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Trey was tired, sore, and his muscles were twanging from all the heavy lifting he'd done that day. Just as he was about to bunk down for the night, his only gig (he hadn't found another one yet) knocked on his door.

"How was church?"

"Tedious. Brody, if I believed in demon possession, I'd swear that cat puts the devil in people, shoutin' an' jumpin' an' rollin'—"

"That's why they call 'em Holy Rollers," Brody said dryly.

"—speakin' gibberish, callin' it tongues. God almighty—who, by the way, got nothin' to do with all that screechin'—"

"Gio doesn't seem to mind."

"Gio an' his girl stand there an' trade snide remarks. Snickerin' an' whispering'. Surprised Marina ain't noticed yet, but she sits to my left next to her mama, Gio on my right 'cuz Dot don't like me none, an' Dot on the end. She's the vicious one, but she tickles him pink. Dunno why."

"Grow up with a bunch of nice Catholic girls who are taught to keep their heads down and their mouths shut, maybe you'd take a sassy Mormon girl who's packing heat, too."

Trey chuckled. "Weird thing, Marina don't get into all those acrobatics. Sings. Nice voice. But otherwise, she's cool as a cucumber. Her mama too. Neither one of 'em doin' any speakin' in tongues or rollin', holy or otherwise." Trey stopped and thought about how Marina behaved at church. "Yanno," he mused, "it's almost like she knows it's bunk deep down inside, but can't quite figure out why, standin' there tryin'a parse it all out. Every service is another chance for her to gather more clues. Do you know, quarter of the way through the latest Christie, she had the villain pegged. I told her it couldn't be. Two thirds of the way through, she said, 'This is how he did it.' I said no way. Guess what?"

"You have a book club of two," Brody said flatly.

Trey laughed. "Yeah. Way to get into her pants is get into her head an' dig around. Always did like a good treasure hunt. So what's up? You didn't hunt me down to ask if I got saved. Again."

"The Lazias were here," Brody said.

"Oh yeah?"

"They brought some friends. Nicky Civella, for one. Had a grand ol' time. Ran up a helluva tab. Alice and I ended up waiting for Nadia and the boys she needed in the kitchen. Lazia asked me why you left your cook dead on his doorstep."

Trey gaped at Brody. "Bobby's dead?"

Brody rolled his eyes. "That's what I said."

"You know that fucker's only here to drink my whiskey 'cuz he don't like his own better'n mine."

"You keep telling yourself that, Boss."

"An' that fucker better pay his tab."

"That's not going to happen. So how's she coming?"

"Well, she ain't. Yet. Haven't even kissed her. But say, you're the third person to be more than interested in this bet. Is it that important to you all I win?"

Brody pursed his lips and crossed his arms over his chest, leaned against the door jamb and looked up at the ceiling. "We think if you lose, things here won't be the same as they have been for the last four years. If we thought it would, then we wouldn't care, but I gotta tell you, Lazia hanging around—now bringing his wife and high-living friends when he's got established haunts—has us more worried than anything Boss Tom might do or not do. Lazia doesn't care as much about your whiskey or why you're not buying from him. He wants the bar."

"I know," Trey murmured.

"And if you lose, Boss Tom might just fire you and hire him and he'll hire somebody else. You know a good manager clears out the old staff and puts in his own."

He sighed heavily and threw his arm over his forehead. "Boss Tom's got me covered for the time being, but if I do win, it's open season on me, and I wouldn't be surprised if Boss Tom did something underhanded too. I don't have the kinda firepower I'd need to hold off Lazia and the cops, although Boss Tom did suggest I think about acquiring it." Especially since he knew whom Trey was hiding. "You all get together an' talk about this shit?"

"Well, yeah. We've been together for a long time. Fuck, we share the same bathroom, piss, shit, bathe, and shave in front of each other, so you could say we're family. Even the tenants are worried, and they ask us. We just say if you don't win, you'll find a way to keep us together somehow. You always do."

Trey thought about that long after Brody left.

Do what you have to do.

You'll find a way to keep us together somehow. You always do.

He was in deep now. He had employees. He had tenants. He had vendors. He had musicians. A lot of people relied on Trey, but some days, Trey felt like he was barely treading water. Each scheme he had to come up with was more elaborate than the last because he had to work around the last one he thought up. It was like telling a lie and then being forced to add details for this person and more details for that person until it was so complex you got lost in it and all the people you lied to compared notes.

Trey had seen a way to get the bar.

Boss Tom had seen a way to get revenge on Scarritt, and apparently, Trey's grandparents were not opposed to his dishing out Scarritt's comeuppance by any means necessary.

Lazia saw it as an opportunity to grab the golden egg and ... do what? Continue on? Lazia was a good businessman. He'd upscale the place, which would draw his upper-class set. He would also turn the second and third floors into a hotel. He wouldn't dirty his own hands with prostitution and a higher-class hotel would make more money than monthly rent.

Trey didn't care about status; he cared about his end game, which was, as his grandfather had guessed, law school. What his grandfather had not guessed was what he intended to do with a law degree. All of Trey's conspicuous consumption was to project an image, and even then he was careful not to be too conspicuous.

It was one thing to know people were dependent on him, but it was another to be slapped in the face with the idea that they all considered themselves a family—with Trey as their patriarch and protector.

This load was too heavy to carry by himself, but he had to. One crisis at a time—

No. That was how he'd gotten into this mess, tending crises one at a time without considering long-term consequences or past solutions. He had his goal, but he wasn't thinking about the path to get to it, so instead of carefully picking his way through a forest and looking for traps, he was speeding along a wide road, the only cat on it, a target for anybody who had a sharp-enough eye, and going too fast not to hit a speedbump and damage his car.

The world belonged to people who could carefully pick their way through a forest, see all the threats, and change course or hide or retreat accordingly.

And now Trey had hit another speedbump, damaged his car, and was going to go the way every mobster did eventually and either got assassinated or tossed in prison for tax evasion.

He needed someone who could think like that, someone who could be presented with a problem, understand immediately the fastest way to get there, but see an alternate, unexpected, route with fewer delays and dangers.

He only knew one person like that, but he'd be damned if he could explain this all to Marina, particularly since she was the linchpin. She didn't have to give him an alternative solution. All she had to do was have his child.

Hey, Marina, just so you know, I have two dozen people's lives and livelihoods depending on you. Thanks, Doll.

He once again considered the idea of asking Marina to marry him with no intention of marrying her, but Boss Tom would likely consider that cheating just enough he could welsh without damaging his reputation.

He'd want in Marina's pants no matter what, but now he was under pressure and that was a surefire way to kill a hard-on.

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