tagRomanceKarma Ch. 02

Karma Ch. 02


Chapter Two: An unexpected visitor

It was pitch black outside when I woke up needing to use the restroom. The clock on the nightstand said it was a little before 6:00 AM. My mouth tasted terrible. That just wouldn't do. I had to take a toothbrush to my teeth right now.

I grabbed a robe and wrapped it around myself. It was too early for this crowd to be up, but there was no way I was taking chances around Rod. I hurried out of my room toward the bathroom and stopped dead in my tracks. Five feet away, staring at me with equal surprise was Melissa.

She didn't let that surprise stop her from softly closing Rod's door behind her and holding a finger up to her lips. Her robe was loose; her hair was in wild disarray. Even after all that bastard had done, and all the time that had passed, I still felt a momentary surge of jealousy. With a snort to myself, I forced it down. I really was an idiot to have any emotion for Rod other than contempt.

I smiled and shook my head. Daddy had outdone himself in getting a woman that suited him this time. I wondered if he knew his sweetie was sleeping around on him. If he knew, did he care? Regardless, I certainly didn't. I motioned for her to go on without saying a word. Neither Rod's past nor Melissa's present infidelity was my problem. If Daddy didn't know that someone was diddling his darling on the side, it only sounded like fitting justice to me.

With a languid smile, Melissa opened Daddy's door and slipped back inside.

I locked the bathroom door behind me since I didn't want Rod walking in on me. Rod had a bad habit of doing that to me and my friends. I did my business and decided to shower so I could dress and get the hell out of this cursed place before people started getting up. The last day of the viewing would be soon enough to look at them.

As I dressed in my room a few minutes later, I kept glancing at the vial of cocaine. My hand itched to put it in my purse, just in case. I almost did, but in the end, I left it there and locked my door behind me on the way out. There was no need for me to be worried someone might see it. The maid would leave the locked room alone in her morning cleaning rounds.

I smiled maliciously as I boosted Conrad's spare keys from the hook by the door and let myself out. I could take one of the other cars in the three-car garage, but this would piss him off, and that made it the perfect choice.

In a few minutes, I had his SUV on the road into town and my stomach was starting to growl. I tried to find a place that was open for breakfast this early. And it needed to be someplace that I wouldn't run into any of Mother's family.

The first place I saw that fit the bill was one of those all-night diners. It looked like it should have had a flickering neon sign. The coffee was probably going to rip the lining out of my stomach. Screw it. I parked and walked in past two truckers on their way out. I saw them stare at me and knew I didn't quite fit the usual customer in this place. Good.

The waitress that seated me looked a little worse for wear. Her frazzled bottle-red hair threatened to escape from her hairnet in the same way her tits tried to escape her low-cut top. In this crowd, that probably earned some good tips.

"What'll it be, Hon?" She sounded like she should give up her two-pack-a-day habit while she still had a throat.

I looked at the menu. "What won't kill me?"

The waitress - Alice, her tag read - laughed roughly. "If I had a nickel for every time I heard that. Go with the omelets, and the coffee isn't too bad."

"Fine," I said. "Give me a veggie omelet, no onions, and a coffee."

"You got it."

I forgot her as soon as she swayed off to another table. I let the black cloud of thoughts flow over me and put my head into my hands. This depression and anger always seemed to be waiting for a chance to slip into my head. My life sucked.

I shook my head to force the negative thoughts out. Fighting these black moods and self-criticism was a never-ending battle. I knew I wasn't being fair to myself. Until Mother died, I'd had my life turned around, at least some. Actually, Gina and Margot had turned my life around.

Gina, especially, had finally told me that I needed to change. She'd been pretty firm, too. I yelled and screamed. I threw a tantrum. I sulked. And when the choice became clear that I'd lose my best friends if I didn't do something, I'd started changing. Years later, with what seemed like their tireless support, I was still fighting to change. In the process I'd found out that I didn't really know who Regan Thomas was, though in the last few years I'd started looking forward to meeting her.

After a few minutes, when Alice set the coffee on the table, I dragged myself back from the depths of my thoughts. I looked out into the parking lot while I sipped the paint thinner she called 'not too bad' coffee. I think I was wrong. She didn't smoke at all. She just drank this stuff.

A beaten up, muddy Land Rover lumbered into the parking lot. A man in a worn leather bomber jacket climbed out and stretched. My imagination placed him as a construction worker. A handsome construction worker. He looked a lot better than the average customer in this joint did. Forget this joint. He looked a lot better than most men anywhere did. Fit and trim, he probably worked out. And his walk...

He walked up to the doorway and smiled at Alice while she flirted with him. I gave him an automatic once-over as she led him down toward the empty table next to mine. Tall, with a ruggedly handsome face and dark eyes framed in straight black hair that fell to his shoulders. With the beat up leather jacket covering his torso, it was hard to be certain, but he seemed muscular. His walk exuded an air of confidence without the usual arrogance. That was an unusual combination in men, in my experience.

When he stopped beside my table, I knew what was coming next: the come on. Men only had one thing on their minds. His words startled me, though. "You're Regan Thomas, right?"

"Do I know you?" I asked with a frown.

His lips curved a little. "Probably not, but I know you. I'm Antonio Di Ricco. I'm so sorry to hear about your mother." He offered me his hand and I shook it automatically while trying to recall the name.

When I did place it, my frown deepened. "I remember someone by that name, but he was my father's age," I said. "A big guy, kind of, you know, round."

He nodded. "That's my dad, Big Tony. I came with him to see your dad a few times when we were teenagers. The round part happens to men in my family if they don't work out," he added with a grin, "and even my father would tell you that since he never works out, he's fatter than hell. Mind if I join you?"

My memory clicked. I remembered him now, a skinny kid that resented his father dragging him around. I remembered overhearing his father tell Daddy that he thought his kid would give him a stroke or end up in prison or, more likely, both. After hearing Daddy agree with his friend, I decided to avoid the kid.

Well, that was then and this was now. I wasn't inclined to let Daddy make my calls anymore.

"Sure, have a seat. I remember you now," I said with a nod. "So, if your dad is Big Tony, does that make you Little Tony?"

He shrugged as he sat, although I saw the barest flicker - an echo of some long ago pain - in his eyes. "I just go by Tony. I don't like being compared to my father." He looked at Alice, and pointed at me. "I'll take whatever she's having."

"Okay, Tony it is," I said as Alice sashayed back off. "I didn't think you knew my mother or father so well."

"I don't," he agreed. "My dad got word too late to make it here. I'm here in the area for work, so Dad called to ask me to come in his place. You know, wave the family flag."

That I understood all too well. "Mine usually just tells me he wants me somewhere and then expects me to obey."

Tony laughed. "My father lost that hold on me when he disowned me and tossed my sorry ass out of his house on my seventeenth birthday."

I sucked in my breath. "He disowned you? That's terrible! If he did that, why come here for him at all?"

Tony shrugged again. "I'm not here for him. I'm here for myself. I'm a Di Ricco and we pay our debts, both money and honor. My family should be here for yours at a time like this so I'm here."

I nodded, impressed despite myself.

"Besides, throwing me out was the right thing to do," he continued, "even if I didn't like it at the time. I was a real punk. In his place, I'd have thrown me out, too. "

"Wow." I knew that Daddy, Melissa and Conrad all understood money, but I doubted any of them even knew that honor existed. I shook my head and leaned back as my omelet arrived.

Alice smiled at Tony. "I put a rush on yours, sugar."

I took a bite and decided it probably wasn't immediately fatal.

Tony smiled at Alice. "Thanks." Then he stood and took off his jacket; I was right about him working out. His black tee shirt did nothing to hide his solid physique.

I felt a moment of physical longing, but repressed it. The very last thing I needed now was a complication like him in my life. Other women could have casual flings but I'd never been able to be that way. If I slept with a man, it was because we were in a relationship for the long haul - not that the long haul ever seemed to last more than three or four years for me. Men being men, I doubted that my four-year record was in any danger.

Fortunately, men were not my only option when I was horny. Having a bit of fun between the sheets was different with another woman; for whatever reason, I had no problem with the idea of casual girl-girl sex - sometimes very casual. I wouldn't be jumping into bed, though, with a disowned...

"What do you do for a living?" I asked as I continued to eat slowly.

"I'm in construction," he said, confirming my first impression. "We're building an apartment complex at a job site about three hundred miles down the highway."

I'd guessed right. I smiled. Too bad a relationship was out of the question. Still, it was for the best. He'd just use me for my body and my money and then cheat on me in spite of both. He was a man, after all.

"That sounds very interesting," I said politely.

"No, it doesn't," he replied with a grin. "I can tell that swinging a hammer isn't very interesting to you, but that's okay," he said, forestalling my objection as his expression sobered. "If there's anything that I can do for you, all you have to do is ask. I didn't know your mother, but it was obvious to me that she loved you. I could see it even when I was a kid."

Men didn't usually surprise me. Not even when I found out they'd been sleeping around.

"And if I do need to ask you for something, how would I get hold of you?" I finally got out. I figured it was time for the line about how 'if I wanted to get a hold of him all I had to do was put my hand out.'

Instead, he dug out a worn leather wallet and pulled out a card. He flipped it over to write on it. "Here's my cell number," he said. "If you need anything at all, call me. Day or night." He handed me the card and I looked at the numbers written in a strong, bold hand. A flip of the card showed it wasn't his card. It was for some truck stop. I could only imagine why a man would have the number for a truck stop in his wallet. I'll never understand men.

I slid the card into my purse and considered him silently as his plate arrived and he seasoned it to taste. "Do you miss the world you had when you were growing up?" I asked.

He grinned at me and took another bite of his omelet. "What's not to miss? Having money to burn and no idea how I want to spend it? Having my dad try to mold me into someone just like him? Frankly, I'm better off not having everything laid out for me," he waved his fork at me. "Not that I'm better than anyone else."

There was some pride in there. He and I had a lot in common. A lot more than met the eye, I thought.

"So you were a rebel without a clue?" I asked. "Trying to find a place and way for yourself?"

"Oh, hell no! I knew exactly what my goal in life was; I was being a pain in my father's ass," he said. "People think it's easier to be rich. We both know that's not true. Hell, if I'd gotten a tattoo back then, my dad would have tossed me out even faster."

"You have a tattoo?" I asked with more interest than I'd expected and certainly more than I'd intended to let on. I'd considered getting one when I was younger, but the horror stories were just too much for me to get past. "What kind?"

"A mermaid - on my left butt-cheek," he said before taking a sip of his coffee.

"Bull," I said with an unladylike snort. "No way do you have a mermaid on your ass."

"True enough. The tattoo is classified, so I have to spread some false stories to keep my adoring public guessing."

I shook my head and smiled at him. "I bet. Do you keep a club in the car to drive them back?"

"Actually, it's a Louisville Slugger. Works every time."

We ate slowly and talked about our lives as spoiled rich kids for almost an hour, though it seemed like only a few minutes. When I looked at my watch, I'd been thinking we had plenty of time to keep talking, and I was a bit shocked to see that the funeral home would open in less than twenty minutes. The quick burn of disappointment surprised me, both in its depth and in the fact that I'd felt it at all.

I didn't know when I'd ever been so comfortable just sitting and talking with a man. I supposed our shared past helped, but he was neither fish nor fowl. He wasn't a rich guy that grew up like Rod, or a poor schmuck like the truckers that shared the diner with us. He was different from the men I'd associated with in the past. He was exotic.

Part of me wanted to stay right here talking with him. That made me feel a bit closer to him than I'd ever felt to anyone outside my clique. I'd never been chatty with guys, but I felt a connection with Tony that I'd never expected.

Regretfully, I grabbed my purse. "I've got to go to the funeral home. I really wish we had more time to talk because it's been fun."

He pulled out a twenty and tossed it on the table, silencing my objections. "If I can't spend my money on breakfast with a friend, then why have it? I'm going to go to the viewing and I'll be here for the funeral, too, so we can talk again. I'd like that."

His hand briefly touched mine as he stood up. An electric tingle unsettled my stomach. I reminded myself that I didn't need this kind of entanglement, that he was just a man and couldn't be trusted, even if part of me seemed to want to trust him. Even with everything Gina and Margot had done to help me, I still couldn't bring myself to trust men. I could almost feel Gina frowning at me and sighed.

"Let's set something up before we leave the viewing then," I said, making the decision to go with my emotions rather than my brain.

He smiled as he slid his jacket on. "I'd like that. I'll see you there." I watched Tony's perfect ass walk out the door and sighed. I headed for the ladies room. God willing, I wouldn't catch anything in there.


When I arrived at the funeral home, Tony was talking with Daddy. I could tell right away that Daddy had no idea who he was, and that he was getting an abbreviated form of the same introduction I'd gotten. Melissa was giving Tony the eye from behind Daddy. I recognized the look. While her behavior didn't surprise me, the sudden spike of jealousy stunned me.

What the hell was that? I'd just met the guy, and already I wanted to club the competition in the head like a baby seal? Was I seeing her as competition? That surprised me even more. He wasn't mine, and I wasn't dating him, so that thought had no place in my head. I forced it back down, composed my features, and walked up to them.

"There's no need to stay in a hotel. We have plenty of room at the chalet," Daddy said.

Tony shook his head. "That's really not necessary, sir. I don't want to disturb your family."

"Absolutely not," Melissa said with a wide smile. "We wouldn't hear of it. You're staying with us, and that's final."

That last bit was loud enough for Conrad to overhear from his post beside the coffin, and he hurried up, smoothing a sudden worried look. "Hello, I'm Conrad. What's this about the chalet?"

"I've decided that Tony should stay with us tonight rather than at a motel," Daddy said with a smile. "It makes no sense to see all that space go to waste."

From his facial expression, Conrad was looking for a way to back out of that commitment before it became final. I was sorry about Tony being trapped with Melissa, but I wasn't about to let Conrad have his way.

"Daddy's absolutely right," I agreed, stepping up beside my father. "We have six rooms, and the place would just rattle with all of us there alone. Please Tony, take a spare room. It's no trouble."

Melissa shot me a calculating look. Then she nodded, her brain already working the angles. "Yes, Tony. Please do," Melissa added. Weren't we a fine pair of conniving bitches?

Trapped, Conrad nodded. "Of course, we'd be happy to have you."

"Well, since you all insist, I'll do it," Tony said, glancing at Melissa warily. Right then I knew that whatever else he might be, he was smarter than the average bear.

That thought was so arrogant and presumptuous that I snorted at myself. That got me a frown from everyone. I coughed to cover my slip-up. "Sorry, my throat's a bit dry."

Daddy quirked an eyebrow at me and headed for the front door with Melissa on his arm. Conrad seized the moment to cut Tony off and start talking. Conrad loved to talk, and his favorite subject was himself.

I looked at the casket and dozens of Mother's family were milling around her. I slipped to the side of the room and made my way back to the area near Mother. A couple of the older women were looking at her and speaking in low tones to one another. Not low enough for me to miss hearing, unfortunately.

"It's a terrible shame, her having a daughter like that," one of them said. She was some kind of great aunt. The woman next to her was her sister. The matching sour expressions were a good clue about that. Her words solidified my anger, gave it focus.

"Yes," her sister agreed. "Regan had such potential and was such a great disappointment to her mother. She married well enough but her other habits," she tsked disapprovingly.

I wondered angrily, which of my failings she meant. God knows I'd had enough of them to piss my mother off.

"I mean, really! She's one of those drug sniffing hippies," Sister A chortled.

I almost laughed. She thought I was a hippie. Puh-leeze!

"And all those rumors about her and..." she looked around and lowered her voice just a tiny bit. "And all those women she slept with. She's not only a slut but also a lesbian! Imagine having a pervert for a daughter!"

A spike of pain shot through my head as my heartbeat thundered in my ears. The room turned red. I shoved the wreath to the side and it fell with a crash. The sisters recoiled from me as if I were the Devil herself.

"She was never ashamed of me!" I snarled. "You don't know me! You don't know a thing about my relationship with my mother! How dare you?"

Conrad was there in a flash. "That is enough! You've disgraced yourself and our family," he gloated. "Get out."

"You," I said, turning on him, "are full of it, too. Do you think marrying into a family makes it yours? You're even more of an outsider than I am, you poser. My mother may have married you, but she at least loved me."

He wagged a finger in my face and glared. "Go call one of your little dyke friends for a drug party and leave the people that loved your mother alone to grieve! You're obviously drugged out or you wouldn't behave like this in front of your mother."

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