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Winners Know When…

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He doesn't stay over every night.

But the ones when he does are her favourites. She can't really explain it – feels a bit embarrassed, honestly – but there's something about it that feels right when he's there, and she's cold every night she doesn't get to spend in his arms.

She begins to blame him for it – if he wouldn't touch her the way he does, it wouldn't be as bad. It wouldn't feel like a Band-Aid being ripped away each time his lips pry from hers and he pulls away, starts dressing.

Sometimes she invites him over for dinner, with the kids or without. On nights with the kids, she lays out food and he charms all the children with crazy stories about family members she's sure he's made up, then he helps her with the dishes. She learns 'Marcus' doesn't like broccoli, which actually means Rio doesn't like broccoli. (It's about the only thing edible she's found that he doesn't like, making it more puzzling than anything else.) The discovery of his scapegoating comes at the dinner table, and Rio instantly becomes her children's new favourite adult. His penance is convincing them he eats it anyway because it's the only way to counteract the unhealthiness of ice cream.

Nights without the children are strange, because once upon a time it had meant not eating – not caring – or a frozen dinner. But now she cooks; cooks meals that she'd long forgotten she could, meals that five-year-olds don't exactly clamour for. She makes steak with the creamiest mushroom sauce and roasted potatoes. She bakes fresh garlic focaccia and he brings over charcuterie – she pops olives and cheese on the board too and they eat it on the couch with wine.

Most times they end up on the couch, really, watching a movie then exchanging gentle kisses till they're not so soft and gentle anymore. One night they don't make it there – they're at the dining room table and Rio asks what's for dessert while looking at her like that. He doesn't break eye contact as he gets to his knees and noses her knees apart. 

But he leaves and it's hell every time; a hell she shrugs and smiles through like it's no big deal. She never asks him to stay because somehow she feels he would, and that'd be even worse.

She feels dependent and it's alien to her – Dean had always been the clingy one, the one who got pouty when she wanted some time alone, the one who would bother her during a rare moment of quiet to ask what her book was about when she just wanted to read in peace.

It's not as bad when the kids are there, obviously, but she still feels it. When he's there, he seems to fill up the entire house with himself, his energy. She'll be on her knees bathing the kids and glowing from the inside out knowing he's waiting for her downstairs. Knowing that they can shower together, wash off the day together and take their urgent kisses to bed, where he'll stay with her all night, curled around her like tightly like gift wrapping or haphazardly, already half asleep. His fingers curled into the soft skin at her stomach, his cool breath in her ear, the scent of his body wash mixing with hers. The soft kiss he lays in her wet hair and the way she knows to have her butt pressed all the way against him.

Those nights are her favourites.



It worries her whenever her sister is too giddy when she arrives somewhere.

This time it’s Ruby’s house and Annie is positively bouncing.

“Have you told her yet?!”

“Told me what?” Beth eyes them both, dropping her handbag on the couch before heading over to them at the kitchen island.

“Is Rio still coming to Ruby’s first poker night?” Annie asks before Ruby can answer.

Sensing this has something to do with the answer, Beth decides to relent for the moment.

“Yes,” she nods. “Why?”

Now Annie’s definitely bouncing and Ruby’s pulling a face like Beth probably isn’t going to like what she has to say next.

“So you know how I took over from you and have been trying to put my own spin on things, especially since we don’t need to keep as low of a profile because we aren’t using the poker games to wash cash anymore?”

“Sure,” Beth nods, taking a seat.

“Soooo I thought a theme could be pretty cool.”

“That’s a great idea!” She frowns, confused: “What’s the problem?”

“Oh, well… there’s no problem. Not exactly.”

“It’s actually the best,” Annie grins.

“Ok, you’re freaking me out – what’s going on? What’s the theme?”

The girls exchange glances before Ruby regards her sheepishly.

A Gangster’s Paradise.”


Beth texts Rio to say they’re going to be late.

She’d told him about the theme shortly after finding out, a few days ago, and he hadn’t said much to acknowledge it, moving onto an unrelated topic of conversation. She’d decided not to press it, mainly because she’s still surprised that he’s even going.

She’s still surprised she’s taking him.

They hadn’t spoken much more about the formalities of their relationship after that day in her kitchen, taking the past two weeks day by day, and now this feels like a different step forward. She’s taking him as her date – to an event filled with parents from her children’s school.

She blinks, staring at herself in the mirror. The gravity of the situation is only fully settling on her shoulders for the first time as she touches up her red lipstick.

Because it had come about so casually: Beth had gotten off the phone with Ruby after giving her some advice, Rio had enquired about the event and she’d described it. Off-handedly – jokingly, almost – she’d asked if he wanted to go and he’d simply said Sure. At the time she hadn’t given much more thought to it. Now she’s remembering how he’d once mandated that their relationship not be public knowledge; realising that he’s never met this many people in her life.

With a sigh Beth tosses the lipstick into her handbag then does one last outfit check. The black turtleneck dress fits like a glove and with her black boots, it kind of looks more like a cat burglar outfit, but it’s too late now – and at least there are the giant gold hoops in her ears – so with another sigh she heads to the kitchen.

She texts Dean to check that the kids are ok and is about to send another message off to Rio when the kitchen door opens.

“You’re here!” she exclaims, voice filled with relief.

She was beginning to think he wasn’t going to make it, and the thought of going alone hadn’t been sitting particularly well with her.

“Yea.” His lips curve up a little. “Heard you needed a plus one.”

She raises a brow, playful.

“How can I need one when I've already got one?”       

He grins and she’s about to laugh as he comes closer when suddenly she takes him in and cocks her head with a frown, bringing him to a stop.

“What?”

Her frown deepens as she tries to figure out the right way to verbalise the problem while simultaneously trying to figure out how to solve it when they should’ve been halfway to the school already.

Then, finally, she just spits it out.

“You understood the part about the theme, right?”

He’s wearing a usual variation on his work outfit, all black and adorned in a coat, gloves and a gold chain.

Rio shrugs, jaw hard. “Ain't my fault y'all think my life's a costume.”

Beth’s mouth falls open, speechless, and he bursts into laughter.

“I'm fuckin wit' you, mami. I got shit to do later. Bought the chain, though.”

At the reference, her eyes take it in again and she realises it is a lot gaudier than he ever usually wears.

“That’s not funny,” she complains, lips pursed.

“Naw?” he asks, coming closer with a smirk. Then his eyes roam her form very deliberately. “You look dope.”

A blush immediately rises to her cheeks.

“Really?”

He nods, stopping a step away. “I'd hire you.”

“I believe you already did.”

“Worst fuckin decision of my life,” he retorts, and she rolls her eyes good-naturedly.

“You know,” she realises, eyeing him, “you've never actually told me what made you change your mind that day, when Demon had a gun to my head.”

His smirk widens as he clearly goes back to that day too.

You’re an idiot.

If you want to invite all that attention over a few grand, then you’re not the smart businessman you think you are.

Roll the dice; tell them to pull the trigger. See what happens.

“You was stacked and had a mouth on ya. I was intrigued.”

Beth scoffs.

“I'm serious!”

“Yeah, so am I.”

She fixes him with a disbelieving glare. “You're saying you were attracted to me from the start?”

“Weren't you?”

“That's different.”

“Why?”

“You're...” She squirms. “You.”

“What’s that mean?”

She stares. “You know.”

His head shake is adamant.

“I don’t.”

Beth huffs. “When we go places together, I’m practically invisible.”

“This about the girl at the McDonald’s drive-thru?” he sighs.

“She was hitting on you,” Beth re-iterates.

He’s smiling now as he shakes his head in amused disbelief.

“She said have a nice night – that’s part of their script, ma.”

“It’s not what she said, it’s what her eyes were doing.”

“What, was she lookin at my cleavage?”

He chuckles at her glare.

“It’s not funny! I was right next to you and she didn’t even care, I may as well have been your mother.”

“You know my sister’s older than you, right?” he asks, still amused as he lays his hands on her hips.

She didn't actually know that, but doesn't want to divert.

“Whatever. The point is, I don't exactly look in the mirror and think 'She's dating a gangster'.”

“Hmm,” he smiles, pulling her to him. “Good thing I ain't a gangster.”

Before she can say anything, he kisses her.

Her insecurities seem to melt away without any real permission from her and her hands go to his collar to pull him closer.

But it’s only a second more and then he’s pulling away, licking his lips with gleaming eyes.

“C’mon. Gotta go show you off.”


“So the first one I snuck in, it got banned, but then all the parents put up such a big fight that it became school-mandated. And now we have poker nights,” she grins proudly as they wind their way through the school.

It’s dark, only essential lights turned on. Despite having permission to be here, they’d kept the under-the-radar feel from the first poker game she’d hosted here, the parents all liking the thrill of how underground and secretive it all seems. And, well, considering her career, she’s not exactly in the position to judge.

“So you hosted a poker night at your kids’ school by bribing the janitor?”

Hearing the judgement in his tone, she huffs.

“I needed the money!” Then, with a sidelong glance at him: “Someone left me high and dry.”

He sniffs in amusement as they take a corner.

“So why you still got it runnin now?”

“Because if the FBI comes sniffing around, they’ll investigate, realise they were wrong, look like fools again, and then if we ever do need to use the schools again, we'll be free and clear.”

“…Why would we need to use them again?”

“You don't trust homeboy, do you?”

She avoids his eyes as they enter the library, where there are a few more lights on.

“Just in case.”

“Case o’ what?”

She can feel the defensive set of her shoulders.

“Just… in case.”

And now she pushes open the door to the large room just off the library, which she supposes is normally a space for dedicated project time during school hours, but for their purposes it’s the back room of a card game.

“Wow,” Beth breathes, immediately distracted.

Ruby had done an amazing job of transforming the room beyond the call of duty, having gone as far as commissioning dry ice to make the room seem smoky. There are a bunch of mini bars set up around the room with (what she hopes are) fake cigars laid around.

Rio notices too.

“Ya want sum’n to drink?”

“Wine, please,” she nods.

He goes off in the direction of one and Beth looks around for the girls. The venue is already filled with parents milling around in various interpretations of the theme – many look like they’d stepped off the set of The Sopranos, but there are a few more contemporary interpretations too.

After a minute, Beth spots them – Ruby in a huge black-and-white fur coat, and Annie in leather pants and a nearly see-through top with approximately a thousand chains – and goes up with a gasp.

“Ruby! This is amazing!”

“Really? I mean, duh,” she plays at bragging and they all laugh. “Thanks, B. Not gonna lie, I was beginning to worry you wouldn’t make it.”

“Sorry, Rio was late,” she confesses.

“He’s here?”

Beth nods then points him out, just barely visible through all the smoke.

Suddenly there’s hoarse laughter from beside her.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me. Is he just wearing the same thing he does every day?!” Annie can barely breathe, she's laughing so hard. “This is too good!”

“He has to go to work later,” Beth sniffs defensively. “And he said he got the chain for this.”

“Oh my god,” she continues giggling.

“Can you make her stop?” Beth demands of her best friend.

“I mean… she’s not wrong.”

And then, taking another look, they all start giggling.

“If it makes you feel any better, Stan was planning on wearing a fedora if he came.”

“God, I’m glad he’s on kid duty,” Annie teases before doing a little jig. “Mama’s getting lit.”

Ruby, unimpressed: “We need to set a good example.”

“And what’s a better example than shelling out money at the bar?”

“Beth,” Ruby tries to enlist her help.

“Oh, what’s she gonna say?” Annie scoffs. “She brought a literal gangster – example of the year.”

Beth shoots her sister a glare but Annie’s oblivious, glancing at him again before grinning back at the girls.

“Ok, you know what I love about gangfriend? Besides everything, obviously – it's that no matter what I do wrong in life, at least I will never be the one dating a gangbanger.” At Beth's pursed lips: “Excuse me, gang kingpin who's the key part of a syndicate.”

“You're still working for him,” Ruby jabs before she’s pulled off by one of her assistants for one or other issue.

Beth fixes Annie with a glare.

“Can you please stop calling him gangfriend?”

“Or what?”

“Or I'm telling!”

She scoffs bitterly. “Of course you are.”

“You’ve got to let the weed thing go.”

“Of course you’d say that, snitch.”

It's at this moment Rio arrives, carrying drinks.

He looks at Annie.

“Sorry. Only got two hands.”

He passes Beth her drink, which is some kind of white wine.

“It's cool, bro, I'm already two deep,” Annie grins and oh no, Beth’s going to have to catch up if she intends to not die of embarrassment around her sister tonight.

This prompts her to inspect her wine and she frowns, sniffing it.

“Please don't say this is pinot grigio.”

“Whatever that shit is is on your friend. Just got what they had.”

She realises he's holding a Coke but before she can say anything, Annie speaks.

“Hey, Rio.”

He looks at her curiously and she does a weird little shifting of her weight then a galloping spin.

“What do you think of my outfit?”

Oh god. Beth would press her eyes closed in embarrassment but it's like a car crash, she can't look away.

Rio looks nothing close to bothered, though – in fact, his eyes light up.

“Know who'd fuckin love your costume? Demon. Come to think of it, I should set you two up!”

Annie pales.

“And Demon's the... one with the face tattoos?”

“What, you ain't into that?” Rio asks, brows knitting.

“I... Y–I mean, I'm down, I just–I'm, um, I’m gonna go check what Ruby thinks.”

And she damn near dashes away as Rio's shoulders shake in silent amusement. Beth, on the other hand, is laughing way too hard.

“Oh my god,” she giggles, near-hiccupping, “I swear you're the only person I know who can shut my sister up.”


They’re all at different tables.

Their job is to make sure everyone’s having a good time and with them spread out, it’s working. The room is lively, especially with all the flowing wine, and there’s constant laughter and yells of jubilation. “You’re so going to earn that right back, Renee; you got this, you came to WIN!” she hears her sister rile someone up at another table. It works – everyone whoops and Renee stands up and does a little jig before getting her next hand dealt.

Beth’s at the only craps table, which she has no idea how Ruby had managed to source. It makes the room feel even more like it’s in a casino and considering Stan’s love for James Bond, she’s sure a Casino Royale theme isn’t too far in the offing.

Beth finishes her turn then decides to vacate her spot for a moment, figuring it’s time to check on Rio. She feels bad for having left him alone to deal with a table of parents for an hour, but the guilt dissipates nearly immediately when she catches sight of him.

He’s sat behind mountains of chips, chuckling at a woman opposite him as the guy beside him pats him on the back encouragingly. 

“Thanks, Jeff,” he’s saying, then reveals his cards.

Beth watches for a moment; watches the table whoop as he shrugs, expressionless, and rakes in the chips he’s won.

“Better luck next time, Susan,” he smirks.

Her glass is nearing on empty but she takes another sip before heading over.

“Hey.”

Her hand falls on his shoulder and she’d be at pains to motivate whether it’s the wine, the McDonald’s memory still on her mind or just him.

God, there’s something so sexy about his nonchalance; his own quiet confidence that he’d win.

He looks up and there’s a bit of surprise in his eyes at the touch, but it disappears quickly. He blames the wine, probably.

“Hey, mami.”

Jeff immediately stands. “Have my seat, Beth, I need a beer anyway.”

“Thanks,” she smiles, before sinking down next to Rio, his eyes not leaving hers.

“Hi,” she says again, feeling her neck warm.

He makes a little amused sound, smirking, then finally turns away when his hand is dealt.

They’re silent for a while as the game unfolds and then eventually she remembers why she’d intended to come over here.

“Are you ok?” she half-whispers.

He eyes her. “I ever not ok?”

“I just wanted to check on you,” she admits, and maybe it comes out a little too soft around the edges.

He turns his gaze fully on her, seeming secretly pleased.

“That right?”

She nods very sincerely and he breaks into a slow genuine smile.

“I’m good, momma.”

She bites on her lip to prevent it, but it’s no use, a matching smile breaks through.

“Ok.”

The blush has gotten to her cheeks and they’re on fire at his gaze; his warm smile.

“Beth, your boyfriend has the best poker face I've ever seen!”

It cuts the moment and she quickly looks away, trying to register whatever had just been said to her as she clears her throat.

Poker face. Right.

She laughs a little, rolling her eyes. “Trust me, I know.”

God, does she know.

Rio shrugs. “Gotta have one in my line of work.”

The woman speaking is Martha, who’d served with Beth on the board at one point, and now she leans in curiously.

“What do you do?”

“Oh, I'm a gangster.”

Martha bursts into laughter. “Good one!” She shimmies to show off her costume. “I'm a high-priced escort.”

“You got a pimp?”

“They say I married him.”

Rio chuckles as Martha turns and calls on her husband, who sits at another table wearing a top hat and leather gloves. He turns to grin at them and Martha winks at him performatively then blows a kiss.

Rio's grinning. “He's a lucky guy.”

Seeing Jeff heading back, Beth begins to stand, but Rio catches her with a hand on hers, which she’d evidently forgotten to remove from his shoulder.

“I’ll let you know if I ain’t good no more, yeah?”

There’s something suggestive in his eyes and she swallows, saying nothing before pulling her hand away.

Ruby and Annie are at one of the bars and she heads over, needing a refill.

“Red,” she tells the bartender, and he nods.

“Oooh,” Annie’s eyes widen. “Someone’s getting crazy.”

She shrugs. “Dean has the kids and I’m not driving.”

It’s probably best not to add the way Rio had just been looking at her.

“I did mention the good example thing, right?” Ruby glares.

Annie cackles. “The previous queen bee is coming to mess your shit up.”

“Are you incapable of not stirring the pot?” she glares at her sister.

Their conversation is interrupted by raucous laughter from Rio’s table. Really, the noise level had been on steady incline the entire night, with Rio notably at the centre of it despite never being audible.

“Ok, how is it that homeboy seems like he fits in here more than I do?” Annie asks, puzzled.

Beth nods knowingly.

“He's weirdly good at charming people. The other day he made better friends with my fishmonger in one conversation than I have in ten years.”

“God, it's like finding out the Grinch has better social skills than you do. Wait – you have a fishmonger??”


It’s maybe half an hour later when Rio comes to her table.

“Whassup?”

She looks up with a pout. “I’m losing. So I’m sitting out a few rounds.”

He looks down at her tiny stack of chips and, smirking in amusement, puts two of his down next to it.

“You ever gonna stop needin my money, darlin?”

She glares. “I didn’t ask you for that. And it isn’t going to help my streak.”

“Hmm.” His eyes go from her to the table and everyone around it, then to the dealer. “She’s back in.”

“Ri-Christopher!”

He looks highly entertained by her near-slipup then takes the dice the dealer holds out to her.

Already leaned over, he uses his position to whisper lowly into her ear.

“Roll the dice. See what happens.”

A thrill runs down her spine, throat drying as he pulls back to meet her eyes.

He drops them into her hand and she swallows before bravely holding it out.

“Blow.”

His brow quirks but she doesn’t let up and, after a second, he leans in and lets the softest cool breath into her palm, caressing the dice.

She holds his gaze for only a second longer before clearing her throat and turning back to the table to throw them.

She turns to look for him when she wins but he’s gone, and Beth immediately jumps from her chair, gathering up her chips as she hears one of the women mutter about how she’d like him to blow on her. Beth shoots her a look before tripping over herself to get to Ruby, who's busy coordinating the chips.

“Can you hold these for me? I need to go to the bathroom.”

“Sure.”

“Have you seen Rio?”

“Not to sound like a broken record, but you’ve had too much wine. He’s literally right there.”

Beth follows her pointing and through all the smoke she eventually makes him out, at one of the further bars sipping a Coke. It truly is unfair how good he can look just standing there, she thinks with a sigh.

She thanks Ruby before making her way across the room slowly, trying her best not to trip on anything. It’s not easy, especially once he catches sight of her, but she manages.

“I won,” she says once she gets to him.

He shrugs a little. “I got that effect on people.”

God, he’s annoying. But right now she doesn’t mind it that much, especially with the way his eyes are darting down to her boobs, her body dipping closer to his automatically.

“So now I guess you owe me, huh?”

“Do you get off on me owing you money?” she bites.

He smirks. “Naw, but I could get off with what you could pay me with.”

She shoves at him, playing at indignance that it’s very clear he doesn’t buy as he remains rooted to his spot, watching her.

Shifting her weight, she clears her throat.

“The bathrooms here are small.”

“And nasty,” he agrees. “Was thinkin we could go play teacher.”

She gasps.

“I'm not having sex with you in my children's school!”

A bathroom is one thing, but an actual classroom just seems wrong on too many levels.

“Oh, you wanna go outside? Lil cold, but I'm down.”

She glares and he grins before setting down his drink and suddenly leaning forward.

“Meet you at E.E. Cummings,” he drawls into her ear.

Her eyes fall closed as a blush rises anew, and by the time she opens them, he’s gone.

Heart beating fast, her eyes scan the room.

She doesn’t just want to leave in case she’s needed. The last thing she needs is for someone to come looking for her and discover them in the middle of–

“Annie!” she calls out, spotting her.

Her sister comes bounding up.

“What's happening?”

“Rio wants to get some fresh air – in case anyone is looking for me.”

The smirk on her sister’s face is annoyingly knowing.

“Ok, I'll tell them you're getting it. And by it, I mean fresh air, of course.”

She reaches to shove at her but her sister darts away, sticking out her tongue then putting it back in her mouth to shove it into her cheek with a rhythm and accompanying hand movement that Beth’s definitely going to murder her for later.

For the moment, though, she needs to find Rio.

It doesn’t take long, and after a few minutes they’re out of the library and back in the hallway, pulling each other along as Beth tries to remember the layout of the school.

“Ok, here,” she eventually breathes, pushing open a door to a teacher’s class that she knows none of her kids have.

He’s right behind her, pushing her, and Beth’s head is spinning by the time he lifts her onto the teacher’s desk and she pushes his coat to the floor, pressing her body against his.

“Why you so sexy, ma?” he murmurs into her ear and she lets out a heavy breath before kissing him, hard.

The kiss is rough, desperate; tongues battling as her hands go to his neck and his reach to pull up her dress. It’s taking too long for her liking, not helped by the tight material, and she groans.

“Hurry up.” Against his stubble: “I need you.”

He curses under his breath and then suddenly her dress is at her hips, he’s ripping down her panties and she spreads her knees wide when it joins his coat on the floor.

Together they work at his pants and soon he’s free and she wraps her legs around him, so hot she can barely think.

He pulls her closer, lines himself up and then her eyes fall closed as he pushes into her.

“Oh my god,” she breathes.

His lips go first to her concealed breasts then her covered neck and Rio grunts in complaint.

“Fuck, I hate this dress right now.”

She wants to giggle but she can’t disagree – she loves his mouth on her neck and breasts.

“I didn’t think about this when choosing my costume.”

“You gotta think about this ’fore choosing anything you wanna wear, sweetheart.”

Before she can respond he kisses her, beginning to move, and Beth’s nails clench in his neck and side as she moans onto his tongue.

His hand goes to knead her breast and she pulls away from the kiss to let her head fall back as he finds the perfect rhythm and she meets it, one hand landing on the desk to support herself.

“Rio,” she moans, lost in him inside her.

His mouth lands on her chest and she feels the heat of his breath even through her dress, hardening her nipples. Her free hand goes to the back of his head, digging in, and Rio groans, beginning to go faster.

She’s whimpering loudly now and the desk is shaking, pens and papers rattling as the feeling builds inside her then–

It snaps and she’s gone, shaking as she cries out.

He comes right after and she feels his teeth when he kisses her. She moves her hand to dig her nails into his ass and his body is rigid for a long few seconds before finally he collapses against her.

“Fuck, mami,” he breathes into her shoulder.

Beth can’t speak, she’s still too high and he’s still inside her.

Her whole body feels sensitive, prickly hot, when he finally pulls out, rocking away to observe her. God, what must he see? She's flushed, splayed across a classroom desk with her dress sitting atop her hips.

“’S a gangster’s paradise, alright,” Rio mutters, licking his lips.

She can't breathe for a second; blinks away her stupor.

“…Thought you said you aren’t a gangster,” is the best she can think to respond with, breathy.

“Am tonight – don’t you see my costume?”

She gives him a look and he chuckles before coming closer to kiss her again, hand tangling in her hair.

Every time he kisses her, she remembers it’s her favourite thing in the world to do, and she’s disappointed when he finally pulls away, wanting more.

She supposes she always wants more of him.

They spend a few minutes cleaning up and redressing, Rio helping her get her panties back on and squeezing her ass in the process, and once they’re back to presentable, he looks at her.

“You gon' be good if I blow outta here early?”

“Yeah,” she nods, though she’d actually forgotten that he even still has to head to work.  “I'll just get an Uber with Annie.”

“Cool.”

“How much longer can you stay?” she wonders.

“Like twenty minutes or so.”

“Ok.” She bites at her lip. “Can we spend a few more of them in here?”



Beth's outfit:

Gangster-s-Paradise