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She gets the next drop texted to her from an unknown number with the familiar Rio-flare. That being a date, a time, an address, and the unspoken order that she be there on time. He’ll probably show up an odd hour later, flanked by his goons, sharp-edged and dangerous, smouldering in a high-collared shirt.

Smouldering? God, she’s sad.

Not that he doesn’t smoulder.

He definitely smoulders. Even Ruby would say that, right after giving her that exact face that she gives her every time she catches Beth staring.

She’s still thinking this as she pulls up at the address, a bag of clean cash in her trunk and a vivid stripe of purple paint halfway up her arm. Emma’s playdate had been crafty after all, and Beth had preferred the mindless chatter of the kid’s table to the, well, mindless chatter of the parents. She straightens up, peers out the window, and finds herself staring at a non-descript little house, pokey, with an overgrown yard and the curtains drawn. It reminds her of Mary Pat’s place, and shit, Mary Pat. At least with business back on, they can pay the bitch.

Out of the car, hands on the bag, she’s up the driveway and knocking before she can think twice, the door peeling open beneath her hands, unlocked.

If it was non-descript on the outside, inside is little better. The front room is set up with a mothy sofa, coffee table, a radio in lieu of a TV, but the rest of the place seems more or less empty, with only a long table set up in the dining room. So hey, she figures, this is probably how she dies. Suddenly she’s regretting telling Annie and Ruby she was fine to go alone – just Sarah had a recital, and Annie had a graveyard shift, and Beth had, well, what she usually had – a whole lot of nothing.

Not nothing, she reminds herself. A whole lot of this.

“Hello?” she calls, lugging the bag a little closer. The place is so empty her voice seems to rattle it. Disturb moths, scurrying insects. God, she really, really hopes there aren’t rats, and says as much.

“No rats. I don’t deal in rats.”

Beth spins so fast she’s amazed she doesn’t trip, and it’s enough to make Rio arch an eyebrow at her, grin.

“You need to stop doing that.”

“Doing what?”

“Sneaking up on people! It’s…” she fumbles for a word. “Mean.

That’s enough to make him laugh, reach for the bag, pull it away from where she’s clutched it to her chest. She almost doesn’t let it go, but Rio’s strong for such a lean guy, and it doesn’t take much for him to take it.

The lights don’t seem to work in here, and it’s late enough in the night that the only real light comes from the street outside and the neighbours. Beth can hear someone watching a talk show, a couple fighting in the distance. It all serves for an oddly seedy picture, even if Rio, in his jeans, wine-red shirt, polished shoes, strangely isn’t. The only light here seems to catch him just right – to dip below his cheekbones and make long, delicate shadows of his eyelashes. Beth clears her throat.

“It’s all there,” she says when he unzips the bag and starts counting. “Don’t you keep telling me to trust you? That’s a two way street.”

“You and your lady friends don’t exactly have the best track record.”

“Not the worst one though, I hope.”

“No,” he says, glancing up at her. “Not the worst one.”

She wonders briefly what she looks like to him. Dean used to say, back when they were young, stupid, in love, that she’d glow in the dark. Her pale skin moonish and sweet, but she’s not young anymore, or stupid, or in love, and she knows that everything hangs a little lower. Okay, a lot lower. Not that Rio’s ever seemed to mind. Annie jokes all the time that if Rio looked at her the way he looked at Beth she’d be stark naked and on all fours, ready to go. Beth doesn’t think she’d do it that way with him though. She’d want it face-to-face. It’s the smoulder, that’s all.

And the smile.

Okay, not young, or in love, but maybe still stupid.

She clears her throat.

“Don’t you usually have people count it for you? Where are your buddies anyway?”

“I told them to wait outside.”

Beth blinks.

“Why?”

To guard the place? Could someone else be coming? Oh, God.

“I could see you through the window. Couldn’t hear your lady friends. Figured you were alone.”

“So?”

Rio just shrugs, zipping up the bag. He leans back against the table, until he’s almost sitting on it, and she has to look down at him to meet his eye.

“Same drop next time? 750?”

Beth nods, and so does Rio, but neither of them move. Suddenly, she doesn’t want to. Doesn’t want him to either. The thought of going home, to Dean on the couch with his kicked puppy eyes and a sink full of dishes is crippling.

“Who’s house is this?” she asks instead, and Rio doesn’t answer, just pulls his phone out of his pocket and starts texting. He’s got a new phone for the day, maybe the week, she doesn’t exactly know how that stuff works. Should she get a second phone? Knowing Annie, she’d forget to use the right number anyway, so it probably isn’t worth it.

“Is it yours?”

At least that makes him bark out a laugh.

“Nah, we ain’t there yet, sweetheart.”

“Well, you’ve seen mine. More than once. Hell, you’ve been in my bedroom. What’s the saying? You show me yours, I’ll show you mine?”

“You want to be in my bedroom?”

And obviously, yes, for a whole range of reasons, but the deep, heady tone of Rio’s voice is enough to make her blush. Hard. Suddenly she’s remarkably glad for the cover of darkness, even if the rich and rolling laugh that sounds from Rio says the darkness probably isn’t doing much. Beth almost swallows her tongue trying to think of something clever to say. God, she’s embarrassing. She’s got to be at least a decade older than him. His mom was probably reading him Goodnight, Moon when Beth was graduating highschool.

She’s so deep in her own mortification that she doesn’t see him move until he’s reached out and grabbed her hand.

“You haven’t worn your wedding ring in months. You do that for me? For this? Or is there trouble in paradise?”

The question startles her, but not as much as the warmth of his skin. He turns her hand over in his, cups his own calloused fingers below her knuckles, until he’s cradling it like something precious.

“Trouble in paradise,” she says. “Well, not paradise, so just trouble, I guess.”

He nods at that, lips pursed, and stares up at her with so much heat that Beth can feel herself start to catch fire.

“You gonna kiss me then?” he asks her, and Beth blinks, feels herself blush again (had she ever even stopped?) Her throat suddenly feels so tight, her mouth thick, wet. Her legs quiver.

“You want me to?”

She’s almost proud of how steady her voice sounds, even more so when Rio laughs, dropping her hand to curl his fingers around her hip instead.

“I want a lot of things, sweetheart.”

And that’s all it takes for her to crash her mouth down onto his. Rio responds instantly, his teeth nipping at her lips, his hands lowering, first to her ass through her dress and then down, slipping up beneath it, until she can feel his calloused fingers gripping the backs of her thighs. He flips them, quick as anything, and it’s enough to make Beth gasp when her legs hit the cool wood of the table. Rio lifts her enough to get her onto it and then tugs at the long zip of her dress, ridding her of it faster than she can think.

It’s enough to make them both pause, the only sound in the night the neighbour’s TV and the heavy, wet pants of their breaths. The quiet is deafening, but nothing could make her say anything, not when Rio’s looking at her – her, with her mom bod and her heavy breasts in a three-year old bra and her granny panties and the paint on her arm – like she’s a centrefold.

“Damn,” he says, and it’s probably the single hottest thing she’s ever heard, but also enough to make a bubble of laughter escape her throat. She’s not sure what the fuck she’s doing, but she’s so turned on its embarrassing.

“Damn?” she asks, leaning up onto her elbows, and raising an eyebrow, and Rio grins, unbuttoning his shirt until she can see the tanned line of his defined chest. He pulls it off and Beth loses her breath.

“Damn,” he repeats, climbing over her on the table and catching her lips again with his. It’s not long before he’s unhooked her bra, for her panties to be off, somewhere on the floor below, and all she’s left in is her pumps as Rio hikes her legs up around his waist and pushes into her in one, fluid motion. His lips stay on hers until they don’t, until they sink lower, to the line of her jaw, then the line of her neck, sucking in a bruise, to the curve of her breast, tongue flicking over her nipple. He cups her breast and then drops his hand to between her legs, and his magic fucking hands. She could cry, eyes as wet as the rest of her. She cums embarrassingly fast, and Rio keeps up his rhythm, rolling his hips into her with the same focused energy he brings to all their interactions, and holy shit, if Beth wants them all to end this way now, please, forever.

And then he’s done too. Just like that. He doesn’t collapse on her, not exactly, but he lowers his sweaty chest to hers and kisses her again, softer this time, his hand coming back up to brush her hair back off her face. When he catches his breath, he pulls out of her, climbing off the table to pull his pants back up, and rummaging around the table for her panties, her bra, her dress. He folds them, puts them on the edge of the table, and then he watches her, his eyes lazy, drinking in her naked form.

It’s nice, she thinks, sated, to be watched like that again.

“You know Botticelli?” he asks, and Beth blinks over at him, surprised. He’s still buttoning up his shirt.

“What?” she laughs. “Personally?”

He rolls his eyes, and it’s enough to make Beth sit up, slide into her underwear.

“The painter. Birth of Venus, Dante’s Inferno, Death of Magi. That shit.”

She’s the one to roll her eyes this time.

“Yeah, I know Botticelli,” she arches an eyebrow at him. “You know art?”

“I know money.”

She laughs at that, grabbing her dress and standing up off the table. She’s going to ache tomorrow. The table-sex fantasy was a good one, but she doubts her body is not made for fucking in things harder than a bed.

“Not the same thing.”

“Like hell they aren’t.”

Beth just gives him a look, and Rio leans forwards. For a second, she thinks he’s going to kiss her again (could she go a round two? Who’s she kidding? She’ll be out of her panties again faster than he can blink), but he only reaches around her to grab the bag of cash off the table, and she’s suddenly reminded of where it is they are and who they are. God, how’s she going to keep this to herself? Her fingers find the bite on her neck, the skin puckered. Annie’s the least observant person she knows with anything but sex. She can already see her laser visioning in. She clears her throat, watching Rio as he starts to leave.

“You remind me of her, that’s all I’m saying,” he says, and Beth blinks back at him.

“What?”

“Venus.”

Goddess of beauty, that meaning at least isn’t lost on her. She’s suddenly speechless, breath caught, and it’s enough to make Rio laugh again, that rich and rolling one that pools between her legs.

“See you real soon, yeah?”

“Yeah,” she says. Real soon.