I'll Say Anything, page 1part #1 of Jasper and Finley Series
Table of Contents
Published by Wildbloom Press
Copyright © 2014
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, any place, events or occurrences, is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Dedicated to the readers
Thank you so much for all your support!
“I dare you.”
Those are the three words that got me into this mess. I've never been able to turn down a dare, and my roommate, Jasper, knows it. He says my automatic, knee jerk reaction came built into my DNA. So there we were, staring at each other across our retro-red kitchen table as the hour ticked closer to three. That was the magic hour. The time set for my interview. The one Jasper goaded me into and that I was now starting to regret.
“I still think you should wear something more...more...appropriate,” Jasper said with a glance at my outfit.
Looking down the front of my body, I assessed the situation: newer jeans with wear in all the right places, suede belt, and a matching suede vest the color of a newborn fawn. It looked all right to me. I met Jasper's critical gaze with an arched brow. “What do you mean, more appropriate? It didn't say to come decked out in diamonds and pearls.”
Jasper pulled the bright pink paper closer and followed along with a finger as he read. “The flyer says, Woman needed to decorate the arm of local bachelor for city event. Clothing provided. $300 for three hours of work. See there? That word 'decorate'? I'd at least wear a dress of some kind if I were you.”
“Jasper, you know I don't own a dress.” For two days, that damn flyer had become the bane of my existence. Ever since Jasper had found the casual advertisement on the employee cork board at work and brought it home to show me. That was the same day he elicited the dare.
“You have to have something in the closet. A skirt, even? Come on. I've seen you in a dress before.” Jasper speared a hand into his hair, leaving the light brown layers askew in the aftermath. He wore it short, but not short enough to prevent his bangs from falling rakishly across his brow. Male models in prominent designer ads had that kind of hair, the kind women wanted to run their fingers through. A thoughtful expression cut across his angular features, pulling at the small white scar slicing his right eyebrow in two.
With my elbow braced on the table, I pointed a finger at his face and said, “When was the last time? I can see you thinking about it, trying to remember.”
He snapped his fingers and pointed back at me. “That waitress job. The one you kept for three days until you quit. You had to wear that short black skirt and the blood red corset.”
“That wasn't a dress. That was a torture device.” I'd hated that job with a passion. Waitressing wasn't my thing. Not old enough to serve guests liquor, the obstacle had put a damper on which guests I could take orders from.
“It was still a skirt.”
“It was a scrap of material pretending to be a skirt,” I argued. And I was right. The tiny black skirt had barely covered the important things. It was still somewhere in our two-by-four closet, snuffed out by scads of denim and cotton. “Hardly appropriate for an interview like this. Besides, it says right there that they provide the clothing. As long as they see I have some kind of shape, who cares what I wear?”
Jasper exhaled and folded the flyer.
“What?” I knew that look. The exasperation that wasn't really exasperation. Jasper was trying not to laugh.
“You. That's what,” he said.
“What about me?”
“You're wasting time. Don't miss the interview.” Leaning back in his chair, he sprawled out, crossing his long legs at the ankle and his arms over his chest. He too wore denim, a bit baggy through the thigh and tapered over a pair of construction boots. The plain white tee shirt covering his chest had several grease smears near the collar and hem. Another streak of grease colored the smooth line of his jaw.
“No, you don't get off that easy. What's so funny?” My pointing hand dropped to the table. I didn't want to look at the clock, didn't really want to go on the interview no matter how much I needed the money. It was an easy three hundred bucks, though, I argued with myself. Three hundred bucks that could go into the kitty toward our new business.
“You could always walk in there naked. Then they'd really see what kind of shape you have,” he retorted with a bad-boy gleam in his eyes.
I snorted a laugh. “I might not have much up top, but I've got an ass that belongs on a runway. Go ahead, deny it.”
Jasper cringed, recoiling like the thought of looking at my ass physically hurt. “Hey now. Hey. I wouldn't know since I've never looked. And no,” he said, pushing up from the chair, “I'm not looking now.”
Watching with no small amount of amusement, I wadded up the flyer and threw it at his head. It pinged off his shoulder as he walked across the small apartment toward a door in the living room wall.
“Always did have a bad aim.” Taunting me, he disappeared through the open door and closed it with a decisive bang. He shouted a muffled reminder. “Don't be late!”
Our apartment, a one bedroom wonder converted from a corner of the attached garage, served its purpose—but just barely. Jasper and I, friends for years, shared the queen bed in the only bedroom and jockeyed for time in the miniscule bathroom. Our décor was a mélange of garage sale, thrift store and hand-me-downs. The cherry red kitchen table with its shiny silver trim, reminiscent of something you'd find in a soda shop in the fifties, was my favorite piece of furniture.
The saving grace was the double-stall garage that Jasper and I rented from our landlord. There we worked on cars, saving as many pennies as we could in the hope that one day, we could afford to open a real mechanic shop. It had been our dream since childhood.
Getting elbow deep in grease right now sounded wonderful. Having our own garage sounded wonderful, too, which meant dragging my backside to the dreaded interview. The money was too good to pass up. I made a whopping eight-dollars-and-fifty cents an hour at my current job, requiring many hours and lots of headaches to equal what I might earn in one short evening. Rising from the table, hitching my jeans an inch higher on my hips, I headed for the front door.
Ten minutes later, ensconced on one of the buses running through the city, I was on my way.
The sights of the Las Vegas strip occupied me during the ride. As the scorching desert heat pervaded the interior of the bus, leaving a faint sheen of sweat on my brow, I studied the outline of a pyramid, the faux cityscape of New York and a fake Eiffel tower. I preferred to examine the showy architecture rather than the myriad collection of occupants making their way to and from whatever destination held their fancy. There were always three kinds of people using the public transit system: those new to Vegas, dazzled by the thought of jackpots and glitzy shows, and the wizened regulars, senses dulled by the hectic pace, the reality that Sin City wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Then there were the Disillusioned. The ones who started out with pocketfuls of
Jasper and I had moved here a little over a year ago, when he was twenty and I was nineteen, after Jasper's return from a year away at college. We were kids with a plan and the energy to put it into action. Too young to gamble, we felt secure in the knowledge that we could work and save, promising ourselves never to become one of the Disillusioned. There is much to love about this glamorous town, and so far Jasper and I had followed our plan to a tee. When we weren't working on cars for extra cash, Jasper had a job as an usher at an exclusive club and I worked at a local souvenir shop, a job I loathed with every fiber of my being.
All that was about to change. Next week on August twenty-fourth, I'll turn twenty-one. The day I hope to get a better job at a casino, one making tips to supplement a regular paycheck. My one attempt at waitressing had failed spectacularly—I wouldn't be applying for that kind of job again. Olympus, one of the newest, biggest and most elaborate hotel-casinos in Vegas was currently hiring, and I already had an appointment.
That was me, Finley Carson, moving on up in the world.
After four stops and a delay in traffic, I got off the bus and made my way along the sidewalk, dodging people while I aimed for the doors of an upscale restaurant sitting just off the strip. It was one of those buildings with smoked glass windows, potted palms and charm for miles. The late afternoon sun glinted off brass fixtures, the one-hundred-five degree heat turning the metal handle into a hot brand that burned my palm when I turned it. Sucking in a last, lung searing breath, I stepped inside. A cool blast of air washed over me like a tsunami, ruffling the ends of my hair. I'd chosen to wear the tawny mass long and straight, thinking it made me look older.
Booths—the kind with real leather and high dividers that allowed for a modicum of privacy—lined two long walls. A few tables sat in a hop-scotch pattern through the rest of the open space, situated near lush plants that obscured diners from view. Straight ahead, a hostess stood behind a tall podium, menu in hand, a perky smile on her face.
I remembered that smile well. The one I had to use in my old waitressing job come hell or high water. Smile, smile, smile.
“Just one tod--”
“I'm here to see Tyler,” I said, cutting to the chase and putting us both out of our collective misery. The hostess paused, lips shaping an 'oh' of understanding. The quick once over she gave my attire made me wonder if Jasper hadn't been right after all. Maybe I should have picked up a cheap little dress for the occasion. I'd rather gag than wear them, though, so I satisfied myself with my outfit and followed the hostess to the left. The restaurant turned out to be bigger than I initially thought. Passing by at least fifteen booths and tables, she led me up a short flight of stairs and took another left turn. Here, the booths were more elaborate and private, set apart from the rest.
Tyler must do all right for himself, I thought.
All the booths were empty save one. The hostess arrived at a U-shaped design with a vacant chair near the end of a glossy table. Four men waited, sprawled out in various stages of relaxation. Three with brownish to dark hair, one a dirty blonde, all dressed in casual but expensive clothing. Designer brand clothing, I noticed. The only reason I paid any attention was the big deal Jasper made out of my own outfit. Now I was suddenly clothes conscious when I didn't typically care about brands and designers. None of the men present seemed to be much older than their middle twenties.
I hooked my thumbs in my back pockets and smiled at the quartet. “Hi, I'm Finley.”
The hostess departed while the men's attention swerved and landed smack on me. Their jovial banter came to an abrupt end.
“Oh, right. You're the three o'clock, friend of Jasper's. Sit down, please,” one of the brown haired men said, gesturing to the chair.
I had the strange impression that the men were silently laughing at me, though I couldn't say why. Maybe it was the twitch of the blonde's mouth, or the exaggerated exhale of another.
It didn't matter. I was here for the easy three hundred dollars.
Taking the seat, I scooted it closer to the end of the table and hooked my ankle across my opposite knee. When I realized I was slouching too much, I sat up a little straighter. Some habits died hard. I was that girl who sat atop fences, straddled chairs backwards and slouched when I sat. Today I needed to be less like a tomboy and more like a lady.
“Finley Carson,” I said, confirming my name as well as my appointment.
“Nice to meet you. I'm Tyler.” He paused to point out and introduce the others. Joshua. Dalton. Landon.
“Nice to meet you, too.” I didn't offer my hand. Neither did they, and I couldn't be sure if that was a good or bad sign. They were Jasper's co-workers, so perhaps the men felt right at home, disinclined to stand on ceremony. Which was just fine with me.
“All right, so. This is a pretty straightforward job. What we're looking for is someone who doesn't mind mingling at a party. Really, you'd just be playing escort for a gentleman who intends to spend about three hours there before leaving. That sound like something you can handle?” Tyler asked.
“Doesn't sound hard. What kind of 'event' is it?” The flyer had said 'city event' and I wanted clarification in case it turned out to be some strange ritual with blood and chickens and chanting. Better to be safe than sorry in this town. And who was the 'gentleman'? I had assumed the whole time that Tyler was the one who needed an escort.
“A charity function. Nothing major. Someone will be playing music, another someone will make an announcement. People will eat, drink and dance. It's about as pedestrian kind of gathering as you can get,” Tyler said. “You can dance, right?”
One of the other men exhaled again and picked up a glass of water for a drink.
My attention landed on him—Joshua I thought—then diverted back to Tyler. Maybe Joshua had some kind of respiratory situation. It wasn't amusement, I told myself. What did he have to be amused about?
“I can dance,” I said, and immediately started to sweat. I thought I was all elbows and thumbs and big toes on the dance floor. Hardly graceful, rarely on beat. Waltzes and Foxtrots were as foreign to me as Pluto. If it was something like that, I was in serious trouble.
“Good, good. The event starts around nine in the evening and will run until midnight. Is that too late for you?”
Do I look like I'm eighty and can't handle it? “That's not too late at all,” I said, checking my sarcasm at the door. Sarcasm and job interviews didn't usually go hand in hand. I could hear Jasper now, chiding me to 'just behave a little longer, Fins.'
“Excellent.” Tyler glanced up from the sheet of paper he'd been reading questions off of and smiled. “Like the flyer stated, the clothing will be provided, so all you'd need to do is your own make up and hair.”
“It's not a sheer dress, is it?” Wary that this all sounded too good to be true, I wanted to make sure I wouldn't be wearing what amounted to a layer of netting.
All four men laughed. Tyler, with a grin trembling on his mouth, said, “No, it's definitely not sheer. You don't have to worry about that.”
“Yes. And, as a bonus, you get to keep the outfit.”
I didn't care so much about that, considering it was a dress. But if it was a decent one, I might get a little money out of it. “Sounds good to me.”
“Do you have any other questions?”
“Where is the event being held?”
“I have all that information here.” Tyler tapped a medium sized manila envelope sitting next to his elbow. “It's a local restaurant with faci
“I can do that, sure.” I still had the this is too good to be true mantra running around my head. Then again, this was Vegas baby, where waitresses sometimes got thousand dollar tips and some dreams really did come true. A man paying for a companion for a social function wasn't out of the stratosphere. “When will I know if I got the job?”
“Actually, I think you're perfect for this. You're friends with Jasper, and he had nothing but great things to say about you, so I don't think we even need to interview anyone else. If you're interested in taking the job, that is.” Tyler folded the paper in half and tossed it down as if he'd found just what he was looking for in me.
“Yes, I'm interested. Oh, I forgot to ask when the function is.”
“Tomorrow night. Short notice, I know.” Tyler scooted the sealed envelope across the table.
“Tomorrow night is no problem.” I accepted the envelope and could tell that besides a piece of paper, there was money inside. Paid up front, couldn't beat that. The shrewd part of me wanted to open it and count the bills, but these were Jasper's co-workers and I figured they were good for it. Jasper would bang their heads together if they stiffed me.
“The directions to the event are inside, along with the destination and the address for the dress shop where you'll need to pick up the outfit. Plus an extra hundred for a taxi, if you decide to take one. If not, keep it.” Tyler sat back against the booth seat.
This just got better and better, in my opinion. I stood up from the chair, feeling pretty good about the whole ordeal. It helped to have a friend on the inside, so to speak. “All right. I'll get on it, then. It was nice meeting you.”
Tyler lifted a hand, flashed his palm. “You too, Finley. Have a good time and if anything comes up, like you can't make it for an emergency or something, please give me a call as soon as possible so I can get someone else. My number's inside the envelope.”
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