“I just spoke to James,” she told us. “He needs to work for a few hours, and he told me to keep you entertained. Sucker.” She rubbed her hands together like an evil cartoon character. “I have plans.”
Danika laughed richly. “Oh boy. He’s in trouble, huh?”
Frankie nodded. I tried to follow the strange conversation.
“First we eat,” she told us.
We went to the casino’s Mexican restaurant. We ordered and started snacking on chips and salsa.
“Do you mind if I bring Tristan to Bianca’s gallery showing?” Frankie asked Danika, studying her closely.
Danika didn’t hesitate. “Why would I mind? Bring whoever you want.”
“Well, I know you aren’t speaking to him…”
“That’s not true. He and I have absolutely nothing to talk about, but I’m not avoiding him.”
Frankie nodded. “Good. Because I have a red carpet thing for my show coming up. It’s in town next week, and I want you to come. I was worried you wouldn’t come, since Tristan will be there, but now you can’t use that as an excuse.”
Danika just shrugged. “If you want me there, I’ll be there. Tristan and I will just stay out of each other’s way.”
Frankie sighed. “You used to be best friends. I wish you guys would at least start talking again.”
Danika gave her a hard look. “Don’t meddle, Frankie. Trust me when I say that you don’t want to press this issue. I can be civil, but he and I will never be close again. We are bad for each other, even as friends. Bad things happen when we get together.”
“You’d feel better if you forgave him—“
“I did forgive him. We went through all of that when he was doing the rehab thing. I’m over it, but forgiving doesn’t mean that I’m willing to make all of the same stupid mistakes again.”
“You know he’s in love with you, right?”
Danika laughed, and it was a bitter sound. “Please. Don’t make me laugh. That man isn’t capable of it. Now drop it, Frankie, before I leave.”
Frankie threw up her hands in defeat, her mouth twisting. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. Consider it dropped.”
Food arrived, and the two women pretended like the whole awkward interaction had never happened.
I followed suit, though I was beyond curious about whatever had happened between Danika and Tristan.
We gorged ourselves on cheese enchiladas and chiles rellenos. I was over-stuffed when I finished, but I’d found my new favorite restaurant for comfort food.
The meal went smoothly after their little confrontation, and the women laughed and joked like old friends. We were finishing our meal when Frankie looked at me with a wicked smile, rubbing her hands together.
“How do you feel about branding James onto your body? Just something little. He did it for you. Don’t you want to return the favor?”
I should’ve known that was what she’d been plotting. She was a tattoo artist, after all. I considered her idea, not dismissing it out of hand. I was finding new ways to surprise myself daily. “What did you have in mind?” I asked her warily.
She waved Danika out of her seat. “May I borrow your back for a moment, Danika?” she asked cheerfully.
Danika just stood up and turned around as though they did this every day.
Frankie circled a small spot on the other woman’s shoulder blade. “James. Right here. Identical size, color and style as the Bianca on his chest. What do you think?”
I was shocked to find myself warming to the idea. I knew that James had done something so extreme to prove something to me, the same thing that he seemed to need me to prove to him. I took a deep breath. “The same size as his?” I asked.
Frankie whooped, sensing victory. “Yes, but on your back. I know James well enough to know that he wouldn’t like a boob tat. Let’s do this!”
Frankie had to have a brief but firm conversation with the camera crew and producer that taped her reality show. They were not going to tape this tattoo.
Blake insisted on searching the place, but I was surprised when she didn’t try to butt in when she saw what we were obviously doing. She just stood outside of the curtained area and waited for me.
In a shockingly short time I found myself lying on my stomach on Frankie’s table, my silk blouse pulled up over my shoulder, my bra unclasped. The position pushed hard on my newly pierced nipples, but I didn’t complain. I imagined that I wouldn’t even feel that pain when she started in with the needle.
“James is going to kill me,” Frankie muttered as she traced the pattern onto my back. “He’ll be mad at me for a while just for seeing and touching this much of your skin.”
Danika was giggling as she watched, a clear accessory to the crime.
“Really?” I asked Frankie, not sure if she was serious.
“He’s got you collared, Bianca. That’s some real serious shit for him. He’s possessive as all hell about every inch of you.”
“But it’s for a tattoo. I know he’ll get testy about that at first, but to get possessive about you touching my shoulder blade just seems so unreasonable.”
She laughed. “If you think that there’s anything reasonable about a Dom, you’ve been misinformed, my friend. He’s going to be incensed about this, but he’ll get over it, and I know that eventually he’ll love having his name on you.”
I sighed, thinking that she was probably right.
The tattoo was a shorter process than I thought it would be, though it was a small tattoo.
It stung, but the pain wasn’t at all as bad as I’d heard. After she’d worked on the area for just a few minutes, it all became one sort of throbbing sting, and by the end, I even liked the feeling. I understood a bit why some of my friends thought that tattoos were addictive.
Frankie showed me when she’d finished, and I felt a little thrill when I saw his name on my skin. I could get used to this, I thought. Which was good, because it was permanent.
She spread gel on the area and covered it with a small plastic film.
“Go shirtless as much as you can, at home. Let it air out. A consolation prize for James, I guess. You do have a fabulous rack.”
I sent her a look. She’d never seen my rack, but oh well, I’d take it as a compliment.
She grabbed her tiny purse, grinning at us. “I’m getting the hell outta Dodge. He won’t want to see me for a few days, so I’m going to make myself scarce. I’ll see you at the red carpet event for my show.”
“Coward!” Danika yelled at her as she took off in a hurry.
Danika walked me through the casino and to the executive offices, Blake and Henry trailing us silently. I had to stop and stare when we passed by one of the hotel’s auditoriums. It had a giant poster displayed of what the theatre featured, which was a long line of showgirls, kicking their legs high in the air, showing off all of their assets, and right smack in the middle of the picture, his arm around two of the showgirls, was a grinning James.
Danika shook her head when she saw it. “If it makes you feel any better, that was taken years ago.”
I shrugged, but I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the women in that chorus line he’d slept with.
“There seem to be a lot of things that he did years ago that just keep popping up,” I said, my tone neutral. I didn’t feel neutral, though.
She grimaced. “That sex tape… I heard about that. And just when he’s cleaned up his act. Life is funny like that, making us pay for the same stupid mistakes even after we’ve learned from them thoroughly.”
Now that sounded like a heartfelt statement. I studied her, still dying to know what had happened between her and the sexy as hell Tristan. I wouldn’t pry, though. Perhaps we’d get more chances to hang out, and someday she’d just tell me about it.
Danika walked me to the office reception before saying her goodbyes. We set up another meeting for the following week. She was coming all the way back to Vegas just to meet me again, but she didn’t seem to mind.
Reception led me immediately into James’s office, but I saw that he was busy on the phone as I walked in. Blake only followed me to the door. She didn’t seem to need to search the office, with James already there.
I sat in the chair directly in front of his desk, crossing my legs and watching him. I was torn on when to tell him about the tattoo. Should I just let him find it on his own? Chances were, if I did it that way, we’d be on the verge of having sex, and he was bound to be in a better mood about it…
James looked up, a phone to his ear. His eyes changed when he saw me, going from business-like and serious to smoldering between one blink and the next. I adored that I could put that look in his eye just by being there.
He held up a finger to me to show that he would only be another minute. I just nodded, watching him. The view never got old.
He hung up the phone and smiled at me. “We’ll go to my house from here. Stephan is out but he says he’ll crash there with us tonight. He doesn’t mind staying with us until the danger’s past.”
I was relieved, though I hadn’t really thought that Stephan would give him a hard time.
The tattoo just didn’t come up, or rather, I didn’t work up the nerve to bring it up, until he found it himself that night.
Frankie had predicted his reaction well. He was completely incensed.
He was at my back, peeling off my shirt when he spotted it.
I knew what was coming, and so I stiffened just before he did.
His eyes bored into my back for long moments before he began to curse, succinctly and fluently. He finished his tirade with an impassioned, “I’ll kill her.”
“She said you’d say that,” I told him.
That just made him curse even more. “I can’t believe I didn’t see it coming, when she called me up saying that you were all doing a girls’ day, and that I should keep on working. I knew she wanted to get her hands on you.”
I shot him an exasperated look. “You really think that she did all of this just so that she could very briefly touch me? She was completely professional, James.”
“I should have known she would try this, but I can’t believe that you agreed to it. What were you thinking?”
“You did the same thing for me—to prove something to me. You wanted me to see that you really were devoted to me, and that you wanted a long-term commitment. I was trying to do the same thing for you. I wanted you to see that I’m just as committed. It’s not something that should make you jealous. I branded your name on my shoulder, and all you can do is get jealous that someone else was holding the needle. I didn’t do this because Frankie wanted me to. I did it for you. We belong to each other, James, and now we both have the ink to prove it. I thought that you would love seeing your name on me.”
In terms of defusing his anger, it worked like a charm. He pressed hard against my back, murmuring into my ear. “I do love seeing that on you. How could I ever stay mad, when you say such wonderful things to me? So tell me, Bianca, just how committed are you? Committed enough to take my name and wear my ring? Devoted enough to like the sound of Bianca Cavendish?”