Griffin Zale was nursing one hell of a hangover as he sat on the bench of the Monte Carlo casino. It was the afternoon, but since he hadn’t gotten to bed until six that morning, his internal clock wasn’t working right.
Never one to need a lot of sleep, he’d found liquor was the one thing that let him drift off into wonderland.
Only wonderland was never what he’d see when he closed his eyes.
Not in his childhood, nor the past several years.
In the past few months, his life was pretty much a walking nightmare that he couldn’t control. And for a man that needed to have control in his life, that was another nightmare in itself.
And that stupid bottle of whiskey he started to drink yesterday brought him right back to the tables. He’d been trying his hand at anything to win back what he lost and he was thirty grand in the hole now, wondering how the fuck he was going to come up with that money on his Army Ranger salary. More so when he was on leave trying to figure out what his next step would be.
“Hey,” another one of the rich dudes he seemed to be surrounded by said to the cute blonde hostess. Griffin had been watching the foot traffic and trying to wake his ass up and come up with a game plan. “Can you answer a few questions for me?”
“Sure,” she said. “I’ll try. I’m not normally doing this but just filling in. More like getting my feet wet.”
She looked a little young to him. Soft spoken too with a gentle French accent. He hoped this dude wasn’t going to hit on her too like a few others had been doing. That would be stupid with the guards all over the place. Anyone with half an eye could see she was being watched carefully for some reason.
“Great place to dip a toe in,” the dude said. The guy had on fancy clothes and an expensive watch. Probably about his age and any jealousy that Griffin felt he pushed aside just like the demons of his past he was struggling with.
“It is. What can I help you with?” she asked, brushing her hair behind her ear. Her hand wasn’t steady and he wondered if it was nerves since she’d more or less admitted she was new. Or maybe it was the fact she was watched so closely. Something more was going on with this chick that he’d noticed while he sat here.
“Just tell me about the shows and how they are set up. How do you seat and manage the crowd? Things like that. Who arranges what form of entertainment if you know that.”
“Oh,” she said. “I thought you wanted to know about the show tonight. I can help you with that. I don’t think I’m at liberty to tell you much more.”
The dude sent her a smile, glanced at her nametag and said, “Bella, right? What a pretty name. I’m trying to see how different casinos manage their entertainment.”
Bella turned her head to some men in another doorway. More security, he knew. They were in suits and probably hiding their weapons. Hopefully the dude could figure that out on his own. Didn’t look like he was going to hit on her unless it was some crazy pickup line he’d never heard of before.
“I don’t understand your need to know that,” Bella said.
“I’m opening my own casino in America. It’s in the works now. I’m traveling around the world checking places out for ideas.”
Bella frowned like she doubted him. Not Griffin. The guy had the look of wealth and privilege to him. One of a leader on top of it, even if he was being nice and not condescending. “Really? You seem kind of young to be building a casino.”
“Age means nothing,” the guy said. “Again, just looking for ideas. So why don’t you tell me about the show tonight? I purchased my ticket for the second show, but do you take walk-ins? If so, do you limit the amount?”
Bella looked over to the side again then back to the dude. At least he wasn’t being pushy and seemed to understand some of her hesitation. Must be he was more aware than Griffin was giving him credit for.
“We do leave some seats open for walk-ins, but I’m not positive the number. I guess it depends on the show.”
“And this show tonight? Is it one booked for a few weeks only or longer?”
“I think this one is for a few weeks. Excuse me a second,” Bella said as she moved to speak with another guest.
When Bella was alone again, the guy stepped back to her. “So back to my questions.”
“Is he bothering you?” one of the suited security men asked, coming over.
“I’m just asking questions about the show,” the guy said, smiling. “Got my ticket right here for later.” He pulled it out and held it up.
Didn’t seem to make a difference though. “Then you know when it starts and can leave our employees alone to do their jobs,” the security guard said.
“He’s fine,” Bella said. “It’s okay.”
“It’s not okay,” the big burly man said. “He’s been asking more questions than he should for a simple show. Maybe we need to bring you down for some questioning to find out the reason why.”
“Leave him alone,” Griffin said from his spot on the bench. “He’s doing exactly what he said.” He’d seen one too many rent-a-cops take their jobs too far and this looked to be one of those situations. He couldn’t let anyone get run over in life and made it his vow a long time ago when his world caved in on him.
“Two of you, huh?” the security guy replied and nodded his head to his partner against the wall.
“It’s all good,” the fancy dude said. “I’ll take my leave now.”
“Not quite,” the first security guy said. “We can do this the hard way or the easy way. Why don’t you follow us for a few more questions anyway.”
“The easy way of course,” the dude said with a smile still on his face. He was going to back up and move away and it was smart. But it was also too late.
Griffin was ready to get up and leave, but the second security officer moved to him and said, “Same with you. Easy or hard?”
What the hell? This is what he gets for trying to help the dude out. “Hard,” Griffin said. “I’ve done nothing but sit here and watch the scene. I have no idea who this guy is.”
“Why don’t we just go along peacefully?” the dude offered. “I’ll take care of any of your troubles or time.”
“No troubles because I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
The security guard reached to secure him and years of training kicked in. More so because of the fact he knew he wasn’t a hundred percent with his raging whiskey headache.
In one move he had the security guy’s arm behind his back and on the ground on his stomach, Griffin’s knees into his spine to keep him in place. These rent-a-cops sure the hell didn’t know shit if they could be brought down that fast, that quickly with a guy that couldn’t pass a sobriety test.
That’s when a gun was pulled, the fancy guy’s hands going up in the air and Bella gasping. “Dude. Move back. I don’t need any blood on my conscience.”
Too late, Griffin wanted to say. He had plenty of blood on his conscience and when the other security showed up with a gun pointed too, both he and the fancy guy had their hands in the air and were manhandled more than he appreciated and escorted into holding.
He could have taken them all down, but without a gun and too many innocent bystanders, it wasn’t worth it.
They were both put in a holding cell in the basement after their names were given for their backgrounds to be checked.
“I’m Eli Bond,” the fancy man said, holding his hand out. “Sorry about this. Griffin, right?”
“Yeah,” he said. “What the hell is wrong with you? Couldn’t you see how closely she was being watched?”
Eli snorted. “Yeah. But I didn’t think I’d end up here for asking questions. You can’t run a business like that.”
“You’re seriously opening a casino in America?” he asked.
“On Amore Island. You heard me tell them that. They can find my family and the island easily enough. They can search me and come up with my name and verify who I am.”
Griffin shook his head. Wealthy privileged he’d pegged the guy and he was right. “They will find out who I am too just as easily in government databases. They’ll also find out I’m thirty grand in the hole here.”
“You’re in the military?” Eli asked. “I shouldn’t be surprised, with the way you reacted just now.”
“Army,” he said. “And what does that mean?”
“It means something tells me none of them had a chance against you even looking like the bottom of a moonshine barrel.”
He cracked the barest of grins. “I’ve been drinking.”
“For days by the looks of it,” Eli said.
He was talking more than he normally did so he just lay back on the cot in the cell and put his hands under his head to stare at the ceiling.
An hour went by and another guard dressed a hell of a lot nicer came down. “Eli Bond?”
“Come with me. The owner would like to talk with you.”
He glanced over to see Eli looking unsure, but Griffin supposed the guy checked out and all was going to be dandy in his life now.
Eli turned to him. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”
“Appreciate what? Me getting you down here?”
“Well, you showed me one thing. What not to do in my own place. Or more like how to handle something like this.”
“You’re welcome, I guess,” he said sarcastically and went back to staring at the ceiling.
Another hour turned to two and he wondered if he’d be here all night while he tried to figure out a way to square up his debt.
“Zale,” one of the first guards from earlier said. The one he’d had kissing the marble floors. “You’re being let out.”
“Really?” he asked, finding this hard to believe and thinking he might be set up.
The guy unlocked the cell and he walked out, followed the guard down the hall and saw Eli standing there with a big grin on his face.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Let’s get some dinner,” Eli said. “I think you can use it and the only way you are staying in this place is with me.”
“I’m not into men,” he said sharply.
Eli laughed. “What makes you think I am?”
He followed Eli out of the basement and up to his room. One much nicer than Griffin could afford to be in. “Then what are we doing here?”
“Having dinner,” Eli said and tossed the menu at him. “I want privacy for this.”
He could take the guy out in two seconds but was curious as to what was going on. “And what do we need privacy for and why am I only allowed here with you?”
“Because I just squared up your debt and I’m here another week while I meet with the owner and his niece, Bella.”
“The blonde you were talking with that got us into this mess?”
“You got us into this mess. Not me. I was talking. And I could have talked my way out of it or walked away. But this works out better.”
“What does?” he asked, looking at the menu. He was starving, but he hated being in debt to anyone and the fact the guy just squared up his thirty G’s wasn’t sitting well with him. He’d find a way to pay him back.
“I need a bodyguard here. I don’t trust Oliver—the owner—or his security. So you’re hired for that thirty grand to travel with me until you’re off leave. Or is that not a good deal for you? I suppose I should ask if you’ve got family or someone to get back to.”
“I’ve got nothing,” he said. “And you’ve got a deal.”
“Perfect. Let’s eat and I’ll fill you in.”
“How do you know you can trust me?” he asked, feeling better about the steak he was going to order.
Eli laughed. “You just got guns pointed at you and thrown into a cell trying to stand up for a stranger. I owe you regardless. I think I’m a fairly good judge of character that you won’t slit my throat and steal my money while I’m here, but if you do, then I’m a bigger fool than I thought.”
“I don’t think you’re much of a fool at all,” he said. “Unless a blonde is involved.”
Eli laughed. “They do tend to be my weakness. Just a fair warning.”
“Then let’s eat and get you some hair of the dog. Maybe you’ll be a little more personable without the hangover.”
Griffin smiled for the first time in months. “This is as good as I get.”
“Well then,” Eli said. “Maybe I need the liquor to get through this, but something tells me, it’s going to be a fun ride.”