Excerpt from Savage Alliance
Dozens of patrons crowded the corridors. The museum accommodated the number with ease, but that did little to placate Duncan Reed. While greeting his admirers, he scanned faces and evaluated tuxedo jackets for hidden weapons.
His landscapes and still lifes replaced the customary artwork and would be on display through the following week. However, since tonight's event doubled as a fundraiser, Duncan reminded himself to be cordial.
He and one of the attendees locked eyes. The mayor of Las Vegas. Duncan nodded toward him as he stepped around a smaller portrait. It sat on an easel next to one of the massive marble beams that broke up the area. The mayor was safe. The subject of the portrait was not.
Oscar awarding winning actress, Coral Francesca, didn't pose the kind of threat Duncan feared that evening. Nonetheless, a threat she was. Since she slithered her way toward him at that moment, he stopped and raised his guard.
He had been on her arm the evening she won Best Supporting Actress. It was one of many events that netted him the label, Taste of L.A. Crooking her wrist, she closed the space between them and placed her forefinger on his shoulder. After a telling pause, she slid it down the arm of his tuxedo. "I'm terribly sorry to hear about the fire, dear." She shook her head and tsk'd. "Such a shame. I hope you didn't lose everything."
His everything appeared from around a corner. He lifted the side of his mouth. The difference between the two women caused him to accept a more sensible view of the fire's results. He may be temporarily living in a hotel, but his wife and family were unharmed. The crime ring responsible was depleted and on the run.
Coral glanced over her shoulder at the subject of his grin. His Nickie glided across the floor in an ivory sequined, tea-length gown. He'd purchased it for her during an undercover operation. The back was high enough to cover her scars. In contrast, Coral's dress was fire-engine red, a halter gown that exposed her back from the clasp at her neck to just above her buttocks.
Nickie smiled and greeted each patron with a raised ivory-gloved hand. The gliding and the gloved hand—they was necessary. He understood this. However, he preferred her as the unrefined Detective Nickie Savage. A brassy, complicated and selfless woman who wore black boots, tight pants and often spoke like a sailor. Although he appreciated each hat she wore, tonight's hat was rather disconcerting.
"Hello, Coral," Nickie said as she approached. "Thank you for coming to the fundraiser this evening. I do hope you're hungry."
"Oh goodie," Coral said and checked the backs of her nails. "Small town food."
Nickie dropped her chin and nodded. "If you're worried about the menu, no need. I believe the chef has prepared a red-wine braised duck with capers and lemon." She smiled and tilted her head. "If you're just being a bitch, don't eat."
Coral rolled her eyes. "I see Johnny and Bebe. I think I'll make my way to more suitable conversation." She rotated on the balls of her five-inch heeled ice-pick sandals and slithered away as slowly as she'd approached.
Nickie's smile faded. "I shouldn't have done that."
"It was the highlight of my evening," he said and brought her gloved fingers to his lips.
She lifted her chin and pulled her shoulders back. "Tonight is important. The ticket price has a friggin' comma in it. I can't believe how many people showed up."
Her poised posture may have been unnerving, but at least she spoke like his Nickie.
"Child Rescue needs this money." She placed her hand over his heart. "Thank you. This is going to fund their next jump team to Central America. It could help rescue dozens of children."
"You're welcome. Let us get through the evening. We leave first thing in the morning to start our search for Fu Haizi. You are right to begin your search for the rest of the organization in their weakened state."
"Or I just thought it was a good time to go since we're homeless and all."
A cell phone rang.
"Nickie, my wife," Duncan said. "Your dress is ringing."
Nickie blushed as she reached between her breasts to retrieve her cell. "Savage," she said into it and turned away. "How many children? The Belmont Stakes? That's tomorrow."
Duncan looked around. Dozens of people were here to view his work and donate to Child Rescue. He was the host of honor.
"I'll be right there," she said and spun to face him, an apologetic expression written over her face.
They exchanged a silent conversation before he gestured toward the back door. She nodded and slid her hand in his.