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All The Way Up

Chapter Text

 

Shorty what you want? Shorty what you need?

My niggas run the game, we ain't ever leeeeavin'

Countin' up this money, we ain't never sleepin'


 

 

I.

 

Over glasses of chardonnay and an episode of Real Housewives, drinks at the Grande to celebrate a year divorced from Dean sounded like a fun idea, but now that Beth was dolled up and squeezed into a scarlet red dress sitting alone at the bar she felt kind of silly. Ruby was home with Sarah, Annie was running fantastically late, and Beth had already finished one whiskey on the rocks and started on a second.

The bar was crowded, filled with a mixed and moneyed throng of people who were—Beth hated to admit—mostly a good deal younger than her.

With a sigh Beth took another sip, savoring the burn as the aged grain alcohol slid down her throat, and looked around. Had Annie arrived and gotten distracted? It was a big place—and Annie was Annie.

The crowd parted, one group of young people converging with another, and an unexpected sight met Beth's eyes that made her heart jump into her throat. She would know him anywhere, of course, even in a well cut dark suit, his white shirt casually open at the collar. Even with two young beauties flanking him on either side, curled up on the booth and whispering coquettishly in his ear.

Rio.

The last time she saw him was that fateful night she'd thrown keys in his face—he told her to go home to her babies, and she did.

It seemed like things were going well for him—he looked good enough to eat, and it appeared that was exactly what the brunette to his left had in mind.

A wave of longing—and jealousy—washed over Beth, taking her by surprise. It made her bold, and at the moment she should have looked away for decency's sake she kept her gaze upon him. As though he could feel it from across the room Rio's eyes found hers.

It felt like lightning striking deep in the wastelands of her soul, in a dark place she'd taken pains to ignore these past couple years. 

Beth knew that watching that woman kiss Rio would be like taking a dagger to the heart, yet she couldn't bring herself to look away. However, at the last moment Rio canted his head, denying the brown haired beauty her prize.

Beth's heart skipped a beat, but she knew better than to think it meant a damn thing.

She forced herself to look away, suddenly very interested in the amber dregs of her drink.

He looked well, and she was happy for him. She really was. He was smart and he worked hard and he deserved his success. She might have been right there beside him even, had she not freaked out about the empty dummy truck and lost her cool.

Looking back, it had been stupid. Rio had known it was empty, of course. He'd put it there—his canary in the coal mine to test if anyone in his organization was talking to cops. And he sent Beth—wholesome, innocent looking suburban mom Beth—to feel it out, because he'd had faith in her and knew she would be fine. She saw that now that she was not blinded by rage and hurt that it seemed he would use her like a pawn—too little too late.

Worse somehow—not only had she been stupid, but she'd been violent. For all his threats and brandishing of guns, Rio had never actually laid a hand on her.

She would have fired her too.

Thinking about all this again after so long—a drawer of her memory she usually tried to keep shut and locked—made her embarrassed all over again. In a few seconds her face would match the color of her dress—she had to go. She would text Annie to meet her somewhere else—if her sister was even coming.

Just as she was about to summon the bartender to close her tab a deep voice behind her that she'd never been able to get off her brain asked, "Buy you a drink for old time's sake, Red?"

A thrill ran down her spine.

Slowly she turned to find him leaning upon the bar beside her, casual and confident, that handsome smirk pulling the side of his full mouth.

Classic Rio.

Maybe some things never change, and suddenly Beth took some heart from that.

Perhaps she waited too long to answer, but he waited patiently as a predator of the jungle, those dark eyes drifting up and down her form.

The smile widened slightly—he seemed to approve of what he saw, and perhaps that gave Beth some well needed courage. She gave a totally suave and witty answer of, "OK."

For a moment Rio's smile widened just enough to flash straight white teeth, and Beth's heart quickened. He was still beautiful, and it still wasn’t fair, but here they were.

"Don't sound too eager, Mamma," he chuckled, and turned to summon the barkeep.

She gulped a little, hating and loving the way that little pet name still made her warm all over. Rio made Mamma sound like something sensual, something to be desired rather than taken for granted, over worked, and dismissed.

"I guess I'm a little surprised you want to talk to me."

Rio canted his head slightly, giving her that look that always made her feel like he could see straight into her soul. "No hard feelings on my end."

She pressed her lips, and her eyes strayed to the corner of his mouth. There was a tiny scar there—so faint one wouldn't have noticed if one didn't know what to look for. Before she could stop herself she lifted her hand to touch the corner of his mouth lightly with her thumb.

"I hope that's not from me."

Rio leaned into her touch slightly, his eyes never leaving hers. "I kinda like havin’ somethin to remember you by," he deflected with that half smile, not about to admit that she’d hurt him.

At the time he certainly hadn’t been so amused.

Before she could take her hand away Rio clasped it in his, rubbing his thumb over her now empty ring finger. "I seem to remember you used to have a big sparkly rock on this hand."

Beth sighed. "Not for a while now."

"Sorry." He didn't sound it, and neither was she, anymore.

"I'm not."

"That's good, Red. You deserved better."

She couldn’t help but remember his assessment of Dean that one day in her bedroom. He don't look trustworthy. Even Rio had known.

"Thanks."

He didn’t let go of her hand, his long tattooed fingers clasping hers. His thumb continued to draw maddening little circles across her knuckles, sending a thrill up her arm as he slowly melted her with that midnight-eyed gaze of his.

Her eyes drifted down to the open collar of his shirt, the eagle neck tattoo on open display. Whatever he was up to these days, he wasn't concerned with hiding his roots. Somehow that made her happy, that he remained unchanged despite his moving up in the world.

"You look great," she said with a small curl of lips. "Business must be good."

He paid her a conspiratorial smile.

"You could say that."

She wanted to ask more but this wasn't the place, and she bit her lip to hold it back. Rio's black eyes glittered as though he knew her thoughts all too well. "You ever miss it?"

"Sometimes. Parts of it, at least."

Rio raised an eyebrow, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "What parts?"

Beth just sighed and rolled her eyes. "The thrill," she answered, purposely obstinate. His ego needed no help from her.

Rio just chuckled. “Not the money?”

“Well…that too.”

“Hmm.” He continued to weigh her with that heavy gaze, and Beth wondered what was the point of talking? She’d always been an open book to him. The bartender brought their drinks and Beth took the opportunity to gently dislodge her hand from his.

She couldn’t think while he had her in hand.

"I have to admit I didn't think this was your scene,” she said, taking a sip of her drink.

"Just mixing a little business and pleasure." He looked her up and down in that blatantly sexual way that she should have hated but it never failed to make her simmer all over.

Beth just rolled her big blue eyes, even if her heart made an honest effort at beating out of her chest. "What about you, Mamma? You celebratin'?"

"Something like that. Annie was supposed to meet me, but she's late as usual."

Rio smiled slightly. "Good ol' Annie."

Beth sighed. She supposed it was funny to him now that he wasn't depending on her to launder his money. "Yeah, good ol Annie."

"And how Ruby doin'? Now she was the thug. I got a few people I wouldn't mind havin’ shot in the foot if she want a job again."

Beth's hand flew to her mouth. "You knew about that?"

"I know everything, sweetheart." He paid her that shit eating grin. "Big Mike called me up to complain about you three but I told him he was lucky it wasn't me, I'da shot him in the knees for tryin’ that shit."

Beth's eyes went wide, but she couldn't suppress a giggle. She wondered how much Rio knew about their other amateurish blunders.

"Well...Ruby didn't mean to."

Rio just nodded, his eyes sparkling, clearly still amused. But his voice took on a graver tone when he asked. "Her little girl still sick?" 

Beth turned her eyes up to his, surprised again Rio did know everything. "She needs a kidney," Beth imparted glumly. Sarah needed a kidney and needed it soon, and they'd been racking their brains as to how to raise the funds.

"That ain't cheap."

"No."

"I guess I see any grocery stores knocked over on the news I'll know what happened."

He was making light of it—but they had totally considered going back into business.

Beth calmly took a drink of her refreshed glass of bourbon.

"We would hate to be so unoriginal," she deadpanned.

Rio laughed, a genuine laugh that swelled her heart, and they continued to talk for the next hour. It was surprisingly easy like this, when they were just two people at a bar who liked each other.

Annie still did not show.

Rio noticed Beth looking at her phone.

"Hate to say it baby girl, but I think you got stood up."

Beth shrugged a little. It wasn't the first time, though she hoped Annie was all right.

"It can't be an emergency or she would have called me by now."

"You still takin' care of everyone, huh? Who's takin' care of you?"

Beth's heart fell a little, and for just a moment she looked away. No one was the answer to that, but somehow she couldn't bring herself to say that to Rio.

"I can take care of myself."

Rio smiled a little at that and nodded, saluting her with his drink. "Don't I know it, Mamma."

It didn't feel like he was mocking her, and Beth lifted her glass too, feeling warm all over.

Rio looked down into his empty glass pensively, lifting one eyebrow. "You know, I ain't got many regrets, but I been kickin myself for never kissing you."

Beth felt the heat flush her face from her neck up to the top of her head.

"Rio..."

"You gonna tell me you ain't never thought about it?"

She sighed and bit her lip but damn if she doesn't hold his gaze. "Your little friends are missing you," she said in an attempt to divert him, her eyes sliding over to the booth where Rio had been sitting. Both of his companions were giving her the evil eye.

"Who?"

Rio's gaze never left hers, and Beth's bosom heaved just a little as she took a deep breath.

"It was...messy before," Rio mused. "I don't like my lady to be afraid of me, but you worked for me so you had to be. That's how it is, but it made things difficult."

It would have been a lie to pretend that forbidden element did not also fuel their little flame, but he was right in a way.

"Are you saying you're not really such a bad guy?" she teased.

"Somethin’ like that." There was a long moment of eye contact, and Beth forgot how much she had missed this little game of eye-fucking Rio. Yet maybe it didn't have to be a game anymore. The stakes were all too real. "So, you want to get out of here?"

Blue eyes went wide as saucers. Maybe she had never really done this before, but she watched enough TV to understand the code.

"You're serious?" A part of her just couldn't believe this was happening.

"I'm always serious, Red, you know that."

She met his eyes and she felt his gaze pulling at her, willing her to give in. She never had before. It had felt like a luxury she couldn't afford—a line she couldn't cross. But now there was nothing really to stop her. Before she really knew what she was doing she felt herself nodding, and for a moment his smile was as blinding as looking into the sun.

"Cool."

He immediately turned to close his tab, and Beth sat wide eyed, wondering what the hell she'd just done. Something crazy? Something wonderful? She would find out. She had to text Annie, and she shot off a quick message. 

I had to go. If you are in trouble call me.

There was no answer by the time Rio returned to her, his dark eyes smoldering with a barely banked fire.

"Ready?"

"Yeah." She took the hand he offered, allowing him to help her off the high stool. Her legs felt a little unsteady, but it wasn't the whiskey or her four inch pumps. Playfully Rio tugged her a little, bringing her flush against the hard line of his body. She gasped, a hand flying to steady herself against his chest. He felt like he was carved out of wood. Mahogany, maybe. Something dark and fine... 

Realizing she was oogling him, her eyes flew back up to his, to find his mouth curled in that wonderfully infuriating smirk.

"Alright?"

She narrowed her eyes, and for the briefest moment she considered kissing that smirk off his face.

"Lead the way." With an arm insinuated about her waist he was all too happy to do just that, pulling her towards the exit. She liked being tucked up against his lean body like she was something precious to him, something worthy of protection. She also liked the way he didn't have a problem with taking charge—she always had. Maybe because she was always at the helm, it felt so good to hand someone else the wheel for a change.

At the elevator Beth was surprised when Rio hit the up button. She paid him a questioning look, which he answered with a raised brow. "I got a room upstairs, if that's all right with you."

She couldn't miss the note of teasing in his tone. She was so used to being in charge that she didn't know how to turn it off, even with Rio. She supposed that had been a problem for them before, but now it just seemed to amuse him.

"Yeah, that'll do," she fired back, winning that smirk that kindled something hot and reckless low in her belly. 

Their staring contest was interrupted by the dinging of the elevator door opening before them, and with an arm around her waist Rio pulled her inside. As the doors slid closed, affording them some modicum of privacy, Rio cradled her face in his large palm. Beth shivered as the tips of his fingers teased her hairline, tucking a stray lock behind her ear, and he looked down at her like something he would like to devour—and lick the plate too.

"Goddamn you are beautiful."

Beth's eyes widened a little at the vehemence of the declaration. Just that morning she'd counted three new crows feet at the corners of her eyes, and she kind of assumed that the rest of her body was betraying her in similar ways she didn't even realize. But the way Rio looked at her—she felt like Helen of Troy, and like no time and no bad blood had passed between them at all.

"Rio—" Before she could finish her sentence, or even her thought, his lips descended to hers. He held her face between his hands like she was something precious to behold and proceeded to kiss her silly, his full lips and clever tongue coaxing her open to him. Her hands slid beneath his jacket, investigating the trim outline of his waist, the ladder of his ribcage, the musculature of his back as she held him to her. A fleeting fear that she might appear too desperate came and went as Rio walked her backwards into the wall of the elevator, the length of his lean body pressing into hers. He stole the breath from her lungs with the weight of his body and his lips upon her neck, his teeth grazing the curve of her clavicle. They lost themselves so entirely in this long-coveted lock of lips that they failed to separate as the elevator came to a stop, only glancing up when the doors opened and a small group of startled onlookers gasped for the sight before them.

Laughing with an almost boyish glee, Rio took her hand and pulled her onwards, ignoring their audience completely with his prize in his grasp. The group of scandalized guests parted like water for them, and Rio led her down the hallway, their progress staggered as he paused every twenty feet to kiss Beth again and again. She really didn’t know how her legs were still able to function, he made her so weak in the knees. Again he trapped her against a door that she hoped was his, but his lips on hers made her forget all her trepidation. She forgot manners, decorum, the fact that they were still basically in public, as his mouth descended to her neck once more and sucked upon her pulse point, the scrape of his teeth tearing an embarrassingly wanton cry from deep in her throat.

With hooded eyes Rio drew back to look at her, digging in the inside pocket of his jacket and producing a plastic keycard. With a heavy breath he held it up, and it took a few moments for Beth to focus on something besides his eyes upon her. “You sure you want this, Mamma?”

With a shaky little laugh she nodded, her hands fisting in the lapels of his obviously expensive suit jacket. The fabric was smooth and fine beneath her fingers. This did not come from Men’s Warehouse, she mused.

“I’ve wanted this ever since…” She closed her eyes for a moment, willing her brain to think about something besides his narrow hips pressed against hers. She could feel that he wanted her and the long-forgotten power in that knowledge made her feel a little drunk. Far more than the whiskey she’d imbibed earlier did. “Since I left you the pearls.”

Maybe before that, even, if she was really honest with herself.

She’d always been attracted to men who were leaders. The alpha of the pack. Once upon a time that had been Dean, captain of the football team and the most popular guy in school. That glory had faded long ago, but she’d recognized that feeling of desire when she walked into Rio’s warehouse that day, the massive space teeming with people working on processing his fake money, and he the grand ringleader in the center of it all, so full of energy and decisive confidence as he spoke to the man in the suit and his employees.

That was the night she knew he was no average thug, and maybe the night she also knew she would never be the same. Never be able to go back to being boring Beth Boland, Mother of Four Extraordinaire.

Rio closed his eyes, a low sound escaping from deep in his throat as he recalled that night. “I mighta had an inkling,” he admitted humbly, that infuriating half smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. He thought back on that night when he’d sought her out, that strand of pearls heavy in his pocket. He’d kept them for days as a talisman, running his fingers over their cool smooth surface as he’d decided whether or not he wanted to get mixed up with this woman again. He’d known the smart thing to do would be to make a clean break—but in the end he hadn’t been able to help himself.

Only later would he find the strength to really let her go, but here they were again. Maybe there really was such a thing as fate?

Beth narrowed her eyes, poking him lightly in the ribs. In her current position she felt bold enough to retort, “As if I was the only one.”

Rio’s laughter was husky with desire, and he leaned down to steal another slow wet kiss. “Fine, I’ll come clean, baby. I didn’t think you wanted to talk business when you left me those pearls,” he said, the meaning sinking in as he looked at her from hardly an inch away.

He’d thought she wanted something decidedly morecarnaland he’d come running.

That acknowledgment that this crazy attraction hadn’t been some invention concocted in the imagination of a deranged soccer mom sent a thrill from Beth’s head to her toes.

Beth took a deep breath, inhaling the heady spiced cologne and clean skin scent of him. It all made her a little dizzy. Rio watched her hungrily, mesmerized by the electric blue fire of her eyes as she mulled all this over.

“Are you going to open this door?” she finally asked, hardly recognizing her own voice. “Or am I going to have to do indecent things to you out here in the hall?”

With a heated look Rio slid the keycard home and opened the door to his room, pulling Beth inside. She followed him gladly, and again she had that feeling, an excitement that thrummed in the very marrow of her bones, a certain knowledge that there would be no going back.

Gladly she followed the devil down this dark fork in the road, skipping all the way.

Chapter Text

II.

And if you ask anybody where I live

They'll point to the hills and say

Go all the way up

 


 

 

Beth wasn't really sure if Rio managed to close the door behind them, so caught up was she in his kisses and his hands in her hair and on her curves. It all went by in a happy blur, though by the distance they covered she soon realized he occupied not a room but a suite.

She managed to push his suit jacket from his shoulders with determination, but soon regretted it with some long-ingrained instinct for preserving clothing.

"Maybe I should hang that up, it looked expensive," she mused breathily, peeking around his shoulder at the pile of fine designer fabric on the floor.

Rio didn't even pay it a glance, laughing a little. "Yeah, it was," he agreed dismissively, and kept walking her backwards. Whatever she might have said in reply was swallowed up by his kiss, and soon rumpled clothing was farthest from her mind. He pulled her close so that he could reach around her body with long arms, finding her zipper with clever fingers and drawing it down. Her ample cleavage attempted to make an escape from the newly loosened confines of her dress, a thing of which Rio watched with great appreciation.

Somehow, it was almost more erotic to be half dressed than if she’d been completely naked, the scarlet red fabric of her ensemble falling down around her shoulders. From the heated look Rio paid her she couldn’t help but think he might agree. He kissed her again and nudged her backwards with his hips, until her back pressed into the doorjamb of the bedroom. His body pressed against hers stole her breath away, and with trembling hands she reached for the buttons of his shirt.

Rio caught her hands with an insouciant smile, and pinned them above her head. He watched her for a moment, gauging her reaction. There was no objection, only her kiss-swollen lips parting with desire, and with a small sound from deep in his throat Rio leaned down to kiss her again. His lips traveled the line of her jaw, her neck, and glided over the pale mound of her cleavage. “You are so soft,” he murmured against her skin, and freed one breast from the scrap of lace that passed for her bra that night. “So perfect.” She had no words, only moans, as his mouth closed on her nipple, his tongue flicking back and forth lightly in a way that made her center ache with need. 

When she felt his hand on her thigh, slowly making its way beneath her skirt, she thought she might die of need. He teased her, caressing the sensitive skin of her inner thigh, but not quite touching where she needed him most. When she whimpered and pressed her hips towards his hand she felt him smile against her mouth, before his teeth grazed the plump flesh of her lower lip. “What you want, mamma?”

She laughed shakily. “You know what I want.”

“I want to hear you say it.” His hand traveled a little higher, and Beth held her breath. It was possible that she was a bit touch starved as it was—Rio teasing her like this could be the death of her.

“I want you.”

His smile widened. “Yeah? How?”

“I want…” Rio moved her panties to the side, hovering in anticipation, and she could not think. “Please?” He took mercy on her, circling her clit lightly with the pad of one finger before dipping into the moist heat of her center.

Damn you are wet.

Again she gave a shaky laugh, and wondered if her legs would hold as he began massaging her again in that place that made her see stars. “Always, when you’re around,” she admitted breathily. “Every time you ever gave me that look, I—.” She stopped herself before she said something really embarrassing, but Rio fixed that dark gaze upon her as though willing the truth to spring forth.

“You what?” he asked quietly against her temple, slowing his motions to a maddening crawl.

Beth’s head rocked back hard enough to thunk against the wood trim of the doorjamb. She didn’t know if this was the most erotic or the most mortifying situation she’d ever found herself in. He would laugh if she told him the truth. Worse, he would pity her. Poor pathetic suburban housewife who really needed to get laid. The thought made her a little angry, and it was more than that. It always had been between them. She gave the edge a cursory glance before stepping off into the abyss.

I needed you.”

Rio stopped his attentions completely, pulling back to look her in the eye. She thought that maybe she’d really done it. Said something wrong. Freaked him out. Broke the rules of this game—rules she didn’t really know or understand. But the heat in Rio’s anthracite eyes made her think that maybe she hadn’t screwed up so badly, a moment before he released her hands to pull her into his arms, and into the bedroom.

She was finally allowed to unbutton his shirt as they walked haltingly to the side of the bed, their progress interrupted by kisses and Rio stripping her of her dress entirely. She revealed the toned caramel planes of his chest and torso, lean muscle embellished with a myriad of blank ink tattoos. Before she could push the shirt from his shoulders he held up his wrist, wordlessly asking for help with his cufflinks. They were blindingly polished white gold with mother of pearl inlay. Simple and elegant but heavy in her hand as she flipped the toggles and pulled them free. Dean had never owned a pair so nice.

Beth managed to unbuckle Rio’s belt before he nudged her backwards to sit on the edge of the bed. She couldn’t help but feel exposed in just her bra and panties before his exacting stare, but the way he looked at her also made her feel like something that should be admired. With a smug smile he reached for her panties, slowly drawing them down her hips. When he gently parted her legs and knelt between them the expression of pure hunger upon his handsome visage made her mouth a bit dry.

“You are a true red-head,” he teased, lightly caressing the downy curls of her center.

Though she hadn’t really planned on getting laid that night—really, honest—she was suddenly glad she’d done some cursory maintenance down there.

“Was there ever any doubt?” she fired back, her eyes fluttering closed as he touched her with the pad of his thumb.

“With that fiery temper? Nah, Mamma, I knew. Now lie back.”

Her laughter soon shifted to a moan as he put his mouth where his hand had been, and his tongue on her clit coaxed the most maddeningly wonderful sensations from her body. He was patient and incredibly adept and when he complemented this magic with two fingers inside her Beth arched her back, her hands scrambling for purchase in the sheets. “God Rio, not yet!” she pleaded, her hips moving against his mouth indicating that maybe her body disagreed. “I want you inside me.”

For a moment she thought he would not acquiesce, determined to take what he would just because he could. But at the final moment in which Beth could not take any more without falling to pieces he withdrew, wiping his mouth on the sheets. “I love the taste of you. I knew you would be sweet,” he imparted, his voice taken on a gravely tone that sent shivers across Beth’s skin.

With hungry eyes she watched him stand, slowly completing the motions of removing his belt and pants, and then boxer briefs, leaving himself completely exposed. He seemed perfectly comfortable in his own skin, but then maybe the way Beth looked at him gave him confidence too. She could not stop herself from gazing appreciatively between his legs for maybe a moment—or five—too long before meeting his eyes again. His mouth was twisted in that knowing smirk. “See somethin’ you like?”

She knew her laughter sounded like a purr but she simply couldn’t stop herself. “I see a lot of something that I like.”

The sound of his laughter was like a balm for her soul, and she watched as he produced a condom from the drawer in the bedside table. But still he stood by the side of the bed, watching her. Thinking fair was fair, she unclasped her bra, tossing it away somewhere at the foot of the bed. “You’re like a painting,” he finally said. “Like one of those old masters, or maybe those Raphaelite dudes.”

Beth knew he meant the Pre-Raphaelites. She’d admired them herself in a period of her young life when she felt extremely self-conscious about her pale skin and red hair, and took solace in seeing her reflection made beautiful in art. “Not Oephelia, I hope,” she deadpanned, thinking of that most famous painting of the movement.

“Nah. Joan of Arc, maybe. But hotter.” With that he finally joined her on the bed, his lips finding hers as his bodyweight settled upon her. She relished the solid feel of him, the trim lines of his torso and muscled back, and the perfect curve of his tight little ass.

“If I’m a painting,” she mused, her hands trailing the ladder of his ribcage, “Then you’re sculpture.”

Rio chuckled at the thought. “I don’t think they make statues of men like me, baby.”

“Michelangelo clearly missed an opportunity then,” she teased, her hand trailing down. Rio shifted so that she could take him in hand. He was thick and long and velvety soft, and Beth almost regretted that they were going to have to cover all that up. It didn’t take much persuasion to coax Rio onto his back so that she could kiss down his chest, her tongue following the ripples of his abdomen to the pronounced v of his hips. When she took him in her mouth he made a sound that could have been mistaken for pain, his hand gently resting on the crown of her head. “Fuck,” he sighed, gently pressing her down. “Deeper. Oh.

It was ridiculously gratifying to hear him come a little undone, as he did to her with just a look. When he gently tugged at her hair at the base of her skull she didn’t want to relent, relishing the power and the pleasure of making him pant with need. “Hold up, or this will be over ‘fore its even begun,” he warned her, and she withdrew with a saucy smile that seemed to ignite a challenge in Rio. He shook his head, guiding her onto her back once more. “You in for it now, mamma.”

“I thought you were,” she teased, those blue eyes sparkling as she watched him roll on the condom.

“Yeah, somethin’ like that.” She sighed as he placed himself at her entrance, eyes sliding closed as he pushed himself inside her body.

Oh Rio.

When he was sheathed completely Rio gathered her close with an arm beneath her shoulders, his cheek pressed to hers. “Elizabeth,” he rasped in her ear, and began to move slowly. His use of her full name sent shivers across her skin, the way it had the night she’d thought they’d said goodbye forever. It made her clutch him closer, tilting her hips to draw him even deeper inside.

She didn’t want to let go, and Beth felt herself begin to unravel like string from a skein.

He took her slowly at first, rolling his hips against hers in a way that hit all the right buttons. But when he folded her legs so that he could kneel before her, touching her while he thrust deep inside her channel Beth knew this was it. He nodded as he watched her reactions to his touch, knowing as well as she did that the end was near. “That’s right, baby, come for me. You’re beautiful, I want to feel you.” He slowed down for her even more, his thumb working magic with her clit as his cock filled her, and Beth felt her orgasm fill her hips like a vessel before exploding outwards, a ragged cry of Rio’s name on her lips. She felt him shudder against her and knew he came too—she pulled him closer, squeezing him with her most intimate muscles, winning a joyous string of expletives that made her smile with a lazy triumph.

Rio collapsed upon her, unable to move from their tangle of limbs for several minutes. When eventually he came back to life he sat up on elbows and kissed Beth sweetly, nipping at her lower lip. “I got an imagination, darlin’, but not even I thought it would be that good. Where did you come from?”

Beth smiled shyly, reaching up to trace the line of his angular cheekbone and jaw.

“You’re sweet.” He raised one dark brow, but she could see the glitter of laughter in his eyes. Maybe no one had ever dared call him that before? “And I’ve never…” She trailed off into nervous laughter, not sure she should go down that path.

But as usual Rio was not about to let her off so easy, and nudged her with the tip of his nose. “Never what?”

She hesitated for a few long moments, but something in the sincerity of his gaze assured her. “I’ve never felt anything like that before,” she admitted, wondering if Rio would be insufferable for it. Well, maybe he’d earned the right to be a little cocky…

Instead he threw her for a loop—had she not already been lying down she might have fallen. “Me neither, mamma.”

He got up then, and disposed of the condom in the trash before disappearing into the bathroom. Beth listened to the water run before he reappeared, a lazy smile curling his full lips. She wondered what the protocol was now—was she supposed to gather her things and go? Rio answered the question for her by flicking off the lamp and pulling her close under the covers. With her head on Rio’s chest and feeling the most content she had in years, Beth dozed.

 


 

 

When Beth woke it was still dark. She was alone in the bed, and her heart fell. Clutching the sheet to her chest, she sat up to look around. Moonlight and the glow from the city filtered through the floor to ceiling window, and Rio stood there in his black boxer briefs looking very much like a CK model.

Noticing her wakefulness, Rio turned, paying her a close lipped smile. The warmth therein sent a thrill marching from her spine to the tips of her toes. “Hey.”

“Hey.”

“C’mere.”

Beth went, sleepily sliding out of bed and taking the sheet with her like a badly wrapped toga. Rio seemed to find this amusing, perhaps because he’d already seen her naked and had been inside her, but he said nothing.

“What are you looking at?” she asked, joining him at the window. All of Detroit glittered below, city lights of every color twinkling like ground-bound stars, the river a dark ribbon running through it. Street lights, traffic lights, headlights. Even at this hour the city did not sleep.

“Everything look so small from up here,” he mused. “Easy to see how they forget about us down below.”

Beth didn’t have to ask who they were. She understood the metaphor all too well.

Rio pointed to a section of town where the lights were a bit dimmer than everywhere else. Beth knew it was the roughest part of Detroit, impoverished and violent and where everything had fallen into disrepair. “That’s where I stayed as a kid. Almost looks pretty, from this far away.”

Beth canted her head. The sudden urge to hold him came over her, but something told her he wouldn’t have appreciated the gesture. He jutted his chin, pointing in the distance, towards the suburbs to the west. “And I found you all the way out there. Seems like it shouldn’t have worked out, looking at the distance from here.”

Biting her bottom lip, Beth tilted her head up towards him. “I’m glad, tonight.”

He took the invitation, pressing his lips to hers in a slow soft kiss. “Me too.”

“I guess now that you’re all the way up here, you’ll have to try not to forget about us peasants down below,” she teased, winning an amused shake of the head.

“I’m workin’ on it. But I got a long fuckin’ memory, don’t you worry.”

Beth knew that was true. Feeling rather distracted, she traced the ridge of his abdomen with one nail, making his skin twitch as she reached the elastic waistband of his boxer briefs. “Not just a memory,” she teased, and like flipping a switch she watched that fire ignite in his dark eyes once more.

“Hmm. That mean you ready for round two, baby?”

“Maybe.”

He tugged at the sheet, sending it pooling at her feet. The sudden chill of the room sent gooseflesh marching across her skin, her nipples contracting to tight points. Rio watched with a ravenous gaze, and Beth gasped as he gently backed her into the window. Though she knew the glass was inches thick it still sent an uneasy thrill down her spine.

“Rio?”

“Shh. I got you.”

He went to his knees before her, and any protest Beth might have made melted into rapturous delight.

Chapter Text

III.

 

Shorty what you want?

I got what you need

 

 


 

 

As dawn filled the room with soft blue light Beth sat up in bed beside Rio. His long limbs sprawled across the mattress beside her, half tangled in the white sheets. He looked innocent at rest.

Boyish.

Pure.

It was as beguiling as it was misleading.

She suspected she knew the protocol for this thing they had done. Their night had been fabulous, but now she was supposed to make herself scarce in the morning, and the sun was here.

Yet she couldn't make herself move.

It was very possible she wouldn't see him again. Probable, even. Almost a certainty. 

There was a lump in the back of her throat, and an annoying wetness stung the corners of her eyes.

"What you doin’ Mamma?" His voice was thick with sleep, but his eyes remained closed.

Beth sighed. "It's morning." It wasn't really an answer to his question—nor was it exactly a question of her own.

"Yeah. You ain't runnin’ out on me, are you?"

Her heart gave a hopeful flutter in her chest, and it was a dangerous thing.

"Do you want me to stay?"

Rio pulled her back down, tucking his long body around hers. "Imma keep you long as you let me. You gotta get back to them kids?"

"They're with their father for the weekend." Even Buddy the dog had gone to Dean’s, so she was really off the hook as far as needing to get home.

"Mmm. That's good news for me."

His hand roamed the dip of her waist to the curve of her hip, palming her ass with a low sound of appreciation from deep in his chest. "Very good news." At the moment however nothing more came of it, as Rio fell back asleep behind her, spooning her like she was something precious that needed holding close. Their bodies fit together surprisingly well. Too well, perhaps.

Her heart melted a little, and even as she knew she was setting herself up for some pain later she drifted back into sleep.

 


 

 

Beth woke again to butterfly soft kisses upon her neck and shoulders, and a slowly wandering hand exploring the curves of her waist and breasts. It sent a thrill over her skin and a corresponding ache between her thighs. After all they had done the night before Beth couldn’t fathom how she was not completely satiated, but Rio’s touch brought her to life again and again. She stretched like a cat with a breathy sigh, arching against the lean masculine form behind her. His manhood pressed hard against her derriere, very awake, and very happy to see her.

“Morning, beautiful,” said Rio, his voice deep and thick with sleep. She shivered as his lips brushed the sensitive skin behind her ear, and he palmed one breast in his large hand, caressing her nipple with his thumb. “Goddamn you are sexy.” He seemed to be talking to himself as much as her, which was heartening because all she could think was that her hair was a mess, undoubtedly her makeup was too, and she had not yet brushed her teeth.

“Says you,” she fired back, pressing her bottom against his burgeoning erection once more. He made a sound low in his throat that was nearly a growl, and his hand moved down her curves to touch her between her legs from behind, his long fingers stroking her most sensitive areas with maddening accuracy.

A quick study, was Rio.

Already, she was soaking wet.

Oh baby…” she sighed, her hips writhing against him of their own accord. She felt the tip of his penis hovering just at her entrance, and without thinking she pressed against him, urging him inside her, longing to be filled. Again Rio gave that guttural moan, his teeth grazing her shoulder as he held her against him with those long wiry arms. He entered her as far as the head before withdrawing, breathing heavily against her neck.

“Mamma, you the temptress of a lifetime,” he told her, and she felt a strange surge of triumph as she heard a quavering note in his tone.

She knew it was insane as it left her mouth, but perhaps she was not thinking entirely straight, the intense desire for him to fill her clouding her brain. “If you promise me you’re clean then I’m on birth control,” she offered.

Rio remained silent behind her, though she could feel his deep breaths, his chest rising and falling. It was a leap of trust for the both of them.

However, in the end she knew his decision as slowly he sheathed himself inside her, filling her to the hilt and then some. Condoms were a smart modern invention, of course, but God it felt good to have him bare inside her. This was a dance as old as time, and in a way it felt like this was true perfection—they were meant to be together this way. At the end of his thrust she cried out a little, hands struggling for purchase on something to hold on to. She found him, his long fingers lacing with hers.

“I wouldn’t usually take a woman’s word on that,” he informed her. “But you’re different, Red.”

She wasn’t sure exactly what he meant by that. Certainly he had to look out for himself with his partners, not only against disease but from baby mamma drama. Beth imagined to some women he would be a prize worth playing dirty for.

Some women.

As if she herself did not find him absolutely covetable.

But trapping him with a child was not a game she would play. She had four of her own already.

“Thanks?”

Rio chuckled, and no more words were exchanged as they found a slow, inexorable rhythm to a shining release that left them both breathless, boneless, and completely star struck.

 


 

 

In the late morning Beth found herself staring at the ceiling of the hotel room, sated but pensive. She couldn’t help but think about how they had parted, before. She couldn’t help but wonder what might have been, if she hadn’t behaved like such a spazz about the truck.

She could feel Rio’s gaze on her from the pillow beside hers. She couldn’t quite bring herself to meet his eyes, but she had to get this off her chest. "I didn't freak out because of the danger, you know. Back then. It was...I thought you'd used me, like I was nothing, and I was so tired of the men I thought cared for me throwing me away."

Rio turned over on his side, propping his head on his hand. He looked like a panther, long and lean and perfectly at ease.

"You weren't ever in danger, Mamma. That truck was empty, and no pig was gonna lock a housewife up that looked like you."

"I know that. Now."

"And I did care about you. That's why I let you go."

She bit her lip. That was the part she'd been apprehensive to bank upon. The real question burned on the tip of her tongue.

Do you care about me now?

Rio reached out to cradle her face in his large hand. "I never could get you off my mind. I almost went to get you a thousand times, but I made myself stay away."

"I wish you hadn't."

A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.

"The thanks I get for bein’ noble."

Beth slid closer, pulling him against her. "I'll show you the thanks you get." Rio's laughter was low and very masculine as he pressed his lips to hers.

 


 

 

They did not eat breakfast until past noon.

Freshly showered and wrapped up in fluffy white robes, they ordered room service. Beth had felt more than a little self-conscious about having to wash off her makeup, but there was nothing for it. However, the way Rio looked at her across the breakfast plates did not change, and she took great heart in that.

She hadn’t been able to stop herself from picking up his suit jacket forgotten in a heap on the floor, smoothing it out and putting it on a hanger. The little black label inside that read Dolce & Gabbana made her eyes bug wide.

“So what you want to do today, mamma?” asked Rio, lounging back in his chair with his cup of tea. He seemed exceedingly pleased with himself, and the sight filled Beth’s heart with a sneaking warmth.

He seemed to imply leaving the hotel room, which could prove slightly problematic for Beth. “I…would love to spend the day with you, Rio, but…I don’t have any other clothes.”

She would have to do the walk of shame as it was in her now rumpled red dress.

This supposed problem seemed to amuse Rio.

"It's cool, baby. We can get you some gear." He got up and started typing on his phone. She watched as he went into the bedroom to examine her dress—and was slightly mortified as he checked the size. Rio, however, did not bat an eye and continued texting.

Of course, he would have an entourage of lackeys waiting to do his bidding still.

"Are your boys used to procuring ladies clothing for your guests?" she couldn't help but pry as he returned to the breakfast table.

Rio did not look up from his phone as he answered, "Nah, I usually kick 'em out after breakfast." 

He rolled his dark eyes up to meet hers, that infuriating smirk in place, and she didn't know if he was serious or not.

They chatted and finished their meal. Rio disappeared into the bedroom, and re-emerged wearing a black hoodie, jeans, and fresh white sneakers. He pushed up his sleeves on his forearms to display a large gold watch that looked rather expensive.

In fact, his whole ensemble looked expensive, yet somehow both effortlessly casual and totally cool in a way that Beth could never hope to match.

What was he doing with someone like her?

In the light of day the differences between them began to tally, and Beth couldn't help but wonder what they were going to do with themselves now that they had finally fucked each other silly?

As though he’d been reading her thoughts Rio offered, “We could go see a movie. Oceans 8 looks up our alley.” He paid her that crooked smile, and whatever apprehensions Beth had been feeling evaporated in a puff of smoke. She nodded, returning his smile.

“That sounds like fun.”

So they would just do what people who like each other do—hang out. It was so simple that Beth almost felt certain she was missing some obvious piece to the puzzle. Could it really be this easy?

There was a knock on the door, and Rio went to answer it. Dressed only in her robe, Beth might have disappeared into the bedroom if given time, but Rio didn’t seem to sweat her state of undress at all. Bullit was at the door, tattooed eyebrows and all, bearing several large shopping bags.

“Thanks, man.”

Rio’s #1 just nodded and handed them over, paying Beth a cursory glance from across the room. That tattooed eyebrow lifted a fraction, which for him constituted a great exclamation of surprise. “How’d it go?” asked Bullit, turning back to Rio. For a moment Beth blushed hard, until she realized he was probably talking about whatever business Rio had come here to accomplish, before indulging in a bit of pleasure.

“They’re in,” Rio simply answered with a satisfied smirk. Much pleased, Bullit nodded, went through one of those complicated handshakes with Rio, and made himself scarce.

“Let’s check out your swag, baby girl,” said Rio with an endearing amount of glee, heading for the bedroom. With alarm Beth noticed that the silver bags had Nordstrom’s emblazoned in white script on the sides.

Oh my god,” she exclaimed under her breath, and followed after Rio.

Chapter Text

IV.

 

Nothing can stop me,

I'm all the way up

 

 


 

 

Rio stretched out on the bed like a great cat, watching Beth unpack the shopping bags. There were an assortment of tops, jeans, and a lowcut sheath dress by Altuzarra that she knew 1) had cost more than a thousand dollars and 2) would hug her generous curves like a glove. He seemed incredibly pleased with himself, and his eyes gleamed with interest as she withdrew a scrap of black lace that was meant to be underwear. "Please don't tell me Bullit picked these out for me," she exclaimed , knowing her cheeks were flaming red. 

"Nah, one of the shop girls did, sweetheart. It's easy to get people to spend your money for you when you got enough of it."

Beth let the sexy underthings slide from her grasp, crossing her arms.

"You didn't have to do this for me, Rio. I would have been perfectly fine with...less."

"I know. That makes it more fun to spoil you, mamma. I'm having fun if you are." A few moments passed before he added, "It's nothin', if it makes you feel any better. I ain't gonna be skippin’ my mortgage payment cause I bought you a nice dress."

Beth wondered if he’d compared himself to Dean’s blunders on purpose. She’d never really told him about the extent of her shitheel ex-husband’s extramarital escapades, but somehow it wouldn’t surprise her if he knew. In the end she smiled a little. "I'm happy for you, Rio. That you're doing so well."

He lay back with his arms behind his head, for all the world looking like a pasha on his throne. "Thanks."

"What are you doing now?"

His smug smile widened. "This and that. It’s even legit—now." He seemed to think back on something, and his smile widened to a full on grin. “I wish you coulda seen that prick Turner’s face, baby, the moment he realized he didn’t have shit and he couldn’t touch me. You woulda appreciated the moment.”

Beth canted her head, sending coppery hair sliding over her shoulder. "Sounds like quite the coup. How did you manage it?”

For a moment she thought he would actually tell her, but then she watched him withdraw into himself again as he remembered she wasn’t his partner in crime anymore. It hurt a little, but she couldn’t blame him. “Maybe I’ll tell you sometime, mamma. It’s a good story.”

“I’m sure it is.”

“I'll show you what I got goin’ tonight, but you gotta wear this." He fingered the fabric of the Altuzarra dress, enjoying the texture of the fine fabric between his fingers, and clearly imagining it on her—and maybe taking it off her too.

"I think I can do that," she answered, ravenously curious about what Rio was up to these days.

She didn't think she needed ready-made haute couture to visit a warehouse.

"And there better be another box in there or imma have to send Bullit back to the store." This thought seemed to amuse Rio as much as it horrified Beth. She dug deeper in the bag, and gasped when she found a kraft paper shoe box with a well-known name written across the top in flouncy white script.

"Oh my god."

She produced the strappy black patent pumps from within their tissue wrapping, marveling at their sexy silhouette and red-lacquered soles.

Sammy Red-Bottoms.

“Rio, you really shouldn’t have.”

Naturally she’d never owned a pair of Louboutins, though she had ogled them lustfully on multiple occasions. She held them as carefully as she would have handled a new-born baby—they were so gorgeous it was hard to imagine actually putting them on her feet.  

Rio looked between her and the shoes, that spark of heat igniting in his eyes once more. Just that look quickened her heart like she’d run a marathon.

She had it bad.

“Want to try them on for me?”

Beth chewed her lower lip, paying him a shy look from beneath her lashes. She’d never really played games like this with a man before, but the way he looked at her made her feel like the most beautiful woman on this earth. “OK.”

She wore the Louboutin pumps, and nothing else, and they barely made it to their movie on time.

 

XXX

 

Beth couldn’t remember the last time she felt so blissfully content. Curled up in the theater seat with Rio’s arm slung around her shoulder, waiting for their movie to start, she felt as though every muscle in her body relaxed. Maybe it had something to do with Rio having kissed what felt like every inch of her bare skin, before making love to her on that big soft hotel bed.

It felt like making love, at least, though maybe Beth wouldn’t admit it out loud. She felt cherished and safe and satisfied in Rio’s arms, and maybe he would have scoffed at the choice of words like he had that day in her Mamma Van, but Beth couldn’t have described it any other way.

Remembering that she should probably turn her phone on silent before the actual film got going, Beth dug in her purse for the device and found she’d missed a text from Annie not long ago.

 

WHERE ARE YOU? I’m at your house.

 

I’m still out.

 

In no time Annie fired back, and Beth could just hear the shrill note in Annie’s voice.

 

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!!!

 

Good grief, are we 12? I’ll text you

when I get home.

 

When will that be?

 

When I get home.

 

OMG what’s his name?!!

 

Byeeee!

 

Beth!!!! You are giving me every

detail!!

 

Probably not. Love u!

 

Betch!!!

 

Rio read the exchange too—they were cuddled so close it was impossible not to. Beth felt him chuckle beside her more than heard it. “You gonna tell her about me?”

Beth sighed, settling her head on his shoulder. “Do you want me to?”

“That’s up to you, mamma.”

“Hmm.”

Beth imagined the shit storm that would erupt in her kitchen when she confessed to Annie and Ruby that she’d spent a long sumptuous weekend in the arms of Gang Friend. Ruby would call her crazy, and be right, because Ruby was always right. Annie would be devilishly pleased that for once it wasn’t her doing something insane.

And Beth?

She wasn’t sorry. Not one damn bit.

 

XXX

 

After the movie they grabbed a bite to eat at a coffee shop on the way back to the hotel. It almost felt like old times, Rio sipping a tea and Beth a coffee, only now they shared a quiche between them and even though she had her own fork Rio proceeded to be ridiculously cute by feeding her little bites. His long legs tangled with hers under the small bistro style table—he might have made the excuse there was no room, but by his sly smile she knew he liked having her in his grasp.

She liked it too.

They went back to the Grande and took a small nap, during which they actually just slept. Curled into Rio’s body with her head on his chest, Beth fell into a blissfully content doze. She woke to soft kisses on her eyes and lips, and blinked away the sleep to see that darkness had fallen outside. “Time to get ready, baby. We got reservations at nine.”

“We do?” she asked sleepily, stretching.

“Mmm hmm. At Bleu. You like French food?” Beth’s eyes flew wide. It was a pricey restaurant downtown with a reputation for the best eats around. She’d never been. Dean had usually felt pretty accomplished with himself when he took her to Olive Garden. When she didn’t answer immediately in her surprise Rio went on, “But they got steaks and shit too, if—”

“That sounds amazing,” she interrupted, kissing Rio on the mouth. “Why are you spoiling me?”

He didn’t really answer her, just looked down at her with that molten warmth in his eyes, his long fingers stroking her strawberry-gold tresses away from her face.

“I like your hair long, it’s pretty,” he finally said, and vacated the bed. Beth watched his retreating form pensively, appreciating his broad shoulders and pinched waist as she made a note not to ask questions like that anymore tonight. Next time she might get an answer that was honest, but she wouldn’t like.

Chill the fuck out and have fun she coached herself. You don’t get to keep him and you best not forget that. The thought squeezed her heart like a fist, and an actual lump materialized in the back of her throat. Fucking hell, she was a spazz. But she put on a game face and got a hold of herself before following Rio into the bathroom to get ready.

Freshly coiffured and squeezed into the new sheath dress, Beth touched up her makeup in the mirror, another necessity that had been provided in her swag bag. Rio appeared behind her in a different suit, this one dove gray with a black shirt, the collar open again at the throat. He looked her up and down in the mirror, his mouth curling in that self-satisfied half smile. Clearly he approved of her attire.

“Hey, gorgeous.”

Whatever small sense of melancholy she’d been feeling from earlier evaporated under the heat of his gaze, and she smiled at him in the mirror. “Hello, handsome.”

His arms slid around her waist, and he watched her for a few very long moments in their reflection. His expression gave nothing away, and she would have given her pinky toe to know what he was thinking. But this time she didn’t dare ask, so she simply leaned back against him, enjoying this moment for all it was worth.

“Hmm. I remember this,” he said, running fingers lightly over the delicate gold chain at her neck. It was the special little treat she’d bought for herself on a lark when it seemed the money would never stop pouring in. Maybe she should have sold it, but it was one of the few reminders of that crazy period of her life she still had.

Beth laughed a little to herself. “That was the last night you ever pointed a gun at me. Such sweet memories…”

She felt the rumble of Rio’s chuckle travel through his body pressed to hers. “It wasn’t loaded.”

Beth raised one eyebrow. That was news to her. “Well I didn’t know that, did I?”

“Nah, and you stared me down like Clint fuckin’ Eastwood.” His grin was brief as it was bright, breathtaking as the unexpected sighting of a rare bird. “I ain’t never met another woman like you, Red.”

He looked at her long and hard in the mirror, as though willing her to understand something. She wondered if maybe that was the answer to her question earlier, and a surge of warmth filled her from head to toe. When she turned to offer him her lips for a kiss Rio met her eagerly, his strong arms pinning her against his body as he claimed her mouth for his own.

A part of her made the impossible wish that he would never let go.

 

XXX

 

After their decadent meal at Bleu Beth could hardly contain her curiosity, but she let Rio lead without pestering him about what was next. One of Rio’s minions she didn’t know picked them up under the port cochère in a shiny black Escalade. They didn’t drive too terribly far, but longer than Beth would have liked to walk in her new Louboutins. Red neon spelled out a name Beth squinted to read. It looked like Club Saturn.

“Is this a strip joint?” she teased, winning a throaty laugh from Rio.

“Nah, baby, just a club. Good idea though. Come on.” He helped her out of the Escalade and slipped his arm around her waist, pinning her to his side. They skipped the line at the door and were let directly inside, the bouncers nodding deferentially and seeming reluctant to make eye contact. Beth couldn’t help but be conscious of more than a few dirty looks received from the line, at least on her end, but Rio ignored them all.

“Mr. Valdez!” exclaimed the hostess, extremely polite but more than a little nervous. “I’ll have your table readied immediately.” She sent two underlings scrambling to the upper level, where it looked like someone was ousted from his booth and his entourage ushered away. Rio’s expression remained inscrutable but because she was pressed against his body Beth could feel his mirth shaking his core.

Rio was enjoying this very much.

The club was huge, shiny, classy, and as far as Beth could tell in the low light, clean. It was also filled to the gills with well-dressed people out to have a good time and spend lots of their hard earned money. If Rio had a finger in this pie, she understood how he was doing so well.

They were escorted to the freshly cleaned table lined by low plush bench seats. A middle aged man in a suit hovered anxiously. “Señor Valdez, we didn’t know you were coming tonight,” he said, extending his hand to shake but quickly withdrawing it as Rio seemed not to notice the gesture, instead sliding into the booth beside Beth.

“I gotta make a reservation?” asked Rio, one angular eyebrow raised.

“No! Of course not. Ah…can I get you anything? Anything at all?”

Beth almost felt sorry for the odd little man. She knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of that intimidating look from Rio.

“Nah, scram. Tina will take care of us. Ain’t that right?”

Tina, the waitress who stood at attention with tray and notepad in hand, nodded eagerly. She took their drink orders, and the overly accommodating man disappeared into the woodwork. Rio sat back in his seat, offering Beth a place to roost with the lift of his arm. Snuggled in at his side, she spoke in his ear, “Who was that?”

“Joe Caruso. He owns this place.”

“Oh really? Because he was groveling like you own this place.”

Rio just smiled. “I might be a silent partner.”

“Mmm hmm. My foot,” said Beth with a smile, snuggling closer into the bend of his neck.

She didn’t expect Rio to tell her anymore details about his business dealings here, but perhaps the Côte du Rhône they’d had with dinner had been too good, or maybe he felt safe discussing things here where no recording device could ever get a clean read over the pounding music. Rio canted his head so that she could hear him over the din. “So check it out. When my best lady left the cash-cleaning biz I had to find a new way to wash those dollars fast. I started loan-sharking. Caruso got a bad gambling problem and got in way over his head. Stupid motherfucker tried to stiff me but we made a deal. He sold me a large share of this place at a reasonable price. This place brings in so much I cleaned the rest of my cash in a year here. Now I’m investing and someday imma own half this damn city.”

Beth pressed her lips, flattered to the tips of her toes to have been called his best lady. She couldn’t suppress a smile. “That’s quite devious, Mr. Valdez.” She’d never known his surname before, and it felt good on the tongue.

“It was like…every fucked up thing I ever had to do just to survive finally aligned in the universe. For once it all went right.” There was a savage triumph in his voice. She could hear it even through the loud music that filled the massive room like something tangible.

“I’m happy for you, Rio.” She craned her head to look up at him. She couldn’t help but remember she had been one of those things that didn’t go right for him. A red-headed wrench thrown in his works. He didn’t seem to be thinking along those lines though, a smile curling his lips as he looked down at her.

“Me too,” he jested, and leaned down to claim her lips. Tina set their drinks on the table, but neither of them noticed for several minutes more.

They enjoyed their drinks from their high vantage point for a while, bobbing to the music. The DJ played a mix of hip hop and pop. Beth recognized some of it. A lot of it she didn’t. It was fun to people watch. Some patrons were excellent dancers—and some were obviously very high and just having an excellent time.

“Want to dance?” asked Rio. He didn’t really wait for her answer, her hand in his as he extricated his long limbs from the booth. She followed—she realized she would probably follow him anywhere.

“I’m not really sure I know how to dance to this music,” Beth confessed as they spilled out onto the dance floor. Annie would have known all about it but Beth felt more than lost. It was little Wayne or little John or—someone diminutive in the rap business, at least.

“Sure you do,” Rio teased, his hands on her waist. “I seen your moves—horizontally.”

Mortified, Beth shrieked with laughter. “That’s different!”

“Is it? OK, I guess we can just dance how white people do,” he teased, rising to his full height of 6’1” and standing stiff as a board, awkwardly bobbing side to side.

Beth laughed so hard she had tears in her eyes—she laughed so hard she didn’t see the way Rio’s expression softened, moved by the sight of her jubilant mirth. One way or another, she’d always been his weakness, it seemed.

“We do not dance like that!” she protested, and Rio smiled wickedly, pulling her close. He kissed her, and she felt herself melt under his mouth, her arms around his neck holding him close. It was like some muscle released and she became putty in his hands—suddenly it became easy to move with the beat and the rhythm of his hips against hers.

“That loosened you up,” he said, pressing his forehead to hers. “Relax. We’re having fun, yeah?”

Smiling, she nodded, knowing when she was beaten. “Yeah.”

She followed his lead, and in his hands it did seem easy to move her body to the music and let go. For some of the songs Rio pulled her close, and it was almost like making love on the dance floor. For some of the songs he was almost cute, twirling her around and holding her hand in a more traditional dance position. It seemed whatever the DJ threw their way Rio could move to it, and cajole Beth into making a happy little fool of herself along with him.

This joyful revelry went on into the wee hours of the morning, and even though she was utterly exhausted Beth was sad to see it end. Curled up under Rio’s arm in the back of the Escalade, she feared the dawn and what morning’s light would bring.

Maybe she knew where to find Rio now—but she knew it didn’t give her the right.

 

XXX

 

Noon on Sunday found Rio and Beth saying goodbye in the parking garage of the Grande. He’d made love to her again that morning, slow passionate fucking that curled her toes and left her gasping his name. She could feel goodbye in every lingering kiss they shared in the soft morning light, and it broke her heart more than it should have.

“Damn, you still got the mamma van,” said Rio, eyeing her vehicle that still had a smattering of bullet holes in the back quarter panel.

“Yeah, well. It gives me a certain street cred with the other moms,” she jested, laughing past the lump in the back of her throat.

He gave a genuine laugh, and he was so beautiful in that moment she wanted to frame it in a box and keep it forever. The knowledge that it would be the last time she got the privilege weighed on her like a ton of bricks. He wouldn’t call her. This had been a crazy weekend with an old [almost] flame and now that he’d surely scratched that itch to its fullest this was it.

“Thank you,” she said quietly, fingering the toggle on the cord of his hoodie because she couldn’t quite bring herself to meet his eyes. “For such an amazing weekend, Rio.”

“Likewise.” He kissed her softly, his hand cradling her jaw like she was something precious that required delicate handling. When finally he drew back he chucked her under the chin, bestowing her with that half smile that still made her belly do flip-flops. She felt the tears stinging at the corners of her eyes, but she was a big girl and she didn’t let them fall. “Stay out of trouble, Red.”

She nodded, biting her lip. “You too.”

She watched him saunter away to the waiting Escalade, that long-legged amble that so reminded her of the graceful prowl of a cat on the hunt.

He wouldn’t look back.

He hadn’t looked back the first night he dismissed her from his dangerous life, and he wouldn’t do it now. But still, she watched, greedy for every last moment in his company she could get before it was taken away for good.

His hand on the door, Beth’s heart stopped in her chest as he turned and flashed her that knowing half smile, before disappearing into the SUV. Watching the bright taillights disappear around a corner, Beth grinned like a fool with silent tears streaming down her pale cheeks.

Chapter Text

Epilogue: 3 Days Later

 

Beth returned to normal life, in which she was a mom of four doing her best to raise her kids not to be serial killers and studying for her real estate license on the side, and not the flavor of the weekend on the arm of a hot AF ganster-turned-legit-businessman, living it up with couture clothes in swanky hotels and expensive restaurants before dancing all night at his club…

In other words, it was boring, but it was good.

Her children were healthy, she had a [considerably smaller] roof over her head, and Dean was finally handling his shit like a man, paying child support, taking the kids every other weekend—she really had nothing to complain about.

Except she felt the ache, like a yawning emptiness in her heart, when she lay down at night in her empty bed. She tried not to think of Rio during the day because she knew it would A) hurt and B) make her sad and or crazy. That didn’t mean she managed most of the time, but in that damn empty bed was when her loneliness really got to her.

And it wasn’t just the sex, though that had certainly been out of this world. The best she’d ever had, if she was completely honest with herself. It was the way her body perfectly slotted against his when they were snoozing—the sound of his steadily beating heart beneath her ear—his hand on the crown of her head like even in sleep he wanted to shield her from the bad things of the world. It was the way he held her under his arm, like she was something precious he had to keep close.

The past couple years Beth had done pretty well at making herself numb. She had to—for her kids’ sake she couldn’t afford to curl up into a ball and cry every time she felt like it. But seeing Rio again had ripped the bandage right open, to find the wound hadn’t ever healed at all.

When Ruby and Annie converged upon her house for a late girls’ lunch Beth knew she’d be given the third degree by both of them—there was no way Annie kept Beth’s escapade a secret from Ruby.

“SPIIIIIIILLLLLLLLL!” sang out Annie as she skipped through the front door, Ruby on her heels. “Out with it! Every detail! We need them now.

Beth was just setting the lunch fixings out on the island. Chicken salad with crusty bread, chips, and fresh baked cookies for later. “How about you spill?” countered Beth, taking a seat at the counter. “What was so important that you stood me up Friday?”

Ruby looked between Beth and Annie like she was watching a tennis match, clearly enjoying the show.

“I didn’t!” Annie insisted. “I saw you talking intently with a gentleman in a nice suit from across the room, so like the amazing little sister I am I gave you some space because we all know if it was dried up twigs a while ago it’s like…rolling sage brush and sand down there now. Well, maybe not now, but as of Friday it was. ”

Beth’s eyes bugged wide at her sister’s uncouth description of her nether regions—but in the end she couldn’t help but offer up a rather sly smile. She realized Annie had no clue who that gentleman in the suit had been. “Well, rest assured, my dry spell has ended.”

Annie and Ruby both let out a high pitched squeal. “Tell us!”

“Bitch, tell us all about it!”

So she did. She told about the conversation at the bar and the daring proposition, the suite and the lovemaking and the clothes and the movie and the dinner and the club—she told them everything except that it had been Rio who did this for her. Who lifted her up and made her feel like she was a perfect 10, even if she really knew she was just a normal middle-aged divorcé housewife.

When are you going to see him again?” Ruby demanded.

Some of the light that had filled Beth’s blue eyes as she spoke of her amazing weekend with Rio died, and sadly she shook her head. That annoying moisture was back, pricking the corners of her eyes, and that lump had risen in her throat again. “I don’t think I will,” she sighed, and her partners in crime felt her pain in that moment.

“Oh, sweetie…” said Ruby, holding out her arms. Beth went to her best friend, and Annie latched on from the other side, effectively making a Beth sandwich.

“Holy shit, Beth, are you in love with him?” Annie, as usual, tactlessly cut right to the heart of the matter. It was ridiculous, of course, and the more Beth thought on it the more clearly it dawned on her.

She was in love with him.

She was in love with Rio Valdez, and she was never going to see him again.

Beth hardly recognized her own tiny voice as she admitted, “Maybe.”

Hands rubbed her back. She wasn’t really sure whose. She didn’t give in to the urge to cry big messy tears on Ruby’s shoulder, but some wetness definitely escaped.

The sound of the doorbell ringing brought them out of their sympathy hug. “I’ll get it,” offered Annie, and she skipped off before Beth could say otherwise. There was low talking at the door, and Beth’s curiosity raised. Just as she was about to go see what was going on at her front stoop Annie appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, almost completely obscured by what must have been at least three dozen red roses.

“Umm…I’m no expert in the language of flowers, but I think he wants to see you again,” said Annie, peeking around the huge bouquet.

Dumbstruck, Beth stared with her hands covering her mouth. A sound escaped her that wasn’t really distinguishable between a laugh and a sob.

With an exaggerated groan Annie hefted the vase onto the counter. “Did you tell him where you live? Is this a little creepy?”

Beth hadn’t given Rio her new address, the downsize into a smaller house in a good school district she’d made in light of divorce and financial ruin, but somehow she wasn’t surprised he’d been able to find her. She buried her nose in one of the soft blossoms, a crimson red rose as big as her fist. It smelled heavenly.

Annie, meanwhile, was rooting around in the bouquet like a badger looking for a beehive. Beth woke from her happy daze to realize what her sister was looking for—and what it might reveal—but too late the brat produced a small white card and read aloud: “See you soon, yeah? Signed – R.  R? What did you say his name was again?”

However, it was Ruby who caught on first, her eyes going wide as saucers. “You went on a weekend-long sexcapade with RIO? GANG FRIEND? Mr. Scary Neck Tattoo himself?!!!”

As it dawned on Annie next she let out a high pitched shriek. “Yassssss!!! This is too perfect! I mean, it’s fucking insane but for once it’s not me!”

Despite their tirades, Beth could not stop smiling.

He wanted to see her again.

It was like a five-hundred pound lead weight had been lifted from her chest, and a bright light burned at the end of the tunnel. Her knees felt weak, and she leaned on the counter with a contented sigh, cradling her chin in her hand. She knew she had the stupidest grin on her face, but she just couldn’t stop.

“I mentioned it was the best sex of my life, right?”

“Uh, yeah, we got that. And now that I know it was Rio there are certain images burned in my brain I will need countless hours of therapy to erase.”

“You don’t go to therapy,” Beth groused at her sister.

“That doesn’t mean I don’t need it!”

The trio laughed at that little truth, but Ruby just couldn’t stop shaking her head. “Beth, we know you two had a thing but have you forgotten all the times he pointed a gun at you?”

With a lopsided smile Beth shrugged. “I kind of liked it though…And besides. He told me it wasn’t loaded.”

Ruby continued to shake her head. “You are a sick puppy, honey. There ain’t no help for this kind of crazy.”

Beth traced the petals of one of the roses with the tip of her finger, savoring the velvety softness. “It’s different now,” she said. “His life is safer. His business is legit. And when he doesn’t have to scare the hell out of you…he’s so sweet.

It could work. That dangerous little chorus of voices in the back of her head sang out, and try as she might Beth couldn’t get them to shut up. This could work. They could work.

Annie and Beth shared cross-eyed looks, but Beth was too enamored with her flowers to notice.

“Well…OK. But if he hurts you Gang Boy is going to need more than Bullit and Mr. Cisco to keep him safe from us!” said Ruby, and Annie emphatically nodded her head in agreement.

“That’s right! I’ll kick him in the dick! Just like I did to Dean when he wouldn’t sign the divorce papers!”

“Yeah! And I’ll shoot him in the foot!” Ruby added with gusto.

Beth couldn’t stop herself from erupting into peals of laughter at both of those memories, and the horrifying thought of her two best friends going after Rio for breaking her heart.

“OK, OK, I’ll be sure to tell him you said that…”

“Maybe don’t. We’ll need the element of surprise.”

Beth couldn’t stop laughing. “You know, all that might not be necessary.”

“You mean, he’s actually a really nice guy and stuff?”

Beth bit her lip in answer, and Annie and Ruby exchanged another emphatic eye roll. “If he makes you this happy…”

“We’ll give him a chance…”

“ONE chance!”

Laughing, and maybe crying a little too, Beth rounded the counter for another group hug. For the first time in a long time, Beth actually believed that everything in her life was going to work out all right.

 

~*The End*~