CHAPTER 15

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When they got back to their hotel, Mac headed to her room to make the series of requisite phone calls – the hospital, the Pritchetts, her chief at home. "See you bright and early. The boy should be released by morning and we'll all fly home."

JC looked the part of the lethargic teen, slinking off to bed. Bianca mentioned "beauty sleep". But DeeDee was wide awake. When she and Clarence entered their room, she grasped his hand, guiding him to the sofa.

"Life's too short," she said, knowing her eyes were sparkling. Her husband wouldn't be able to resist.

"A night like this certainly reinforces that belief."

"And how often do we visit a place like this?" She batted her eyelashes and gave him a demure smile.

"Where are you headed with this?" He gave her a quizzical look.

"It's still Saturday night. For another 20 minutes anyway. And we're in Vegas. I was thinking..."

"I'm sure it's a really dangerous thought," he said with a chuckle.

"Could we?"

"But this afternoon...you were..."

"Behind me. And what's behind me is not my problem."

"One casino. One hour. Deal?" His blue eyes rested on her.

"Deal. Oh yes, deal, sweetheart!" She jumped to her feet, clapping palms together like a schoolgirl. Calm down, she told herself. Or you won't make it an hour. "Let me freshen up and we could head to the Luxor? Yes? No Bianca. No Mac. No JC. Just the two of us like a real date."

"The Luxor, eh?" he said and went to change his shirt.

* * * *

As they boarded the plane the next morning, Mac continued to take calls from media hounds. She slumped into her seat across the aisle from Clarence and DeeDee. Bianca busied herself tabulating her purchases in preparation for battle with customs. The tiny calculator in her wallet clicked a stead rhythm. JC took the back of the plane again; this time with Dane Pritchett sitting across the aisle.

"Hey," he'd said and then sat down and closed his eyes. So she got her music going.

DeeDee touched her lashes, lips and brow hoping that her face was sufficiently in place. It's been a rough trip, but with a good outcome, she thought patting her purse that bulged with $2,100 in winnings. Clarence had spoiled her. They'd returned to their hotel at 4 a.m. unbeknownst to the others, then capped the evening off with an outrageously expensive brandy.

"You two seem very quiet," said Mac.

"Just happy to be going home satisfied," answered DeeDee, winking at her husband.

"Me too. It was ruled an accident. No foul play. That was the best telephone conversation with Joseph Pritchett. I think he anticipated certain news and then I delivered the opposite – thanks to you – and JC – and the Vegas police, of course. Not saying they won't still have family issues, but..." Mac's voice faded. DeeDee watched her lay her head against the backrest and relax. Finally.

* * * *

JC flicked her MP3 from Disturbed to Interpol, then Dirtbag. She finally settled on Pitbull. Not working. The plane taxied into position. JC felt the chunk-a-chunk of the tarmac in her bones as the plane careened down the runway.

She kept coming back to the boy beside her. How lucky he was to be going home. Alive. She glanced at him. Maybe she'd get a chance to ask him during their flight what that was all about. Or maybe he just didn't want to talk.

It's all about choices. His choices. My choices. How stupid she'd been to get caught up with the wrong person in the wrong crowd. Letting somebody else get into her head. Jacking something seemed simple when Marsh batted his baby-blues. Made it sound like an easy rite of passage into the club. Different when the cuffs closed on her wrists. When the charge was shoplifting. But it all led to here. It led to DeeDee and Clarence. To Mac. And her time would be up before she knew it.

Maybe Dane'd learned some lessons too. Sure, he made his stand, she thought. Got his games. Showed his parents. Now he had to help in the rebuilding of his family – or they wouldn't make it.

JC thought about her mother. The only mother I've got. She was going to give her a big hug. Sometimes it was just that simple.

THE END

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