looking around for you."
"Now there's a news flash." Vin keyed the transmitter button to turn it off
and quickened his pace back to the pit.
"Ahhh... there you are. I though perhaps you had ditched me." Ashton's smiled,
"Sorry. I didn't intend to take that long, but I've been standing in one
spot so long, I just needed to stretch my legs a little." He took his place
back at Ashton's side and hoped that the man's luck would turn soon.
"How inconsiderate of me. Here I've been sitting, but left you standing all
this time." He motioned to Ezra, who hurried to their table.
"Is something amiss, Mr. Ashton?" Ezra turned on the southern charm.
"We need a comfortable stool for my friend here." He nodded toward Vin. "I
can't have my good luck charm collapsing from exhaustion, because I wouldn't
let him sit down."
"Certainly. I'll have one brought right over." Ezra left the pit to find
someone to bring in a cushioned stool.
"I ordered us both a steak dinner, and told them to bring something we can
set the plates on." Ashton spoke softly, with a note of apology in his voice.
"I should have paid more attention to details like that."
"It's fine. I know it is easy to get caught up in the game." Vin gratefully
took a seat on the stool when it was placed next to him.
"Okay, let's get this show back on the road." He held the dice out to Vin
who had been reduced to kissing the dice now instead of just blowing on them,
before Ashton would roll them.
Vin kissed the dice and watched the whole pre-throw ritual. He was really
feeling so foolish, sitting here actually kissing a pair of dice for this
man. Now if Ashton had been a beautiful, rich woman it wouldn't have been
a bad assignment.
"Another winner," the boxman called out, and paid off the bet.
Several hours later, Vin stifled a huge yawn. He had been nodding off while
sitting straight up. The press of people around them had virtually disappeared,
and their dealer had to be switched when the first one had worked overtime
and had eventually gotten too tired to continue. When Vin nearly toppled
off the stool, Ashton looked at him with a scowl.
"I'm sorry, sir. But, I'm getting very tired." Vin was also getting tired
of pussyfooting around the whale. "If I don't get some sleep soon, I'm going
to end up on the floor under the table."
Ezra had stayed on, refusing to leave as long as Ashton played, and now he
stepped in with a suggestion. "I can have this table locked down. We can
leave everything as is, and it will be waiting for you after you get some
"All right, but you stay here," he said to Vin. "I'll not have you leaving
and doing anything that might change things."
"Sir, I can't stay here tonight." He hoped that Ashton would accept him at
"Nonsense! There is an extra room in my suite, and I can have a guest if
I want to."
Vin looked at Ezra, his eyes pleading with him to help him find a way out.
He saw a slight shrug of the other man's shoulders, and he knew he was stuck
Ashton watched as Ezra locked down the table, and left instructions that
the table was reserved and was not to be touched. "Come along, young man."
Ashton guided Vin toward the elevators. "Once upstairs, you can get some
Vin gave up. He wasn't going to win this and he knew it. He looked around
the posh suite when he got inside, and his eyes were instantly caught by
the big bowl of M&Ms. "What happened to the brown M&Ms?"
"Oh, didn't you know? They are bad luck, so I have them picked out. Help
yourself to them. I like the green ones myself; they remind me of money."
Ashton dipped into the bowl and grabbed a handful.
"That's not what I heard about the green ones," Vin said as he too grabbed
a handful of the candy.
"Oh? What did you hear?"
"That they are an aphrodisiac." Vin managed to keep a straight face when
he saw the stunned expression on Ashton's face.
After the initial surprise, Ashton laughed. "No wonder I like the green ones
The two men both chuckled over the folklore associated with the popular candy,
and both dug into the bowl a second time.
"You aren't digging out green ones are you?" Vin asked.
"No." Ashton looked momentarily scandalized, but the grinned broadly as he
realized Vin was teasing him. "Besides, you aren't my type." He pointed to
one of the doors leading off the main parlor. "That's your room, and that
one," he said pointing to a second door, "is mine. Off to bed with you. I
need my good luck charm rested and alert when we get back in action."
Vin didn't respond to Ashton, other than a slight nod of his head. He trudged
into his room and collapsed on the bed without even taking time to undress.
He was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow.
Josiah had reworked his schedule and asked Greg to cover his shift for him
so he could go to the dance competition. That was one benefit of being in
charge of his department. Despite the late night he had, he was up early
and got to the hotel in time for the start of the competition.
Emma saw him when he came in and waved to him. There was a little time before
the first dance, so he made his way over to the judges' area.
"Good morning!" She smiled brightly at him, none-the-worse for wear for their
late night visit. "I'm glad you made it."
"Good morning! I'm glad too." He smiled back. "The only thing that would
be better is if you were competing so I could see you dance."
"You'll get to see some one of my former students, the girl in couple number
"Is that allowed, to judge your own student?"
"Sometimes there is not much choice. There are only so many people qualified
to judge, and the pool of dancers has been declining. They know I will be
fair. If anything, I'm tougher on one of my own."
The signal for the start of the competition sounded, and Josiah excused himself
to go to his seat. He had never been to a ballroom dance competition before,
but instead of being bored by it, like he had thought he might be, he was
enthralled. The dancers were beautiful, and they made it all look so easy.
He sat through the tango, the rumba, the samba, the waltz, the quickstep,
and several others. He was almost sorry when it was over and couple number
twenty-two was named the over-all winner.
Josiah waited for the ballroom to clear out and then stood aside while Emma
talked to the other judges. He was pleased to see her smile when she saw
that he had waited for her.
"Would you like to join me for dinner? You've hardly had a break since you
got here this morning." He was surprised that the competition took so long.
There had been one brief break to allow the judges to get something to eat
at lunchtime in one of the smaller meeting rooms. One of the cafes had catered
the meal for them, and all the judges looked refreshed when they returned.
"That would be wonderful." Emma slipped her hand through the bend of his
arm and allowed him to escort her out of the ballroom. "I think this is almost
as tiring on the judges as it is on the dancers. It's just a different kind
"Then you deserve to be pampered." Josiah had taken the liberty of making
reservations at Wolfgang's for the two of them. "We have a little time before
our reservations. Would you like to go freshen up, or slip into Mystique
for a drink?"
"I would love the chance to freshen up a little."
"Your wish is my command." Josiah winked at her when she giggled at the old
"Be careful what you offer. I might take advantage of it." She dug the keycard
out of her handbag and opened the door. "Would you like to come in? I won't
be very long."
She was good at her word, and within a few minutes she had changed into a
more comfortable dress, and touched up her make-up. She had told him to help
himself to the mini-bar while he waited, and he had decided against alcohol
and picked a bottle of Perrier water.
"What time are the reservations?" she asked, as she came back into the room.
"I made them for 7:00, so we still have a little time. What would you like
to do until then?" He set the bottle aside and waited patiently for her to
"I've been sitting all day. Let's just go for a walk."
"I know just the place."
They took the elevator down to the ground level and he led her outside to
the gardens. It was starting to cool after the heat of the day, and the scent
of the blooming plants hung heavily in the air. They didn't say much as they
strolled along the paths, but just enjoyed being in each other's presence.
All too soon, it was time to go in. They were taken straight to their table
when they presented themselves at Wolfgang's, and after their orders were
taken Josiah reached across the table to hold her hand.
"I still can't believe that after all these years, we've found each other
again." He gently stroked the back of her hand with his thumb as he spoke.
"I wonder what the chance are of something like that happening?"
"Probably next to zero."
"I could probably ask Ezra and he could calculate the odds," he said with
Their meal arrived and they shared more small talk about what had been happening
in their lives over the last twenty-five years. She had made quite a name
for herself in New York, and her dance studio had a waiting list to get in
for lessons. He had made a place for himself at the Montecito, and found
a bond with the men he worked with that he never thought he would have.
They kept their conversation light over dinner. Neither wanting to be the
one to bring up the one subject they both knew had to be broached. The walk
back to her room seemed endless after dinner. Once there, Emma got them both
a drink from the mini-bar and they sat down on the couch in the sitting room.
Josiah put his arm around her shoulders and she snuggled up against him.
"Emma, we need to talk."
"I know." She hung her head and sighed. "Where do we go from here?"
"It is like all this time had never passed." He hugged her closer. "I still
love you. I never stopped loving you."
"Me too. No one else was ever good enough. I guess I was always comparing
them to you."
"But we have a problem, don't we?" Josiah knew the answer, but the question
still had to be asked.
"We both have lives that we don't want to leave," she started. "I can't just
up and leave New York. I have my students and my partner to consider."
"And I have my place here. If it was just a regular job, I would leave it
in a heartbeat. But these men have become like brothers to me." Josiah couldn't
stand the thought of losing her again, but he could not push aside the loyalty
he felt to these men who had taken him into their 'family'.
"There's no way we can work this out, not with us being on opposite sides
of the country." A tear rolled down her cheek and splashed onto his shirt.
"Not right now," he agreed. "But, we've found each other. We don't have to
lose touch again, and it won't be all that long before one of us decides
There was hope in her eyes when she looked up into his. "That's right. I
won't be able to keep up the pace of teaching for very many more years. When
I stop teaching then there is nothing to keep me there."
"Then we wait again." He wrapped both arms around her and hugged her tightly.
"In the mean time, there is the phone and e-mail, and we can see each other
Josiah's words were cut off by her kiss. Life might be playing a cruel trick
on them, bringing them back together only to keep them apart again after
all those years, but for now, they still had tonight.
Vin was bored. Tired and bored. Agitated, tired and bored. He sighed and
decided that thinking of all the words that described his mood right now
was not helping his mood to improve. Ashton woke him at 10:00 a.m, barely
six and a half hours after he fell asleep. He had asked if he could go home
to shower and change clothes, but he had been told no. He couldn't change
anything about himself or it could ruin him as a good luck charm.
So, here he had sat all day and into the evening. His clothes were wrinkled
from sleeping in them. He had some serious stubble on his face from not being
able to shave, and he felt grungy from not being allowed to even take a shower.
It had become automatic to perform his duties as lucky charm. Ashton held
the dice out to him, he kissed them and blew on them, since Ashton had lost
a few passes and had decided that just kissing them was no longer working
as well as it should.
"Something has changed," Ashton complained, as he looked Vin over from head
to toe. He had lost about one fourth of what he had won in the last several
hands. "Maybe the beard stubble is interfering with your lucky vibes." He
handed Vin his keycard.
"We need to put this on hold a few minutes," he told the dealer who nodded
Turning back to Vin he continued. "I need you to go up to my suite and shave.
You can use my kit in the bathroom.
"Can I shower and go get a change of clothes too?" Vin sincerely hoped he
said yes. He didn't mind wearing the same shirt and suit two days in a row,
but he hated wearing the same underwear for more than one day.
"No, but you can press out some of those wrinkles." Ashton turned back to
the dealer and asked her to arrange for some food and drinks to be brought
Thankful to get away even for a few minutes, Vin headed to Ashton's suite.
Buck was going to owe him big for this. He let himself in and went to the
bathroom to shave, passing up Ashton's shave kit and using the disposable
provided by the hotel. This was one time he was glad for the man's superstitions.
At least they gave him the chance to clean up a little bit.
He turned on the iron and gave it a couple minutes to heat. When it was ready,
he stripped off one piece of clothing at a time and pressed out the wrinkles,
mentally kicking himself for not taking the time to remove his outer clothes
before collapsing into bed the night before.
Shaved and dressed, he reluctantly headed back to the casino.
"Hey there!" Buck greeted him cheerfully.
"Don't even try talk to me right now, Buck." Vin had a few choice comments
for the casino host, but they couldn't be said in public.
"Aw now come on. It ain't all that bad."
"Then you take my place and see how you like it," Vin grumbled.
"I have, several times in fact." Buck grinned and winked. "I didn't mind
it so much, and you usually get a hefty tip in the end. But, for you it isn't
about the money, right?"
"He's due to check out tomorrow afternoon, so it can't last any longer than
that. Hang in there." Buck patted him on the shoulder and then took off after
another important guest.
The evening seemed to stretch on forever, but Vin was heartened by a turn
in Ashton's luck. He was starting to lose more than he won. He tried everything.
He had Vin kiss the dice, blow on them, kiss the chips, roll the dice for
him, and countless other things to bring back his luck. He even tried rolling
while standing on one foot and sticking out his tongue. By midnight, he had
lost all that he had won, and another hundred thousand dollars on top of
"I'm done," Ashton finally said. "The luck is gone."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Ashton," Vin said sincerely. "I hope it wasn't anything I
Ashton shook his head and waved a hand dismissing the idea. "Of course not.
You did everything I asked you to do." He grinned and patted Vin on the back.
"A hundred thousand was a small price to pay for all the fun I had these
past couple of days." He reached into his pocket and pulled out his money
clip. Without batting an eye he handed Vin a thousand dollar tip. "Thank
you for putting up with me. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go get
some sleep before I have to check out tomorrow."
Vin watched Ashton walk away and then looked at the money in his hand. A
thousand dollars for two days of blowing on and kissing dice wasn't a bad
haul at all. He could kind of see why Buck liked his job, but he'd never
admit that to him.
He looked at his watch and realized that he still had another hour left on
his normal shift, but he was beat and he as going home. It just took a minute
to check in with Chris and get the boss' approval before heading out the
Josiah waited in the lobby when it was time for Emma to check out. One of
the bellmen brought her bags down on a cart and she signed her charge slip
at the desk. He relieved the bellman of the cart and walked out with her.
"I wish you didn't have to go," Josiah said as they walked to the waiting
"I wish I didn't either, but I have to." Her eyes held a deep sadness when
she looked at him.
"I have vacation time coming. Maybe I can work it out to make a trip to New
York," he said hopefully.
"That would be great! Just let me know when, and we can work out the details
Emma threw her arms around him and clung tightly. Josiah hugged her, gently
rubbing her back and speaking soothingly to her.
"Don't be upset. We'll see each other again soon. Now that I've found you,
I don't intend to lose track of you again." He kissed her lightly on the
forehead, causing her to tip her face up to accept a real kiss good-bye.
Reluctantly, they let go of each other and Josiah held the car door for her.
Neither one would say good-bye. It seemed too final. Instead Emma rolled
down the window and waved as the car pulled away.
Josiah waved for as long as he could see the car before turning around to
go back inside, and running into Nathan, nearly knocking the man down.
"She's gone?" Nathan asked.
"Yes." The sad expression on Josiah's face spoke louder than words.
"Going to keep in touch?"
Josiah nodded and smiled. "Oh yeah. We aren't going to lose contact again.
I'm thinking about spending my vacation there."
"Good. I'm glad you two found each other again. Just promise one thing,"
"Don't forget to come back." Nathan grinned and then headed back inside.
"I won't," Josiah said to himself, and smiled feeling that he had truly found
the place where he belonged, and the brothers he never had.
Vin walked into the lobby minutes before his shift was due to begin. After
the last couple of days, he'd seen enough of this place for a while, and
he decided he wasn't coming in any earlier than he had to that day. His timing
couldn't have been worse. Walking out the door was Roy Ashton, with Buck
right by his side. His hope that he could slip in without being seen was
dashed when Buck looked his way and grinned.
"Vin!" Buck motioned for him to join them.
Vin put on his best fake smile and complied. "Mr. Ashton, I hope you enjoyed
your stay." He extended his hand to the billionaire, and to their surprise
Ashton actually shook his hand.
"I enjoyed myself immensely. I've already booked a return visit."
"I'm glad to hear that," Vin lied. He knew the casino needed the man's business,
but he didn't want to see him again for a long time.
"Oh, I do hope you won't be offended if I don't need your services next time."
Ashton looked at Vin apologetically. "There at the last you weren't a very
good good luck charm."
"No offense taken." Vin breathed a mental sigh of relief.
Buck and Vin watched as the valet loaded Ashton's bags into the limo and
held the door open for him. Once it pulled away, both men visibly relaxed.
"You sure pulled my butt out of the fire with Ashton."
"Yeah? Well next time, you'd better wear fireproof underwear," Vin smirked.
"You owe me big for this."
"Are you sure you want to say that?"
Vin grinned as ideas tumbled around in his head. This could be fun.
"You are so going to regret that," JD said from behind them causing both
men to jump.
"Vin might look all quiet and easy going," Chris chimed in as he joined them.
"But you know what they say, it's the quiet ones you have to look out for."
The three men walked toward the door, heading inside to start their shifts.
Just before the door closed behind him, Vin looked back. "I'll catch you
later, Buck," he said with a wink.
"Oh hell!" Buck watched the three go, wondering just what he had gotten himself
#8 Chances Are