The echo of the gun rippled through me as the bullet punched through flesh and tissue, abruptly concluding my existence into mere minutes of life and death and my delicate dance in between.

Why did I tell you all this?

I did simply to impress upon you the fact that no life is a foregone conclusion-that time can be warped, destiny can be altered and love can find its way home no matter how long the journey.

I was born a long time ago but I didn't start to live until now.

***

There is an allure to the forbidden-the greater the risk, the more tempting the prize becomes.

It was a truth the gods of Detroit's underworld embraced and capitalized during the Prohibition, when the country was rich and restless, only able to indulge their vices in the dark.

That evening when he first strode in, shoulders squared like a king on a march, I wondered who the forbidden was between us-the brooding prince who'd fallen off his white horse and down the dirty lower east end or me, the cocktail waitress in a fancy dress excessively embellished with sequins and fringes to hide the holes and frays while waiting for her destiny to change.

Maybe it was neither of us exactly.

Maybe it was us, together, that was forbidden.

"What can I get you, handsome?" were the first words I said to him after sauntering to the far corner table he settled in, my left hip jutted out, my smile coy and my lashes half-lowered. It was an instinctive move, well-practiced in my last two years of uniting man and his drink every night and getting generously compensated for it. I didn't relish being salivated on like an expensive bottle of vintage but most men only ever looked. Cyrus, our bouncer who looked more like a boulder than a man, didn't often intrude on the kind of customer service some of the girls here provided for an extra fee but when it came to a few of us who only worked the tables and nothing else, his fists imprinted the reminder hard enough on the stupid eggs who dared for more.

The stranger's eyes-more brass in the golden cast of the chandeliers than what was probably a typical hazel-looked up to inspect me much like any man's would. Except that he wasn't like any other man that had walked into The Magnolia. The speakeasy was not in the nicest part of town. The denizens of this side of Detroit spent tainted money and lived tainted lives. This man, while possessing a certain fierceness that his relaxed posture couldn't belie, did not belong here. His clothes, although casual, were too fine. His gaze, alert and assessing, was also arrogant and intelligent. He smelled of the other side of the law which was repeatedly broken here on a daily basis. In summary, he was trouble.

"I don't care for a drink," he said, his tone dismissive, his gaze back to sweeping the saloon just as Rita took her place at the microphone up on the small stage.

"Then you're in the wrong place," I said in a droll voice. "You better leave before you find yourself in an even worse spot-dumped in a dirt hole, never to be found again."

I turned to leave, satisfied with my small act of kindness, when a strong hand shot out to grip me by the wrist. I didn't want to draw attention-the deadly kind-so I slowly turned back around to face him, planting myself right in his view to block him from the rest of the uneasy eyes that were always watching the place.

In a low voice, I spoke. "Let me go if you wish to continue breathing."

"Why all these threats?" he asked, his eyes narrowed, his grip loosening only by a fraction, his thumb absently rubbing a spot on my wrist. "People just come here for a good time, don't they?"

I raised a brow. "If you're trying to get yourself killed, either by sheer stupidity or simple recklessness, don't let me stop you. But don't drag me down with you."

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