Palmer Ch. 09byhal_tee©
Grateful thanks go to the best editor in the world – thesoundandfury. And check out his new novel – Models and Super Spies. Thanks Ken, not only for your editing, but also for the constant encouragement, suggestions, and for helping me to become a better writer.
Chapter 9: The Catwalk.
From a security perspective, Sandra Wilson's apartment was perfect. Years in the Force had taught her to be safety conscious. It would be well nigh impossible for anyone to gain access without her agreement. While it may not have been the luxury that Roxanne Lopez was used to, it was ideal for keeping her safe.
"The bedrooms are down there," the female cop told the redhead, nodding at the small corridor leading off from the living area. "Mine's on the left. Choose from the two on the right. They're pretty small."
Her words were a statement of fact, not an apology.
"That's really nice of you," Roxanne told her, glancing around. "I really appreciate you letting me stay here, Sandra."
"Didn't have much choice," Wilson ungraciously said. It wasn't the inconvenience. She wasn't even sure what it was. It couldn't be jealousy, she reassured herself at the same time she looked between the redhead and Jack Palmer.
The redhead furrowed her brow apologetically as she rung her hands together. Sandra's coldness thawed a touch. "Sorry, didn't mean that the way it sounded. You're welcome here. I'll make some coffee."
Palmer shot Roxanne a comforting smile as Wilson made her way into the kitchen. She smiled shyly back at him, warming his heart. He picked up the overnight Gucci bag and led the way to the spare bedrooms. They looked at both. "Any preference?"
Roxanne shook her head. Despite her positive demeanour, she still looked a little disorientated. He understood. Shock and disbelief were hard things to shake. He chose for her, dropping the bag onto a stool just inside the door to the slightly bigger room. There wasn't much in it. Pink wasn't his style – and he hadn't really thought it was Sandra's, either – but it suited the bedroom.
"You okay?" he asked.
The redhead smiled again. It seemed an effort. "I'm fine, Jack. Shocked, but fine."
"No wonder you're shocked, the room is pretty basic," he joked. Her grimace told him to tread with care. "You and Savannah were close?"
Tears appeared in her eyes. "She was a good girl. I'm the one who should be dead, not her."
It was a normal reaction in such circumstances. Guilt complex. He'd seen it many times. Hell, he'd just gone through it.
"I understand how you feel about that," he replied, his eyes offering sympathy and understanding. "It's natural, Roxanne. But you can't change what's happened. We've got to take care of you now."
Her body trembled a little and she sat on the edge of the bed. She needed to steady herself. A single tear made it's way down her right cheek. "Are you going to take care of me, Jack Palmer?"
His heart beat a little faster. Everything about her perfect face brought him alive. The soft, wavy, red hair. Her mischievous green eyes that always gleamed, even in these circumstances. The full, red lips. Her perfect bone structure. How could this woman look any more beautiful?
His eyes smiled as he nodded. "Like you've never been taken care of before!" His voice was strong and firm.
"I'd like that," she smiled. For a few seconds their eyes danced with each other. "You married, Jack?"
For some reason the question shocked him. He'd almost forgotten about Kelli. His wife had left him and it was at the back of his mind?
"Yes," he honestly replied. "But she left me."
Roxanne didn't respond. Or ask anything else. She just nodded, and then hid her face in her hands. "Is this really happening, Jack?"
As usual, the five star Howard Swissôtel's exclusive underground car park was deserted. DeVere's block renting arrangement ensured that was continually the case.
As the tall, brown haired man climbed in the rear door of the entrepreneur's silver-grey Bentley, the familiar aroma of a Havana cigar filled the air. "Feels like home," the Prime Minister elect quipped.
DeVere smiled. It was a hard smile. Blair instantly knew his host wanted to get down to business and was frustrated by the need to first exchange a few pleasantries.
"George," the crew-cutted man acknowledged with a wave of his hand. "Tell me, things are progressing well?"
Blair decided to play along. DeVere would get to the point before too long. "Extremely well, Dominic. Dennis Price is worth his weight in gold. I understand I'm guaranteed all the votes I need."
"Yes," the grey haired man nodded. "We're on our way, my friend. It's good to see you feeling confident. Cocky, even?"
Blair threw back his head as he laughed. Yes, he was feeling good. "I feel like a winner, Dominic. That's all."
"And so you should," DeVere acknowledged, his mind clearly on other things.
Blair decided to find out what it was. No point in beating around the bush. "Yet something is bothering you, Dominic."
"What makes you say that?"
"My friend, we've known each other a long time. I know you too well. Why don't you just spit it out?"
DeVere pressed a button in the door. The raised window provided additional privacy. As cigar smoke circled the interior, the exhaust fan kicked into action. How should he phrase this? "It's Roxanne, George."
Blair breathed a sigh of relief. For a few moments he thought there was a spoke in the wheel, something that was going to provide a seismic hurdle. The young woman was no longer an issue. He waved a hand as if dismissing the subject without the need for further discussion. "As usual, you were right, Dominic. She provided too much of a risk. Don't worry anymore, I've sorted that problem."
DeVere snorted. "You've sorted the problem?"
Blair's blue eyes flashed. "That's right, Dominic. I've sorted it."
"No, George, you haven't sorted anything. I've taken care of that particular problem. As I do with all your problems."
Blair sneered in annoyance. Who was DeVere to speak to him in such a way? "You have? Is that right, Dominic? Pray tell how?"
The look on DeVere's face was chilling. Despite himself, Blair felt a tremor run through his body.
The crew-cutted man's voice was flat and cold. "She's dead, George." He carefully observed the changing expression on Blair's face. It was as if a thunderbolt had hit him. But that was only to be expected.
"Dead?" the politician gasped. "What do you mean, she's dead?"
"She was shot in her apartment."
"My God! When?"
Blair's shocked face turned to something else. Amusement?
"Did you hear?" DeVere repeated, bemusement flicking across his face at his friend's reaction. "She's dead!"
This time, George Blair laughed out loud. He leant across towards DeVere as if to emphasise his words. "No... she's... not... Dominic."
The entrepreneur reached out and squeezed Blair's arm. "Believe me, George, what I'm telling you is true."
"A couple of days ago?"
DeVere nodded, tightening his grip. "I'm sorry, George. My contacts are never wrong."
"Really? In that case, I suggest you look for new contacts, Dominic."
"George..." They said one another's names like they were in the midst of a sword dual. A jab here. A parry there.
Blair took DeVere's hand and gently removed it from his arm. "Dominic, she's not dead. She was with me Saturday night. All night. I told her we had to stop seeing one another. We were saying goodbye. She left me around this time yesterday morning."
DeVere's grey eyes stared at the man sitting opposite. His head began to ache. The lines in his forehead deepened. A mistake? How could it be a mistake? What was Giovanni up to? He wouldn't lie.
"There's been a mistake?" he weakly muttered. His mind whirred. Giovanni wouldn't lie. Who the hell had the Italian killed?
"I should say." Blair's body shook as he laughed. "Quite a big one from the sound of things."
"I'm sorry, Roxanne," Palmer's soft and apologetic voice said as he shook her awake. "But I need to ask a couple of questions."
She glanced down at the bed. Still in her clothes, she was covered with a checked blanket. "How long have I been asleep?" she asked, stretching and rubbing her eyes.
"It's eight o'clock. You've only had a couple of hours sleep, but I need to get moving soon. You can get some more shut-eye later."
"No," he smiled. "I've just been watching you."
A smile covered her whole face. She was so beautiful she gave him goosebumps. "That's nice, Jack" she responded, struggling into a sitting position. "But you look tired, too. When was the last time you slept properly?"
He gave her that lopsided grin. "I probably look like I've been dragged through a hedge backwards," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "It's been a few days?"
"You've got to take better care of yourself. Or find someone who will. You know, Jack Palmer, you and I have a connection."
Palmer's body heaved a little with excitement. She had a way of coming straight to the point.
"What did you mean, you thought you'd lost me once?" she continued.
He took her hand, alternating between stroking and squeezing. He tried to speak, but his voice was lost in his throat. Even his attempt to swallow was doomed to failure.
She understood. "Maybe we can talk about that over that dinner I promised you?" she smiled, raising her free hand to run a finger along his scar. "For now, Jack, tell me what you were doing moving into the apartment next to me. With your friends!"
He nodded. This wasn't an easy question either. His voice was husky when it reappeared. "We were bugging your apartment, Roxanne. I was monitoring what went on."
So much for dinner, he thought, waiting for the blast coming back at him. Her reaction surprised him. She wasn't angry. Or embarrassed. She was simply curious.
He stood up and wandered to the door, turning to look back at her. In for a penny, in for a pound. "We got wind of you, Brooke and Savannah and some very senior business and political figures. I work in Vice. We needed to understand what was going on."
She slowly nodded, evaluating his words. "How long did you have me bugged?"
"We'd just finished wiring your apartment when we bumped into you."
Her smile remained, though this time her face coloured a little. "Well, at least you kept your word."
"You said you wouldn't lie to me, Jack. Lots of men would have sidestepped that one." She swung her legs from the bed to the grey carpet. "So, you heard everything that went on that night?"
The way she sucked her bottom lip between her teeth and looked at with those large green eyes embodied everything he loved about Roxanne Lopez. She somehow came off a both vulnerable and sexy at the same time.
Palmer sighed deeply as he nodded. What would her reaction be if she knew he'd masturbated while she'd fucked her trick? "That's one of the questions I have," he softly said. "I need to know who he was."
"Why?" she asked. "Jealous?"
Palmer didn't flinch. "Well... actually... yes. Yes, I am jealous. But that's not why I'm asking the question, Roxanne. You know that."
Her face told him she was struggling to answer. That meant she was protecting someone. Why?
"He had nothing to do with this," she replied. "I can promise you that."
"His first name is Dominic. Dominic who?"
For a few seconds, she stared at him. He hit the same stonewall. "That won't help you, Jack." She paused, then stood up and walked across to him. "Listen... would it help you to know I'm retiring?"
Palmer felt that tingle run through him again. Her perfume filled his senses. "Roxanne, I'm not here to judge you. I'm just doing my job."
Her green eyes smiled up at him. "Well thank you for that, Jack. But what I meant was would it help you personally? Not as a cop."
He hesitated. Those gleaming eyes would reach any man's heart. "Yes, Roxanne," he truthfully answered. "That helps a lot."
Her smile broadened. Turning, she walked back and flopped back down on the edge of the bed. "So then Jack, what other questions do you have? As a cop, of course."
He sat beside her. "This is important to your safety, Roxanne. I can't overemphasise that. You're sure you've never heard of Giovanni?"
Her answer was emphatic. "Never."
He nodded. That confirmed his thoughts. "In that case, he's just the trigger. For someone who wants you dead. I need you to think about that, Roxanne. Who would want that? Why?"
The silence went on for a good thirty seconds. Her eyes flicked to his face. Then away again. She had something to tell him, but just as it seemed she was about to confide, the clink of china interrupted them.
"Thought I heard you two," Wilson said, walking into the room and handing them a mug each. "Coffee," she unnecessarily said. "So, what're the next steps?"
"You need to stay here with Roxanne," Palmer said. " I've just spoken to Burley. We're gonna meet back at Roxanne's apartment. I want him to sweep the place. Then I'll be back here. Okay?"
"Okay?" she asked, the grumpiness returning to her voice. "Sure, it's okay. Tell you what, we'll use this place as our HQ. I was thinking of turning it into a guest house, anyway."
DeVere pressed a button and threw the half smoked cigar out of the window as it whirred open. His face contorted in rage. First, Giovanni had fucked up. Now Blair was getting above his station. His anger was deafening – like steam pouring from a boiling kettle.
"I said, what do you mean, you've sorted the problem?" the Prime Minister elect repeated.
"I heard what you said, George," DeVere shouted, his temper snapping. "Listen to me. I am the one who helped plan out your career. I'm the person who provided the finance. I'm the one who has helped get you to this position. I'm the one who will make you Prime Minister. I'm the one who gave you Roxanne."
"You gave me Roxanne? Is that right—"
DeVere's angry voice stopped him. "Yes, George! All of what I've just said is correct."
"The fuck you did," Blair shouted back. "You introduced Roxanne to me. That's all."
With some difficulty, DeVere got hold of his temper. His voice dropped to a low whisper. He was much more effective when he was in control of his emotions. "You forget yourself, George. Your career is nothing without me, my connections, and my money."
He paused, allowing the words to sink in. Despite his distaste, Blair knew what he was saying was true. There was no denying it.
"When I met Roxanne, I could see the potential," he continued. "I nurtured her, helped her blossom. And when I introduced her to you, it was with one thing in mind. To invigorate you."
This was better. He was back in control again. He lazily took out another cigar and twirled it in his fingers. His cold gaze enveloped the brown haired man opposite. That look had intimidated people all over the world.
"She loved power as much as either of us. I knew she'd infatuate you. And of course, you succumbed to her charms, just as I knew you would. The point was, George, I wanted her to give you fire when you needed it the most. And she did."
Blair sat quietly. The shocked look in his blue eyes couldn't disguise his feelings, however much he tired. He was finding it difficult to take in what he was hearing. "She... she's a prostitute?"
DeVere laughed. A sneering laugh. "George, for someone so intelligent, you can be incredibly stupid."
Blair felt the cold air of realisation hit him. He shuffled back into the corner of his seat, trying to distance himself from the man opposite.
It made no difference to DeVere. "For every asset, there are liabilities. Roxanne became a liability, the one person who could pull you down. She could destroy all the effort I've put in to helping you get where you wanted to be. As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom you can change peoples lives, George. For the better. You can also open doors, George. That's why I invested in you."
The brown haired man's face had turned a deathly shade of pale. He had to respond, try to re-establish his position. His effort was half-hearted. "I'll always be grateful Dominic, but if you think—"
DeVere's upraised hand cut him off. This was crunch time. Time to ensure this man knew his place. "I don't think, George. I know! Everything is recorded. Every penny I've spent on your campaign. Some above board, some not. All your little rendezvous' with Roxanne. I'm your greatest asset, George. But, don't... dare... fuck with me!"
Blair's shoulders slumped. He had no answer.
Satisfied at last, DeVere lit the cigar. "Good," he continued, reinforcing his ascendancy. "Nothing changes as a result of this conversation, George. I'm here to support you. We just understand one another a little better."
The Baglioni hotel was beyond Kelli's wildest dreams. Located in that part of Milan where fashion, culture and business met, it was one of the most luxurious hotels in the country.
Their home for the next couple of days was the Presidential Suite. Erin had reserved them the best the hotel could offer. If the blonde model thought the Abercromby suite in Edinburgh's The Howard was special, this one simply took her breath away.
It was Erin's idea, naturally, that they shared the suite. The sumptuous sitting living room with its phenomenal view was large enough for two. The two-sink bathroom with its gold-plated faucets and whirlpool Jacuzzi tub was larger than her bedroom in London. And of course, the king-sized bed was large enough to be shared, too. Kelli tingled at that particular thought.
The hotel was the first of the treats waiting for her. The older woman had described the after show parties, repeatedly suggesting that the two of them find Max and take him back to their suite. You won't believe what he can do with that cock, she kept telling her.
Kelli couldn't wait. Yes, she still had inhibitions. The Agency Head had told her that was only natural. But after her threesome with Erin and her husband, the blonde was determined to overcome any shyness. She was determined to sample every experience she could.
Most important of all was the show itself. Erin had drilled that into her. Work hard, play hard. In that order. Kelli had never shied away from hard work. The fact it went hand in hand with doing something she loved just made it perfect. She'd give it everything.
This new lifestyle was going to be so much more exciting than anything she'd ever dreamed of.
She spent the morning of their arrival working out in the hotel's stellar gym, making sure her long, slim frame was perfect for the runway show. After that, Erin had booked a spa treatment for two of them. Massage, facial, hair, and a waxing. The last was done for Dominic DeVere, although it wasn't stated.
"You're going to love Fiera Milano City exhibition complex, darling," Erin explained as they lounged at the spa in their plush, white robes. "Eleven modern pavilions in the heart of the city. Countless fashion events each year. It's perfect for the Victoria's Secret extravaganza."
Kelli smiled at the older woman. She'd also read up on the historic centre. Everything she could. She wanted to soak in the history and culture of her new world. She wanted to make tonight the best night of her life.
And in a few short hours, she'd be in the middle of it all.
Surprisingly, she had few nerves. Or rather, the nerves she had were like little kicks of adrenalin running through her. This was the opportunity of a lifetime, illuminated by having Erin there to mentor her, calm her nerves and show her the ropes. How could she fail?
This was what Kelli had been born for. As much as she'd thought she loved Jack, she wasn't missing him at all.