Deleted Scenes – Part 4
New York vibed well with Sugar. Even in dirty Penn Station, with people cruising past, cops standing around, and pickpockets manning the walls, looking for unsuspecting tourists. She rode the escalator up, duffel bag over her shoulder and a big attitude begging a mugger to try her.
Unsuspecting tourist, she was not. An ATF badge allowed her to pack her bag ‘o fun: guns, knives, ammo. The K-9 unit on patrol stopped by her twice during the train ride, both times the handler nodded and moved on. This was so much easier than flying the friendly skies.
Plus she had more than two hours to map out her plan for the day in the comfort of business class and plenty of leg room. Her to-do list was concise. Find the apartment, meet the team, pretend her partner was off doing…partner-ish things.
She surfaced to a chilly morning air, determined more than ever. Pulling this off without Jared wasn’t impossible. Marco was right. It was high profile. Lots of eyes were on this undercover operation, but no one would call up Mister Westin if he was MIA. Jared’s asshole, king of the world reputation finally came in handy.
Sugar passed the taxi line, walked half a block to hail a cab. With a whistle, she was at home-sweet-home ten bucks later. Not the greatest building, but it was the perfect location: five blocks from her burlesque theatre and half a block from the practice studio. Her apartment key was with the bellman in an envelope. The note inside read apartment 2306.
It was a tiny apartment stocked with burlesque dancer-in-training essentials: exotic coffee table books, stacks of DVDs, and props. Feathers, fans, boas, her closet filled to the brim with glimmer and shimmer. Sugar swallowed away nerves as she eyed a shelf of tassels, closed the closet door, and went to the window.
I can do this. I can do anything. Just calm down.
This was the fashion district, right next to the theatre district. It was midtown, just west of Broadway. The high-rises across the street had giant windows full of pinned-up, half-dressed mannequins and fabric swatches tacked to the walls in various states of creation. On the ground level, she spotted a store that sold nothing but buttons, then one that only sold zippers.
A man pushed two rolling racks of costumes down the street and around a street vendor who’d backed onto the sidewalk. Sugar held her fingers to the glass and pretended to pinch the little people walking on the street below.
New York. So much palpable energy. So much creative excitement. She could love this place almost as much as she loved GUNS. If only she was as comfortable here as she was in a gun range.
The noise jarred her. The brilliant solo plan didn’t include anyone knocking on her door. At least, not quite yet.
“Sugar? Hello?” The high pitched, singsong call of a man’s voice left her mute, in place, and nowhere near that door. “Sugar Chase, I know you’re in there. I spotted you in the lobby.”
It had to be someone from her new team. Saying hello was the right move, but her stomach turned. She hadn’t enacted Operation Jared’s-at-the-store. “One minute.” Who knew if she said it louder than a whisper? Shit. She wasn’t ready.
“Sugar? Come out, come out, we’re ready to dance!”
Could that voice be any more…Broadway? This was getting very real, very fast.
Crossing the apartment, she peeked through the peephole. A blond-haired man, gelled and manscaped, smiled and waved to her.
“I see you,” he sang out to her. “You’re looking at me. Pretty, yes, I know. Let me in.”
She coughed out a laugh. This was the crazy train and she’d signed up for the ride. Sugar unlocked the two deadbolts and the man pranced in.
“Took you long enough. I’m Richard.” His name fluttered into the air, full of pizzazz. “You can call me Ricky. All my friends do.” He spun around the room, taking the pinup décor and bump-and-grind-sexy adornments in. “Love how this place looks. Love!”
Ricky looked….hell, acted, nothing like his FBI one pager. Yes, he was her choreographer, but given his background on paper, she expected…someone a little more menacing. “Hi.”
“Oh my, we have our hands full, don’t we?” His eyes started at her boots and worked up to her gaze, his head shaking disapproval with each sweep of his gaze. Somehow, she was surprised that her leather getup and tight t-shirt didn’t meet approval, but then again, none of it had a tear-away option.
“You’re with the FBI?” she asked.
“Takes all kinds, honey. Or Sugar. I read that you like Sugar.”
“It’s my name.”
“Right.” The word came out long and annoyed. “Should we get out our guns and thump chests? Maybe do a push up contest. Would that make you feel better? Though I’d much rather get an iced mocha latte and talk about your posture.”
My posture? What’s wrong with my posture? She wasn’t sure her and Ricky would be friends after all. Maybe she better stick with Richard. “So you’re here…because?”
“Hmm. I think you need a massage. And maybe a snack. A wheatgrass smoothie. Does wonders for the mood, you know?”
Don’t cats get high off wheatgrass? Maybe she needed a partner for sanity’s sake, if nothing else. “I’m fine. Thank you, Richard.”
“Ricky. We’re friends, remember? Anyway, you’re the talent. Come up with a crazy demand or two, otherwise, this won’t work. And where’s Jared Westin? Everyone’s been buzzing about him. Even I know who he is, and I’m up to my eyeballs in Christina Aguerilla power ballads and glitter. I had no idea this op was so important.”
And there’s the question she should’ve prepared for better. “He’s at the store.”
“What store? We can handle whatever you two need. Remember, you’re the talent.” He enunciated the words like she couldn’t comprehend. “We’re the help. Lovely, right? The list of phone numbers should’ve been in your intel package. Get into your act on day one. That’s what I always tell my clients. Play your part by being your part. You, my dear, are the super-high maintenance, sexy-sassy showgirl that I’m dying to teach how to shimmer.”
Sugar pinched the bridge of her nose. This couldn’t possibly be real. “So you actually work for the FBI?”
“You’re going to be a handful, aren’t you? Well, when Jared gets back from the store, we should meet up with—”
The door swung open. “Back from the store, baby cakes. Paper thin walls, good to know.” She knew the baritone voice without looking.
“Oh my god, Jared Westin. It’s an honor to meet you,” Ricky squealed.
Oh my God, Jared Westin. No, no, no. Her stomach dropped and her mouth went dry. Forget the how or why, this was not good.
He nodded to Ricky, who bounced on the balls of his feet and had his hands clasped against his chest. Jared tossed a small box to Sugar. She caught it one handed and looked down. It was a box of candy with a note. Mister Westin, thank you for partnering with the ATF. We are thrilled to work with a man of your caliber. Please don’t hesitate to call if you need anything. Best wishes, Marco Nunez, Special Agent in Charge.
Son of a bitch.
Jared smiled, sarcastic. “There’s a lot more where that came from. I have a basketful of thank you goodies.”
“Man.” She was so very fucked at the moment. “I’m going to kill that kiss-ass.”
“I don’t understand,” Ricky said. “Weren’t you at the store?”
Jared turned to him. “You’re Richard?”
“Yes.” Ricky beamed.
How did he know that?
Ricky’s head bounced up and down. “Yes, sir. But like I was telling Sugar, I mean, Sugar. We’re on the job already, have been for days. I’m the help. Whatever you need, just—”
“I need to talk to Sugar.”
“Of course. If you need—”
Ricky looked at her. “He has his role down, you should take notes.”
Nope, this is Jared’s normal, sparkling behavior. “Thanks for the tip, Richard.”
“Ricky.” With a last glance at Jared, Ricky left them alone. So much for her solo plan.
“Baby cakes, where shall I begin?” Jared remained across the room. He dropped a bag from his shoulder. Neither of them moved. Their ten feet spread did nothing to knock out the all-encompassing intensity that poured from him.
“I could explain, but what’s the point?” She jutted her chin out, trying to look confident in her decision.
“Explain anyway.” He crossed thick arms over his equally broad chest. Damn, he was built like a tank.
“I didn’t want a partner, and I don’t need one for that matter.”
“Yeah, I did.”
He marched forward until he had her pressed against the wall, arms still crossed over his chest, but it didn’t matter. She couldn’t have escaped him if she tried.
“Your boss sent over cookies and chocolates. Guess he’s worried that you won’t live up to your name.”
“My boss is a suck up who reneges on his word. Screw him.”
“Good thing I don’t work for you.”
“I’m fuckin’ pissed off, Sugar.”
“You didn’t have to come here. You sure as hell didn’t have to cover for my ass.”
He unwrapped his arms and placed them against the wall, on either side of her head. “You have any idea why I said no to you?”
She would have ticked off the reasons on her fingers, but couldn’t move without touching him. Her voice threatened to shake, but she wouldn’t allow it. “Because you’re busy. Because this is beneath you. Because—”
“We’ve always been to the point with one another. You’re lying now and you lied earlier. I didn’t take you for a liar.”
“I’m not. It’s work. Things had to be done.”
“You didn’t tell me this job was to take down a rapist and stop mass market distribution of Kevlar piercers.”
“Small jobs for you. Why’d you say no?”
“Are you done lying to me?” he asked.
“If you are. You didn’t care about this op. Why focus on low level street crimes when you can take out an international gun dealer with no more effort than a conference call?”
“Fair enough.” He locked his eyes on her, stilling her breaths. “If you can’t carry your own weapon, you need adequate back up. That’s not me. I’m benched. A GSW in my calf, and shrapnel shredded bicep muscle. I’m bad cover for another week.”
“That’s why you said no?”
“More or less.”
“If we aren’t lying, than I want the more. Tell me.”
They stared, silent, waiting for something and feeling the electric charge that pulled them closer. He leaned over and she could feel his lips hover near her earlobe. “I want more too. I like a challenge, and you scream just-try-me. That, Sugar, is my hold up.” He didn’t touch her, didn’t have to. Tingles exploded down her neck, shooting toward her navel. Jared drew back, again locking eyes. “You’re a cool chick and fuckin’s gonna ruin everything.”
The pounding in her heart reverberated into her throat. The tips of her fingers tingled. Everything tingled.
He righted himself. “Nothing to say?”
She took a breath, regaining her composure. “Easy fix. I’m not interested.”
She pushed around him and made her way to the door, sucking in a head-clearing breath. No one was in the hallway anymore. A note fluttered to the ground. Meet at the studio in an hour. Stop at the café, first floor. Wheatgrass smoothies are to die for. XO, Ricky.
Jared walked to the closet, then turned around. “Holy shit. You ready for some tassel action?”
She closed her eyes, trying to keep it together. Jared and Ricky both had a death wish.
“Shut up, J-dawg.”
He chuckled. “Have I ever mentioned Thelma?”
She turned to look at him. Great. He had a wife? Girlfriend? “Nope.”
“She’ll be here later today. I couldn’t grab her on such short notice. But be warned. She burps, farts, drools. The girl eats everything. And this is a small apartment for the three of us.”
She blanched. “Excuse me?”
He laughed again. “You’ll know her when you see her. Try to make her feel at home. She isn’t used to…these meager accommodations.”
Jared didn’t need to turn her into Marco. By the end of the day, she’d be off this project, probably off ATF’s roster of agents, but be back at GUNS.
(I KNOW SOME OF THIS WAS IN BOTH WESTIN’S CHASE AND CHASED. BUT IT WAS ALSO *SO* DIFFERENT! MORE CHAPTERS TO COME! CHECK IN ON APRIL 8TH.)