"I need you to look after my niece while she's here," Julius told him. Troy Bradshaw was sitting in the office of his boss, his mentor, Julius Little, a man he'd worked loyally for years, who was now assigning him babysitting duty.
"Your niece? The heiress is coming here?" Troy asked, taking a drag on his cigarette. He looked out the window and out towards the Hudson River, churning grey several stories below them. He loved New York City. It was the best and brightest place in the world, and he worked for a powerful man that trusted him as a right hand.
"She's not my heiress," Julius correctly him sternly.
It was good to know she wasn't going to get everything, Troy mused to himself, but said nothing. Julius Little owned J. Little Standard Interests Consolidated. They had interests in well, just about everything on both sides of the law. Troy had started years before, when Julius was just making his money and he'd been nothing more than skinny kid was a knack for organization and getting to know the right people. He'd been sixteen when he started working for Julius, and here he was a decade later being asked to babysit his niece. He knew Julius respected him, but it felt like a slight being told he had to look after some girl as she went sightseeing.
Then again, if this was his job for a week or however long the girl was here to take her out during the day to go sightseeing, he wasn't going to complain. Things were hectic in the office, but they always were. He could use a break. The last time he'd took a day away was when he'd been in a car wreck and banged up pretty good for all that he'd tried to turn away from it. There was a scar on his left side because of it, but it never pained him. He had other, older wounds that did worse to him. He could use the time away. They'd go out during the days, have lunch and dinner and he could stop in to see what's what in the office after dropping her back at her hotel.
Tell the truth, he was more worried about what this would seem outwardly. Julius shunting him to the side to make him cart around his niece while he had no hand in the daily business -- that would make him seem weak. Troy had worked hard for Julius over the years, and built up his own reputation. Recently, he'd gotten the feeling that Julius was making moves without him, and though he'd tried to sniff around it never came to anything. Maybe he was just paranoid, but Troy usually had a good sense for these things.
"She's on a holiday. I think she wants to come live here, because she's been asking about it but I've been putting her off," Julius said and heaved a heavy sigh. "She's a cancelled stamp, Troy." His boss surprised him with that admission, and it was hard for him to imagine anyone related to Julius having a shy and retiring personality, but charm didn't always run in families. Troy returned his attention to Julius, who'd resumed speaking.
"I need to find her a husband. She's been lonely since her mama died, so I told her she could come for a visit. She's a young woman now, I guess, but I can't say how old she is. Seventeen? Maybe twenty? Never could keep up with that. I wish my brother were still here at least, but that girl's got no one but me left for blood now."
He could hear what Julius wasn't saying, that he trusted Troy with his only living relative. Trusting him with a young girl that stood to inherit more money than he could count from the business where he'd worked for most of his adult life. He wanted to see this is a vote of confidence, but it still felt like babysitting, and it rankled within Troy, even as he agreed to it.
Troy looked at Julius, with his big, confident personality contrasted by the neatness of his dark suit, the absolutely straight part down the center of his curly hair, both sides of it styled into slick fingerwaves. He was one of the few really successful colored businessmen in America; him and his longtime rival and one time partner, Ben King. Julius looked tired, too many long days and nights spent overseeing everything, then going to whatever social obligations pulled on him. Troy knew the routine well, because his steps were the same, the long days that wore on Julius also belonged to Troy, as did the success and the accolades. Logically, it followed that this familial responsibility fell to Troy as well. He straightened his spine and met Julius's gaze.
"I'll take care of her, Julius."
"Make sure you do. Nothing happens to her, you hear me? Do whatever she wants. Funds and the use of a company motorcar will be made available."
Julius got up and dismissed him, but then called him back to say, "She'll be here tomorrow morning, according to the telegram they sent me this morning. It's her and her chaperone. Meet them at the station. They're coming the Pennsy line from Jersey."
Troy got the rest of the details from the secretary that worked for Julius, and then sighed. Julius had said this girl would be arriving tomorrow morning, and if he was reading the information right, she'd be there just before noon. He had a lot of work to get done before then. The telegram was signed with love from Elle. He hoped that name was good enough to know her by tomorrow.
He had to think of what to do with this kid before she showed up tomorrow.
Miss Elle Baker yawned as her train pulled into New York City, just after eleven am the following morning. She always hated the traveling part of going to a new place, it was so tedious to ride trains and ships about, but once she was there, it was always better than being at home. Home was so boring, and far away from everything good that happened. She couldn't stand that there was no place to dance and the newspapers from New York ran a day behind. It made sense to come to the city instead of letting her life pass her by.
She was glad to be leaving New Jersey. There was nothing wrong with it, of course, but it just wasn't New York, was it? What was the point of being so close to New York and not being able to be involved with it? Her father had rode the rails in from their home to his apartment in the city every week until he died. She'd been ten when he collapsed and they hadn't been able to revive him. Come to think on it, that was the last time she'd seen her Uncle Julius before her mother's funeral, seven years later. Her mother had died of fever, leaving Elle even more money than was in the trust from her father so that her fortune wasn't merely sizable, it was substantial.
The porter came to help her unload her luggage from the car, and Elle and Aunt Lucy, started to direct the porter as he took their bags. They had a good number of them, because Elle was planning on staying for a while and Aunt Lucy just liked hats. She may have told Uncle Julius this was a holiday, but she had plans, and she didn't care to share them with him until she knew more about him. Experience had taught Elle to be shrewder than men expected of her, and unexpected in other ways. She refrained from sighing, though she wanted to do so as she thought on the task ahead. There were so many things she needed, not the least of which was a cigarette and a strong drink.
Getting off the train at Penn Station was always so wonderful. Penn Station was beautiful and grand, and she could look for hours at the ceilings and the floors, watching people as they went by, to and from the city. Grand Central with it's zodiac ceilings and marble was beautiful too, but she adored the spacious, bustling Penn Station even more, with its sublime columns and faceted ceiling. She loved disembarking at Penn Station, and it was near where she'd be staying for the duration of her visit. At least until she could set herself up someplace else.
There was a man in a beautiful grey day suit with a pink shirt with the fashionable white cuffs and collar, and a dark grey tie and matching hat waiting on the platform. The suit was perfectly tailored, and in the best and latest style. Oh, well he no broody Parisian, but he was certainly stylish, in his brash, American way. He was waiting for her, she knew, because he looked like he worked with Uncle Julius. She just got that feeling from him, the way he looked as if he was casually waiting around, but the darting of his quick eyes game him away. He was a white boy, but better turned out than most of them she'd ever met, clean shaven save for a neat, pencil-thin mustache, but had a somewhat weak chin. The effect of the chin was offset by the broadness of his shoulders, he looked like a man that could do extremely physical work, even if he didn't do it now.
Elle went right up to him and though he didn't try to speak until she came closer, she saw him straighten up from his slouch and shoot his cuffs. Her hips wiggled of their own accord as she drew nearer, already flirting before she'd opened her mouth. "Did my Uncle Julius send you?" she asked, looking him up and down as he did the same to her.
"Are you Miss Elle Baker?" he asked and she trilled a pleased response to him. At least someone remembered that her father's name had been Baker, not Little. Aunt Lucy came up beside her and looked at the man.
"Aunt Lucy, Uncle Julius has sent us a man. Hopefully he has a motorcar to get us to our hotel," Elle explained loudly. Aunt Lucy was hard of hearing, especially in crowded places like this, and nodded.
"I do have a motor, Miss Baker. How many bags do you have?" he asked, and then looked at the porter that had been silently trailing behind her.
"Many more than can be conveyed in just one car, mister...? I didn't catch your name," she said, smiling flirtatiously at him. He was cute, and not too old for her, she hoped. She took another look at him and amended the way she'd addressed him. There was something about the way he stood, how he favored one side over the other, ever so slightly even when standing straight. "Or do you prefer to be addressed by your rank, soldier?"
"Please, no, Miss. I'm not a solider anymore, and I'd rather not be reminded. I'm Troy Bradshaw. Your uncle has entrusted me with your care while you're on holiday," he told her. She had suppress a wild fit of giggles that wanted to burst forth from her. This man was supposed to keep track of her for Julius the whole time she was here? He'd better be ready for a lifetime then, because she wasn't of a mind to go back to Jersey.
"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Bradshaw. Aunt Lucy and I are booked at the Aberdeen, and these are all of our bags. Can you please get us a taxi or two?"
He nodded, then gave her a look. It was a strange thing, full of words he wanted to say and questions it probably wasn't polite to ask, but he wanted to know the answers anyway. She let a small laugh escape her and said, "I know, I'm taller than you were expecting," and strode off with Aunt Lucy tottering in her wake.
She was taller than he'd expected.
That girl was definitely not a cancelled stamp; she was a flapper if he'd ever seen one. All she needed was to plunked down in the middle of a smoky club with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and she'd be right where she belonged. Julius had made him expect a shy young girl, and this was definitely a woman. As they rode in the car together, with her Aunt Lucy in the backseat and two taxis full of luggage following behind them, Troy wondered just what was actually going on. This girl had plans for more than a holiday, it looked like she was moving to the city. Hell, it seemed like she was ready to try to take over New York.
"Oh my, there are still a few buggies on the roads here, aren't there?" Aunt Lucy said from the backseat.
"Yes, but they aren't used too much in Manhattan these days. Nearly everyone prefers the motors," he answered.
"She can't hear you," Miss Baker said. "She just likes making conversation."
"I'm not Ellie's real aunt you know, but I do like traveling. Never been fond of horses though, too tall," Aunt Lucy said.
In response to this, Miss Baker turned around and gave Aunt Lucy a smile, then made some motions with her hands. Aunt Lucy, he saw, returned them and then nodded. She watched with a smile on her face as they crawled through the midday traffic along the few blocks to the Aberdeen Hotel. When she turned back to the front, Troy caught a whiff of French perfume. He didn't know the name, but he'd smelled it before, usually when he was hobnobbing with the rich set Julius always was trying to court in some way or another.
"What was that?" Troy asked.
"Sign language. It's easier for her to understand at times. She can hear some things, but it's hard when there's lots of noise," she explained. The city fairly seemed to hum with noise from all quarters. As if to underscore her point, a blast of yelling came from a man coming out of a shopfront not too far ahead of them. Someone yelled back, and the man threw up his hands in exasperation and went back inside of the shop.
"She's not your aunt?" he asked, giving her a sly look.
She'd flirted with him earlier, in the station, and he had to admit, she was a pretty thing. Tall, like she'd said, but nice legs shown off by her dress that only came down to her knees. He knew it was the style now, but damn if it wasn't distracting. Her traveling suit was a pale blue color and she wore an off white cloche on her head, and matching off white gloves. She looked respectable, pretty and quite smart. But there was mischief in her brown eyes, and a hard edge he knew too well. She wanted to rise to the top, he could feel and see her ambition as if it were written in her skin, and damn if it wasn't alluring. Perhaps it was like calling to like, but it made Troy a little dizzy every time he locked eyes with her.
Her response was a soft laugh that was almost caught in the noise of the engine as they drove along. "No, but she's from my church. We've been everywhere together since my mama died. It's nice to have a chaperone, and she does like traveling. She bears it better than I do, if I'm honest. But I much prefer you, if you're asking. I think you and I will get along well."
She was bold, and Troy had to admire it. She was more like Julius than she knew. From the way both of them talked about the other, he'd realized that they didn't know each other well. But now, he had to figure out what Miss Baker was doing here in New York City, right now, and why it looked like she was not at all on a holiday.
"Lucy loved Paris. We both loved France. The lavender fields are growing again in the south, Mr. Bradshaw. Did you ever see them in their glory?"
"No," he replied shortly. It came out ruder than he intended, but he hated to talk about France. He realized how he'd sounded, and he tried to amend his answer so he wouldn't think she'd caused him offense, but couldn't think of anything besides to ask the obvious, "You were recently in Paris?"
"Oh yes, la," she laughed. "I spent a little over a year there, came back to New Jersey, hated it and here I am. Rolling stone and all of that."
They must have loved her in Paris. She was tall, slender and her face had such a delicate structure that she almost looked like a painting. It was hard to see any relation to Julius in her at all, save for only the most obvious outward similarities. She had rich, expressive brown eyes, and skin that shown like brown silk in the sunlight. Miss Baker turned her high cheekbones and wide smile on him again, after she'd looked over her shoulder to check on Aunt Lucy once more.
"I thought you smelled like French perfume," he said, and laughed. Normally, he wouldn't say such things, but he had a feeling she appreciated it. He liked the girl, probably too much.
He was rewarded when she let out her soft laugh once more and said simply, "Arpège," naming one of the most expensive perfumes out there, but likely not as expensive in France as it was to have it shipped to New York. She pronounced it with a throaty, perfect accent that sounded as if she'd never spoken a word of English.
Troy stopped behind a slow moving car and stole another look at her lean legs, crossed properly at the ankle. He did like her too much, too quickly, but it had been a long time since attraction had taken him like this. It burned in a way that he'd thought he'd lost when his fiance married another man while he was getting his leg shot in the war. She made him feel like himself again, with just her fluttering eyelashes and flashes of leg and soft giggles.
They pulled up the limestone and brick face of the Aberdeen with the two taxis of luggage trundling behind them, and Troy helped first Miss Baker and then Aunt Lucy from the car. He turned to oversee the handling of the luggage, but she put a finger to his elbow to hold him back. Just one gloved finger, but he felt like there were sparks coming from where she'd touched him.
"No, the porter shall do that. Come on in and we'll see about getting tea sent up so Aunt Lucy can get to her nap and you and I can speak freely."
Intrigued, Troy followed her into the foyer of the Aberdeen Hotel. He was wondered what she could possibly want to talk to him about without Aunt Lucy hearing.
She'd picked the Aberdeen for several reasons, for location, and convenience, but mostly because female guests weren't subjected to rules about when they could come and go and didn't need a husband or a father to oversee them. So many hotels made it difficult for single women visitors, and Elle needed as much freedom as she could possible get in New York. For all of its sophistication and reputation, it was still so very conservative here, and she chafed at the bonds. Not for the first time, she wondered if she should have gone west to Hollywood, but she had no desire to be in the pictures.
They were checked in, and they took Mr. Bradshaw's name as a trusted emissary from her uncle, then a light luncheon for three was ordered to the room and the bags were brought up not long after the bags arrived. Mr. Bradshaw hovered over the porters bringing up the bags and tipped them after it was done. He did the same for the waiter with the food, and Elle decided that she rather liked a man who rewarded work generously, even if he was probably doing it with money that was from Uncle Julius for just that purpose.
The set of rooms reserved for her was beyond her expectations really. Aunt Lucy had her own small room off to the side next to the bath they both shared. There was a fully furnished parlor room for entertaining, and her own big bedroom. It was a lovely set up, and Elle was checked in for two weeks. He'd raised an eyebrow at that, but said nothing.
She liked the look of the room, but she couldn't escape a wistful remembrance of Paris. This room had comfortable, if not very modern furniture, but it was clean and the amenities very well made. The hanging artwork was updated, and there it had more nouveau touches, as if the nod to recently faded trend was to be kept confined to the walls. She wondered if the new deco style would push them into changing, or if they would hang stolidly onto their traditionalism. She suspected the latter, and though it was comfortable it was boring, but that seemed to be the norm here.
Uncle Julius' man was watching her as she and Aunt Lucy settled in for lunch. Manners prevented her from staring back, but she did want to, just because she liked the look of him. Elle felt his eyes on her as they sat together at the table, after she'd adjourned to the bath for a quick refresh. Her hat and gloves were now gone, but she kept on her traveling dress -- there was no point in getting out of it right now. Aunt Lucy was already portioning out the food for them, her own plate heaped with evidence that she preferred the sweet over the savory items brought up. It was just the opposite for Elle.
Mr. Bradshaw was a man that liked flattering women, and he proceeded to ply Aunt Lucy with smiles and food, until she was positively beaming over her tea at him. He was cute as he did, but Elle made sure to brush her leg against his ever so gently as they had lunch at the table. At first he caught her eye and gave her a strained look, but she only smiled. Every brush after that she ignored, as if it had happened on accident. Nothing in her life happened on accident.
"I'm going to hang up my clothes and maybe rest my eyes," Aunt Lucy announced, her eyes already half-closed over a lukewarm cup of tea. She got up with Mr. Bradshaw's assistance, and left them alone in the parlor for the first time.
He lost no time in turning to her and saying, "Not that I mind very much, but what's really going on?"
"I'm of a mind to stay in New York, Mr. Bradshaw. I like the city, I have a fortune and I don't want to get married. Now, as for what's happening between the two of us, only we can say," she stopped and leaned over, taking off her shoes. He watched her as she did it, and she let the front of her dress gap to reveal her modest décolletage. His eyes didn't turn away.
She set the shoes neatly to the side of her chair and then walked in her silk stocking clad feet over to where he stood on the other side of the room. He was leaning against the wall that bordered Aunt Lucy's room, in the same faux casual pose he'd assumed at the train station. They stood face to face, and she was only slightly shorter than he was out of her shoes. With his hands clenched at his sides, she wasn't sure if he was trying not to push her away or keep from touching her, but it didn't matter. In a few moments she'd know all she'd ever need to about him. Elle smiled up at him, and watched his Adam's apple bob up and down as he gulped visibly.
"What is it you want to happen between us, Miss Baker?" he asked, his voice too careful and too bland to fool her.
"Two things: the first is business. I have a case of very good champagne coming from France, and I would appreciate it if it wasn't thrown into the sea or whatever they do with all the good liquor we aren't supposed to drink anymore. I know Uncle can take care of it, so I hope that can all be settled," Elle said, and Troy nodded at her. The look in his eyes was hard, calculating. She'd given him that one, letting him know she knew about the different facets of her uncle's business, but also showing her own complicity in it.
"The second is far more delicate and hopefully more enjoyable than a crate of champagne." She paused to give him a smile before going on, looking up at him through her lashes. "You are alone with me, and unless I'm mistaken, Aunt Lucy is about to start snoring loudly in about two minutes and won't wake for hours. I have grown to like your smile over luncheon and I have Dutch Cap, an open mind and a free afternoon. But if you'd rather I looked somewhere else, I will be disappointed, but not offended."
She waited, unblinking, unflinching, as he considered her proposal. It was brazen to ask a man to bed as soon as she'd met him, but she bet that Troy Bradshaw wasn't the type of man that liked to keep playing games, and she was a woman that moved quickly. If he wanted her, he'd have her anyway, and if he didn't want her, it was better to know now before she wasted her time. She watched as he went through it in his mind, weighing all the pieces that mattered to him in small stacks until they fell out in her favor. Elle saw it happen on his face, the abandonment of some anxiety or care or loyalty to lust, to her, and couldn't help but smile.
"You'd better starting calling me Troy," he said, and then pulled her into a hard, demanding kiss that both calmed and stoked something within her. Oh yes, she'd read him perfectly Elle realized, as he led her, still kissing her hard, to the door of her adjoining bedroom.
These types of girls never wanted him. Well, they never wanted him in the daylight, and that's what mattered to him. Troy was used to being a bit of rough at night, the kind of man that no one took home to introduce to mother and was let out the back door well before morning. Or worse, when they had him come in the back like a tradesman there to do work at the house, but they wanted him to be a gentleman when it mattered. But Miss -- no, Elle, she wanted him and wasn't shy about it. The way she kissed him back was heady, intoxicating as French wine and just as good.
He didn't want to stop to think of why she was so forward, just appreciated that she was. Maybe her plan was to tell Julius, but he doubted that she'd be so idiotic, such a plan was doomed to fail and make her look the worse for it. It wasn't a premeditated plan, because she hadn't even known he was going to be at the station, and that spurred him forward. She wanted him, and she was brassy enough to ask, so he said yes. God, was he ever glad he'd said yes. She kissed like she ached for it, as if nothing in all the world could sate her hunger, but damn if he wasn't going to try. Her tongue swept into his mouth and threw him off-balance, they had to stop moving towards her room so he could right himself before he tripped over his own damn feet.
She stepped back and opened the door for him, then looked around the room. She hadn't been in it either he realized, except to direct where her luggage was set down. She went straight to a bag and took out something white, folded it over an arm and put the bag away. Scanning the room, she found her hard travel case and picked it up, took something out and left it on the bedside table, then pointed him to the closet.
"That suit doesn't look like it came off the rack from RH Macy's, Mr. Bradshaw. You should hang it so it doesn't wrinkle, and I'll just pop out and take care of my end of things. If you like I've left a packet, oh I don't know what they call them here in New York, but in England it was 'a little something for the weekend', and the French were, as always, more poetic but I don't think you speak French. You'll see it."
He didn't speak French, but he knew what she meant and quite frankly, was more than a little surprised by it. Elle took her leave of him and the room and Troy started to take off his suit. When he looked over at the bed table, there was a condom on top of it, just as she'd said. The writing on it was French, so she must have brought it with her from overseas. They were damn hard to get here, just this side of legal, and certainly not for young ladies to carry around.
There was a niggling fear in the back of his mind that she'd come back to the room and find him naked and say that the game was over. He fervently hoped not for so many reasons, but mostly because he wanted this. The last woman Troy had been with was a prostitute down in Chinatown. He both liked and abhorred paying for women; it appealed to his cynical side to know the cost upfront, but he hated feeling like a customer. Despite who she was and her forwardness in everything, he still wanted this more than he probably should.
Troy had lingered too long thinking about the condom and other things, because she came back before he was undressed. Clad in a white silk robe with a delicate pink and green vine print on it, she took his breath away. Her hair was down, it had been bound up in the back before, tucked under the soft Marcel waves that framed her narrow face. It now hung loose, past her shoulders in a thick, black wave. There wasn't much more to see than her bare feet, the legs he'd already admired and the skin that wasn't hidden by the white robe, but it was an intimate enough visual that Troy felt a renewed wave of want slide through his veins like the aftermath of very good gin.
"You're gorgeous," Troy breathed, and meant it. She looked like an angel. Elle smiled at him, warm and inviting, and came over to help him undress. His suit jacket and shoes were off, his tie loose, but aside from unbuttoning his waistcoat, he hadn't gotten any further.
She did it, undressing him with a familiarity that came from practice. He didn't exactly recall it for the most part, because there were two sets of hands, and her lips and giggles as she helped take off his clothes. She was no virgin, that was plain in her knowledge of how to quickly undress a man. He'd wondered for a split second, but had dismissed the thought because she'd been so bold in propositioning him. In just a few more minutes they were both naked and in the bed, and she was helping his fumbling hands tie the ribbon around the end of the condom.
She was all smooth, dark brown skin and angles softened with only the slightest curves. Tall and straight except for the slight widening flare of her hips, Elle was decidedly prettier without her clothes encumbering her than with them. Naked, she was a study of sinuous lines that traced her musculature, curves too modest to really appreciate when swathed in fabric. Her breasts weren't generously proportioned but they were sweetly responsive to Troy's touch, pebbling as he drew the pad of his thumb over one, then the other in turn. He kissed them, sucking softly on each and back again and heard Elle swear in French, words he actually knew.
Slipping a finger inside of her, it was Troy's turn to swear at the exquisite wet heat and tightness of her. They were both definitely ready, and he turned her onto all fours at the edge of the bed and lined up behind her. A single finger stroked her just there, back and forth gently as he caressed her swollen, puffy lips until he found the hard nub he was looking for and circled it a few times until he felt her shudder. He pushed into her then, sliding in slow and relishing every blessed inch as she took him in. God above, this was absolute bliss. His name on a soft whisper came to him, and he started to rock slowly against her, letting his hand go back to the spot he'd found before and finding her nub even harder and bigger than it had been before.
He felt her start to shiver just before her marbles cracked, and Troy groaned as she tightened around him. He'd been teasing Elle with short, shallow strokes while his hand did most of the work. She cried out softly, his name and flurry of French he didn't quite catch. He let her ride that blissful wave for few seconds, letting her tight clench around him start his own descent. It quickly wasn't enough just to feel her slight rocking and quavering tremors, so Troy wiped his hand on the sheet and gripped her hips with both hands before ramming home. Elle rocked back to meet him on his next stroke, and Troy saw white light flash in front of his eyes as he thrust hard into her. They were both moaning as they continued to speed up, gibberish about how lovely she was spilling unchecked from his mouth. He couldn't shut up until he finished, panting hard as he thrust to completion against her lovely, upturned ass.
Troy pulled out and leaned down to kiss her on the shoulder. He needed the packet for this thing so he could take it off and toss it. He'd have to take it out of the hotel, because liberal policies or not, they weren't likely to look kindly on their newest single lady guest having him in her room less than two hours since she'd checked in. Maybe she had a brown bag for him to put it in later.
Later, he'd worry about that and what he'd gotten himself into, but for now he settled down onto the bed with her in it and tried to catch his breath.
She lay next to him, trying to calm herself when her whole body felt like a live wire. Troy was one of the best she'd ever been with, and there had been quite a few in her past. He was vigorous, and so very good at this that she might have to let him have her again. Possibly more than just once more. She had a feeling he'd held back on her this first time, and she was determined to wring more from him than just silly nonsense about her 'loveliness'.
Given time to recover, Troy settled against her bed and closed his eyes. She wondered if he would talk or if he would just run out the door. Either way mattered little to her, though she would be amused if he ran to Julius and confessed. It wasn't a likely scenario, but it still might happen if he was loyal, very guilty and unusually stupid. He didn't strike her as stupid, but one never knew. Elle was content to watch and wait when Troy unexpectedly pulled her hand to his mouth and placed a kiss on her knuckles, as if he were just greeting her. Elle grinned at the unexpected gesture and rolled to face him on the bed. There was sweat still on his brow, but not a hair on his head was out of place.
"How long have you been with Little Standard?" she asked, and she felt Troy tense up beside her.
"About ten years now, though I was drafted into the war and overseas for a while."
"Did you know my father?" she asked, and he rolled over onto his side and gave her a small, sympathetic smile. He was still suspicious of her, but better he think that her questions came from someone eager for familial connections rather than show her true motives.
"He was a good man. Sweet Jack Baker," he chuckled, recalling her father's nickname. "I'm sorry for your loss." He was quiet for a moment but then asked, "He said his daughter was near to my age, but Julius said you were twenty. How old are you?"
"And you don't want to be married?" he asked, and she frowned.
"Are you offering?" she asked, and laughed at the widening of his eyes. "Well if not, then you probably shouldn't ask while you're still in my bed. I might take it the wrong way." She was certain her tone of voice conveyed that she would never take it the wrong way, but she said it to put him off the subject. "What's on the agenda for tomorrow?" she asked.
"I should take you to see the city," he began, but Elle cut him off.
"I don't care much for sightseeing, mister, oh, la, sorry, I mean my darling Troy," she said, correcting herself mid-sentence. "And my father took me to see all of the important things when I was a girl."
"Julius wanted me to show you around. I should at least try to help you find your way," he said thoughtfully. Elle scooted towards him and moved her body close enough to his that they were just nearly touching, her hot skin so near his that she could feel his heat mingling with her own. Without thought his hand began to stoke up and down her side and she returned the caress with her foot, one gently brushing up and down his leg in a mimicking movement.
He wasn't modest, and she enjoyed that. There was no telling her to close her eyes, and yes that had happened to her more than once, and he wasn't scrambling for the blanket. It was just him laying there, his particulars spent and softening but unashamed as he lay next to her. Troy looked younger now, without all the fancy clothes and hat and the glowering edge taken off of him by their coupling. His smile, though still fleeting, came a little easier when they spoke.
"There's a few buildings that are new since my last visit. I wouldn't mind seeing them," Elle said, conceding to him. If she didn't play along, she might lose him. Troy was far too handsome and willing for her to let go of him after only just acquiring him.
"It amazes me how much New York can change in the blink of an eye," Troy said.
""All things, whether they're cities, businesses or people should change. I like that New York does," Elle said.
"You're a canny one," Troy commented, drawing a circle on her hip with the tip of his finger.
"I'm smart enough about some things. Tell me something, why didn't my uncle come today?"
"He had some meetings he couldn't get out of. I could, so he sent me instead," Troy said, his voice just a shade too tight as he told her.
"Troy, I'm not trying to pry, just wondering. It's my good fortune you were here. I wouldn't have had such an enjoyable afternoon if it had just been lunch with Uncle Julius and Aunt Lucy," she said, rolling slightly to kiss him on the bicep. His eyes were closed as he lay on his back, but his hand continued its lazy caresses. He wasn't in any hurry to leave, she noticed.
"It's my job to be suspicious of people," he answered.
"I think you must be very good at it, and you're probably right in my case," Elle answered.
"Shouldn't I trust you?" he asked, opening his eyes to give her a very hard look. She shook her head and laughed merrily.
"Not at all, Mr. Bradshaw. I never said I was trustworthy, just that I wasn't trying to pry right now."
"You're all mixed up, Miss Baker."
"I've been called worse things," she admitted and shrugged. "I like you, so I'll probably only lie to you a little." Troy laughed, a wispy chuckle that sounded like the cigarettes he smoked and the gin he drank, but not as it he ever really used it.
He pulled her closer and whispered, "You want to go again?"
It was a question that neither he nor Elle really had to think about the answer, because it was obvious to both of them.
Elle was going to be the woman of his dreams or a huge problem, probably both at the same time. Troy knew it the moment he walked back into the Little Standard offices and found Julius to report to him. The problem was he had no problem lying to his boss while he was still coated in sweat from having his niece twice on her bed at the Aberdeen. Hell, he would have gone for three times if he'd been able to manage it. Julius wasn't even really interested in what they'd done together, he simply wanted to confirm that she'd arrived safe and wasn't going to require much of his attention. When Troy mentioned taking her out for dinner, because she was of age and should go out, Julius simply waved a hand at him and told him to 'ask Dexter for some more cash' and dismissed him.
Troy went to his desk and took off his jacket. He was still far too warm and he wanted a bath he wasn't going to get until much later. His rooms had a shared bath, and if he were lucky no one would be in there when he got in tonight. Any energy he'd possessed was well past drained, worn off by the two vigorous bouts with Elle and the accompanying languor afterwards. He should have slept in her bed before coming back to work, but he didn't want the hotel to be suspicious of him. He'd lingered too long with her as it was, if it hadn't been for Aunt Lucy in the same rooms, he would have been kicked out.
"Hey Troy, heard Julius dumped the heiress on you," Johnny said by way of greeting when he got back.
Johnny Gat was a man no one knew very well, but many people rightly feared. Working for Julius nearly as long as Troy had, there was no one at Little Standard that meted out violence better. He liked guns, dating beautiful women and drinking, and that's about all Troy or anyone else knew about him. They drank together, sure, and they were friendly enough, but he wouldn't call him a bosom buddy.
"She's not bad. Older than he thought, so I had to change the plans a little," Troy admitted.
"Truly? Too bad she's Julius's niece. You could use a date," Johnny said, looking down at his nails with a frown. He was ribbing Troy as he always did. His humor had edges, but Troy took it to mean things were well enough between them. If they hadn't been, Johnny wouldn't bother talking before he shot him.
"Maybe she'll be practice for all the other heiresses I take out," Troy said and then both he and Johnny laughed.
"Bring her to Eesh's set at the club, if she's the type."
Troy made sure to lower his voice before he spoke and said, "She asked me to make sure her case of champagne came through, so I'm guessing she's the type to go drinking and dancing." Johnny laughed again, this time with more bewilderment. He hadn't met her, didn't know what a whirlwind of a woman she was, so he was just going by the erroneous picture of her painted by Julius. He had no idea.
"Let me meet this girl. I might even like her," Johnny said and walked away. He turned back to Troy and added, "I can take care of her delivery. When's this bubbly coming in?"
Troy gave him the details that Elle told him before he left the Aberdeen and then sat down at his desk. The big window was just to his left and he looked out of it, seeing nothing and letting his mind wander back to the afternoon. What work he managed was cursory, and he desperately wanted to go home not even two hours after coming in. His mind, usually so sharp and quick when dealing with problems was sluggish and prone to drifting back to the Aberdeen, wondering what Elle was doing now and what she'd be like when he saw her again tomorrow.
If he was taking her to the club tomorrow evening, he'd better tell her in advance, and find Dexter Jackson so he could get the money for it. He got up and walked over to where Dex sat, looking harried at his desk. He hated to disturb him, but it was better to get this out of the way before tomorrow. He greeted him in a quiet voice, not wanting the whole of the office to hear what was going on. Dexter in his neat suit, wrinkled his nose as Troy interrupted him.
"Sorry to bother you," Troy said. Dexter looked Troy up and down and then sighed.
"Need some funds, Dex," Troy began again, but Dexter looked at him with a hard stare. He got up from the desk and pulled Troy into a corner, none too gently.
"Have you lost your mind?" he asked, whispering. His dark eyes were narrowed and he almost looked angry, which was unusual for the even-keeled Dex.
"Put your jacket back on and smoke a cigarette. Smoke a couple. Better yet, go home. I'll get you the money, sure, but you need to do something now before Julius gets a good whiff of you," Dexter said through clenched teeth. "You smell like you been laying up with a girl that likes expensive perfume, and since you just met his rich niece, I don't think it's going to be hard for him to put it together."
Ah shit, Elle's Arpège, so beguiling on her had clung to him through all the sweat. Well, no wonder he couldn't get her off of his mind. But Dex was right, Julius, if he found out would likely have Troy floating in the East River and out to sea within an hour. Troy backed away as Dexter shook his head at him. Troy couldn't think of anything to say, so he merely shrugged at Dexter, who finally let go of his arm.
"What were you thinking? No, don't answer that, whatever you were thinking isn't worth knowing. The better question is what's wrong with you?" Dexter asked in exasperation.
Troy just shook his head. There was nothing wrong with him, in fact, aside from Dexter's overly keen sense of smell, everything was better -- much better than it had been -- for him. A little bit of play was always good for the mind, body and spirit, much as he liked to pretend it didn't matter when he was hard up. Dex was still giving him a very disappointed grimace and all he could do was look away. He had no explanation for what he'd done, but there was no regret in him either. He didn't know why he'd gone to bed with her, only that he had and it had been amazing. When pressed for a good reason, he simply didn't have one other than 'she propositioned him and he accepted eagerly' and he didn't think that would hold water with Dex, so he just said nothing at all. He wasn't even going to try to mollify him by saying it was over, because he desperately hoped it wasn't.
"I hope she's worth it," he said and turned back to his work.
Troy did too.
Her first order of business after getting out of bed with the enjoyable Troy was sending a cable to Ben King over in Paris. He should know she was in New York, even if he didn't answer her. He said he was done with Julius, but she doubted it. No one could betray a man that thoroughly and then just be done with it. It seemed her Uncle Julius had a problem with that, first her father, then Ben King. King was lucky he was still alive.
Then she needed to find an apartment to let, and to get a radio. Maybe the radio first so she could listen to music. She missed music, and the radio played the orchestra at the very least. But the apartment had to happen soon, and she wouldn't be sharing rooms at some boarding house for a dollar a week. She had to have her own space. Elle stopped down to the front desk while Aunt Lucy was still sleeping and got directions to the nearest newsstand and picked up all of the newspapers and magazines.
For her message to King, she asked the newsie for directions to the Western Union, and went there on her own, instead of having the hotel send it. She wanted nothing to be too easily connected to her, and if Uncle Julius asked the front desk about her comings and goings, or what she may or may not sending, they'd likely tell him. The spring this year was cold, but she didn't take a cab the block and a half to the Western Union office. Elle walked in the brisk air, letting herself feel the city under her feet, the cool wind of the day scoured the places on her skin that still burned from Troy's kisses. She thought about him all the way back to the Aberdeen, though her thoughts did drift to food as she entered the warm foyer and her stomach grumbled. It felt like she was always wanting something, and it was either food, liquor or sex with her, when she wasn't too distracted with her plans.
Aunt Lucy was just rising when Elle came back in, flush with her newspapers, magazines and the pulps for Lucy. Aunt Lucy was a wonderful companion, she didn't mind having a drink or two, went to bed early and told Elle stories about her parents when they'd first met. She wasn't quite family -- all she had left for blood was Julius and a few distant cousins on her mother's side, and her only first cousin, April, that had moved out to California to look for gold and wound up married instead. Not for the first time, Elle thought about writing to April, but decided against it. However close they may have been, her cousin would be unimpressed with her taking up with men and wearing short skirts.
"Aunt Lucy, I've got your pulps," Elle said as she sat down in the parlor. Lucy came out, saw the remains of lunch had been removed while she was sleeping and Elle was out and let out a disappointed sigh.
"I had hoped there would be some food left," she said loudly and then looked around again, "Is the cute white boy gone?"
"Yes," she replied just as loudly and then said. "I went to take a walk to get to know the area around Herald Square."
"You should have woken me," Lucy answered, in a voice so loud she looked sheepish afterwards. Elle didn't mind; it was hard to control the sound of your voice when you couldn't hear it that well, and she was used to it. Her mother had been completely deaf.
Elle switched to signing for her answer. Best not to be overheard if one could help it. "I had to send a message to King and I told him about Troy. Troy will be back tomorrow. He works for uncle, and is to keep track of us."
"Will he be a problem?" Lucy asked, she too switching to signing.
"Not at all," Elle said. "I think he likes me."
"I saw the way he kissed you," Lucy answered. "I know he likes you." Elle dropped her gaze but couldn't hold back her grin. Lucy laughed, making Elle look up again and resumed signing. "Be careful. This isn't Paris."
Elle nodded. No, it certainly wasn't Paris. Here she was playing for much higher stakes.
Spring hadn't yet come to Paris. It was rainy, dark and the whole city seemed to be in the grip of a foul mood waiting on it to arrive. He'd been here for nearly two years and knew once the first flower opened, the people of the city would perk right up as if the flower were tied to all of their collective good cheer. Maybe he was included in that now, but he doubted it. It was almost time for him to move on, after all, Elle had left and he had little reason to stay in one place now.
Ben King wasn't waiting for the cable to come, but he was expecting it. It came just after he'd taken a rather good dinner in Montparnasse with an old singer he'd come to know. The war had ruined his chances of true stardom, but he performed around the city quite regularly, enough that he was well-known. Back in the day, King would have taken that as a sign to go on and start managing acts again, as he had for a short time in New York. But he never mentioned it to the man and maintained a friendship instead, getting in free to his shows and enjoying the spectacle rather than running it. King crossed the marble tiled lobby of the hotel where he lived and heard his name called out by the boy at the desk. The cable was handed to him with some subtle ceremony, and Ben thanked him with a gracious nod. The message was short when he got it, but he couldn't help but smile.
In NYC STOP. Not seen Julius STOP. At Aberdeen STOP. Let Bradshaw dip biscuit STOP. Send Bordeaux STOP. Love Elle.
He nearly laughed aloud at her English translation of the somewhat rude French phrase, but he knew what she meant. Elle Baker wasn't his niece, but Sweet Jack had been like a brother to him all the same, so Ben was a little appalled that she'd written that in her telegram. But he'd known her in Paris and she'd never been one to hide her affairs. She'd taken to the city and its people like no one else he'd ever met. They'd loved her here, and she'd loved them right back in just the same way.
Sweet Jack had been the same. Handsome in a way that neither he nor Julius could ever touch, athletic and blessed with a disarming smile. His daughter had all that and her mother's mind, the soft sweetness that her mother had used to win hearts, Elle hid behind layers of guile. She'd been left alone for too long; she was too young when her parents died. Now she was hard as a diamond and just as beautiful, but King worried for her all the same. She didn't need a husband, she needed peace, and he doubted she would find that in New York City.
King was a little concerned about why Bradshaw was there with her but since he obviously liked her, there probably wasn't much harm in it. It was just young people being young and Troy Bradshaw was a good choice. He had a quick mind and was decisive and judicious in his actions. He wanted to do the right thing most of the time, even if it was for the wrong reasons, he figured it all washed out in the end. He would be straight with her about her father and Julius, and maybe dissuade her from her foolish plan. Jack was gone. It was better if she went on with her life. He'd write back to her when he decided for sure whether or not he was leaving for another city, though it would be a shame to quit Paris with spring so nearby he could taste it.
Another week, he decided. If he didn't hear from her again, he'd come to New York himself, Julius be damned.
Troy lived in the same rooming house run by the same widow as he had when he came back from France. Before then he'd had plans to buy a brownstone with Fran, but when she got married it wasn't to him, so he let those ideas be put to bed. He took off his suit and sniffed it, and realized Dex had told him true. Under the smoke and sweat, he could smell that damn French perfume, so sweet it almost made him cry.
This day had to have been a dream. There was no other explanation for it, why a girl like Elle -- beautiful, sweet, rich and smart -- would want him as soon as she clapped eyes on him. He was going to wake up tomorrow and see his suit clean like he'd never worn it, hanging up and ready for him to go meet her at the train station. She'd be a nice girl, shy like Julius said, young. Even as he thought that, Troy frowned. He didn't want her to be different, not even if she was just his imagination running away with him. Kisses like that had to be real, it just couldn't be false.
When he woke up in the morning, he had a message delivered to him that Miss Elle Baker would like to meet with her uncle in the morning and then go shopping, if he was amenable. He was, and grinned at the invitation that had been delivered, written in her own hand on stationery from the Aberdeen Hotel. Troy most certainly didn't pick up yesterday's suit to smell the faint traces of perfume before handing it over for cleaning, but if he had, it didn't mean anything. Though his best suit had been taken up for washing by the widow he boarded with, he still wanted to look as nice as possible for the day, and he dressed with a care that was usually reserved for visits to his parents.
He met Elle at her hotel that morning, and they all braved through the traffic of midtown Manhattan in a taxi to go to the Little Standard offices. There was only a smattering of conversation, but Troy picked up on the fact that she wasn't at her best in the early mornings, and it was still early enough in the city that omnibuses full of people off to work in the factories were on the streets. When they were stopped at a traffic light, he looked over at the bus to find himself being stared at by a man with phossy jaw, his face lumpy with displaced bones and disfigured skin. Troy looked away after they accidentally locked eyes.
"Was he ever going to see me if I didn't come?" Elle asked, her voice cold as the cab pulled up outside the building. There wasn't much for parking in nearby, but there was a loading dock that was always available for a select few. If he needed a car, it would be back there. He might take one instead of having her and Lucy crammed into a cab with him for the whole day. The cabbie sat waiting for them to finish up, but not in any hurry.
"No," he said, and he was sure it was true. "He doesn't want you in the city."
"I won't bother him! What does he imagine I'll do?" she asked. Troy shrugged.
"I'm not sure. I don't know anything, Miss Baker, don't listen to me." He wasn't sure why he'd answered her so boldly, but he already regretted it. Troy made to get out of the car when she stopped him, putting a hand over his.
"Thank you for the truth. I guess I just expected more from him, I'm not sure why. Troy, I, oh, la, I guess I should call you Mr. Bradshaw in company. Just, I don't know, thanks for bringing us," she said. Her gaze dropped to where her hand covered his, but she didn't move it away.
For the first time that day, Troy took a good look at her. She was still just as pretty as she had been the day before when they'd met, but he saw more, or he felt like he did. She was tense, and he could see it now in the way her eyes looked dull but overburdened, as if she were trying to take everything in at once and it too much for her. The day dress she wore was a soft purple with pink dots, and he thought it especially pretty on her that morning. She looked like springtime, and her hat had flowers on it that matched the colors of her dress. Troy looked from her to Aunt Lucy, neat in a navy blue suit that was only a decade out of style, and smiled at them both.
"I'll tell you what, let's go on and get this over with and I'll take you and Aunt Lucy anywhere you want. Just the three of us," Troy promised.
Elle looked up to give him a smile and slid her hand from his. The loss of the warmth of her gloved hand was the least of what he missed, but he knew they had to get out of the cab sometime. Aunt Lucy looked up at him and then back at Elle and gave them an indulgent smile, but said nothing. Troy had a feeling she knew about him and Elle yesterday, for all that she was supposed to have been sleeping soundly.
The visit to the office was over in just a few minutes. Troy took Elle up to the offices, answering her questions about the building as he showed her around. He could run a tour for this place blindfolded without bumping into anything, that's how much time he spent in the Little Standard offices. Troy greeted the elevator operator, who looked over Elle and Aunt Lucy with undisguised interest, and finally took them to the highest floor, where Julius's office was. They went up to see Julius, who was in a meeting, so Troy introduced her to the rest of the executive office.
The rest of the upper office was mostly just his empty workspace, some typists, the secretaries and Dexter. Johnny came in later in the day than everyone else, doing whatever was needed out in the streets for Julius. Johnny didn't work well at a desk and tended to mostly check in. Troy knew what he did, he just didn't like to think about it overmuch. He wasn't a gangster, but he knew from experience that Julius didn't mind using their tactics whenever it would profit him. Sometimes he'd played the heavy in the past for Julius, when violence excited him. It didn't anymore, not after going to war.
"It's nice to meet you, Miss Baker," Dexter said. "And you, Mrs. Parker. How are you liking the city?" he asked.
Whatever Elle had told him about Aunt Lucy and the sign language was probably true, but she could definitely read lips. Troy saw her eyes watching mouths as people spoke, and she positioned herself so she could see as many faces as possible. Lucy didn't have to hear him for her to know what he was saying. She watched Dexter with interest as he made polite small talk, and sometimes signed a response to Elle for her to tell him. Why wasn't she talking when he knew she could?
Dexter barely included him while he talked with Aunt Lucy and Elle, and Troy took the chance to just watch all of them. Watching was one of his specialities. Elle was perfectly polite, poised and able to keep even Dexter charmed with her conversation, but he saw her looking around for Julius. They couldn't keep Dex from his work for too long, no matter how well she made conversation. Troy was just about to ask her if she'd like to see the lunchroom, the only other place he could think to take her, when Julius came out of his meeting and strode over to them.
They hugged an awkward, strained gesture that made the two of them grimace. It looked uncomfortable from the outside, but Troy simply watched them, waiting. Elle was taller than Julius and she towered over him, making the man puff up his chest in response. He was threatened by her, even if it was unconscious. Julius always thought of things in terms of whether or not it was a threat to him first, before thinking more rational thoughts, like realizing the girl couldn't help how tall she was.
"Well, girl, it's been a while since I seen you. You're taller," he said, and Troy almost groaned aloud.
"I suppose I am," Elle said, in a soft, polite voice. "It's good to see you, Uncle." She spun around on her heel and indicated the whole room. "What is it that you do here?" The way she asked it made Troy fairly certain she already knew, but wanted to hear it from Julius. Well, she might know most of it, but not everything they did.
"A little bit of business but I'm sure it's nothing you'd be interested in. I'll have Troy take you out for the day instead. You go to the clubs? Troy, take her to the Eight when she's settled in. You aren't a singer are you? Always looking for a good voice," he mused, not really looking for her to answer, though she did.
"Can't say that I am much of a singer or anything like that, but I do love to dance," Elle replied.
"I'll make sure Troy takes you dancing then. He's going to stay with you, you hear? If you need anything in the city, let them know you're my niece, and I'll take care of it," he said, and gave her a hard smile.
"Aunt Lucy," he almost smiled said her name, but wound up looking like he had a toothache. "Good to see you old girl." Lucy didn't get a hug but a polite kiss to her knuckles and a nod. She didn't answer him with anything but a fixed smile on her face.
Their mutual dislike was obvious, and Troy wanted to know why. It looked like it started long before Lucy and Elle arrived in the city. She must know him from a time before Troy did, a long time back. Or maybe it was just general dislike because of the way he treated Elle, especially after her father died. Either was likely, but it went two ways, so it made the former theory more applicable. He could ask Elle, try to find out, but she was cagey and didn't always answer him straight.
"Go on now so the office can get back to work. Maybe I'll see you at the Eight one of these nights. I should check with Lin more often." Julius was back looking at his pocket watch and telling Elle to "go enjoy the city with Troy," before handing her a wad of cash to keep her out of his hair. Troy watched the exchange, eagle-eyed, and realized it wasn't even that much money. A strange disappointment in Julius welled in him, as if Troy were seeing him the same way Elle did and found him lacking. He wasn't a bad boss, but as an uncle, as her last living family member, Julius wasn't amounting to much.
All in all it was over in less than fifteen minutes, and they were all heading to the back of the building to get a car in silence. Elle's face was pinched into a pensive look that made her displeasure visible. Troy took her hand when they got into the car and brushed a quick kiss over her knuckles before letting it go. Her hands were gloved, of course, but he remembered the skin beneath it, the strength of her soft hand as it ran over his body and he nearly shivered. His small act of defiant chivalry won his first true smile of the day from Elle.
"That was probably the best I could have hoped for," Elle said loudly enough for Aunt Lucy to hear. She gave a hard laugh and then turned to Troy. "Come on, I have an appointment I'd like to keep," she told him.
"I thought we were going shopping?" he asked, but started the car anyway as she gave him an address clear across town.
"I need an apartment. Shopping for apartments to let. A townhouse preferably," she mused.
"What's wrong with the Aberdeen?"
"A hotel isn't suited to my type of life, Troy. I need freedom from constraints, even the few issued by the Aberdeen. All I've ever wanted was freedom and truth." She'd realized she'd said too much when he gave her a sidelong look, and she smiled to herself before she went on. "Would you like to continue driving to the Aberdeen everyday or would you rather be someplace more private?" she asked, letting her voice drop on the last word.
She wanted him again, if not now then she had plans for another time. Troy let that thought take some of the edge away as he plunged into traffic. "I can't argue with you," he said and grinned at her.
"Wise not to," she said, and returned his smile.
Julius had placed Troy with for her protection as much as to keep her from getting underfoot, that much was clear to her after meeting with him. Troy had a gun; she'd taken it off of him yesterday when she'd undressed him and she'd watched him put his leg holster back on his good leg while he sat on the end of her bed. In that moment she hadn't really thought much about it. Whatever he needed a gun was for his business, and besides, it wasn't like she didn't have one as well.
Troy intrigued her. He said little most of the time, but she didn't think that was because he had nothing to say, but rather that he preferred to keep his own counsel. He resisted her attempts to get information, especially when she asked after his leg. It was a war wound, of that she was sure -- she'd seen shrapnel damage in the past. It didn't look like it had gone to the bone, for though he had a slight limp sometimes, it seemed to come and go and his injuries left his leg intact. The scars it left on him were angry, livid red marks that showed where his flesh was torn and mended, but without him telling her the story, her guesses weren't worth much.
He stayed with her as both bodyguard and babysitter, and something more. His eyes followed her when she walked around and when Elle smiled, he smiled back at her in a way he didn't at anyone else. He may have been told to be with her, but he enjoyed it because of her, and that meant something. It was through his presence that the man in charge of renting the townhouse decided to let her have it, reassured that Lucy was her chaperone and that she could in fact, pay for the entire six month lease up front.
After that he took her and Lucy to lunch at the Waldorf-Astoria to hear the music while they ate. Big orchestras were one of the things Aunt Lucy enjoyed the most, because they sounded like more than just fragments to her, and she had loved music in her youth. After lunch Troy dropped Lucy off at the Aberdeen for her customary nap, and he drove away with her in the car next to him and no real place to go in mind.
She studied him in the car, admired his neat, expensive suit though it wasn't the equal of the one he'd worn yesterday. Today his hat was a more everyday brown as was his suit, but his shirt and tie were both well-made and ironed to a crisp. His shoes were different too, and she appreciated that he took the time to be properly turned out before he came to get her. When she sat close to him, she could smell his shaving lotion, the clean, crisp scent of it that seemed so perfectly suited to him. Elle wondered what he'd be like in a week or a month, when they knew each other better.
"Let's go for a walk," Elle suggested, and then they rode in silence until he parked near Central Park. He was easy to be silent with, and she appreciated that as much as she liked his conversation.
They resumed their silence as they began to walk, until Troy spoke. "You want me to come to your townhouse?" he asked. His thoughts had obviously been taking turns similar to hers, thinking of things to come for the two of them.
"Yes, when it's ready." It would take a week for the landlord to get it ready for her, she'd insisted that the carpets be cleaned and the floors scrubbed again before she moved in. She realized what he meant after a moment and added, "I'd like it if you stayed the night."
"I thought maybe you had some uh, regrets, you know, about yesterday afternoon," he said.
"It's one of more pleasant memories, so I don't have any regrets." She paused to pretend she was thinking on it and then shook her head with a smile. "No, none at all. Do you?"
"No, miss. I like you a real lot, if you don't mind me saying," he confessed. The earnestness in his voice made her smile. He sounded so young with that small truth. She could hear the Brooklyn in his accent, and it made her wonder about his past. What had a younger Troy been like before he went to war? Before he met her uncle and started doing whatever it was he did for work there? Whenever she asked, he neatly avoided telling her too much, which just confirmed how important he was.
"Mr. Bradshaw, I'd be disappointed if you didn't like me at least as much as I like you. If you're worried about Uncle Julius, well, he did tell you to take care of me, and to stay with me. I don't think he needs to know more than that. The rest is our business alone." They passed the pond and she looked out over it, taking in the budding trees nearby.
"So you like me and I like you. You gonna tell me what brought you to New York?"
She shook her head at him. "Not today, try again tomorrow. Let's keep walking."
Elle slipped her arm through his as they walked, letting him lead her through the unfamiliar paths and turns. She could still see and hear the city, but it was around the edges of all that green, like a distant memory on the fringes of tranquility. Walking with Troy was a delightful distraction for her. He was so unexpectedly warm, his touch so hesitating yet so sure when he finally got confirmation that yes, she liked him. He was so sweet, it was hard to believe he was real, but then she remembered that he worked for Julius and her father, who despite her love and admiration, hadn't been an easy man. There was also the war in his past, things he wasn't ready to talk about with her, and she knew that his sweetness was in him despite all the things he'd done, not because of the shape of his life.
"I can take you to the Eight of Diamonds, the club Julius owns, whenever you want. Any night, it's always open. It's best on Fridays or Saturdays."
"The place in Harlem? I've heard about it. Yes, I'd like that. You know what I'd like more, Troy?" she asked.
"What's that, sweetheart?"
"Oh, I do like the way that sounds coming from you. Since we have this week together, or however long it is before Uncle Julius decides that he no longer needs you to watch me, but we have some time and I'd like to do all the things a tourist would do. I thought about it after you left, and you know, it might just be fun with you."
The way he grinned at her made her want to kiss him. Maybe she would, back in the car, just to see his eyes light up like that again. Troy was nodding, thinking as they walked on. He wasn't a babbler, this one, and she appreciated his thoughtful silence, and maybe more than that.
"Let's start tomorrow with Coney Island," he said. "Everyone's got to go at least once."
"And to the Eight of what is it? Diamonds? Tomorrow night would be good for a first visit. I'm perishing of boredom every night at the hotel. Lucy likes to read more than anyone I know."
He laughed, the sound resonant and unexpected as he walked beside her. He looked over at her and said, "So tomorrow Coney Island and the Eight, but today we'll just walk and talk, so you and I can get to know each other better. I like talking with you."
"Ask me anything you want, and I might even tell the truth," she said, pulling him closer to her side as they walked through the spring blossoms in Central Park.
Julius was sitting in his rooms, waiting for him when Troy got home. It wasn't the first time he'd done it; there were things they needed to talk about outside of the office, from time to time, and Julius wasn't the type of man to go up the street for dinner and conversation. In fact, he'd never once gone out with Julius when they weren't checking on business and Julius was issuing orders. He wasn't the type for friendship with his men, though he did try to foster a sense of camaraderie, in his own way. It worked only half as well as Julius thought it did.
"Johnny told me about the girl's champagne," he began, and Troy nodded.
"She asked if we could take care of it. I don't doubt she could have found someone to bribe if she didn't come to us," Troy answered. Julius gave a grunt of agreement.
"Probably," Julius conceded. He gave Troy a look then turned away and asked, "How's she treating you? She didn't seem stuck up or overbearing today."
"She seems like a sweet girl, Julius. Quick thinker. Likes traveling, seeing new places, things like that," Troy told him. He didn't want to say too much and betray how much he knew about her after only a day and half, but he had spent the most time with her. She was tough, smart and more beautiful than all the rest of the girls in New York combined, but Troy kept that opinion to himself.
"Truly? Smart girl? Good, better than my brother in that respect. What did you do today?" Julius asked.
"Went to lunch at the Waldorf and then she wanted to take a walk in Central Park," Troy told him.
That walk was more than just Elle wanting to stretch her legs. She'd made him laugh today, asked him about himself, not about his work or her father, but about his family, his life. Told him her favorite color and about how she used to sing in a choir with other girls her age before her mother died. Her mother came to every performance even though she couldn't hear at all. Julius cleared his throat and Troy came back to himself. To distract Julius from noticing the way his mind had wandered at the mention of her, Troy patted himself down looking for a cigarette and lit it as Julius spoke again.
"You took her Aunt Lucy with you out to the Waldorf? Waste of a seat to have her listening to the music and eating. She can't hear."
"I think she liked the food and the company," Troy answered. He knew Lucy could hear some, even if Elle hadn't told him, he would have known because she tapped her foot in time to the music this afternoon.
"Look, I'll level with you, Troy. I wanted you to take her around because you have the discipline and personality to deal with a young woman her age. She seemed to like you, and I want her happy. Johnny wouldn't be appropriate to take her around town and Dex would have her sitting next to him at his desk, making her work. She's my only family," he trailed off and looked away, then resumed speaking. "Got a big deal coming up. I don't want her caught up in the shit I do. I don't know what to do with her, Troy. If she won't go home then get her caught up in the society life, parties, dates and all of that. Just keep her distracted."
"Can do, Julius," he said.
"Problem is, I need you down at the office too," Julius said, scratching his chin as he thought. "Take two weeks with her, do what she wants to do and let me know if anything comes up. If she's still here for an extended holiday, then we'll figure it out. Just make sure you check in with me too." Julius stood up and sighed. "Too much going on, son. I wish she hadn't come up, there are people that might realize who she is and try to use her against me. Maybe they won't know. Keep your piece on you."
"Anything you say," Troy told him. He wasn't sure what was going on with Julius or his deals, but he knew not to ask questions. The only worry in his heart was for Elle and Aunt Lucy, who had their own reasons for being here, and it was just him and his gun to protect the two of them.
He let Julius out of the room and took off his jacket and sat in the chair that had just been vacated. Troy had to keep Elle safe, even if he had to keep her safe from herself and whatever plans she'd made before coming here. There were things he needed to know, but between her and Julius, only she seemed like she might be in the talking mood.
When Troy came to their suite the next morning, Elle and Lucy were in a heated discussion about what they thought Julius was doing. It was obvious that he remembered Lucy the day before, but there was little he could do about her presence. Lucy railed against him, calling him all sorts of names that Elle largely agreed with.
They looked like they were fighting with each other when Troy walked in, the flurry of gestures and words going right over his head, but the tense atmosphere wasn't. He came in and sat down at Elle's invitation, the breakfast that she'd shared with Lucy still on the table.
"Please eat if you're hungry, Troy. Aunt Lucy and I were just having a discussion."
"Looks more like a fight," he said, but Lucy shook her head at him.
She'd heard him, but Troy's voice was more resonant than Elle's own, a deeper timbre, and Lucy might be able to hear it better. He took her hand and kissed it in greeting, making her blush just after she'd signed another cuss word. They were cute together, Elle decided, smiling at his back while he straightened and made for the seat next to her.
"It's not. We are in total agreement. You should learn to sign," Elle commented as she got up from the table, brushing a light hand across the span of his shoulders as she did. All of his suits were made for him, they had to be, because they did such wonderful things to his shoulders and her thoughts.
"You think so? It looks difficult. Say, how did she get along in France?" he asked, buttering a piece of bread.
Elle gave a soft, tinkling laugh before answering. "American signing language is based on French, so many of the words are the same. It wasn't difficult. More difficult for me to learn French passably well, and I've been studying it since I was eleven."
"Oh yeah? Why's that?"
"Because my mother wanted me to be her ears in France, one day. She dreamed of leaving New Jersey after Daddy died and living abroad. We almost made it," she said wistfully and then shook the tone from her voice. "I'm nearly ready, excuse my tardiness this morning. I just need to finish dressing."
She saw Lucy take a piece of paper out to write to Troy, but closed the door to her room before she could see the message. Lucy wanted to talk to Troy, if either of them wanted to share with her what they were talking about, they'd tell her. She had to find something appropriate to wear for a day out to Coney Island.
Lucy was near vibrating with excitement as they left for Coney Island, which Elle didn't really understand. Amusement parks were fun, yes, but hardly the most interesting thing they'd do during their time in New York. Apparently, she'd gone with Elle's mother years before, and now she wanted to see it again. Her mother had loved Coney Island, but she'd been little more than a girl when Lucy had brought her. Perhaps a bit more than a girl, because she'd just gotten engaged to her father. It was strange to think of them so young, so close to her own age and yet neither of them were here any longer.
"So have you decided on Steeplechase or Luna?" Troy asked her as they neared Coney Island. It wasn't actually that far away, but it had taken them nearly an hour to get there.
"What or what?" she asked, looking over at him. She'd sneaked a couple of good looks at him while he drove, but she otherwise left him to his driving and kept to her thoughts. She had many and they were racing today, but she was also keenly aware of Troy. He was too near her and loomed too large in her mind for Elle not to be aware of his every breath.
"The parks. There's Steeplechase and Luna Park. I thought we'd go to one," he explained.
"Oh, I had no idea. Let's see, I rather like the moon, so maybe Luna? Which do you prefer?" she asked. Troy shook his head.
"Last time I came here, I was a boy and Dreamland was still open, so my opinion don't matter much. If you want to see Luna Park, let's go there."
"Dreamland?" she inquired as Troy found a place to park.
"Another park. Burned down. That seems to happen a lot on Coney Island," he mused. "But it was a good time all the same."
She was about to suggest maybe a detour to the boardwalk first when Lucy jabbed her in the side. Elle turned to face the back of the car, and Lucy started signing.
"Go to Luna Park. They have a gondola. Take Troy. I'll go see the monkey show," Lucy said. She could hear Troy, almost all the time. He wasn't even facing her for Lucy to read his lips and she'd heard him. The realization made Elle smile, because the only other person she'd heard so clearly was Ben King, whose voice was much, much deeper than Troy's.
"There's a gondola at Luna Park, according to Lucy. She thinks we should go," Elle told him, with some amusement.
"Sounds like a good idea to me," he said, and parked, helping first her and then Lucy out of the car.
Lucy clapped her hands in excitement as they walked towards the boardwalk, busy even in the cool of early April on a weekday. There were no bathers in the water, goodness it was far too cold for that, but there were plenty of people out strolling along the promenade. The air was scented with the smells of hot food of all kinds, but she could smell the alluring sharpness of hot sugar overlaid atop many scents. The day was as fine as one could hope for, with soft drifting white clouds in a light blue sky. The sun warmed the temperate April day, chasing away any chill as they approached the park. Troy walked at her side, dropping back whenever his pace quickened too much for Aunt Lucy.
"What's a monkey show?" Elle asked, remembering that Lucy said she'd go see it.
"Just what the name says."
"That name could hide a lot of sins," Elle said sourly, and he made a face at her, but didn't disagree.
"It's monkeys and dogs trained to do tricks, though I'm not certain that's all of the animals they have. Sometimes there's others, the real big ones, apes, too. It's mostly for kids, but everyone sees it once," Troy said.
"Oh, well Lucy wanted to go. She seems to remember more than you do. Is that a Ferris Wheel?" she asked, looking up past the entrance gates into the park.
"Sure looks like it," he said, turning his head in the direction of her gaze. He smiled at her when he turned back, and Elle was nearly shamed by the flutter her heart made. She'd known Troy for barely a few days, and here she was, all ready to change her name at the sight of his smile.
"Take me there first," she told him.
She wanted to ride the Ferris Wheel first, because she wanted to see New York. Really see it from up above, and look out over the water that was so a part of the city and yet always secondary in the minds of visitors and residents alike. It was strange, she'd never thought much about seeing the city before, but now she was consumed by the idea of playing tourist, as if it had taken root in her once she'd decided upon it. Maybe it was just that it was such a convenient way to learn and keep Troy at her side for a long time, but she hoped her curiosity was rooted in more than just those desires. Paris had fascinated, captivated and entranced, and when it started to lose some of its appeal, she'd taken off for other parts of France or the continent, but she'd always returned to Paris. Maybe New York beckoned to her in the same way.
Aunt Lucy didn't want to ride the Ferris Wheel, and when Elle mentioned it, she took a seat on a bench nearby where she could see the wheel but not have to go on it. For all of her claims that she'd go to the monkey show, Elle knew she wasn't going to go anywhere without her, and felt wrong abandoning her on a bench as soon as they'd set food into the park. They had a brief discussion about it, with Elle offering to go on the Ferris Wheel later, and Lucy waving her away to 'go be with him'.
"Are you two arguing again?" Troy asked her, looking askance as she and Lucy spoke.
"No. We weren't arguing this morning, I told you. I can say the words instead so she can read my lips if that helps you, or I can do both," Elle said, frustrated. She started to do so anyway, punctuating her signing with words.
"I don't want to leave you alone, I've never been here," Elle said.
"It's perfectly all right. Come back afterwards and we'll go to my show and rides next," Lucy told her.
"Are you sure it's all right?" Elle spoke and signed at the same time. "If it isn't safe around here, they won't know you're deaf."
Troy caught on to her meaning and touched her arm consolingly, but Elle ignored the heat of his hand on her forearm. "We can come back to it," he said.
"I am not a child," Lucy signed and waved them off again. Troy's hand was still on her arm and he tugged her away.
"We'll be able to see her from the Ferris Wheel," he said, but Elle wasn't convinced.
"That just means we won't be able to help if someone starts harassing her."
"Miss Baker, the line is short and if there's trouble we can come right back," he said, and it was the use of her formal name that stirred her. They were always so perfectly polite to each other in public, and she wanted nothing more than to bring back their familiarity even if it was just for a short while.
There was something else as well, and she could hear it between his words. He wanted to be alone with her. What he might hope to say or do she couldn't know, but it was reassuring that he wanted to spend time together without the allure of a bed. They'd spent the afternoon before walking together, but he was assigned to her, and she never quite forgot that. That he chose to spend time alone with her was soothing to the voices within her that just insisted she was convenient and not wanted by him.
Elle let Lucy wave her away with a smile and an insistent motion of her hands, and Troy took her to the line for the Ferris Wheel. The line was practically empty, and they were able to board in a few minutes and get into the car in short order. When they got on, the operator moved the car up to the next position and stopped it, letting more passengers onboard. She looked out as soon as they were above the ground, not out at New York as she'd planned, but back at Lucy, sitting on her bench and looking up at her in the wheel. They were still close enough to the ground that she could see her expression, saw the relaxed smile of Aunt Lucy as she sat in the sunlight and it eased her mind somewhat.
"You worry for her," Troy said, and Elle turned to him startled, having momentarily forgotten he was there with her.
"Yes, of course. Aunt Lucy was first my mother's companion and now mine, and she more family to me than Julius. And I worry for you too, just in a different way," she admitted absently as she kept watching Lucy. Lucy was sitting there looking back at the Ferris Wheel as it ascended slowly. They moved another place up, and then another in silence, and Elle forced herself to relax and breathe slowly as she watched Lucy grow smaller, still placid on her bench.
"We're all the way up here in this carriage, moving farther away from anyone that can overhear us. Care to answer the big question now? Why'd you come to New York?" he asked, and for once she felt like the truth might serve. Not all of it, but a portion.
"You know, I thought this would be at least a little bit more romantic than this," she admitted with a smile. Elle paused before answering him, but she did answer this time. "I came because I need to talk to Uncle Julius, if he can ever spare me the time. I thought he'd be doing this, you know, taking me to a play or out to dinner at least once. There was no point to me being in New Jersey, so I came to stay," she told him.
Elle finally fixed all of her attention on him as she made her statement, and Troy watched her with his head cocked as she talked. He didn't interrupt or make comments, just listened and watched. She had no idea what he was thinking. She studied him back in the silence, admiring the straightness of the part in his hair and the way sun fell across it, making it look more golden than it already was.
"What do you want from him?" Troy asked finally, his voice quiet.
"I don't know, if I'm honest. Answers about my father, things I think he knows but probably won't tell me anyway. A weekly dinner date so we don't both feel so alone. Maybe proof that he cares," she said. That last bit was stretching it, because she didn't really want to know if Julius cared or not about her, but rather her father.
Troy looked away from her and spoke, "I think you might be disappointed," he said cautiously.
"About my father?" she asked and Troy nodded. "How could I be more disappointed than I already am? Do you know how much Sweet Jack loved me? How much more he would have loved me if I had been a son? He never refrained from telling me that, that I was wasted as a girl. His legacy was going to be married off to someone else's family, and that was his biggest burden, or at least it was whenever he was around me. The person I adored most as a child never felt the same about me."
"You came here to face that?" he asked, but she shook her head.
"I came here despite it, and there's no way I could leave disappointed now," she said, and the smile she gave him was real, no pity in it for herself. "I've met you and you've more than exceeded my expectations. Even if you and I part ways today and Lucy and I head out, never to see you again, I would never come to regret this trip and meeting you. But let's hope that doesn't have to happen."
"Why would it? I know you've told me some things, and I'm grateful for the trust, but what else is there? I get the feeling you're leaving things out, sweetheart."
They were nearing the top of the wheel now, and she finally looked out to see New York laid before them. It was so neat and orderly from up here, the people small and the streets straight and gridded. It was never that neat on the ground, not when she was face to face with buses and street signs and too many people to count. She had to decide whether she preferred it from far away or when she was in it.
"I probably should just leave is more what I mean. Go find a new home, new people to bother, and all my questions unanswered, but I love New York. Do you know what I mean?" she asked, leaning into him.
They weren't going to kiss in public, not a colored girl and a white boy on top of a Ferris Wheel in broad daylight, but he took her hand and held it in his. She felt the warmth of his touch, the realness of him right then, when she needed something to hold onto. Elle almost wanted him to kiss her, everyone around them be damned, just as they reached the top of the Ferris Wheel's rotation and they could see everything. But he just held her hand, letting her fingers trace its contours, getting to know it by touch alone.
"You know, I think I'm starting to understand what you mean," Troy said, and smiled at her.
The Eight of Diamonds more than made up for Julius not paying any attention to her. Good Lord, Elle felt like she was back in the bustle of Paris, with the crush of people and the lights and smoke swirling around her. All they needed was more wine, but she wasn't picky about swapping wine for spirits while she was stateside. The temperance police had already been paid off, according to Troy, and so they were able to enjoy their drinks in the relative ease that came from knowing the club wasn't going to be raided, at least not that night.
It was a spectacular place, and Elle learned the Julius was only part owner of it. Unlike the popular Cotton Club, this was a place where all kinds of people could come and enjoy the performances. When they arrived, Troy took her around for a tour of the place. There were dinner tables and a dancefloor that dominated the room, with a bandstand just above it. On the next level down there were gaming tables, hidden away from most of the guests by guards and a special key that allowed access to the area below. She had a feeling that there were tricks being turned there as well, but Troy would never show her that particular part of the club, and she had no real desire to see it.
He was taking her to meet Aisha, who would be performing tonight and probably Johnny Gat, who worked with Troy for her uncle. Johnny attended most nights when he wasn't busy with work, and would likely be in Aisha's dressing room until she was ready to come out. His name alone made Elle wonder about the type of people her uncle employed. She mused on it as Troy guided her through the corridors, holding her hand.
"Troy," a voice said, stopping the both of them as Troy was showing her through the club. "We should speak."
The owner was a beautiful, slim Oriental woman that even Elle could see had an edge of toughness about her. Her English was perfect, so she had to be a native speaker. She stood behind them, and both Elle and Troy turned to look at her. She'd come out of a door they'd passed and she stood half in the doorway, half in the hall and mostly obscured in shadow.
"Hey there Lin," Troy said, and Elle felt her defenses lower, shoulders releasing from where they'd hunched up involuntarily when the voice came out of the darkness. This was obviously someone he knew. "This is Julius's niece, Miss Baker. Miss Baker, this is Lin, the manager of the Eight of Diamonds." He dropped her hand surreptitiously, and came closer to Lin, standing between her and Elle. "I was going to introduce her to Aisha before her set."
"I was just on my way there too. Nice to meet you," she said to Elle, and stepped fully out of the doorway. Her dress was a midnight blue and sparkled with hidden beading as they walked down the hall. By some unspoken consent, Lin now lead them instead of Troy, who didn't take up her hand again.
No one spoke as they went down the hallway, but it wasn't a long trip. Lin knocked on the door and then let herself after a faint, muffled word Elle couldn't rightly hear came through the door. In the room was a dazzling number of bouquets and a beautiful colored woman at a vanity clad in a dressing gown that was the equal of the silk flowered one Elle had bought in Paris. A man, and Elle had to give him a closer look because his hair was bleached on the tips from its original black to a frightful shade of blond, stood next to her in a clearly protective stance as they entered the room. He wore spectacles and had the confident air of a man that knew just how dangerous he was. Johnny Gat lived up to his name.
Troy stepped up to make the introductions all around, and she felt Johnny's eyes narrow at her when they were introduced. Lin was perfectly nice, if not at all interested in her, but Johnny gave her special scrutiny.
"You're Julius' niece huh?" he asked, looking her over. "Don't look much like him, but you're probably glad about that."
Elle laughed and nodded. Before she could give a response, Johnny turned to Lin and Troy, announced that he also needed to talk to Troy "right this minute". An urgency resonated through her, one that Johnny probably wasn't even aware he was projecting, and it was all Elle could do not to ask what was going on. They wouldn't tell her anyway, and it was obviously business-related. The best she could hope for would be to find out from Troy in a few days.
"Aisha, is it all right if she stays back here with you for a minute or two while we talk?" Troy asked, but Elle answered before Aisha could.
"I don't need looking after," Elle snapped and Troy gave her a pained look.
"I haven't finished showing you around yet. It's just so I know where to find you," he said, and then turned back to Aisha. "Give me a minute," he said, and Aisha nodded absently as she sipped on her tea.
He didn't wait to get another answer but went out the door where Lin and Johnny had already departed. Aisha gave her a look in the mirror.
"Your hair is lovely," she said, her voice soft. "I can never get my waves that neat."
Elle gave her a smile, despite the fact that she was still a little miffed with Troy for leaving her. It made sense -- he was working -- but sometimes Elle forgot that, and every reminder rankled.
"Thank you," Elle said. "So you're from the city?" she asked, making conversation.
"Mostly," Aisha said and took another drink from her cup, then set it aside. "I lived in Jersey for a while too, not that I remember much of it. I was really young, before my sister was born."
"It's pretty boring there," Elle said and grinned at her. "At least, that's why I'm here now."
"It's never boring here," Aisha replied, and they both laughed.
Elle was good at talking to people, at making them comfortable. It was a skill she'd always had, but had cultivated in her time away from home. She was always the new person, the curiosity, the tourist -- and being shy wasn't a luxury she could afford when she didn't even know how to get to the bathroom and didn't speak the language. Once upon a time she'd been shy, reserved, unused to talking aloud too much because they so rarely did in her house, especially after her father died. Maybe that shy girl was still inside of her somewhere, but Elle preferred charm and chatter to her former awkwardness.
When Troy came back in, Elle was showing Aisha a different way to use the kohl stick to line her eyes, and had forgotten most of her annoyance at being left with Aisha. Aisha was sweet, but not dumb or soft, and Elle respected that nuance. When her makeup was done, she needed to finish dressing for her show, which would start soon. Elle wished her luck and then went with Troy back to the main room to sit at a table, order dinner and get ready for Aisha's performance. It surprised her that she was actually looking forward to it.
He hadn't danced so much in years.
Troy wasn't much of a dancer when he went out, but he did with Elle. After dinner and Aisha's performance, which made her insist upon going backstage again to congratulate her, they'd danced. The Eight wasn't packed that night, so he and Elle had space and only a few other potential partners between them, so he'd spent most of the night dancing with her. Or trying to, she was a much better dancer than he was, but he found he enjoyed the trying because it let him be able to hold her in public.
Johnny had noticed what was going on between them almost immediately, but he never said anything. That wasn't his way. He'd hear about it from Johnny when Johnny wanted to talk about it, not before. Troy wasn't sure if Johnny would tell Julius, but then again, what could he really say? "Troy might be a little sweet on your niece" could easily be explained away. It didn't matter and Lin had dropped bigger problems into his lap.
Lin wanted to leave the Eight because Dom Evans, Julius' partner who owned part of the club, was holding suspicious meetings there without Julius. On top of that he'd started hassling Lin about making more money, adding more girls to the back without giving them more space or men to oversee the operation. Johnny was supposed to be figuring out what Dom was up to, why he was pushing for more quick cash, but Johnny was as subtle as a blunt ax. Troy was going to need to deal with this after he dropped Elle off for the night. But when he led her out of the club and the car was brought up by the valet, her hand warm, thin fingers curled in his and Troy forgot about everything.
"Take me someplace where I can see the city," Elle said, and Troy took her to the best overlook he knew, the one near where he'd grown up. Sure there were probably ones with a better view of Manhattan higher up, but this one was free and outdoors, not on top of some building. They could go there tonight and sit in the car for a little while until he needed to take her back to the Aberdeen.
He got out the car with her, and she looked out over the horizon. It was a clear night. There were people still out and about there, and he liked to think every light was a person in the city. There were a lot of lights in New York. Next to him, Elle shivered and without thinking, Troy took off his coat and put it over her bare shoulders. She had scorned his suggestion of a cloak earlier in the night, but she needed one now.
They had only been there for about two silent minutes before a cop pulled up, going slow in his car to get a good look for people along the overlook. He hadn't realized that there was a patrol that went by. When the car stopped, he sighed. Now he'd have to get out of this one, when he clearly had a girl up here and they'd been drinking.
"It's a little late to be star-gazing," the officer said, and Troy recognized him. He squinted and realized he definitely knew who it was.
"Albie Green? You're a policeman now?"
"I am. Who are? Wait. Hey, Bradshaw, is that you?" the officer asked, his voice growing warmer as he did.
"Yeah, Troy Bradshaw. I didn't know you still lived around here."
"I do. Became a cop when I came back from France. What are you doing up here?" Officer Albie asked.
Troy moved closer to Albie, conspiratorially. "That's my boss's niece over there, she's been living in France. Wanted to see the city while she's here visiting, so he asked me to take her out so no bums come sniffing after her. Took her to Coney Island today, you know, just to see it."
"What are you two doing up here?" Albie asked again, confused.
At that moment Elle cut into the conversation with a burst of rapid French that he couldn't begin to understand. He and Albie looked at each other, frozen and then Troy shrugged and looked back at her saying, "That's the Williamsburg bridge over there to your right, not the Brooklyn Bridge. Not as exciting, but still pretty."
"Oui," she answered, and Albie looked even more confused than before she'd spoken.
"She understands more English than she speaks," Troy said.
Albie, for his part didn't try to speak to Elle, just nodded his hat at her when she fluttered a wave at him. "I can tell she really is foreign and you two seem like you're just up here to look, so there's no problem. I mostly chase teenagers off."
Troy took his hand out of his pocket and offered Albie a bit of cash. "Can you give us say, twenty minutes up here? I'll take her home after that. Make sure no one else comes up?"
Albie looked down at his hand and then grinned back up at Troy. "I'll wait for half an hour down at the road that leads up here. Just wave on your way down."
"Good man. Thanks, Albie," Troy said and smiled at him. Albie ambled back to his car, flush with his new cash and assignment. He'd never been particularly smart, but was a nice enough kid.
Elle sat down on the grass in front of the car, his coat still around her. She pointed out towards the skyline as if she wanted him to identify something, but said, "He's idling in his car, waiting to see if you kiss me."
"Let's wait him out. It's too cold to sit on the ground," he said, looking out to where she'd pointed. The moon was bright enough that he could see the outlines of buildings that didn't have any illumination coming from the windows. He loved the city, the skyline, just about everything about New York.
"I'm surprised he left so eagerly."
"He hasn't left yet," Troy pointed out, but the sound of the car crunching down the gravel echoed his words, the engine noise growing fainter as the Policeman Albert Green drove away.
"It's beautiful up here," Elle said, and took his hand. "Thanks for dancing with me tonight."
"I'll take you back when it's really going. Aisha has a lovely voice, and she's worth seeing again." He was quiet for short pause before he asked, "Why did you go to Paris?"
"Why not? It's a beautiful city and I had no reason to stay in Jersey."
"That's it? Just being a tourist?"
"I wanted to sleep with men on both sides of the Atlantic and now I have," she said flippantly, but when she took in his frown, she amended her answer. "I went to England first, but it was in sad shape after the war. I did go on to Vienna for a while, but political upheaval doesn't make a fun landscape no matter how much culture you supposedly have, so I went to Paris. I was saving it for last, tell you the truth, because I had a feeling I'd want to stay there."
"And you did, for a while. Presumably to sleep with men on both sides of the Atlantic," he said, giving her a wry smile.
"You were completely pure in your sojourns? Not with the way your hands move, Troy. Not many men know how to make a woman crumble to pieces like you do," Elle said, giving him a sidelong look.
"That's homegrown. I knew a guy, you know the guys that live in the neighborhood and everyone wonders about because the ladies can't seem to stop loving him? Well, mine talked a lot, before someone's husband shut him up. You can learn a lot from listening, and then testing," Troy admitted.
His former fiancé, Fran, she'd been positively afraid of him touching her before they were married, but Troy promised just to kiss her. He'd kissed her everywhere, but left her technically a virgin when he'd been called to war. For a spiteful moment, he wondered if her husband ever did that for her, found that place that made her stutter with release like a typewriter with a stuck key.
"In England, a viscount paid me £2500 to watch me by myself, you know what I mean. He liked to watch, mostly. I made him pay half up front to my solicitor and had a contract drawn up. He paid it, and so did I." She laughed harshly and shook her head. "I don't know why I'm telling you about the worst thing I've done," she admitted and gave him a small smile.
"If taking money from a fool is the worst thing you've ever done, I won't even begin to tell you the things I've done," Troy said.
"Tell me you still want me, that you can't wait for me to move out of the Aberdeen so you can come have me every morning when you come to pick me up," she said softly, and Troy had to move closer to hear the end of her sentence. The lights of the city still shown in the distance, but the world had shrunk to just the two of them.
"Every morning and night, and afternoons if I can get them," he said.
"Not just in my bed either. Against the walls and across the table," she suggested, pulling him closer with his tie. Troy acquiesced to the movement and let his lips brush hers as he replied.
"And in the back of the car."
He knew what he was doing, what she was doing. When they finally met in a kiss, he felt every bit of it down to his toes. It was like a spark, the leading shot of electricity that coursed through him and set every part aflame, renewed with each kiss. They got into the car, but he wasn't sure when or how or if his feet had even touched the ground. She was there, straddled on top of him, garters showing as she pushed the dress out of the way. Troy was greedy, he wanted to touch, to feel as much of her as possible, but she was moving too fast, the space too small and all he got and felt were glimpses slivered in moonlight.
Troy had just enough presence of mind to make sure she was ready. Fingers teasing, thrusting and finally slipping in and out of her as they kissed greedily, his mind hardly able to make sense of the vast jumble of everything happening at once. Elle purred around him as he stroked her, and Troy knew just when to pull away so she didn't end too soon. He felt the suck of her mouth on his neck and decided to worry about the inevitable mark left there later. He sheathed himself inside of her, and let his head sink back to hit the seat as he did. Now that he was here, Troy didn't want to move. It was like he'd run through the doors of a church, then dropped to his knees on the threshold and couldn't rise. It might have been blasphemy to think it, but God forgive him, it was truth.
When he didn't move, she did, and it ended quickly for both of them. It was frantic, still more kissing and her sliding again and again, up and down on top of her, the friction of her sucking him in and releasing with each movement. Troy angled his hand between her legs, getting his thumb to just to right spot to make her moan into his mouth and then he strummed until she came in one pure, clear, keening note he caught up in a kiss. He didn't make it much longer than that.
Then they were apart, she was panting and he was barely able to breathe, the night air too quiet and still around them. Sweat dried in a sticky sheen all over his body, helped by the breeze that came through the windows. They had to leave. If Albie Green had heard them at all, they'd be in trouble. Troy reluctantly got up and started putting himself to rights, and Elle followed suit, not that she was nearly as disheveled as he was. His suit was badly creased and sweaty, and when he tucked himself back into his pants, he saw the faint outline of a palm print on his chest.
"I didn't ask before, but your, ahem, your," he began, but Elle cut him off.
"Don't worry. I've had my cap in all night," she said, confirming what he'd suspected. She'd planned on this, at least in part. She wanted him, wanted to do it again, whenever they got the chance. That brought more pride to his chest than it rightly should have, but he was flying high now.
Troy pulled her to him and caught her up in a wild kiss. It promised more than just tonight, the seeking of his tongue as it pressed into her mouth, the roughness of his hands as they brought her even closer. There was so much more he tried to say in his kiss, feeling her body start to melt into his, already warm with his touch and responsive. They would go at it again, if they had the space or the time, but space was in short supply and time was almost up.
"We should get going," she said shakily, and Troy reluctantly let her go. They got back in the car, and he started it, shattering the velvety silence of the night with the sound of the engine.
Albie Green either didn't know or didn't care what they'd been up to, waving cheerily at them as they passed by. Troy waved back and made a mental note to follow up with him if he was ever back in the neighborhood. Elle curled against his arm, tired and sated as he drove back into Manhattan and to her hotel.
When he pulled up at the Aberdeen, she asked, "Why did you say 'taking money from a fool' earlier? What made you think him a fool?"
He cut the car and went around to open her door, helping her get out. "Because you would have done it without the offer. You'll do it for me, if I ask, because you'd like that I'd ask. He only needed to ask, not offer money or demand, but ask in the right way. Not knowing or realizing that made him a fool."
Troy felt her ragged intake of breath, even as she did her best to make her face calm and unbothered. "You're sure?"
"Yes, but not tonight," he said, taking her hand and leading her to the doors of the Aberdeen. "You've done enough to me tonight."