Las Vegas, 1985
The party had grown loud. She'd been to loud parties before but had never felt entirely comfortable; and a party like this was certainly even further beyond her experience. She tried not to let it show. Brenda always preferred it when she was the one who knew more.
She skirted the knot of drunks who had invaded her corner of the room, almost sliding against the walls and looked in vain for a familiar face.
Well, they had wanted an adventure and they got one. Spring Break was usually Florida but this year, this year they had turned down the ocean in favour of the desert. There were still plenty of swimming pools. In some of these hotels you could almost pretend you were at the beach; and God knows they had enough sand. Cathy and her, until she had lost track of Cathy. She would be there, somewhere, in the middle of the gamblers and showgirls and-
She kept feeling eyes on her. Not all the time, just every now and then. A dark, hard stare. She could trace its source - not that he looked at her when she looked at him. Their host, not that she had met him or that he would know her. He seemed to inhabit the one area of quiet in the place, as though the party he was throwing had nothing to do with him. Brenda still wasn't quite sure how they had been swept up to this private event up in the penthouse, but here they were.
Gamblers were generous when they were winning and they liked to see everyone around them having a good time, especially if the 'everyone' were young and pretty. And the champagne was free.
She'd never seen inside a penthouse suite before and this, she was sure, would do her for a lifetime. Matt blacks, chrome, lots of mirrors. A staircase twisting up to the second storey. The artwork looked expensive: a Rothko, she thought, on one wall, and what looked like a Pollock on another. She wondered if they were real.
The air had grown thick with smoke and alcohol and the promise of sex. She pushed open a door and stepped out onto the balcony. Warm air caught her face, balmy, but fresh. She breathed it in, deep.
'How do you like my casino?'
She started, bracing herself against the balustrade, turned and found the hard dark stare fixed directly on her.
'I asked how you like my casino.'
Her tongue darted out, moistening her lips. 'Your casino?'
One corner of his mouth turned slightly. 'I'm Ray Luca.'
Her breath shuddered through her chest. 'I-I know who you are.'
He was older than her, a lot older, but handsome; he leant against the doorframe, casual, and his gaze didn't leave her face. She had never seen eyes so dead in someone who was still living before. They reflected the neon light from the city spread out below them but no more. She shuddered again.
'It's a great view, isn't it?' It was proprietorial, the way he spoke, as though he owned the whole town, the desert beyond, everything they could see from the top of his tower.
'Yes, I- Yes.'
There was silence. No movement. He didn't need to move to keep her exactly where she was.
'You know my name. Am I supposed to guess yours?'
She lifted her chin, tossing her hair away from her shoulders. 'I'm Brenda Leigh Johnson.'
That dark gaze travelled over her. She gripped her glass harder, took a sip and winced at the bitterness. Music trickled out to them, electric pulses muffling the high laughter. He moved suddenly, took the few steps that separated them and took the glass from her hands and gave her his own. 'Try that instead.' He paused before taking his hand away from the stem. 'How old are you?'
'I'm twenty-one,' she lied.
His mouth twitched. 'Sure.'
When the glass was halfway to her lips it occurred to her that accepting was possibly not the wisest idea; she wondered if everyone always just did what he wanted. She drank. The wine was rich, dense.
'Thank-you,' she said calmly, 'it's very nice.'
'It's Merlot.' He watched her for a moment. 'You might want to go easy, that's the good stuff.'
She placed the glass on the wide top of the balustrade. He had not returned to his position in the doorway. Only a few steps closer but he suddenly seemed bigger than he had before: taller, shoulders broader. He blocked out everything else.
'Well, Brenda Leigh, what are you doing in Nevada?'
'The same as everyone else.'
He glanced back, just a flick of his eyes, at the partygoers inside. 'No you're not. You weren't enjoying it.'
His certainty was unsettling; she prided herself on being able to read people, it was something she had always been good at; she was not used to being the one being read, and she didn't like it. And even that he seemed to know.
'In my line of business you get used to knowing what people want, even before they do; and what they don't want. And you don't want that.'
She kept her spine straight, kept herself looking at him. 'I know what kind of business you're in, Mr Luca.'
There was a flicker then, something so slight like the sudden flare of a dying ember. He raised a hand and she stiffened; his fingers ran through the lock of hair lying against her neck, then pushed it back over her shoulder.
'You remind me of someone I knew once.'
'Who?' she asked, curious.
His shoulders moved, a shrug. 'Her name was Teddi. She was an actress.'
Everything in the past tense. She knew what happened to women who got involved with men like Ray Luca. And she reminded him of this woman and for a moment there was the fear that she might remind him a little too much. Maybe he'd kill her, too, just for old time's sake.
'She was an actress?'
There was the glitter again. It almost looked as though he were amused. 'Yeah, was. Don't worry, she's not dead, just washed up.' He shrugged again. 'That's probably worse then being dead, especially for someone like her; you can remember what you used to be but you still have to live with what you are.'
The way he said it, she could believe that there were worse things than death. She drank more of her wine.
A new voice. Another figure in the doorway. Strange, she thought, that this intrusion didn't come as a relief. She felt resentful. The newcomer was a thickset man, with a face that was slack and rather stupid but not unpleasant. His hair was arranged into an extraordinary pompadour and was the same shade of silver as his shiny suit. He looked pleased with himself.
'Ray, I didn't know you was out here. I've been looking for you everywhere.'
'Congratulations, you found me.'
'I asked everyone, they say they didn't know. I thought maybe something was wrong-'
Ray sighed softly; he looked more resigned than annoyed. 'What do you want, Pauli?'
Pauli's eyes slid between them; he spread his hands and kept his voice low as though that would stop Brenda from hearing him. 'It's that guy... You know, that guy, the one you wanted to talk to.' He looked hopefully at Ray. 'He's here, so you can talk to him.'
'Yeah, okay. I'll be there in a minute.'
Pauli grinned at her and his eyes slid back to Ray. 'Hey, boss, there something going on here?'
'Pauli, take a hike. Maniac,' he muttered when Pauli backed through the doorway and disappeared into the dim light and bass beats. There was silence for a moment. 'You still haven't told me what it is that you do want, Brenda Leigh.'
Brenda tilted her head, shook it. 'I don't understand.'
He blinked, slowly. 'Most people want something and they usually want something I can give them. What do you want?'
She had become used to the effect she had on men; she knew she could distract them, that being playful, kittenish, would distract them; that they would underestimate her and that could be useful, but they would only make that mistake once. She tilted her head up to his.
'I thought you were supposed to know what people want.'
He laughed then, and for a moment the light in his eyes was more than just harsh reflections. 'You're a challenge.' He put his hands on her waist, pulled her against him, hard.
The shock was so great she couldn't think, never mind move. Boys, she thought stupidly, she had become used to the effect she had on boys; she was not used to men. She stared at him, watched his face come closer to hers, felt his hands on her. She gasped and his mouth crushed hers; her skirt was pushed up, fingers tracing the curve along her inner thigh.
Her hands grasped his shoulders and she closed her eyes.
This was stronger than the wine. Her head swam. Then the assault on her mouth receded and for the last few seconds the lips against hers were gentle, almost tender.
He pulled away from her, studied her face, her parted, swollen lips, her heavy-lidded eyes. He straightened her skirt, smoothing it down.
'Go home, little girl; you don't belong here.'
Brenda leant back against the wall. The warm desert breeze felt cool against her cheeks; her eyes stung, tears of humiliation. She stayed there, she didn't know how long, until another intruder found her and called her by name.
'Brenda! I've been looking all over!' Cathy's smile was too bright, her words slurring. Mascara smudged around her eyes gave her the look of a Sixties chanteuse. 'Isn't this great? Hey, did you see the guy who owns this place? Sugardaddy! He's sort of hot, for an old guy. I wouldn't mind some of that sugar.'
She pushed herself away from her patch of wall. 'I think we should go.'
The brightness faded. 'The party's only just getting started.'
'You stay if you want, I'm leaving.'
Cathy tried to catch her arm and missed. 'Where are you going?'
'I'm going- I'm going home.'
Los Angeles, 2005
Pope was still talking, apparently oblivious to the lack of enthusiasm on the part of his audience. She should not have believed his assurances so unquestioningly, she told herself, but then she had always wanted to believe him.
'...And this is Lieutenant Andrew Flynn, Robbery-Homicide.
Brenda's eyes turned to the man being introduced and sucked in a breath. It was impossible. He couldn't- No-one could be so unchanged after all this time; if anything he looked younger than she remembered.
Her intelligence took over from the initial inertia. Of course this was not the same person. Logically it could not be. Ray Luca would be in his seventies by now and he certainly would not be masquerading as a police officer. It was only a passing resemblance, after all. And these eyes, though dark, were full of fire. There was humour in the lines of his face, though it was not directed at her. His gaze was arrogant, looking her over, and his teeth tightened around the toothpick in the corner of his mouth.
'Lieutenant...' There was an edge to Pope's voice.
Flynn pushed himself away from the desk he'd been leaning against; he didn't remove the toothpick. 'Chief Johnson. Welcome to Los Angeles.'
Go home, little girl.
He didn't say the words, he didn't have to - even if he had tried to make himself sound gracious. And it was the same light slightly husky tenor, it just needed the background of harsh laughter and electronica.
'Thank-you, Lieutenant Flynn.' The words came out like bullets, harder than she had intended. She saw his eyes widen slightly, surprise; he leant back again, looking at her as though she had just confirmed everything he had thought about her. He showed teeth in a smile that was more dangerous than it was pleasant.
It didn't matter, she thought, as Pope steered her away. What Lieutenant Andrew Flynn - or any of them - thought of her did not matter. She felt his eyes on her, that dark stare hit between her shoulder blades. There were many uncertainties about this new life in a new town, but there was one thing she was sure of: she would never be friends with that man.