The fifth Lucky O’Toole Vegas Adventure
Trouble always comes in threes. At least that’s what Lucky O’Toole, the VP of Customer Relations for Las Vegas’ primo Strip casino/hotel, the Babylon, has heard for years from her mother. So, tonight, when Teddie, her former lover shows up at her office unannounced and very unexpected, her father offers Teddie a job at the Babylon, she is called to deal with a pig in residence at one of the hotels most exclusive and opulent suites, and Lucky’s current lover, Jean-Charles Bouclet stops answering his phone leaving Lucky to handle his five-year-old son, Lucky figures she has tonight’s compliment of chaos covered.
As usual, she is a tad optimistic.
With a cadre of celebrity chefs with the maturity of teenagers in Vegas for a televised cook-off, a prized Alba truffle in the Babylon’s care, and her mother’s pregnancy racing toward the inevitable, what could go wrong?
When the truffle is stolen from the walk-in in Jean-Charles’ gourmet burger joint at the Babylon and a young chef apparently killed with a smoking gun is found in Jean-Charles’ food truck on the back lot, trouble takes a sinister turn.
And Jean-Charles still isn’t answering his phone.
Another body is discovered. This one stuffed in an oven at Jean-Charles’ eponymous restaurant and set to broil.
Desperate to put a lid on the body count and more than frantic over her AWOL lover, Lucky uses her Vegas contacts to search in places and in ways the police wouldn’t or couldn’t. Teddie insists on riding shotgun. Lucky hasn’t the time nor the resolve to say no. She’s never been able to resist Teddie … not really. With danger dogging their heels, Lucky finds herself falling once again under his spell as they traverse Vegas, being drawn deeper and deeper into the highly competitive world of high-end eateries and the battle for the very rare, most highly prized gourmet foodstuffs.
Would somebody really kill for a truffle?
In a heartbeat.
And when Lucky’s path crosses the killer’s… will her goose be cooked?
EXCERPT: LUCKY CATCH By Deborah Coonts
After I reholstered my phone, then once again tucked an arm under one of Christophe’s legs, I eased him in to a more comfortable position on my back. A shiver hit me as I contemplated what awaited me on the back lot. Who was the dead girl? And why would someone kill her?
I so did not want to deal with death today…unless I inflicted it.
Apparently the Fates didn’t care—my day was galloping off without me and, unless I wanted to be left eating dust for the foreseeable future, I figured I’d better deposit the boy with his father and jump into the fray.
Jean-Charles Bouclet, Christophe’s father, was a world-renowned chef who signed on to develop the signature restaurant in one of our new properties, Cielo. While he was tinkering with recipes and menus, he’d agreed to open a gourmet burger joint in the Babylon’s shopping area, the Bazaar. Strictly for fun, the Burger Palais was an engaging trifle for a man of his abilities.
Let’s hope he didn’t view me in the same way.
Yes I’d spent the night with Jean-Charles—a long, languorous, passion-filled rendezvous. Capped off by a pancake breakfast then a hot, hurried tryst in the bathroom behind closed doors and obscured by the soundtrack from Thomas the Tank Engine. I was probably scarred for life and most likely in need of serious chiropractic care, but my heart hummed and there was a spring in my step even Teddie, Mona and my father couldn’t flatten. Romeo? Now he just might. Murder made me twitchy.
But, one problem at a time.
On the far side of the lobby, just past Reception, I angled to the right and entered our high-ceilinged temple to the Gods of Conspicuous Consumption—the Bazaar. The glistening white marble floors continued from the lobby, the intricate inlays in brightly colored stones beckoning like the yellow-brick road.
But the Bazaar was way better than Emerald City.
Christophe still clung tightly, although he was awake now, as I dodged the window-shoppers eyeing all manner of goodies from French jeans, serious bling, and high-end shoes—my weakness—to the latest Ferrari—another weakness. Yes, even though immune to most of the city’s vast array of excesses, I’d found it impossible to live in Vegas, the Consumption Capital of the World and not get bitten by the bug. Samson’s, our salon—billed as ‘the place where a woman’s every need is met’—looked like it was doing a land-office business. Its double-wide, twenty-foot-high wooden doors thrown open, the beauty salon displayed some of its more obvious treasures—long-haired, beefy young men dressed in scanty togas and gladiator sandals who balanced trays of fluted crystal filled with Champagne and proffered them to the waiting patrons.
A couple waited outside the Temple of Love, the Babylon’s wedding chapel. The woman was fittingly dressed in a white bikini topped with a fishnet cover-up that really didn’t live up to its billing, six-inch white stilettos, and a red rose peeking out of the string bottom half of her swimsuit. Her platinum hair draped in a flowing wave, ending just above the backs of her thighs. The groom, fully a couple of decades older than his blushing bride, sported white tie and tails. Surrounded by a mismatched gaggle of people who I hoped had some relationship to the bride and groom, they chattered excitedly. Never one to judge, I hoped the happy couple wouldn’t be looking for a lawyer and a bottle of aspirin in the morning. Weddings were easy in Vegas. Annulments? Not so much.
Vegas, we get you coming and going.
Now there’s a tag line the city fathers could be proud of.
Jean-Charles’ Burger Palais held a primo spot just past the Temple of Love. Perpetually open for business in this 24/7 Vegas world, the restaurant had yet to fill—the morning only now segueing toward the lunch hour. A lone hostess manned the station out front. Looking far too perky she gave me a smile as I walked though the door heading to the kitchen in the back.
With exposed brick walls, drippy mortar, rich green leather upholstery, white tablecloths and subdued lighting, the Burger Palais stood as testament to its proprietor’s taste and savvy and so much more than a burger joint. In short order, the hungry hordes would descend. In preparation, the kitchen was up and running at full bore. Billowing water vapor hissed from the steam tables. Smoke rose from coals just reaching red-hot in the grill then was quietly vacuumed into a huge hood and vented outside. Prep cooks… prepped. Everyone in clean whites danced to a silent, shared rhythm—the normal, pulsing tunes absent. That could mean only one thing: Jean-Charles was within hearing range.
Rinaldo, Jean-Charles’ right-hand chef, a huge, towering mountain of a man with three chins, dark dancing eyes, and a mop of curly black hair, paused to give me a grin as he checked the coals. “Can’t decide which of the Bouclet men to hang with?”
“Each has his particular charms.” I tossed him a smile. “Jean-Charles in the back?”
“In his office.” Rinaldo gave me a silent warning. “But, between you and me, I wouldn’t go in there without a stun gun and a Tazer.”
“That bad?” My chef could be mercurial, but I’d never know his bad humor to faze Rinaldo.
As if on cue, escalated voices rose above the kitchen noise… French voices. Two of them. One male—that one I recognized. The other female. Rinaldo shrugged in response to my questioning glance.
Christophe provided the answer. “It is Aunt Desiree,” he whispered in my ear, a hint of awe in his voice. His little legs beat against my sides as if spurring me forward.
“Hold on there, big guy. I’m not a pony.” After a moment’s hesitation, I followed the voices toward the far corner of the kitchen where Jean-Charles had partitioned a makeshift office.
As we rounded the corner, we caught Jean-Charles, his face crunched into an angry frown, and a woman who looked exactly like him, but for the obvious distinctions, in mid tirade. Catching sight of us, both fell silent and whirled in our direction.
Neither of them smiled.
Walking into the middle of a fight always made me nervous. “I’ve interrupted.” I glanced between the two of them. Tension clouded the small space like a bank of dense fog. “I’m sorry.”
Christophe didn’t seem to feel the same as I. He squealed in delight and wriggled down my back. “Hang on. Hang on,” I said as I bent my knees so he could safely dismount.
The second Christophe’s feet hit the floor, his legs started churning, propelling him, arms open wide, toward the woman. “Tante!”
A look of love smoothed her scowl and bent her lips into a smile. Throwing her arms wide, she dropped to a squat. “Mon petit chou!”
The boy ran into her embrace almost knocking her over. Jean-Charles placed a hand on her back, steadying her. Balance restored, he stepped back then smiled at me, breaking the hardness in his eyes—although, his cheeks remained flushed with emotion. As he moved to wrap me in his arms, I wasn’t sure exactly which emotion.
His hugs were strong, infused with sincerity, which gave him a huge advantage… huge. Was there anything better than a heartfelt hug? At the moment, and considering the venue, I couldn’t think of one. “Lucky, you have done something to me.” He nibbled my earlobe making rational thought impossible.
My arms encircled his waist. “I’m sorry to interrupt.” That wasn’t really the truth, but it sounded good as I sighed into his embrace. He felt good. We felt good.
I’d felt good with Teddie, too—a reality I didn’t want to acknowledge. What had I missed? I pushed him from my mind, which was way easier than pushing out of my heart.
Love … the slippery slope to self-destruction.
Jean-Charles must’ve felt me stiffen as he loosened his hold and stepped back. “I am sorry. I am being rude.” With a sweeping motion, he gestured toward the woman who now stood, eyeing me with a cold yet quizzical gaze. “Lucky, may I introduce my sister, Desiree. We are twins. She is two minutes older which makes her, how do you say it, a boss?”
“Bossy.” I answered before thinking.
“This is it.” Jean-Charles clapped as if he’d been given a present. “Bossy. She is bossy. Yes.”
Desiree eyed me with a hint of amusement coupled with a dose of curiosity. Her eyes were blue like her brother’s, perhaps a shade darker, but equally as expressive. The same high cheekbones and the same wavy brown hair, although hers held the light kiss of the summer sun. Thin and incredibly chic in her casual dark slacks, stiff white shirt with the collar turned up and the perfect Hermes scarf knotted around her neck, she would be intimidating even to a woman much more self-assured than I. She rose out of her nephew’s hug. With her hands on Christophe’s shoulders, she held her nephew, his back against her legs.
“’Alo,” she said in that perfect lilting accent that made everyday words transcendent.
I wanted to hate her. Actually, I wanted to turn and run, but neither was appropriate. Instead, I extended my hand. “I’m Lucky.” At a loss as she raised one eyebrow I stammered on. “I work here. I mean not here here. I work for the Babylon.”
She smiled and took my hand in a firm grip. “Yes, my brother, my daughter, and my mother have told me about you.”
“A legend in my own time.” I shrugged as my cheeks reddened—I could only imagine the conversations. Chantal, Desiree’s daughter had also been witness to my morning attire and presence in her uncle’s house. Being sixteen, she’d connected the dots.
“It is a pleasure.” Desiree nodded as she let go of my hand.
“Likewise. I knew Jean-Charles had a sister I just didn’t know you were twins. You both are stunning—so much alike.”
“Yes,” Jean-Charles leapt off the sidelines and into the fray. “And we fight like animals—like we are one mind and one heart but two persons.”
“That’s not so bad.” I looked first at him, then to her.
“You have brothers or sisters?” Desiree asked, cocking one eyebrow at me, her mouth turned down at the corners in mock amusement.
“Sort of. I have Mona.”
She looked confused.
“My mother, fifteen years older than me, she is more trouble than I can handle.”
“Ah,” Desiree nodded. “This happens many times in my country as well.”
I doubted anyone in France could rival Mona, but I kept that assessment to myself. “I didn’t know you were coming to town; Jean-Charles didn’t mention it.”
Desiree glanced at the floor, then back to focus on something over my left shoulder. “He did not know. I had some… business… to take care of.”
Jean-Charles explained. “Her company is providing the truffles for the Last Chef Standing competition. They are very special truffles, but there is a problem.”
“I see. You will be ready for the competition, right?” I didn’t know a truffle from a trifle, but I figured all my experience with problems might be of use. “Anything I can help with?
Desiree muttered under her breath. Jean-Charles silenced her with a look. Ah, siblings. To be honest, I had no desire to get in between the two of them—I could still sense their tempers, barely contained, like the flow of hot lava under a thin, cool surface.
“We can handle it. Thank you.” Desiree answered.
Jean-Charles gave me a reassuring look, although I thought I caught a hint of waver in it. “But of course.”
At second glance, he looked confident. Relieved, I nodded. “Well, I’ll let the two of you get back to your… conversation…as long as you promise there won’t be any bloodshed.” Then turning to my chef, I explained with a shrug as a perfunctory apology. “As usual, life has gotten the better of me. Duty calls. I thought I could keep Christophe longer, but I’ve got to go. Detective Romeo… ”
Jean-Charles’s tentative smile dimmed.
I waved away his concern. “I’ve got to go.”
“Thank you for delivering my son. Had you called I would’ve been delighted to fetch him.” A hint of worry flickered across his face, snapping his brows into a frown and the conversation stumbled into an awkward pause.
These moments confounded me—I always felt like flinging an inanity into the empty air to keep the conversation going. Then there was the whole hug-or-not-to-hug question. To kiss or not to kiss. Mixing business with pleasure… I shook my head and moved to go.
Luckily, a hurtling body flew into the room, saving me from myself. Even though I ducked out of his way, he still smacked into my shoulder.
Spiked black hair, tats, kohled eyes, dressed in all black kitchen whites, a vaguely familiar young man skidded to a stop in between brother and sister. Neither Jean-Charles nor Desiree looked excited to see him. A moment of quiet, then a torrent of three raised French voices as each of them peppered the others, gesturing wildly.
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