Unbreakable hearts, p.5

Unbreakable Hearts, page 5

 part  #2 of  CEP Series

 

Unbreakable Hearts
 


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  Quinn hadn’t liked Doug from the beginning, knew she never would, and she hadn’t been bashful in telling Tilly this. She’d always said that he was a selfish prick who took advantage of Tilly’s kindness for far too long, and now said she was glad that Tilly had finally gotten the balls to break things off with him.

  “He’s had his chance with you. I don’t think he deserves you, never did. I’m just so glad that you’ve finally grown a pair and dumped his Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist ass.”

  Tilly choked on her wine at this. She should’ve known better than to take a drink when Quinn was talking. Who the hell knew what was going to come out of that mouth of hers. When her coughing abated some, she looked at Quinn who just smirked at her. “You are… so… bad…” Tilly said between follow-up coughs.

  “Yeah, well, somebody’s got to be.” Quinn laughed then took a drink of wine. “So, what kind of guy would you like to date now?”

  Tilly just about choked again, this time on her braised lamb. She looked up at her friend. “Um, I think I’m finished in the romance department, Quinn. I haven’t had the best of luck, you know. Besides Jeff’s dating Jennifer and they’re pretty serious, so they’ll be getting married and having kids in no time which should keep Mom happy and off my back for a while.”

  Quinn looked at her friend as if she’d grown a second head.

  “What?” Tilly asked.

  “You’re finished in the romance department? Are you serious?”

  Tilly wiped her lips with her napkin then replied, “Uh, yeah?”

  “Till! You’ve had two boyfriends in almost ten years! Two! I’ve had, God, what,” she counted in her head, her eyes going to the ceiling, “at least eight?” Quinn grinned at her. “Oh, call me a slut. I know you want to.”

  Tilly burst out laughing. Although Quinn was far more sexually adventurous than she’d ever been, she was far from being a slut. Well, maybe in college when she’d had a few one-night stands she might’ve exhibited some slut-like tendencies, but the other guys she’d dated had actually been semi-serious relationships with one of them passing semi and going into totally serious. Tilly had thought Quinn would marry Jackson; they’d seemed so good together, but they’d broken things off a year and a half before and Quinn hadn’t looked back. Oh, but now there was Rod, which was an entire story itself. Ugh.

  Tilly looked at Quinn, shaking her head. She was absolutely stunning, the ideal representation of her Irish heritage, her long, auburn hair always perfectly curly and wavy, looking just like Julia Roberts’ hair in Pretty Woman. Her green eyes were gorgeous and always sparkled just a little mischievously, which always cracked Tilly up that such a professional woman could be as ornery as Quinn was. And although she was petite, her presence definitely commanded respect.

  “You’re not a slut. Besides, after our junior year at Syracuse, you only had serious relationships,” Tilly comforted her.

  Quinn put her elbow on the table and rested her head on the heel of her hand, scrunching her nose. “Till, I’m almost twenty-eight and I’ve got no serious prospects in the future at all. Swear to God, the highlight of my day is logging on to InkedGuys.net… although I won’t complain too much about that. Those guys are fucking hot!”

  Tilly snickered.

  Then Quinn sat up with a sigh. “Damn it, I’ve always overanalyzed every relationship I’ve ever been in, sabotaging myself so they never work out. I’m gonna die a lonely and bitchy old maid.”

  They went through this at least once every six months always when Quinn wasn’t dating anyone. She’d whine about ending up alone, Tilly would tell her that they could be old maids together, knitting cute outfits for the twenty cats they’d own, which would make Quinn laugh then she’d be good for another six months.

  “You’re gonna be fine,” Tilly assured her. “The love of your life is out there this very minute just waiting on you to find him.”

  Quinn looked up at her with a pouty face. “You think?”

  “I know.” Tilly reached a hand out covering and squeezing Quinn’s.

  Quinn smiled at her sweetly, squeezed her hand back, sat up, took a sip of her wine then continued eating her dinner, crisis averted.

  “I’m the only therapist I know who gets free therapy from her non-therapist best friend.”

  “You mean I could’ve been charging you all this time? Damn! You know how much money I could’ve made over the years?”

  Quinn laughed. “Probably enough to open two more studios.”

  “I’m busy enough with the one I have,” Tilly said laughing along with her friend.

  Quinn took another sip of wine before informing Tilly with a big smile, “I’ve decided this next year is going to be our best year yet. Let’s just go for it, Till! We’re both going to find men who’ll love the fuck out of us and we’ll love them right back the same way; we’ll both spend a significant amount of time in bed with them, our jobs will take off like crazy and we’re going to be so happy it’ll almost be illegal.”

  Tilly looked at Quinn and grinned, shaking her head. While her friend’s plans sounded nice, she knew that loving a man just wasn’t in the picture for her. Not in the new year or the next fifty. She wished it was, but she knew it just wasn’t a possibility.

  Chapter 5

  “Troy Zimmerman’s office. Who may I say is calling?” Zim’s secretary said upon taking Graham’s call.

  “Hi, Donna. It’s Graham Hightower.”

  “Hi, Mr. Hightower. I hope you’re well. Please hold and I’ll let Mr. Zimmerman know you’re on the line.”

  Graham listened to several minutes of finance radio that was being piped through the line. At least he wasn’t being subjected to Muzak.

  “Graham,” Troy said upon answering.

  “Zim.”

  “What can I do for you?”

  “Heard Meegan’s pregnant. Congrats,” Graham said.

  “Thanks.”

  Hm. Graham and Zim had known each other going on twenty years yet Zim was talking to him as if he had no idea who he was. Maddox had been right about it all. And now Graham needed to fix things.

  “You got any spare time for a meet-up?” Graham asked.

  Zim let out a breath as if he were being greatly put upon. It was all Graham could do not to call the fucker out over the phone. But he’d play it cool so he could get a feel for where his associate stood.

  “I can meet you at McGee’s at seven.”

  “See you then,” Graham said, and without any further ado, hung up. It was smart of Zim to want to meet in public, he thought. Glancing at his Breitling watch, he saw that it was already a quarter after six, so he shut things down in his office, grabbed his coat and headed out the door.

  ***

  Arriving at McGee’s, Graham saw that Zim was already there, had gotten a table, and was already drinking scotch. When he reached the table, Graham told the waitress walking by that he’d take the same.

  “I know what you’re going to say,” Zim said, staring down at his drink that he held in both hands on the table.

  Graham removed his overcoat, folding it and placing it over one of the chairs at their table then unbuttoned his suit coat before he sat. The waitress returned with his scotch then hurried off. Graham picked up his glass, twisting it and looking at the amber liquid inside it, drawing things out to make Zim sweat a little, before taking a sip then said, “Oh, yeah? And what’s that?”

  This shit had Meegan written all over it. Zim would never have caved on anything had it not been for the stupid bitch. Graham knew that Zim felt lucky in marrying her and would do anything to keep her. She’d been a beautiful socialite and it hadn’t surprised any of them when she’d shown an interest in Zim since they knew she’d married him for his money. He assumed that Zim actually loved her and was trying to do whatever it took not to lose her. Well, fuck that.

  He now looked Zim over noticing he’d not aged well. The grandpa glasses he wore, those with the huge wire-rimmed frames, added at le
ast ten years to his pockmarked face that seemed a bit splotchier than it had before probably from too much alcohol. To top it all off, his distended belly and general flabbiness were more than proof that in his spare time he wasn’t training for the next Boston Marathon. Damn. The guy’d really let himself go.

  Zim looked up at him, the torment of his situation showing on his face. “I know Maddox told you what I said. Look, Graham, Meegan and I are at a place where we’re happy. She’s due in May. I can’t do this shit anymore.” He lifted his glasses and rubbed his eyes, clearly upset.

  “Then don’t,” Graham replied.

  “What’re you saying?” Zim lowered his glasses, staring back at Graham.

  “Walk away. That’s all you’ve got to do.”

  Zim huffed out a chuckle. “I wish it were that easy. Look, I’ve told Meegan everything.”

  Graham raised his eyebrows at him. He’d told her everything? Even the part about Zim having a house in the Hamptons where he’d kept two young Russian girls hostage for the past two years to use as he pleased? He knew Zim had an even darker sexual preference than he did, so he could only imagine what he’d done to the girls.

  “Well, not everything. But that’s all taken care of. They’re gone. I’ve wiped my hands of the whole ordeal,” Zim answered, knowing exactly what Graham was thinking. He emptied his glass then caught the waitress’s eye, motioning for another.

  “Then what’s the problem, Zim? Why do you need to try to bring all of us down?”

  “If I don’t, Meegan will. She found some credit card receipts for The Dungeon a couple weeks ago and asked me about it. She’s been suspicious about other things too and I couldn’t lie. Not when she’s pregnant with my child. Once I got started, everything just started pouring out. Mostly everything. But she knows almost all of it.” The waitress brought Zim his drink and he took it from her hand before she could even place it on the table, drinking half of it down quickly.

  Graham chuckled and made a snide face. “You fucking kidding me that you left receipts to a BDSM club just lying around the fucking house?” Zim looked like he wanted to cry. “Jesus. Don’t you even, you son of a bitch.” Graham clenched his teeth as he tried to keep his voice down. “How do you even know it’s your baby?” At this, Zim’s face contorted as if he were in real pain because he knew it could be true. “Have you checked your accounts? I’ll bet she’s set up her own and has just been waiting for the opportunity to screw you over so she can run off with the real father of the baby.” Zim choked out a sob. Graham then leaned forward and pointed his finger in Zim’s face. “This is all on you. You didn’t have to open your goddamned mouth to that fucking bitch of a gold digger you married, but you did. Now I’m gonna leave it to you to silence her before I have to. And if you even think of ignoring this and going forward with any of it, I’ll silence your fat ass too.”

  Zim did start crying then. So much for public places and not causing a scene and all.

  “Graham, I—I don’t know what to do. She’ll divorce me if I don’t follow through. And I didn’t make her sign a pre-nup,” he sobbed out quietly.

  “Your fuck-up and your choice now what happens,” Graham stated, his cold, gray eyes cutting into Zim’s. He kept his eyes on him as he reached into his jacket pocket for his wallet, pulling out two one hundred-dollar bills before he stood and threw them on the table. He took his coat from the chair and put it on as tears ran down Zim’s face. “Let me know what you decide,” he said before turning and leaving.

  ***

  “Jiggles said you were looking for me?”

  Oz turned to see Chloe Franklin standing behind him still wearing her little girl babydoll dress. And up close and personal, she was a whole different story. When she’d been on stage, he’d found her pretty damned sexy, but up close she looked like she’d been “rode hard and put up wet,” a saying his father always used to describe women of “questionable character” as he called them. She was probably in her mid-twenties but the life she’d been leading had served to make her look older. Her overly bleached hair hung limply in the pigtails she wore; her eyes had dark circles under them and were glazed over as if she were on something, which she more than likely was, and after having gone through what she just had on stage, probably doing it night in and night out, he couldn’t blame her.

  “Yes, I was.” He held out his hand. “I’m John Osby, but people call me Oz.”

  She looked at his outstretched hand for a few seconds before taking it with her own. He guessed she wasn’t used to men being polite to her while she was on the job.

  “Okay, Oz, what is it you want?” She crossed her arms over her chest and he saw that she was growing restless, probably worried about wasting time on him and missing out on tips.

  “Is there somewhere we can go?” he asked.

  “Oh, honey, there are lots of places we can go.” It was as if she’d suddenly come to life, like his “propositioning” her made her feel at home.

  “Lead the way,” he told her.

  She walked through the crowd, amidst catcalls and much groping, to the back of the club then to a hallway where there were several closed doors. She automatically went to the third door on the right, opened it and walked inside. It was a VIP or champagne room, whatever they called it there, and he guessed it was her private one or at least hers for the night since she hadn’t knocked. And, boy, was he glad she opened the right one because he hadn’t wanted to walk in on something that might make him lose his dinner. Once inside he looked around, taking in everything and seeing it was just not a very nice setup. There was a “bed” he guessed it could be called, which was more like four couch cushions thrown and stacked on the floor with a mental-institution green sheet covering them. Nice.

  The minute they got inside the room and she closed the door, she started rambling off prices for her services.

  “It’s a hundred for the room, fifty more if you wanna lap dance. Or if you’re really horny, suckin’ is another fifty and fuckin’ is fifty more.” She reached down and grabbed his crotch surprising him, making him step back out of her hold. She rolled her eyes and continued. “A line will cost another ten and if you want something stronger, we’ll have to see. What do you want?”

  Whoa, whoa, whoa. He’d never been to a strip club that offered more than the usual lap dance where the girl more or less dry humped the hell out of him. God, this was basically a less than glorified whorehouse with drugs thrown in for good measure.

  “Look, Chloe,” he began.

  Her head jerked up when he used her real name and she took a step back. “Who are you?” she asked accusingly. “Oh, God, you’re Vice, aren’t you? I should’ve known with you looking all military and shit with your short hair. You gonna arrest me now?” She glared at him.

  He took a step toward her, holding his hand out trying to calm her down. “No, I’m not a cop. I just need information on Rico Hernandez.”

  She eyed him for a couple seconds testing his sincerity then frowned and shook her head, letting out a huff. “That fucker? Biggest waste of my time ever. You want information, I can give you information. What do you wanna know?”

  “When’s the last time you saw him?”

  She looked at him for a few seconds, the look on her face making him feel stupid for not understanding. When he finally got it, he pulled a twenty out of his pocket and handed it to her. Upon receiving the money and tucking it into her bra she replied, “Man, he was at the club just the other night. Tried gettin’ all up in my face after my act, tellin’ me that I was nothin’ but trash, nothin’ but a ho, and you know what I did? I slapped the fuck outta that ugly mug of his.” She huffed again letting out a laugh. “Didn’t last long, though. He slapped me right back before Elliot grabbed him,” she said sadly, her hand coming up to touch her left eye.

  It was then that Oz noticed the discoloration around her eye that she’d mostly covered with makeup. “I’m really sorry, Chloe. If you’ll help me, I can keep him from seeing you
and hurting you for quite some time. Do you think you could tell me where I could find him?”

  She let out another humorless laugh, like Oz just didn’t get it. “Not like I ain’t used to bein’ treated that way. But, yeah, he’s probably holed up at Hector’s up in Fairhill.”

  “Hector?” Oz asked. “Do you have an address?”

  “Ramirez. It’s around A Street and Westmoreland, one of those row houses, the ones with the porches all gated up.” She seemed almost relieved as she gave him the address, like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

  “Thank you.” He next pulled out two hundreds and handed them to her.

  She took them immediately, adding them to her hiding place. “If you’re not a cop then what are you?” she questioned.

  “Bounty hunter.” He smiled down at her. She smiled back at him, one that didn’t reach her eyes, but in that moment, she’d actually looked pretty. In any other time or place, she would’ve been a beautiful woman. But it was as if the life she’d led had taken its toll, leaving her an empty shell of her former self.

  “I heard what he did to that girl in New York,” she said quietly. “Raped her then cut her up pretty good. I hope you catch him.”

  “I’ll do my damndest. Thank you, Chloe.” He reached a hand out to touch her jaw but when she flinched, he dropped it. God.

  He left the club feeling sadder than he had in a long time and headed back to his motel room to pull up the address of Hector Ramirez, hoping he could find Rico and haul his sorry ass back to NYC the next day.

  ***

  Wednesday afternoon, Tilly was excited. It was the day before the parade shoot and she was checking all her equipment making sure she had everything ready to go.

  Her mother had called the week before asking if she was going to make it “home” for Thanksgiving. Tilly didn’t really consider Cold Spring her home, so she wasn’t all that sad about having to tell her mom she couldn’t make it. It wasn’t that she didn’t miss her mother and grandmother, she tried to make a habit of getting up that way every three months or so to visit and she’d just been there the month before, so it wasn’t like she was totally rejecting them. And they’d more than understood that she was working and couldn’t have been more supportive.

 
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