Chapter 1: Home? This? Home?
Miami, Florida. Or, to me, Hell on Earth. I glared around at the sunshine and the palm trees and wondered yet again, why my darling father had decided I HAD to come ‘home’. What a colossal joke. ‘Home’ was a boarding school in Switzerland. ‘Home’ was a chateau in Paris. ‘Home’ was being surrounded by paid help, not a person sharing my blood in the bunch. Not this. Glaring sunlight and palm trees without the refreshing breeze I’d come to expect from the south of France. Honestly, why would that man assume this would be ‘home’?
“Elizabeth,” my father’s voice, would I ever grow accustomed to hearing it nearby instead of over a static filled international phone line?
“Yes, Father?” I asked, knowing that my own accent was far more cultured than his. It was what he bought and paid for with that boarding school education, after all.
His smile was charming, I supposed. I wasn’t used to his face anymore than his voice. I knew, from the whispers of the other girls at my schools, that my father was notorious. Or he would be, if more people realized that he was “The Butcher”. I wondered if he’d had a hand in my own mother’s death? An internal shrug, I knew my mother as well as I knew him, not at all. I knew my nannies better.
“‘Father’, I like that.” Internal groan at his smugness, and the lusty look he shot my new ‘step mother’, Lily. She was my age, or nearly. “Come here, sweetheart.” A term of endearment he’d used during weekly calls with me. A term that sounded no less foreign here than it had on a phone call. I walked closer and sat in the lounge chair he’d indicated, keeping my eyes firmly affixed on his, since my new ‘mommy’ was completely naked.
“Yes?” I asked, eyes on his, as I knew he was studying me as much as I did him. I was as foreign to him as he was to me. When was the last time we’d been in the same room? When I was born? Surely not. I had to have been a bit older, the schools and nannies wouldn’t have taken charge of me immediately, would they?
“How are you liking Miami?” As though my constant irritation wasn’t clear as a bell? I tried to smile, but it felt forced even to me.
“It’s hot.” I offered, true, yet noncommittal at the same time. “There isn’t a breeze to be had, is there?”
He laughed, but I stayed as stiffly seated and careful. Even if I’d never met him, even if we weren’t blood, a fool would see how dangerous he was, even if I was his child. “That it is, my dear, that it is.” I waited. Clearly he wanted to expound on why I was here. Surely I’d get an explanation. “You’re home, Elizabeth, because it’s time your expensive education was put to use.” What? How was my finishing school education helpful here? Amidst this stark, bright fake paradise?
“Confused?” I simply waited for him to continue. “Of course you are.” He leaned forward, causing HER form to fill my gaze for a moment before he was so close that all I could see was him. Thankful for that at least, I focused on my father. “You, Elizabeth Diamond, are my crowning jewel. Kept from the stain of business. Kept from the stain of MY business. You were raised by the finest caregivers that money could buy. You went to the best schools money could pay for. Just so you could sit in front of me, with the posture of a cultured woman, looking down your nose at me. You’re perfect. Just like I paid for you to be.”
I felt the ire of twenty years come roaring to my being. I wanted to hit him. I wanted to fight him. I wanted to cause the damage that a father’s neglect had caused. But I didn’t. Because he was correct. I was raised to be better than that. To be better than him.
I took a walk. My father had told me what he expected. He’d dismissed me, and I took that dismissal willingly. Away from him. Away from his newest wife. Away from that house with its gate and its over the top opulence.
I was walking down another street, paying no mind to where I was heading or where I’d come from, thinking that worse case scenario I’d just call my erstwhile father’s home and have someone come fetch me when I grew tired. I came to the hotel, the resort by complete accident. How would I have found it on purpose? I hadn’t been in Miami for over forty eight hours. Knowing where the Miramar Playa was, much less its import to my father was beyond me at that point. Yet find it I did.
And I watched as the tall, dark man punched the protester. Watched as he looked supremely unconcerned as he walked back inside. Watched as he turned and caught my eye briefly.
I had my purse. I was dressed more than well enough to go inside for a drink. And so I did. I walked to the front doors and smiled as that same man held the door for me.
“Welcome to-” He stared, his voice so deep I felt it in my bones.
“The Miramar Playa?” I offered, smiling up at him. “I can read, mister?”
His smile made dimples appear in his cheeks, taking him from slightly dangerous to devilishly handsome. “Evans. Ike Evans. The owner of this fine establishment, miss?”
“Diamond.” His eyes widened and I knew that in Miami, my new home, my name was WELL known. “Elizabeth Diamond.” I held out my hand, gloved as a lady was supposed to, and waited. “It doesn’t bite, Mr. Evans.” He took it with a small chuckle. “Pleasure to meet you, is there a restaurant?” I looked around curiously.
“Of course.” He tucked my hand into the crook of his arm and walked me further inside. “Allow me.”
Ike Evans took me to the inside dining area, clearly realizing that dining outside would cause me to melt, quite literally. I’d worn a fashionable dress, with the stockings, heels, gloves, and hat that went with it. But honestly, in southern Miami it seemed too much. I’d have to reevaluate my wardrobe. Making sure I was comfortable, he left me, and I was left to my own inner turmoil.
A drink, and lunch, had me feeling marginally better. My father expected me to perform, but how? I’d been raised to be a lady, pure and simple. Not to act as some pawn in a game I didn’t understand. Yet, here I was, at his mercy. And that made my blood run cold.
I left the money for the check, and recalling that one of the other American girls at school mentioned that tipping was required stateside, I left what I hoped was enough. Double the check seemed fair. Pulling on my gloves and taking up my clutch, I walked out of the restaurant.
“Leaving so soon?” Mr. Evans asked, and I smiled up at him. “I haven’t had a chance to show you the hotel.”
“What would warrant such service, Mr. Evans?” I asked, honestly curious.
“Ike.” I nodded. “I like showing her off.” He glanced around himself at the lobby, and I had to fight a laugh. Like a little boy showing a drawing off.
“Lead away, Ike.” He tucked my hand into the crook of his arm again and gave me the tour. By the end of it, I’d agreed to allow him to call me Liz. Something only friends did, my father didn’t even get the memo. He showed me the beach, the outdoor eating establishment, he even showed me a ‘sample room’. He talked to me as though I mattered and I realized this made him a wonderful businessman. The ability to make anyone feel important was rare. And worked like a charm. He’d brought me back to the lobby when I noticed my father’s driver waiting. A sigh built up until I couldn’t hold back. “Seems I’m being summoned.” I glanced at the driver and saw he looked as comfortable with the situation as I was. “Thank you for the tour, Mr. Evans.” We had an audience, and we both knew it.
“Of course, Miss Diamond.” He let me pull my hand free and took it in his own. “Let me know if you wish to dine with us again, I’ll reserve the table of your choice.”
A nod of assent, and then I walked to the driver. “I suppose you’ve come to collect me.” It was as tired and irritated as I could feel in public, which wasn’t a great deal. “Let’s go.”
Chapter 2: New Year's Eve
Lily's expertise for fashion is well appreciated, but where did she rush off to? And a trip to the ladies' could change everything.
I’d come to Miami days away from the new year. My father, smiling so deeply I felt certain his face might just burst from the effort, told me we’d be celebrating at the Miramar. Frank Sinatra. Glitz. Glamour. Even Lily looked excited, and she rarely showed emotion over anything, that I’d noticed so far.
“What shall I wear?” I asked, knowing that for now, my expert fashion sense needed help. I nearly fainted when she practically squealed at the idea of taking me shopping. Dear Lord. “Shopping? In Miami?” I would rather die in a puddle of my own piss, I thought, but went along when I saw that it was as my father wished. Fine. Why not?
I was dragged through so many stores that I lost count. I was forced into a makeup chair so some woman could do my colors, and then another could tease my hair into some form of style that terrified me, until Lily came to my rescue and told them ‘subtle’ over and over.
By the time we left, I had a black floor length gown that seemed to shimmer in the sun. The slit was a bit much, but the heels were lovely. Silk stockings with a gorgeous black back seam, and jewelry that my father had gifted me over the years would complete the look. My long hair was pulled back and clipped, waves brushing my shoulders. And the make up was subtle, but far more than I’d ever worn before. I chose elbow length gloves, my large diamond bracelet (what other stones would my father allow to grace my being?) settled carefully on one wrist. The matching necklace tight against my throat. Red lips, dark eyes, and I looked, if Lily was to be believed gorgeous.
“I must be the luckiest bastard in Miami, with the two of you on my arms.” My father’s crudeness could be excused, I supposed, since it seemed to be a compliment. I realized that Lily was like a mirror image to me. White instead of black. She looked lovely, and I told her so.
“Thank you, Liz.” I almost corrected her, but decided it didn’t matter. Since we’d spent the day together, she’d earned it.
“Liz?” My father shot me a calculating look. “I like it. Like Liz Taylor.” Ah, of course, the movie star. “You have her coloring, well aside from your eyes.” Yes, my eyes, not violet, but emerald green. “You do look beautiful, sweetheart.”
We drove to the hotel in semi-silence. My father only broke it to let me know that he’d known that I’d been there before because he’d had me followed. I started to protest, but he reminded me of his reputation. “I can’t have an enemy attack you because of me, Liz.” He was still working his way around my nickname. I felt oddly comforted by his worry, but deep down I knew he just didn’t want the distraction that could come from my harm.
Once at the hotel, he exited the car first, offering his arm to Lily, then the other to me. Getting out in the dress was a bit of a challenge, but I managed, thankful that she went first. Lights were as blinding as the sun, and flashes everywhere. Damn it. Cameras? Of course, I reminded myself, Frank Sinatra was probably the tip of the iceberg.
“Smile, darling,” my father’s lips barely moved with the order, and I complied. “Perfect.” That word was going to get old very fast.
We walked slowly inside, and I relished the chill of the air inside. Heavenly. I allowed myself to be put through the paces. Introductions. Faces and names I’d struggle for days to recall. Champagne. The dimness of the dining room. The sound of music. And then Lily wasn’t by my side. I looked around, trying to catch a glimpse of the one person I could count as a friend. Nowhere that I could see.
“Problem, sweetheart?” My father asked, trying to find what I was searching for clearly. Not wanting to draw undue attention to Lily’s absence, I smiled shyly.
“The ladies?” I asked, and a voice behind me answered.
“Allow me, Miss Diamond.” I turned and realized that Ike had somehow ended up behind me.
“Isaac.” My father offered. “Would you be a lad and show my daughter the way?” His eyes were shrewd. Clearly a test of some sort, but for whom?
“Of course, Ben.” He offered me his arm, and I took it carefully. Suddenly aware of the flash of a wedding band on his left ring finger. Ah, a test for me. “Let me show you to the powder room.”
“Thank you, Mr. Evans.” I easily kept up with him, since he once again shortened his stride to fit mine. “I’m sorry, I’m taking you away from your wife.” I mentioned as we wove through other guests. “If you’ll simply point the way-”
“That wouldn’t be very hospitable, Liz.” His smile brought out his dimples and I shook my head. “My wife and family is quite used to me taking care of hotel business during events.”
Hotel business? Well that put me in perspective. I bit my lip, careful of the red paint, and walked silently beside him. I grew confused as we passed the lobby, as he walked me further inward, and then we were inside an office.
“This doesn’t look like a ladies’ room.” I said, glancing around. It was his office. It practically screamed his name, and I hardly knew him.
His chuckle made me realize that I’d been lost inside my own head. “Yeah, I thought you might like the privacy of,” he moved to a door and opened it. “A single.”
“Thank you again, Mr. Evans.” I moved toward the doorway, but stopped when he stepped in front of me. Looking up, I could see how dark his eyes had grown and swallowed hard.
“Don’t mention it, Liz.” Ah, a reminder that my father wasn’t beside us. “You look beautiful tonight.”
“Thank you, Ike.” I slipped past him and shut the door, but could still smell the musk of his cologne and the scent of cigars. I took a moment to take a breath and fix my make up. My lipstick reapplied, my eyes free of smudge, I washed my hands and opened the door to find him seated behind his desk. “Is this the scene of a man lording over his domain?”
Ike looked up and it seemed like he was drinking in the very image of me. I grew embarrassed and started for the office door, thinking he could work and I could return to the party. His hand on my arm stopped me. “Liz.” I felt like my breathing was coming in gasps, and I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that turning and looking at him would cause something that neither of us would see as less than shameful.
“I should head back, before Father sends someone to find me.” The warning was clear. Off limits, just like you. I could feel the heat of him and it took every single bit of my strength to walk out the door. “Thank you for the use of your-” I stopped, and glanced at him leaning against the doorway. “Thank you, Ike.” And then I walked as fast as I could without ruining the facade of good breeding all the way back to the party.
“You look flushed,” my father offered, Lily returned and seated on his left. He had a hand on her neck and he looked suspicious. Of me? Or her?
“I didn’t want to miss Sinatra.” I offered, carefully taking my seat as a waiter held it for me. “There was a line.”
He nodded, and I realized he was studying Lily’s neck. Oh, he was suspicious of her. We rang in the new year with Frank Sinatra, and I tried not to look for Ike. To see him kiss his wife. To see his eyes meet mine across the room. To feel the burn of want mixed with shame. I lied to myself and said that it didn’t matter. That Ike Evans was off limits and so was I.
Chapter 3: Beach? More Like Pool...
This strange dance, Ike and Liz, who was leading and who was falling behind?
I spent days at my father’s house. Haunting the hallways. Looking through bookcases full of books that seemingly had never been opened. Ignoring the calls from Lily to join her in the pool. As though I’d go without a suit with her, while my father was home or not. Finally feeling stir crazy, they invited me to come with them to the Miramar for a beach day.
“Sounds interesting.” I offered, my stomach doing an uncomfortable flip. “Lily?” She glanced at me over her slim breakfast. “Could you take a look at my suit to give me-”
She smiled at me reassuringly. “Of course, Liz.” She ate another small bite of grapefruit and I finished my toast and juice. “I’ll be up in a moment.”
Nodding, I smiled at my father and walked up stairs to my room. Pulling out the bikini that I’d worn on the beach in France, I took off my dress and undergarments and replaced them with the brief black suit. I was happy to see that the trimming I’d had before leaving home hadn’t grown out. No unwanted hair was outside the suit, the cups of the top cupped me just right. The black not nearly as stark against my skin as some would assume.
“Black really is your color,” Lily’s voice made me jump. “Sorry, I did knock.”
“Must have been inside my own head.” I opened my arms and presented myself. “Is it appropriate here?”
“Oh, you’re gonna kill them with that suit.” My eyes widened. “Liz, that’s a GOOD thing. Wow. I never would have guessed you had THIS in you.”
She was inspecting my bikini, and body, I guessed. “Well, thank you, I think.”
Her giggle made me look down at where she seemed quite shocked by something at my bottom lines. “You’re very groomed down here, aren’t you?”
“It’s what we do-” I sighed. I was about to say ‘back home’. “In France.” I finished lamely. “Don’t you-”
“Not as close as this.” She stood up and was back to inches above me. “Seriously, they’re going to be knocked off their feet when they take in this suit and you.”
Once I’d been carefully made up again, although I couldn’t quite understand the logic. Weren’t we going to the beach? She shushed me and kept going, fixing my hair and asking if I had a cover-up.
“Of course I do.” I pulled away and drew out the sundress that went with the bikini. “What?” She was staring at it.
“That’s shorter than anything I’ve ever seen you in.” Of course it was, I wanted to offer, it’s a bathing suit cover. “I like it.”
Nodding I asked if she was finished with my hair and make up. She reminded me to grab my sunglasses, a hat, and whatever else I normally took to the beach. Then she left to get ready herself.
I put a book into a large straw bag, some oil, my sunglasses, and wallet. Then I carefully put my huge sun hat on, careful so I didn’t ruin the hair that Lily had taken time to fix. I met them in the car, my father taking in my image just as he had the night of the New Year’s party.
“Perfect as always, Liz.” Honestly hated that word now. “Why are you always in black, and you always in white?” He asked the two of us.
“We know what colors look best on us, Ben.” Lily answered, her hand on his thigh.
“And they definitely do.” He answered, smiling at her.
By beach, they meant the stretch of sand nearest the pool apparently. Dear goodness, these people. I took the lounge beside Lily as my father moved to a table where cards were about to be played. Ah, beach for us, or pool rather. Gambling for him.
I took my bikini cover off and felt like there were eyes on me. I glanced around, but saw nothing. Lily showed none of the same concern. She tossed hers to the side and flopped down, sunny side up.
“Comfortable?” I asked, taking more time to get relaxed on my own.
She laughed and grinned over at me. “Better than our pool.” I could see her eyes wandering over the scantily clad men and women that surrounded us. “Even if I do have to wear a suit.”
“The horrors.” I offered, taking my sunglasses out. “However do I go for a swim with this hair and make up? I’m going to end up looking like a horror show.”
Another laugh. “I did your hair so when it gets wet it’ll actually look better,” I gave her a look of disbelief. “Who’s lived here longer?” A shrug to concede that point. “And the make up won’t run, trust me.”
“We’ll see.” I said, thinking as hot as it was, we’d see sooner than later. I lay back and listened to my father’s game. Hoping that he was winning, I gave up after mere minutes. Hot. So damn hot. “I’m going in.” I offered, and Lily grunted to show she heard.
I’d only just stood up, and barely taken two steps when there he was-again. Ike Evans, my walking, talking nightmare dressed up as a daydream. Wearing the suit, his ever present suit, I shook my head and moved on toward the pool. I felt, rather than saw, his eyes on me. And I tried, desperately not to change the sway of my hips. To not draw more attention to myself than normal. To not tempt him or myself more than we already were.
I swam. I tested Lily’s theory. I dived and cooled off. It didn’t take long. Soon I was walking out by the steps and standing at the top holding a loud yellow towel open was Ike Evans. I shut my eyes and nearly sidestepped him, but he was persistent, clearly using his role as host of his hotel to his full advantage. A glance behind him told me that my father and his group were occupied, so I stepped into his arms, back first. I let him wrap the towel around me. I let his hands linger on my hands as I took the towel tips in mine. I let his scent wrap around me, and the feel of the heat of his body reheat my back.
“Thank you, Ike.” It was a breath, but I couldn’t hear the splashing of the others, or the noise that had cocooned me from the moment I’d stepped foot near the pool.
“We aim to please.” His was no louder, but it sounded like a shout. “That suit, Liz-” I turned and caught him licking his lips like he was hungry. “It’s something else.”
“Is that a compliment?” I asked, feeling eyes finally noticing us. “If it is, thank you again.” I started to walk away, but he took a small step back, staying in my path, but not noticeably. “He’s watching.” I warned.
“He sees my back and you're wrapped in a towel.” He seemed so sure that I let him go on. “We’re talking, we’re allowed that, aren’t we?”
“I suppose so.” I reluctantly agreed, but leaving him felt wrong. “The party was really something.”
“Yeah, it was.” He agreed, his eyes burning into mine. “I found a real diamond that night, too bad it slipped out of my hand.”
“Diamonds are sharp, you could get cut.” I offered back, knowing that we were dancing around a forbidden subject, but needing to say it. “Especially if the diamond isn’t yours to touch.”
“Didn’t know that particular stone belonged to anyone.” He argued, his eyes tight.
“Yes, well, it’s not the only thing taken.” I reminded him with a sharp glance at his wedding band. “I should get back.” I sidestepped him finally, feeling the burn of his eyes still on me, even though I knew it would be certain madness for him to have turned to watch me walk away.
Lily was flirting with a younger man, dark haired when I returned. “Excuse me, that’s my seat.” I hated to interrupt, but he was in my way.
He turned to me and I realized that he looked familiar. “You must be Liz.” He offered me his hand and I took it as he stepped away far enough so I could get to my lounge. “Stevie Evans.” I must have looked confused because he filled in the blanks for me. “Ike’s son.”
“Ah, Mr. Evans’ son. It’s nice to meet you, Stevie, was it?” I asked, letting go of his hand and taking my seat. “Pardon me if I look a mess, she convinced me hair and make up were normal during swimming.” I shot Lily a look and saw her eyeing both Stevie and shooting me a grin. No, please don’t make me a part of whatever this madness was.
“Tell her she doesn’t look a mess, Stevie.” Lily demanded of the clearly smitten young man. And he did. I didn’t roll my eyes, but it was a close one. I pushed my sunglasses onto my face and laid back.
“I’ll reserve judgement for when I go to the ladies’.” I heard her tell Stevie her drink order and ask for mine. “Same.” And then he left.
“I’m going in.” She offered, and then she left me.
Left me to my own inner workings. Again. This hotel. Ike Evans. His son. No good would come of the entire combustible mix.
Chapter 4: Moths and Flames...
The dance continues. More players are introduced, but what does it change?
I went to breakfast and could have cut the tension with a knife at the table. Tempted to grab some juice and head back to my room, Lily shot me a look that clearly asked me to stay. Damn it. I grabbed a slice of toast and a glass of juice and sat down.
“Is that today’s paper?” I asked, seeing it lying untouched by my father’s plate. He gave me a curt nod and I asked if I could have a look.
“Sure, at least one woman under this roof is educated.” He grunted and I shot an apologetic look at Lily. “At least one woman shows the proper loyalty.” What had I walked into?
I decided my presence was enough, and opened the paper. A man was missing. Some sort of Union leader. I read the article and wondered why I felt a chill. Perhaps the air was too high. I went through the rest of the paper, waiting out my father, or Lily so the other would have a reprieve. Lily and I won the wait.
“Have a good day, Liz.” He offered, kissing my temple. “I have business all day, I’ll see you at dinner.” Not a word spoken to Lily, not that she seemed to care.
We waited until we heard the door shut behind him. The sound of a car leaving the driveway. And I chanced a real look at her. “Do I want to know?” I asked, taking a sip of juice.
“He’s jealous.” She replied as though it answered everything. When I waited, she finally went on. “He suspects I’m being unfaithful.”
I didn’t ask the obvious. Was she? I didn’t want to know. It was her secret. “I won’t ask, I won’t. Just be careful.” I held her gaze. “You know who he is.”
“Yeah.” She agreed, finally taking up her spoon to eat the grapefruit half she allowed herself.
Lily’s dog is dead. I heard the shot and came running. I felt the bile rise up in my throat, seeing the gun in my father’s hand, his taunt reply that he was trying to have a phone conversation, as though that were an excuse enough to kill an animal. An animal that was simply behaving as a dog does. I glared at his retreating back, and then rushed to find one of his employees to get rid of the corpse. And another to clean the patio free of blood.
I took Lily in my arms, and shushed her. “I told you.” I said, rocking her as she let the shock of her husband shooting her dog dead in front of her roll through her. “I told you to be wary of him. You have to be careful. Make peace with him.” I was whispering, only she and I could hear one another. “Please, Lily, do it.”
I felt her nod of assent and let out a sigh of relief. I wasn’t entirely sure that she and I were friends, but she was all I had.
Lunch at the hotel. I felt the urge to scream at the thought of it, but if I said no, it would look strange. Maybe this time my luck would come to me, and I wouldn’t see him. That he would be busy with his wife or family or the running of his hotel and I’d be left to my own devices.
Instead, I met her. His wife. And his daughter. It was an accident, meeting them, with him standing there. I’d taken a turn that wasn’t the right path, clearly, as I ended up in a room that was clearly being put together for a lavish Bat Mitzvah. He was standing at the foot of a staircase, singing silly to a young girl walking down. And I’d started to leave, but she saw me.
“Hello?” Her accent was heavy, but I knew who she was from New Year’s. “Hello, can we help you?”
Damn it. I felt his eyes and turned around with a smile. “So sorry, I think I got a bit turned around.” My hand was still on the doorknob, and I was tempted to dart out. “I was looking for-”
“Powder room?” She offered graciously. I gave a small nod. “Aren’t you-”
“Elizabeth Diamond,” Ike offered. “Ben’s daughter.” Great, thanks for that.
She walked to me, elegant and tall. Much taller than me, but then again, most people were. “It’s so nice to meet you,” she took my hand and I felt a rush of absolute shame at having flirted with her husband. “I’m Vera Evans,” she waved a hand toward the lovely young woman still on the stairs. “Our daughter, Lauren.”
Lauren opened her mouth to say something, but I saw Ike shake his head. “Hello, Miss Diamond.” She offered instead, earning her father’s smile.
“It’s lovely to meet you both, but-” I glanced at the door.
“Of course, how thoughtless of me.” Vera took my arm in hers and walked me to the nearest ladies’ room. “Here it is, Miss Diamond.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Evans.” I said, opening the door.
“Vera, I insist.” She said, and I smiled at her.
“Liz.” And then the door shut between us and I let out a huge held breath. Torture, every single visit here.
I was going to explode if my presence was requested at the Miramar one more time. I swore it. I couldn’t stand seeing him. Those dimples and eyes. His hair. Those suits. His scent. The heat of him. Only to see his wife and family around him. It was torture. Pure and simple. And I wouldn’t inflict it on myself again.
And then my father insisted. Again. I glared at him, but realized that he mostly wanted me out of the house. “Why the Miramar, there must be other places I could go for the evening?” I countered, but he stared at me for a beat, then gave me his answer.
“I’m a silent partner, Liz, so you’re safe there.” Damn it. “Go, have dinner, have a few drinks. Dance. Be young.” I saw him glance at Lily and realized I needed to go. “Tell Ike it’s on my tab.”
I nodded and went upstairs and got ready. Lily came in to give me her approval, and then hugging her and reminding her to make peace, I left.
It was night. And I hoped that after a long day of work, Ike would be in his apartment with his family. That I would be left to myself. I had dinner at a great table, the waitstaff having been told of my tipping habits.
“Was it not the right amount?” I asked the waiter, who smiled reassuringly at me. “It was too much, wasn’t it?”
“I won’t tell if you don’t.” He offered with a wink and I laughed.
Dinner was wonderful, but I wished I’d brought a book. And then someone sat in the empty chair to my right and I sighed. Of course. “Ike.” I greeted, staring at my plate and contemplating another drink.
“That’s not your usual polite greeting, Liz.” He offered, and I knew he was smiling. The perfect host. Always.
“How’s Vera? And Lauren? And Stevie?” I rattled off his responsibilities as though a mantra and reminder for why he shouldn’t be sitting at my table.
“You forgot Danny.” He chuckled, and my head lifted so I could meet his twinkling eyes. “Didn’t know you’d met Stevie.”
“Yes, he brought drinks to Lily and me when-” I stopped a flash of blush hitting me. “So your family? They’re well?”
“Peachy.” He replied smiling at me. “You?”
“Wonderful.” I took a sip of my wine. “I’m sure you need to mingle.” I was dismissing him, no doubt about that.
“Already did.” He looked so at ease in the seat next to me, careless even. “Guess you missed it as you studied your salad.”
I bit my lip and saw his eyes land on the movement. “Suppose I did.” Another sip of wine. “I should move to the bar.”
“The bar?” He stood when I stood, holding my chair and handing me my purse. “Liz, are you a drinker?”
I shook my head. “I’ve been asked to spend some time away from my father’s house tonight. He and Lily-” I stopped again. It didn’t bear mentioning. “I should,” I opened my purse to grab money for the check, but he stopped me.
“It’s on Ben.” He replied, but I still tossed down the money. “You’re spoiling my staff, Liz.”
“I’m rewarding good service, Ike.” I retorted, then I moved toward the bar that he’d shown me on my first visit.
I’d barely sat down at a high top table, when he was next to me. “Does every guest warrant such personalized attention or am I special?” I knew that my father was a partner, not a legal one, I’d bet my life, but this was ridiculous.
“Maybe I just think you’re worth the extra attention, Liz.” he offered, taking his seat and gesturing for a waiter. “Scotch.”
“Martini, dry, no olive.” I ordered, and noticed his raised eyebrow. “I love martinis, but I hate olives.”
“I’ll make note of that.” He smiled again, and then he took a cigar from his pocket and lit it, his wedding band catching the lights.
“You should go.” I offered, turning to look at the holes showing swimming women. “You do have other responsibilities.”
“You keep reminding me of that, Liz.” I glanced at him and saw him smirking. “Why?”
“Ike Evans, have you never heard the saying ‘play with fire and you get burned’?” He nodded. “I’m like hellfire to you, touch me and we’ll both get consumed.”
“Promises, promises.” He muttered, but he stood and took his scotch away.
My skin felt fevered, and he hadn’t touched me. I touched the cool glass of my drink and sighed in relief. At least something was cool.
Every time I saw Ike, it was the same. Flirt. Warn. One of us would walk away. Yet, like moths, we’d come back, the light and warmth too tempting to deny.
I had to wonder. When would one of us break? And what would that lead to?
Chapter 5: Jackie Was A No Show, but Here I Am...
Against her wishes, Liz returned to Miramar. This time, she swore, there wouldn't be a dance. Vera had arranged the event. Surely that meant Ike would keep his distance...
I was shocked when I was asked to attend some type of function that Vera Evans had put together. Lily wasn’t required, as her and my father were trying to keep the peace.
“What precisely am I supposed to wear to this?” I asked, thinking that Lily was the lady of the house, peace be damned. I was pouting, no doubt about that.
“Something very garden party.” I raised an eyebrow at Lily. “Jackie Kennedy is supposed to be there.”
“THE Jackie Kennedy?” I asked, finding it unbelievable. Lily grinned at me. “And a dress fit for a garden party?” A nod. “Fine.”
“I’m sure whatever you pick will be perfect, Liz.” I mouthed the word, very tired of the mere thought of hearing it again. Perfection, thy name is Elizabeth Diamond.
I nodded and went in search of a dress.
A fitted black dress, shoulders bared, another throat tight clutch of diamonds, and earrings to match. A pair of silk stockings, that ever present back seam straight, and heels to match. I was about to call Lily to ask if I needed a fascinator, when I realized she was standing in the doorway.
“Don’t force me to put a bell on you.” I teased, then asked her the question that was on my mind.
“Normally, yes, but you should stand out.” She offered, sitting me down at my vanity and working on my hair. “You aren’t one of us old married women, Liz, show it.” She worked my hair into loose curls, then fixed my makeup so it was just this side of sultry. “There, now not even Jackie will hold a candle to you.”
I took a look in my mirror and barely recognized myself. Was this the bedroom eyes that I’d read about? And the hair, was it honestly proper to have it look so tousled? Lily’s shining eyes told me that it was. I picked up the black satin clutch I’d put everything but my lipstick in, and then added the tube.
“You’re gorgeous, Liz.” She offered, then pushed me toward the door. “Go. You’re going to knock them all dead.”
“You and that morbid talk.” I shook my head, but when my father’s eyes took in the sight of me I knew she was correct.
“Perfect.” Of course, any other word just wouldn’t do. “Liz, you are going to make every single man, woman, and child sit up and take notice of the Diamonds.” Great, like a show dog.
“I’ll do my best to uphold the family name, Father.” I offered, and listened to his bark of laughter. Oh, right.
“You do that, sweetheart, you do that.” He was still laughing as the door shut behind me, and I hoped that boded well for Lily’s evening.
The event, I still wasn’t entirely sure the purpose behind it, was definitely a do. I made my way gratefully to the bar, thinking if nothing else, a martini would make it bearable. I’d just ordered my martini, when I felt him next to me.
“Do you have a magnet hidden on my person somewhere, and the brother to it in your pocket?” I took a sip of my drink and closed my eyes in pleasure.
“I wish I could see you make that face in a more private setting.” My eyes flashed open, horrified at the thought someone heard him. “Relax, no one is at the bar this early.” He shot me a look and I rolled my eyes and took another sip. “You really love that martini.”
I licked a stray drop from my lip and watched as his eyes zeroed in on my lips. “A good martini is worth its weight in gold.”
“Doesn’t cost much then, does it?” He asked, smirking down at me. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a color other than black, Liz.”
“Guess I’m always dressed for a wake, aren’t I?” I smiled into another sip. “I’ve been told it’s my color, Ike, and us ladies always go with what’s most fetching.”
He leaned in and I stopped breathing. “I don’t know, I’m thinking you’d look just as fetching bare skinned. Or in something red.” I swallowed the sip I’d taken before I stopped breathing and my eyes closed again.
When I opened them, he was gone. And I didn’t know if I was happy or not.
Jackie Kennedy did not show up. Not that I cared. I was seated at the bar, laughing with the bartender when Vera made her way to me. “Liz.” She greeted in her heavily accented English.
“Hello, Vera.” I smiled at her, because perched on my stool I was almost eye level with her. “It’s a wonderful event.” Lame, but I still wasn’t sure what the purpose was.
She was staring at me like I was teasing her. I wasn’t. Jackie Kennedy was clearly a long shot. “Thank you, Liz. I hope you’re enjoying yourself.”
“Very much so, thank you for having me.” She walked off to do more rounds, and I went back to my drink. “So, tell me another joke.” I asked my companion behind the bar.
I was outside, waiting for the driver to come around to pick me up, when he was behind me again. How could I know it? How could I feel him when he wasn’t even touching me?
“Liz?” I shut my eyes and stayed where I was. “Hey, leaving already?” His fingers touched my bare arm and I could swear I felt a current.
“Yes,” I opened my eyes to find him in front of me. “I’m fairly certain that I’ve done my familial duty.”
“Is that why you came?” He asked, his voice low. “Duty?”
“Why else?” I countered, meeting his eyes.
And then he was pulling me to the side, away from view of anyone who didn’t know the niche was there, and his lips met mine. I gasped at the feeling of his mouth, and he took the opening as an invitation to taste me. His tongue touched me and I forgot why this was a bad idea. I forgot my father, his family. Nothing existed except him and me in the niche next to his hotel entrance.
“Tell me why this is a bad idea again?” His breath fanned against the dampness he’d helped create on my lips. “Liz?”
“I’m thinking.” I answered with a smile and he chuckled and dipped back in. My arms were around his neck, he was exploring my back when I heard my father’s driver asking for me. “Oh, right.”
We were both gasping for air. Damn it. His eyes, so dark and tempting, were locked on mine. “What does it mean that I don’t care?” I couldn’t answer. “I don’t, Liz. I don’t care who he is.”
I pulled away, reluctantly, but necessarily. “Does Vera matter?” I saw his eyes tighten. “That’s what I thought.” I took my mirror out of my clutch and checked my lipstick. Fixing the smudges, I handed him my handkerchief. “Fix your mouth, Ike, and then walk me back as though you were showing me the foliage.”
He did as I asked, and as he helped me into my father’s car, I hoped the driver didn’t hear him say, “What if she doesn’t?”
Chapter 6: A Vacation? At the Miramar?
When Father insists on a vacation for Liz at the Miramar she can't refuse. Truly she can't. But whose idea was it really?
I wasn’t prepared for him to call. Or for him to keep calling. He was careful. He only called when my father wasn’t home, which made me wonder if he was watching the house. Paranoia, a Diamond family trait.
“Liz! Phone!” Lily would call up the stairs, and the first and every other time he'd call.
“Hello?” I was curious. No one had called me since I arrived in Miami, why now?
“Liz?” I heard the click on the downstairs extension telling me Lily had hung up. “Liz, it’s Ike.”
“Hello, Ike.” I felt a flutter in my stomach but forced it away. He was married, remember?
“I was wondering if you were planning on coming out tonight?” No, I wasn’t, but before I could answer he started tempting me. “We’re having-” And he’d give me a band’s name. A special dish. A drink I hadn’t tried.
“I think I’m going to stay in tonight, Ike, but thank you for letting me know.” And I’d start to say goodbye.
“Liz, come on.” He’d plead, almost begging, almost. “You’ll have a good time.”
“I think staying in is a better idea, but thank you, Ike.” And I’d hang up until the next time Father left the house.
It was a repeat, each and every time. I’d answer, reluctantly, but still tempted to hear him. He’d give me all the reasons to come out and play with him. And I’d beg off. Hanging up before anything was said that could be misinterpreted.
It wasn’t that I didn’t trust him. Strangely, even as he tempted me to help him cheat on his wife, I found Ike Evans honorable. It was that I didn’t trust my father, or Lily, because the tension had returned. They spoke, but it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t simple or playful. There was an undercurrent and I knew it was dangerous.
No, I wouldn’t add Ike to my father’s list. A list that I feared had Lily’s name at the top.
“I think you should go out, Liz.” I sighed into the magazine that I’d procured from Lily’s pile. “In fact, I think you should stay the night at Miramar.” What? I looked up at him. He was smiling as though he were offering me a gift. “Not just a night. Take a week. A week with a fresh view.”
“You want me to take a vacation to a hotel down the block from your house?” I asked, certain I was hearing him wrong.
“I want to know how the hotel looks and feels from fresh eyes, Liz.” He explained, taking the seat next to me. “Your eyes, they’re unbiased, they’ll tell me whether my investment is worthwhile or not.”
“So you want me to spy on Mr. Evans?” I clarified. “That doesn’t sound like much of a vacation.” I smirked, but agreed. Why not? I could stay in my room the entire time and be alone.
I packed up a suitcase. Including my bikini and dress cover. I packed books, and my sunglasses. I took nice dresses and my nightgowns. And shaking my head at the absurdity of this entire endeavor I left to go on my ‘vacation’.
“Hello, I’m checking in.” I offered at the front desk.
“Yes, you are.” Ike offered from behind me. “Hand me the key to the -- Suite.” I turned to see him looking down on me like he’d been given a gift. “Come along, Miss Diamond, let me show you to your room.” He took my bag in one hand as I carried my toiletry case.
“You don’t look surprised to see me.” I offered once we were out of earshot. “In fact, you look quite happy to see me.”
“I’m always happy to see you, Liz.” He tossed back as he held the elevator for me. “I’m not surprised. Who do you think fed the idea of your ‘vacation’ to your dad?”
“He’ll kill you.” I breathed. Happy we had the elevator to ourselves. “If he figures it out, and he will, you’ll be dead.”
“Sounds like you care, Liz.” He smiled at me and I wanted to smack him. “Don’t worry. You’re going to give Ben a glowing report. It’ll be fine.”
“I’m going to give my father a glowing report, am I?” I was, but I wasn’t ready to let him brag about it.
“After all the personal service you’re going to get, Liz, the report is going to glow in the dark.” A twist of pure lust hit me hard. Heavens. “Now let me show you to your suite.”
It was amazing. Open and airy. Muted colors, but still luxurious. I took a look around as he sat my case carefully on the foot of the bed. “Let me take that,” he took my toiletry case and disappeared into what I imagined was the bathroom.
I stayed at the floor length window and stared at the crashing waves. His heat told me he was closing in, followed quickly by his musky scent. And then his arms wrapped around me from behind and his head was on top of mine. I closed my eyes and let myself enjoy the feel of him. His strength. The pounding of his heart through his suit and tie.
“I’m glad you’re here, Liz.” His voice was rough, harsher than I’d ever heard it. “Turn around?”
I opened my eyes and looked up at him as I turned. “Ike, we shouldn’t-” He cut me off with a kiss, one that I wish I could say I pulled away from, but that would be a lie. I won’t say I pushed at him to try to fight it. My fingers were in his hair, holding him tight to me, as his hands found my lower back and pulled my body flush with his. I could feel how hard he was. How much I affected him.
“Why not, Liz?” He asked again, different words, same question. “Why can’t we?” His fingers were sliding my zipper down, even as I fought to remember why we shouldn’t. Then his bare hands met my bare skin, and thinking wasn’t possible. “You want this too, don’t you?”
I bit his bottom lip in answer and licked into his mouth. “Stop talking, Ike.” And then my dress was puddled around my heels, and I was pushing his suit jacket from his shoulders.
“Red?” He asked, touching the lace of my bra, and then cupping me through my underwear.
“Someone mentioned I might look nice in the color.” I answered, pulling his tie free from his shirt. “You’re still talking.”
“I think someone told you you’d look amazing in-” I kissed him hard, praying he understood. Talking to me, reminding me of why we shouldn’t would force me to stop. “No talking, understood.” And then his fingers found the clasp on my bra and all talking stopped as we worked to see who looked best in the flesh.
Once we were both gloriously naked, and I say that word with no sarcasm, because Ike Evans was glorious naked, we finally found the bed. His chest hair, the tanned skin, and every single inch of him was tempting me to taste. One of us kicked my suitcase off the end. And then I allowed the temptation to overtake me and I started tasting his neck. Salty, but definitely delicious. His chest, salt with a hint of his musk. His abdomen, definitely worthy of attention, even if I couldn’t place the flavor. And then, situated between his spread legs, I took in a most particular delicacy. Licking from the bottom of his rigid length to the swollen tip, I felt his hips rise from the mattress. My eyes met his as my mouth engulfed him and I heard and saw his sigh. Humming at a flavor uniquely Ike, I took my time tasting and teasing.
“Liz,” he gasped, but I didn’t move. “Liz, damn it, get up here.” An order? Really. And then, his hands met my cheeks and my eyes locked back on his. “Please, Liz.” Ah, that’s better.
Releasing him with a loud pop, I wiped my chin with my thumb. “Is there something I can help you with, Mr. Evans?”
And then I was underneath his weight, and my giggles mingled with his laugh, but all joking stopped as he slid inside of me. “Next time,” he swore, our eyes meeting again. “Next time, I’m having you for lunch.” And then he moved and our lips met and nothing else mattered. Nothing except me, him, and this bed. My legs wrapped around his waist, letting him slide just a touch deeper and we both moaned loud enough that I hoped the walls were well insulated. “Damn, Liz.” His thrusts began slowly, leisurely, teasing.
“Faster, Ike, please.” And like he’d promised in the elevator, he gave me his personal attention, and gave me everything I asked for and more. “Harder.” I swore we’d break the bed, as hard as he was going, but I didn’t care. I grazed his shoulder with my teeth, careful not to leave a mark, but wanting so badly to. “Yes.” He hit that spot, the elusive one and finding it once, he returned to it. Until I was screaming, and he was trying to swallow my noise with his mouth, even as his own pleasure took him over.
He stayed cradled over me. Kissing my lips, my forehead, my cheeks, my neck. “Liz,” he muttered, saying my name over and over, as though reminding himself and me, just who gave him that release.
It took me some time to regain my breath. And to calm my pounding heart, but my hands busied themselves with memorizing every muscle in his back. The curve of his backside. Numbering the hairs on his head and chest. This might be the worst idea, but it felt incredibly right.
He had to leave, of course, the workings of a hotel without its owner was unimaginable. But he kissed me breathless, and it took him longer to get his clothes back on than it had probably taken him to get dressed this morning. And then, handing me the room key, he kissed my nose and told me not to forget dinner.
“I’m planning on room service tonight.” I answered, feeling the pleasant ache grow from the exercise I’d just performed. “Have a good evening, Ike.”
“You too, Liz.” And it wasn’t until the door closed that it came rushing back to me. My father. His wife. And all the reasons why we shouldn’t have given in.
Chapter 7: Day Two...A New Friend?
Liz is finding it difficult to say 'no'. Vera takes an unusual interest. And Stevie gets the warning he needs.
I ate dinner in my room that night after I’d given in to temptation with Ike. Facing the dining room, or the bar, or heaven forbid Vera Evans sounded as appealing as taking a dive off my balcony. As I sat at the table, with a book in hand, idly eating through my meal and sipping from a bottle of wine that I didn’t order, I wondered where Ike was and whether he was acting the part of a perfect husband.
The morning dawned bright and hot, as every morning in Miami had been since I’d arrived. Leaving the comfort of my bed, I walked to the window with the chiffon of my nightgown trailing me. I leaned against the sill, staring as the waves crashed against the sand, thinking longingly of the beaches of home.
My last year in Europe, a large expanse to consider home yet I did, was spent in a chateau near the crashing waves in the south of France. Paris was always a highlight to visit, but to live? No, there were far quieter and relaxing places. Switzerland was remembered for school. The rest of Europe? The rest was varying degrees of home. London with the hazy of fog and a near constant chill in the air. Ireland, rolling green and wild, tempered only by the rain. Scotland where history and roughness collide. I could reminisce for days. The yearning to return, to stay where I felt the most comfortable was beyond words. In Wales, there’s a word for what I felt, a word I’d learned during a short visit. Hiraeth. It meant a homesickness for where you cannot return. And that was how I felt in a nutshell.
I couldn’t go back. Not without my father’s blessing and funding. I was at his mercy quite literally. I had, during one desperate moment, as one of my many caretakers had planted a seed in my young mind, gone to a lawyer that I could find no trace of knowing who my father was and had him search for proof of my inheritance. I had been told, once upon a time, that my mother had left me her wealth. That while my father had built his from blood and horror, it was my mother who’d had the connections of wealth and breeding. I’d sold a few smaller pieces of jewelry to pay the lawyer, that became two, then three, because each one hadn’t dug deep enough, I felt. Nothing. At least nothing left for me in my own name.
I was nothing without Benjamin Diamond. I had nothing without him. And for that reason, I couldn’t return home, not without his blessing and financial assistance. And my heart felt heavy at the reality.
I let my mind wander, thinking about my time in London, learning about the Victorian unsolved mystery of Jack the Ripper. I could almost hear my guardian admonishing me for such a morbid interest, but I wanted to know about this shadow monster. I thought, perhaps, if I could face the disgusting acts of an unknown beast, it would help me understand the man whose blood flowed through my own veins.
Ike’s arms wrapped around me from behind again, and I sighed. It was barely morning, yet here he was. I wondered where Vera was? Still in bed? Having breakfast alone?
“Taking in the view?” I felt his lips touch the top of my head and nodded. “I couldn’t sleep last night. Thoughts of you kept running through my head.”
“That must have been troublesome,” I offered, pulling out of his arms and sitting down at the table I’d eaten at. “What with your wife in bed beside you and all.”
He stayed at the window, his back to me. Yet I heard his sigh, and could see when he scrubbed a hand down his face. I took in his suit, his broad shoulders, his dark hair. I knew he was irritated with my reminder, and I hoped that it stuck this time. One of us needed to have more willpower, and I was obviously not equipped.
“I don’t know what to say, Liz.” Still facing the window. “What do you want me to say?”
“Goodbye.” Even as I said it, every part of me rebelled against the thought. “It’s what you should say.”
That caused him to turn, to stride to me, to kneel before me. “Do you really want that?” His eyes were searching mine, looking for the telltale signs that I was sure he’d find of the war within me. “Do you want me to leave, Liz?”
His hands, almost as though we were magnets, had taken mine. The feel of his hands, his fingers long and tapered, against my skin forced my eyes closed. Torture, pure and simple, and tearing down the carefully replaced barriers I was attempting to construct against him.
“My wants shouldn’t play a part in this, Ike.” I forced my eyes open. Forced myself to meet his stare. “How can you not see how absolutely ridiculous this is? How dangerous? How wrong?” I shook my head and tried to pull away, but his hands held firm. “Let me go, Ike.”
It was his turn to shake his head. “No.” His stare held me captive along with his grip. “You’re talking yourself out of this by trying to ONLY see the bad.” Of course I was, since the bad was immoral AND would no doubt get him killed. “Why can’t you just let us FEEL, Liz?” I knew he had to see the madness in such an idea. He must. “Tell me this feels wrong.” And then his lips met mine and I knew I was lost again. At least until he left the room, to go back to her.
Our clothes were off faster than the first time. Perhaps it was the need to feel one another’s skin, or perhaps it was simply that once our mouths touched, nothing could stop us. Not buttons, not zippers, and as his hands tore my flimsy gown from my body, most certainly NOT chiffon.
I was pressed against the wall this time. One leg wrapped around his waist, while he pounded into me, his hands so tight at my hips that I was certain I’d wear the imprint of his fingerprints. His mouth was conflicted, wanting the taste of my own and the moans that came from nipping at my neck equally, but the choice was made when the first scream was ripped from me. He devoured my noises as though they were his breakfast, and fed me his own as we crashed together for what seemed like days.
Lying together on my sleep mussed bed, his fingers dancing across my bare skin, I could almost forget. Almost. I knew, however, once he got up and dressed, when he kissed me before straightening his tie, and as he shot me one last lingering look as he crossed the threshold to go, that it would all come rushing back.
I forced myself out of my room for lunch. It was supposed to be a vacation, so I donned a black and white striped dress and heels, forgoing the stockings since I planned on eating al fresco, and put the matching hat on my head before tossing it onto the bed. Instead, sunglasses, my purse, and a book would be my accessories.
I smiled as the waiter showed me to a shaded table. Ordering my meal and drink, I was about to open my book when I felt the presence of someone hovering over me. One glance and I felt sure I’d gone pale.
“Vera.” I smiled, manners coming easily. “You look lovely today.” And she did. She was tall and slim, clearly the height of sophistication by Miami standards.
“Hello, Liz.” Her smile seemed genuine, and for that I was thankful. “Ike told me you were staying the week with us.” Like a house guest, that the husband services daily, I thought with an internal rush of shame.
“May I?” She gestured to the unoccupied seat and I nodded with a smile. “I feel like every time we speak it’s in a rush.” Truer words, I thought. “I didn’t even know that Ben had a daughter.”
I laughed at that and she blushed. “I apologize, Vera.” I shook my head. “My father intended for no one to know about me, for obvious reasons, I imagine.” I let the reminder dangle and she gave a rueful smile in return. “You are correct, however, we do always seem to be in a dash when we meet.”
She studied me, and I fought the urge to fidget as I once had under the scrutiny of the headmistress. “You’re so different-” She didn’t have to fill in the blanks, from my father or from the majority of Miami, both were apt. “I’d hoped that I could get to know you, when we first met, I mean. You seemed so-”
“Awkward?” I offered, thinking that it was the description I’d used for Ike’s night in his marital bed and felt embarrassed. She took it as retroactive mortification at the memory of our first meeting, since she waved it off. “I haven’t met many people that seem interesting enough to get to know here.” I meant Miami, or America, and I hoped she took it as such.
“You don’t really get out very much,” she offered, and I wondered how she knew. “Ike mentioned that you seem to lock yourself away.” Great, Ike the sharer. “I’m sure if you-” She stopped, thinking she overstepped. And I felt the urge to calm her fears of impropriety.
“You’re probably right.” Shaking my head, I tried to put it into words. “It’s just so different here.”
Vera tilted her head in interest. “In Miami?” Perhaps Ike didn’t share everything? Or maybe even he hadn’t been clued in.
“In America, honestly.” I gave a small laugh. “I’m not sure how much you know of my upbringing.”
“Nothing.” I nodded. “Your accent is different,” she squinted as though trying to place mine, just as I puzzled hers out.
“Being reared in Europe does that for a person.” I smirked. “Switzerland for school. France, England, and pretty much anywhere you can think of on the continent for ‘home’.”
“We consider America ‘the continent’,” a return smirk. “I was born and raised in Holland.” Ah, the accent, with a hint of- “My mother was Romany.” I raised an interested eyebrow. “You’re not going to spit ‘gypsy’ at me like a profanity?”
I shook my head. “I prefer the exotic, remember?” And with that, we laughed, bonding.
Lunch wasn’t as strange as I had feared. Vera and I ate, because she joined me and felt like keeping me company for the entirety, and shared stories of our childhood. A shared experience, even if she was there and I was somewhere else. She told me of her dancing. And I regaled her with tales of my travels.
“This was fun,” she offered, as we were standing to leave. “We should do it again, and soon.”
I smiled with a nod. “It was. Thank you for keeping me company, Vera.”
We said goodbye, and I walked slowly back to my room, thinking about how surreal the situation was becoming.
Ike didn’t come to my room again that day. Not that I expected him to. He had plenty of other responsibilities.
I dressed for dinner. Repeating the makeup tricks that I’d watched Lily perform. I worked a brush through my hair, hoping to make it fall in the loose waves that seemed so stylish. Another black patterned dress, silk stockings, heels, clutch. I hadn’t packed any jewelry, Father had mentioned there’d been a few burglaries in the hotel, and I didn’t want to chance it. A final glance in the mirror and I was convinced I looked as good as I was going to get without help.
I was escorted to a table away from the crowd upon my request. I’d brought my book, wanting to have a distraction while eating. As I waited for my food, I lost myself in the pages. I was so engrossed, that the waiter laughed as he put down my drink and again when he served me.
“Good story?” He asked, as I blinked in surprise at the appearance of my food.
Smiling up at him, I nodded. “One of my favorites.” He seemed to want to ask for more information, but I realized that the room was packed. “Clearly compelling since I didn’t notice that I’m surrounded.” He laughed and went back to work.
Eating while reading was a skill I’d mastered during my school years. Studying or pleasure, I knew how to work everything so my book remained pristine and my food ended up in my mouth, and not on my lap. The story pulled me back, and I read until I heard a throat clear above me.
It wasn’t Ike. It wasn’t Vera. It was Stevie. “Hello.” I smiled, taking a drink from my wine glass. “Are you on hosting duties?”
He smirked and I wondered if he understood the warning I’d given his father about playing with fire. Lily was far more flammable than me. And I had a feeling that he was stroking that flame.
“Something like that.” He gestured to the empty seat at my table and I nodded assent. Once he was seated my suspicions were confirmed. “How is she?”
“She?” Feigning ignorance seemed the best course of action in the situation and I hoped that he took the opening I gave him to escape from this line of thought.
“Lily.” Ah, just as tempted by my young step mother as his father seemed to be by me. I sighed.
Carefully marking my spot, pushing my near empty plate away, I met his eyes across the table. “You do know how dangerous your interest is, don’t you?” He looked at me as though he didn’t care, a chip off the old block. “She’s fine. Or she will be, once she convinces him that she wants ONLY him.” I wouldn’t say ‘father’ not with so many ears close by. A consideration that Stevie should think about. “Let her go. For both of your safety.”
“We-” I snorted before he could say it. They’re in love? Love, in this instance, and in my own, was a child’s whim.
“Don’t finish that sentence.” A warning, clear as a bell. “Love is a child’s ideal, Stevie.” He was fighting a glare. “Where the people you’re talking about are concerned, it is.” My father, what did he know of love? “He watched two wives DIE. His hands are stained with more blood than your life will ever know. Don’t, under any circumstance, fool yourself into believing that ‘love’ conquers anything.”
“I could give you thousands of examples,” he began.
I rolled my eyes. “I need only one to remind you of the idiocy. ‘Romeo and Juliet’.” I sat upright, realizing that I’d leaned toward him during our tense exchange. “Let. Her. Go.” I reiterated.
“Suicide?” He scoffed, like a child would. “I’m not going to kill myself.”
“Thinking about her is a death sentence. Suicide, no matter who pulls the trigger.” Drinking the final sip of my wine, I stood, forcing him to his own feet. “Goodnight, Stevie. Thank you for your company.”
I turned away before he could reply and walked through the dining room, ignoring any stares I may have courted with my exit.
Chapter 8: The End Is Nigh...Or Is It?
Liz finally hits her limit. A standoff. A decision. And finally a long overdue conversation.
The days passed during my vacation at the Miramar much the same as they started. A daily visit, the times ever changing, from Ike. A meal or drinks with Vera. Glares from Stevie for my daring to warn him off his insanity with Lily. Sometimes, if Vera and I were having lunch, Lauren would join us. Others it was the two of us, and it was during the latter that I realized how truly uncomfortable being friendly with Ike’s wife could become.
“One of the maids, she’s a family friend,” Vera was saying, leaning closer to me to show how delicate what she was sharing truly was. “I mentioned to her that I want to have a baby with Ike.” My eyebrow raised in confusion and she smiled. “I forget that our lives are as foreign to you as yours is to us. Lauren isn’t MINE, not by blood.” That might explain the tension I felt between the new teenager and the glamorous woman sitting with me. Nodding my understanding she continued in a breath. “She took me to a voodoo person.” I felt like my eyebrow may become locked in the raised position. “I’m desperate, Liz.” Another nod from me. “He told me, since last night was a full moon-”
She regaled me with the exhausting sex that she experienced with her husband. A man that had sat on a chair the morning prior to their marathon and let me ride him to screaming completion before work. I smiled, nodded, and gave all the appropriate friendly responses to her sharing the story with me. Wondering if she was giving me a warning of her own. ‘He’s taken, and satisfied, hands off.’
“I hope that it worked,” I offered with a smile and took a long sip of water. “You’re already a wonderful mother to Lauren.”
She shook her head. “It wasn’t always so difficult with her.” Staring into the distance, having sat back after sharing more details about her and Ike that I would ever care to hear, I could tell her mind was rewinding her relationship with Ike’s daughter. “We were close, once.”
“She’s a teenager, Vera.” I reminded her. “Don’t you remember being that age? Everything is so jumbled. You can’t decide if you’re a woman, or a child, or somewhere in between. And then there’s the hormones.” I shivered at the memory. “It’s so confusing. Rebelling against you, and your relationship with her is easier than picking a harder target. If she knows it hurts you, she’ll keep it up.”
Vera nodded and took a drink from her own glass. “I just wish-”
“Ladies,” Ike, I’d been wondering when he’d finally see the two of us together and get worried enough to check in. “Having a good lunch?” Vera’s head tilted back and he gave her the kiss she so clearly wanted.
I took another drink, forcing myself to watch the sunbathers instead. “It was delicious as always.” I offered when I heard the kiss end. “I really should head back to my room.” I stood and refused to meet Ike’s burning gaze. “Thank you for lunch, Vera. Ike.” And then I walked away, not a single glance back.
He came to my room barely an hour later. Letting himself in, as he had done since the day I checked in, standing just inside the door and watching me as I lay on the bed reading.
“Liz,” he sounded exasperated. Finally. A long sigh. A deep breath. He was trying for the sound Olympics, it seemed. “What do you expect me to do?”
“Nothing.” I used my finger to hold my place as I looked at him, still waiting by the door. “I expect nothing from you, Ike, nor do I expect you to do anything.” He looked tired, and a flash of what Vera had told me about their night reminded me of why. “Just go.” I shook my head and started to open my book again. “Leave. Go back to work. Or to Vera. But go.”
“She’s my WIFE.” As though I needed the reminder. “She IS, Liz.” I nodded, my eyes on my page. “I can’t just call in sick to-”
“Your husbandly duties?” I asked, flashing my eyes to his. “Of course you can’t. Which is why I kept telling you to let it go. It’s why I fought it. It’s why I keep asking you to leave, to say goodbye, to GO.” He started to step toward me, but I stopped him. “No. Ike, I mean it, leave. Now.”
“Liz.” It was pain filled, pleading and begging. “Please.”
“Please what?” I asked, giving up on my book and marking my page, but not leaving my bed. “Give in? FEEL? Ike, every single time I do, WE do, it ends up like this.” I sighed and closed my eyes for strength. Opening them, I was gratified to see he was still by the door. “You’re married. I’m ‘The Butcher’s” daughter. How exactly did you expect this to play out?”
“I don’t know.” And that did it. It broke.
“Exactly.” I stood up finally and leaned against the wall by the bed so I was facing him, but had the entire length of the room between us. “I’m going to give my father the glowing report about his ‘investment’, Ike, and then, as a reward, I’m asking to go home.” His eyes were pinched, but I went on. “I can’t stay here. In Miami.” I huffed out a breath of indignation. “In AMERICA. I want to go HOME.”
“Let me?” I filled in for him. “I’ll persuade him.” I didn’t know how, but I would. “Ireland seems like a good place to start. Or Scotland.”
“As far away as you can get?” He asked, voice quiet. “From me?”
“From this.” I corrected. “From him and you. From Vera and Lily. From the heat and the pain.” I sighed. “You can go now, Ike.” A dismissal and this time he heard it. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell Vera.” In fact, I added internally, I don’t plan on leaving this room again until I check out.
By some strange magic I didn’t experience cabin fever during my final days at the hotel. I read all the books I’d packed. I ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner in my rooms. I took long, hot baths. I played with my makeup until I found a happy medium between Lily’s and mine. I found new hairstyles to try in a few magazines that Lily seemed to have hidden in my bags. I made plans for leaving the states. I made plans for convincing my father to let me leave the states.
The morning I was due to check out, I woke to find a fresh breakfast waiting on my table being kept warm by the silver dome. A single rose in a slender vase. A bottle of champagne and some orange juice being chilled in an ice bucket. I shook my head, thankful that he hadn’t woken me, or touched me while I slept to tempt me back into his arms.
I ate slowly, then I dressed and packed. Calling downstairs for a bellhop, I waited for my hopefully last voyage through the Miramar Playa.
He came. Of course he came. “I checked you in, Liz, I’ll check you out.” He took my suitcase, and my toiletry case from the bed. I followed him out of the room. “I hope your stay was enjoyable, Miss Diamond.”
“It was relaxing, in the end, Mr. Evans.” The elevator ride was silent, tense, but I preferred it to falling into madness again.
“I’ve called your father,” he nodded to the driver waiting for me. “I thought you would prefer not to linger.”
“Perceptive.” I offered, signing the check out ticket and watching as the driver took my bags. “Thank you for the wonderful vacation, Mr. Evans.” The sarcasm came out heavy and naturally. “I wish you and your family well.”
“Goodbye, Miss Diamond.” He bit out, and I nodded, walking behind the driver to my father’s car without a glance at the man I left in my wake.
The driver warned me that no one was home before we pulled through the gates. I was almost curious, but I pushed it down. Why bother?
I walked into the cool interior of the house and smiled as one of my father’s people took my bags up the stairs to my room. Since I’d read all the books I’d packed, I moved to the library to find something new. Pulling off my gloves as I went, I realized the house was eerie in its silence. I couldn’t even hear the system that cooled the air. I browsed the shelves until a title caught my eye, and tugging it free, I turned around to find that I wasn’t alone.
“Hello, Father,” I offered, wondering why I’d been told no one was home. Perhaps he’d only just returned. “How was your week?”
“Taxing.” He offered, crossing to the small bar in the corner and pouring a finger of liquor. “Drink?” I shook my head and held my new book to my chest as he sat in the wing back chair. “Have a seat, Liz, tell me about your week.”
I sat, and watched as he took his first sip. Did I show the same appreciation for my drink as he did? Was that our similarity? I recalled that Ike had said- and I stopped that line of thought. Ike Evans was nothing to me.
“It was relaxing.” I smiled, thinking of my final days. “I had lunch with Vera a few times.” He nodded, wanting more. “The rooms are comfortable. The service is quick, polite, and lush.” I forced myself to not recall just how lush Ike’s service to my body had been. “The food is delicious, but you know that.” He nodded again. “It’s a money maker, and you can see it easily by the crowds it draws.” I wondered again why I’d been sent.
“How hard was it to get Isaac into your bed?” My eyes widened. “Come now, Liz, you must have known that that was your purpose?” I was silent as a tomb. “Ike Evans is the king of Miramar. His reputation is mostly clean. I say mostly because there are whispers, there are always whispers.” He took another lingeringly appreciative drink. “His reputation is bolstered by his image as a family man, Liz. And you, my dear, are the perfect package to rip it away.” Perfect, that word again. “I’ll ask again. How difficult was it to bed him?”
I shook my head and sat back, getting comfortable in front of my father for the first time. “I thought you were testing me, but I clearly didn’t study the correct materials.” He smiled, and I found myself returning it. “It would have been simpler if I’d known that was what you wanted.” I sat my book on the side table. “I made it more difficult, actually.”
He chuckled. “That upbringing of yours was bound to make things more interesting. I think you fighting it made him want you all the more, sweetheart.” He leaned back and studied me. “But it did happen, didn’t it?”
And that was how my father and I finally bonded. Over a man I’d fought so hard to deny myself, and his plan to ruin him through me.
“I told him that I planned on talking you into allowing me to return to Europe.” I had my own drink by this point, trying to accustom myself to the harder drink that he so obviously enjoyed. “He told me you wouldn’t allow it.”
“He’s right.” Shrewd. My father was a chess player and he was so many moves ahead that I wondered if I’d ever catch up. “Isaac has had a taste of the forbidden fruit, Liz, he’ll go crazy without more.”
“Why ruin him?” I was curious, and worried. Ike was many things to many people, this ire my father felt toward him made no sense. “If the hotel is successful, doesn’t that mean you reap the benefits?”
“There’s far more to the story, Liz,” we stopped talking as we heard the front door open and the telltale sounds of Lily’s heels approaching. “Another time.” I nodded and grabbed my book.
“Thank you for the drink, Father.” I smiled at Lily as she entered with several shopping bags, and a smear of her lipstick on her neck. Gesturing to warn her, she stopped, and took a look in the mirror beside her. A few swipes and it was gone, and she greeted my father brightly and offered to show him what she’d bought.
Chapter 9: A Shopping Spree Seems to be in Order...At Least in Lily's Mind
Lily shops. And shops. And drags Liz along for the ride.
Father and I didn’t find time for us to finish our conversation about his issues with Ike. He seemed to be constantly on the go, and Lily seemed to constantly be shopping. She finally convinced me to come along a few days after I came back from my vacation.
“You need more evening dresses, Liz.” She tempted, and I rolled my eyes. “And shoes to match, and-”
“Planning on spending my inheritance, are you?” I teased, and she grinned back. “Fine. I’ll come.”
Inside a store we hadn’t visited during the hunt for my New Year’s dress, Lily was greeted by several saleswomen. She introduced me, emphasized my surname, and suddenly I was as popular as she was. Lily started pointing out things she wanted to try on, but I took my time. Telling me she’d be in the dressing rooms, I nodded absently and walked through the racks with a more than willing saleswoman trailing me.
I caught a flash of dark hair and glanced up, sighing when I realized it was Stevie Evans, heading in the direction of the dressing rooms I suspected. Refusing to acknowledge him, or what it meant for Lily, Stevie, or my father, I kept moving among the racks.
I saw it out of the corner of my eye. Draped over a manikin, I asked the saleswoman if it came in other colors.
“Any color you could wish for, Miss Diamond.” She assured me, and while ‘black’ was on the tip of my tongue I held back.
“Wine red?” Her nod made me smile. “Then I’ll try one on.” She made a note of it, and I continued moving through the racks. Far more discernible than Lily, I wondered if my saleswoman wished she’d grabbed my stepmother instead. Another gown, another manikin, and more questions. “This gown?” She nodded. “The under skirt, can the buyer choose the color?”
“We have a seamstress that works for the store, Miss Diamond,” she’d moved in as though sharing a wonderfully kept secret. “Anything you see on the floor, she can recreate to your specifications.”
“That’s wonderful.” I smiled and pointed at the gown. “I’ll try on that one as well, and if it lays correctly, then I’ll give you my choices.” Another nod. The next thing I found wasn’t a dress, nor pants. “Aren’t these scandalously short?”
“The newest style, Miss Diamond.” She watched as I looked over the offerings. “They’re set to be all the rage.”
“Add them to my list.” I moved through the store, suddenly enjoying myself. I chose shoes, and bags, more outfits, and then I smiled and allowed myself to be led to my own dressing room.
“Mrs. Diamond is further down the hall,” she seemed apologetic, but she needn’t be. The further away, the easier to feign ignorance about what was probably happening in Lily’s room. “I’ll be right back with a few of your choices, Miss Diamond.” Her smile looked as though she had a secret, but I couldn’t fathom what it was, so I simply returned it.
“Thank you.” I opened the door and stepped into the plush room, holding in a gasp when my eyes met Ike’s. Closing the door behind me with a decisive click, I stared at him. “Are you completely insane?” I hissed.
“Probably.” And then he pulled me into his arms and his mouth met mine. Our lips fit together perfectly and the taste of him was something more potent than even the most expensive martini could boast. “You’ll be the ruin of me, Elizabeth Diamond,” it was said in a breath, but it doused me with ice cold water.
“Ike,” I broke free, even as my own body rebelled against the idea. “Ike, please.” I had to beg, because he was going along with my body, not my words. “You’re right.” He pulled back far enough for me to see his confusion. “I will ruin you.” Please take the warning, please. “You and I both know it.”
“Liz,” I swore to myself, he was going to argue against his own intuition. Damn him. “Stop worrying.” And then he stole my breath and my resistance with another kiss. And then my back met the cushioned bench, and he was nipping at my bare neck, his hands tugging up the skirt of my dress. “I made you a promise, Liz, and I never got to follow through.” And then he was on his knees, between my spread legs, and his mouth was on the damp crotch of my underwear.
My hips left the bench to meet his mouth, but he gave a quiet chuckle and used one arm to hold me down. And then my underwear was gone and his lips met my wetness and I was forced to bite down on my lip hard enough to fear bleeding.
“Keep quiet, sweetheart,” his hot breath on my bare and wet lips wreaked havoc on my mind. “Wouldn’t want your daddy to find out.” And before another figurative cold shower could hit me, his mouth returned to my folds and I forgot who my father was.
“Miss Diamond?” I was breathless from Ike’s mouth, but I knew I had to answer her, so I pulled myself together, even as he started a second onslaught.
“Yes?” It came out breathless and he chuckled, causing a whole new sensation to overtake me. Holy-
“I have your first selections here, shall I leave them on the hook out here?” Did her voice hold the hint of amusement that I told myself I was hearing, or was the Diamond paranoia running rampant?
“YES!” I moaned, as Ike caused another orgasm to rip through me.
Laughter from the other side of the door and from the man between my thighs met my answer. Damn it.
“Will do, Miss Diamond.” I heard the hangers meet the hook as Ike propped his chin on my knee and stared up at me with a twinkle in his eyes and his dimples shining.
“I repeat, are you insane?” I whispered, sitting up on my elbows. “You’re quite proud of yourself aren’t you?”
He nodded and stood up. “I had a delicious lunch, and I made you moan so loud that the saleslady heard it. Yeah, I’m proud.”
I shook my head as he kissed me again. “Go, Ike, so I can finish shopping.” There was no heat in the order, why bother?
Chapter 10: Packages, Truth, and Lies...
Shopping had been fruitful. A return to Ben's house proved more than illuminating. A night alone in the house proved shocking.
After Ike kissed me breathless and handed my underwear back to me with a smirk, he vanished from the dressing room. I shook my head and pulled the silky fabric back up my legs as I sat on the bench. He seemed to take pleasure in the danger of having me. Of taking something that was so clearly off limits by virtue of my parentage, Isaac Evans seemed to get a singular thrill.
I would have to examine that thought later. I had clothes to try on.
I had more bags than Lily for once, when we finally left the store. The driver took one look at my packages and I could swear he considered going on the roof and diving off onto the pavement. I was tempted to tell him that this wasn’t even all of it, since my gowns (I’d actually purchased two of each of the styles I’d chosen, in different colors) had to be recreated and fitted. He huffed a sigh as he took the bags and boxes from the young men who carried them out for us. Opening the boot of the car and, after I admonished him to be more careful, gently arranged them.
“You’re good at that,” Lily said, once we were seated in the car.
I looked at her in confusion, wondering what she meant. “I’m good at what, precisely?”
“Giving orders.” She smiled and pulled off her sunglasses. “You may be better than your dear old dad.”
I laughed. “It comes from being surrounded by ‘the help’ from the time you’re in diapers,” a sad, but true fact. “The only time I’ve ever been at the receiving end of direction was during school.” I shrugged and sat back as the driver joined us in the car.
“How often did you see Ben?” She was looking out the window, but I could tell she was burning with curiosity. A curiosity I was surprised had held out this long.
“I didn’t.” I turned my head to stare out my own window. “Until I arrived in Miami, the only time I’d seen my father, that I can recall, is in photographs.”
“You can’t be serious.” Incredulous. That’s the tone Lily was using. She couldn’t believe that my father and I hadn’t spent time together at all. “How old are you, Liz?”
Another laugh. “Don’t you know you aren’t supposed to ask a lady that question, Lily?” Another admonishment, but this one playful. “You first.”
“I’m twenty-five.” Not a hint of concern in her voice. And I could see why, she WAS younger than me.
A smirk played on my lips as I volleyed back my own. “Twenty-eight.”
“The same age as Vera.” She offered, but I said nothing. “I know, you know.”
“Pardon?” She knew what? “What is it you know?”
She turned, and I found myself turning to face her as well. “I KNOW.” Her eyes widened, and I understood. “Why do you think we went shopping for New Year’s?” She smiled, showing that she wanted to soften the blow a bit. “Ben thought you could use some-” Lily seemed to be considering what word best filled the blank. “Help.”
I almost snorted. My father had my younger stepmother decorate me to whore out. If that didn’t sound completely far fetched, I didn’t know what would. “Of course he did.” I shook my head. “Are you the only one?” That knows, I meant and she nodded. “Good.” I’d hate for MY reputation to be ruined before I even met anyone. And I wanted to be certain that she didn’t tattle during pillow talk with Stevie.
“You know that-” she stopped, glancing at the driver and shook her head. “We’ll talk more at home.”
I nodded my acquiescence and we drove on in silence.
“Is there anything left in the stores?” Father asked, his smile as wide as when he told me about the New Year’s Eve party.
“Yes, the rest of our purchases.” I offered back as he leaned forward and air kissed my temple. His chuckle seemed genuine. “You seem happy.”
He kissed Lily before answering me. “I am.” He had a cigar in his hand and his grin held. “It’s been a good day, Liz. A good day.” And then he wandered off, and I felt safe thinking that at least someone might not get shot today.
“The bags with the red mark are mine,” I was telling the workers who showed up to take our things to our rooms. “The ones unmarked are Lily’s. Do be careful, some of the fabric is quite delicate.” I warned as they gathered up the bags and boxes and toted them upstairs.
“A natural.” Lily was shaking her head at my tossing out orders. “Come on, we have a chat scheduled.”
Once we were safe in a small room with only a bed, and a ceiling full of mirrors, Lily told me what she felt I should know. That her and my father had only moved to Florida days before I’d returned. While she’d lived in a place called Weeki Wachee before, Father was Chicago by way of Philadelphia. That the upheaval in Cuba was causing issues with the casinos that his associates ran in Havana, and he needed the investment with Ike to pay over and above what was formerly agreed upon.
“And I’m what precisely?” I asked, thinking that my part as the queen in infidelity chess didn’t seem to fit. “Catching Ike cheating may ruin his reputation, but you and I both know that celebrities can get away with anything and isn't he a Miami celebrity? It won’t force the Miramar into Father’s control.”
“Maybe your part isn’t simply to cheat with him, Liz.” She seemed to be trying to tell me something, but damned if I could see what. “Think, Liz, think.” So I did, and it dawned on me.
“No.” I shook my head. “He can’t think that would work.”
“You’re everything she wants to be.” Lily was studying me. “Everything she pretends she is.” Pounding the idea home step by step. “And I’m sure that you can give him more children without help from supernatural mambo jumbo.” I didn't ask how she knew. I had a feeling Lily had ways of finding out anything. As did my father.
I was shocked. He didn’t want to ruin Ike. Not completely. No. It was far worse. He wanted to make Ike part of the family. So he’d have a direct line straight into the Miramar Playa’s safe. Or worse still, that I'd become his beneficiary and then Ike became expendable.
“He loves her.” Whispered, because I felt like the worst type of traitor. “Regardless of who she may be. Ike loves her.”
“She was a showgirl in Havana.” Lily offered, as though her background could be better. “I heard you two were bonding at the hotel. Did she mention she was a dancer?”
I nodded, and realized I’d assumed ballerina. Tall and leggy, slender as a reed, what other type of dancer should I have assumed? Not that there was anything wrong with being a dancer of any sort, I supposed. I was still wrapping my head around my father’s ill conceived plan.
“A showgirl who pretends she’s a society matron. She was the headliner there.” Lily conceded with an eyeroll. “There are whispers that Ike’s sister-in-law was his first choice. Or that she wishes she was his first choice.”
“What?” I hoped I didn’t hear that correctly. “His sister-in-law?”
“The dearly departed first wife’s older sister. Emphasis on OLDER.” Another eye roll. “She does have the class and sophistication of old money. Like Molly, the first wife.” She tapped my hand. “And YOU.”
I did snort then. “I have the class and sophistication that blood money bought, Lily, not quite the same thing.”
“Don’t you know who your mother was?” She was staring at me like I was an idiot. I shook my head, still feeling completely numb from our girl chat so far. “Doris Diamond came from truly OLD money. Think Chicago Rockefeller old.” Lily shook her head. “You’re the real deal, Liz, whether you know it or not. It surprised the hell out of me when I heard Vera made friends with you.”
“She’s nice.” I offered lamely. “Kind and open.” Why was I building her up again? Because Ike loved her, not me.
It was Lily’s turn to snort. “More likely she’s hoping some of your natural class and elegance rubs off on her.” I raised an eyebrow at my would-be mother. “I don’t pretend to be something I’m not, Liz. You can’t dress a pig in an evening gown and call it Miss America.”
I shook my head with a chuckle. “You’re terrible, Lily.”
“No, I’m honest.” She sighed. “Ike Evans may love his wife. He may be tempted by his sister-in-law. You, though, I have a feeling you’re what he’s been searching for his whole damn life.”
Lily and my father went to the Miramar alone for dinner after our chat. I grabbed my book and went in search of the kitchen. No point in the staff making dinner for little old me. I wandered the house, realizing that aside from the briefest tour when I’d arrived, I hadn’t explored the house at all.
I opened door after door. Bedroom after bedroom. Library. Sitting room. I was upstairs looking through the rooms and came to one more closed door. Opening it, I noticed that the room beyond looked unremarkable. The rug was askew however, and I walked forward to fix it and then I saw that it was covering glass. A glass floor?
I tugged the carpet back and a chill ran through me. Not just a glass. A one-way glass with a view directly into the room that Lily and I had our little chat in.
Chapter 11: Spa Day, A New Look, and A Date
Liz's wardrobe updates has Lily and Ben stunned. A full beauty treatment seems in order. And a date?
I swore, as I hung my new purchases in my closet and tucked away the new shoes, handbags, and unmentionables, that if I was given one more tiny shred of information or proof that everyone around me was plotting and spying, my head would crack right down the middle and all the expensive education my father was so proud of would leak out.
My father, Lily, and even Ike seemed to have a playbook that I wasn’t privy to and it felt like I would forever be playing catch up. Why would there be a one-way mirror on the ceiling of a bedroom? I squeezed my eyes shut at the very dirty implications. NOT an idea I would ever want to entertain about my father and his wife. More important to my own part in the household, why would Lily use that room of the endless ones in this house to have our tete-a-tete? Had my father put her up to it? Or had she been certain that he was otherwise entertained?
I sat at my vanity and ran my brush through my hair, determined to not ruin my sleep by having these thoughts turn over and over in my head. I’d found replacements for my ruined nightgown, and had to smile at the feel of the satin on my skin. The matching dressing robe was spread out at the foot of my bed, and the color was like liquid night.
Could I continue with Ike? I wanted to. Not for the purpose that Father wanted, but because he was completely captivating to me. There was something about Isaac Evans that drew me in, but I couldn’t allow myself to fall in love with him. Not when I was convinced that he saw me as a pretty distraction. Or worse a conquest.
I should go out with other men. Men who might take me to places other than the Miramar Playa. I should get to know my new city. And if I could date men who would give me more information about the players in this game that I’d been forced to play, all the better for me. Smiling to myself in the mirror, for the first time since I’d walked off the plane and my feet had touched Miami sand, I felt more in control of my own fate.
Morning dawned and I didn’t want to growl at the bright sun or the heat that I knew lay just outside the window. Perhaps I was growing accustomed to Miami after all.
After pulling on the scandalous looking shorts that I’d picked out a day earlier, coupled with a top that showed a hint of my abdomen, I slid into a pair of leather sandals, fluffed my hair, and headed down to breakfast.
“Morning,” I offered, making my way to the buffet at the side of the dining room to grab some toast and fruit. Silence greeted me when I turned around with my glass of juice in hand. “What?” I asked, seeing Lily’s smirk and my father’s eyes wide.
“Liz,” Father seemed to have issues speaking. “Where are the rest of your-” he gestured at my very bare legs.
I couldn’t fight the chuckle and eye roll. “I’m nearly thirty, Father, and I have it on good authority that what I’m wearing is highly fashionable.” I caught the look he shot Lily. “The saleswoman convinced me, not Lily.”
“They are very eye catching,” Lily offered, seemingly very happy with her grapefruit this morning. “You can’t deny that, Ben.”
“I guess,” he grunted and returned to his own breakfast as Lily gave me a smirk across the table.
We ate in silence for a while, me reading the paper that Father had finished before I came down. Death, missing people, carnage, upheaval. Definitely not uplifting. I was just scrolling through the third page, when my father interrupted my perusal.
“What are our plans for today?” It was said to the room, so I suspected that Lily could handle answering.
She didn’t disappoint, but she did surprise me. “I was thinking that Liz could use a day at the salon.” My eyes snapped to hers. “What? You could use a manicure, pedicure, and definitely your hair could use-”
“I’m NOT cutting my hair.” It was sharp, but I was feeling rather attacked.
Lily shook her head. “No one said you had to cut it, Liz, but a new style would do wonders.”
I sat back and studied her, and then I shot a look at my father. “How much more repackaging do I need to tempt Ike?” Neither looked all that surprised or impressed by my question. “Since he visited me in the dressing room yesterday, I’d assume that I’m tantalizing enough on my own.” Still not shocked. I shook my head. “Is it really worth all the effort? He’s NOT going to leave her.”
My father put down his fork and sighed. “You don’t know Ike like I do, Liz.” His eyes were locked on mine as he started to explain, but I cut him off.
“I don’t know any of you the way you all know one another.” I tossed the napkin from my lap on the table. “And the way you plot and plan, I’m not sure I want to.” I left the dining room and walked back to my room. My relaxed and happy mood went away in a flash.
They let me sulk for around two hours. I say ‘let me’ because Lily knocked on the door and announced that our appointments at the salon were set for noon. Then she invited herself to stay and visit.
“Having a tantrum won’t help, Liz.” She sounded as though she knew this from personal experience. “And going to the salon isn’t torture, you know.” She’d taken a seat at the foot of my bed. “He’s always watching never assume he doesn’t know.”
“Always?” My eyes met hers and I knew she understood that I wanted to know if he knew about her fling with Ike’s son.
“Always.” She looked sad at that thought, but then clarified. “At least when you’re the focus and forefront of his plans.”
“Oh.” I’d taken the heat off of her, so she could play. A two for one special, it seemed. “What did you schedule for me?” Safer territory, at least while we were home.
That brought back her smile. “Hair treatment. I didn’t ask for a cut, but Liz, getting it styled and TRIMMED wouldn’t be a bad idea. And a manicure and pedicure. If you’re going to wear that kind of outfit with those shoes, then you need more color.”
I shook my head. “I feel like a strumpet.” She laughed. “What now?”
“Strumpet?” She was looking at me like I’d tickled her. “I don’t think I’ve heard that outside of a movie theater.”
I blushed. “I couldn’t think of a word that didn’t sound indecent.”
That really got her. “Indecent? Isn’t that what we’re trying for?” I shook my head at her silliness. “Liz, don’t take it personally. Ben has a plan, and his plans work out.”
“I’m sure they do.” I offered, doubt heavy.
I changed into a more suitable outfit for the salon. Charcoal gray cigarette pants paired with a fitted cashmere short sleeved top in champagne, paired with flats seemed appropriate. Lily smiled as I joined her downstairs.
“Pants, Liz?” I rolled my eyes, my clutch under my arm. “It’s a different look, but I like it.”
We were in the car and I could feel her eyes on me. “What is on your mind, Lily?”
“What made you change your look?” Ah, I supposed she was shocked I had the ability.
I faced her and smirked. “I went to finishing school. The entire point is to find a suitable husband.” She watched me, waiting. “One of the best pieces of advice we were given was to adapt to your surroundings and the expectations of the men within them. Miami isn’t Europe, it’s a tad more loose, and so, I changed my armor.” I shrugged.
“He really should have clued you in sooner.” It was mostly to herself, and clearly about my father’s decision to not read me into his plan. She shook her head and studied me. “What else did you buy yesterday?”
I smiled and gave her a few ideas. “I had to replace a nightgown, one of mine got torn.” Off, I added in my head. Her eyes widened and her grin grew. “I decided an upgrade all around was overdue.” Another shrug. “Not that anyone will be seeing my new delicates anytime soon.” The thought depressed me. Staying at the hotel made the likelihood that Ike would see my lingerie not just better, but far easier. “Better safe than sorry, I suppose.”
Her hand reached across the seat and gave mine a squeeze. “I’m sure you won’t have any reason to feel sorry.” And then we settled back into a companionable silence.
I suppose I should have known that Lily would get us appointments at the beauty salon housed within the Miramar. Where else? Stepping out of the car with a helping hand from a young man waiting for the singular purpose of helping delicate women out of cars, I felt a sigh building up at the sight of the gleaming glass doors. Head high, I walked beside Lily through the doors being held open for us.
“You walk like you’re already the queen of this place,” it was only loud enough for me to hear, but I still felt uneasy. “Soon enough, Liz, soon enough.”
The salon was very pink. French Provencal touches only added to the overall femininity. I was handed a pink smock, and after buttoning it over my blouse, I was handed off to the first of my trials of beauty.
It wasn’t that bad actually. I took enormous pleasure in countering the stylist’s recommendation for bangs by asking if she meant like Bettie Page’s.
“You know who Bettie Page is?” The incredulous tone was a bit insulting to be honest.
I shrugged. “Of course, who doesn’t?” Her eyes met mine in the mirror and I saw a new respect, one that had nothing to do with my last name.
More suggestions were offered, and I’d counter with a less over the top sexy option. I was still ME, even if I was willing to do a few updates.
“Less Marilyn, more Bacall.” I’d say when she showed me a style she thought would work. “No bangs, not even Page’s.”
When I left, I had to admit that I looked far better than when I arrived. My hair was trimmed, styled, and while I wouldn’t go full-on pinup since that was clearly Lily’s lane, I did look far more glamorous. My nails were a dark burgundy, both fingers and toes, and Lily looked refreshed even if I hadn’t seen her get her treatment.
I bumped, quite literally into one of Ike’s employees as he was walking through the lobby with Ike.
“Pardon me,” I offered, kneeling to help him with the papers I’d scattered by knocking into him. “I should really pay more attention to where I’m going.”
“No,” he replied, his hand brushing mine as we both went for the same sheet of paper. “I should have seen such a vision coming from a mile away.”
Our eyes met and I bit my lip. “Are you flirting with me, Mister-”
“Sol Drucker, Miss Diamond.” My reputation precedes me. He looked far too anxious to answer my playful question. “Here, let me take those from you.” I handed him the papers I’d gathered. He offered me his hand and helped me back to my feet.
“If you’re finished,” Ike sounded irritated. But I didn’t let my eyes move from Sol’s.
“I should make amends.” I offered, Sol’s hand still in mine. “Dinner?”
He wasn’t as handsome as Ike, but who was? He seemed decent. He was dressed well. And he looked like I’d just offered him a million dollars.
“Dinner?” He repeated and I nodded, all doe-eyed and sincerity, and hopefully looking like I was waiting with bated breath for him to say ‘yes’. “Sure. I mean, I’d love to.”
“Call my father’s house, I’m sure you can find the number.” I released his hand and glanced around us. An audience, perfect. “We’ll make plans then. Privately.” Winking at him as though we were sharing a private joke, I smiled at the people watching us. “Good afternoon, gentlemen. I think our car’s ready, Lily.” I spotted the driver by the door waiting.
Before we were too far away, I looked over my shoulder to see they were watching us go. “Oh and Sol?” His eyes lit up and his smile grew at being singled out. “Do wear those glasses to dinner, they’re very-” I didn’t finish, just bit my lip and turned around, knowing that Ike was fuming.
Lily could barely contain her glee and held out only long enough for us to pull away from the entrance before giving a giggle. “Did you SEE Ike’s face?” No, I hadn’t actually. If I had, I might have lost my nerve. “If looks could kill, poor Sol would be dead and buried.”
Chapter 12: Phone Calls, Plans, and Fittings
Liz snares a date. Ike makes a subtle move. And gowns, more gowns.
Sol showed far more restraint than I thought he would. He waited a full day before calling. Which was fine, since I had other matters to attend to.
My gowns would be ready by the end of the week, a rush I’d requested so I could try them on to be sure they wouldn’t need more alteration. Since that wasn’t something I had to worry about, I could work on my plan of attack.
First, date other men. Not simply to drive Ike insane with jealousy, but so I could learn more about what kind of people I would be dealing with, so one of Ike’s employees seemed a good start. A start, but not the finish. If I happened to find a husband along the way, then two birds with one stone.
An added bonus would be seeing more of Miami, if not Florida, since I was holding out hope that someone I dated would take me farther than the hotel.
I wanted to find out more about the Evans family. Especially the mysterious sister-in-law that Lily had mentioned, and the unknown son, Danny. The game would never be fair if I didn’t know all the players. And I might have a smidgen of jealousy. Just a hint.
Dating, gathering information, and hopefully figuring out MY next moves.
A knock on my door after I’d begged off dinner at the hotel had me assuming that Lily had come to convince me to go. My father entering instead left me at a disadvantage.
“You’ve made the room yours, I see.” I had framed photographs littering every available surface, my makeup was arranged artfully on my vanity, and flowers were everywhere, as was the scent of my perfume. I waited, letting him roam my space, thinking he’d get to the point of his visit at his own pace. He stopped in front of an oval frame that held the only photograph I owned that showed him and my mother with me. I was an infant, they were in the hospital after she’d given birth to me. “This was a good day.” He’d taken the frame into his hand. “Doris was elated that she had a girl.” I thought he might not have been. “So was I.” Surprises kept coming.
He sat the frame carefully down and turned back to face me. I felt like he was trying to find the bundle that my mother was holding in that photo staring back at him. Too late, Father, I’m not that malleable any longer.
He took the chair from my vanity and sat in it. “You have a date, I’ve heard.” Of course you heard, that was the point. Or one of them. “Why?” Oh, I’m supposed to share, but not you.
“Sol Drucker works for Ike, doesn’t he?” He nodded, telling me that Sol was the Marketing Executive for Miramar. “How would you have felt if Lily had gone out with one of yours, going so far as asking him out in front of you?” He was starting to look impressed. “Jealousy, Father, or envy is a deadly sin. And a powerful motivator.” Trust me, I envy Vera Evans like I couldn’t stand.
“Be careful, Liz, playing too hard to get may backfire on you.” Him, he meant. “Although, I suppose I see your point. It could give Ike the push he needs.” More to himself than me, I didn’t add to his personal conversation.
He didn’t try to change my mind about dinner. He and Lily left and I went back to my book, thinking that Miami was far more complicated than any other place I’d lived.
The phone rang, breaking me away from a particularly interesting part when no one downstairs answered it. Rolling over, I pulled the headset from the cradle and answered.
“Hello?” I was distracted by the book, but his voice pulled had the ability to shift my focus.
“Liz.” Quiet and deep. “You didn’t come to dinner.” Reminding me that Lily and my father were out of the house.
“I wasn’t feeling particularly social.” I was propped up on my pillows and knew I had a smile plastered on my face from simply hearing his voice.
“You were earlier today.” Oh, still stinging, I guess. “Sol?” He sounded shocked by my choice.
“Are you asking him to come to the phone so we can finalize our plans?” Yes, I was pushing his buttons.
I swear I heard a growl come through the phone, but that couldn’t be right. Must have been static. “No, I’m asking if you seriously want to go out with Sol, Liz?”
I chuckled softly. “Not my first choice, Ike, but then again, he’s taken.” You, you silly man, were still supposed to be off limits. At least to any normal, moral young woman. “Speaking of which, how is Vera?”
He sighed so loud that I felt sure the neighbors heard. “Liz, please.” I hated hearing the pain in his voice. The torment did nothing for me. Flirting in front of him to make him jealous was one thing, but hurting him didn’t make me feel good.
“Ike,” this time it was me who sighed. “I HAVE to date other people. You must know how it would look if I didn’t?” Not necessarily that people would assume something was going on between him and I, but the whispers that something was clearly wrong with ME, other than my father.
“Why Sol?” Someone he didn’t know would be better? I wondered if he was right.
“I have to work with what I’m offered, Ike.” I sat further up, letting my head meet my headboard and my back be cushioned by my pillows. “I never go farther than your hotel. My dating pool is limited.”
His chuckle was as soft as mine had been. “Touche.” He sighed softly. “I hate seeing your eyes locked on anyone else, Liz.”
“Anyone?” I asked, feeling slightly breathless from his admission.
“Yeah, anyone.” I closed my eyes at the thought of him feeling that strongly about it.
We spoke for a few moments more, until I finally told him he should get back to work. And his family, but that was left unspoken.
“I should, I know I should, but I don’t want to hang up,” he admitted, and I felt my heart pounding harder.
“Then I will,” one of us needed to be strong. “Goodnight, Ike.” I wondered how it would feel to say that to him as he rolled over and turned off the lamp by a bed we were both tucked into, and had to fight against it.
“Night, Liz.” And then I replaced the headset in its cradle and sat back, book forgotten.
My sleep that night was fitful. Images of Ike, naked next to me and just sleeping haunted me. I tossed and turned, and felt almost happy that daylight meant that I could abandon my bed and find something else to keep me occupied.
Sol called midday. Lily was grinning at me as I answered from the poolside. I rolled my eyes and turned my back to her.
“Sol, I’m so glad you called.” I hoped I sounded as hopeful as I was supposed to. We made plans for dinner, with him asking if I danced. “I love to dance, but I’m no professional.”
He gave a laugh. “Neither am I. How about dinner, drinks, and dancing after?”
“That sounds like a pretty entertaining night.” If I was doing it all with Ike, the thought came without thinking. “So Friday? Eight o’clock?” And then I told him I couldn’t wait, and hung up. Letting out a long breath, I turned back to see Lily watching me with a smirk.
“If I didn’t know better, I would have bought that entire act.” I rolled my eyes. “Your dad really did underestimate you.” She flipped back into the water, naked as the day she was born, which strangely no longer bothered me.
“How did I underestimate you?” Father had walked out at the very end of Lily’s comment, and while he took a moment to appreciate his wife’s body, he turned to where I lay on a lounge.
“Her acting skills for one,” Lily called, surfacing. “I swear, Sol is probably out picking out rings.”
He laughed and took the lounge next to me. “Sold it did you?” I gave a curt nod, and put my sunglasses back on. “Good. Ike’s been thundering around the hotel.” I shot him a look. “Well, as much as Ike ever shows his temper in public.” Better, and more believable. “I had doubts, Liz, but-”
“Perhaps I know how to seduce a man better than you?” I asked, getting comfortable and picking up my book.
Another laugh, softer. “Probably.”
My gowns were ready Friday morning. Lily invited herself along, but I couldn’t feel upset. I wanted to see what she thought of my choices.
“Ah, Miss Diamond.” The saleswoman greeted me as soon as I stepped foot inside. “And Mrs. Diamond.” Her smile was blinding, and should be considering how much money I’d spent and definitely how much Lily had. “Your gowns are already in a room,” she bustled us toward the dressing rooms, talking the entire time. “I don’t think you’ll need help getting into them, but someone did volunteer so they’re in your room waiting. If you don’t need help, feel free to ask them to leave.” Of course I would. “Mrs. Diamond and I will wait in the hallway, that way we can have the FULL effect of seeing you dressed for the first time.” I raised an eyebrow at Lily and she shrugged at me. “Here we are.” It was the same room I had before.
“Thank you?” It came out as a question, because I was certain I was missing something. Shaking it off, I opened the door and stepped inside to see Ike waiting much like he had on my previous visit. I shook my head and locked the door. “You again?”
“Yeah, I can’t seem to stay away.” He took my hand and pulled me toward the bench, but I didn’t sit. “Let’s see what you look like in your gowns, Liz.” He turned me so my back was to him, and after he tossed my hair over my shoulder, his fingers found my zipper. It sounded obscenely loud as he lowered it, but then his lips met the back of my neck and all sound disappeared. I thought my knees would buckle. “Careful.” One arm wrapped around my waist to keep me steady as his other parted the back of my dress, his lips sliding down my spine making me shiver. “Pull your dress off, Liz.” And I did, but it bunched where his arm still held me. He let go long enough for it to pool at my feet and he followed it down, licking the rest of the way down before dropping a kiss above the curve of my backside. “If I had it my way, this is how you’d always be dressed.”
“That would make dinner at the hotel interesting.” I whispered as he smiled against my skin, his hands sliding down my stocking clad legs. “Ike, we should-”
“The first gown,” he supplied, pulling away and taking the first gown from its hanger. He’d chosen the one that was silky yards of draped fabric. One shouldered, it looked a great deal as if a woman had just wrapped the sheets from her bed around her after a long night of lovemaking. Sliding it over my head and letting it fall in waves down my body, I sighed at the satin’s slick coolness down my fevered body. I helped him make it lay right and heard his breath catch when we were finished. He swallowed hard enough for me to hear. “That looks-”
“A tad risque, even with all the fabric?” I was watching his reaction in the full length mirror as he took in the image the dress created. “It’s a newer style. No one else seems to like it, according to the saleswoman.” He’d chosen the wine colored one, with it’s slashes of black. “What do you think, Ike?”
His lips met mine almost before I finished asking, and I could FEEL from the way he pulled my body tight against him exactly how much he liked it. When I broke the kiss, I found him staring into my eyes. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” I breathed, unfisting the lapels of his jacket that I hadn’t noticed I was holding tight in my hands. “I have to show Lily.” He stepped back, moving to where he wouldn’t be seen as I slipped out of the room after fixing my lipstick.
“Wow.” Lily’s eyes were wide as I stepped out. “That gown is-”
“Decadent,” I offered, smiling. “It feels amazing.”
“You look like,” she considered her words. “It’s going to sound insulting.”
“Like I’ve just left my lover and taken the sheets from the bed as my dress?” I was smiling as her eyes met mine. “It’s perfect.” I nodded at the saleswoman who looked very pleased at my reaction. “Let me go try on the next.”
Ike was still waiting when I came back. I’d almost assumed that he would go, one gown dressing was more than enough flirtation for most people. Yet, here he was.
I pulled the dress off and laid it on the bench. He was taking down the second gown I’d picked. This time he picked the black with red underskirt. It was fuller, and looked far more like a gown everyone expected a woman to wear, but the peek of red was enough to make it unique.
Unzipping the second gown, he crooked a finger at me to draw me closer. “Turn around.” I presented my back to him, and felt his fingers trace down my spine to cause gooseflesh to pimple on my skin. Then the dress was coming down like a curtain over my vision, but when I broke through to the light, the picture I saw in the mirror had me swallowing hard. Ike was carefully zipping me into the dress, looking down so I could see the side of his face and it hit me like lightning. It was too late. I was already in love with him. Damn it.
The rest of my fitting went by in a blur, even the kisses Ike gave me. I was tormented by my own stupidity. Arrogantly, I thought I would keep my emotions in check. And like my willpower to keep him safe and away from me, I had no strength to fight falling for him.
Chapter 13: Battle Plans, A Date, A Disaster
Liz gets ready for her date with Sol, with an audience. The date doesn't exactly go according to plan.
I took my time choosing the outfit I would wear on my ‘date’ with Sol. I was in the silk dressing gown that matched my nightgown, my hair pinned the way I’d watched the stylist had to create the style a day earlier, searching for a dress I was certain I still had. I almost missed the knock, but called out just loud enough for Lily to hear. She came in giggling.
“What are you doing?” She draped herself across my bed and watched as I struggled to find the dress.
“Looking for one blasted-” I muttered several curse words and then gave a hoot of triumph. “THIS.” I pulled it from the closet and showed her the dress. “What do you think?”
“I think you stole that design from Elizabeth Taylor,” she answered with a smile. “Sol’s not going to stand a chance.”
I studied the dress, happy to see it wasn’t wrinkled or that the delicate overlay hadn’t ripped. “I think Sol will be fine.” I took a closer look at the lace covered bodice, making certain it was still perfect. “Now, shoes.” It was an easier task by far to choose the shoes. I took one look at the heels with straps slashed across them and smiled. “Just right.”
“You act like you’re preparing for war.” Lily offered, watching as I made sure the dress was hung flawlessly from the closet door.
I sat down at my vanity and began my evening makeup. A hint darker on my eyes, darker lips, heavier perfume. Required for dinner and dancing. “Isn’t it?” I was working on my eyeliner, one eye closed and I could see her studying me in the mirror with my open one. “Dating is like a battle. You have to have a plan. You need to wear the right uniform. And you definitely need to have a goal.”
“Sounds like too much work to me.” She sighed and I laughed as I moved on to my other eye.
“Depends on the end goal honestly.” I finished the eyeliner and checked to be certain my eyes were symmetrical. “If I was actually husband hunting, then I’d have picked a more modest dress. Less is more and why buy the cow and all that.” I filled in my brow, seeing that I had Lily captivated with my explanation.
“And if you aren’t husband hunting, you go full Liz Taylor?” She asked, on her stomach, but propped up on her elbows.
“If I’m not husband hunting, then I must be looking for a way to make sure that future husband never has a reason to think the grass is greener somewhere else.” I smiled at her wide eyes. “Practice makes perfect, Lily. And I DO know who Bettie Page is, after all.”
“Did they teach that at school?” I laughed, a real true laugh.
“Some things a girl has to find out on her own, Lily.” I lined my lips and leaned closer to the mirror to make sure none of the liner clumped in the corners. Satisfied, I chose the darkest lipstick I owned, a true deep Cabernet color. Once that was finished, I started unpinning my hair. “Finishing school teaches a lady which fork to use. You’re taught how to keep the maids on task, and how to NOT anger your cook so they’re tempted to ruin your meals. Oral sex doesn’t come up in the curriculum.”
Lily grinned at me. “Why did you take your education-”
“To the next level?” I sighed, my fingers working without thought. “I saw my classmates’ parents come to school looking as though they were strangers. I heard my classmates talk about affairs and divorces. Why bother with all of that if you can head it off from the first?” She nodded her understanding. “During summer breaks, when I was travelling with whichever chaperone Father hired for me, I’d go dancing and see the interest in men’s eyes. Finally I decided, what the hell, and gave in.”
“Was it terrible?” I considered it. “I mean, my first time was just-” she looked bored at the very idea of it.
“It wasn’t earth shattering, but Max was careful and he made sure the second time more than made up for it.” And the third, fourth, and fifth I added in my head.
“Max?” I chuckled. “Where would you meet a ‘Max’ in Europe?”
“France. His first name was Maxime.” I smiled at the memory of his dark hair and eyes. His broad shoulders and the way his hands could feel like they were branding my skin.
“Your first time was in France?” I nodded. “Guess that’s why Paris is the city of love.” I shook my head and my grin grew.
“I’m not sure about love, but he certainly gave me an introduction into making it.” I had moved on to putting my curls in place. Arranging them so they looked exactly how I wanted them to. “Then there was Jack in Edinburg, Liam in Dublin, and Edward in London.” A few one night stands on the coast of France, a fling or two here and there along the way. I met her eyes in the mirror and nearly bit my lip at her shock. “What?”
“Did you get souvenirs too, or just sex?” I gave in and laughed at that.
“Who needs a postcard when you can have an orgasm?” And that set her off on her own tide of giggles.
I was putting the finishing touches when I heard the doorbell. Lily had left, saying she wanted to see the full effect when I walked downstairs. Almost like a real mother, I thought, if only she wasn’t three years younger than me.
Grabbing my clutch and taking a final look in the mirror I went downstairs to greet my date. Sol looked amazingly unconcerned about being in the foyer of Ben “The Butcher” Diamond’s house. That was a good sign. I took the stairs carefully, seeing Lily’s eyes light up when she saw the total package I’d put together.
“Sol,” I greeted as my feet touched the floor of the foyer. “You look very handsome tonight.” He’d worn his glasses, which had made seeing my entrance easier I hoped. He was smiling as he took in my dress and the rest of me.
“Miss Diamond,” I mouthed ‘Liz’ to him and I would swear he blushed. “Liz, you look stunning.”
“Doesn’t she though,” I stifled a scream at my father’s appearance. “You look absolutely breathtaking, sweetheart.” He kissed my temple and I forced a smile back on my face. “Take care of my girl, Mr. Drucker. Be sure to show her a good time.” If there were ever two statements that could be taken together in a very dirty way, he’d used them.
Sol held the door open for me, then the car door, and as we started down the drive, I asked where we’d be having our date. Another scream built when he said the Miramar.
He’d reserved a table that was a little more private and for that I was grateful. Maybe in this out of the way spot, Ike wouldn’t see us and come over. After ordering, we settled in for small talk.
“Do you like working here?” I asked, curious about what Ike was like as a boss.
He was taking a drink from his glass when I posed my question, but after swallowing he nodded. “Yeah, it beats digging ditches.” I smiled at his little joke. “In all seriousness, working at the hotel is never dull.” I raised an eyebrow. “You never know who you’ll see or meet just crossing the lobby.”
“You flirt.” I sipped at my wine. “What exactly do you do here?”
And that gave him the room to go and expand, and keep going. Marketing wasn’t nearly as entertaining to me as it was to Sol, but I listened as close as I could even as I felt Ike’s gaze fall on me.
“I almost had to cancel tonight,” that brought me back to the conversation at hand. I must have looked shocked because he went on. “The boss wanted me to work over, we have so many events planned, he’s been high strung with making sure everything goes according to plan.”
“I’m glad you didn’t cancel.” I offered, thinking that Ike was taking the jealousy a tad too far for a married man.
“I promised to come in tomorrow.” He smiled. “Nothing would make me miss our date, Liz.”
I felt Ike’s gaze, burning as hot as the sun, and glanced to my left. He LOOKED like he was checking on a large party nearby, but his eyes kept flicking to our table. “Could you excuse me for a moment, Sol?” He nodded with a smile. “I need to powder my nose.”
I walked through the dining room, knowing I had two sets of eyes trained on me. I stepped into the lobby and took a deep breath. Then, a few heartbeats later, he was beside me. “Liz.”
“Ike.” I didn’t look at him, but when he started on the route to his office, I followed.
The door had barely closed behind me when his hands were pulling me to him. “This dress,” he breathed and then his mouth was on mine and words ceased to matter. His tongue danced with mine and I knew it beat whatever dance Sol had planned for after dinner. Ike had my back pressed against his desk and I wondered when we moved, but then his hands were at the hem of the skirt of my dress and I knew what he was planning.
“Ike,” I warned, pulling away from his kiss. “We can’t.”
“I think you’ll find that we CAN.” He was sliding the fabric up, his fingertips burning through the silk of my stockings. “I want you to go back to dinner, reeking of me.” I was gasping as his mouth found my neck. As he nipped, I nearly ordered him to be careful of leaving marks, but then his hands were lifting me onto the desk. “I want Sol to smell the sex on you, Liz.” His tongue was checking my pulse, and I knew he felt how fast it was pounding. “Sex and ME.” And then he pushed my underwear aside and I was left wondering when he had pulled himself free from his own pants because he was inside of me before I heard another noise. “You’re already soaked, Liz.” He wasn’t being gentle and I hoped he’d locked the door because he knew how loud I could get. “Is that because of Sol?” My fingernails were digging into the arms of his jacket. “Or me?”
“You,” I managed to moan. “Just you.”
It didn’t take long. We didn’t have the time, but we most certainly made the best of what little we had. I was panting into his jacket, as he slowly went limp and withdrew from me. “Liz?” I looked up my hands still clutching his lapels. “What is THIS?” I shook my head. “Is it just sex?” I couldn’t meet his eyes anymore. “Liz, please.”
“What do you want me to say, Ike?” I finally met his eyes again. “That I love you?” His hands were cupping my face as he stared into my eyes. “Would it matter?”
I didn’t give him a chance to answer. I brushed his hands away and lowered myself from his desk. Putting myself back to rights with my back to him, I sighed. “Liz?”
“Goodnight, Ike.” I left, afraid to look back. Afraid of what I’d see.
I begged off from drinks and dancing with Sol. A headache. Terrible pain. And he dropped me off barely two hours after he’d picked me up. No one greeted me, and I was grateful again. Because I wasn’t sure what expression I wore and until I could put myself back to true rights, I didn’t want to talk to anyone.
Chapter 14: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dessert
Disastrous date? Check.
Early morning blues? Check.
Insufferable father? Check.
Lunch plans ruined? ...
When I went down to breakfast after my aborted date with Sol, I found my father alone in the dining room. Taking a bowl of fruit and a slice of toast along with a glass of juice, I sat down. I was tired, irritated with the world, and felt like the world could stop turning or that the earth could swallow me up and I may find contentment.
Of course, my father had other plans.
“Good morning, Liz.” He was smiling and I was tempted to throw my toast at him.
“Morning, Father.” I tried to refocus on my fruit. I didn’t want to even glance at the newspaper this morning. Bad news on top of bad feelings wouldn’t do.
“How was your date?” He was leaning comfortably back in his chair, grin plastered on his smug face. “We didn’t hear you come in last night.”
I held back a groan, but it was a near thing. “I came home early, I had a headache.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” He looked like he wasn’t, and the grin never left his face. “Did it come on before or after you went to Ike’s office with him?”
I put down my fork and glared at him. “Why do you play these games?” I sat back, crossing my arms over my chest. “You know everything, you tell me.”
“You didn’t have a headache.” He said shrewdly. “You had an encounter with Ike, then came home to bathe. A lady like yourself wouldn’t want to continue a date with one man carrying the scent of another.”
“Close, but no cigar.” I offered. “Check my bathroom, my tub is dry as a bone, and has been since I bathed yesterday afternoon.”
“Fine.” He conceded. “You did have sex with Ike. You came home early because of the same issue, just without the bath.”
I shook my head. “Honestly, Father, you truly don’t know me at all. I came home early because sitting through more than a meal with Sol Drucker would have made me scream. I came home early because after Ike and I had our ‘encounter’ as you called it, I was bone tired and ready for bed.” I studied him. He was still smiling. “I’m shocked you don’t want gory details. Do you want to know how he took me? Or where in his office? Or how many times?” That wiped the smirk off his face. I sighed, feeling a real headache coming on. “I’m going to go take that bath you assumed I took last night.”
“Elizabeth,” his voice was quiet as he called out to me to stop my progress through the doorway. “I don’t want to know details. I just want results.” I didn’t answer. I walked away, without once looking back.
When I ventured downstairs again, it was lunchtime and I headed toward the kitchen, trying to ignore the voices I heard in the den. As I walked past, I recognized his voice. Like a magnet I glanced through the open door and saw Ike sitting with my father and sighed.
“Elizabeth?” Damn it. “Come in, sweetheart.”
Sighing, I walked into the room and took notice that it was just the two of them. “I just came down to grab something for lunch.” I didn’t look at Ike, but I felt his eyes on me. “Have you eaten?”
“I’m planning on going out, sweetheart.” I nodded. And caught him shooting me a meaningful glance.
“Mr. Evans, I’m sorry, I didn’t greet you, did I?” I finally let my eyes meet Ike’s and saw how intense he looked. “How are you?” It came out breathless because I felt breathless.
“I’m grand, Miss Diamond.” Was I imagining how low his voice sounded?
I tried to smile, but I imagined I looked like a deer trapped by headlights. “I’m happy to hear it. Your family?”
“All good,” he stood, and I took a step back, the room suddenly feeling crowded. “I should go. Ben, I’ll see you later. Miss Diamond.” He brushed past me and I felt the sting as though he’d slapped me. Damn it.
We were silent until the front door slammed behind Ike. And then I felt my father laser focus on me. “What was that about?” Gone was the smugness from breakfast.
I slumped into the chair Ike had sat in, and felt the residual warmth of his body and a hint of his scent around me like a blanket. Sighing, I looked at my father. “We had a disagreement.” Was it though? Or had he finally understood? “About-” Another sigh. “I don’t know what it was about, we just disagree.”
“Well, fix it.” Easier said than done. “Bat your green eyes at him, flash your stockings, do whatever you did to get him interested the first time.” He stood up. “I’m heading out. Liz, you know what I want.” To ruin the man I love, I thought. “Fix it.”
I sat through another slamming of the front door and pulled my legs onto the chair with me, laying my head against the back, and breathing Ike’s scent in.
The phone began ringing and drew me out of my morose state. I didn’t move to answer it. Let Lily, if she was home or one of the hired help answer the damn thing. The infernal noise stopped, so either the caller gave up or-
“Miss Diamond?” One of my father’s people saw me curled in the chair and told me the phone was for me.
Groaning at having to leave the comfort of his chair, I picked up the phone nearby. “Hello?” I sounded listless, because I was. “Hello?”
“Liz?” I closed my eyes. “Will you meet me?”
“Where?” I asked, knowing that I’d follow his voice anywhere.
How funny, I thought, walking into a diner not far from my father’s house. Of all the people to take me outside the Miramar Playa, who’d have guessed the owner? I’d taken a taxi. Walking in this heat would only make my already frayed nerves rawer.
He was seated at the back, in a booth, watching the door. Seeing me walking toward him, he slid out of his seat, and waited for me to slide in. Then he joined me.
“Thanks for coming,” His side was hot against mine. “I wasn’t sure you would.”
I was watching out the window when I felt his hand on my leg. Even through the skirt of my dress I could feel how hot his skin was. I bit my lip, but said nothing. I was gathering my thoughts when the waitress approached to take our orders. Jotting them on her pad after I glanced at the menu and chose, she left us alone.
“Liz?” I closed my eyes. “You rushed out so fast last night. We can’t figure anything out if you run from-”
I gave a breath of laughter. “What’s to figure out, Ike?” I finally met his eyes. “Need I remind you that you’re still married and I’m still Ben Diamond’s daughter?” I shook my head. “Maybe this was a bad idea.” I realized that I’d allowed myself to be trapped in the booth by my own need to be close to him.
“It wasn’t.” He was firm. “It’s not a bad idea.” He still looked intense. “I-we need to know what this is, Liz. We need to figure it out.”
“What do you want it to be, Ike?” I was curious. I knew I was in love with him, even if I wasn’t willing to admit it to him. What did he want from me?
“I don’t know, Liz.” He sounded so tortured that I almost took pity. “All I know is that I see you everywhere. Even when you’re nowhere near me. I see your face when I close my eyes, even for a second. I feel you when you’re not near me.” His eyes were on my lips. “I can taste you. Even if it’s been hours or days since I kissed you.” Then his eyes met mine again. “What does that mean?”
I swallowed against the rush of emotions I was feeling. “Obsession.” He hadn’t said it either, so I couldn’t, not first. “It sounds like you’re obsessed with what you shouldn’t want.” A whisper, but my fear was bubbling up.
His hand was back on my leg, or it had never left, such a tense bubble we were in. I felt him pulling the skirt higher and higher, and then his hand met the skin of my leg and I sighed. “Obsession?” His fingers traced the inside of my thigh, making my eyes snap closed. “Is that why all I can think of is touching you?” He moved so it looked like he was telling me a secret, but his tongue traced the shell of my ear and my breathlessness increased. “Why all I want for lunch is the taste of you on my tongue?” His fingers were sliding ever higher, and then he touched my covered sex and felt the heat of me. “I do want you, Liz, but I’m not sure I’d ever get enough to satisfy my craving.”
The waitress had arrived with our food, but I couldn’t focus on anything other than Ike. Hunger for lunch was gone, and replaced by a much more overriding need. When my eyes met his, he smiled, but it wasn’t smug; it was happiness. Happy that he saw his own craving reflected in my eyes. Tossing a handful of bills on the table he helped me from the booth and to his car. Then he drove to a more secluded spot, and with the top down, pulled me into the back seat and tried like hell to satisfy both of us.
I was on top of him, as he was seated on the back seat, head thrown back as we pounded together harder than the waves we could hear even at this distance. His mouth was on my neck and I could feel another rush of pleasure building.
“Tell me you love me, Liz.” He breathed into my skin. “Tell me this is real.” My eyes were closed and I was clutching at his shoulders and his head. “You do, don’t you? You love me?” I felt my orgasm fast approaching, but he refused to stop his demands. “Say it, Liz. Tell me.”
My eyes opened and locked on his when his head tilted back. I was gasping for breath, hovering on the edge, and then he gave a hard thrust of his hips and I whimpered. “No.” I refused, shaking my head, and he thrust hard again causing me to moan. “You first.” Another hard thrust and I was biting down on my lip so I didn’t scream.
“I do,” he growled, pounding into me. “I love you, Elizabeth Diamond.” Another snap of his hips and I felt like I was in heaven. “Now you.”
“Yes!” I moaned, feeling him joining me as we rushed over. “I love you.” It was a breath, but he heard it.
Chapter 15: After the Declaration Comes...
Liz and Ike have confessed. Ben seems far too happy. A compliment, a threat, and a revelation.
WARNING: OK, so up until now I've kept the action pretty close to the show, BUT here's where things are going to have to be reformed into what MY story wants to be.
First change comes in this chapter, and more will be coming. Please bear with me and I promise that it'll all pan out, just different from the show in all the ways I need it to be.
Ike seemed reluctant to take me home. To leave me. He took a risk, outside the gates of my father’s house to pull me back into his arms and kiss the breath out of me. I shivered as my want for him, even after our detour from lunch, flared up just hot and bright.
“Elizabeth Diamond,” he breathed into my mouth. “I love you.”
I smiled against his lips, feeling wildly free at the words, and reminded him that I loved him too. And then I pulled away, just as resistant to leave him, but knowing that I had to. I promised to call him, or to answer when he called, and then shutting the car door behind me, I walked to the gate and buzzed myself in.
My father was waiting inside, clearly he’d had me followed, and he looked very happy with himself. It had to be happiness for himself, since I had doubts that he held even a drop of empathy for anyone else.
“I see you fixed it.” I shook my head and walked to the bar. Pouring myself a drink, I waited for his narrative of my day to begin. “Liz, I don’t think you understand how important this entire situation is-”
Turning to face him, I leaned against the bar. “You want Ike to leave his wife, causing a scandal of epic proportions, and then marry your dear darling daughter so you can-” I took a sip of my drink, letting the liquor burn away my irritation. “That’s all I’ve worked through, though. Do you want him to put me down as his beneficiary so you can kill him and rule through me? Or are you prepared to welcome Ike to the family fold?”
His grin was going fully engulf his face one day. “Clever. You didn’t really come to it on your own, but clever.” So he had watched Lily and me chatting in that room. “Yes, Liz, I want Ike to leave his wife. Yes, I want him to be the scandal of Miami.” He moved past me to refresh his own glass. “The scandal won’t last, my darling daughter, Liz Taylor and Eddie Fisher’s ran its course, didn’t it?” Not quite the same caliber, but I waited. “Then, Isaac, being the moral upstanding man he is will ask you to be his third bride.” He came around and stood in front of me. “You’ll marry him, hell you may even give him a brat or two, but one day in the not too distant future-” My blood ran cold. He’d kill the father of his grandchildren. Without hesitation. He’d leave me alone, without blinking.
“Enough.” I breathed, not knowing if I was demanding his silence or begging for it. “Keep your plans to yourself.” I shot the rest of my drink down with a quick gulp. “I don’t want to hear anymore.”
He chuckled, staring down at me. “You take more after Doris than me.” A complete compliment that I would savor forever. “Let’s pray you don’t meet the same fate.” A shiver of fear ran up my spine at the clear warning.
I took a long bath, the second one of the day, but I needed privacy and quiet. My own father had just threatened my life. And I knew that he would follow through. Without a doubt he would kill me as easily as he planned on killing Ike. He’d leave me laying as though I were a stranger with no connection to him whatsoever.
Lily was in my bedroom when I finished. I hadn’t seen her all day, but seeing her seated at my vanity didn’t give me any comfort. She looked up when I came in, saying nothing.
“I didn’t hear you knock.” I offered, moving to the closet for a new outfit. My dressing robe fluttered behind me and I took stock of the offerings before me.
“I didn’t knock.” That explains that. “Liz, look-” I didn’t turn around, I just kept sliding hangers right to left, looking for something to improve my mood. “You need to know-”
“He’s going to kill me, Lily.” I said it with the same inflection that I would if I was telling her the weather report. “Not today, not tomorrow, but one day, I’ll die at my father’s hands.” It was sobering, yet I couldn’t allow myself to focus too hard on it.
“He won’t.” A dark chuckle left me. “Liz, you’re his daughter, he wouldn’t dare.”
I turned then, and saw that she was completely sincere in her childish belief. “I’m not completely certain he didn’t kill my mother.”
She stood then and came closer. “He didn’t. He may have watched her die, but he didn’t kill her.” I waited, she seemed close to telling me something important. “Get dressed, we’ll go somewhere and have a drink.” I closed my eyes. “Not the hotel.” Opening them, I saw that she looked more serious than I’d ever seen her. “Get ready.” And then she walked out of my room and I had to wonder if this was another of my father’s games.
She’d picked a dark place. Quiet, where we could be tucked into a corner booth and not be seen or heard. My interest peaked, but she said nothing illuminating until our drinks came and a beautiful voice began to sing, filling the room with melody.
“Look, Liz,” I was watching her and realized she was serious, but also nervous. “Do you know your mom’s maiden name?” I shook my head. No one bothered to mention it, though I imagined it was somewhere in my school records. “Remember how I told you she came from old money?”
“Chicago Rockefellers.” I nodded, reiterating what she’d said.
She took a long drink from her glass before sighing. “It is old money, but not exactly straight money.” I waited, letting her gather her thoughts. “Your mom was Sy Berman’s daughter, Liz.” When I didn’t gasp or show any sign of recognition she smiled. “Sy is-” Another drink from her glass for strength. “Sy’s Ben’s boss.” Wait, what?
“My father has a boss?” Do mobsters have bosses? Oh, she had to see the truth dawning on my face. “He’s THE boss.” She nodded. “I didn’t know I had more family.”
“Not only do you have more family, Liz, you have THE family.” She shook her head, raised her glass to take another drink, but it was empty. I passed her my glass and she took it gratefully. “Ben wouldn’t dare hurt you, Liz. Sy would never allow him to touch a hair on your head.”
“How do you know that?” Lily glanced around to be sure that we were far enough from prying ears. “You’re in contact with him.” It was barely above a breath and she looked relieved that she hadn’t had to say the words. A small tilt of her head was all I had for confirmation. “Does he know I’m here?” Another tilt. “And?” I needed more than head bobbing.
“And-” She took a deep breath. “I think he’s coming.” Oh. I sat back in the booth, stunned.
We stayed at the bar long enough for it to look like we had gone out for a girls’ bonding trip. Dinner, I was told, upon arriving back at the house would be at the Miramar. I nodded, feeling numb. I dressed in a fog. I did my makeup and fixed my hair without even knowing I did it.
Why did I feel like finding out who my grandfather was made things more complicated rather than less? "Out of the frying pan and into the fire" was the phrase that kept rushing to the surface.
Chapter 16: Boxing, Awkward Lunch, Rewarding Meeting...
Liz has to attend the boxing match, even if she doesn't see the point. Meg Bannock shows up. Vera's grateful. And Ike reminds Liz where his heart is.
Boxing. There was going to be a boxing match at the Miramar Playa and my father seemed to expect excitement from me. He mentioned the boxers’ names, and I blinked. He looked exasperated.
“Sweetheart,” I held back a flinch at the use of a term of endearment coming from the same mouth that threatened me. “This match is incredibly important to all of us,” we were standing in beside the ring, Ike on my father’s other side and Lily beside me.
“It’s important for two grown men to beat one another to a pulp for other people’s entertainment.” I felt nauseated at the thought, and my face must have shown it because all three of them chuckled. “Gentlemen’s sport my ass.”
“Why, Liz,” Lily was grinning at me with real humor, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you swear.”
I rolled my eyes. “Things change.” I felt Ike’s eyes on me. “And I’m expected to sit here and watch it?”
“Yes,” my father answered. “You might find you enjoy it, Liz.” I shot him a look. “Things change, don’t they?”
The match wasn’t all that rewarding, and if the look on Ike’s face told the tale correctly, then he didn’t enjoy it either. We didn’t get a moment to speak to one another, since my father was in a celebratory mood and he insisted on a long night of it.
I did get to speak with Vera, and I prayed she couldn’t read my guilt at what Ike and I were experiencing behind her back. She asked me to have lunch with her and Lauren. Having no ready excuse, since Lily had once again faded away in the crowd, I agreed.
I found Vera and Lauren sitting at the bar in the dining area. As I walked closer, I noticed a tall blonde was talking to an awestruck Lauren and my curiosity grew.
“Liz!” Vera looked as though I were an angel dropped from heaven and I realized that while Lauren was excited about the blonde, Ike’s wife was not. “I’m so happy you could join us.”
“Hello, Miss Diamond.” Lauren was hugging the other woman, and I smiled.
“Liz, Lauren. Just call me Liz.” She was happier than I’d ever seen her and my interest grew. I looked up to see the other woman studying me with the same inquisitiveness. “Hello, I’m Elizabeth Diamond.” I held out my hand and she took it with the same ease that came from my upbringing.
“Meg Bannock.” She was smiling and I could see that her mind was working through this new information. Her name meant nothing to me. “I should go, Ike’s expecting me.”
Lauren hugged the woman again, and told her how much she reminded her of her mother and I knew. This was the sister-in-law. Jealousy flared up within me at the thought of her being alone with Ike. The way she said his name, like she could taste him, made me want to slap her senseless.
Vera’s voice stopped me. Saying her goodbyes to the other woman forced me from the rush of envy I’d felt and reminded me of my place in this play. I told her how nice it was to meet her and then she parted. Leaving three women, of varying ages, feeling emotions rushing to the surface from her appearance that none of us had prepared for.
Lunch wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t comfortable either. I could see that Vera’s jealousy matched mine, but Ike wasn’t the only cause of hers. She was hurt by Lauren’s reminder that when compared to her real mother, Vera fell far short of her ideal. Lauren talked a great deal about her brief encounter with Meg, glowingly and I felt the urge to scream build inside me again.
“She looked so glamorous, didn’t she?” I realized that it was directed at me and I smiled at Lauren.
“Very Grace Kelly.” And it made me wonder why Ike picked Vera, and then me, if he preferred blondes.
Lauren studied me for a moment before saying, "The way you talk, speak I mean, sounds like her." I stared at her for a beat. "Your accent is different though."
Shoot me dead, I thought, as I smiled at the young girl. "I'm sure we all sound the same to you, Lauren." She shot Vera a glance and was about to argue with me, but I cut her off. "Older women just have a different cadence, sweetheart." And I was surprised when she seemed to pick up on my warning and nodded.
It couldn’t end fast enough for me. I wanted to beg off, but I could see that Vera needed me as a buffer and I couldn’t deny her it. I had his love, I kept reminding myself, she had the responsibility of his family. She took a moment to pull me aside before I could go, Lauren was being distracted by one of the staff.
“Thank you, Liz,” she was still on edge, I could tell. “That woman,” she closed her eyes to calm herself. “She stays away for so long, but then-”
“It’s fine, Vera.” I smiled, but it felt like a mask to me. Patting her hand gently, I reminded her that I was her friend, and that’s what friends do. When they aren’t making love to their friend’s husband, my mind reminds me. “I should go,” I took up my purse. “I have an appointment at the salon.”
“I won’t keep you then,” she was looking somewhat calmer. “Thank you.” And saying goodbye to both of them, I sighed as I walked to the beauty salon, hoping they could fit me in.
I was crossing the lobby when I met Ike. Freshly painted nails, fresh curls, and feeling slightly less tense I smiled at him.
“Hello, Ike.” His eyes were twinkling down at me and I hoped that today was better than the night of the match. “You look like you’ve had a good day.” With a flash, I wondered if Meg had been the source.
“It was productive.” He licked his lip and I nearly swooned. “Do you have a moment?”
Looking at my wristwatch, pretending that I was checking the time, I nodded. “I have a few minutes to spare.”
His mouth was hot on mine when the door to his office was closed and locked behind us. He tasted like himself, so I could cross off Meg as his lunch. His hands felt like fire on my skin as he unzipped my dress and let it fall to the floor. Then my bra. Then the rest, until I was completely naked under his hands.
“You’re still dressed,” I complained as he stood back, drinking in my nude form. I started forward, but he raised his hand to stop me.
“Let me look at you, Liz.” The sun was bright through the windows behind his desk, so I could only imagine how I looked. “You are a wonder.”
And then he pulled me to him and I didn’t care that he was still dressed.
We were entwined on the surprisingly soft carpet in his office, trying to catch our breath when he surprised me by bringing up his sister-in-law.
“Meg mentioned she met you before she came in for our meeting,” his fingertips were sliding along my skin, softening whatever jealousy was threatening to surface.
“She did, did she?” I kissed his bare chest and grinned at how much he smelled like my perfume now. I looked up at him and flicked my tongue against his slightly salty skin. “Should I care?”
He chuckled, his fingers brushing my collarbone. “She’s family.” I raised an eyebrow. “And she may become a partner in the hotel.” Ah, I’m sure daddy dearest would care, but I didn’t and I wasn’t planning on telling him. Another kiss on his hot skin and he groaned, “Are you trying to distract me?”
“Is it working?” He didn’t answer. “Fine.” I propped my chin on his chest and waited for him to tell me what he wanted to.
Another chuckle. “I was thinking,” his fingers were tracing my cheeks. “That we should get to know more about one another, outside of-”
“The carnal way we already do?” I smiled. And he looked like he was going to laugh. “Should I dress first?” He shook his head. “What do you want to know?”
I was shocked that no one interrupted us. No knocks. No calls. Just the two of us, naked on the floor, answering one another’s questions. He seemed amazed that Ben had never visited me during my time in school, that I hadn’t been back to America before flying into Miami. And I listened as he told me about Molly. Feeling none of the jealousy that I felt for Vera or Meg, because she was his first love, and we all had to have a first. He told me about his kids. About Danny’s ambition, Stevie’s freewheeling ways, and Lauren’s early teenage rebellion against Vera’s place in her life. I told him that I hadn’t known I had more family until recently, still surprising to him, but after learning how little I’d interacted with Ben the blow was softer.
The sun was starting to lower when we realized that our luck wouldn’t hold forever. He helped me to my feet, and before I could reach for my first piece of clothing, he shocked me by redressing what he’d undressed hours earlier. As he zipped up my dress, kissing the same spot on the back of my neck he’d touched in the dressing room, I felt his lips curve into a smile.
“One day,” he sounded wistful and I understood the feeling. “One day, I hope I can do that early in the morning and reverse course before bed.” I closed my eyes at the promise and fought the fear bubbling up at the reminder of my father’s desires and warning.
“Now I’m all dressed, but you’re not.” I turned to see him staring down at me. “Allow me.” And, just as he’d put me to rights, I returned the favor, wishing desperately that we’d have the chance to make his hope for the future bear fruit.
Chapter 17: More Revelations, Meeting the Father, and Harsh Truths
Liz is given more information from Lily than she wanted to know and has to decide what to do with it. Seeking Ike for help, she makes a new acquaintance. And during what should be a romantic tryst, she's given and gives troubling news.
I left Ike’s office and met the driver waiting for me just outside the front doors. There were times, like this one, that I felt oddly satisfied by the watchful eye of my father. At least I didn’t have to wait for the car long, and that meant I didn’t get noticed by Vera.
When I walked in the house, I nearly groaned aloud at the beckoning from my father to join him in the study. Rolling my eyes, and shoulders since I felt a cramp building, I walked in to find him alone. Again. Where the hell was Lily?
“Father.” I went straight for the bar. Dealing with him was far easier if numbed by alcohol. He waited while I poured, then directed me to take the seat in front of him.
“That was a very long lunch, wasn’t it?” I didn’t answer, choosing instead to focus on my drink. “How IS Ike?”
“Satisfied.” A sip and felt a bit of my tension leave. He was watching me. “What? Suddenly interested in the details?”
“No,” he looked calculating. “No details, Liz. You were closeted together for hours, my darling daughter, surely not even YOU could keep going for that long.”
I didn’t care for his tone, or his insinuations, but I realized he’d probably heard it all from Lily. My personal education, so why bother defending my honor to man more than willing to whore his own daughter out.
“Oh, Father, how sweet and innocent of you to make such assumptions.” I swallowed the last of my drink and stood up. “He’s satisfied, I’m satisfied. You should be.” And then I turned to walk away.
“Don’t forget, Liz, just who you belong to.” I shook my head and left, back ramrod straight and head held high. Reminding him once again, that I was far better than he’d ever be.
I skipped dinner, and breakfast. Why bother? Seeing my father’s smug face would only wind me up and quite frankly I wasn’t in the mood. A knock came to the door as I was lounging in my nightgown on the bed reading. Not waiting for my answer, Lily rushed in.
“What the hell?” Then I saw her face. Oh God, what now?
“Will you go out with me?” Seeing how anxious she seemed, I nodded and told her to give me a moment to dress.
I threw on a pair of the shorts, and a top to match, then shoes and tied my hair back. Would the look win me an award for being fashion forward? Probably not, but it would do in a pinch. I met her downstairs, where the quiet felt oppressive, and she surprised me by taking the wheel of the flashy red convertible. As we left the house behind, I had to remind her to calm down and drive carefully. Dying by automobile accident wasn’t on my list of things to try.
She pulled over near the spot that Ike and I had confessed our feelings to one another. Getting out, I was forced to follow her. Lily walked and walked, and I wondered if she was trying to lose whatever spies Father had sicced on me. When she stopped, we were in a clutch of trees, unseen from where she’d parked.
“Liz,” her eyes looked almost wild, and she was pleading. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Calm down and tell me what has you in this state, Lily.” And she did. The truth and the whole truth. More than I wanted to know, honestly, but once she started, she seemed unable to stop.
Stevie. Her. The photos they took. My father’s suspicions. He’d tossed her room, or had his minions do so. He was on their scent and she wasn’t sure that Stevie really burned the photos. Or that Father dearest didn't already know.
“My God,” I said, once she’d purged all she could and had finally stopped. “What a mess.” I was breathing as though I’d been running, trying to take in her verbal barrage, and now I felt like I was going to faint from the information. “Is that all?” I asked, frightened to get her going again, but knowing that I had to have all of it or I wouldn’t be able to help. If I could help at all.
“Isn’t that enough?” She asked, her chest heaving from holding back her nerves. I nodded, absently wondering how to fix the mess that two people with more hormones than brains had created.
“Does his father know?” I wouldn’t say his name, not in connection with this. She shrugged and my eyes widened. “How do you not know?” Another shrug and I felt like screaming. An urge that was coming far more frequently in Miami than anywhere else I’d been in the world.
“He’ll kill us.” Yes, I was aware of my father’s propensity for violence. “You have to help me, Liz.”
How? I wanted to scream. A flash of horror came to me. “Did he visit you while we were shopping?” Different dressing room, separate Evans men. She nodded. “You knew Father follows me.” Was she trying to get caught? “Dear-” I took a breath. “I have never met more people who want to dance within the flames.” She looked confused, but that was no doubt because her nerves were at the breaking point. “I can’t bring Ike into this. Did you call-”
She nodded. “Yes, but he-” She looked down. So Grandfather Sy, mystery man was out.
“I’m not sure what I can do, Lily.” I leaned against the tree nearest me. “You know he’s-” A deep breath. “I’m on thin ice with him, Lily. You know that.”
“Distract him?” How? “Show him you’re making strides with-” I sighed. “If you’re getting what he wants, he’ll lose interest in what I’ve done.” And are still doing, I’d bet.
“I’m not sure that’s true.” He’d tossed her room. He was searching for proof. Clearly he could juggle his attention. “I’ll try.” Maybe I would have to tell Ike. Maybe two heads, three heads, I corrected looking at Lily, were better than one.
I went to the hotel early the next morning. One of the younger bellboys, who told me to call him Ray-Ray, answered my query about Ike’s whereabouts by telling me he was in the Atlantis. The bar? This early? Shifting my confusion to the back burner, I went to find him.
I’d opened the door with a greeting on my lips that died when I realized he wasn’t alone. An older, white haired man was sitting at the bar with him and I stopped in my tracks, but the swish of the door alerted him to my entrance. Damn it. Keeping the smile, but swallowing the greeting, I restarted my forward momentum.
“Hello, Mr. Evans.” And I was surprised when the older man stood and offered his hand. Taking it, I shot a look at Ike.
“Miss Diamond, my father, Arthur Evans.” Ah, that would explain the confusion. “Pop, this is Elizabeth Diamond, Ben’s daughter.”
Mr. Evans, the senior one, said something to Ike that sounded like, “Ona krasivaya, ty uveren, chto ona Ben?” (Translation: Are you sure, she’s too beautiful to belong to Ben?)
“YA uveren,” he was smiling widely at me, dimples deep. I raised an eyebrow. “He wanted to know-” (Translation: I’m sure.)
“You’re far too beautiful to be Ben’s.” I smiled, quite the charmer. “He told me it’s true.” He shook his head and sat back down on his stool. “You look like you came in here with a purpose.” Damn it again.
I licked my lips. “Oh.” Put on the spot, I felt incredibly stupid for not having an excuse for visiting Ike so early. “I wanted to discuss-” I searched my brain for something, anything. “I want to plan a dinner party.” Never in a million years would I plan a dinner party for my father. “I wanted to surprise Father. To thank him for bringing me home.” I felt a blush coming on and fought against the burn.
Ike was staring at me like he knew how completely wrong what I’d said was, but I was sure he’d chalk it up to me wanting to have a morning taste of him. Not that I was opposed to it, but right now-
“Sit down, Liz,” he patted the stool next to his father and took the one beside it. “Pop isn’t against having a gorgeous woman join us, are you?”
“Why would I be?” And I sat down, thinking that this was the worst idea I’d ever had.
An hour later and I forgot my misgivings as I laughed through another tale of Ike’s youthful silliness. Arthur, as he told me to call him, was smiling as widely as his son at the sound of my laughter.
“What stories do you have from your misspent youth?” He asked, and I smiled.
Ike answered before I could. “Liz didn’t misspend her youth. She went to boarding schools in Europe.” He wasn’t teasing, he sounded proud. “Isn’t that right, Liz?”
I smiled at him and felt his father’s attention shift between the two of us. “Somewhat.” I turned to Arthur and told him about the school girl pranks my classmates and I tried on our staid and strict headmistress. He listened attentively, but then asked the most loaded question I’d had since coming to America.
“You were there during the war?” I nodded, feeling the fear build. “How did you not get-”
“Pop,” Ike’s voice held a warning, but I understood. I’m Jewish, how wasn’t I picked out?
My hand touched Ike’s, stopping him. “It’s alright. I’m surprised no one else asked, honestly.” Turning back to Arthur, I told him the truth. “I went to Catholic schools. Forced Communion, no Bat Mitzvah, no Star of David.” No Shabbat, no Hanukkah, the list of things I couldn't celebrate until the war ended and was free to do so was endless. It was shameful to me. What my people went through that I was saved from by my wealth, or my father’s. I swallowed back the fear that I’d felt when we heard, I’d been young enough to worry, but I was soothed by the realization that no one, other than those who reared me that I was a Jew. One of the hunted.
“You survived.” Ike said, touching my hand as I had his. “That’s what matters, Liz.”
“Yes.” His father agreed. “There’s no shame in survival. And I’m not practicing so I wouldn’t judge you for hiding your faith.”
I nodded and Ike, seeing that I needed a change of topic went back to reminiscing with his father, letting me laugh at their hijinks. I realized that I should leave, my stay had been far longer than I’d planned and I hadn’t gotten to the real purpose anyway.
“I think it’s time I take my leave.” I stood and the two Evans men stood as well. I felt a shock run through me when Arthur took my hand and smiled.
“You’re a good one, Elizabeth.” And kissing my cheek, he nodded to his son and sat back down.
“I’ll walk you out, Liz.” Ike took my arm and tucked it into his. Once we were out of earshot, but before we were in full view of the rest of the hotel he turned to me. “Want to tell me the real reason for this visit?” I shook my head and sighed.
“I can’t.” I glanced back through the doors at his father. “Not now.”
“Should I be concerned?” The Flirty tone was gone, and I nodded. “Is it personal?” I shrugged, yes, but not us. “You have to give me something, Liz.”
“Stevie.” And his eyes closed at the mention of his son’s name. “When can I-”
“I’ll call, I swear, Liz, I’ll call.” I nodded. “Is he in danger?” Another nod. His sigh told me this wouldn’t be the first time. “Alright, sweetheart, let me-”
“You’ll call.” I said, wishing we were somewhere more private so I could kiss him goodbye. “I wish I could give you a proper goodbye, but-”
“Me too,” he was wistful again. “Soon.”
“Promises, promises.” I smiled as I walked away. Feeling like nothing else could possibly go wrong.
It took a few days. Days of Lily shooting me pleading looks behind Father’s back. Days of me waiting for Father to leave the damn house so Ike could call. Days of worry. Days of missing the feeling of his arms around me. And days of me feeling like the world was slowly unraveling.
When the phone rang, not that it hadn’t before but my father had finally gone out, I nearly tackled the maid who went to answer it. “I’ve got it.” I offered, and she looked as shocked as I felt. “Hello?”
“Hey,” thank god, I thought. “Let me buy you lunch.”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.” I answered, but he stopped me.
“I’m just around the corner,” I bit my lip and smiled. “Turn right.” Outside the gate, he meant.
“I’ll be there soon.” And then, not looking for Lily, just telling the maid who had moved to the den to dust that I was going out for a walk, I tried to not run down the driveway. Normal. Slow and steady, I had to repeat to myself, but as soon as I saw his car, it was a lost cause.
“Hey, you.” Ike greeted me with a wide smile. “Come here.” And then I was pressed chest to chest with him and he finally kissed me. “That was a too LONG of a wait.” I nodded and he dipped back in, nipping at my bottom lip and tasting me. He pulled back and I sat back against the seat as he drove away from the curb.
“Where are we going?” I asked, as he drove past the diner. He smiled, but didn’t say a word. I studied him, he drove like he did anything. With confidence and radiating power. And he was incredibly handsome as he did it all. “You aren’t wearing a suit.” It hit me, he was in a jacket, but his shirt was more casual and the same wine color that my gown was.
“You noticed.” He glanced my way. “You’re not wearing black, or a dress.” No, I was dressed in shorts and a matching top, as I had been the day Lily had taken me for a drive.
“Well spotted.” I smiled at his profile. “I hope that my attire doesn’t ruin your plans for lunch.”
He shook his head, grin growing, but giving me no hint of where we were headed. When he pulled the car off the road I was confused. Bumpy road, leading to- “The beach?” I asked, turning to see him put the car in park hidden behind overgrown bushes.
“You mentioned that you don’t go farther than the hotel.” I nodded, turning to watch the waves crash against the shore. “I thought I’d take you on a picnic.”
“You really are something, Ike Evans.” He was getting out of the car, and before I could open my door he had the handle in hand. Ike offered me his hand to help me out, then reached for a basket that had been hidden behind my seat. Walking hand in hand, he took me to a spot near the water, but well outside the reach of the tide. I watched as he put down a blanket and sat when he bowed to me. “How did you-”
“A gentleman never reveals his secrets, Liz.” He pulled a bottle of wine and two glasses from the basket and foods that were picnic appropriate, but also worked well for romance. Grapes, cheeses, crackers. A little of this, a little of that. “I’d really love to just spend this time wining and dining you, but you wanted to tell me something, didn’t you?”
I nodded as he poured the wine for us. Holding the stem of my glass, I waited until he took a sip and then followed suit. “Father suspects Lily of being unfaithful.” He was watching me so I went on. “I’m not sure he knows it’s Stevie, but-”
“Is it?” I didn’t answer, letting my silence be the answer. “Damn it. And I thought Danny was going to give me ulcers.”
“Danny?” I was confused, what did Ike’s unknown son have to do with anything?
He sighed. “Danny was offered a job with the State’s Attorney’s office.” I waited, not seeing an issue. Ike wasn’t my father, after all. “Liz, there’s a lot you don’t know about-”
“About what?” I felt the now familiar bubble of fear building inside me. “What don’t I know, Ike?” A lot, I was thinking, but mostly that concerned my father.
“You know your dad and me are-” I waited, while he searched for the word he felt fit. “We’re partners, of a sort.” I nodded. “Have you been following the news?”
“Missing people, dead people, Cuba in upheaval,” I listed, wondering which part he was referring to. He waited and I realized I’d missed something. “What did I miss?”
“The vote to legalize casino gambling in Florida.” Oh. Why was that important? “I owe your father a lot of money, Liz.” I felt churning in my stomach. He owed a gangster money, a gangster whose nickname was “the Butcher”? “I bet on that boxing match.”
“And lost.” Reality hitting me like a freight train. “It’s why you looked so-” I took a deep breath and a large gulp of my wine.
He nodded. “I wanted to take the winnings and repay your dad.” Losing meant he couldn’t, and he couldn’t even use the money he’d placed since it was gone too. I nodded, waiting, clearly there was more. “The vote?” Another nod, another drink. “He wants me to bribe the-” I held up a hand, stopping him.
“Don’t tell me anything that I could be forced to answer questions about.” His turn to nod. “So, my father snagged you in his web?” He was watching to see my reaction. “He’s a real piece of work, isn’t he?” I stared at the waves for a moment, forcing down my rage at my father, and a bit that I felt for Ike. “How do you plan to fix it?”
“I have ideas.” I nodded, eyes watching the push and pull of the blue water. “Does this change how you feel about me, Liz?” I shook my head, turning to meet his eyes.
“No.” My smile felt tinged in sadness, knowing that my hero had flaws was a blow, but then again, he was married to someone else. “I still love you, Ike, but I don’t know-”
“I wish,” he took a drink of his wine. “I wish so many things, Liz, but I can’t wish my feelings for you away.”
“What do we do with them?” I was curious. How did he think this would work? Vera, Ike, and me?
It was his turn to focus on the water, and I could tell, that even with everything bearing down on him from the hotel and my father, this question plagued him the most. “I want you, Liz. I want to see you every morning when I wake up. And I want to kiss you goodnight every single night.” I waited for the ‘but’ and wasn’t disappointed. “But, Vera-” He looked down at his left hand, the sun catching his wedding band. “I take the vows I said to her seriously too.” I would have snorted, but I knew what he meant. Cheating was one thing, but divorce a whole different subject.
“Did you know,” I laid down on the blanket to stare at the clouds. “When Henry the Eighth wanted to leave his wife Katherine of Aragon and he was getting denied by the Church, he offered Anne Boleyn the strangest ‘compliment’?” He turned to look at me. “He tried to convince her, since she was refusing to bed him before marriage like all good Christian women should, to become his ‘official mistress’ and promised to not take another.” He was staring down at me. “She refused. Some speculate that she was a pawn for her male, grasping relatives, others thought she held out because she was ambitious and wanted to be queen so badly she denied him.” I met his eyes then. “Want to know my theory?” He waited. Silence broken only by the crashing waves. “I think she thought that it was insulting. That he swore he loved her, only her, but thought making her a lover and not a wife was demeaning to her and their love. The point is, Ike, some women refuse to be slighted, even in the name of love.”
Our lunch ended soon after. Ike had a lot to think about. And I did too. Because the rest of Anne Boleyn's story was tragic. She helped Henry break free from the Church and create a Bible that anyone who could read would be able to, but she also died at the hands of a swordsman for a whisper of infidelity. And I wondered, as I sat in my room trying to read, if I’d cursed myself to a similar fate.
Chapter 18: Choices, Dinner, Roses, Loss
Liz gave Ike something to think about, but it gave her more to chew over as well. Dinner at Miramar has an uncomfortable encounter. And a phone call causes more pain than expected.
Dinner at the hotel, per Father’s insistence. Lily and I would come, arms linked with his, so he could show the world the might of Ben Diamond. I was dressing, thinking about Ike, our picnic, and my fear that telling him my theories on Anne Boleyn would finally make him see that I couldn’t and wouldn’t settle for the role of his mistress. It wasn’t how I was raised and educated to be.
I’d chosen to wear black again. Form fitting, the highest of my heels to accessorize it, the dress was a work of art. I hadn’t lied when I told Lily that dates were a battlefield. My clothing was my armor, my uniform, and tonight’s message was to serve as a reminder to Ike that I was more than worthy of his love and devotion. A pair of earrings that looked like they were dripping diamonds, my dark lipstick, and even my hair hanging completely loose in rivets of curls were part of if. The bodice of my skin tight dress was lace, the only real sign of femininity in a dress that screamed ‘woman’.
Lily knocked as I was finishing my makeup. When I granted her access, having chosen to start locking the door, she took a look at my appearance and shook her head with a smile.
“Lace, black, and tight as hell.” Our eyes met and she gave another shake of her head. “No bows, Liz?”
“I loath bows.” I answered as I sat back at the vanity. “If I choose a dress that has one, that has no useful purpose on the dress, I ask for a seamstress to carefully remove it.” I watched her in the mirror as I put the final touches on my face. She was roaming much like my father had, studying the photos in my frames and the fresh flowers I insisted on daily. “I haven’t seen you wearing any yourself.”
Lily gave a harsh chuckle. “I’m not much of a bow girl, frills aren’t my style.” She was holding my one family photograph. “What kind of statement is the look for tonight?” It was like I was her teacher, which was insane, she was already married after all.
“A reminder, not a statement.” Was my response and I left it at that. “I’m starting to get bored with the hotel.”
Another chuckle from behind me. “Get used to it, Liz, since it’ll be your home soon enough.” I shook my head and decided I looked as good as I could get. “Then again, once you’re Queen of the Miramar, it might have more appeal.” She shot me a knowing look.
Sighing, I grabbed the small clutch I’d chosen and we went down to meet my darling father.
I’d been correct. Ben Diamond wanted the elite of Miami, and the elite tourists that frequented the hotel to know how enviable he was. With me on his right and Lily on his left, he made the rounds, forcing the host to take the long route to our table. A table that was on prominent display, all the better for the envy to grow, I suspected.
After holding my chair for me, the host disappeared and a bottle of champagne appeared with a waiter attached. And the ‘fun’ began.
I knew to expect Ike. Hell, I was fairly certain I’d felt his eyes on me as we made our long detour to get to the table. I hadn’t expected for Vera to be draped from his arm. For her to engage me in conversation. For her to remind me that, in this scenario at least, she was my rival.
“If you’ll all excuse me,” I stood, and with a tilt of my head and a tortured look from Ike, made my way to the ladies’ room.
I stood facing the mirror, giving myself an internal tongue lashing. I was torn. Wanting to be a friend with the woman I also wanted to replace was beyond painful. Staring into the mirror, into my own eyes, I wondered when I became THIS. A grasping, ambitious woman who coveted another woman to the point of madness. And then Ike’s face seemed to replace mine, and I knew that I wanted him beyond what could be considered reasonable.
Giving up, I shook my head and fixed my makeup. Washing my hands and taking the towel offered me by the attendant, I grabbed my bag and started to leave. Vera was entering, and I stepped back to let her by.
“Liz?” I waited, my back to her. “Do you think I need to worry about Ike and Meg?”
I turned to face her and said with all honesty and not a hint of hesitation. “No.” And then, without another word, I left.
The rest of dinner was uneventful. We ate, we drank, and when my father suggested after dinner drinks in the bar, I begged off. This night could have ended as soon as I’d gotten home after the beach picnic and I would have been satisfied.
“I feel a headache coming on,” when my father looked ready to insist. “I’ll just have the driver take me home and head to bed.” He relented, seeing God knew what in my eyes. “Goodnight, Father. Lily.” And then I walked back through the lobby and into the humid night air and was glad to be done with it.
A long hot bath, ignoring the phone, and the knock on my door telling me it was for me. I couldn’t speak to Ike. I needed a break. My head was against the lip of the bath, bubbles up to my chin, as I sat trying to decide what I REALLY wanted.
Going circles in my own mind, thinking of all the ways that getting what I wanted could or would go wrong was making me feel like that feigned headache was going to become a reality. The phone continued to ring, intermittently while I soaked. By the time the water began to become uncomfortably cold, I’d lost count of how many times it had rung, been answered, I was told it was for me, and then another round began.
After I dried, I put on another new nightgown. This one could have been the sister to the dress I wore to dinner. Shorter than I usually preferred, with lace and satin, black as though all light was extinguished. I felt wasteful for wearing it alone. This was lingerie that was meant to be appreciated, but alone I was, and alone I would stay.
“Miss Diamond?” Another quiet knock, and I finally answered. “There’s a call for you.” Of course there was, Father and Lily seemed to be making a night of it. I told the person on the other side of the door that I would take it. And with a sigh, I picked up the handset.
“Liz,” Ike sounded relieved to hear my voice. “Why didn’t you answer my other calls?”
“I was in the bath.” I stood, wanting to make this a short conversation. “I’m tired, I thought an early night was in order.”
He was silent on the other end. I could almost hear him breathing, but he said nothing.
“Well if that’s all-” I was about to end the call, but he stopped me.
“It’s not,” and it was my turn to say nothing. “Liz. I-I can’t-”
“I know,” I cut him off. “I think I always knew. Goodbye, Ike.” And then I placed the headset in the cradle and felt my heart shattering.
The flowers that were waiting for me downstairs were a surprise when I came down late the next morning. I didn’t look at the card when Lily handed them to me. I didn’t smile. Red roses to commemorate the end of it. How ironic that the rose that meant true love, passion, and desire would mark the end of all of it.
“You slept late,” Lily offered, and I barely glanced at her. “Although you look like you didn’t sleep a wink.”
I hadn’t. Not a second of the hours I lay in bed after hanging up the phone was spent resting. I thought I’d loved before, but I’d been a fool. What I felt for Ike was far more intense than anything I’d ever felt in my life. I hadn’t been prepared for the pain. I felt sick to my stomach, and then with a rush, I truly felt sick to my stomach. Thrusting the bouquet back into Lily’s arms, I dashed to the nearest washroom and purged everything I’d ever considered putting in my stomach.
I was flushing the contents of my stomach when I realized I had an audience. Lily, of course. Feeling sweaty, clammy, and empty, I stood and tried to breathe. “I think I’ve come down with a bug.” I cupped some water in my hand and brought it to my mouth to rinse the vileness from my mouth. “I’m going back to bed.” She handed me the roses and I took them absently. I didn’t notice that the card was gone, not then, and for that reason I didn’t find out what Ike had written for hours.
By dinner time, after finally falling into a fitful sleep, I felt well enough to eat. I was hoping that Lily and my father had chosen to go out again, but could hear their voices in the den and knew it had been in vain. I was pale, I knew because I’d looked at myself in the mirror before coming down, and looked drawn and exhausted. I couldn’t wait for my father to point all of that out to me. Nor to remind me that I should always be a beautiful temptress, just in case.
“Liz,” he was pretending he was concerned as he took my still clammy hand and drew me further into the room where they’d been having a pre-dinner drink. “Lily told me you weren’t feeling well.” I shot her a look and she shrugged. Anything to take the heat of herself. “Sit down, sweetheart.” Solicitous, he helped me into a comfortable chair.
“Do you want a drink?” Lily asked me, and I shook my head. Alcohol and an empty tender stomach were not a good match. She looked pleased, and I nearly rolled my eyes.
Father had taken his seat and I waited for the next ball to drop. Conversations in this house were never idle talk. They were loaded and plotting. “Isaac sent you flowers.” Statement, which didn’t surprise me, getting roses wasn’t a secret. “And a card.” I said nothing, being too tired to even look at the card, I hoped he didn’t want me to tell him the contents. I felt my mouth drop open when he pulled it from his pocket. “‘Liz. You hung up before I finished. I can’t keep pretending. It’s you. Only you.’ Now, it isn’t signed, but we all know the sender.” He was smug again, that smile that I hated so much back on his face. “Unless you think poor old Sol still pines for you?”
“I don’t have an ounce of privacy here.” I shook my head. “I’m not as hungry as I thought I was,” I stood up and started to walk away. “Lily?” Her eyes met mine. “Stay away from me.”
Chapter 19: In Sickness and...
Liz still feels ill. The hotel through fresh eyes. A chance meeting. The trials of telling the truth. And a loaded question with no answer.
I tried to rest. I needed it, I could tell by the way I could barely lift my head off my pillow, but it wouldn’t come. My stomach was threatening to try to spill, but I knew there was nothing left. I would only be retching dryly, with no end in sight.
The soft knock came moments after I’d locked my door and laid down. Lily, pleading with me to let her in. Begging for me to understand. Wanting to know she wasn’t alone with my father in the house, bodily or spiritually, but I’d had enough. All the shopping and bonding in the world couldn’t undo the duplicity of her actions. I was tired of the backbiting. Of the need for comrades in arms, only to find that the comrade was a double agent.
I didn’t answer. She finally gave up and I turned on my side to study the clutch of roses Ike had sent. He might be finished pretending, but I felt like I’d only just begun.
The next morning dawned hot and bright, and the light only added to my pain. As soon as I sat up, the urge to vomit struck hard and fast, and I barely made it to the bathroom before I realized that even water wasn’t safe inside me. I couldn’t understand how it felt like it went on for days, since I’d only had a glass of tepid water before bed, but it did. It felt like the lining of my stomach wanted to make an appearance, but it finally ended and I weakly stood up to get rid of the sight and brush my teeth.
The face staring back at me was almost unrecognizable. I was beyond pale. Dark circles and puffy eyes stared back. Even my lips lacked color. I leaned against the sink and wondered what kind of bug I’d caught. And I hoped that it would pass, because I needed to go to the one place I kept hoping I could avoid.
Breakfast wasn’t tempting enough to make me go downstairs, so I chose to try to tame my face into a more normal pallor. It wasn’t flawless, but the covering of my lack of color and hiding the color I didn’t want did the job. I brushed my hair, and pulled it back in a knot. Then I chose a pant set, grabbed my handbag and went downstairs. I left without telling anyone. If my father was having me followed, then let them earn their money.
I walked slowly to the hotel, taking the time for once to study the building from my approach. It looked like it curved from the angle I was viewing it from. Glass and balconies, the covered entry, the feeling of glamour harsh in the bright sun. I kept moving, feeling like I was arriving for the first time, and smiled as the door was held open for me. A scent I’d never paid attention to seemed to touch me as I broached the entrance, and I smiled, the ocean. Light, not overpowering, but reminding the guest that they were in paradise.
My eyes drank in the decor as though I’d never been inside, smooth lines, rich without the ostentation that screamed ‘overboard’. I was so inside my own head that I bumped into someone. Tall, with light hair, and striking eyes the young man began to apologize but I wouldn’t hear of it.
“Entirely my fault,” I admitted, offering my own pardon. “That’s what happens when I let myself get caught inside my own head.”
He smiled and I wondered why he felt so familiar. And then Ike was there, and I knew. “Liz, I see you’ve finally met Danny.” Ike’s smile was blinding and I realized I was staring at him. Seeing him in an entirely new light, just like the hotel.
“Oh, this is your younger son?” I turned back to him and smiled. “I keep managing to meet the Evans family in extremely awkward ways, it would seem. It’s nice to meet you, Danny.” I offered my hand and he took it.
A glance at his father and I saw recognition dawn on his face, which made me wonder what Ike had told him about me. “Miss Diamond, I’ve heard a lot about you.” He said it without a hint of innuendo. Just the basics shared then. “I hate to run, but-”
“Go,” Ike said, shaking his head as his son dashed away. “That boy-” His eyes met mine again. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Me too,” I wished I could take his hand, but that wasn’t smart, or allowable. “Could we go somewhere to talk?”
He nodded and started walking toward his office, but I stopped him. “Somewhere private?” It was early morning, his staff would be there, and I didn’t want them to titter about the drapes shutting out the view of the fishbowl he worked from. Changing course, he led me to the empty Atlantis.
“Will this work?” I glanced around the emptiness and nodded. Instead of the bar, he led me to one of the booths. In the corner, deep in the shadows, so we wouldn’t be seen. I’d asked for privacy, and that’s what he gave me.
“Thank you for the flowers.” He took my hand and I felt calmer than I’d felt in the past twenty four hours. “Ike, I have to tell you-”
“Did you read the card?” No, it was read to me, but close enough. I nodded. “I mean it, Liz, I can’t keep-” He took a deep breath. “I can’t keep saying goodnight to her, wishing she was you.” I looked down at the table. He had to know. All of it.
“I want that too, Ike, I do, but,” he looked concerned and I was glad of it. “There are some things you need to know.”
I sat in the booth and told him my father’s game. What I knew of it, anyway. I told him that he’d brought me back to play matchmaker. That he wanted the scandal of us, that he swore he knew the man across from me so well that he could anticipate Ike’s behavior. I told him that he’d admitted to wanting us to wind up married, that he wanted to toy with Ike, to play with him and to then destroy him completely. I felt my eyes burn when he pulled his hand from mine, but kept talking. I told him how he’d given a subtle threat on my life. And how it was him, not me, that read the card that came with the flowers.
“He thinks he’s won, Ike.” And I hoped he hadn’t, even if it would rend me in two. “He thinks you’ve played right into his hands.”
“When did you find out?” I swallowed hard. “When, Liz?”
“After my stay here.” I knew that I was cementing the end of something I felt like I’d die without, but I had to save him from my father. “He told me part of it when I returned to his house. Lily helped fill in the rest.”
“You knew all this time?” He looked betrayed and I understood. Hell, I even wanted him to, but it hurt to see him look at me that way. I nodded. “Is this all a game to you?”
“No,” I felt my breath catch, the roiling of my stomach beginning again. “It isn’t a game to me, Ike. I do love you, but-”
I couldn’t finish and he didn’t speak. My eyes were on my hands fidgeting on the tabletop. The silence became oppressive. I felt the now familiar urge to throw up, and before I could say a word to Ike I was running from the booth to the nearest ladies’ room. I didn’t latch the door, I didn’t have time. I was on my knees, face over the bowl, and retching when I felt someone behind me. I’d been dry heaving so loudly that I hadn’t heard him dismiss the attendant, or him checking to see if we were alone. By the time I finished, we were alone and he had the main entrance locked.
“Are you OK?” His concern wasn’t faked, he looked scared at how sick I seemed. I couldn’t get off the tiles, I was so weak. “Liz, sweetheart, answer me?”
Swallowing and feeling the burning in my throat, I nodded, my head feeling as though it weighed a ton. I automatically reached up to flush, without realizing that the bowl was empty of anything from my gagging. Ike’s hand took mine when I finished, and he knelt down and wrapped his arm around my waist to help me to my feet.
“Let’s get you to a room so you can lie down,” he whispered in my ear. Another weak nod, since I didn’t have the strength to argue. I must have nodded off as he half drug me, half carried me to a small room. Helping me lie down, he removed my shoes and curled up next to me. “You know,” I listened, my eyes closed from exhaustion. “When Molly was pregnant with Danny, she had morning sickness all day long. She told me it wasn’t named right, that it should be called day sickness and that she never wanted to eat or drink anything ever again, because she knew what everything tasted like when it came back up.” I didn’t understand the point of his story, but his voice was soothing. “She couldn’t sleep, not until she was exhausted from tossing her cookies, and-” His hands were touching me gently, my face, down the curve of my side, and I wanted to hear his voice again. “Liz, are you pregnant?”
Chapter 20: Mercy, Doctor, Rabbit
Ike convinces Liz to let him get a doctor. Mercy sits watch. And then...waiting.
I considered Ike’s question briefly. Very briefly. “Not possible,” it came out a groan, because my throat was on fire.
“How are you so sure, Liz?” His hand was cradling my stomach, his thumb rubbing soothingly.
I tried opening my eyes, but the light felt like it was stabbing me. “Because, Ike,” I sighed, letting my hand cover his. “I take a pill for that.” Ugh, this bug was terrible.
“The pill?” I nodded the best I could. “I still think you should see a doctor.” Another nod. “Let me get one.” Wait, what?
“Ike,” he was already on his feet, and I squinted up at him. “I can make an appointment when I get home.” I was terrified he’d make a bigger scene than the one that he probably caused pulling my limp body into this room.
“I’d feel better if you just lay there and let me go get one.” What? He was at the door and I heard him say, “Mercy?”
“I definitely need mercy,” I groaned from the bed. I could hear him chuckle. “Ike, honestly, I’ll be-”
“Look after her, please,” I glanced at the door to see a young woman in a maid’s uniform come into the room. “She’s got jokes, but she’s sick.” His smile was sweet, and when he saw me start to argue, he stopped me. “Stay right there, Liz, I’ll be back with a doctor soon.”
He was gone before I could say a word to stop him. “Is there a clinic here that I haven’t seen? Down some corridor I missed during my tour?” It was meant to be internal, but when the maid gave a husky laugh I realized my mistake.
“He’s right, you got jokes.” She perched on the chair beside the bed. “You look like you feel terrible.” I gave a weak nod and blinked against the blinding sunlight coming through the window. “Light hurting your eyes?” Another nod and she got up and closed the curtains. “Better?”
“Thank you.” She grinned and sat back down. “You’re Mercy, I presume?”
“That’s me.” She was studying me, I could tell, even if I’d rolled onto my back and was staring at the ceiling. “I’ve never seen him look so concerned about a guest before.” Ah, curiosity. “You must be pretty important.”
“I’m Ben Diamond’s daughter.” I could hear her slight gasp. “Important enough for you?”
We waited for Ike in almost complete silence. I was too tired to make small talk, and she seemed disinclined to bring up a new subject. I felt empty, so I hoped like hell that meant I wouldn’t have a repeat performance for a mad dash to the bathroom. I doubted I could hold my own weight up.
Ike was back before I could fall asleep, which was a pity because I could feel the pull of rest coming on strongly. He thanked and dismissed Mercy, and then hovered as the doctor examined me.
“Would you please tell Mr. Evans that I’ve simply come down with a virus of some sort?” I asked, as the doctor checked me over. “He seems certain that it’s a little more delicate of a matter.”
The doctor chuckled and glanced at Ike. “I would, Miss Diamond, but you have no fever, your heartbeat is strong and steady, and there isn’t a sign of illness I can find.” I sighed. “Can you give me a-”
“You want to murder a poor rabbit for nothing?” I asked, mouth dry from lack of water or food. “Why bother? I told Ike,” I stopped and corrected myself, “Mr. Evans, I take a pill for that.”
“Humor me.” The doctor handed me something to collect the sample he wanted, and Ike helped me to my feet. I swayed, head dizzy, so he guided me to the bathroom with his hand on my lower back. The rumors this doctor would have to spread, I thought with a groan.
“Liz?” I rolled my eyes at his concern. “Can you-”
“I think I can manage from here, Ike.” And I went into the small washroom and shut the door. Once I’d gathered what the doctor required, I washed my hands, and opened the door to find Ike hovering just outside. “You’re ridiculous.” I handed the specimen to the good doctor and asked if I should take anything for the nausea.
“If Mr. Evans’ suspicions are correct, nothing aside from letting it pass or waiting it out will help.” I rolled my eyes at the absurdity. “Here,” he wrote something down on his pad and handed me the sheet. “They’ll fill that for you at any pharmacy, it may help if you’re correct.” I shook my head, suddenly overcome with exhaustion. “You need to get back to bed.” He took my other arm, mirroring Ike and they got me tucked back in. “Rest. I’ll do the test immediately,” I sighed at the thought of a poor animal dying on a hunch. “You’ll get the results soon.” He left with that promise and I felt Ike crawl back into bed with me.
“Shouldn’t you be working?” I asked, not fighting the urge to shut my eyes.
“And miss seeing you fall asleep?” He kissed my cheek. “Not a chance, Liz.”
When I woke up, a feeling of confusion rolled over me, his arm was still around me and I was trying to figure out where I was. Then I remembered the hotel, the doctor, the test. I groaned and felt Ike shift in his sleep. Rolling carefully over so I was facing him, his arm still tight around me, I studied his face as he rested. Even without his eyes open and flashing, even with his mouth shut and his breathing soft and even, he was gorgeous to me. I didn’t fight the need to touch his face, letting my fingertips trace his closed eyes, the bump of his nose, his full lips.
“Memorizing my face?” His voice was rough, and I smiled when he kissed my fingers where they’d touched his lips. His eyes opened, and his smile grew. “I want to get used to waking up like this.”
“I’m not opposed,” I whispered against his lips as he kissed me for the first time that day. “I thought the tests took longer?” He chuckled as the thought came to me and popped unexpectedly out of my lips. “What?”
“They don’t use rabbits anymore, Liz.” He’d pulled back to study me in the dimness of the room. “Frogs, I think, and they don’t kill them.” Ah. How would I know? “He’ll let us know, and then we’ll make some plans.”
“You seem quite certain you’re right, Ike Evans.” I was squinting at him trying to decide what kind of plans he was considering. “What if you aren’t?”
“I’m pretty damn sure I AM right, BUT,” he kissed my nose. “We still have to make some plans.”
“We do?” I’d thought, after confessing he’d be tossing me out.
He nodded. “Yeah, we do.” His thumb brushed the skin underneath my eye. “Seeing you sick, on your knees, and too weak to get up scared the hell out of me.” I realized I was breathing easier knowing that he cared. Still. “I can’t live without you, Liz. I can’t. Your dad-” He shut his eyes and took a deep breath. “He twists everything. He planted the seed that he’d fixed the match, Liz, that’s why I lost the bet.” I waited. “He’s trying to teach me a lesson, and damn it if he isn’t going to find out that I’m not willing to learn it.”
“Ike,” I was terrified. “Don’t pick a fight with him, please?” His eyes opened and I knew he could see how scared I felt. “You can’t live without me? I can’t stand the thought of you not surviving this.”
“I’ll be fine, sweetheart.” I shut my eyes, feeling like he was patronizing me. “Liz, look at me.” I did. “I’m not taking this lightly, I’m not. But I won’t cower or beg.” I nodded. “And I don’t give a flying-” He was interrupted by the phone ringing. “I don’t care that he set us up, Liz, I don’t.” And then he picked up the handset and I only heard his side of the conversation. Which told me nothing.
When he hung up the phone, he rolled back over and took me into his arms. “Do I want to know?” Wondering if a test could be that fast. He chuckled. “Ike?”
“The test takes up to two weeks, Liz.” Ah, I felt him kiss the top of my head. “That was the office.” I thought it was a reminder that he actually ran the hotel, but he kept his arms around me. “Just telling me that everything is running smoothly.” I smiled, liking the feel of his arms holding me. “Do you want to try to eat?” I considered it. “I can send someone out with your prescription and you and I could have a bite.”
“Fine.” I agreed, thinking if nothing else the medication might be able to stem the tide of nausea that was sure to accompany eating. “What do you have in mind?”
We ate in the room. Soup and crackers for me, since Ike assured me that Molly could usually hold the more bland fare down easier than real food. He ate a full meal, but I didn’t envy him, I knew I’d only get to eat it and then revisit it sooner rather than later.
“Two weeks?” I asked, getting back to the topic at hand. “Two weeks to find out the entire endeavor was pointless.” I shook my head at the silliness.
“Or,” he countered, taking a sip from his glass, “two weeks until we start thinking up names.” My breath left me and my eyes met his. “You look like you’re not so sure anymore, Liz.”
“Of course I’m certain,” I shook off the image of Ike holding a bundle of blankets. “It’s impossible.” Wasn’t it?
I convinced Ike, once my medicine arrived, to let me go back to my father’s house. While having a full night with him beside me was beyond temptation, we couldn’t, not until we knew how it was going to work. He wanted me to stay, I wanted to stay, but it wasn’t a good idea and we both knew it. So after a long, lingering kiss, and a promise that I’d come back very soon, I walked out through the lobby and into the car I knew would be waiting.
Chapter 21: A Taunt, A Threat, A Change of Scenery
Liz returns home to find that she's still too many moves behind in the game. Betrayal. A threat from an unlikely source. And another stay at the Miramar.
When I walked in the house, after being gone for hours, I wasn’t surprised to hear my father call out requesting for my presence in the dining room. Sighing and hoping that I could keep the soup and crackers down, I complied. He and Lily were finishing their dinner in, and I leaned against the door frame waiting for him to goad me.
“You look oddly rested.” He was chewing with his mouth open and I wanted to vomit for a different reason than whatever bug I was afflicted with. “Odd, considering you spent the entire day in a room with Isaac.”
I sighed loud and dramatically. “Here we go again.” I glared at him, ignoring Lily entirely. “I look rested, because I am rested.” Shaking my head and keeping my eyes locked on his. “Not everything I do is sexual, Father.”
He was smirking and studying me. “Considering your self created extra ‘lessons’, you would have to understand my assumptions are well founded.” I rolled my eyes. Of course she’d told him all about that. “If not sex, then what were you doing in that room, Liz?”
I crossed my arms over my chest, my purse still in my hand with the medication the doctor prescribed inside. “You tell me, you know everything.”
“Not sex. You’ve been sick.” His grin grew, and he took a last bite of his food and ate with relish. “A doctor visited, which Ike rushed out for while his pet maid kept you under careful watch.” He truly did know everything. “Did you take a test today, darling daughter?”
“Again, you know everything, you tell me.” I was bored with this entire game. With him. With Lily. “If I took a test, let’s just say I’m very certain the outcome isn’t what you’re hoping for.”
My father nodded like he was humoring me. “You’re quite certain about that, Elizabeth?” I watched him, looking for signs of why he’d be picking this particular hill to take his stand on. “Are you so clever in your fucking around with random men that you KNOW for sure that the test is gonna come out the way you think?”
I felt a chill run through me. “A brat or two-” I shook my head. “Stacking the deck, that seems to be your way.” He was studying me as I thought about how he could have done it, how he could have made certain that the pill wouldn’t work. “You horrible-” My eyes landed on Lily. “How dare you.”
“Now, now.” My father again. “Lily’s making sure that my plan works flawlessly.” I shook my head at the utter betrayal. “I told you to remember who you belonged to, Liz.”
“Perhaps I should call my bubbe?” I felt the thrill of a well placed shot when he stopped talking. “Sy, right, Lily?” And a second one as he glared at her. “I’m sure the operator will have no problems patching me through.” Before I stalked away, I let the ice I felt flowing through my veins come through in my parting shot. “Never, for one instant, imagine that I wouldn’t call him up and tell him about your little threat, FATHER. And neither of you-” I took a deep breath. “Ever assume that I’ll share another sliver of information about me, Ike, or what I do behind closed doors with him.”
I’d hoped, after a long warm bath and tucking myself into my locked room, that I’d feel like dealing with the truth of my current predicament. Somehow, and I was willing to suspect Lily had a hand in it, he’d replaced the pill with something else. Something ineffective. Something to push Ike and I more firmly together.
I replayed conversations with Lily and I shook my head. Didn’t she pound the idea that I could give Ike the children Vera couldn’t. Hadn’t she tried to make it a selling point? And stupid me, during a moment while we were shopping admitted that I had a way to make sure it didn’t happen to me until I wanted it to. All she would have had to do was find them, and they weren’t hidden, why would I hide my own things in my own room? Once again, I’d been out-gamed by two expert level players.
I was probably pregnant with Ike’s baby. Not probably, definitely. I’d smugly allowed him to- I couldn’t think about that now. I had to decide what to do now.
Drifting off to sleep, I wondered what he was doing, and prayed it wasn’t Vera.
I woke up and ran for the bathroom, sad but resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to get to keep the soup after all. It was morning, and I had rested, but this- I flushed the toilet and stood up shakily. This was for the birds. Brushing my teeth, rinsing my mouth out, I got ready for the day. Hair up, makeup minimal, and one of my signature black dresses and shoes, and down the stairs I went. I hoped that the kitchen was stocked with something soothing for my stomach, since the doctor wasn’t certain the medication would work for what truly ailed me.
“Liz,” it was Lily’s voice, but I ignored her and kept moving. “Come on, you can’t ignore me forever.”
Well, let’s find out, I thought and kept walking. She caught up easily, damn her longer legs and the fact that she hadn’t just vacated her stomach into the toilet. I sighed, but kept my progress. Maybe soda crackers, since the ones Ike’s kitchen had served were saltines.
“You have to understand,” she was saying, but I kept my eyes ahead, a goal in mind. “He won’t kill you, Liz, but I’m fair game.” Why’d you marry him, I wanted to ask, but didn’t. “Having Ike’s baby isn’t torture, but what he would do to me-”
I’d had enough, she was right, I couldn’t ignore her forever, but I could try to make her understand that I didn’t care about her fate. “And who chose to do something that had the possibility of this horrible fate that could befall you?” She was shocked when I stopped so she ended up in front of me. “You knew who and what he was, Lily. You chose to marry him. You chose to go along for the ride.” She was staring at me like she hadn’t expected me to speak, or to tell the truth to her face. “You did what you did, knowing full well what the consequences were if you were caught, so don’t tell me that giving me up on a platter was for anything other than saving your ass and throwing mine down a well.”
I brushed past her and finally made it to the kitchen. I asked one of the women if there were any soda crackers and they found a tin, sighing gratefully, I took it and turned to leave. Lily was standing in my way.
“Someone’s blackmailing him.” I waited, not caring but seeing she thought I would. Why would I give a rat’s ass about someone extorting my father. “Not him, HIM.” Stevie? “There was proof, he was supposed to destroy it, and now-”
“And now, what?” I opened the tin and took out one of the bland crackers, biting into it, I chewed carefully and swallowed. “What do you want me to do?”
“Call Sy.” She whispered, and I glanced behind us to see that the women had flicked on the radio so they couldn’t hear us. Or could pretend they didn’t. “Call him and tell him what Ben said to you.” I waited to see why she refused to tell him about her own issues and wondered why he hadn’t come before, as she’d told me she thought he would. “I tried. He doesn’t care. About me, anyway.”
“How would him coming to my rescue help you?” I took another bite, happy that so far the bland, tasteless thing stayed down.
“You’ve never seen Ben around Sy, he doesn’t make waves, he’s careful.” I wanted more information, even if I did want to meet my grandfather. “Please?”
“I’ll think about it.” I walked back upstairs with my tin, not inviting her to join me because those days were long gone.
When I ventured back downstairs, happy to have found that soda crackers seemed to be the answer, I found my father practically crowing about something. I nearly went back up, but he saw me when he came out into the hallway.
“Liz,” he gestured for me to come to him and I was close to screaming at him. “Come here, I won’t bite.”
“What do you want?” I asked, taking the seat he’d offered me when I was sick on my stomach.
He sat in his pseudo throne and I waited. This lord on high act was getting old. “Isaac had to make a trip to visit the State’s Attorney.” I felt myself pale. “Oh, come now, Liz, why would you worry?”
“I can’t imagine that visiting the State’s Attorney is never a sign of happiness and prosperity, Father.” My hands were tightly clasped, and I waited, even though I had a million questions.
“Probably not,” he nodded. “I mean, can you imagine if word got out that Ike Evans, the King of the Miramar was called in by the authorities?” He was so damn gleeful that I wanted to toss one of the crystal ashtrays at his head. “You might want to check on him, who knows how frayed his nerves are.”
I sighed and stood. “Is that all?” He nodded. “Good, I need to go see if the kitchen has more soda crackers.”
“Your mother swore by seltzer water. She said the bubbles calmed it.” An oddly helpful suggestion. “She couldn’t stand the sight or smell of food for months when she-” He stopped, and offered a different smile, the same one he had upstairs while looking at our family photo. “If they’re out of crackers, tell them to restock.” I nodded and left, thinking my father had such strange shifts in his mood that it was like living in a pendulum clock.
Vera called while I was in my room resting. I heard a soft knock and then Lily quietly told me I had a call. “Hello?” I put down the book I’d been falling into, smiling at my roses and hoping that it was Ike.
“Liz,” I shut my eyes and took a beat. “I was hoping you’d join me for dinner. Ike’s so busy, I thought we could have a girls’ night.”
“I wish I could, Vera,” I took a deep breath. “I’ve been under the weather, though, and I’d hate to give it to you. Or Lauren.”
“Oh.” She sounded disappointed, and I could hear what sounded like turning pages on her end. “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. Another time?”
“Of course,” I opened my eyes and Ike’s roses looked like a scarlet letter. “I’ll tell you when this bug is gone.” Around nine months from now, I thought, feeling my nerves fray. “Have a good evening, Vera.”
“You too, goodbye.”
I hung up the phone and settled back into my pillow. Ike was busy. Vera was lonely. Lily was frightened. I couldn’t handle another bit of stress.
The next afternoon, when I ventured downstairs on my new routine second trip, my father called me into the den again.
“Elizabeth, I’m going to have to ask you to spend the evening at the Miramar.” I opened my mouth to argue, but he stopped me. “I’m having a get together, and I think the noise would keep you from resting.” I didn’t believe him, not caring about my rest anyway. “Pack an overnight bag, and I’ll have Al take you and stay at the hotel to make sure you’re comfortable.”
“Fine.” I didn’t feel like arguing and it gave me a reason to see Ike. “I’ll go pack my bag.”
“And, sweetheart?” I glanced back at him. “Have a nice, restful, quiet night.” It would have sounded like well wishes from another father, but out of his mouth, it sounded vaguely threatening.
“I’d like to check in, please," I sighed to the front desk agent. As he was gathering my key and I was signing the paperwork, I heard a voice call out my name that I wasn’t expecting.
“Miss Diamond,” I turned and saw Meg Bannock smiling and walking toward me. “Are you a frequent guest here?” Curiosity killed the cat, I wanted to warn, but instead I smiled back.
“Hello again, Miss Bannock.” I took the key from the worker, and turned, handing it off to Al. “Could you take my bag up, please? I'll follow in a moment.” He nodded and shot a look at Meg. “No, I’ve only stayed here one other time.” A memorable time, that probably played a huge role in my current predicament. “Another meeting with Ike?”
She nodded, “yes, business, it never ends.” I wondered if she actually worked, or did anything other than count her piles of money. “Call me ‘Meg’, though, I insist.” Great, I would have to offer her the same courtesy.
“Liz.” It was Ike’s voice that offered it, not mine. “I thought you’d left, Meg.” She was smiling at him like she owned him, and a glance at his cheek told me why.
“Oh, you have a little,” and she reached over and wiped her brand from his dimple. “Sorry about that. I was on my way out when I caught sight of Liz.”
His eyes were back on me, clearly wondering why I was checking in. “My father’s having a party and he felt that I should come here so I wouldn’t be disturbed.”
“Disturbed?” Meg Bannock, font of wonder. “Why would a party disturb you?”
“Liz hasn’t been feeling well,” Ike again, answering as though he owned me. “I’m sure Ben wanted to make sure she could rest.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she was staring at me with what I had to assume was faked concern. “Don’t let us keep you, Liz.” And I was dismissed.
“Yes, well, I’ll go make sure Al didn’t toss my bag onto the balcony.” And without a goodbye for him or her, I made my way to the bank of elevators and entered the first one that opened.
Al was waiting inside my room, the door propped open a crack for me to enter. “Thank you for bringing my case up.” He nodded, and gave me a half smile. “Could you do me another favor?” I handed him cash from my purse. “I need soda crackers, NOT saltines, and seltzer water, please?” He looked at the money and shook his head. Tucking it back into my hands, he moved for the door.
“The boss told me to take care of you, Miss Diamond, that’s what I’ll do.” I hoped that meant he was off to get my crackers and water.
When a knock came a few moments later, I assumed he was back. I opened it and found Ike, looking like he had an explanation locked and loaded. “Come in, Ike.” I was already tired of this day and it wasn’t even two o’clock. I walked ahead of him and was thankful he wasn’t reaching for me. He was learning.
“Liz,” I was about to take a seat in the chair, but he stopped me. “Shouldn't you lie down?” I huffed out a laugh. “You look exhausted, sweetheart.”
“I am,” I admitted, and kicking off my shoes, I pulled down the blankets and crawled in. “Let’s hear it.” He smiled.
“You don’t sound as angry as you looked downstairs.”
“I’m not,” I rolled my head on the pillow to get comfortable. “I’m sure there’s an innocent explanation for why her lipstick was on your cheek. And since it wasn’t on your mouth, I’m reserving judgement.” His smile grew. “Although, if she ever dismisses me again as though I’m beneath her-” his eyes widened. “I’ll have to remind her of what family I came from.” A warning, through and through.
He shook his head and sat in the chair I had been planning on taking. I watched as he took off his shoes then stood up and took off his jacket to lay it across the back. Then he loosened his tie, and crawled into bed behind me. His arms went around me like he was made to hold me, and he sighed into my hair.
“She came to tell me that she wasn’t willing to invest.” I nodded. “The lipstick came from her goodbye, it wasn’t even full lips on cheek, I swear.” I knew that, I’d seen it, but I let him go on. “Meg is used to everyone being beneath her, Liz, I don’t even think she notices that she does it.” My hands were covering his under my breasts. “I won’t stop you, though, if you bite back.” I smiled.
“She wouldn’t give you the money for Ben?” I felt him shake his head. “How much do you need?”
“At least $100,000,” I thought about his options. “Don’t worry, Liz.” Easier said than done. “Stress isn’t good for you, or the-”
“No,” I stopped him. “We are NOT assuming anything, Ike.” Even if I was sure he was right. “Until the test confirms it, I am simply ill.” I felt him chuckle. “It’s not funny.”
“You’re stubborn.” He kissed my temple. “I love that.”
“I’m sure you won’t in a few years.” My fingers were drawing patterns on the skin of his hands. “She called me.” He didn’t ask who, or grow stiff, he just listened. “I hate the thought of hurting her.”
“I know,” his breath was tickling my hair. “I don’t like it either, but I won’t keep faking a life when I can have the real thing, Liz.”
“Ben said that you were called in-” Another sigh. “Is it bad?”
“It could be worse.” He offered, not exactly soothing. “They drug a limestone quarry I own.” I waited, knowing that a search that turned up nothing didn’t warrant a trip to the authorities. “They found-”
“A few of my father’s art projects?” A clever way of describing it, but it seemed that my father was proud of his reputation, so why bother hiding my knowledge of it. He nodded. “Why assume that you had anything to do with it? It would be stupid to dispose of anything somewhere you own.”
“The art projects,” I could hear his smile in the way he took up my code. “They’re former associates of Ben. Partners.” Damn. “I don’t think that they think I had anything more to do with it than giving him access to the dump site.”
“They want you to turn.” He tucked my head under his chin and rubbed my arms with his hands. “What a mess.”
“Yes, it is.” We heard a knock and Ike went to answer it when I told him about Al’s errand.
“I got soda crackers and I got seltzer water.” I smiled at the goon my father had saddled me with. “Since you appear to be well guarded,” he shot Ike a look that I didn’t want to contemplate. “I’m heading to the Atlantis. If you need me, call the bar.”
He waited for me to nod my agreement, then walked toward the door.“Thank you,” I called as he walked out. “That wasn’t nearly as awkward as I thought it would be.”
Ike laughed as he brought the tin of crackers and the bottle of water to my bedside table. “Sadly, I can’t guard your body all afternoon.” I shook my head. He found me a glass and brought it to join my meal for the evening. “I’ll try to check on you before I-”
“Go home?” I smiled sadly at the reminder that he’d be in the penthouse with Vera while I slept down here alone. “It’s fine.”
“No, it isn’t.” He sat down on the edge of the bed, and took my hand. “It isn’t, but it will be, Liz. I promise.” Then giving me a breathtaking kiss, he moved to the chair and put back on his shoes, straightened his tie, and put his jacket over his shirt. Drinking in my fully clothed form in bed, he shook his head. “I really don’t want to leave you.”
“Which makes it marginally easier to let you go,” I smiled at him. Watching him leave, I waited until the door closed to let the smile drop and my sadness from his departure roll over me.
Chapter 22: To Sleep Perchance to Dream... And A Walking Nightmare
Liz gets woken up. Someone missed their wake up call. Vera's distraught. And there's a glimpse into how far the apple didn't fall from the tree.
I fell asleep after Ike left and only woke up when it was full dark and I heard a noise in my room. Groaning, because I knew if I sat up too fast I’d be forced to make a mad dash for the bathroom, I heard a sigh. A familiar sigh.
“Ike?” I managed to flip on the bedside lamp and say horizontal. “What time is it?” I blinked against the added light and saw him slumped in the chair he sat in to take off his shoes earlier. “Ike, is something wrong?”
“No, sweetheart, nothing’s wrong.” He was taking off his shoes again. His jacket was already gone, and the tie was quick to follow. Ike stood and unbuttoned the top buttons of his shirt. “Can I join you, Liz?” He sounded as tired as I still felt.
“Of course,” I smiled as he practically flopped into bed. “Tough night?”
His hand found mine and he brought it to his lips. “Like you wouldn’t believe.” We both turned so we were facing one another. His eyes looked tight, and I wondered what had happened from the time he’d said goodbye until this moment. “I told myself, if I could finish what needed to be done, I’d get to see you.” I was still smiling, but I had a ball of worry curling inside of me and threatening to grow. “I paid your dad.”
“How?” His fingers were brushing my tangled hair out of my face and I could almost hear his mind working out how best to explain.
When his thumb touched my lip, I kissed it automatically. “I haven’t told you about how I managed to snag Molly’s hand in marriage, have I?” I shook my head. “You’ve seen Meg, try to imagine their father." A male version of Meg, he doesn't sound like someone I'd care to meet. "And Pop and I told you all about how different my younger days were.” I bit my lip at the memory of laughing with the two of them. “I think you can put together how excited Molly’s dad was at the idea of her marrying me.”
“Molly’s father sounds like a boorish bully.” My description made him chuckle.
“A bit.” He let out a huff of air. “I asked for her hand in marriage, and he countered my offer.” A negotiation for a wife? That sounds interesting. “I had to sign over the kids’ rights to inheriting any of her father’s wealth.” My eyes went wide. “She believed in me, and we couldn’t have imagined that she’d-” Pain burned bright on his face at the memory of her death. “I had a dream, and you’re inside of it. Meg didn’t know that when Molly died, all her portion of the family money reverted to Meg. It helped her make a better choice than this morning.”
“What else did you have to give her?” It sounded like I was asking if he had to prostitute himself to her, but that wasn’t what I wanted to know. “I only meant, how much of this dream I’m inside of does she own now?”
“I knew what you meant, Liz,” he smiled and gave me a soft kiss. “Fifteen percent of my share. It’s worth more than what she gave me, but I had to do something. He threatened that someone would die tonight if I didn’t get him the money.”
Par for the course for my father. “And now?”
“We pass the next hurdle when we get to it, Liz.” I nodded. “As for RIGHT now, I want to hold you and watch you fall asleep.” My smile returned. “I may not be able to wake up next to you yet, but I can take the look of you drifting off with me when I go.”
“Since you want to witness me drifting off, should I leave the light on?” I was teasing him, but he surprised me with an affirmative.
“It doesn’t bother you, does it?” I shook my head. “Then come here, let me hold you.” He pulled me so I was lying cradled on his chest and I listened to his heart as I let my exhaustion take me away.
I woke up disoriented again. Right, I was at the hotel. Father’s get together. Sickness and- I realized with a start that I was still lying on Ike’s chest. I could see the hint of light beyond the closed curtains and swore to myself.
Rising up and feeling the urge to vomit strike hard and fast, I had to push off of him and run from the bed. He didn’t budge as I watched at least part of the crackers I’d dared to eat come rushing back out of me. Flushing, brushing my teeth, and washing my hands, I came back into the room and shook my head. Still asleep.
“Ike,” I was beside him, and I touched his arm. “IKE!” Still nothing, so I shook him and then he groggily came to.
“Liz?” He found me as his eyes finally relented and opened. “Come back to bed, Liz.” He tugged my hand and I tumbled on top of him. “That’s better.” He was snuggling into me again, and I laughed to myself.
“Isaac, my love?” He grunted in response. “It’s morning.” Another grunt. “You’re in MY bed.” I felt him nod above me. “Where SHOULD you be, Ike?”
And he finally heard me. Really heard me. “Shit.” He sat bolt upright and I felt the vertigo hit me as I went along for the ride. “Liz, it’s morning.”
“Yes, I know, I just told you.” I was trying very hard to keep down the bile that I felt rising. Finally it was too much and I pushed off from him and ran back to the bathroom. Seriously, would this ever be over?
I felt him at the bathroom doorway, since my head was almost inside the bowl of the toilet. “Sweetheart, can I get you anything?” I could hear his clothes rustling so I knew he was getting put back together. I shook my head, not trusting that my time becoming acquainted with the porcelain bowl was over.
He waited until I was finished and on my feet. And as he kissed my freshly brushed mouth, we heard a knock on my hotel room door, and a voice that had us both freeze in our tracks.
“Liz?” Vera called, quiet, but loud enough for us to hear. “Liz, are you awake?” Damn it. “Please answer the door, I just found out you checked in yesterday and I need your help.” I hoped Ike would have a long chat with his employees about guests’ privacy after this.
I did something I probably shouldn’t have, but I panicked. I pushed Ike into the bathroom and shut the door. Then I opened the locked door and hoped that my face reflected how sick I felt.
“Vera? What’s wrong?” She looked as panicked as I’d felt when I heard her voice while her husband was reacquainting himself with my tongue. She shocked me by brushing past me into my room. Where did her manners go? She was wringing her hands and looking like a caged animal.
“Oh, Liz, I don’t know what to do.” I waited, since I wasn’t supposed to know that Ike hadn’t gone home last night. “It’s Ike, he wasn’t in bed when I woke up, and I stayed up half the night waiting for him. His car is here, but he’s not.”
I watched her pace, praying once my eyes noticed that Ike had only partially redressed himself because sitting in the middle of the table was his tie and under the chair sat his shoes, that she was too distraught to notice. Damn it.
“Vera,” I got her attention on me, still standing by the door. “Did you check his office? My classmates used to talk about how their fathers sometimes became so engrossed with their work that they’d fall asleep in their offices.” Actually, what my classmates had said was that it was their fathers’ favorite excuse when they were seeing their mistresses, but needs must. She shook her head. “Go check, and give me a moment or two to get myself presentable and I’ll meet you in the Rivera for breakfast. You can eat, and we’ll figure this out, alright?” She nodded, looking like she was going to burst into tears. “Stay calm, Vera, until we know something is wrong.”
“You’re right, Liz.” She straightened her back and forced herself back into the calm woman I’d first met. “I’ll check his office. He’s been working so hard that I’m sure what you said happened. He might even be upstairs already, getting a shower and dressed for a new day.” I smiled reassuringly at her and opened the door. “Thank you, Liz,” she offered, and I prayed that as she gave me an air kiss on the cheek that her extra tall height didn’t put Ike’s discarded clothing in her direct line of sight.
Ike was grinning like a complete fool when I opened the bathroom door. “I have never seen you ruffled before, Liz, that was pretty interesting.”
I raised an eyebrow as he wrapped his arms around my waist and stared down at me. “I’m sick, I don’t think straight when I’m sick.” I sniffed. “And if I wasn’t so ill, I’d have noticed that you’re in your socks and your tie is over there with your shoes.” I gestured to the table.
“I could have popped out of the bathroom and we could be done with the hiding.” I shook my head and leaned into his body. His hands were rubbing my back and I was loath to let him go.
“You have to go,” I truly hated it, but this wasn’t the right way. “She deserves better than this.”
“Hey,” I looked up at him. “So do you.” He kissed me again, reminding me of where we’d been interrupted. “I love you, Liz, I do and we WILL fix this.” I nodded, feeling more and more uncertain.
“Get dressed, Ike.” I sat on the edge of the bed and watched. “I have to get ready too. Breakfast sounds,” I could actually feel the blood leave my face at the thought of it. “Enjoyable.”
“Want me to distract her, that might get you off the hook.” I squinted at him wondering how he planned to distract her. “Not that way, Liz.” He shook his head. “She’s been making noise about wanting to go back to dancing.” My shock must have been easy to read. “Yeah, my thoughts exactly. She’s spoiling for an argument, this can be the catalyst.”
“Actually, that sounds like a good idea.” I was tired again, from standing up and having nothing in my stomach, no doubt. “I plan on having another nap.”
“Get back in bed, sweetheart, rest.” I did, because I felt like I’d run miles. “The next time I wake up next to you, I promise it won't end up like this." My smile at the thought of a day like that made his own return. "I’ll check in later, alright?” I weakly nodded. He kissed me on my forehead, I lost the battle to keep my eyes open to watch him go, and was out completely before the door shut behind him.
The ringing phone woke me. Groaning, I rolled over and answered it. “Hello?”
“Elizabeth?” I rolled my eyes at the sound of my father’s voice. “Are you ready to come home?”
“No.” I turned to hang up again, but I heard him speaking. “What was that?”
“Come home, Liz, we need to talk.” Another eye roll.
I sighed loud enough to get my point across. “I finally got to rest, Father, I don’t want to leave this bed.” I heard him chuckle. “What now?” I was irritated and it came through loud and clear.
“Come home.” An order, I knew it. “Now.”
I walked through the front door not an hour later and saw him lounging by the pool. Maybe I could smash something heavy onto his head and convince everyone a tile fell off the roof. Then I wouldn’t have to deal with him ever again. That was a pleasant thought that carried me outside, with a real smile on my face.
“Don’t you look happy?” Yes, because I’m imagining your brain matter coating the patio. “How was your night, did you sleep well?”
“I slept like the dead,” my smile grew, like I’m picturing you right now. “Why do you ask?”
“You didn’t hear?” I waited, clearly he was bursting at his seams to break some news to me. “I guess having Ike to yourself for a full night, even if it did come with a surprise visit from the little wife-” He stopped and took in my tiny stature. “OK, she’s not so ‘little’ compared to you, but I could see why you might have missed it.” What did I miss? “They found a body in the pool this morning.”
“And?” The boredom I felt was evident. “Somebody drowned because they took a swim after having too much to drink.” I shrugged. Accidents happen when you’re unintelligent.
“Liz, honestly, do you think I’d share if it were an accident?” I rolled my eyes. “It was the burglar. This clown that did diving tricks for the tourists.” I vaguely recalled someone in a stupid suit on the diving board during one of my lunches with Vera. And I think that she had mentioned the break-ins.
“What a tragedy.” I sighed, and leaned against the wall. “Can I go now?”
He shook his head and sighed. “You are such a disappointment sometimes, Elizabeth. You’re not curious, you don’t ask questions to get more information, you just look down your nose at us little people.”
I tilted my head to study him. “I don’t ask questions because unlike my father, ‘The Butcher’, I don’t thrive on gore and other people’s pain. I don’t find a ‘diving clown’ throwing themselves off the roof after he’d burglarized the building all that interesting, so I don’t want details. It’s morbid.” I smiled at him and decided to share what had made me smile so happily upon my return to his presence. “I think I’m more like you than you think. Do you want to know the true source of my happiness as I walked out here to be forced into this unbearable conversation with you?” He smirked, thinking that I was innocent and tame. “I was wondering how to bash your head in and make it look as though a roof tile had done the damage. I was thinking how beautiful the insides of your skull would look splashed across the Spanish tile that makes up this patio. And I was wondering, after I’d done this gruesome act, how I’d manage to act the part of a grieving daughter when all I’d really want to do is dance on your grave?”
I turned and walked away, because for once, I’d rendered him speechless.
Chapter 23: Cut, Slice, Puncture, Wound
Liz felt like she'd finally made her point, but a new day dawns and with it more fuel for Ben's fire. What kind of man watches as his daughter being hurt, finding joy in her pain? Ben "The Butcher" Diamond is NOT an ordinary man. Or a regular father.
My triumph over my father was short lived. While I had flashes of rage, always seemingly directed at him, he had the expertise and thirst to watch pain flash across his prey's face. The next afternoon, as I lay sunning myself on the lounge chair he’d been reclining in while I told him the darkest fantasy I’d ever entertained, I could hear him talking to Bel as his barber trimmed his hair.
I heard them mention ‘Doug’ and ‘Judi Silver’, but nothing really caught me as all that interesting. He waxed on about some television program ‘Queen for a Day’ and why the woman playing some game wouldn’t win, even though she had a traumatic and heart rending backstory. Her dental work was lacking. So insightful, I thought, flipping to the next page.
He had other visitors, men who came and went. Some handing him envelopes, some chatting for a moment or two and rushing away. I paid no mind. It wasn’t my business and I didn’t feel like participating.
I felt too warm to be comfortable after hours in the sun, but as I stood up, he called me to him. I knew that he would goad me about something I didn’t know, but I had no idea that he was planning on planting the largest seed of doubt inside of me yet.
“Elizabeth, you’re looking very parched.” He gestured to an uncomfortable looking Bel, and the cigar chomping man stood to grab me a drink. “Seltzer water, Bel, my daughter hasn’t been feeling well. Have a seat, sweetheart, something just arrived that I think you need to see.”
I sat down with a sigh, but was pleased that I was in the shade now. I felt even better when Bel handed me an iced glass of the bubbly water that I was forced to drink, if only to be able to keep it down a little longer than anything else. He dismissed Bel, who shot me a look of regret as he left.
“Now, I want you to know, Liz, that I didn’t set out to catch Ike in this position.” I waited, taking a sip of my drink, thinking that his act of contrition was getting a tad better. “Here,” he handed me a manila envelope. “These were taken earlier, and processed fast because of what my guy witnessed. I'm sorry you have to see this, Elizabeth.” So sorry that you look like you're ready to burst into giggles, I thought.
Flipping open the flap, I pulled out the snapshots and felt my world spinning. It wasn’t because he was meeting with Meg Bannock. I knew he’d made a deal with her, so being in her company was to be expected, but one snapshot in particular cut me like a knife. It was Ike, holding open a towel, as the consecutive shots showed just like he had for me at the Miramar pool.
“I never imagined that Isaac used the same bait for every woman he wanted to catch.” Was he impressed? “You have to admit, Liz, that looks very familiar.”
I swallowed down the feeling of my water coming up for as long as I could, but tossing the photos down, I had to rush to the nearest washroom. And as the last soda crackers and the seltzer water burned its way back out, I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone.
It felt like I’d only been on my bed for minutes, but I could hear the rain pattering on the window when I opened my eyes and realized it was hours later. Thinking the rain woke me, I rolled over and realized it was the knocking on my door that yanked me from the only peace I had. I considered ignoring it, I did, but then Lily’s voice called for me and she sounded desperate.
“Liz?” I wanted to know what she’d offer before I opened the door. “It’s about Ike.” Oh, is that all? I started to settle back into my pillow, but her next words chilled me to the bone. “He’s been taken into custody.”
When I came down the stairs, Lily hot on my heels, I could hear my father in his office. He was celebrating, because of course he was. I steeled myself against the onslaught that he was undoubtedly ready to launch at me and walked in with my head high and my back straight.
“Ah, there she is, my darling daughter Elizabeth.” He gestured to the chair in front of his desk and I realized we were alone again. No Lily, no henchmen, just the two of us. A private torture session then.
“Lily tells me Ike was arrested,” said as though I was tearing off a bandage. “I guess you’re ready to gloat now?”
He nodded, smiling bright. “The King is dead, sweetheart, long live the King.” I raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. “They handcuffed your darling Isaac and read the charge of first degree murder out in front of a team from CBS before his pitch even began, but never fear Liz, because his wonderful wife was there to save the day.” Another slice, more internal bleeding. “Are you alright, sweetheart?” He was studying me, looking for a crack, but I said nothing. “I realized, Elizabeth, a tiny flaw in my plan for you and Ike.” I waited, my eyes never leaving him. “Our last name. You see, Vera was a showgirl,which is a hard enough sell for the upper crust. But you? You’re a DIAMOND. That last name, the implications of your ‘associations’, you’re not as perfect as I thought. Our name is infamous, clearly NOT good enough to marry and act as the queen to his tiny kingdom." Slice, cut, stab. “If you want, I can find someone to take care of your ‘little’ problem.” His eyes glanced at my still flat abdomen. “No man wants spoiled goods, Liz.”
I stood up and turned to go. I didn’t have to sit through any more. And I refused to let him see how deeply he’d cut me.
“You’ll let me know,” he called at my retreating back. “The world doesn’t need another Evans.”
Lily wasn’t far off, probably eavesdropping. “You.” I pointed at her and gestured for her to follow me upstairs where I grabbed my purse and a pad of paper. “Write down Sy Berman’s number on this.” I thrust it into her hands and tossed her a pen. “It’s time I spoke to my bubbe.”
Chapter 24: A Call, A Warning, A Realization
Liz makes the choice to call in an unknown. She's surprised by the response. Ike sends a warning. Ben celebrates.
I wasn't going to make the call from my father's house. I wasn't certain if it was paranoia from all the tidbits he seemed to know, or if I was just imagining everything, but I didn't trust the call to be private. Instead, I chose the diner where I’d met Ike the day we finally said ‘I love you’ to one another. It was the ONE place that I felt comfortable finding and knew that no one seemed to care who the other diners were. No one asked where I was going, no one tried to stop me. I assumed that either I still had my invisible guard, or that my father had truly given up on my usefulness as his daughter and no longer gave a shit where I went or what I did. I took my time, walking and trying to calm my nerves about my goal.
I’d never spoken to, much less seen, my grandfather that I could recall. No photographs. No letters. No birthday cards or any sign he gave a care about me. I prayed that Lily was right about him and how he regarded me. Otherwise, this was a fool’s errand and a waste of time.
I ordered a glass of soda and broke a bill for change. Then I took my glass to the corner where I’d seen a payphone and taking the slip of paper that Lily had shakily written the number for Sy Berman down out of my purse, I slid the coins into the slot and dialed the switchboard to ask for the operator to connect me to my grandfather.
“‘Lo?” He answered, gruff sounding. I took a breath and he repeated it.
“Is this Sy Berman?” I cleared my throat, since I wasn’t sure he could hear the softness of my voice, but before I could ask again he affirmed that I’d reached the correct number. “This is Elizabeth. Elizabeth Di-”
“Lizzie?” My heart felt like it was going to pound right out of my chest. “My Lizzie?”
A smile came across my lips at how soft his gruff tone had gone. “Yes, it’s me.” And I told him almost everything, asking if he could come to me. To come and help me figure out what I should do.
“Listen to me, honey.” I did, going silent and still. “I’m going to make a few calls. Give me an hour, then call me back, OK?”
“Alright.” I was about to say goodbye, but he wasn’t finished.
“Where are you, Lizzie? Are you at Ben’s?” I told him that I was at a diner nearby, and about my paranoia of doing anything near my father or his wife. “I’m glad you took the precaution, mammy (honey). Stay there, call me back-”
“In an hour,” reminding him that I understood and listened. My worry was starting to calm down.
“It’ll be dark in Florida soon, won’t it?” Agreement from me, but I told him that I could call a taxi if it was too dark to walk back. “Good, good. One hour, Lizzie.” He parted with words that warmed me down to my toes. “Hearing your voice, this is the best gift I’ve had since I held you for the first time. Or when you called me ‘Pop-Pop’ when you learned to talk.”
“I wish I remembered that.” Wistful, but happy that he had those memories of me. “I’ll call back, Pop-Pop.” We hung up and I took the full glass of soda to a booth, not the one I sat with Ike in, and settled in for an hour wait.
I had ordered a bowl of soup with soda crackers, and picked at the bowl of liquid as I waited for the time to tick down. The sun was down, and the moon was rising when a man walked in looking like he had urgent business. When he approached my booth, my stomach flipped.
“Miss Diamond?” I nodded. “Ike sent me to find you, and no one answered at-” He took a breath and looked worried so I gestured for him to take a seat. “He told me you might have come here, among a few other places.” He sat with a groan. “I’m glad you’re here, that house-” He shivered. I pushed my untouched glass of soda to him. Appreciation glowed from his face, and he took a long drink to fortify himself. “Ike got a message to me. I don’t know how much you know about what happened today?”
“I know he was taken into custody,” for murder, while Vera sat beside him as his life partner and worked her magic on the show people. He nodded. Clearly relieved he wasn’t going to have to break the unpleasant news to me.
“Ike wanted me to warn you.” Another flip of my insides. “Klein, the State’s attorney? He knows about you.”
“What does Mr. Klein know about me, Mr-”
“I apologize, I’m Sid Raskin, Ike’s lawyer.” Ah. I’d assumed a pudgy, slightly sweaty goon. “He knows who you are, to both Ben AND Ike.” I could have laughed at that. “And he knows about the test.” That wasn’t funny. “He’s threatening Ike with a tit for tat.”
I raised an eyebrow. “A tit for tat?” I shook my head. “And what assumption has this Mr. Klein made about my importance to either man?” He looked uncomfortable, as though he wasn’t entirely sure about me in general. “Mr. Raskin?”
“He kept the witness against Ike, another woman Miss Diamond, in a dark cell without food or water.” He sounded like someone my father might like meeting, kindred spirits. “I’d hate to think what he might do to a lady like yourself.”
“This Mr. Klein,” Raskin nodded as he took another drink from the glass I’d given him. “Does he make idle threats?” He shook his head. “Can’t Ike make bail?” I wanted to know if, perhaps, he was out from under this Klein person’s thumb then the pressure would go down.
“It’s set for a million dollars.” I gasped. “He’d only have to come up with ten percent.” Oh the irony, another hundred thousand dollars, perhaps he could call Meg. “Is there anywhere you could go?” Hide. That sounds enjoyable. Out of sight out of mind. “Anyone that you could call?” With that reminder, I checked my watch.
“Actually, Mr. Raskin, I was just about to do just that.” He looked relieved again. “Tell Ike that I appreciate his concern, but I’m sure VERA needs it more than me.” Back to uncomfortable. “Now if you’ll excuse me.” He stood as I slipped out of the booth and got more change for the phone.
Pop-Pop answered as gruffly as he had before, and then went just as soft spoken when he heard my voice. He’d managed to get a ticket on a plane that would depart in the morning. He’d be near enough to touch inside of twenty-four hours. I didn’t share Mr. Raskin’s information, if Mr. Klein knew as much as he’d threatened Ike with, I had to imagine that I had multiple people spying on me. Maybe my paranoia wasn’t as silly as I’d feared.
We spoke for a few minutes more, and then I promised to get a car to take me back to Ben’s house. Hanging up, I was gratified to see that Mr. Raskin had waited for me.
“It’s dark outside, Miss Diamond, Ike would have my head- He’d be upset if I didn’t make sure you got home safely.” He helped me to his car, and held the door for me so I could situate myself. Once he got behind the steering wheel, we started for Ben’s. “I hope you have a key, like I said, no one answered when I rang the bell.”
“I do,” I thought that even my father couldn’t be gruesome enough to celebrate at Ike’s hotel after his arrest. Perhaps he and Lily were on the patio and the help was- I wasn’t worried, if the house was empty then more pleasant and peaceful for me.
He pulled up in front of the gates and I saw that he was right, it was dark. His headlights lit up a familiar car, but I couldn’t place it. “Is that Stevie’s car?” He muttered, and my eyes went wide, dear God no.
“Is that not a common car?” I was trying to distract him, to make him focus on something else while I was contemplating the death wish that Lily clearly harbored. He shook his head. “Perhaps he’s visiting someone nearby?” I felt like this day, this entire ordeal couldn’t end fast enough. “Don’t tell Ike, he has enough to worry about right now.” He nodded absently, his eyes fastened on the car in his beams. “Thank you for driving me home, Mr. Raskin.” And then I rushed through the gate and up the driveway to the front door, hoping that Lily would at least be quieter than I normally was.
I was passing the door to the room with the glass floor when my eyes were drawn to the sliver of light coming from underneath. And then I knew. The room on the first floor was Lily’s, or was the room she used to perform for my father. Stevie was definitely here, and I knew, bile coiling up my throat that my father was behind this door watching.
I heard Stevie leave the next morning as I sat by the pool. Lily was no doubt still in her fishbowl, and my father- Well I could care less where he had slithered off to. They came outside a while later to let me know that they’d be having lunch at the hotel, not inviting me, but taking note that I didn’t seem to give one single solitary shit.
“You don’t want to check in on your dear friend Vera?” I smiled up at him. “Of course, it may be awkward, she’s trying to free her husband. You’re carrying his bastard that she’d kill to have inside her.” He tsked as Lily gave me a knowing look. She clearly hadn’t told him about my plans to call Sy.
I gave a dramatic, annoyed sigh, but my smile held firm. “Why would I want to torment the poor woman, when I feel like you have the task well in hand?”
His smile was blinding. The glee he felt at the thought of it sickened me. “Touche, sweetheart, touche.”
“Oh, Father?” He turned back from leaving. “I think you forgot to pick these up.” I tossed the stack of photographs I’d found when I came out. They had been lying crumpled and damp on the paving stones when I walked outside, and they were what Lily had worried about being blackmailed over. “You really should be more careful with such delicate matters.” I turned back to my book, ignoring what I imagined was the sound of his teeth grinding.
I laughed when I heard the front door slam behind them, and relaxed because I knew someone who truly cared about me was on his way.
I wasn’t expecting a return visit from Stevie. When one of my father’s employees brought him to the shaded area where the manila envelope from yesterday lay on the table taunting me with its contents, I was shocked.
“Stevie?” I didn’t get up, but I asked if he wanted a drink. He shook his head and lit a cigarette. “Lily isn’t here.”
“I know.” He sat in the chair my father ruled from. “I saw her and Ben at the Miramar.” Ah. “I’m here because Grandpa asked me to come check on you.” I raised an eyebrow in curiosity.
“Why would Arthur want you to check on me?” And I shut my eyes at my stupidity, I wasn’t sure anyone knew I’d met Ike’s father.
Stevie smiled. “Dad told him.” I saw him glance at my stomach. “Everything.”
I sighed, but didn’t admit to anything. “As you can see, I’m fine. Tell Arthur that I’m grateful for his concern, but I’ll be fine.”
“I should have seen it,” he was staring at my face. “The way he talks about you. How his eyes seem to find you in any room you’re in.” He shook his head and gave a rueful laugh. “I haven’t seen him act like this in six years.”
My eyes went to my lap, and even there, the corner of the envelope was like a beacon. “I’m not sure what to say.”
“He loves you.” Looking up I was shocked to see no judgment or urge to call me out on my hypocrisy. “And I’d lay odds you love him too.” I chuckled under my breath. “If Ike and Arthur are worried, Liz, then you should be too.”
“I have help coming.” He waited, but that was all I was willing to share. “You should know something, Stevie," but then I heard the phone ringing and one of my father’s people brought me the phone. He stood, and mouthed a goodbye, even as I was trying to answer the phone and tell him to wait. And then he was gone.
“Lizzie?” Pop-Pop’s voice was hard to hear, but I said hello louder until he told me he’d landed. “I’ll be at the diner in a flash.” I smiled and told him I’d be waiting. Then hanging up, I lay back on my seat and tried to decide what the hell I was going to do.
Chapter 25: Pop-Pop, Vera, Sid...
Liz comes face to face with her grandfather finally. A choice is made. A message sent.
Meeting my grandfather, my Pop-Pop was wonderful. My father and Lily hadn’t come back from frolicking at the Miramar, so we had time to ourselves. He insisted that we go somewhere private, away from prying eyes, and I agreed. The diner, slowly becoming my safety zone, was the best I could offer. Especially since I had vomited twice after Stevie left the house.
He was waiting for me when I arrived. I’d called a taxi, not feeling up to another long walk with my stomach still revolting against the idea of putting anything in my mouth. He stood up as soon as I walked in, staring at me as though he were looking at a ghost.
“Lizzie?” Getting closer to him, he held his arms open and I stepped into his embrace with a sigh. “Oh, sweetheart,” he kissed the top of my head. “You look just like my Doris.” I smiled into his shirt as he held me tight. “No worries, Lizzie, Pop-Pop is here.”
We sat in the same booth that I’d shared with Ike. Me on one side, my grandfather on the other. He couldn’t stop staring at me and I was growing a bit embarrassed. “Tell me about him.” Ike. The first thing he wanted to know about was Ike.
“I met him not long after Father insisted I come ‘home’.” I was remembering my first walk to the Miramar Playa. “I saw him punch a man in a picket line. He looked unruffled and sure.” Wistfully, I told him about my lunch. About how Ike had given me a tour of his dream come to life. “Nothing happened, not for some time actually.” I wanted him to understand that neither of us took it lightly, the infidelity, the immorality. “We kissed once, but Father insisted I go stay for a week. To give him an unbiased idea of how successful the resort really was, and that’s when-” I took a deep breath. “I cut it off. His wife,” he was nodding, listening and staring at me as though I were telling him a fairy tale, which I supposed it was. “She befriended me. And I guess, seeing her as a person-”
“Made it harder for you to continue?” I nodded and stared at my hands on the table. “But it did continue?” Another nod. “And now you’re in trouble?”
“The test results aren’t back yet.” Barely a whisper. “He loves me, Pop-Pop. And I-”
“You were a pawn in a game your father wanted to play, mammy.” He shook his head. “Now the father of my great-grandbaby,” I shook my head. “Come now, you can’t keep anything down, we don’t need the test to tell us what we already know, Lizzie.” I felt like the weight of the world was crashing down on me. “He’s in jail, for first degree, and his wife is rushing around playing the role he told you was yours.” He shook his head. “I want to talk to his lawyer.” Another nod from me. “Let me hear what he says about this Klein. You prepared to leave?”
“If it’s necessary.” I didn’t want to, but what else could I do? “What about Father?”
“Ben and I are going to have a very long chat, Lizzie. And he’s not gonna like what I have to say.” He sighed, then reached for my hand. “Listen, the baby, it’s my blood. It’s your blood. It doesn’t need this putz that can’t seem to make up his mind about you.” I opened my mouth to argue, but stopped. Maybe he was right. “At least he sent a warning about this State’s Attorney being interested in you. For that, I give him the benefit of the doubt. But that’s it, my Lizzie. That’s all he’s getting.”
“I was just as wrong, Pop-Pop.” He shook his head. “I was. I gave in, I fell in love with him.”
“You only hurt yourself, mammy. He’s hurting his family.” He shook his head. “And your father, he put all this in motion. I was coming anyway, but this,” another shake, “this is too much.” He studied me, his eyes tight. “You’re beautiful, Lizzie, but you look exhausted. Let Pop-Pop take care of things? I’ll get you home with your family, and you’ll see, it’ll all be better.” I hoped he was right.
I called the Miramar and asked to be put through to the Atlantis. Stevie, by some stroke of wonder, answered.
“Stevie? It’s Liz, could you please have Mr. Raskin call me?” He sounded confused, but I told him I’d spoken to the lawyer the previous night. “Please?”
“Yeah, sure, Liz. I’ll call his office now.” I thanked him and hung up, turning back to the room I’d lived in during the most complicated time of my life so far. Pop-Pop was with my father, so far no shots had been fired, but I was too focused on packing to really focus on any noises coming from outside my locked door.
I was wrapping my framed photographs when the phone rang and Lily called up to tell me it was for me. Tossing down the scarf I was planning on wrapping my family photo in, I picked up the receiver and listened as the click came from downstairs.
“Hello?” I offered, and sighed in relief that it was Mr. Raskin. “Thank you for getting back to me, Mr. Raskin.”
“I think you’ve earned the right to call me Sid, Miss Diamond.” I smiled. “Stevie said you sounded worried when you called, what can I do for you?”
“Could you meet me?” The phone wasn’t safe, and I didn’t want the poor man at the house around Father when he discussed the situation with my grandfather. “I, you wanted me to contact someone to help me, and he wants to hear all of the information from you.”
“Sure, same place?” I agreed and he said he could be there in two hours. Setting the time and place, he signed off by telling me, “Ike wants to be sure you know he’s worried about your stress, Miss Diamond. He wants you to be safe, and he wants you to keep the worrying down.”
“Easier said than done, Sid.” I promised we’d be there at the arranged time, and I hung up, sighing at the thought of having to go downstairs and being forced to face my father.
I didn’t have to, it turned out. A soft knock on my door, followed by my grandfather asking to come inside made life a little easier. I invited him in and he took a glance around, the clothes still unpacked, but the photographs tucked carefully in their case. His eyes landed on the last bracelet I’d worn out to dinner that I hadn’t put away.
“Doris loved this piece.” My head, which was bent over the case I used for my vanity, snapped up. “You didn’t know?” I shook my head. “I sent the package to Ben, all of my girl’s jewelry, for him to forward it to you. There was a letter, I told you how much you reminded me of her, and how much I missed seeing you toddle toward me, though you were about thirteen by then, so you were well past that stage.” I wondered how he knew what I looked like. "I have photos. I was kept updated about your-" More spying, I thought, but this wasn't nearly as invasive as what my father had done since I arrived in Miami.
“There wasn’t a letter.” I was staring at him as he let that knowledge hit. “And the jewelry? I got it in dribbles and drabs.” He shook his head and shot a dirty look toward my door. “I would have written back.”
“I wondered.” He sat down on the foot of my bed. “I sent cards. I sent letters. Nothing.” I put my hand on his shoulder and he looked up at me. “I thought you hated me. That you were angry that I forced Ben’s hand and sent you to what I thought was safety.”
“You couldn’t have known-” No one could have guessed at the evil lurking in Germany. “No one knew.” I considered his confession though. “You wanted me far away from our family?”
“I wanted you free and clear of us, at least until you were old enough to-” He looked at my midsection and sighed. “I wanted none of our stain on you. I wanted you to have a better shot of it, Lizzie. I promised your mama.” I sat beside him on the bed and he took the hand I’d put on his shoulder in his. “She realized, too late, that she should have picked-” he shook his head. “She regretted staying so close to home. When she died, I always felt she knew it was coming, cause she came to me and made me promise to get you free of it. Of him, of us.” It was loaded, the way he admitted Ben's danger, but his as well. He was staring at my hand. “And here you are, in the thick of it, just like she didn’t want.”
I thought changing the subject might be warranted. “Ike’s attorney called.” He was listening, even as he was tracing the veins on the back of my hand. “He’ll meet us at the diner, in-” I checked the clock, “about an hour.”
“Good.” He looked up and took in how fast I was packing everything up. “And you’re packing fast.”
“Hazard of travelling extensively during breaks.” It was true, I’d lived out of my suitcases for most of my life after school. “Leaving school was an adventure. I had Europe as my playground.”
“You were happy?” I considered the question.
“I had moments of pure joy.” He met my eyes, hearing the pain in my voice. “I felt unwanted most of the time. Orphaned.”
“That wasn’t my intention, Lizzie.” I nodded. “I just wanted to keep you safe.”
And here he was, trying to do it again.
We were getting ready to leave for the diner when I was told the call that had just been answered was for me. “Hello?” I was trying to decide if I should try a few crackers, on the off chance that I could get strength from the tiny bit of nourishment, while Pop-Pop held my purse.
“Liz,” I shut my eyes hearing Vera’s voice saying my name. “You’ve heard, I’m sure.”
“I have, but Vera, I’m heading out right now.” Pop-Pop’s eyes were on me, I could feel them. “I’m sorry, but it’s an important appointment, could we talk later?”
“Sure,” she sounded like I’d slapped her. “Of course you have other commitments.” She didn’t sound convinced about that, and I could hear her thinking about how I don’t really socialize outside of her, Ike's family, and my own.
“It’s a doctor’s appointment, Vera.” And I heard her intake of breath. There it was, her realization that I was sick. “If I didn’t feel so horrible, I’d cancel, but-”
“I’m so sorry, Liz, I-” She sighed and my eyes opened to confirm the heavy feeling of being observed while I lied to my lover’s wife. “Go, we’ll talk later. I hope you feel much better.”
“Thank you, and we WILL talk,” I just didn’t offer her a time or mention that I might be far away when it took place.
Pop-Pop listened as I said my goodbye and hung up. “You don’t like lying to her.” I shook my head and took my purse from him. “Then don’t.” Simple, but also very difficult. “You’re leaving, Lizzie, might as well burn the damn town down on your way out.” I gave a disbelieving chuckle as we headed to see Sid. “You’re a Berman, Elizabeth, never forget that.” And with his hand on my lower back, he guided me from Ben’s house and into a waiting car.
The diner. Would I ever be able to associate it with anything or anyone other than Ike? Probably not, I thought, finding Sid waiting in ‘our’ booth. Pop-Pop and Sid stood as I slid across the bench to settle by the window, and then they joined me. My grandfather beside me, Sid, looked less sweaty and nervous than during our prior meeting, took the seat across from us. I made the introductions and saw the bobbing of the lawyer’s Adam’s apple and his hand shake as he took Pop-Pop’s.
“Mr. Berman.” Another bob, a tell tale sign of a hard swallow. I glanced at Pop-Pop and tried to see him from Sid’s point of view, but he still just looked like my grandfather. His reputation must precede him like my father’s. “Miss Diamond said you wanted to speak to me?”
“Tell me about Isaac's situation and how it affects my Lizzie.” And Sid, taking a deep breath to calm himself, and told Pop-Pop much the same story he’d given me. He stopped only twice, once when the waitress asked if we needed anything, and a second time when she brought coffee for Pop-Pop and seltzer water for me. When Sid came to the part where Klein had threatened Ike with my discomfort, I felt my grandfather stiffen beside me. Hearing it reaffirmed, I supposed, made it more troubling.
“This Klein,” he took a sip of his coffee and sighed. “He’s dangerous.” Looking at me, he gave a comforting smile and patted my hand. “You finish packing tonight, Lizzie, and you’ll be on a plane in the morning.” I started to ask where I’d be going, but he held up a hand. Giving Sid a sideways glance, he offered, “the less anyone knows, the better.” Oh.
“I won’t be able to say goodbye,” it hit me then, that Ike had sent this warning, but I wouldn’t be able to see him before I left. All my ire about the photos that Ben taunted me with, all the uncertainty fell away and the urge to see him, to touch him was nearly overwhelming. “Will I?”
Both men looked at me with such sadness and pity that I wanted to scream, but I just shook my head at the complete mess I’d become entangled in. “It’s better this way,” Pop-Pop promised. “You don’t need the strain right now, Lizzie.”
I nodded, but I felt such a flash of pain at not being able to see his face one more time that I was happy I was seated, because I was certain that if I had been on my feet, my knees would have given way.
“I can give him a message,” Sid offered, like a gift. I was about to ask if he could deliver a note, but Pop-Pop seemed to know where my mind had gone.
“Nothing in writing, sweetheart.” Of course, Klein again. “No calls, no visits, no notes. It’s safer this way.” Safer, but no less heartbreaking.
“Tell him-” What? That I love him? That I wish he was coming with me? That I wanted his hand in mine when I got the confirmation I was more sure was coming from the test, to see his eyes light up and his dimples deepen at being right? I swallowed past the pain building and sighed. “Tell him I wish this-” A deep breath and I closed my eyes. “I wish that things were different.” So far from everything I wanted to say, but Sid couldn’t carry it to him. It had to come from my lips, I had to see his face when I said it.
“It’s time to go, Lizzie.” I nodded and gave Sid my hand. He took it and covered it with his other hand. “I’ll be in touch,” he promised Ike’s attorney, and then we were gone. Back to Father’s house, back to packing up my life, and back to having no real home to call my own.
Chapter 26: Packed, Gone, Found
Liz is rushed from Miami into the arms of a familiar face. Everything she thought she knew, everyone she thought she understood seems like a lie. The results are in, but there are no surprises, just more sadness. More loneliness. Because she is alone, no matter how surrounded she seems.
By ‘finish packing tonight’, my grandfather had meant as soon as I walked into my father’s house and ‘in the morning’ was loosely redefined as the dead of night. I finished packing before night fell, and then, the car loaded, I barely had a moment to take a final look around me, before we left it all in the rear view and I was finally told where I was headed.
“Chicago first,” he was saying, his driver driving at a respectable speed. “Then you’ll be taken to somewhere safe, out of Klein’s reach.” I feared he meant back to Europe, but he promised I’d stay in North America. “I promise, Lizzie, I will keep you out of this mess.”
He didn’t accompany me. He had business to attend to, but he kissed my cheek and promised I’d be taken care of by family. He smiled and then, to my surprise, hugged me tight against him. “I’ll keep in touch. I’ll let you know what I can.”
“Alright,” I boarded the flight, and before I could contemplate what or where I was headed, we were in the air.
A shock was waiting for me in Chicago. I’d come into the airport, looking for directions to the baggage claim and for a sign that showed me who would collect me and take me to my ‘family’, when I saw her. A face I’d recognize anywhere. One that had tucked me in as a child and told me stories of a princess named Elizabeth, whose family loved her, but had to send her away to keep her safe. A story I now knew had more basis in fact than fantasy.
“Minnie?” And then her arms were wrapped around me and I felt like everything was spinning. Luckily, it wasn’t a spinning that required a mad dash for the ladies’ room. “How- Why-” I was sputtering, and I knew it. She chuckled, breathing in the scent of my hair it seemed.
“Oh, Lizzie.” Pulling away, she studied me. “You still look like the little girl who wouldn’t eat her vegetables.” I smiled at the memory. “Come, come.” She was pulling me toward the exit, but I needed to find my luggage. “It’s being taken care of, come.” And then we were in a car, and she patted my hand as she told me that she couldn’t wait for the others to see me again.
“Again?” I asked, feeling like the world was full of surprises.
Her smile held a secret, and her lips refused to reveal it. The only thing she offered was that I should have learned by now, by meeting Sy that he wouldn’t have let just ANYONE take care of his Lizzie. “Sy’s my brother, Lizzie.”
“You’re my aunt?” I knew that eventually it would all hit me, the secrets, the spying, the lies, but right now, everything seemed comforting. Oddly. She nodded. I set back, not worried about posture or image for once. “Everything I know is-”
“Topsy turvy?” A vague nod from me had her chuckling. “Knowing who your grandfather is, who your pop is- I thought you were smarter than that, Lizzie.”
Shaking my head, I felt the boot being loaded with my luggage, and chuckled. “So did I, Minnie, so did I.”
At an unassuming house, with sunlight streaming through the lace curtains, I realized that I had been surrounded by family my entire life. My aunts, either through blood, or through marriage and early widowhood, had been taking care of me since I’d been sent away. Three of Pop-Pop’s sisters, Minnie, Annie, and Sara, and two of my late uncles’ wives Alice and Selma had taken pains to see that I was raised well and as happy as they could make me.
They swore that, while they wanted to tell me, my grandfather insisted that I be kept in the dark. That I did not know that the women who acted as my guardians, my caretakers, and my confidants were to seem like hired help. I felt a flush of embarrassment at the few tantrums I subjected them to, at the orders I tossed at them, at the power I wielded while feeling like a lost child without a home or family.
“I’m so sorry,” I started to say, but Selma held up a hand. She’d traveled with me during the summer before my return to America.
Shaking her head, she was smiling at me because she knew what I was apologizing for intimately. “There isn’t a need for that, Liz. We all knew, we all saw what you were going through. We tried to argue with Sy, but-” She gave a long suffering sigh. “He felt it was for the best.”
“If he sent all of you, then what did Father-” A shared round of snickering laughter at the mention of Ben made me stop.
“Ben Diamond did nothing.” Annie, shaking her head and sucking her teeth in irritation offered. “Not nothing,” she corrected. “He took credit for all of it, but it was Sy.”
“Yeah, Sy paid for the schools.” Sara agreed.
“And the summer travel.” Minnie added, while Annie gave her own opinion. “He even kept the jewelry, or most of it.”
“I have my jewelry.” I saw them all share a knowing look. “I don’t?”
“Not half of it,” Alice shook her head in disapproval. “Doris had buckets of jewelry. She set aside so much for you, and what he sent?” Another shake. “A mere drop.”
“He said-” Why had I believed him? He lied to me about so much. So goddamn much. “That man-”
“Is pure evil.” Minnie was looking as sick as I felt. “And he got you back. Selma was in knots when he summoned you.”
“Here,” Sara handed me a warm cup of something that smelled like peppermint. “It’ll help with your situation.”
“My situation?” I was worried about taking a drink. What if Pop-Pop had told them about my condition and this was a solution I didn’t want?
They all seemed to zero in on my stomach and I rolled my eyes. “The nausea,” Minnie assured me, “drink, it’s just peppermint tea, Lizzie.”
I took a sip, it warmed me and I didn’t feel the bubbling in my stomach that usually accompanied anything I ate or drank, including the crackers and water. “I’m sure you think I’m silly.” For the fear that clung to me like a shroud.
“No, we think you’re smart.” I smirked into my cup, since Minnie had also insinuated the opposite in the car not an hour earlier. “Caution is good, especially in this family.”
I spent two days with the women who raised me. Well, actually two days in Minnie’s care while the others visited as often as they could. Selma, my last companion in Europe, was going to be taking me to my next destination. She promised me that I’d be able to settle in there, and wait for Pop-Pop to contact me and keep me informed, while also out of the clutches of Klein.
Saying goodbye to the women who’d tucked me in, dried my tears, told me stories, and made sure that I felt some comfort as a lost little girl in a strange world was more difficult than I’d thought it would be. I was accustomed to goodbyes. Especially to them, but now that I knew that they were family, that they cared about me, not the money I’d assumed they were grasping for while in their care made it harder than I could have imagined.
A car this time, and as Selma drove, something she reminded me I should learn to do, she told me where I’d be staying for the foreseeable future. Canada. A small town just across the border, with a small house waiting for us. She promised that Sy would fix things and I’d be able to choose where I wound up in the end.
Tea was the magic cure, it seemed. Or at least it helped to alleviate the constant urge to void my stomach’s contents. Mornings, waking up, were still started with my head in the bowl of the toilet, but after a cup for breakfast, I could eat a little more than what I’d been able to hold down before.
Selma told me it would let up once I got past the first hurdle, but I wasn’t sure I trusted that diagnosis. It was like this baby wanted to remind me of the choices I’d made that created it, and wanted to punish me soundly for them. Pop-Pop called a day after we arrived and settled in.
“I spoke to the doctor,” I went still and silent, “you are, Lizzie. It’s positive.” I don’t know why it hit me hard, I knew it. I was living it. “He knows.” Oh. “I’d bet that Klein does too.” Of course he did. “You’re out of his reach, sweetheart, so don’t worry.”
“I know,” I’d sat down hard on the chair by the phone. “It’s not easy-”
“Yeah, I know, honey.” He sighed, and I heard voices in the background. “I have to go, but I’ll check in soon, alright?” We said goodbye, and I realized, confirming my pregnancy didn’t make it easier to accept. Not without Ike beside me.
Chapter 27: A Check Up, A Check In, and Something In Red
I didn’t wait long for the next update from Pop-Pop. It came hours after he’d sent a midwife to check in on me. A midwife who looked over my overall health, advised both myself and Selma that my nausea would grow worse with stress, and patted my hand to assure me that women had been giving birth since the dawn of time and I’d be alright.
Her other rules made little sense, which meant that I had to wonder how realistic the entire ordeal would be. No reading, she sniffed, seeing my books lined and stacked around my room. Too much excitement wasn’t good for my condition. Rest, and a great deal of it, even as I lay reclining on my bed. No bumpy car rides, no funerals, no sporting events. Nothing to get my emotions raised. No reaching over my head, which she said as she took in my petite frame. She asked if I smoked or drank, but since I’d felt the first gurgling of vomit I hadn’t felt the urge to take up smoking and the scent of alcohol or the memory of it made me gag.
She left, telling me to watch my weight, to keep a pleasant and quiet mind, and I rolled my eyes at Selma as she stood next to me with a smirk.
“Is she insane?” I finally asked, having been rendered speechless by the overbearing woman. “Does she have any idea what family I belong to?” No stress? Good luck.
Selma snorted. “She’s right about at least one thing,” I glanced up at her. “Women HAVE been doing this forever, and we survive.” She helped me to my feet, since I wasn’t completely up to full strength yet. “I nearly burst out laughing when she told you no reading.”
I had to smile at that. Selma had teased me about my appetite for books from the moment we first met. “Yes, well, I nearly concussed myself when she advised ‘no stress’, as though I have another option.”
Pop-Pop called soon after. I was lounging on the sofa, per midwife’s orders, reading one of the books she’d taken such offense to, when Selma handed me the phone.
“How are you, Lizzie?” He asked, as I greeted him. “You listening to Ellen’s advice?” Ellen, the midwife. I snorted and heard him chuckle. “I promised not to add to your stress, sweetheart, but I have some news.”
“Ike?” A breathless as I could sound when I was saying his name to his face. “Is he alright?”
“He made bail.” Meg, I thought. “That wife of his, she’s got a jealous streak a mile wide.” Wait, what?
“I don’t understand, Pop-Pop.” I didn’t, what did Vera’s jealousy have to do, I went cold. Did she know? “She knows,” I breathed.
“No, Lizzie, no.” He sighed. “The sister-in-law?” I made a noise of knowing who he meant. “She offered the money, family like, but the wife? She turned her down flat.” How did he know? “That Sid, he’s a good guy.” Oh, Ike’s lawyer. “He tells me that the wife, she stands up and makes demands for the money, but when it’s offered by the in-law, she spits at it.” So who gave it? “Your father,” No, I prayed, no. “He tried to get the son to let him pay it. The kid, he’s stubborn and says no.” Of course he did, I thought, since this triangle between Lily, Father, and him was a torrid ring of confusion. “Some bookie, Bel something, he gave the wife the cash.” Bel? Wasn’t Bel-shit. “Then the wife and Ike had their wonderful reunion in full view.”
“Bel works for Father.” I offered, pushing aside the thought of how wonderful Vera and Ike had reunited, I offered and heard my grandfather chuckle. “Any more bad news?” I settled back against the pillow that Selma had brought me to make the sofa more comfortable.
“He’s free. And he wants to have a chat with me.” I nodded, and realized he couldn’t see me, but it didn’t seem to matter because he went on. “He’s got ideas, Lizzie, plans, I’m told.” What kind of ideas and plans? What kind would Ike have to call on Pop-Pop? “Did you know an Al that worked for Ben?”
“Yes, he-” I stopped suddenly realizing he’d used past tense. “Al’s dead?” I felt a strange clutch of sadness at the knowledge that one of my father’s hired goons was gone. “How?”
“The story is that Al went after the witness against Ike,” the woman that Sid had mentioned. “The whore lived, Al got shot and killed by a hero cop.” He was scoffing at the idea of it being true. I shut my eyes, wondering who was next. “I’m sorry, Lizzie, I-”
“I know,” I swallowed hard. “It’s just a mess, isn’t it?”
Another chuckle. “That it is, honey, that it is.”
We said goodbye soon after, and as Selma took the phone back, I felt the rush of vomit that I’d been fighting during the call come fighting its way out, and almost didn’t make it to the bathroom.
The next call came while I was sleeping. I heard the ringing phone, but rolled over and tried to drift back off. Selma rushing into the room, turning the light on ruined the attempt. “Here,” she said, a large smile on her face and her hair a tangled mess. “Take it.”
I blinked away the spots that the bright light had coated my vision in, and realized she was handing me the phone. Groaning, and staying prone from weeks of experience at what sitting up too fast could cause, I held the receiver to my ear. “Hello?” I sounded hoarse from sleep, because I’d been sleeping, but the news that my grandfather was giving me woke me fully and I couldn’t stop myself from sitting upright.
“The charges have been dropped, Lizzie.” I sighed in relief, and nearly squealed as Lily had when she wanted to take me shopping the first time. “He’s free and clear.”
“Thank God.” I sighed, feeling the vertigo from my sudden upright pose had caused, I choked the rising bile down. “How?”
He told me that Judi Silver, the witness, had recanted her statement naming Ike as the murderer. Instead, she offered up Al, dead already and unable to be charged. I wondered what the truth was, and if I’d ever know? The money for Ike’s bail would go back to Bel, to my father, and Ike would go back to being the king of his sand castle.
“The wife,” I sighed, feeling the burn of tears at the reminder. “She’s gonna be going on stage dancing. I hear that it’s gonna be billed as ‘the queen of the Miramar Playa, former queen of the Tropicana’ bullshit. Can’t seem to book anyone else.” He chuckled at the thought of Ike’s wife returning to the stage. And the way he said dancing implied what he thought of that idea.
I huffed out my own mirthless laugh. “Ike must be desperate. He told me-” I stopped, what Ike had told me kept seeming to contradict itself. “Have you seen him?”
“Not yet,” he sighed. “Lizzie, you can’t expect-”
“I don’t.” I promised him and myself. “I don’t expect anything, Pop-Pop.” And it was almost the truth. “Just- I never got to-” Say goodbye, tell him I’d love him and our baby, that I wanted to kiss him and maybe, just maybe then I’d be able to let go? I brushed away the tears that I’d finally let fall, and shook it off. It did no good to wallow.
“I hear the daughter asks about you.” Lauren? Why would she ask after me? “Seems that she took a liking to you. She wants to know where you went, when you’ll come back, and why you didn’t say goodbye.”
Heavily sighing, I thought about how she must feel. She’d lost her mother at such a young age, but unlike me, she remembered hers. And I thought about the lunches I shared with her and Vera, the way she watched me and the promise I’d made to take her shopping, but didn’t because I’d seen the flash of hurt that had crossed Vera’s face at how excited she’d seemed at the prospect. I’d taken her husband carnally, I couldn’t take her stepdaughter’s friendship.
“I should have-” I wondered if anything would ever feel right again. If I’d ever feel like I hadn’t failed at everything. “Is there more?”
“Sid keeps me in the loop. Ike still wants to chat, I’m making him sweat.” He sounded gruff again. “Putz puts you in this condition and gets out-” he made a noise that sounded like passing gas, “nothing. He can stew, he can worry. He’ll get his meeting, Lizzie, but he might not want to face me.” He went quiet, making me think he was holding something back.
“There’s more?” I wanted it all. Purge it and move on, or pretend to. “Pop-Pop?”
“His family had a celebration, since he’s in the clear.” I waited, and wasn’t disappointed, at least not in the sense that I was right, there was more. “Ben showed up. Ike insulted him. He reminded, quietly I’m told, Ike about your current predicament, and-”
“Threatened to tell Vera?” Of course, why wouldn’t he? “And?”
“He left, it was tense.” He chuckled again. “The wife, I’m told it’s not all rainbows and sunshine, but-”
“There’s an image to maintain.” I knew this, the scandal of a murder charge, even if it was dismissed, was something they had to work through.
“He visited the whore.” I shook my head at what Pop-Pop was insinuating with his tone. “To ‘thank’ her. She didn’t let him in.”
“Miami sounds busy.” I was choking back the urge to vomit and he noticed.
“Go, Lizzie, then have the tea you told me about.” I agreed with a murmur of apology and thrust the phone back at Selma as I ran to the bathroom and let everything rush out.
I was being punished. That was the only thing I could think as I retched up anything I had put in my mouth that evening. Punished for envy, for infidelity, for immorality. But, as I stood up finally, and scrubbed the acidic sour taste from my mouth, I wouldn’t give up the tiny piece of Ike I still had. Even if I felt exhausted and my nerves were stretched to the breaking point. If the baby was all I kept from him, all I was allowed, then it was more precious to me than all the money or jewels in the world. And I hoped it knew. Knew that I already loved it, even if it was forcing misery upon me every single morning.
Selma tried to keep my mind busy. She tried distracting me with thoughts of shopping for new clothes. She tempted me with trips to bookstores. She took it as a personal challenge to find foods that would stay down, and new teas that would help soothe my rolling stomach as the silence from Pop-Pop and the news from Miami stretched out and dried up respectively.
“Tents,” I swore, looking through the racks at the store she’d talked me into going to. “Everything for an expecting woman, it all looks like tents.” The patterns, the bows, and the utter ugliness of them, offended me on a deep level. “Once we’re expecting do we all join the Navy?” I asked, pulling a tent that was trying to pretend it was a sailor suit. And held it up to Selma’s smirking amusement.
“Can I help you?” A frowning saleswoman approached, clearly offended by my mockery of the store’s line of camping equipment masquerading as clothing.
“I think my niece,” Selma started, seeing my cringe grow as I flicked through more hangers holding uglier choices by the second. “Wants to know if you have anything a little less-”
“Eye-gougingly hideous?” I offered with a grimace. I held up another tent with an enormous bow. And met the woman’s eyes. “Please?”
She laughed, suddenly seeing that I wasn’t being unduly rude, but truly appalled by the lack of attractive options for what I was heading toward. Shaking her head, she came closer and offered in a quiet, conspiratorial way, “they are horrible, aren’t they?” She smiled. “You should check-” She gave us the name of a more upscale store a few towns away. “They tend to have the more fashion forward styles, and they cater to more discerning tastes.”
I thanked her, but Selma could see that I was too tired to continue shopping. At the house, she told me to settle on the makeshift lounge she’d made the sofa into, and went to get us some tea. Well, tea for me, something a bit stronger for her.
It didn’t smell minty, the steaming cup that she handed me and I raised an eyebrow. “Chamomile.” She smiled, taking the chair at my feet. “If you’re up to it, tomorrow we can try the other store.”
I took a sip of the tea and waited a beat to see if it would have to make a return appearance. When nothing happened, I smiled and sighed. “What if we miss a call, Selma?” I was worried that I wouldn’t be home, that I’d miss the call that told me I could go back, or that I had nothing to go back to.
She shook her head and sipped from her glass. “Then he calls back, Liz. If it’s important, Sy will make sure he gets it to you, you know that.” Did I? It had gone quiet, and fast, and I felt like I was on a seesaw and I was waiting for the other person to kick off the ground so my feet could touch firm land again.
“I’m worried, Selma, so worried that I can’t do this.” My hand had gone to my stomach, to the little being inside.
“You can.” She was firm. “You will. And more important, I think, you want to.” I met her eyes, and knew that she understood me, possibly better than I did.
I’d consented to the shopping trip. I allowed myself to be dragged into the new store, and even agreed to taking a seat and letting the saleswoman bring me samples of their line. I turned down the offer of champagne, disagreeing with the assurances that it would help with my nausea.
“The smell,” I frowned, the mere memory of the scent making my bile rise. “I can’t.”
Selma asked for seltzer water, for both of us, and the woman rushed off to complete her tasks. First the drinks, fresh and fizzy she assured us with a perkiness that made me want to throw up, but not for the usual reason. And then with two other women, carrying several new, yet still tent-like offerings. I sighed and sat back. Honestly?
“We were told that your establishment had more-” Selma looked to me for the word she wanted.
“Attractive,” I supplied, rolling my eyes and taking a sip of my fresh and fizzy consolation prize.
“Yes, attractive options for an expectant young woman.” She smiled, knowing that this trip was going downhill fast.
The saleswoman tried to argue that the fabrics, the prints, were all of a far higher quality, but I cut her off.
“They all have hideous bows, or unnecessary frills.” I glared at the ‘quality’ sailor suit one was holding. “Is there nothing with a sleeker line? A cleaner feel?” I could see that the saleswomen were finally taking in how I was dressed. The black dress, my heels, the simple, yet expensive diamond on my finger (a requirement, Selma and I agreed, to cut off the questions or looks).
“Perhaps,” the one who had greeted us, the one who had brought us the drinks, was running an idea through her head and I could almost smell the gears grinding. “Give us a moment.”
“You’re coming back to yourself,” Selma said into her drink. “This reminds me of the time in Athens.” I smiled at the memory. “They kept trying to force the gauzy pastels on you-”
“All bows and roses,” I could almost feel the warm sun on my skin. The scent of the sea. “I thought they would cry when I insisted on-”
“Black. Simple, plain, black.” It had been what the salespeople had muttered, in Greek, thinking I couldn’t understand. “When you asserted that you did indeed love plain and simple, I thought their heads would implode.”
I chuckled and sobered quickly as I saw the group coming back. “Round two?” I muttered to Selma and she covered a laugh as a cough.
“Usually,” the saleswoman started her pitch, “these styles are for the more full bodied clients we cater to, but, with the right adjustments, I think we can make them work for someone preparing for a new addition to their family.”
Critically, I checked the offerings she’d brought. Upon first inspection, they looked like regular dresses that hung in every shop a woman could shop in, but when I stood to take a closer look, I realized that first look was deceptive. They had hems that hid the unhideable. And-
“What’s this?” I fingered a block of fabric that was perfectly disguised in the fabric.
“Panels.” The saleswoman offered with a smile. “Added size, that works to hide the size it’s adding.” Clever. “Is this what you were thinking of?”
“Possibly.” I didn’t want to give her too much confidence. “Are there other patterns?” Selma and the woman stared at me with shock. “Colors?” More silence as they took in my completely black ensemble. “Do you have this one,” I pulled the one that had caught my eye and spoke slow and clear as though they were all very dim witted. “In red.”
We left and I felt marginally better about the chance that I wouldn’t look like a barge or a sailor as I progressed. I had the woman’s promise that, should I return to the states, I could call or have a seamstress call with my measurements and they would send my choices to me then. Of course, it helped that I treated Selma with a few, a lot actually, new selections for her own wardrobe. Greasing the wheel, so to speak.
“You look relaxed,” she said, as they carefully packed her purchases into the car. I nodded, I was tired, but I did feel relaxed. “Good.” They closed the boot and she started the car. “Let’s get you back so you can really rest.”
Chapter 28: No News is...
Liz hears nothing from Pop-Pop. A cause for concern. Rage isn't hereditary is it?
WARNING: From here on out, the story line, the timeline is going to be finagled to where I need it and what I feel works with MY version. Some parts are too important to leave out (for my personal route, that is), but things will be drastic in their differences in some cases. I hope you enjoy the detours I plan on taking, and I hope it stays readable~!!
Nothing. That’s what I had. Nothing. No calls, no letters, nothing. Instead of growing calm from the silence, from the lack of bad news, the lack of news ratchet up my stress and with it my inability to hold down food, or drink. Even the tea didn’t seem to help.
Selma was worried. Enough to call Ellen, the midwife, and ask for help. After the third day of nothing, I’d taken to my bed, no longer willing to be tempted to shop. Books didn’t hold my attention. Music, it all sounded the same, and Selma stopped trying to find a song that might pull me free from the fear that was cocooning me.
“Up,” Ellen demanded, as I squinted at her from my tangled and greasy hair. “Up, get up.” I glared at her, seeing her hands on her hips and her condescending tone aggravated my already frayed nerves.
“Go away,” I rolled over and she smacked my behind through the covers. Turning my head I stared at her in disbelief. “Did you just-” Indignant at her inappropriate attack on my person was met with an eye roll.
“Spank you like your parents should have?” She nodded. “Yes, ‘princess’, now get up.”
I growled as I slowly rolled to my feet. I knew I looked like hell. I knew I probably smelled like hell too. “Better?” Snippy, that was how I came across, but honestly, who the hell did she think she was?
“No,” she inspected me and shook her head in disappointment. “I told you rest, not wallow. I told you to stay pleasant and calm, not this.” She gestured at all of me. “Bath first, then a chat.”
I stood in front of her, my chin jutted out in defiance. “No.” I wasn’t going to allow this woman to-
She slapped me, hard on my cheek and I felt my mouth drop open. “Do I have your attention now?” Disbelief ran through me at the audacity of this person, she hit me. “ Good. Bathe, then come down to have a chat.” She waited, standing in front of me as though she wanted nothing more than to have another reason to assault me again, but as the sting of my cheek burned, I chose not to argue. For now.
Once I’d soaked away the fear, the worry, the upset of having had no news from Pop-Pop, once my hair was gleaming and wet down my back, once my face and skin were free of the sweat that comes from oversleeping and yes, wallowing, I felt more like the Elizabeth Diamond that had first arrived in Miami in late December. And with those fresh eyes, and the feeling of being the young woman who remained unruffled in the face of her father’s taunts, who didn’t show her hand to the woman married to her lover, the woman who when forced to make a choice, called in her fiercest soldier I let the absolute rage at the midwife assuming she had any right whatsoever of laying a finger on me.
“Out,” I demanded, when I was dressed and had made my way into the living room. She was sitting without a shred of concern with Selma enjoying a cup of coffee and glanced up at me as though she were inspecting me. “Did you not hear me? I said, get out.”
“Liz,” Selma was trying to calm me down, I knew the tone well. “Ellen was only trying to-”
“I was simply lighting a fire under your ass, ‘princess’.” She still looked completely at ease and it made my ire at her presumptuous attack grow. “It worked.” She nodded at my clean and dressed person. “Now sit, you look ridiculous.”
I was tempted, the anger running ice cold through my veins, to walk to this smug horrible woman and grab her by her hair and toss her bodily from my house. To show her precisely who she was dealing with and the force of pleasure I felt at the thought of inflicting even that tiny amount of pain on her shook me. I gulped past the flush of guilt, that I was entertaining the same kind of thoughts that my dear father might, and sat.
“That’s better,” Ellen offered, as I shut my eyes to try to control the urge that still rang inside of me, calling on me to attack, to see the fear on her face, the fear of who I was and what I could cause. “Calm and pleasant, Miss Diamond.” She was taking a sip from her cup when I felt calm enough to open my eyes. “There, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?”
“I still want you to leave,” I managed, feeling angry from her striking me. “So go.”
Still looking at me without a care in the world, almost daring me to attack it seemed, she simply sat her cup down and settled back in her chair to get more comfortable. “No.” Her hands fell into a natural clasp in her lap. “Selma called me when you refused to leave your bed. She said talking to you hadn’t worked. That asking nicely wasn’t getting your emotional state in hand, so I came and look-” One hand gestured to me, sitting as primly and properly as I always would. “Here you are, back to normal.” Ellen was studying me, waiting to see if I was as in control as I seemed, like she was testing me.
“Since I’m back to rights, then isn’t it time for you to go?” I asked, staring at her as though my entire body didn’t want to lash out and take every single bit of my irritation out on her smug face. Irritation that came, not only from her heavy handed attack on me, but from lack of news. Not knowing what was happening in Miami, with Ike, was slowly ruining my sanity.
“Not quite, yet.” She took a deep breath, still studying me. “You’re letting your emotions control you, Miss Diamond, this isn’t good for your condition, or for you.” I swallowed hard. “If you’re upset, if you let the stress overcome you, then you can’t eat. You can’t hold anything down, not even the tiny bit that you were taking before. I said to watch your weight, Miss Diamond, not to lose it.”
I was breathing through my nose, thinking that if I opened my mouth, I might have to rush to the downstairs washroom. I could feel it, bubbling up, somehow the shock from the slap had forced it away when I first got out of bed, but now, now it was at the forefront.
“Don’t hold it in, Miss Diamond, take care of it, and then have your tea.” She finally stood up as I did, and I gave her no mind as I was forced back to my usual morning spot, cradling the porcelain as my tiny reminder of Ike reminded me who was really boss.
Luckily for me, and for Ellen the midwife, Pop-Pop called not long after she chose to leave. After I stopped being angry with Selma for calling her in, and allowed her to convince me to leave the house, to go to the bookstore. I gave in, my mind easing as I wandered the stacks, touching and considering each title that caught my eye. I bought a few, and mentally added to the list of ones I’d want the next time. A few more days went by, as I read and drank my tea, working hard to force the worry down so I could eat and keep what I ate.
I had just left the washroom after losing the battle with my nerves, rinsing the almost sour taste from my mouth that was becoming an absent minded event when Selma handed me the phone. My retching had been so loud that I hadn’t even heard it ring.
“Hello?” I shook my head as she pantomimed getting me tea. “Pop-Pop?”
“Lizzie, I think you can come back now.” I started to ask why, even as the fluttering in my stomach was beginning at the thought of seeing Ike again. “To Chicago, at least.” Oh. “Selma’s gonna make arrangements, sweetheart, and then I’ll see you in a few days.”
“Chicago?” I knew it wasn’t the question I should be asking. I should be asking what’s changed that made the United States safe for me.
He chuckled, and I felt a slight easing of my worry. “Yes, sweetheart, Chicago. Miami still has-” He sighed. “It’s not the right time, Lizzie.”
I offered my own huff of breath. “When do we leave?”
Car trips, while experiencing the type of nausea that I’d been attacked by, are not enjoyable. I slept the majority of it, I vomited the rest it seemed. Pulling off the road, repeatedly, certainly cut into the travel time, but eventually we found ourselves in Chicago again. I’d expected to go back to Minnie’s, so I was a bit taken aback to find myself in an entirely different neighborhood.
“Where are we?” Selma had given me a light shake to wake me and I groggily looked at my surroundings.
She gave a soft chuckle. “Sy’s.” My grandfather’s house. It, like the other homes I’d been in since leaving Miami, looked shockingly normal. Larger, perhaps, and I thought I could see the sight of a greenhouse in the back, but it didn’t scream- What, I wondered, had I expected? A sign on the door that read “Mobster”?
“Come on, Liz, let’s get you settled in.” She had a key, which I also had questions about, but she was asking the man who came to see who’d arrived to bring in my things. Telling him how to differentiate between our luggage, she was helping me up the stairs, promising me that a hot bath would make me feel more like myself.
Showing me a gorgeous room, possibly larger than the room I’d lived in at Ben’s house, and the accompanying bath, she promised that she’d see me soon. And then, Selma was gone. I waited as they brought up my things, assuring the men that I’d be fine to unpack on my own, and after locking my door I took Selma’s advice. A long, hot bath sounded like the best remedy I could hope for.
The quiet knock came after I’d set my hair and had a fresh nightgown on, along with my dressing robe. Pop-Pop’s voice called to me, and I smiled. When I opened the door his smile was the first thing I noticed, and then the steaming cup of aromatic tea caught my eye.
“Thought you might need this, my Lizzie.” He offered me the cup, and then kissed my temple. “You look good,” I walked into the room and he followed me. “Just missed Benny.” I shot him a look. “Yeah, I’m glad too.” He shook his head and took a seat in the chair by my bed. “Rest, I hear it’s required.”
I propped the pillows against the headboard and sat back, cup of tea back in my hands. I sipped and felt the warmth fill me. “What did Father want?” He was watching me, taking in my every movement like he was making a memory book of me.
“He asked permission-” he stopped, reminding himself I guessed of my current position and how my father’s ideas weren’t conducive for keeping me calm. “It doesn’t matter, Lizzie, he’s gone.” My eyes were watching him, and I knew he could see that I wanted to argue. “Ben is on thin ice, sweetheart. He knows it, or he’s HEARING it more now. And what he’s done where you’re concerned, well, he should realize, there’s only so much I’m willing to give.” He took my hand and smiled. “Ellen told me you aren’t supposed to be upset. So no more of that.” I wanted to slap that woman silly, even this far away she was still trying to control me.
“Yes, Ellen has many ideas about my condition.” I set my teacup down on the bedside table. “Why am I here?” Why now? Wasn’t Klein still interested in using me to get to Ike or my father?
He smiled. “Don’t you want to be with Pop-Pop, Lizzie?” Not an answer, but my smile matched his. “I want you near me, sweetheart, I want to be sure of your safety.” That didn’t make sense to me. “And-” his hand patted mine as he stood up. “I want you to learn your role in the family. Since you’re my only grandchild, my Doris’ only child, there are things you have to know.” I was taking another sip and nearly choked when he offered the scariest thought ever. “It’s time you learned about your inheritance, you gotta learn what it means to be a Berman, Lizzie.” Kissing my forehead, he told me to rest. “Have to keep my great-grandchild healthy, sweetheart, and you.”
My role, it turned out, would be to act as the lady of my grandfather’s house. My room, I learned, had been my mother’s. I was introduced to his people, I was given the full reign over how things would be taken care of at a domestic level. Keeping a staff on task, making menus, the things that I’d been taught at my schools.
The first real challenge came when Pop-Pop told me that I’d have to prepare for Passover, which meant, I’d be taking charge during my very first Seder. When he was reminded that my upbringing meant that my Hebrew and my knowledge of the rituals of our people was remiss, he simply put me in the hands of his rabbi. And that’s how I began another round of education.
I was in knots as the day approached, spending more time in the bathroom and with the toilet than I had since arriving back in Chicago. The nerves, the fear that I would ruin something so sacred and important, the worry that I would fail and embarrass my grandfather nearly overwhelmed me.
It took meeting my new midwife, Ellen’s sister, to calm me down. Mildred, who preferred to be called Mimi, smiled at me and asked questions before making demands. She wanted to know if I recalled my last cycle. When did it end? And she wanted to talk about the teas that seemed to help the constant roiling of my stomach. She listened, she smiled, and she didn’t once try to slap me.
“You’re not very like your sister,” her smile was rueful at my compliment.
“Ellen can be harsh,” not as harsh as her hand had felt when she cracked my cheek, I thought. “She tends to go overboard with her suggestions.’
“She struck me.” I stared up at her as she shook her head. “I wanted to-”
“Thank you for not acting on what I’m sure were more than reasonable feelings, Miss Diamond.” She sighed. “Ellen is-” Stopping she tried for a smile. “Let’s not discuss her anymore, shall we?”
The rest of the visit was pleasant. She advised changing the teas, rotating them so I wouldn’t get bored with any one flavor. Salty foods, she offered, were more likely to stay down than spicy or more flavorful. And then, before she left, she took the time to do a little math and said that I might be looking at an Autumn arrival. She left, assuring me that she’d be back to discuss anything I might want to discuss, and I went back to planning for my first family event. And the first family event I was leading.
As I was in the midst of working out the final plans, the Seder would take place in a day’s time, the mail was handed to me. I’d taken over the sorting, Pop-Pop’s correspondences, bills, and toss. I didn’t expect to receive anything, no one knew where I was, or whom I was with. Seeing my name on the envelope made my stomach clench, as did the return stamp showing it came from Miami.
I set it to the side, my hands shaking, and sorted. Then I handed the letters that would go to Pop-Pop immediately, things that required payment were taken to his office, and the trash hit the bin beside me. Alone, I took a sip from my ever present tea, and then took up the envelope from Miami.
I opened it carefully, afraid of what I might find inside. A slip of stationery, the Miramar Playa’s header stared back at me and I had to close my eyes, fearful of what might be waiting as I unfolded it.
I asked Sid to send this for me, he’s insistent that he doesn’t know where you are, but he does know who could get this to you.
I need to know you’re alright, that you’re safe, sweetheart. I’m making plans to call your dad’s boss, to discuss a business proposition. If it pans out, then- You shouldn’t care about that, I just-
Call me, Liz? Please. I need to hear- I’ll settle for the sound of you breathing. Something, Liz, anything. I’m planning on going away over Passover, but I’ll be back-- Call me? I know I have no right to ask anything from you, but I’m in knots, Liz.
He didn’t sign it. He didn’t have to. Even without the mark of his hotel, I would have known. I hadn’t felt the tears sliding down my cheeks when I read the words his hand had written to me, a hand that I missed feeling on my skin, but I felt them as I stared out the window. I would call him, even if it was all I could have, hearing his voice was something I wanted more than I could imagine.
Chapter 29: Longing, Ritual, and Worry
Liz makes a call. Her first Seder, her first family event moves forward. Dinner, interrupted and new worries surface.
I don’t know why I didn’t tell my grandfather where I was going, or why I didn’t call from the house. Paranoia? Fear that by some means Klein would find me? I didn’t examine my reasons too closely. I just wanted to be alone, even while surrounded by actual strangers, when I made the call.
I had another session scheduled with the rabbi, to go over the Seder ritual, to prove that I had my part and plans in order. And afterward, assuring the driver that had taken me that I wanted nothing more than to go to a diner we’d passed on route to the synagogue, he pulled in and started to walk inside with me.
“I think I saw you eyeing that establishment earlier,” I pointed across the street to what appeared to be another restaurant. His eyes glanced over and I saw a blush flash over his cheekbones. “She must be pretty to make that happen,” I smiled at him and shooed him away. “Go, who am I to stand in the way of young love.” Who indeed? I thought as he gave me a bashful smile and rushed across the street.
A cup of tea, a handful of change, and I found the payphone unoccupied. I took a moment to steady my nerves, it was an hour later in Miami, so he’d still be at work or so I hoped. Slipping the coins in the slot, I got connected to the Miramar within moments.
“Hello, could I speak to Mr. Isaac Evans, please?” The call went to Ike’s receptionist, who was a touch more inquisitive about who could be calling. “It’s about a jewel that Mr. Evans had inquired about, he asked that I call him back. This diamond, it has a few other offers and I’d hate for him to-” She cut me off and put me through.
“Hello?” He sounded unsure, and I smiled at how deep his voice was, the memories of it didn’t hold a candle.
“Ike?” I swallowed, feeling my chest clench with longing. Longing to feel him and see him. “It’s-”
I could hear the exhale from my end, as though he’d been holding it for days. “Liz. Thank God.” Smiling and biting my lip, I wanted him to say more, his voice would always calm me. “How are you? Is everything-”
“I’m fine.” I took a sip from my cup. “Tea helps. I-I wish I hadn’t had to-”
“Me too, Liz, me too.” I could hear his chair moving in the background of the call. “I wanted to be able to tell you- I love you, Liz, nothing’s changed.” I closed my eyes, feeling a different stirring in my stomach from the one that usually sent me rushing to the toilet. “I need you here, and soon.”
“Vera-” I swallowed against the memory of what I’d done, was doing to her, even if she didn’t know.
“It’s over,” he said it simply, as though he’d ripped off a bandage and tossed it. “She knows, right now it’s all for show.” Image, I thought, it’s everything. “Sid’s working on the papers, when it’s time, they’ll be signed and-”
“And I just step into her shoes?” I sighed. “The talk, Ike, they’ll run me through-”
“Liz, you’re doing it again,” he sounded like he was smiling. “Stop talking yourself out of us. You love me, I love you. That’s what matters.”
“You make it sound so simple,” shaking my head I took another sip from my cup. “How is everyone?”
“V is happy that she’s going to be free, Liz. She’s making plans.” I waited for the others. “Stevie-” He sighed heavily. “That’s something I’ll save for when you’re here. Danny’s fine, he took the job-”
“Even after-” Disbelief colored my voice. His son would work for a man who targeted his father? What the hell? “I’m sorry, Ike.”
“Don’t be, Liz. Danny, he’s more- He has his own path and I’m trying to make peace with it.” I heard him chuckle. “Lauren is going to be pissed that I talked to you and she didn’t get to. She’s asked about you, if I’ve heard anything, are you alright? I’m starting to wonder if she likes you more than me.”
Softly laughing, I sighed. “I miss you.” It wasn’t nearly enough, the words, to tell him how much. “I miss Miami, I even miss-”
“The Miramar?” His smile came through loud and clear. “I-I miss you so damn much, sweetheart, when are you coming home?”
Home? I considered that description and realized Ike was home for me. “Soon, I hope.” I could see the driver coming back across the street. “I have to go-”
“So soon?” My eyes fluttered closed at the longing I heard. “Liz, I don’t know how my trip is going to play out, but give me a week, please call me back?”
“I’ll try,” I watched as the driver looked around the diner for me. “I have to go, I love you.” It was a whisper, and I nearly missed him saying it back, but then I hung up and came out, leaving the cup behind. “Are you looking for me?” The driver looked relieved that he found me. “Ladies’,” I explained, happy that he wasn’t paying attention to where I’d come from, since he led me to the car and back to my grandfather’s house.
My first official Seder. My first official Berman family event. My first time at the center of my family. And it went off without a hitch. I managed to make the table look as flawless as was expected, the best for the occasion. I’d handed out each person’s recitations, starting everyone and once everything was completed, I felt myself let out a long breath that I had been holding for days, or so it seemed.
“That’s my Lizzie,” I heard Pop-Pop saying to a man I hadn’t noticed arriving, so caught up in my preparations and worry. “Come here, sweetheart,” a gesture for me to greet another unknown person. “Elizabeth, this is Arthur, Arthur my Lizzie.” I took the older man’s hand and smiled in greeting. “Arthur Goldberg, sweetheart, he’s done great things for unions. And he’s being eyed for a place in-” Arthur chuckled and shook his head. “He’s modest. Arthur is a good guy to have on your side, Lizzie, great things are gonna come for him. And he’s family.”
“It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Goldberg,” Arthur, he insisted. “Arthur.” I felt a flash of pain thinking about Ike’s father. “I’m happy you could join us for-”
“Her first Seder,” Pop-Pop bragged, and I felt myself glow with pride. “She’s a natural, isn’t she?”
I spent the following days falling back into my new routine. Running Pop-Pop’s house, taking care of the domestic side of his life, something Minnie told me that my aunts had taken turns in doing before I’d come along. I worried, though I didn’t let it show, that I would be expected to stay. To take care of him, his house, and his world without any further mention of Ike.
We’d just sat down to a family dinner, Pop-Pop, me, Minnie, Selma, and Annie when the phone rang. Phone calls were usually ignored during dinner, a house rule and no one had broken it thus far. A whispered conversation from one of Pop-Pop’s people, a glance at me, and he was excusing himself to take the call.
My hand was shaking as I took up my glass of water, and I couldn’t understand the source of my worry. What could a phone call do, other than tell him what was going on in Miami, something so horrible that he’d rush to take it while going against his own rule? I set the glass down without taking a drink, feeling the fear and worry bubbling in my stomach, something that hadn’t happened as often since my call with Ike.
“Excuse me,” a muttered offering as I rushed to the nearest bathroom and lost everything I’d managed to take in so far. I stayed on the floor, waiting for the fear and roiling to stop, waiting for the tiny Evans inside of me to understand that we were powerless about what we didn’t know, but we had to wait. Had to stay calm, had to believe that it would get better.
“Liz,” it was Pop-Pop’s voice, muffled through the door. “Honey, are you alright?”
I flushed and rinsed my mouth, thinking a cup of tea and bed was in my very near future. But first, when I opened the door, I was told that Pop-Pop was planning on a trip back to Miami, a trip that I was not invited to accompany him on.
Ike and my grandfather, one more thing that I realized belatedly that I hadn’t shared with him. The identity of Pop-Pop, of the family I’d told him I learned about. He was meeting Pop-Pop without knowing WHO he was in relation to me. And I told my grandfather this, but I doubted that he would give Ike the benefit of any doubt.
“If you say so, Lizzie,” he muttered, kissing my forehead as he followed his driver to the car. “I’ll let you know when I land.” A blown kiss and then he was gone.
Knowing that Ike had called, even if I didn’t have confirmation that it was him, meant that I had to call him. Waiting until a time of day that he’d be at work, and before Pop-Pop’s flight would land was a small window of time, but I felt safe calling from the house. I had to. To give him some warning, to tell him who Sy Berman was, and why their meeting could end badly. For everyone.
I was put through, using a similar ruse, and felt the tension release from me when I heard his voice. He was telling people to leave the office, that he needed a moment, and then I heard him say my name and I felt the same flutter that I’d always feel when his voice and attention was directed at me.
“Ike,” he started to speak, but I cut him off. “Sy is my grandfather.” It came from me in a rush, but I didn’t know when their meeting was, but he had to know. “I never thought you’d want to-”
“Slow down, Liz,” he sounded calm, far calmer than me. “Your grandpa, is Sy?” I made a small noise of agreement. “Why are you so worried, sweetheart? You told him-”
“Everything,” I whispered, feeling eyes and ears on me and wishing I’d gone to the diner to make the call. “You and me. Vera. My condition.”
“Have you told him that V and I are done?” I was gasping. “He doesn’t know you called me?”
“No one is supposed to know where I am, Ike,” not even you, I thought. “I thought he’d be angry or disappointed that I’d given into temptation and called.” I sighed past the feeling of being sick, my fear returning. “He knows I love you, but he doesn’t trust how you feel about me, Ike. He thinks, once you made bail-”
His turn to sigh. “V- Our reunion, he found out.” I heard noises on his end that sounded like him lighting a cigarette and when he exhaled I knew I was correct. “Shit, Liz, how do I make this right?”
I leaned against the wall next to the phone. “I don’t know. Flattery? Tell him how much you care about me, but I told him that you don’t know he’s related to me, so subtly?” I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that Ike had to make sure that he didn’t get on the wrong side of Pop-Pop, because even The Butcher feared him, and that alone should be all the warning he needed.
Chapter 30: Worry, Growth, Loss
Liz warned Ike. Pop-Pop goes to Miami. A surprise conversation. The calm before the storm. And if it isn't a hurricane, Liz doesn't know what it is.
I had hoped, when I would be able to speak to Ike again it would be under happier circumstances, but that wasn’t my world. Instead, I was warning him about his meeting with my grandfather, a man who he assumed would be the answer to his issues with my father, but instead was putting him further into the path of the men of my bloodline. Instead of telling one another how much we loved each other, which we managed to choke out at the end of the call, we spent it trying to decide how best for him to proceed. And instead of me telling him that I saw an end to our forced separation, I was telling him there wasn’t an end in sight. So much would depend on Pop-Pop’s visit. On this meeting and how it played out.
Pop-Pop’s call came the next day, after I’d had time to purge my stomach contents, drink enough tea to make the Boston Tea Party look tame, and get the bare minimal rest that an exhausted mother-to-be could survive on. He’d arrived, settled in, and wanted me to know that he was checking in on my father’s going ons. Ike’s meeting, which he finally told me would be happening, was going to be at his discretion. Ike, it seemed, would forever be trying to play catch up with Pop-Pop in terms of being good enough or worthy of me.
“I’ll meet him, Lizzie, when I decide he’s earned the meeting.” I wanted to ask just how he could do that, thinking that I could give Ike an idea or two, but he quickly changed the subject. “Benny boy seems to be up to his eyebrows in fucking stupidity.” I nearly warned him against going toe to toe with a man who seemed completely without morals or loyalty, but recalled what Lily had said, that Pop-Pop scared my father. He sighed. “This isn’t a vacation, honey, and I hope I’m not here too long.”
“I wish that I were there with you,” I was being completely honest. I wanted to be there, my father be damned. “I could act as-”
“Ah, Lizzie, until I know what this Klein clown is after, whether he’s still got ideas about you, that’s not a good idea.” He sighed. “I know you miss him, honey, I do, but you gotta understand-”
“It’s not the right time?” I sat back in my chair. Would it ever be? I had a feeling Pop-Pop had a different idea of when or if there would be a right time.
We spoke for a few more minutes, Pop-Pop promising to keep me informed and me swearing that I’d rest and keep myself busy and calm. Hanging up, I had to wonder, would I ever get to return to Miami?
I had to think, listening to my grandfather chatting about how hot Miami was, that his updates were being highly sanitized. He mentioned meeting Ike, as an afterthought almost, saying simply that he’d seen him and they spoke. I tried to ask for more, but he simply reminded me of my promise to keep a calm and peaceful mind. A promise, I was starting to realize, would keep me out of the loop.
Ike, sadly, was no better. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he and Pop-Pop were working in tandem to keep me as far away from what was going on in Florida. He asked me about how I felt, and I told him with a smugness I felt I’d earned, that the illness I’d been practically crippled by was passing. I had lurches, if I got too tense or too worried, but the mornings weren’t a mad dash for the toilet now. He wanted to know if I was showing yet? How big the curve of my belly was? And how much he wished he could feel my new bump.
It was during one call, later in the evening than usual, one he’d asked me to make that I got a surprise.
“Liz?” I smiled as I heard Lauren’s voice answer when I was patched through. “How are you?” She started to power through, wanting to ask all the questions she’d bottled up, but I stopped her with a quiet chuckle.
“Oh, Lauren,” my grin grew, thinking how sweet Ike’s daughter was in her worry about a practical stranger. “Let me answer your questions one a time, there’s no rush, sweetheart.” And we talked. Really talked, without Vera between us, without Meg’s presence as a topic. I told her I was feeling much better, and her voice grew quiet as she asked me if I knew when the baby was coming. I felt a shock run through me that she knew, but realized her and Ike must be coming to terms with this new reality. “They’ve told me that autumn is when-” And I stopped, my hand curling around the noticeable curve of my stomach. “I hope I’m back by then.”
“Me too,” she told me about the hotel. About Vera’s show, about having her father to herself since Danny and Stevie were off doing their own things. That Stevie was working elsewhere without giving me details. She talked about her grandfather, and how he told her she was right, that I was a ‘good one’. I smiled, and felt a tear fall when she whispered again. “You’re more like my mom than-” I waited, wondering if she was going to shoot another shot at Vera, but she shocked me. “Aunt Meg, Liz. You remind me of her, of how she was before-”
I sniffled and she apologized if she made me sad. “I’m not sad, sweetheart, not even a tiny bit.” Looking up, trying to get my emotions in check, I told her that I felt like she’d given me the most beautiful compliment and then she sighed and resignedly told me that her father wanted to speak to me.
“Hello, beautiful,” I could hear his own smile and happiness in that deep voice of his. “Lauren’s been demanding a chance to talk to you, Liz, so I thought-”
“It was a wonderful surprise, Ike,” my heart felt like it was swelling from the love I felt. “I didn’t know you’d told her-”
“I want the world to know that I love you, Elizabeth, but for now, I’ll settle for my family knowing.” He was telling Lauren that he’d be upstairs in a while, and assuring her he’d tell me goodbye for her and then he was back. “When are you coming home, Liz?”
A recurring theme to our conversations. With Pop-Pop it was a constant reminder of Klein’s danger to me, but with Ike it was a constant temptation with a vow that Klein would never get to me because he’d keep me safe.
“Soon, God, Ike.” Sighing, my hand smoothing over my rounded skin. “I want to be there, I want you to be able to see our baby growing.” My biggest fear, the only one I’d allowed myself to entertain, was having our child without him nearby.
“You will be, Liz, I’ll make sure of it.” I loved his confidence. That same self-possession I’d seen the first time I’d laid eyes on him. How he’d walked up and punched that man in the face, and then walked calmly back inside as though it did it every Tuesday. “I love you.”
“I love you, Ike.” And when we said our goodbyes, always with the promise that we’d talk soon, since he knew I was Sy’s granddaughter, I no longer had to make every call. But every parting was just as difficult as the first. The only thing that made them bearable was that we were speaking directly to one another and not through a proxy. A small victory, but one I cherished.
News trickled in. My aunts came to keep me company. I asked for a seamstress to come do my measurements and then had her call them into the store where I'd made my careful selections during my stay in Canada. I wanted to wear dresses, outfits that weren’t tent-like. I wanted my bump to show, minimally, so people knew I wasn’t ashamed of my condition. Love had created my child and that was something to celebrate. Some were red, some were black, and some were somewhere in between.
I read a great deal. I visited our rabbi to continue my instruction. I spoke with Ike and Lauren almost daily. Pop-Pop’s calls were more infrequent. I had just sat down with a new book when the phone rang. Once it was in my hand, I heard a voice I wasn’t expecting, and a trickle of fear dripping down my spine.
“Liz,” a breath, and a whisper of one at that, but I knew immediately who it was. “It’s-”
“Lily?” I sat up, knowing that if she was whispering nothing good was coming. And I was right.
Pop-Pop was dead. My father was in the hospital. Ike was- well she didn’t have much on Ike, but I knew I’d be hearing from him soon. She was telling me about the bookshelf in my father’s office. A lever. A magic hiding spot. And she was breathless, it seemed, because she was running. She assured me she’d be gone before I got to Miami, if I was coming to Miami that was, and she told me she knew I’d been right all along. That my father was vicious, cruel, and no one was safe, no matter how they bent to his will.
I sat in a stunned silence when she finished. Pop-Pop was gone? I hadn’t noticed dropping the phone. The crash that came when the entire thing fell from the table and took the vase of fresh flowers down with it was silent to my ears. All I could hear was the rushing of what sounded like waves battering a beach, and the feeling of uncertainty. What now? What or who was I now?
Chapter 31: Grief, Numbness, Hope
Liz learns a new element of her heritage, one she'd rather not. The numbness of grief gives way to more knowledge. A return. And a plan.
I'm a terrible tease. And yes, I have diverted from the story line, and yes I will continue to. I am prepared for the calls for my head over this 'cliffhanger'. Carry on.
Pop-Pop, the great and terrifying Sy Berman, died alone. No one was there, it seemed, to keep watch over what was left of his body. No one, that is, aside from the police that showed up when the flames of the explosion were seen and reported. Body? That’s a laugh, from what we learned from the authorities in Miami there didn’t seem to be much left of him.
There are parts of my heritage, my religion, and the roots that created me that I did not relish learning. This, the death of a beloved family member, was one. A tear in my dress, rendering the cloth as my heart was torn was a simple gesture. The ceremony itself was brief. Simple and over before I felt I’d come to terms with the loss I felt. Pop-Pop, it had seemed, was the first member of my own blood who loved me for who I was, not for what I could do for him.
The mirrors were covered. And we sat Shiva, three days of mourning that went along with my deep grief at the loss of him. I was told, later when I could focus again, that Mimi had checked on me. That I’d assured her I was fine, that I could grieve and maintain my peace. Minnie reminded me that I spoke to Ike daily, his words were like fresh water, easing my pain while we spoke, but forgotten as soon as I hung up.
It was on the fourth day, the day that we came out of our formal mourning, the day we were supposed to cast it off and move on, that Pop-Pop’s attorney called upon us. Minnie had stayed with me, taking a break only when Selma could take her place. They were together, the three of us sitting on the sofa as he told us that the will would be read the following Monday.
I spoke to Ike that evening. A call that I finally felt present during, listening as he asked the question he’d asked since our first call. When would I be coming home?
“I have the will reading,” telling him that I would let him know after, that once Pop-Pop’s affairs were in order I’d be winging my way to him. “Soon, Ike, very very soon.” I still had Lily’s words, her instructions about the hidden cupboard running through my head. We said goodbye, and I lay in my bed, wondering how soon I could leave, but having no idea just how much my grandfather’s will would change my return.
I was pleasantly surprised, upon landing in Miami, that my nausea hadn’t returned during the flight. My hand absently cradled my bump, which was decorated by one of the dresses that I’d ordered from Canada. Black, simple, yet showing off what I wanted to, while hiding what needed hidden. I’d caught a few scandalized looks tossed at me by women and men who appeared horrified by the thought that a woman could carry a child within her body, but I couldn’t find it within me to care. I would NOT wear anything that looked like three people could comfortably make shelter under.
While I was truly itching to see Ike, I chose, once the driver took my case to go to the house my father once resided in. I say once, because it was my house now, or always was depending on how one looked at it. As was my Pop-Pop’s. The things I’d learned during the reading of his will opened my eyes to just how wealthy we were, we being me now, and with that knowledge I found a new reason to have a straight back and a high head. And I could not, once I settled in and spoke to Ike, wait to show my father just how far I’d come.
We pulled up in front of the house, after buzzing through the gate and I took a quick look around. My driver asked if he should bring in my bag, but I shook my head. I wouldn’t be staying in this house. Not for longer than absolutely necessary. My heels clicked through the darkened hallway, heading toward the office and I was happy that I didn’t come across one of his people.
Running over Lily’s instructions, I moved the photograph from the shelf, shifted the books and found the lever, pulling gently to find my treasure. Lily had been conservative in her pilfering, and I was surprised. For what she’d put up with during her marriage to my father, I would have expected her to help herself to more of his blood money. The ledger, what I was truly after, was perched on the shelf like the gift it was. Ignoring the cash, for now, I returned everything to its original order and then walked purposefully back to my waiting car.
I feared, far more than I’d feared much else since my Pop-Pop’s death, that Ike would see me arrive and check in to the Miramar. I called Sid, and Sol, and asked for a diversion. Any way they could, would they please make sure that Ike was nowhere near the Miramar when I arrived. I didn’t know how they managed, and I was almost afraid to ask, but they did it.
Ray-Ray, who should have seen so many people come through the front doors since I’d been gone, was beaming as he held the door for me. He greeted me by name and I had to shake my head. Check in, thanks to a careful reservation under an assumed name, with more help from the front desk went without a hitch. My bags went before me into the elevator and then, as I finally arrived at the same room I’d stayed in the first time, our first time, I let out a heavy breath and hid the ledger under my mattress.
Knowing that Ike would be reigning over dinner, and knowing that I’d told him that I would be coming home the following week, I started to get ready. Calling down to the salon, I asked for the stylist that I’d seen on my few appointments before, and offering her substantial compensation, had a promise that she’d come to my room to take care of my hair. A long bath, careful grooming, and making certain that my manicure and pedicure had held up during my travels, I prepared to surprise Ike and possibly shock the entire city.
My stylist covered her shock at my condition well, she didn’t gasp or point, for which I was grateful. I told her what I wanted, and then sat in the same chair that I once rode Ike on as she performed a miracle on my waves. My makeup came after she left, happily tucking a handful of bills away, and letting me know that any time I wished for private styling she was available.
I smiled at my chosen dress, hanging up to make certain it stayed without wrinkle as I readied the rest of myself. A strapless lace bra, the matching panties and garters, another pair of seamed stockings topped with more lace, and then, the dress. It was a work of art, and that was saying something since I’d had to search incredibly hard through the offerings at the store I’d visited in Canada in preparation for this moment.
The way the neckline hugged my shoulders and dipped low enough to show the other curves that my condition had added, the fullness of the swell of my breasts hinted at. Panels added to the waistline, looking as though I still had the nipped waist, but turning sideways the roundness of my bump was outlined perfectly. Biased cut, longer in the back than the front, tight down my legs, it was the perfect clean lines that I had wanted. And it was in the absolute darkest red they could find. My shoes matched, silk like the dress, and with my hair elegantly tussled over one shoulder and held back with a diamond clip that matched the jewelry I planned on wearing I was a vision. And I hoped that Ike agreed.
Chapter 32: Surprise, Reunion, Surrender
Liz makes her entrance. A reminder of time lost. And the first argument.
Butterflies. I had so many butterflies as I headed to dinner that I felt that there were none left in the world to distract children during their play. Nearly missing the look I got from the elevator operator, the shock on her pretty face as she took note of my very prominent bump, the glance she gave my left ring finger, I forced myself to smile at her and offer that I was going to dinner on the ground floor. That forced her back to task, and with some luck, possibly because I waited until I knew the room would be packed no one stopped the elevator for a ride down.
When the doors parted, the lobby had a few stragglers, those who were making contacts or those who were having their own moments of romance. I walked slowly, even if my heart was racing and my legs wanted so badly to rush forward. Unruffled, calm, cool. I tried reminding myself, head high and hands clasped around my clutch. I very nearly stumbled when I stood on the lip of the dining room, feeling all eyes zero in on me, but then I knew he saw me. I knew because I could see him weaving through the tables, could see his eyes drinking me in as though I were the only person on earth other than him.
Isaac Evans was a vision for my sore eyes. Wearing grey, though the shine of it hinted at silver, and with more of the same dusting his temples I felt my breath become labored. I had to remind myself that we were in full view of Miami’s elite, of the entitled tourists, of people who knew him and had heard of me.
“Ike,” smiling up at him, I could see that I wasn’t the only one having issues with my breathing. “I love that color on you.” My hands wanted to touch him, his face, his neck, anywhere.
“You said-” he swallowed hard, his dimples deepened as his eyes took in the obvious curve that showed the fruits of our love. “You said next week.” I bit my lip and then he was turning me from the crowd that was silent watching us. “Let’s go-” another hard swallow, “I want to say hello to you properly, Liz, and I think what I have in mind might scandalize the entire building.” His voice was a growl and I felt the butterflies flee because of the twist of lust.
His office, which he seemed in a rush to get to, but also seemed to fight against just yanking me into his arms to carry me there faster, may as well have moved to the moon since it felt like it took forever to get to it. And then, door swinging shut behind us, his mouth was on mine and I knew I was truly and really home.
Ike loved my dress. He found that it was a beautiful addition to his floor and once the rest of my attire was added to the pile, he pulled me onto his own naked body, and reminded me of how much he really missed me. He took me far more gently, his hands measuring the bump of our child, his body showing me how he craved mine. We couldn’t kiss, taste, touch enough. I missed the way he smiled as we kissed, as though he felt nothing but pure happiness in the feel of my lips on his. The way his fingertips seemed intent to memorize every inch of my skin, the way we could laugh and love. I would never leave him willingly again. Never be too far for him to reach for, never too far for his lips to meet mine or my skin.
He was holding me, smiling against my skin as his lips traced my new curves, when I asked him if he enjoyed my surprise. Chuckling, letting the vibrations of it raise gooseflesh on my skin, he said he did. “I nearly took you right there in the dining room, Liz, talk about dinner and a show.” I laughed with him, my fingers sliding through his hair. “You’re staying with me, sweetheart, forever.” Not a request, a certainty.
He dressed me, letting his hands wander, taking a moment to kiss the swell of my stomach and whisper something to our child. And once we were both dressed, he pulled a box from his pants pocket. Small, velvet, and black I felt the butterflies return in full force. Taking a knee, in front of the chair I’d sat in while he dressed himself, he opened the box and I bit my lip.
“I told you, Liz, I won’t pretend at a life I can have for real with you.” He didn’t ask, he didn’t have to, he simply slid the ring onto my finger and kissed my lips. “Forever.”
“I love you, Isaac Evans.” My arms sliding around his neck.
He stole another kiss, that smile made me breathless in place, and returned my love in more than just words.
Our first disagreement came moments after he slipped the ring on my finger. Ike insisted that I stay in the penthouse, with him and Lauren, but I tried to remind him of the impropriety of it. His hand on my bump disagreed, forcing me to come to terms with the fact that nothing of our relationship came in the correct order.
“Liz,” his arms around my back, his hands settling on my lower back, he was looking down at me as though exercising extreme patience. “I don’t care that you have a room in the hotel, you belong in the penthouse, with me.”
“What about Lauren?” I battled back, trying for the same tone. “Do you want her to see the two of us, living in-”
“Sin?” He laughed, his fingers rubbing circles on the silk of my dress. “Oh, Liz, I think we’ve come too far to start worrying about that now.” His eyes looked like melted caramel, twinkling in the soft light of the office. “Lauren loves you, Liz, she'll want you there. Trust me.”
And so, I lost our first real fight. He went to my room with me, grabbing my bags and gave me a look of curiosity as I pulled the ledger from under the mattress. I just shook my head and slid it into my bag, giving in to my first loss.
Chapter 33: Welcome, Family, Face to Face
Liz found Ike's certainty about her welcome on target. A new family. An awkward encounter.
Ike was correct, which he took great pride in, when he opened the penthouse door and called out to Lauren who called back from her place on the sofa, hiding me easily behind him. Walking inside, shaking my head at the silliness of the huge man in front of me, I waited for him to announce my presence.
“I found a little something downstairs I thought you might like to see,” he reached back to take my hand. She barely had time to ask what, when he pulled me in front of him and I got to see her eyes widen at the sight of me. And then she practically launched herself from the sofa and hugged me.
“Liz!” Lauren’s voice was muffled against me where she’d buried her head and I shot Ike a look of shock. She’d never been this demonstrative with me, or anyone other than Meg in my presence. And his smirk of being right grew.
I had to smile, if he had to be correct about something, this wasn’t a case where I would complain. I let my arms wrap around his daughter and cradled her. “This is an extremely warm welcome, sweetheart.”
When we pulled away, her eyes found the bump housing her future sibling and her grin grew. “Can I?” She asked, her hand raised, but awaiting permission. I nodded, choosing to not correct her grammar, since she was so excited. Her hand met the top of my bump and she looked awed. Ike’s hand covered hers, and then mine was added on top. “Fall, right?”
Another nod from me, as I realized that I wouldn’t be alone, not in this. While our hands were covering one another’s, I realized I had family. A family of my very own.
Ike had to go back downstairs for a while, a short while he promised us both. After kissing me sweetly in front of Lauren, a peck on her cheek for good measure, he left his two ladies alone. I needed to change out of my dress, and Lauren asked if she could keep me company. While she sat on the bed in the main bedroom suite, I changed in the bathroom while noticing all the proof that Vera had lived and loved in the rooms seemed gone.
“You’re staying this time forever, aren’t you?” Lauren was asking, as I pulled one of the more comfortable dressing gowns I’d bought and brought along with me. “You don’t have much luggage.”
I was tugging my gown down and smiled at her concern. “Yes, I’m here forever, if you’ll have me, that is?” I walked out of the bathroom to see her lying back on Ike’s huge bed, propped up on the pillows. Her smile was almost as blinding as her father’s.
“So you are going to stay?” I nodded and sat down on the bed. “And you said yes to Dad?” Her eyes glanced at the ring Ike had placed on my hand. Another nod. “Yes!” She took my hand that was closest to her and I gave hers a squeeze.
“Are you hungry?” I asked, realizing I hadn’t gotten dinner. Lauren shrugged. “I am.”
“We could order room service,” she offered, settling back into the pillows. She watched as I started to move my bag that Ike had carried up for me. “Dad will lose his mind if he sees you lift that.”
“Can’t very well leave it lying here, can I?” She moved off the bed and took it from me, putting it carefully on top of a bureau. “I have a thought,” I offered as she turned back to face me. “Let’s order room service and have a sleepover?”
Lauren was staring at me like I’d dropped down from the moon, but just as I started to withdraw the offer, she hugged me again, which took me by surprise. “You don’t want to have your first night back alone with Dad?” She whispered, and my arms wrapped around her naturally. “I mean, it’s been so long since you-”
I shushed her. “Your dad and I have forever, and if he really begs, we may let him join us.” She giggled. “But only if he begs, what do you think?"
I let Lauren order our food, and she assured me there were plenty of snack foods in the kitchen area of the penthouse. While I pulled out things, she gathered extra blankets and stole pillows from Ike’s bed. When I shot her a look, carrying in bowls of snacks and napkins, she shrugged like only a teenage girl could and casually said they were fluffier than the others.
She arranged our makeshift bedding as I heard a knock on the door, thinking that the room service had arrived. I called over my shoulder for her to grab some of her favorite games as I went to answer it. As I opened the door, ready to ask for the tray to be pushed inside, I found myself face to face with Vera.
Chapter 34: Conflict, Resolution, Routine
Liz and Vera, face to face... And then, room service?
Vera stared down at me, and for the very first time I truly felt small. I stood back, trying to gather some sort of greeting, but I saw her eyes land on my ring and my bump and knew nothing would do. This was his wife, at least until the papers were signed to end their marriage, and I was standing barefoot and pregnant in what had been her home. She stepped across the threshold as I heard the ding of the elevator sound, praying for it to be our room service, and listened as Lauren greeted Vera with as much warmth as one would a bug.
I had my eyes shut, taking a deep fortifying breath when I heard the room service cart wheeling toward me. “Why are you standing here-” Ike’s voice, causing me to open my eyes and seeing him realize just why I was standing at the door wearing my nightgown. I saw his jaw clench, but his hand touching mine was soft and sweet. “It’s alright, Liz, come on inside.” He pushed the cart into the foyer, and pulled me along with him. “Vera.” He sounded calm, and yet his eyes would negate the tone.
“Ike,” she ignored me, or tried to until Lauren stepped beside me. A family united, it seemed. “I came to ask for more time to prepare the show.” I wondered if she had. She was wearing one of the tightest and skimpiest dance leotards I’d ever seen, and the shock of seeing her on the other side of the door had kept me from noticing sooner. They had met while she was dancing, perhaps she thought to tempt him back. “Cesar, he wants me to have more time-”
“Tomorrow morning in my office, wearing appropriate clothes for a business meeting would have been a better way to broach the topic, V.” His hand took mine, linking our fingers. “We’re having-”
“Family night,” she spit the words out like she was accusing us of something far dirtier. “I see.” Her eyes landed once again on my very obvious condition. “As I’m sure, everyone else will.”
Vera never spoke to me, not in arriving or leaving, and I had no right to expect her to. But she also barely looked at Lauren. And her eyes on Ike weren’t warm either. She stalked out, and as she left I realized something else about her outfit. Wearing it as she did, at this late hour, meant that she may very well be staying in the hotel. A hotel I was calling home.
It took a few beats of silence after she slammed the door behind her for the three of us to get back into our former good spirits. Ike asked Lauren to take the cart with our food further inside, and he took me into his arms. His hands rubbed my back, his lips pressing against my head.
“It was bound to happen,” I whispered into his chest. “I knew it, but-”
He sighed. “She knew you were here, Liz.” I stiffened in his arms. “She had to have known. The buzz was going strong when I went back down.” Another sigh, this one shared. “I told V, about us, about the baby. She seemed to accept it, hell, she seemed like she was almost glad.”
“Glad?” I pulled back and looked up at him with disbelief. “Glad to lose you? Glad to lose the life she came to expect? Ike, darling, one day very soon I will have to tell you about women.” He lowered his head to give me a reassuring kiss. When he pulled back, I asked him for confirmation of my suspicion about where Vera was living. Not only was she in the hotel, she was only a floor away.
“Are we still doing our sleepover?” Lauren’s voice interrupted our moment and I smiled.
“Sleepover?” Ike looked between us. “I didn’t get an invitation to a sleepover.” And with that, the tension passed, and we got back to our first evening as a family.
I felt my body being lifted, and fought against my sleep to find myself in Ike’s arms. I started to speak, but he shushed me.
“You shouldn’t be sleeping on the sofa, Liz,” he kept his voice low, and I started to argue again, but he shook his head. “Don’t fight me on this, sweetheart.”
“But Lauren,” I managed once he set me on his bed, and snorted at the missing pillows. “She’ll wake up alone in the front room and think I’ve-”
“I already put her into her own bed, Liz.” He grinned at me. “And after I go rescue our pillows from the sofa, I plan on putting you to bed too.”
I woke up to the sun shining bright through the floor length windows of the glass leading to the balcony. Ike’s body warm against my back, his hand cradling our baby’s temporary home protectively. My hand had found his in sleep, and it lay over top of his. He felt me twitch, I guessed, because his lips met the nape of my neck and I felt his lips curl into a smile.
“Now this is how I want to wake up every morning,” his voice sounded rough from sleep, and it vibrated against my skin. “I love you.”
My own smile was growing by the second. “I love you, too.” I rolled onto my back and stared up at him. “This is an almost perfect morning.”
“Almost?” He looked concerned. “Just almost?”
I nodded. “It could be perfect, but-” I truly hoped I looked serious. “You haven’t kissed me yet.”
And Isaac Evans, the man I adored, did what would become a routine for us. Not the morning kiss, no nothing as simple yet wonderful as a kiss. No, he set out to make sure that every single wish, want, or need I had would be fulfilled. And he succeeded far more than he failed.
Chapter 35: Mornings, Promises, and an Idea
Liz learns that Ike Evans plans on keeping ALL of his promises. Breakfast in public followed by another revelation...
Ike made good on another promise during our first official morning together in the penthouse. After making sure that I got a more perfect morning, we showered together and he took great care in making sure that every single inch of me was pampered. Then, as he’d once yearned for, he dressed me from bare skin to fully clothed, including stockings and heels. He made me feel like a princess, kissing each spot before the satin, lace, or silk touched my skin. And then, as though I hadn’t been given ample attention, he growled into my neck that he couldn’t wait to undo all his work later in the evening.
We met Lauren as she was coming out of her own bedroom, grinning as widely as her dad at the sight of me in the morning. Another hug, more affection than I’d expected when I returned, but so very welcome and we went downstairs for our first family breakfast. I was working up the courage to speak to Ike about the ledger, and Pop-Pop’s will, but first, I wanted to just enjoy the simplicity of our new normal.
As we ate our breakfast, it became easy to shut out the whispers that I’d heard upon our entry into the eatery. The looks, the murmurs, the way that Lauren stayed close to me, the way Ike’s hand casually drifted to my bump as he held my chair for me, I could pretend I didn’t notice.
Lauren and I were talking about the shopping trip I’d promised to take her on, and Ike listened before giving me the theoretical keys to his kingdom.
“First of all, Lo, you have to remember that Liz needs rest. You two can shop, but take it easy, alright?” Lauren nodded solemnly at her father while I fought an eye roll. “As for you, my future wife,” his eyes were twinkling as they met mine. “The penthouse might need an upgrade, if you’d like to redecorate more to your tastes, that is?”
I sat back and smiled at him. “You’re ridiculous.” Shaking my head, I told him that the rooms were fine, but I did have a few things to talk to him about, my tone taking on a serious turn. Lauren heard it and casually mentioned that she planned on seeing a few friends by the pool anyway. Kissing Ike’s cheek and mine, she headed outside to give us some privacy. “I’m not sure this is the right place to discuss everything.” I offered, taking a sip of my juice.
“Finish your breakfast and you can come up to my office with me,” his voice was still deep and low and I had a flash of every other time we’d gone to his office and he saw the memories cross my face. “We’ll leave the curtains and blinds open.” A promise, though given reluctantly.
After checking in with his secretary, Ike ushered me into his office. I saw a few of his employees smile at my bump and my massive ring, so that was another pleasant surprise. Instead of sitting at his desk, we took the sofa, close but not touching.
“Lily was the one who informed me about Pop-Pop,” I started, thinking I had to explain the whys and hows. “She also told me about Ben’s secret space in his office. That book upstairs?” Ike nodded, waiting for the rest. “It’s the ledger of ALL of his side deals. The ones that he didn’t think Pop-Pop knew about.”
“What do you plan to do with it?” A good question, but not one I wanted to answer just yet.
I held up a hand and kept going. I explained that my father had forgotten who had taught him the tools of his trade. That my grandfather had become less trusting of him from the moment my mother had died. Learning that his suspicions about me, and my inheritance were correct, he’d begun to fix what my father had attempted to conceal and steal from me.
“I have my grandfather’s house in Chicago, Ben’s house here in Miami, and-” I stopped and took a deep breath. “The company that owns the controlling share of the Miramar is in my name as well.” I didn’t think I needed to go into gruesome detail about how much money I had access to, nor the assurances of Pop-Pop’s attorney that it was CLEAN money now.
Silence descended. I waited for Ike to speak, to say ANYTHING about what I’d just told him. But as it stretched, I realized that I’d forgotten something.
“It’s yours, Ike,” I took his hand and felt gratified as his fingers linked with mine. “I don’t want to own your dream, it’s yours. I’ll sign whatever-”
“No,” I finally met his eyes and realized he was beaming. “I don’t want you to sign it back to me, Liz. In fact, this is going to fix a whole hell of a lot of problems.” I smiled, feeling the tension I’d allowed to build up over the news release. “The ledger?”
I nodded. “I want to have you help me look over it first, but-” Another deep breath, “I want to give it to Mr. Klein.” I hurried on, seeing he was about to argue. “It has to be me, Ike, you do see that. He wanted you to take down Ben, but if I go in there with it, his own daughter, then your name stays clear. I plan on making a deal. Ben Diamond for you and your family being left alone.”
“OUR family, Liz.” He pulled me to him and held me. “I don’t like you going near that man-” he sighed and kissed my head. “You might have a point, though.”
And now the hardest sell. “I also plan on seeing my father.” I felt him stiffen. “I want to visit him with Mr. Klein. I want to look him in the eyes when he realizes it was ME that ended it. Not you. Not Pop-Pop. Me.”
We were still cuddled on the sofa in his office, just holding one another, when his receptionist buzzed to let him know that Vera was waiting for their meeting. I was a tad surprised that she hadn’t walked in as the reigning queen of the hotel, but then again, my presence wasn’t completely shocking any longer.
“I should let you get back to work,” I tried to pull away, but he held firm. “Ike-”
“This is your hotel too, Liz,” he gestured through the window behind us for them to let Vera know she could come in. “And besides, V needs to see that I won’t budge. You’re going to be my wife, and she’s going to have to understand and move on.”
Easier said than done, I thought, but I didn’t fight him. I was loath to leave him, now that I was back by his side. I watched as Vera entered the room, wearing a dress that was lovely on her tall dancer frame. She shot a look at the two of us wrapped up on the couch and glared.
“I thought you wanted a proper business meeting,” she didn’t greet either of us, but I could see that my presence wasn’t welcome. “Perhaps I should reschedule.”
Ike’s hand had found my bump and I nearly groaned. I loved the fact that I had our baby inside of us, but I remembered how much she’d wanted that for the two of them. And I felt it was unnecessary pain to toss at her feet. “No, anything we talk about can be spoken about in front of Liz, V.” He looked like he was considering the next words before he spoke them. “After all, she’s my partner.”
I could see Vera’s nostrils flare at the insinuation that she hadn’t been, but Ike didn’t correct the assumption she was clearly making that he meant his life partner and not business partner. I nearly sighed at the idea of this entire situation, but I would rather have cut off my own arm than leave Ike again, no matter how much Vera shot me the hostility I’d clearly earned.
I listened to them as they spoke of the show. How her choreographer wanted her to have more time to get back into the swing of things, so to speak, and an idea started to form in my brain. I hadn’t wanted to know the details of the divorce paperwork between him and Vera, but now I needed to. Because, I thought as they hammered out the details and I considered what I wanted to offer, perhaps Vera could be happy with her new reality. Truly happy.
She finally left, the cloud of irritation toward me sitting curled up with her current and my future husband seeing itself out behind her. “That was-” I sighed. I would not be that person. The type that didn’t understand or who would feel slighted by the consequences of my own actions. “May I ask you something?” I chose to settle on the idea that had blossomed as they spoke, and once I learned the conditions of the divorce and told Ike my idea to sweeten the deal, we made plans for the ledger, Mr. Klein, and my father.
Chapter 36: Plans, Preparations, and A Show
Miami was home now. And with it came a family. Some upheaval. And more shopping.
Once Vera left, Ike and I promised one another that we’d sit down with the ledger that evening at home, but first I wanted to know the ins and outs of what the details of the end of his marriage to Vera would look like per Sid’s paperwork. I listened carefully, knowing my curiosity was something he wasn’t expecting.
“Why the sudden interest?” He asked, once he’d explained every detail.
I sighed and sat back, letting him pull me closer. “Because, I want Vera to have not simply a comfortable life, but I want to make sure she can find peace after loving you.” My cheek found his suit covered chest and I inhaled the very scent of him. “Did you notice that she’s not walking with the same effortless grace she used to float around with?” His hands had slid along my bare arms, and I smiled at how casually he was touching me, even with the curtains wide. “She’s in pain, Ike, and I have a feeling she needs more than time to be ready for these shows.”
His lips met the top of my head and I heard him inhale my scent as I had his. “Why wouldn’t she-”
I shook my head and chuckled lightly. “Isaac Evans, you truly don’t understand women at all do you?” His finger came under my chin and tilted my head back so our eyes could meet. “She won’t tell you that because right now? With her and this show you agreed to? She has your attention, and you NEED her.”
His thumb brushed my bottom lip, his eyes following the pad’s path. “I NEED you, Liz.” I rolled my eyes, but smiled as he gave into temptation and lowered his head to taste my mouth. As tempting as letting go with him was, I pulled back with a sigh and smiled at his growl.
“Vera thinks you need her and the show for the hotel’s success, Ike. She won’t tell you that NOT dancing for the years she was by your side has made her body weak. It’s her own bargaining chip, to hold onto you for as long as she can.” He was listening, even as I could see that he really wanted to distract the both of us.
Sitting back reluctantly, I watched his eyes squint as he considered what I was saying. “And you think that you know how to make sure she knows that the hotel could survive without the show, and her?”
“Not completely,” I took his face between my hands. “What would you say, if I offered Vera enough money or backing to open her own dance instruction school?” His lips began curving into a smile. “She could have Cesar with her, and she could offer dance lessons here, at the resort.”
“She’d still be dancing,” he was nodding, growing warmer to the idea.
“But she wouldn’t have to put as much stress on her body,” I offered. “And I think your guests would LOVE it. I mean, THE Vera Cruz from The Tropicana, teaching tourists how to dance?”
After convincing Ike that I should let him actually work, I left his office and headed down the stairs in search of Lauren. I smiled when it was Ray-Ray who pointed toward the diner we had breakfast in and sure enough there she was keeping company with a curvy young woman wearing glasses.
“Liz!” Lauren greeted, as happy to see me as she was when I first arrived in the penthouse. “This is June,” she introduced me to the other young woman, and I tried to not notice the shocked glance at my condition, or the second glance at the very noticeable ring on my finger.
“Hello, June,” I offered, extending my hand. “It’s very nice to meet you.”
“Liz and my dad are getting married,” Lauren offered happily. “Soon, I hope.”
I shook my head even as I noticed my future step-daughter’s enthusiasm had caught June in its net. The other woman shook my hand and she no longer looked confused and surprised, but happy to meet me. She was offering her help with anything I could need, event based, and I told her she’d be the first person I’d call. Turning back to Lauren, I winked and asked her if she wanted to go on the first of our shopping trips.
We were in a car, being driven by the man that I’d inherited through my grandfather’s service, and I was listening as Lauren told me about the shopping her Aunt Meg had gifted her with. “Then she had me do a fashion show for Dad, but-” she stopped and took my hand. “I felt like she just wanted to show off for Dad, and I was-”
“The best way to do that?” I finished. “Well, we can do another fashion show, but this time, it’s all you, Lauren Evans.” Another wink from me had her serious tone back to normal.
“I like the way you dress,” she was taking in another black dress and heels that seemed to be my signature. “Do you think-” I smiled and shook my head.
“I think,” biting my lip before I could chuckle at the thought of Ike’s thirteen year old daughter dressing like me. “That all black might be a tad much for your age.” She seemed to be considering what I was saying. “And I’m fairly certain that your dad would lose his mind if you wore heels and stockings just yet.”
She sat back and stared out the window for a bit. Letting out a loud sigh, she turned back to face me. “What are you thinking that Dad would be OK with?”
“Less mourning clothes, more age appropriate?” I offered as our driver pulled in front of the store. “Do you trust me?” She nodded. “Then trust this, I’ll make sure that you look AMAZING.”
Lauren was beaming as she showed the sales lady and me how the outfits I’d helped her choose looked. It was easier than I imagined to find things that were age appropriate, yet still had the sophistication she clearly wanted. Before we were through, I had the lady bring up two other dresses I’d chosen.
“I want to help you with these two, darling, is that alright?” I asked, walking into the dressing room behind her as she’d shown us the last of the outfits. She nodded, not paying attention to the dresses I held. “I want you to pick one of these, but eventually I think we may come back for the other.”
She turned and finally gave her full attention to the gowns. “Wait, Liz are those?”
“Your maid of honor dress options?” I nodded and she gifted me with a squeal of happiness before hugging me tight. “Now, let’s see which one looks best shall we?”
That evening, as I’d promised, Ike and I settled into the living room for Lauren’s fashion show. He’d told me that he’d arranged for dinner to be delivered to us while we waited for her first outfit, and I told him to keep his eyes on his daughter and to be very honest about what I’d helped her pick out.
I watched him, as he watched Lauren go through the different clothes, and knew he was seeing how grown she was getting, but also that he approved of our picks. He clapped and smiled. He complimented and told her how great she looked. The last dress, the most elaborate of the things we’d purchased, made his eyes widen.
“It’s the dress I’m going to wear when you marry Liz,” Lauren offered, doing a small twirl. “She asked me to be her maid of honor.” She was beaming when she faced us again.
Ike’s eyes met mine and he was glowing too. “Soon.” He vowed. “Very very soon.”
Chapter 37: Ledger, Heirlooms, and Decadence
Lauren and Liz have Ike wrapped around their little fingers, but you won't hear him complain.
After Lauren’s fashion show, dinner arrived. Ike pulled the cart through the door and Lauren took the covered plates and put them on the dining room table. Sitting down, Lauren seemed surprised when I took the seat on Ike’s right, instead of at the foot of the table.
“Etiquette only matters when you have an audience, Lo,” I winked and grinned at her, and she smiled as she took the spot to his left.
We tucked into dinner, and Ike brought up his offer from breakfast. “Really, Liz, if you want to redecorate the penthouse, have at it.” I shook my head again. “At least redo the bedroom.” I considered what he was saying. The bedroom had been his and Vera’s, and perhaps, he wanted the change as much as he thought I did.
“If I did redecorate our bedroom,” his dimples deepened at my use of ‘our’. “I’d want your input too, Ike.” It wasn’t false modesty or flirtation. The room was OURS, that meant I’d want him to have a say too.
We talked over ideas as we ate, Lauren piping in with ideas too, and I wondered if perhaps her own room was less sophisticated than she’d like. I thought I’d broach that topic, along with another one that had struck me during our shopping trip with Ike after dinner while we went over the ledger. Lauren volunteered to take the cart downstairs, stir crazy from all the adult talk, and Ike and I settled in the living room with the ledger that he’d grabbed from our room.
It didn’t take long to find a page or three that had to go before it went to Mr. Klein’s office. Once we carefully removed them, I asked Ike if he’d had a chance to speak with Sid about the additions to the divorce paperwork we’d discussed that morning.
“Yeah, he was shocked,” Ike chuckled and pulled me into his body, his hand finding the curve of my bump like it was magnetized. “He’s adding the new details and he’ll have it ready by the end of the week.” I hummed in approval and contentment as his other hand rubbed my back. “By this time next week, if she signs and it gets the stamp of approval from the court, we could be married.”
It was my turn to chuckle. “Shotgun not included?” I felt him shake his head at my attempt at humor. “You’ll be alright with a civil ceremony?”
“For now,” he answered, both his hands rubbing soothing patterns on my fully clothed body. “Eventually, if you approve, I’d like to have a REAL wedding. Here.”
“Real wedding?” I wanted to hear what he envisioned, since he was such an amazing visual painter. “What would our real wedding look like, Isaac Evans?”
“You, coming down the main staircase in some jaw dropping dress or gown.” His lips brushed my forehead. “A potato sack looks jaw dropping on you, though, so I can’t really say what the dress would look like.” I shook my head at his absurdity. “Flowers everywhere. Guests staring like they were watching royalty, because you are most definitely a queen, Liz. My kids,” I heard him swallow, worry that his sons weren’t going to be amiable, I was sure. “Standing with me, or walking ahead of you,” thinking of Lauren in that dress she’d worn earlier. “And me, the lucky schmuck waiting under the Chuppah for the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of loving.”
I tilted my head back and saw how serene he looked at the idea of marrying me so publicly. “That sounds-” Lauren was back, we heard the door open and her giggling at the sight of the two of us making eyes at one another on the couch. “Amazing.” He leaned in and kissed me as she laughingly told us good night.
We were in our bedroom, Ike had fulfilled his promise to undress me as completely as he’d dressed me for the day, when I brought up the other things that I’d thought of during my day with Lauren. He’d put the ledger in a safe place, still not trusting the world at large, not that I could blame him.
“Ike?” He was pulling off his own clothes, far more haphazardly than he’d removed mine, but looked up at me as he tugged his tie free. “Do you have any of Molly’s jewelry from before?” He was staring at me like he couldn’t fathom my interest. “It’s just, Lauren is growing up, she’s a teenager now and I thought-”
His confusion was replaced with a smile. “That she should have her mother’s things?” I nodded. “There wasn’t a lot, the pieces that were family heirlooms had to go back-” I shook my head at his father-in-law’s lack of charity toward his own grandchildren. “I have some, the ones that I bought her. I’ll get them and we can look them over.”
“That’s not all,” I squirmed on the bed as he returned to undressing, trying to get comfortable. Finally, I beat the pillow into submission and sighed in relief. “When was the last time her bedroom was upgraded?” This time he didn’t look confused at all. “If ours gets redone, so should hers, especially since she’s-”
“A teenager now,” he finished for me, and shucking off his pants and underwear all but leaped onto our bed causing me to squeal. “You keep reminding me, Liz.” He captured my lips for a heart stopping kiss. “You name it, and you get it.”
“Careful, Ike,” I breathed into his mouth, my hands locking on the back of his head and pulling him closer. “I have very decadent tastes.” And then, since I wasn’t nearly as tired as my day should have made me, Ike helped me work toward a well earned exhaustion.
Chapter 38: A Plan, A Meeting, and A Deal
Ike and Liz consider the changes they'd like to make. And Klein gets a taste of what he's been hungry for.
Ike was more than ready for my most decadent tastes, and he promised, as we both earned an exhaustion that might terrify my midwife, that we were just getting started. I was curled into him, using his body to cradle the bump that housed our baby, enjoying the feel of his skin against mine and the crashing waves we could hear through the crack in the sliding glass doors leading to the patio when I brought up the subject of our bedroom.
A tired chuckle, coupled with the slide of his fingers down my bare arm was the first answer I received. “After all that exercise, you want to discuss redecorating?” I smiled against his bare chest, feeling the delicious ache of my own muscles.
“If not now, when?” It was an honest answer. Between the running of the resort, my plans to meet with Klein, then another meeting with my father, presenting the divorce papers to Vera with hopes she’d cooperate, then a civil ceremony so our baby would come into the world in better standing than it was created in, when precisely did we have time to discuss it?
He sighed a little, but tempered the sound with a gentle kiss on my forehead. “Tell me what you’d like, and I’ll toss in my own ideas.” Fair, and so I did. I wanted to keep the beach feel, but make it a little less glitzy and a little more ship durable. Dark four poster bed with mosquito netting curtains, more substantial looking furniture. I’d seen the bed as Lauren and I drove past an antique furniture store downtown.
Ike nodded, his fingers still tracing my arm. “I like the image I’m getting. What if we add steamer trunks?” I waited, letting him paint his additions onto our visual canvas. “One at the foot of the bed, with extra blankets and pillows? Smaller ones for end tables, like that?”
“I think we’re getting there,” another kiss on his chest and we talked colors. White linen would be stunning against the dark wood. And the rest would lose the luster glow that seemed to be on every part of the penthouse. Which for now, I was fine with. “A vanity, near the patio would be nice.”
“As dark as the rest of the furniture?” He asked, growing into the conversation like I knew he would.
“The one in my bedroom in-” I shut my eyes thinking about my father’s house. “Ben’s house, would do. I liked it, even if my time under the roof wasn’t pleasant.”
“It’s yours, so I can have someone pick it up and bring it here.” He offered and I smiled. “Are there any other things that you want from the house.” And with a rush I remembered the piles of money. Damn it.
“Ike, there’s something I forgot to mention.” And laying in our bed, late at night, after making love and talking about redecorating our home, I told Ike all about the money and what we should do with it.
The next morning, over breakfast in the penthouse, Lauren was excited by the prospect of redecorating her room. After promising that I’d help her, I also had to beg off from doing it immediately.
“I have to go downtown,” I felt Ike’s eyes on me, the part of my day he wasn’t excited about. “I have an appointment with-” I stopped, not wanting her to worry. “A lawyer about my grandfather’s estate.”
She nodded solemnly, but her dad mentioned that he thought they had some magazines that would help her until I had the time to have a look raised her spirits back up.
I was dressed, like the day before and I had a feeling every day from here on out, by Ike’s hands. Skin to heels and gloves, he made sure I knew how precious he thought I was and I knew he was making me promise without words to be careful and safe. I had the ledger in a huge handbag that I’d bought during the shopping trip with Lily, and with him at my side, made my way downstairs. He helped me into the car himself, telling me that I should call him if ANYTHING went wrong and with one last lingering kiss, I told the driver where we were going and we were off.
I’d never met Mr. Klein during my first stay in Miami. I hadn’t a single clue what he looked like, or why he thought he could intimidate Ike. All I knew was the building I could find him in, and I hoped that my name alone would force him to take the meeting with me.
My driver looked uncomfortable letting me enter the huge building alone, but I could also sense his unease at the thought of going with me, making me wonder how deeply he’d been entwined in Sy’s business dealings before he came into my service. I assured him I would be fine, but also told him that if after an hour I still wasn’t out, to call the Miramar and tell Ike. Then I stepped out of the car, into the oppressive heat, and carefully took the steps into the building.
Asking the front desk where to go, I took the elevator to the floor I’d been directed to, and then I was in front of Mr. Klein’s guardian of the gate. My name. That was all it took, and within a moment, before I could second guess my decision I was led into a conference room. I noticed the board with photos of Ike, his sons, me, and Ben. I saw Sy, Lily, and even Bel. Al was gone, crossed out, but there were other faces that I knew by sight, but not name.
“Miss Diamond,” I was startled by Mr. Klein’s appearance. He reminded me a bit of a weasel or some other rodent type animal. Gesturing toward one of the many empty chairs around the conference table he took the one at the head of the table. Sitting down as carefully as I’d taken the steps, I noticed his eyes on my obvious condition. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
I smiled. “I had heard, once upon a time, that you wished to speak with me, Mr. Klein. It was unfortunate that I was called away on family business.” I let my hand fall to the top of my bump. “However, I’ve returned, and I wanted to give you the opportunity to finally have the audience you were so desirous of before.”
He studied me, hands templed in front of him, knowing that I wouldn’t be in his presence and clutches if I didn’t have a winning hand no doubt. “And so you just thought you’d pop in and let me ask you the questions I had before?” I tilted my head, but said nothing. “You and your father aren’t exactly close, are you?”
I snorted. Was it a dignified sound, no, but it was warranted. “No, we’re not close, Mr. Klein. How could we be? I was raised overseas, after all.” I waited for his next attempt.
“And he never visited?” A shake of my head had him moving on. “No calls or postcards?”
“Oh, he called, and there were occasional cards,” I waited, he couldn’t honestly assume that Ben “The Butcher” Diamond would have put down all his illegal dealings in a letter to his daughter when I was barely old enough to read.
“But no visits?” Another shake. “Why did he invite you to come to Miami?” Ah, the heart of the matter.
I smiled and took off my gloves. “My father invited me to Miami for the same reason you first wanted to speak to me, Mr. Klein.” He was staring as I folded my gloves carefully and set them aside. “He wanted to use me to trap Isaac Evans.”
“I didn’t expect you to-” I held up a single finger and he stopped talking.
“Trap Ike? No, but you wanted to use me to trap Ben, didn’t you?” I tilted my head and studied him. “What if I told you, Mr. Klein, that I am willing to hand my father over to you on a silver platter, with a little red bow?”
He was smirking as he answered. “I’d ask you what you expected in return.”
And that really was the heart of the matter, wasn’t it? What I wanted versus what he wanted from me. As I pulled Ben’s ledger from my bag, I had a feeling that we’d both get what we wanted, but my father would be feeling very put out, very soon.
Chapter 39: A Gift, A Vow, and An Important Job
Liz makes her play with Klein, and Ike reminds her of how much he loves her.
Mr. Klein was looking through my father’s ledger like Hanukkah had come early. I told him, in no uncertain terms that I expected him to give his word, in writing that the Evans family was off his radar. He gave it easily, having a secretary type it up with the normal inclusionary caution of adding the condition that I gave the evidence freely and fully. Simple enough. He knew, I know he knew, that there were pages missing, but he could see that he had more than enough without them to carry on.
“Another request, Mr. Klein?” He looked up at me, after I’d answered several more questions. “I want to be present when you give my father the happy news.” His eye brows rose in surprise. Perhaps a woman of my background shouldn’t have such a vengeful streak, but here I sat.
“You’d want to see me-”
“Arrest him?” He nodded. “I want to see his face when he realizes that I’m the one who helped put the lovely steel bracelets on his wrists, Mr. Klein. Will you agree to that?” Another nod. “Lovely, well, it seems I’ve been here quite long enough.” His secretary had brought my required proof of his promise, and I stood. “Don’t get up, Mr. Klein,” he hadn’t made a move, but I thought I’d be the one with better manners once again. “I’ll see myself out.” I pulled on my gloves in the elevator and was happy to see the car waiting nearby for me as I stepped out of the building. The driver had my door open as soon as I was within touching distance and I could see that he was relieved I’d come out within the time frame I’d given him. “Let’s head back to the resort, please.” I felt that Ike was no doubt ready to climb the walls, and I’d rather not put undue strain on the poor man.
He must have been watching out the windows of his office for the car or for me because Ike was opening my door before the car was completely stopped. And then my hand was in his and he was pulling me into his arms, in front of the hotel, arriving guests, and everyone.
“I haven’t been able to keep my mind on anything at all, Liz,” he was whispering into my hair. “You know what that man did to Judy.” I nodded, leaning into his touch, and smiling at how easily he was showing the entire hotel he cared for me. “Let’s head upstairs,” to the office, I thought, but he bypassed the actual stairs and took me to the elevators. “I want to be inside our own home when you tell me what happened.” He offered, his hand still holding mine.
Inside the penthouse, with the door barely shut behind us, he pressed me into the solid surface and kissed the breath out of me. Ike’s hands were curling along the curve of my backside as well as my bump, checking for what I wasn’t entirely sure, but with his mouth on mine, with our tongues touching, I truly couldn’t make sense of much.
“I hated having you out of my sight and in his clutches, Liz,” his breath fanning the dampness our kiss had left on my lips. “Trying to get anything done while I was waiting was a lost cause.”
He pulled away, and led me to the sofa. And then I was on his lap, his fingers pulling my gloves off, as I told him what happened. “I have his written vow to leave you and our family alone, Ike,” I pulled the papers from my handbag. “He’s agreed to let me accompany him to Ben’s arrest.” I felt Ike stiffen at the thought of another moment in Klein’s presence without him. “I’d like you to be there, if not in the room, at least waiting for me.” That helped him relax, and me as well. “Now, shouldn’t you get back to work, Mr. Evans?” I teased, looking into his eyes as his hands were sliding down the dress he’d put me in that morning.
“Work?” He squinted in thought. “I do have a very delicate job I want to do-” And then he was lifting me into his arms, and stalking to our bedroom. “I have to remind my future wife just how much I love her.”
And Ike Evans, ever the overachiever when it came to me, took the rest of the afternoon to make sure he did a very thorough job.
Chapter 40: Meetings, Chats, and Moonlight
Liz would deny Ike nothing, so she agrees to a favor without knowing what it is. A talk with Lauren gives her more to think about. But that moonlight, it's something else.
While I waited for Klein to contact me about Ben’s arrest, Ike asked me for a favor. I agreed, without knowing what the favor was, but knowing that I’d deny him nothing.
“I want a meeting of the people who hold interest in the Miramar.” I nodded. “I want you to be there, and I want to tell them that you hold a controlling interest.” My eyes widened, knowing that Ike meant Meg was going to find out just how little her fifteen percent mattered with my controlling interest. “I’ll be right beside you, Liz, but I want her to understand, as much as Vera has to, that YOU are the one I want. And Meg sees things in-”
“Terms of money, and control,” I finished for him. “Alright, when?”
When, I learned, was two days later, but he had good news for me as well. “Vera agreed to the divorce, she was a little surprised by the additions you wanted added.” I smirked. “She asked,” he took a deep breath and took my hands in his. “If she could talk to you, alone.” My smirk dropped and I must have gone pale because he was shaking his head and trying to calm my nerves. “Only if you agree, Liz, she isn’t demanding, and you don’t have to-”
“Yes I do,” I breathed. “I do, Ike. I owe her that much.” Closing my eyes, I breathed deep and easily, as Mimi had told me to. “Could you arrange for her to-” I considered when I wanted to meet with her. Should I try it before the meeting, or after? “Tomorrow?” I thought clearing the slate with Vera should happen before Meg gets her own warning. “Not here, though,” opening my eyes I looked around the penthouse. “This was hers, Ike, and I’d rather not rub my new position in her face.”
“How about if she meets you in the Atlantis before it opens?” Like I’d met Arthur for the first time, I smiled. “You’d still be in the hotel, but you’d be in a more neutral spot.” I nodded, agreeing to the logic of if. He kissed me softly and was smiling as he pulled back. “I’ll call her now, and then-” his eyes darkened. “Bed.”
We’d had dinner. Ike told me that my meeting for the morning was set, and I noticed that Lauren’s face dropped.
“First, before bed, do you want to show me your bedroom?” I asked her and she smiled. “Did you get a chance to look at the magazines your dad mentioned?” She nodded. “Let’s go, and you can tell me what you have in mind.” Ike kissed both of us, settling in on the patio for a cigar while we girls chatted.
Lauren’s room looked like a princess’ room should and I smiled. A princess that was much younger, though, and I could understand her longing for something fresh. She had me take a seat on her bed and sat next to me with the magazine she told me had the best ideas she could find.
We talked about colors, and patterns, giggling as she told me she wasn’t interested in the pinup teenie bopper boy posters that the pictures in the magazine showed. She had more sophisticated taste than I think Ike, or Vera for that matter had suspected and I was nodding more than I was offering suggestions. I promised her that, as long as my morning meeting went well, we’d go shopping afterward and she surprised me again.
“Vera won’t be as mean as you think, Liz.” I stared down at her. “She’s more angry that she didn’t get to make the move to leave first, I think, than she is that it ended.” I almost asked why she thought that, but stopped. Lauren shouldn’t be put in the middle of our mess. “Just know that she doesn’t hate you, she envies you.” I dropped a kiss on her forehead and told her goodnight. I left Lauren’s room wondering how she knew that Vera had wanted to leave Ike, but afraid to ask, and I thought it was unfair to ask her. She had enough loss, let’s not add her trust or affection for me to the list.
I leaned against the doorway leading to the patio and watched Ike enjoying his cigar. His tie was loose, the top buttons of his shirt undone, and he looked relaxed. Biting my lip, the waves crashing below us, I enjoyed the light breeze that felt so rare to me in Miami. My eyes closed, so I didn’t see him stand, but I felt the heat of him, I could smell the hint of tobacco from his cigar, and then his hands were cupping my face.
“Liz?” Opening my eyes, I looked up at him, thinking that Ike in the moonlight was like a masterpiece that should be hung in the Louvre. His sharp lines were softened. His eyes shadowed, his lips in sharp relief. I drank him in as I once drank those martinis he teased me about, thinking that a man like Ike was worth more than his weight in gold. “You’re looking at me like you’ve never seen me before.” His voice was so quiet that the waves almost stole it.
“I haven’t seen you, not like this,” my hands moved, sliding up his chest, to the first still fastened button on his shirt. Licking my lips, I wanted, no I needed, to see him bare in the moonlight. My fingers worked fast, the last button freed, and then I was pushing his shirt from his body, not nearly as roughly as I might have in our room. I was right, of course, seeing Ike bared, even if it was only his chest so far, was a sight I needed to see. My hands fell to his waistband, and then working as quickly, but just as carefully, I freed him from those as well. His boxers slid down next, and then he kicked himself free of both, seeming to finally understand what I wanted. “Step back, Ike.” I bit my lip again, seeing the moon highlight all my favorite parts of him, and feeling far thirstier than I ever had.
“Come here,” again a breath, and I fought to hear it and then comply. Stepping carefully over his pile of clothing, I met his hands, feverish against my skin as he worked as fast and careful to take off the clothes he’d redressed me in after my meeting with Klein and his bodily praise that came after. Soon I was as bare as he was, with only the moon, waves, and soft breeze touching us. He swallowed hard, the moonlight caught the movement and then his hands reached for me.
We made love on the balcony of the penthouse, after he promised that Lauren’s room didn’t have a clear view of where we were. And it was one of the most magical moments of our relationship so far, and when I told him that, he promised me that it wouldn’t be the last one.
Chapter 41: The Ex Wife and The Fiancée, Clearing the Air
Vera asked for something simple, Liz agreed to meet. Clearing the air, making peace. One chore checked off the list.
I managed, thanks to Ike’s vigorous help, to sleep well that night. Waking early, wanting to mentally prepare for my meeting with Vera, and not wanting to wake Ike with my worries, I tried to lay still in his arms. He sensed it, or felt me shift slightly, because his lips were on the back of my neck and his hands were cradling our baby’s currently living arrangement.
“I can call and tell her you’ll do it another day,” he offered, his breath wreaking havoc on my skin. I shook my head, my hands covering his. “Liz, you’ve got so much on your plate, if we can push one off-”
He was worried, remembering how sick I’d been in the beginning, I was certain. “If I push every unpleasant thing to the side, Ike, then it’ll pile up and be waiting there anyway.” I pressed tighter into his skin, his warmth calming me. “If I get all of it out of the way, then I can focus on us, the baby, our family, the future.” I felt him hum his approval. “That means, Vera today, Meg tomorrow, and Klein waiting in the wings to make his move on my father. And once that mess was taken care of, the enjoyable parts. Redecorating our bedroom and Lauren’s, getting ready for my first wedding to Ike, and then preparing for our baby’s arrival.
We relaxed in bed until the last possible moment for the two of us to get ready for our day. Ike felt the tension build since I’d asked to meet Vera alone, and I was starting to feel marginally more calm. If I treated each situation like part of a list of chores to check off, then it would be simpler. And so, after we dressed one another, after Ike kissed my bump and whispered to it, after he kissed me deeply and lovingly, after we told Lauren goodbye, he walked me to the elevator and took me downstairs to cross the first chore off my list.
The Atlantis was dim, as dim as it had been the day Ike first suspected I was pregnant. I was early, and happy to see it. Walking behind the bar, I opened the refrigerator and sighed in happiness when I found orange juice. Pouring myself a large glass, I looked up when I heard the hiss of the door being opened.
“Making yourself at home, I see,” Vera offered, but I couldn’t tell if she was being rude or not. “Could I have a glass of that?” I poured her one and set it on the bartop. “I’m not sure sitting at the bar would be very comfortable for you in your-” I saw her flinch slightly, but she seemed to push it down. “Condition. We could sit at a table.” I nodded and followed her to one of the booths close to the bar.
I slid in, having only a slight bit of difficulty when the booth curved around. “Good morning,” was my belated greeting, but it was met with a small smile.
“I know that I haven’t been-” she was looking down at the table, and seemed to be trying to apologize for her completely rational reaction to finding out about Ike and me.
“You reacted exactly how any wife would have, Vera, with less physical attacks.” I had thought she’d strike me, slap me, or call me horrific names. What she’d done was sneer and shown her pain. Hardly worth apologizing for. “I never meant for any of this to happen.” I was studying my glass, but I could tell she was looking at me, at the ring that gleamed even in the dimness of the room. Damn it.
“No, I reacted the way people expected a wife to react.” I looked up and saw that the smile hadn’t left her lips. “I met Ike right after Molly died,” I knew this so I nodded. “If I’d been more worldly, or if I was thinking with something other than stars in my eyes at him being my knight in shining armor, I think I would have seen what we were supposed to be earlier.” I waited, she wanted to tell it, and she needed to. “When you came along, I was so focused on Meg, on the thought that giving him a child of our own, of everything that wasn’t going to work to keep us or tear us apart that I didn’t see it.” I felt my mouth go dry, here it comes, I thought, the anger. “He watched you, you know, whenever you were here, his eyes found you without him even noticing. I told myself it was because of Ben. That the strain of being in your father’s debt made him want to keep you happy, but it was a lie I was telling myself.”
I wanted to tell her something to make her feel better, but I was at a loss. “I tried to stay away,” was all that I managed.
“I know,” her smile turned rueful. “I know you did, Liz.” She sighed. “I also know you helped barter a better deal for me in the divorce. How did you know?” Ah, about the pain she was in, how did I see it when others hadn’t?
“You are the most graceful woman I’ve ever met, Vera,” her smile stayed, but I could see she was going to wave me off. “You move like the dancer you are, but when you came upstairs when I first arrived? You were still moving gracefully, but it wasn’t as effortless.” She was watching me like she’d never noticed that I was so observant. “I know you love dancing, and I know that you want to stay a part of this hotel and family,” her eyes widened. “Surely you don’t think I’d be so cruel to want you out of our lives, Vera.”
“I don’t think I could-” I stopped her by reaching out and touching her hand, not grabbing it, but a slight touch so she could pull it away without feeling rude. She didn’t so I patted it.
“For six years you were a part of this world, his world,” her eyes met mine and I smiled. “Erasing you isn’t possible, and I wouldn’t want to.” Vera stared at me. “I won’t push, or press you into socializing with me, or with us, but having you fade away isn’t right, you have to see that.”
I went to Ike’s office after Vera and I finished up, rinsing out our glasses, and leaving them in the small sink. His secretary waved me in, telling me that Ike’s orders were for me to go straight in, whenever I came up to visit. Shaking my head, I opened the door to see him speaking on the phone with his back to the door. I watched him, paying no attention to the conversation he was having, simply enjoying seeing him work. When he turned around, his eyes landed on me and his dimples appeared. Ending the call soon after, he started to get up, but I told him to stay where he was.
“New Year’s Eve,” I said, moving closer, watching how at ease he looked behind his desk. “You were sitting right there when I came out of the bathroom,” the darkness of the night had been his backdrop then, his tuxedo causing his tanned skin to stand out even more. Now it was a stereotypical Miami day, bright and blue skies. “I asked you if I was looking at the master of his domain,” I was standing beside him, looking down and thinking how beautiful he was to me. “This,” I whispered, as he pushed the chair back and reached for me, “is your natural habitat, Isaac Evans.” His lips met mine, and I smiled into the kiss.
Ike was surprised and happy to hear how well my meeting with Vera had been. While I wasn’t sure we could count on her attending our wedding, I was certain that we wouldn’t be causing scenes in the hotel when we came upon one another. He told me that she’d signed the papers before our meeting, and Sid was working them through the family court system. Within the month I could finally become Mrs. Isaac Evans.