I confess I left fingerprints on the Maybach. I had to pet it as I walked by, if only to be able to tell Dad I’d touched one. If I’d been living another life, one where Alina hadn’t been killed and I wasn’t currently up to my neck in nightmares, I would have rung him up on my cell phone right then and there and described the twin-turbo, V-12, 57S touring sedan “for those who want to drive their own Maybach,” right down to the interior trim done in black piano-lacquer finish that gleamed in exquisite contrast to an abundance of creamy leather. He would have excitedly demanded more details—and couldn’t I go to the nearest drugstore and buy a disposable camera or ten?
But Alina had been killed, my parents were still off the deep end, and calling Dad right now would have served no purpose. I knew, because I’d called home earlier, after I’d finished getting dressed. Ten-forty-five Dublin time was still early evening in Georgia. I’d sat on the edge of my borrowed bed, staring down at stockings that were hooked to an embarrassment of a garter belt, spiky high heels, and the egg-size blood-red ruby nestled between my breasts, and wondered what I was becoming.
Dad had been drunk when he’d answered. I’d not heard him drunk in years. Six and a half, to be exact. Not since his brother had died on the way to his own wedding, leaving his bride-to-be a pregnant widow and my dad standing at the altar, best man to a dead man. I’d hung up as soon as I’d heard Dad’s deeply slurred voice, unable to deal with it. I needed a rock—not to have to be one for someone else.
“Wits about you, Ms. Lane,” Barrons cautioned, close to my ear, jerking me from the dark place I’d been about to get lost in. “You’ll need them here.” With his left arm around my waist, his right hand on my shoulder, fingers lightly brushing the swell of my breast, he steered me toward the entrance, locking gazes with any man brave or stupid enough to let his gaze dip below my eyes, holding it until the man looked away. He could not have more clearly branded me his possession.
As soon as we entered the bar, I understood. That was what the women were here: beautiful, impeccably waxed, coifed and groomed, softly laughing, brightly dazzling possessions. Trophies. They weren’t people in and of themselves, but reflections upon their men. As tightly guarded as they were lavishly cosseted, they sparkled and shined like glittering diamonds, showing the world what successes their husbands were, what giants among men.
Rainbow Mac would have been as out of place here as a porcupine in a petting zoo. I straightened my spine, held my head high, and pretended that two-thirds of my supple young body wasn’t exposed by the short, sleek black dress with the bare back and plunging neckline.
Barrons was known here. As we passed, nods were exchanged and greetings were murmured, and all was soft and lovely at O’Bannion’s, if you were careful not to notice the steel every man in the room was packing.
I leaned close to whisper my next question up at Barrons’ ear; even with heels on, he was a head taller than me. “Do you have a gun on you somewhere?” I really hoped he did.
His lips quirked, brushing my hair when he replied, “A gun would only get you killed faster in a place like this, Ms. Lane. Don’t worry, I don’t plan to piss anyone off.” He nodded to a short, cigar-chomping, enormously fat man with a beautiful woman on each mammoth arm. “Not yet, anyway,” he murmured after we’d passed.
We took a booth in back where he ordered dinner and drinks for both of us.
“How do you know I like my steak medium-well?” I demanded. “Or that I wanted a Caesar salad? You didn’t even ask.”
“Look around and learn, Ms. Lane. There’s not a waiter in here that will take an order from a woman. At O’Bannion’s, you eat what is chosen for you, whether you like it or not. Welcome to a time gone by, Ms. Lane, when men provided and women accepted. And if they didn’t like it, they pretended they did.”
Wow. And I’d thought the Deep South was bad. Fortunately, I liked my steak anywhere from rare to medium-well, could eat just about any kind of salad, and was thrilled to have someone else springing for an expensive meal, so I made short work of it. All I’d eaten today was two bowls of cereal, and I was starved. When I finished, I saw Barrons’ plate was still nearly full and raised a brow.
He pushed it toward me. “I ate earlier,” he said.
“So why’d you order, then?” I asked as daintily as I could around a bite of rare filet mignon.
“You don’t go to an O’Bannion business and not spend money,” Barrons said.