“The guy was trying to rip me off,” Dana says. “So I told him I was going to stop by the sex shop and pick up a dildo so he could screw me extra hard.”
Crystal bubbles over with laughter until tears flow down her cheeks. “That’s priceless,” she says, her voice now a sexy rasp, which has me looking at her lips and thinking about all the places I’d like them to be tonight. “There’s never a dull moment with you, Dana,” she says. “And I’ll still respect you in the morning.”
We all laugh, my mother included, and the sound is music to my ears. “I can’t believe I’ve been up so long,” my mother says afterward.
My father and I exchange a look, followed by me and Crystal. It’s time. We have to talk to her. While my father clears her tray, I stand up and go sit on the edge of the bed beside her. Crystal moves to the opposite side, beside my father.
My mother scans our faces. “If this is an intervention, I can’t give up the drugs. It’s a doctor-approved addiction.”
I take her frail hand in mine, wishing like hell this conversation weren’t necessary. “I need to talk to you about something.”
“All right, son. I’m listening.”
“I’m here, which means the press is, too. I need to warn you about what they’re saying.”
“Go on,” she says, lacing her fingers in front of her.
“Ava’s defense team are after their version of O. J. Simpson, Hollywood lights and all, uncaring of who they hurt in the process.”
“That’s not good,” she murmurs.
“But it’s nothing we haven’t dealt with before,” Crystal points out, “with all the money and power that runs through the gallery.”
“And even one of my ballplayers, who took a payoff from a pro team long before he went pro,” my father says.
“Just tell me what you need to tell me,” my mother says, her attention on me.
“Before Ava’s escape,” I continue, “her defense team was desperate to counter her confession, which they claimed was made under duress, and driven by me.”
“You? Why you?”
“They changed their story a number of times. First, Ava said she confessed to protect me.”
She gasps. “Do you mean—”
“Yes. She accused me of killing Rebecca, but the police have cleared me and they now have proof of Ava’s guilt.”
“Her legal team threw out a lot of random nonsense when trying to get the murder charge dropped. Everything from a sex scandal, to a sex club, Rebecca blackmailing me, and Ricco saying I set him and Mary up to shut him up when he had almost figured it all out.”
My mother sits up. “What? Do they actually believe you’d ruin our business to set him up?”
“Easy, Dana,” my father says. “Easy.”
“Nothing is getting ruined,” I assure her.
“In fact,” my father adds, “Larry Prescot called me today to express concern and relay how pleased he is with Crystal.”
“I’m finding in general, as we talk to people and explain things,” Crystal adds, “they become more supportive, not less.”
“Ricco’s trial is in January, so we’ll have to endure his accusations then. In the meantime, the press keeps trying to make headlines with all the nastiness Ava’s defense threw out before her escape.”
“Like a sex club and sex scandal.”
“Nothing anyone can prove. It’s just talk.”
“Nothing they can’t prove,” she repeats. “Is there a sex club?”
I draw a breath and let it out. “It’s a cigar club to the public.”
“So there is a club.”
“Elite. Expensive. Members only.”
“And your role is?”
“I own it.”
She turns to my father. “You knew?”
“Not before this Ava fiasco.”
At his reply, she glances at Crystal. “And you?”
“Mark warned me,” she says. “He never let me get sideswiped, so I never missed a beat when questioned.”
My mother’s gaze comes back to me. “What kind of sex club?”
“You said that.”
“BDSM and fetish.”
Her hand goes to her throat. “Do you have a club here?”
“No. That was never an option and it still isn’t.”
“And Rebecca and Ava were members?”
“Yes,” I reply.
“What else do I need to know?”
“Ricco had a stalkerlike obsession with Rebecca. The police suspect he helped Ava escape because he thought she was innocent, and that I killed Rebecca. There’s now speculation that Ava is missing because he found out the truth and killed her.”
“So, we have press now. We’ll have press again when something turns up on Ava, and again during the trial.”
“That about sums it up.”
She stares forward, and it’s as if she’s shutting a door, withdrawing from me and everyone in the room. “I need to rest now.” Defeat laces her words and radiates off her.
I did this to her. I made her hell deeper and darker. “I’m not going to let this hurt Riptide,” I promise. “I won’t let that happen.”
She looks at me, her bottom lip trembling in a way I have never seen before. “I said I need to rest, Mark.” She looks forward again.