Chapter 18

"You're lucky," Judy said. Hands clenched in a tight grip, she and Tom walked toward the loud, blaring sound of Van Halen. "They hid yours in the lapel of your jacket."

A frowned creased his brow as he gave her a quick perusal. "Where did they put yours?"

"Guess."

"I'd rather you show me—"

She elbowed his midsection hard and mouthed, "Fuller is listening! "

Tom shrugged, smiled and continued as if he hadn't been interrupted. "But since that's out of the question, I can't begin to guess."

"In a place that itches. Let's leave it at that."

He laughed. "Want me scratch it?"

"In your dreams, Hanson."

They reached the back patio where the party was already in full swing. Kids from school danced and hung around the pool. A keg had a prominent position near the glass sliding doors. Judy shook her head in disgust. Combining alcohol with gambling was a sure fire recipe for disaster. These kids lived so recklessly. They hadn't learned that life had limits. Heaven forbid, their parents taught them the dangers of abundant excess.

"What is it?" Tom asked.

She marveled at his acute sensitivity to her moods. How did he do that? Had he always been so attentive?

"Jude?" He squeezed her hand for emphasis.

"It's nothing. Just thinking, that's all." Her gaze swept the crowd again. "Do you see Trish or Owen?"

"No, but Dirk Artman has been eyeballing us since we came back here," he said. "I'll see what he wants."

"I'll look for Trish."

"Sounds like a plan."

They parted. Judy headed inside. The sliding doors led to a state-of-the art den. A large projection television dominated one wall while a stone-covered fireplace took care of the other one. Trophies glistened inside a glass case beside the fireplace. She moved closer to get a better look. A man who resembled Owen stood on deck of a sailboat. His fist was raised in a gesture of triumph. She read the name of the trophy. The trophy didn't belong to Owen's father, but they had the same last name. Maybe they were brothers.

"Judy!" Trish stepped down into the den. Her hair was tousled and excitement glittered in her eyes. Owen appeared a second later. A satisfied grin on his face clued Judy in to what they'd been doing.

"Hey, Trish, Owen." She nodded toward the glass case. "Nice trophies."

"They belong to my uncle," the boy said. "Is Tom here? We were waiting for him. He's damn good at cards. I've never seen anything like it."

Judy frowned. "He doesn't always win."

"It's not whether you win or lose," Owen said. "It's how you play the game."

"Well, he'd better do some winning. I think his grandma is wondering where all his money is going."

Trish laughed. "Just tell her he's spending it on you."

"Then, she'd want to kill me. She's not exactly thrilled with the two of us together, if you know what I mean."

"Old people can be lame like that," Owen said. "As long as you like each other, who cares what she thinks? I'm getting the guys together."

"What about us girls?" Trish cocked an eyebrow as she folded her arms across her chest.

"You can play, too. We're equal opportunity, but don't come crying to me if you lose. I have my own debts to cover. I gotta get out of the hole with this one." He kissed Trish and moved toward the sliding doors. "See ya!"

"What does he mean? He's in the hole? What hole?" Judy asked. "Does he have a bookie?"

Trish laughed. "You've been watching too much 'Spenser: For Hire.' No one's coming to break Owen's legs."

"Are you sure? I like Tom's legs just the way they are."

"I knew you liked the whole package. It took you long enough to stop denying it."

Judy willed herself not to react. With Fuller and others listening to the wire, she didn't want to reveal too much about her interest in Tom. "No, seriously. Does Owen really gamble that much?"

"You make it sound like he's a junkie or something. It's just a way to get a natural high. Plus, when he wins, he gets paid instead of having to pay someone else."

"You almost make it sound like a fun job," Judy said.

"That's how Owen's uncle sees it," Trish confided. "Uncle Ned is the coolest. He travels the world, has lots of money and never has to become a slave to the nine to five like our parents do. When we graduate from high school, he's promised to take us to Monte Carlo with him."

"Monte Carlo, huh?"

Trish nodded. "Maybe I can get you an invite, too. I'm telling you, Judy, Uncle Ned is wild. He's let us party with him a few times on his yacht. You wouldn't believe who he knows. His ex-girlfriend was on the cover of Vogue."

"Uncle Ned has connections. Does he know that Owen's training to be just like him?"

"Hell, yeah! He's coming to the party. That's why Owen is getting the guys together. When Uncle Ned gets here, the party will really get started."

"I don't want to miss this," Judy said.

"Come on. They're in the pool house."

- - -

Ned Daniels' arrival sparked a change in the air. Judy's warning about Owen's uncle prepared Tom to be on guard for anything. Ned hid behind a jetsetter façade that infected his teenage nephew. After they filed into the pool house, the partying teenagers circled Ned as if he was a guru. They all knew about his model girlfriends and expensive boats. The Rolex on his wrist gleamed with every wave of his hand as he recounted his numerous adventures. Tom edged in close, hoping his wire picked up everything.

The poker game started without any problems. Tom won a hand and so did Dirk. Owen folded with a loud expletive. His uncle advised him to calm down and bide his time. An hour into the poker marathon, Judy appeared at the door. Tom had already folded his hand so he left the game and went to her.

"Hey."

She looked past him toward the game. "How's it going?"

"Grandma may be proud of me, yet," he said. "You? What are you girls up to?"

"Not much. Dancing and talking about you guys. Nothing to write home about." Her voice lowered and she took his hand. "Dirk's looking again. What is that about?"

"I don't know." Tom placed a slow, thorough kiss to the palm of her hand. "Maybe he's jealous."

"Yeah. Right."

"Yo, Tom!" Owen slapped his back hard. "Are you in or out? We're starting the next hand."

"I'm in." Tom squeezed Judy's hand. "Are you staying?"

"Um, sorry, kiddo," Ned called from the center of large, round table. "No females allowed. My hands are just starting to pick up. I can't risk losing now."

"Yeah, Judy," Owen added. "Just keep hanging out with Trish. We'll be done in here soon. Then, you can have him back."

She didn't argue. "Fine. Good luck." She leaned forward and gave Tom a quick kiss on the lips.

Tom savored the gentle caress. Then, he returned to the game.

The stakes rose with each turn around the table. Tom wondered how half of those kids could afford it. To his right, beads of perspiration dotted Dirk's forehead. His breathing became labored, but the college student refused to fold. Was the kid using his college tuition to increase his savings account? Had he gone too far that he didn't see another way out?

Tom's attention turned to Ned Daniels. The other man was calm, cool and collected. With a sparkling, white smile on his face, he cajoled the teenagers to make bets that were beyond their reach. This was probably how he could afford the leather jacket and expensive watch. He steamrolled kids until they were too far down to see a way back up.

"Two c-notes," Ned said. "Who's in?"

"I don't know, Uncle Ned," Owen said, wiping a hand across his brow.

"Don't worry, kid. I always take care of you."

"I'm in," Tom said.

"Me, too," Dirk added.

"Well, boys, this is when it gets interesting." Ned grinned like a shark and rubbed his hands together.

The door suddenly slammed open. Fuller, surrounded by a dozen uniformed officers, poured into the pool house. The captain nodded. "Yeah, it's very interesting now. Isn't it?"

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