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Lush Life

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Rio looked around and admired the rustic chic decor of the club. Lozano was an old staple in this part of town; kind of a dive but well-loved by locals generationally. Any aficionado of Latin Jazz knew this was the place to come and hear it. Rio had known his boy Carlos was close to the owners; having grown up with them. When he found out the nephew, Salazar, recently inherited it and was having a hard time keeping it afloat, an idea popped up in Rio's head. He mentioned it to Carlos and just like that, Salazar had jumped at the opportunity to go into business with them. He was a family man and was overwhelmed with taking over the club; ripe for the picking. Rio had thought it was almost too good to be true but here they were. Tonight they were meeting to iron out details, which was why he found himself sitting in a jazz club. A year ago it was a car dealership. Never a dull moment. Salazar had excused himself to take a call and Rio was waiting, uncharacteristically patient, drumming his fingers on his thigh to the soothing beats. He was in a good mood. 

Just across the way he heard a tinkling laugh that struck a chord of familiarity. His eyes followed the sound.

 Elizabeth.

 They hadn’t talked in months. Not since that night. He had thrown himself into his work, effectively flipping his game and changing things up. A fresh start. And he was doing good, just fine. Better. His life was functioning the way it was meant to, the way it did before Beth Boland came into it. So when he saw her across the club, shining and laughing, he was taken aback by the sudden and intense clenching in his chest.  

She looked good. Damn good. Rio took her in where she stood at a tall table. She had high black heels on which made her long legs look even longer. His eyes moved up the black dress that hugged her curves perfectly, to the sweetheart neckline which dipped low, the black fabric contrasting against her soft, pale skin. His body temperature rose as he drank her in but it was her hair that made his breath catch. It was darker, redder. The warm glow from the lights in the club were bouncing off the soft waves making them sparkle like rubies.

 “Sorry about that, man.” Rio blinked and came back to earth; nodding at his new business partner as he sat down across from him.

 “It’s all good. Everything ok?” Rio asked, bringing his focus back to his meeting and trying to resist the urge to look over at her again.

 “Yeah,” Salazar huffed out a laugh. “It was actually my girl, she is pregnant and very demanding. Needs me to pick up Ben and Jerry’s.” Rio laughed good naturedly. He liked Salazar. His gut was rarely wrong when it came to the people he could trust to do business with.

“How many kids you got?” Rio asked

 “This is number 3. My wife is amazing, I don’t know how she does it.”

Rio nodded and smiled. He thought about her , of course.  He glanced over to where she stood and noticed that the person she had been talking to was a tall man in an expensive looking suit. The pair seemed awfully cozy. Rio’s fingers twitched. He looked back at Salazar.

“So, you ever washed money here before?” No sense in wasting any time, he thought.

“No,” Salazar glanced around cautiously. “Like I was telling you before, I inherited this club from my uncle. He was mixed up with some things but I’m not sure who or what. I just know that when I was looking over the books nothing was adding up.”

“I got a guy that can help with that.” Rio offered.

“Oh yeah? Cool, man. I appreciate it. To be honest, I don’t really know what I'm doing here. I love this place and it's a blessing to have inherited it. I grew up coming here and helping my family run it. Everyone is counting on me to keep it running successfully and it's just a lot of pressure. My uncle just about ran this place into the ground. It needs a major overhaul. So when Carlos suggested I give you a call, I thought maybe you were an answer to my prayers.”

Rio laughed. “Never  heard that said about me, but  I think we can make it work. Just so you know though, you gonna need to go along with some shit before you really understand it. Is that gonna be a problem?”

“No. I’ve known Carlos since we were kids. I trust him, and therefore you. Just let me know what I need to do.”

“Alright then. We’ll get started tomorrow. I’ll send Carlos and my accountant over in the morning and they will explain the logistics. You got a key for me?”

“Yes,” Salazar reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold key and a scrap of paper. “Key to the back entrance plus the garage code. Will you be storing the..” his voice lowered as he glanced around again, “Fake cash here?” he finished, whispering.

“Nah, not all of it. We will stock the club but most of it will be used for bulk liquor sales and possibly renovating.”

“Ok. Thank you Mr..uh Rio.” he smiled sheepishly. “I better get going. Duty calls. Stick around if you’d like. Drinks are on the house, of course. Movimiento is playing tonight.. They are one of Detroit's up and coming new groups. I think you will like them.”

“Sounds good, thanks.” Rio shook his hand and watched him disappear into the crowd. He flagged down the waiter and ordered a whiskey neat. He glanced back at her table. She wasn’t there anymore.

His eyes darted around the buzzing Jazz club until they saw her sitting in a c-shaped lounge booth in the corner. Her and whoever the guy was were sitting close, eyes focused on the band. They looked relaxed and comfortable with each other and who was this guy? Rio wondered. He watched as the man put his arm around her and she held his hand where it dangled off her shoulder.

He wanted to leave more than anything but he felt glued to his chair. And his eyes felt glued to the pair. He watched in morbid fascination as the guy whispered in her ear and she turned to give him a slow soft kiss. That kept going. Did they not realize they were in public?

Suddenly Rio needed to get the fuck out of there. He downed his whiskey and darted out the door like he was never there. He breathed the frigid night air deep into his lungs and tried to shake off his emotions as he walked briskly to his car. Damn. What were the chances of him seeing her like that? It's not as if Detroit is a small town. Rio rolled his eyes and sunk into his car. He rubbed his hands down his face and glanced back at the club one last time before starting up the engine and heading for home.

He hoped she was just there by chance and didn’t go there regularly.Because he was done with that chapter of his life and he didn’t need whatever it was that she brought up in him. He just didn’t need it and he didn’t want it. Not anymore.

 

Chapter Text

He dreamed about her that night. They were at the bar. Their bar. He saw her across the way, twirling her hair around her finger, her eyes hooded and beckoning. He licked his lips and met her gaze. And just like that night, she had gotten up and walked down the corridor to the back. He followed her, knowing what was to come. Anticipating it because he knew this scene well. He wanted to do more this time. He wanted to feel her lips on his. He wanted to tell her the noises she made haunted his dreams. He wanted to look her in the eyes and make her see what he couldn’t say. He would do it different this time. But when he opened the door, she wasn’t standing there. In her place was a strand of pearls laying in the sink.

Rio woke up slowly. He stretched and yawned, looking over at the clock. He was up before the alarm. It had been happening lately and so had the dreaming. It was that damn bathroom scene every time, but each time he dreamed it, something different unfolded. The beginning stayed the same for the most part. What changed was what happened when he opened the bathroom door. Sometimes she was there sometimes she wasn’t. Sometimes she was mad and other times.. Well. The dreams weren’t always bad. But the fact that they were reoccurring was setting him off kilter. Seeing her last night hadn’t helped.

He rolled over on his stomach and hugged his pillow. Closing his eyes, he thought about how she looked last night. That black dress had fit her like a glove. And that hair. Damn. He would love to watch the dark red locks slide through his fingers.

Rio rolled his eyes and shot out of bed. This ain’t happenin’. He told himself. All that soft skin and silky hair was in the past where it belonged. Chalked up to a crazy season in life. One that had humbled him. He had learned some lessons that almost got him locked up. He may not have meant what he told her the last time he saw her, but he wanted to mean it. More importantly, he wanted her to think he meant it. Rio had effectively cut whatever bond held them together that night. He had to. For both their sakes.  No sense in entertaining any thoughts about her. The dreams were bad enough.

He hopped in the shower and switched his thoughts to business at Lozano. If things worked out for him there, it could be a big money maker. A thought pressed in, demanding attention. This was more than a potential high-earning business deal. This could be Rio’s way out. For good.

One step at a time.

He had big plans for the place. He hoped Salazar would continue to be agreeable and allow Rio to do his thing. They had yet to agree on a cut, but he was confident he would get what he wanted. Maybe more. The guy was desperate and Rio had what he needed. It was that simple. He just needed to make that known. He was good at that part.

Rio finished dressing and went to wake Marcus up. He was bouncing on his toes; anxious to get the ball rolling and do what he did best.

 

 

******************************************************************

 

The mid-afternoon sun filtered into the club, lighting up the dust particles and creating a hazy vibe, which sharply contrasted the popping energy from the night before. Rio had always been fascinated by the elements that influenced the atmosphere in a place. He had also become an expert at using atmosphere to his advantage. In the light of day, the club’s shortcomings would be on display which would allow Rio to negotiate the highest cut. He would highlight the club’s potential and his own ability to bring it to fruition. His skin buzzed in anticipation. He lived for this. There was this feeling he got each time a new opportunity came up; a rush that moved through his veins and set him alight with purpose.

He sat back in his barstool and took a sip of his lime-infused water. Art Pepper’s ‘Round Midnight crooned out softly over the speakers. He recognized it from when he was a kid, one of the many west coast jazz musicians his Papa had exposed him to.  There was something about this place that relaxed him on a soul-deep level. Maybe it was the nostalgia. In any case, he needed this. After the shit that went down the last year and a half. Rio was grateful for a change of scenery.

The club itself was a bit rundown but maintained its charm. The building was almost a hundred years old and had been home to jazz music since its construction. Recent alterations had been largely cosmetic; fresh coat of paint, refinished hardwood. But the place needed a few more updates to meet Rio’s satisfaction. First thing would be to rip out that God-awful dry-wall and expose the brick behind the stage and along the north wall. He would need to change all the lighting. Probably go with one of the 20th century filament collections from Restoration Hardware. Possibly replace the bar and seating as well. He had plans. And an eye for creating the perfect atmosphere.

Rio heard voices coming from the back. Carlos, Salazar, and their accountant were walking towards the bar. They seemed to be in good spirits which was music to Rio’s ears. He was giving Carlos more responsibility lately; letting him run the meeting with Salazar over the money washing. With the accountant Mr. Denton, they were to go over what to use the money for and where to hide  it in the books. Rio had taught Carlos all that he knew and he was ready to start stepping up.

“Hey boss,” Carlos approached Rio, greeting him in their usual custom, the handshake they’d perfected over the years; a series of complicated twists and fist bumps.

“How’d it go?” Rio shook hands with Mr. Denton and Salazar.

“Good, man. We’re all set.”

“That’s what I like to hear.”

“I am going to head out. I look forward to working with you, Mr. Salazar. I’ll contact you in a few days to follow up. Gentlemen,” Mr. Denton nodded at Rio and left. Carlos left a few minutes later, leaving Rio to finish up.

Salazar turned to him. “Carlos said you wanted to discuss the fine print of our partnership.”

“That's right. You got time now?”

“Yep, I cleared the whole day for you guys.” he motioned for Rio to sit and took up the stool next to him.

“Alright then, I see you have your priorities straight. That’s good.” Rio regarded him.

The two men talked shop for an hour. Rio learned the history of the club and how with a few bad deals, Salazar’s uncle had almost run it into the ground. They talked about their mutual love for Latin jazz and how they would both love to see its magic make a comeback here in this community. Despite its dismal sales, the club had unwavering integrity when it came to who was allowed to be on stage. His uncles dying request was that not just anyone was allowed to perform. No matter how desperate they were for money. Rio could appreciate that. Quality over quantity was a great asset for a business to have. Rio shared some of his wisdom on bringing businesses back from the dead and Salazar listened intently. The two got along good and seemed to be on the same page.

“My Dream is to see Lozano prosper. I have high hopes.” Salazar replied sincerely.

“That’s what I want too. This place has some serious potential. It needs some upgrades though. You good with getting’ a crew in here in the next few weeks?”

“I think we can figure that out. Sure. Just need to let our acts know that we will be closed for a bit.”

“Shouldn’t be more than a few weeks and we’ll have her restored to her former glory.”

“You think that will draw more people in?”

“I think so. What about your acts, they any good?”

“Recently, Yeah. We struck gold with Movimiento and this new lady who just came on the scene. People are actually paying door prices to see them. This club has been barely scraping by the last few years thanks to the number Uncle did on it. I’m grateful I met Griffin when I did.”

“Who’s that?” Rio asked.

“Griff is our resident talent scout. Just moved here a year ago from the UK. Used to manage music acts out there until he had to move to the states to care for his mother. We met here, actually. He’s the one who found both our top acts.”

“He like a freelancer, then?”

“That’s about right. He gets a cut for each performance.”

“How much he get?”

“We settled on fifteen. The acts get fifty and the rest goes to the house. I figured you would take your cut off the top though.”

Rio nodded. “You figured correctly. I’ll take forty for now. If things go well over the next few months I’ll go full partner, if you’ll have me.”

“You’ve got a deal.” Salazar beamed at him. Damn the dude was like a ray of sunshine. He couldn’t help but smile as they shook hands.

“Gin and tonic, mate.” Rio glanced to his right and saw a tall man dressed casually leaning on the bar. He noted the british accent.

Salazar waved him over. “Speak of the devil!”

“Hello all.” the man smiled at the pair.

“Griff, this is Rio. My new business partner. You’ll be seeing alot of him. Rio, Griffin. My wonderful talent scout.” Griffin held his hand out to Rio.

As soon as Rio’s hand touched the other man’s, he recognized him as the dude Elizabeth had been cozying up to. Rio tried to keep his face neutral as a fierce heat ripped through him.

“Hey. Nice to meet you.” he said smoothly.

 “Rio here is going to make us rich!” Salazar exclaimed suddenly. “Teddy, round of shots! We need to celebrate!”

Rio chuckled and dipped his head briefly, collecting himself. “We shall see. First we gotta get this place looking’ good. Attract the younger crowd.”

“Oh is that right? Are we planning to renovate?” Griffin asked.

“Yes,” Salazar replied, setting a shot glass in front of both men.  “Tonight will be El’s last set until November. Movimiento will play Saturday and Sunday and then we’ll close for two weeks. So please let them know.”

“You got it, boss. I will use the next few weeks to book some new acts for the holiday season. It’s going to be great.”

“Alright then, I’m gonna take off,” Rio stood up to go.

“What about your shot, mate?” Griffin asked.

“I’m good, mate. ” Rio replied with a smirk. He wanted to wring the guys neck. He looked at Salazar, “I’ll have a crew in here monday morning. They will be taken care of. All you gotta do is let em’ in. I’ll talk to you soon. Nice to meet you,” He nodded in Griffin’s direction before turning and heading towards the front exit.

“Wait, Rio!” Salazar called out. Rio turned around and raised his eyebrows in question.

“You should come by tonight. Check in on your investment. I promise you won’t be disappointed.”

“What’s tonight?” Rio asked

“Our new girl is singing. She's great! A real crowd pleaser.”

“Cool,” Rio nodded and walked out the front door.

Salazar was a little over enthusiastic. Rio would have to keep a close eye on him. He may be a little too trustworthy. The opposite could be said about Gandalf or whatever that other dudes name was. Something was off about him. And it wasn’t just that he happened to have been on some kind of date with Elizabeth. He was shifty.

Nothing new. Rio was always dealing with shady people. These are the types who are good with criminal activities. It's not like they were a saintly bunch. His felt a warning in his gut but figured it had to do with seeing Elizabeth at the club the previous night. It must have been a fluke. He hoped to God that she wasn’t actually seeing the manager. That could prove to be a serious issue. For the most part though, Rio would be a silent partner. He would come tonight and see how the place ran, but after that the only time he would be in the actual club would be to collect his cut.

He prayed that fate wasn’t trying to make him its bitch.

 

Chapter Text

Beth still had a hard time believing it was over. Just like that. The way things had been building up, she’d  been sure that when all was said and done, someone or someone's would be going down. Survival had become a day to day thing until one day, things were back to normal. Just. Like. That. She had gotten what she wanted. Had been cut loose, granted freedom.

She wasn’t sure exactly how it happened, but she was positive now that Rio had connections to law enforcement. Because somehow, all in the course of a few days, Turner had been taken off the case, and all charges had been dropped against Stan. Beth had found out from a single text that said:

The heat is off of you and yours. You're good. We are squared up. Have a nice life, Elizabeth.

They had all been hesitant to just take him at his word; the few weeks following had been pins and needles. Especially after the whole “Yeah that’s kinda the point” response to the eternal funny money he had hooked her with. Could it be that he had just changed his mind? Decided to cut his losses? It had been hard to just accept that. But eventually, when nothing happened, they had done just that. Everyone  went back to their old lives. Well, slightly different versions of their old lives. They were forever changed. Especially Beth.

She wanted to be grateful, but the feeling of rejection and just loss had been overwhelming. It had taken a while to gain some semblance of normalcy. To feel anything, really. But around the five month mark, she started to feel like a stronger version of herself. The memories of his eyes, his fingers on her face, and his biting remarks faded into the past, the less attention she allowed them, the blurrier they became.

Her and Dean had been on good terms since the divorce. They shared custody; Beth had the kids during the week and Dean had settled into his weekend Dad role; always an expert on being ‘fun dad’. Beth was grateful for him. For the dad he was. Her’s had been alot worse. And sometimes she thinks Dean is a better parent than she is. Maybe not in action; but maybe his heart is in it more than hers. Or maybe she just needed some time to come back down to earth after the crazy year she had lived through. Crazy few years, now. In any case, she was back to living normal life. Until about 3 months ago when things flipped on their head again.

three months ago…..

“You are so boring! I miss crime-Beth!” Annie whined, stuffing a cookie in her mouth.

Beth rolled her eyes and reached over Ruby to grab the wine off the side table. She filled her glass up and took a long drink. The trio had been at it in Beth's living room since about 5pm. Friday Fun times, they called it.

“Crime-Beth wouldn't have agreed to karaoke  either, so I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“But you love to sing! Remember Flower Drum Song!? You were amazing!” Annie stood up then and twirled putting her arms above her head in a ballerina pose. “When I have a brand new…. hairdo... with my eyelashes all in curlllllssssss, I FLOAT  as the CLOUDS on air do, I enjoy being a girlllllllll!!!” Annie belted out loudly, arms spread wide. Beth and Ruby collectively groaned.

“Oh God, please stop.” Ruby held up her hand.

“C’mon Beth! You know you loved being in that play. C’mon sing with me!” Annie was trying to pull her sister off of the couch now.

Beth stood up reluctantly and crossed her arms over her chest regarding Annie. “That play was ripe with cultural appropriation. It wouldn’t even be allowed to happen today.”

“Oh pshh,” Annie waved her off. “No one will know. You know you wanna sing…” She goaded.

Beth rolled her eyes again and huffed. The alcohol was buzzing in her veins and ok she did kinda want to sing. “Fine. Sit.” She pushed Annie down on the couch and stood in front of her and Ruby, arms coming out to the side.

“Oh ok. We are doing this then,” Ruby looked up in amusement. “Take it away, Beth!”

“Wait wait!” Annie grabbed her phone off the coffee table and held it up pushing ‘record’, “Ok go.”

Beth hit a girlie stance; one hand bent up to her chest, the other down at her side hand flexed.

“I'm a girl, and by me that's only great!

I am proud that my silhouette is curvy,”  she ran her hand down her side and strolled across the room, moving her hips in an exaggerating fashion.

“That I walk with a sweet and girlish gait, w ith my hips kind of swivelly and swervy.”

The three women dissolved into giggles. The rest of the night they  took turns standing up and performing for one another. By the end of it, Beth had agreed, albeit under the influence, to go to karaoke the following evening. It was good to fill up her weekends with distractions, anyway. She would go this once and hopefully get Annie off her back for awhile.

The following night, Annie was over and the sisters were getting ready together in Beth’s bathroom.

“So no Ruby?” Annie asked as she pulled the flat iron through her bleached locks.

“No. It turns out Stan actually wants his wife home with him at least one day in a weekend.”

“Huh. Must be nice to be wanted,” Annie scoffed.

“Right?” Beth chuckled humorlessly.

Annie watched Beth lean into her cosmetic mirror and carefully line her eye. “It’s no fair that you look like that.” she told her.

“Shut up.”

“What? Its true. I mean, I am fine with myself it's whatever. But you literally are the living embodiment of Jessica Rabbit. You do realize that? Especially with that spankin’ new do’.”

“Whatever, Annie. Last week you called me a dried-up fig. Forgive me if I don’t take you at your word.” Annie laughed.

She unplugged the iron and hopped up on the counter.

“This is fun.”

“Yeah. It is.” Beth replied, smiling as she lined her other eye.

They had been spending most weekends together and she had to admit, it was nice. Since the Noah disaster, Annie had decided to take a break from men for awhile. In that respect, the sisters had much in common. Girl power was their current anthem.

“What are you going to sing tonight?” Annie asked as Beth finished her makeup and started brushing her hair.

Beth scoffed. “I don’t even know if I am actually going to actually sing. It's so embarrassing.”

“It’s really not. Everyone will be drunk. Just wait until about 10pm to put in your request. It's all about the timing.”

“We’ll see.” She carefully worked her freshly-dyed ruby hair into soft curls, using a wide curling iron.

What happened later that night was that Beth did sing. A lot.

The crowd loved her so much, no one put any requests in for themselves. The entire bar became her audience and they clapped and cheered “More! More!” whenever she would finish a song.

Annie had watched in utter admiration and while Beth was crooning out a jazz tune, she saw her mouth an “I told you so” as she raised her glass in a silent cheers. Beth couldn’t help but smile as she thought maybe she should listen to Annie more often.

After last call, Beth had wandered to the bar needing a break and a drink. That’s where she had met Griffin. At first she thought he was using some tired pick up line; saying he was a talent scout. But ultimately his charm, and much as she hated to admit, his British accent, had convinced her to take a chance and call him the following day. He had asked her to meet him at Lozano and that’s where she met Salazar and agreed to try out a number at the jazz club. She auditioned with the resident band right then and there, clicking beautifully with them. They offered her a weekly gig and she accepted with nervous anticipation. 

When she drove home after the impromptu audition, her head was spinning. She called Annie then to ask if this was crazy, but there was only gloating and encouragement from the younger Marks sister.

“See? All you had to do was crawl out of that box Dean had you in and now you’re famous!”

“Not exactly.” Beth had replied. “I guess I’ll try it out and see what happens? I mean I'm Just going to be singing covers. It’s pretty straightforward.”

“You are gonna love it. This is crazy!”

“I know! Ok I’m gonna call Ruby. She is going to flip.”

“Oh wait! What about that talent scout.. he was hot.”

“His name is Griffin. What about him?”

“Are you gonna bone him?”

“Annie!” Beth glared at her through the phone.

 “What? I’m just saying it would be a good way to erase Gangfriend.”

“And on that note, Bye.”

“Byeeeeeeeee.”

 

And so for the last three months of Beth’s life, she had been singing at Lozano once or twice a week making up to $600 a night. It’s wasn’t a ton of money but it was nice to have some extra cash. Especially legally obtained extra cash. And unlike “book club”, she was having all of the fun without the stress of prison or death hanging over her head.

The band was pretty eclectic so even though the club was known for playing Latin Jazz, she sang a whole host of songs. Usually they would pick a theme for the night and give Beth the set list to practice by Saturday. They would rehearse for about 4 hours every Wednesday during the day. Sometimes she would sing old classics and other nights they would stick to new music, like Amy Winehouse and Diana Krall.

Beth had made some solid friends in her bandmates; her favorite was Bea, who played drums. Bea was insanely talented and gorgeous. She had short black hair, almond-shaped green eyes, and full sleeve tattoos on both arms. She and Beth bonded the first night and had been friends ever since. She had taken Beth shopping for some vintage dresses and showed her how to style her hair for when they did ‘Queens of Jazz’ theme nights. She was trying to convince Beth to get a tattoo as well, but so far she wasn’t making any headway. Bea was the one that had come up with the stage name “El” for Beth. They all called her that and Beth found she liked having an alter ego of sorts. Stu played the double bass.  He was charming and handsome; an African-American man who was the first to tell you he’d passed his prime years ago, but Beth thought he was wonderful. Then there was Conrad on the keys. He was quiet and kept to himself, but very kind to Beth. Finally, Dickie played trumpet and saxophone depending on the night.

Everyone was so talented, it was hard for Beth not to feel intimidated at first. Fortunately,  they had been patient with her as she learned the flow and timing, so versatile that when she messed up they were able to swallow it whole and improvise. Beth was learning how to keep going and feel the music.

The whole experience had been healing for her and she had never been happier.

This particular Friday, the band was doing Peggy Lee and Beth was excited. She had grown up listening to her music and knew the songs well. They were playing ‘New York City Blues’, ‘Fever’, ‘Life is So Peculiar’, ‘Big Spender’, and ‘He Needs Me’. The last song in the set had struck a chord with her and she couldn’t help but tear up every time she sang it. The lyrics reminded her of a certain someone that she had been diligently trying to forget. She was hoping she could keep it together when she got on stage.

Friday night had come and Beth was putting the finishing touches on her Peggy Lee look. The building had been around so long that it still had dressing rooms. Her and Bea had set up shop in one of them. Bea had just finished brushing out Beth’s pincurls and was pulling some of her hair up on one side. She pinned it with a vintage clip.

“Ta-Da! You look gorgeous, dahling! Bea said. Her eyes sparkled as she looked at Beth in the mirror.

“Thanks to you,” Beth turned her head to the side and admired the work she had done. “How did you learn to do hair like this?”

“YouTube.” They both laughed. Beth wanted to tell her that she learned how to load a gun on YouTube but decided against it.

Both women turned to the door as Griff poked his head in the room. “On in five, ladies.” Beth stood up next to Bea and ran her hands down her dress. 

Griff whistled low as he took them both in. Beth was in a navy blue sheath dress with a scoop neck and Bea wore a black, off the shoulder crop top with leather pants.

“No wonder we are packed every Friday night. You birds are gorgeous.”

Beth and Bea looked at each other and chuckled.

“Get out of here,” Bea ordered. Griff pretended to act offended before shooting them a dashing smile and shutting the door.

Bea looked at Beth and noticed she was fidgeting.

“You ok?” She asked

“Yes just nervous for some reason.”

“That’s normal. I still get nervous every time.”

“I feel weird tonight, not sure why.”

“Well the songs sound amazing. I think Peggy would be proud. You wanna do a shot?”

“That would be great,” Beth said.

Bea rummaged through the vanity cabinet. “Alright we got tequila or...blackberry brandy.”

She scrunched up her nose at the options. “I mean we have a full bar right out there….” she said, gesturing towards the door.

“True but what’s the fun in that? This is official dressing room booze. It’s aged. A lot.”

Beth laughed and reached for the tequila.

“Do we have shot glasses?” She asked.

“Nope.”

“Great.” She said sarcastically. Beth took a deep breath and drank from the bottle, cringing as she handed it to Bea.

“Gross.”

Bea took her own shot off the top and stuck the bottle back in the cabinet.

“I concur. That was disgusting. How do you feel though?”

“Better.” Beth smiled at her new friend.

“Alright let’s go knock some socks off!” They linked arms and left the dressing room.

The set had gone amazingly well. The energy from the crowd infused Beth with excitement and bravado. They had just finished ‘Big Spender’, Beth had a blast performing the song; flirting with the crowd and showcasing her curves with subtle movements.

As the applause died down, the  trumpet notes for the final song filled the room and Beth closed her eyes, letting the sounds wash over her. In her mind she saw dark eyes the color of coffee looking at her softly, and felt his finger tracing down her face. She couldn’t help it. This song was about him.

 He needs me

He doesn’t know it

But he needs me

 

And so no matter where he goes

And though he doesn't care

He knows, I’m there

 

Beth surrendered to the lyrics and allowed her emotions to pour out onto the audience.

 

He needs me

I ought to leave him

But he needs me

 

I guess, it isn't very bright

Just to tag along

But right or wrong

I’m here, I’m his

 

And just then, as if she had conjured him, she saw him. He was in the back of the room seated in a booth just staring at her. He looked puzzled. She was so shocked she almost forgot her next lines but thankfully she had practiced enough that her muscle memory took over.

 

And I’ll be

A friend or a lover

Because my one ambition is

 

To wake him

And make him discover

He needs me

 

Tears sprang to her eyes unbidden, as she neared the end of the song. She glanced back at him, her eyes having a mind of their own, and felt  her chest swell at the intense stare he was fixing her with. She tore her eyes away again and focused on the back wall.

 

I’ve got to follow where he leads me

Or else he’ll never know

That i need him

Just as he needs me

 

She held out the last note  and ended the song with a soft smile and a “Thank you.”

Beth stepped back from the mic as Salazar jumped onto the stage. The crowd hooped and hollered and he joined them in clapping as he turned to face the band.

“Aren't they great? Ladies and gentlemen that was  El Mark's and The Detroit Mink. They play every Friday night here at Lozano. After this weekend we will be closed for renovations until November. But come back then and bring your friends!”

The band continued to play background music then, as Beth  quickly shuffled off the stage. What the hell was he doing there? She didn’t even want to know she just needed to get away from him. Her heart was beating out of her chest as she rushed to the dressing room to get her purse.

As she left the room, she pulled on her coat and started texting Griff. Just then someone grabbed her and pinned her up against the wall.

“Oof!” Beth huffed out and smiled at her assailant.

“Where do you think you're going,” Griff whispered hotly in her ear.

“I was just about to text you,” Beth said breathlessly.

“You were amazing up there. Are you sure you've never done this before?”  he asked, pulling back and staring down at her, eyes crinkling in the corners.

“I told you my experience consists of karaoke and high school musicals,” She replied.

“Well, you are a natural, love.” His eyes dipped down to the neckline of her dress.

“Thank you. I’m really having fun doing it.” She said sincerely.  She started to panic again thinking about Rio. “I'm actually not feeling well, though. I know I said I would have a drink with you after the set, but I really just want to go home and crawl into bed.”

Griffin stepped back from her then. “Oh, sorry,” his playful smirk turning to concern. “Can I get you anything?”

“No, I’m ok. Just gonna head out. Can you say goodbye for me?”

“Sure thing,” She clocked the disappointment on his face as he put his hand on her forearm and kissed her on the cheek. “Feel better, El.”

Beth smiled sweetly at him and moved past him to the back exit. She picked up the pace, anxiety pricking at her. She felt a slight twinge of guilt blowing Griff off like that, but she needed to get out of there.

She flew through the back exit and made a beeline to her newly upgraded mid-size suv. She started the engine remotely and thanked whoever was up there for that little feature. As soon as she got in her car she breathed a sigh of relief. Something tugged on her to look in her rearview as she drove off. Unsurprisingly, he was there, leaning against the back exit door, watching her. Beth steeled herself and focused her eyes on the road, trying to nip that old familiar ache in the bud.

Her mind was going a mile a minute trying to figure out why he was there. Was he keeping track of her still? She thought he was there alone, so either he just had a hankerin’ for some jazz music or he was there for her. Probably to collect some debt he thought of. Or some loose end had presented itself. The thought that he could be tracking her still made her blood boil. Maybe if she ignored him this time he would go away. Either way, Beth was not having it. She didn’t want to feel his eyes on her, unmasking her, stripping her down.

It used to be near impossible to ignore him. She would seek him out, confront him, demand answers.. always push him to explain himself. But now, the last thing she wanted to do was see or talk to him.

Getting over Rio and everything he had meant to her, felt like waking up from a nightmare that had been disguising itself as a dream. She had built herself up over the last few months. Gotten stronger. Away from Dean and away from Rio, she was starting to come into her own. And the result had been that she was a happier mom, sister, and friend.

Even so, Beth wasn’t ignorant to the fact that Rio’s influence had contributed greatly to this. But what he had done for her and to her, though fundamental in making her who she was today, it was not without its consequences.

He had hurt her deeply when he told her she meant nothing but business to him. Worse than finding out about Dean cheating. And that was what had truly motivated her to get out of the club tonight. That pain. It had shook her to hear those words from him. And the subsequent withdrawal from him had not been a cake walk. She never wanted to go through that again. He had played a role in her life. She was grateful for it but she did not want to revisit that season of her life.

The feeling that shot through her the minute their eyes met tonight was proof that she was nowhere near ready to face him again. It just wasn’t safe. She had promised herself she would guard her heart from now on.

Beth thought about Griffin, then. He was strikingly handsome, charming and sweet. He was safe. He actually liked her. He made her feel beautiful and looked at her like she was something precious. She wasn’t exactly dating him, but she was seriously considering giving him a shot. Griff certainly was persistent, and she kinda loved his accent; the way he called her “luv”... They had fooled around a bit, but Beth wasn’t going to be careless anymore when it came to sex; still healing from her time with Rio.  

Rio. He was literally like a drug to her. Just thinking about his stare from the back of the club made her feel like a snake was twisting around her ribs, squeezing. At first he looked puzzled to see her on the stage and then he had leaned back in his chair and just watched her; hooded eyes boring into hers. That cool, calm demeanor permeating the atmosphere. She had ripped her eyes away from his and focused on the words to the song; letting the melody flow through her. She had no idea what he was doing there but hadn’t wanted to allow his presence to shake her.

She wondered if she would ever truly be free of him. Then a thought skittered through her mind and she had to wonder if she really wanted to be. But she did. She definitely did.

When Beth got home she stripped off her dress, washed her face and crawled into bed. Eventually she fell asleep but it took awhile. Damn him.

 

 

Salazar had told Beth to come by the following night, Saturday, to pick up her check since they were going to be closing for a few weeks. She decided to go in the back entrance and straight to his office, still feeling uneasy about having seen Rio at the club. She wondered for the hundredth time what he had been doing there. After much deliberation, she had decided if he was there for some type of debt, he would have found her at the park or just showed up at her house.  

It was even more bizarre to think he just happened to be there. Something inside her was screaming “Fate!” but she tamped it down because it was ridiculous. She was a joke to him, so if it was fate, it must have something against her. Coincidences happen all the time. Maybe he just liked jazz music.

Beth knocked on the door to Salazar’s office before opening it. He looked up from his paperwork and smiled at her.

“El! My favorite gold mine!” He exclaimed.

She smiled back and laughed. “You make me blush!”

“You were great last night. Really.”

“Why thank you, sir.” Beth was still surprised and humbled by the reception she had received from the people at the club. Everyone was so kind and  welcoming to her. It was a nice change of pace from the last line of business she had been in.

“Did Griff fill you in on what’s going on around here?”

“He told me you are renovating and that it will be a few weeks until I sing again.”

“Yep. We are gonna give this place new digs! It’s going to be really great. Big things are happening at Lozano! Mark my words Ms. Marks!”

“That sure is exciting! I feel lucky to be a part of it.” She smiled warmly at him.

“And we are certainly blessed to have you. I was just bragging about you the other day to my new business partner.”

“Is that right?”

“Yep. He is going to help us put Lozano back on the map. With your help too, of course.”

Beth’s heart sunk as realization hit her. Rio.

She quickly checked herself, not wanting Salazar to notice any upset.

“I don’t know. Maybe you should lower your expectations as far as I’m concerned. I’m truly an amateur.” Beth said.

“Nonsense. You were made for this! As long as you want to keep singing, we want you here. You should hear what people are saying about you. Men and women, alike! You got some real, raw talent. It’s amazing you haven’t done anything with it before.”

“Well, you know. Four kids. A husband. I was a little busy.”

“Ah. Well yes, that makes sense. I guess I couldn’t really see my wife moonlighting at a club after our little ones went down.”

“If she wanted to, would you let her?” Beth asked him curiously.

“Oh that woman does whatever she wants. She's my queen! We would figure it out, I suppose,” he chuckled good-naturedly. “Thing is, she can’t carry a tune to save her life.”

Beth giggled and rolled her eyes. “Well it’s good to know she has your support. It can be pretty isolating being a wife and mother. I hope she has something she loves apart from those roles.”

Salazar looked thoughtful for a moment. “You know, I’m not sure she does. I’m gonna talk to her about it tonight though. You are quite the lady, El. Thanks!” He reached across the desk and handed her the paycheck.

“My pleasure. Nice talking to you! I’ll see you in a few weeks.” She waved goodbye over her shoulder and walked into the hallway.

She wasn’t even surprised to see him as she stepped out into the hall.

He was leaning  up against the wall next to the door, as if he had been waiting for her.  She froze as she took him in. Black button up. Black jeans. Dark expression. Same old Rio.

Her tongue itched to confront him as anger licked at her spine, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. Instead she moved around him, making sure to step close to the opposite wall to avoid making any sort of contact.

“Elizabeth.” She heard his voice call out evenly. The sound of it both achingly familiar and infuriating. She stopped but did not turn around.

“I’m here for business.” He said. She huffed out humorlessly, back still to him.

“I’m sayin’ Im doin’ business with Salazar. I didn’t know you had any connection to this place.”

“Fine.” She said evenly and continued down the corridor.

Beth walked right to the bar, suddenly needing a drink. So he was there for business. Great. Seeing him there had struck her with a feeling of possession and pride for the place that had given her so much joy.

 his was her club  and she wasn’t about to let this man run her off.

“Bourbon. I mean, whiskey!.. On the rocks. Thanks Teddy.” she said to the bartender as she sat down.

Rio smirked as he walked up next to her. “Saw you sing last night. Didn’t know you could do that.”

She looked down into her drink. “It’s just for fun.”  she said, feeling like she needed to explain for some reason.

He nodded and gestured to Teddy for the same drink she was having.

“You’re good.”

“Thanks,” she replied softly.

“So we drinkin’ whiskey tonight, huh?’

“Yep.”

“Cool, cool.”

Beth took a deep breath  and looked over at him. He was watching her. Same as always. She allowed herself about two seconds of eye contact before she blinked and looked away. But that was all it had taken  for the raging inferno to come back. It shocked her in its immediacy. It made her angry. And that made her suddenly tired.

“So,” Beth started as she looked back at  him with what she hoped was a neutral expression. “I take it you are flipping your game?” she asked, one brow raising in question.

“That’s right,” he replied as the corner of his mouth went up, “Hmph. Small world, right?” His heated gaze still on her.

“It really is.” She bit down on her lip hard, attempting to stop the smile that was forcing its way out. She was so weak.

They stared at each other as if no time had passed. As if he hadn’t destroyed her just a few months prior. As if the force between them was stronger than every attempt to distance themselves.

He blinked lazily and tilted his head. “You look good, Mama.”

Beth couldn’t stop the slight pout to her lips as she heard the pet name. “Please.. don’t,” she looked down at her glass then, breaking the spell between them. “Don’t call me that.”

Rio looked away nodding. “Ok.”

It had been a valiant effort but she just couldn’t.

“Well, I’m gonna go. It was....uh.. bye.” she mumbled out and rolled her eyes at the overwhelming awkwardness.

Rio grabbed her wrist to stop her and when she turned he  immediately dropped it, like he couldn’t believe he had done it in the first place.

“What? What do you want?” she asked softly, her voice tinged with sadness. Her eyebrows were drawn together above her huge blue eyes.

“Nothing.” Was all that came out. It was like he was struck dumb or something.

She stared at him for a moment before walking briskly away from the bar.

She could feel his eyes on her.

She had only gotten a few feet away when Griffin side stepped her, sticking a finger in her belt loop, and tugging; effectively twirling her and  pulling her into his embrace.

“There you are, luv, I wasn’t sure you’d show.” He looked at her hungrily as his hands went from her hips to her lower back.

“Please tell me you’re feeling better?” He asked

Her hands came up to his chest and she gently pushed back.

“Yes thank you. I’m better. Definitely spending another night in, though.” she frowned apologetically at him as she wrapped her hands around her waist. She was facing the bar now, and glanced up to see Rio watching them curiously with his hand propped on his chin.

Griffin regarded her with squinted eyes. “Why do I feel like i’m hunting you down like prey lately?” He teased, letting his hands drop away from her body.

“I don’t know,” she said, “Maybe you need to focus on easier prey..?”

His smile grew as he watched her bite her lip. “Hmm. you are a vixen, aren't’ you?”

“Actually, no.” she smiled sheepishly at him, “I’m just exhausted and lame.”

“On the contrary, you are extraordinary.” He lifted his hand to her face and rubbed his thumb against her bottom lip. “I am a patient man, so don’t think blowing me off two nights in a row is enough to dissuade me.” he told her.

“I wouldn’t dare,” she smiled up at him. “Goodnight, Griff.”

And maybe it was because she genuinely liked Griff, but more likely what motivated her to stand on her tiptoes and kiss his lips softly, was the man sitting at the bar. She saw that he was talking to Salazar now, maybe he wouldn’t notice. Or maybe he would.

She wondered what Rio thought about her little exchange with Griff. He probably assumed she was just as desperate as she had always been, she thought bitterly.

 eth drove home for the second night in a row feeling a mixture of sadness and anxiety. She needed her girls. She texted them asking to meet up for brunch the next morning. She took a long bath when she got home and then called her kids. They were at their grandparents cabin with Dean, having a blast. She felt tears spring up as she talked to them on Facetime, suddenly feeling lonely. Sleep came quicker this time but his face was the last thing she saw before it enveloped her.

 

Chapter Text

Rio wasn’t one to get swept up easily. The first time he had fallen for a girl was in 9th grade; Marina. She was all legs, creamy brown skin and dark brown eyes just like his. She was quiet and kept to herself, never seeming to care about any high school drama. Rio was sure half the class didn’t even know she existed. She blended in well and it seemed she was content with that. He used to stare at her in Biology and wonder what her lips tasted like. He became somewhat infatuated with her and felt like he knew her in a way others didn’t. One time he saw her stick up for some band nerd who was getting picked on, and another time, he saw her scoop a lady bug off of a locker and walk it outside to set it free.  Marina always had a smile on her face, but Rio could see the sadness underneath. He knew there was more to her than just a shy persona. He would glance at her from across the cafeteria, and go out of his way to brush up against her in the hallway. Just as he was working up the nerve to talk to her though, he met Carlos in detention; finding a kindred soul in him. After knocking off a few gas stations with him and his brother (and getting away with it) Rio started to forget about Marina, finding fulfillment in money-making and the adrenaline that came with obtaining it illegally.

He had all but forgotten about her, until he met Elizabeth. It wasn’t that she reminded Rio of Marina, it was the obsession that was the same. The need to watch her, observe her face and try to figure out what she was thinking.  To see the person below, that no one else saw. The problem with his infatuation with Elizabeth is that it wasn’t so easily forgone in the face of his priorities. He couldn’t shake her. Even when she went from amusing entertainment to high-risk status; he couldn’t shake her.

He thought that if he could get inside of her, just once, he could get her out of his system. But aside from some heated looks and a few well-timed innuendos, Rio wasn’t the type to push himself onto women. He wanted her; but he wanted her to be the one to come for him. It couldn’t be any other way, in his mind. He was pretty sure that ship had sailed after he gave her the keys to the kingdom.  But then he saw her that night. At his bar. Looking for him… and then looking at him. Like that .

Rio was the kind of guy that had it together. He wasn’t shaken by a pretty face. But Elizabeth? Gazing at him with those bambi eyes; twirling her hair around that petite, perfectly manicured finger? There was no way he was resisting her. Out of all the looks the two had shared; the look that night was new, and it lit up a part of him he didn’t know existed.

And he knew. He knew that if he followed her down that corridor, things would never be the same. The small amount of denial he was holding onto told him “Just this once. And she will be outta  you.” but deeper down, and not even that much deeper- he knew this would seal their fate. It wasn’t just the sex, that would do it. It was the fact that she beckoned him and he followed her- giving her the power. It was the worship  he gave her- the surrender.

As soon as he felt the creamy soft skin of her thigh, smelled the sugary musk of her neck up close, and felt her velvet walls squeeze the very life out of him, he knew she owned him. He gave his power over to her that night and he had been tryin’ to get it back ever since. She hadn’t realized, of course. And he had cut her down, hurt her in an attempt to keep her from ever knowing.

Elizabeth made him feel powerless. But in a way that was so tempting to lean into; like a drug.

It was Friday night, and Rio had taken Salazar up on his offer to come see the club’s current ‘golden ticket’, and watch how things ran. He was looking for any and every opportunity this place presented him to wash cash. He was there to observe, see where his money would be most useful, least detected. He didn’t know he was about to fall right back into her again.

He had strolled into Lozano around 9pm dressed to impress. He wore his Burberry trench with the grey check detail, dark gray long-sleeve, black pants and his all black Jordan 10s.

Rio spotted Salazar at the bar talking to Griffin. He approached them smoothly, ordering a bourbon on the rocks.

“Evening gentlemen,” he said as he leaned against the bar facing them.

Salazar patted him on the arm. “Rio! I am thrilled you came tonight! Teddy, this man drinks for free.” Rio nodded to the bartender in thanks as he passed him the bourbon.

“I was just telling Salazar that we have a special treat in store for anyone who was smart enough to come,” Griffin said to Rio.

 Oh yea?”

“Yes, sir,” Salazar joined in.  “Detroit Mink has been underrated in this city for too long. But now that they have El singing for them, they are coming up hot!”

Rio’s interest was piqued. His mind quickly started to process how profitable washing cash through a band could be. It had potential.

“Where’d  you find this lady?” Rio asked.

“She just fell into my lap. Discovered her at a local dive, singing karaoke.” Griffin said.

“She’s gonna put this place back on the map, my friend. And that will be good for all of us.” Salazar lifted up his drink. “A toast. To Lozana, and a fresh start.”

“Cheers.” Rio joined in with the other two men, clinking his glass and downing the rest of his drink.

“Well, I’m off to collect my girls.” Griffin announced, standing up. “Enjoy the show, Mr. Rio.” Rio rolled his eyes at the moniker.

Salazar turned to him. “I’ve reserved  the best seat in the house for you, my friend. It's an acoustically superior spot,” he pointed over to a booth facing the middle of the stage but closer to the back of the room. It was the one Elizabeth had been sitting at with Griffin. C-shaped and cozy looking.

“Thanks, man. Have a good night.” Rio left the bar and went to the booth.

As soon as he sat down he saw a text from Denise, his son’s mom.  It was a picture of Marcus with his cousin Alessio boogie boarding.  His chest filled with pride for his son. He hadn’t seen him in over a week and it was eating at him. But his mama had taken him to see relatives in California and he knew how important it was for him to visit family. Before he left, Marcus had told Rio he was afraid to swim in the ocean because of sharks. Rio smiled warmly at the picture.

He is way too good at this. He gets his balance from you apparently.

That’s my boy. Tell him I’m proud of him for facing those sharks head on.

Lol. Will do.

I miss him.

He misses you too. Be home tuesday. You wanna take him that night?

Nah, I’ll pick him up from school Wednesday if thats ok.

Sure. Have a good night.

You too. Thank you for the picture.

;-)

Rio returned a few emails and was texting Carlos when Salazar’s voice  pulled his attention to the stage.

“Ladies and Gentlemen! Thank you for gracing us with your presence tonight! We have an amazing set for you... So sit back, relax, grab a drink or five and enjoy our very own El! And The Detroit Mink!”

 hen Salazar was gone and the beginning notes to ‘New York City Blues’ floated through the club. He relaxed into the booth and took a drink, letting out a long breath.  Rio loved jazz. His boys teased him about it all the time.

“Once I said goodbye to New York City..”

The split second before his eyes landed on the source of the sultry melody, he knew.

He almost had to laugh. What was that about being fate’s bitch? Leaning back into the booth, he shook his head laughing sardonically as he took her in.

Elizabeth was ‘El’. Huh. So that’s why she had been here with that dude. And what had he said? He had discovered her at a karaoke bar? Yeah that sounded like Annie’s doing. This was gonna be good, he thought, sarcastically.

But as he watched her sing, his smile faded and he became transfixed. She was really really good. Her voice was heavy and rich, flushing through him like tea that was the ideal temperature. The sound was comforting and ethereal. He shook his head in amazement.

He knew she could be something.

And damn, she was glowing. The dress she wore clung to her curves perfectly; highlighting all her glorious assets. Her red lips were a striking contrast against that milky-white skin. Her eyes were sparkling like sapphires as they looked meaningfully into the audience. And that hair. Well.

She was truly working the crowd like a professional, and to say Rio was impressed would have been a gross understatement.

The song’s tempo had picked up and Elizabeth’s movements as she sang were subtle and sexy; she looked and moved like a vintage bombshell come to life. Rio was already  intimately familiar with her amazing body, but seeing her like this was bringing back all the former desire for her along with fresh lust; hot and bright that burned his chest.

He only took his eyes off of her twice during the entire set.

Once was when he looked around the club and was intrigued by the crowd's reaction to her. They were watching her; which wasn’t always the case with singers in a jazz club. Usually they sang  while a few people watched, the majority carrying on conversations at their tables enjoying the music in the background. Not with her. They were watching her perform as if she was the reason they came, and from what Rio was seeing, it was clear that Salazar was right about Elizabeth being their ‘golden ticket’.

The second time he looked away from her was when he followed the path of her eyes. They went down to a table  in front where Griffin was seated. She was moving her hips to the familiar beat of ‘Fever’ and seemed to be singing directly to him. Rio’s blood boiled in his veins. He really needed to check himself. Elizabeth wasn’t his.

But fuck if it didn’t feel like she was.

She still hadn’t noticed him. At least he didn’t think she had. Rio was sitting back in his booth trying to blend into the shadows as much as possible. He wasn’t sure how well received he would be; considering their last encounter. He didn’t want to screw up her performance.  He knew there was going to have to be a confrontation at some point seein’ as how they were thrust together once again. The thought filled him with nervous anticipation. He loved seeing her flustered and angry. No doubt she would be.

Probly think I’m here to tie up a loose end..or still keepin’ tabs on her.   

The melancholy notes to the next song floated across the club. Rio was watching her face still. It had changed.

 

He needs me

He doesn’t know it

But he needs me

 

He leaned forward onto the table, resting his hand on his chin. He was fascinated by the look she wore.

 

He needs me

I ought to leave him

But he needs me

 

He could see such strong emotion in her eyes. Unless.. That was his imagination? He wondered what she was thinking about when she sang and pushed down the thought that came right after.

Rio knew the moment she saw him. Registered the shock in her eyes. Noticed that she was about a half a second late singing the next note. If there was ever a question, time apart had done nothing to lessen the tension between the two of them. Rio felt it immediately. That same spark.

As Beth continued to sing, the lyrics washed over him, amusement danced in his eyes.

 

And I’ll be

A friend or a lover

Because my one ambition is

 

To wake him

And make him discover

He needs me

 

She had looked away from him and he felt a gnawing desperation to make eye contact with her again.  And then it happened and Rio could see unshed tears shining there.

“Thank you.” She said in her sugary, soft voice as she ended the song.

When he saw her hastily exit the stage and make her way towards the back offices, he stood up casually and made his way in her direction. He just wanted to talk to her.

Just as Rio was rounding the corner to the long corridor, he saw her stepping out of a room. Someone else was waiting for her though. Griffin. And he was about to take the guy out when he saw him manhandle Elizabeth. Unfortunately, she seemed to be fine with it. Rio then stepped back and watched the pair from the shadows.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he heard the manager ask.

“I was just about to text you.”

Rio’s heart flipped at her tone. Such a simple thing to say but her voice ...It was faint. Breathless. She had spoken to him like that once and he cherished the memory.

He watched with irritation as the man openly ogled her, which Rio really couldn’t blame him for doing. He had done it numerous times himself. Elizabeth was a temptress without even trying.. He heard her say she wasn’t feeling well and a mixture of relief and pride filled him up.

And maybe that was sick. That he felt proud. But he couldn’t help himself. Rio really liked that just seeing him seemed to have affected her. That even though this jackass was touching her, Elizabeth was thinking about him, her ex-partner. He was certain that’s why she suddenly “wasn’t feeling well”.

Rio observed Griffin disappearing into an office, and Elizabeth walking out the back exit. He quietly followed her out the door about ten spaces behind. Leaning against the wall next to the exit, he watched her get into a black suv.

Huh. new car? Nice color. He thought amusedly.

As he watched her drive away, his brain was already in planning mode. Seeing her tonight had changed everything. He needed to confront her, smooth talk her, and try to rope her back in. He was gonna need her on board for this next venture.

The people working Lozano could see Elizabeth's worth as ‘El’ the performer. She was talented and gorgeous; but they had no idea how much more she was capable of. Rio wanted her vision for the place. He needed it. She had been the driving force behind bringing Boland Motors back from the dead and now she had unwittingly gotten herself caught up in another business that was struggling. Now Rio just had to convince her to come back. Shouldn’t be too hard, he thought. He knew how to build her up and help her see her potential. He just hoped he hadn’t burned the bridge completely with his whole ‘You are just work to me’ spiel.

What a crock of shit that was.

He had tried to cut ties. So many times. But fate just had its own plans for him, it seemed. He was cool with it. But damn, with Elizabeth back in the game would he ever want to leave it?

 

 

The next night, Rio had come to drop off some fake cash to stock the bar and also to keep in a safe in Salazar’s office. He knocked once before entering.

“Rio! Come on in.”

“Just here to drop off some capital.” He dumped a duffle bag on the side of Salazar’s desk. “Stock the bar with this and use it to buy enough liquor for the next three months. Put the rest in your safe.”

“Ok. Is this..,” Salazar peeked into the bag gingerly as if a spider was about to crawl out. “Is this fake money?” he whispered.

Rio looked at him for a good five seconds before answering.

“Yes.”

“Do you think it will raise any red flags?” Salazar added, still whispering.

“No. this stuff is legit. How often do you restock liquor?”

“About every few months.”

“Ok so that should work then. Also, you can use this money to buy materials; the new bar, seating, lighting. But not to pay the crew. They are already taken care of.”

“I am giving you free reign for this remodel, Rio. please, I am not a design guy. I would be thrilled if you would choose those details. I trust your vision.”

Rio thought about Elizabeth then. He did have some ideas but this would be a good way to get her involved in the makeover of the club, therefore bringing her deeper in.

“Sounds good.” Rio replied. “I’ll have the materials sent over Tuesday. Monday will be all demo.”

“This is very exciting, isn’t it?” Salazar said to him gleefully.

“Yeah, its cool.” Rio chuckled. This dude was a trip. “We gonna make some money, I guarantee you that.”

“Speaking of making money, last night was packed! We doubled our revenue. Did you enjoy the music?”

“I did.”

“El is fantastic isn’t she?”

“She was somethin’ else.”

Salazar beamed. “You may run into her tonight if you're lucky!  I’m pretty sure she is coming by.”

“Cool. I may stick around for a drink.”

“Wonderful!”

Rio did in fact run into her.

He had gone out to his car to make a phone call and saw her pull up in her fancy new car. He followed her again and waited outside Salazar’s office. His body was buzzing in anticipation of actually talking to her. It had been awhile. He was about to get his fix.

She didn’t exactly look surprised when she saw him leaning against the wall. She moved around him, not saying a word and Rio hated the way it made him feel. He grinded his teeth and flexed his hands in an effort to control the urge to lunge forward and pull her back to him. He had something that held as much power over her as his hands, though.

“Elizabeth.” His voice.

She stopped but didn’t turn around. He told her he was there for business and she seemed to accept that this wasn’t about her.  Well, it hadn’t started out that way. Now, if Rio were honest, it was about her.

He followed her to the bar and engaged with her in their typical back and forth way of talking but not saying anything. And he had missed the looks. The way his chest filled with warmth when she stared at him. It was something special between them; those heated looks. They said so much and yet as soon as one or the other looked away, everything that had been “said” was lost.

Maybe actually talking would work better this time around. He decided he would try it. But not tonight. She was in a mood.

“You look good, Mama.” and she did. Just effortlessly beautiful in her skinny jeans and low-cut black sweater.

“Please don’t call me that.” she had said.

Ok. There were some fences to be mended. He was a bit surprised when she stood to go and without thinking he grabbed her wrist.

“Nothing.” he had responded to her plea for understanding.

It wasn’t time yet.

And then Rio had to watch her with that goofy English guy. His paws were all over her. Again. And ok he was probably pretty charming to the ladies. Rio could see that. But why was Elizabeth falling for it? Maybe he was like a rebound? Rio wondered as he gazed quizzically at the pair. He made eye contact with her for a beat and thought she looked a bit uncomfortable. He smirked. Good

As Rio was watching them, trying to catch Elizabeth’s eyes again, Salazar came up beside him at the bar.

“I see you met our El. Lovely isn’t she?”

“Yes she is.” Rio  replied, looking at him then back to the couple.

“Best thing to happen to this place in a while.”

Rio lifted his chin in the direction of the couple. “They a thing?” he asked.

“Ha! In his dreams,” Salazar said, and Rio huffed out a laugh. “Between you and me, i think she is humoring him.”

“Oh yeah?” Rio asked, eyebrows raised and a smirk playing on his lips.

“Yep. She may let you buy her a drink if you ask nicely.” He said, winking at him.

Rio chuckled and shook his head. “Nah I’m good. Takin’ a break from man-eaters like that one.” He took a drink of his whiskey.

“Hmm. I’m pretty sure that one’s as sweet as she looks,” Salazar replied, gazing over at the pair.

Rio glanced back at the couple just in time to see Beth kissing him. He felt a dull ache in his chest again. He really wished she would stop doing that. Suddenly he needed to leave and regroup. He wasn’t just going to sit here and watch her make out with her new side piece.

“I’ll talk to you Monday.” Rio rose to leave.  “We good til then?”

“Yes, sir! I am looking forward to it.”

“See you.” Rio headed out the back entrance to where he parked.

Rio realized as he drove home that he was right back where he started with Elizabeth. That tight feeling he had… the pressure. It was back. And before, the only thing that would relieve it was when he was touching her. That obviously couldn’t happen anymore.  Not yet. Maybe not ever. But that didn’t mean they couldn’t work together again. He had to admit, he hoped working with her again would lead to him being able to touch her. He craved it. Her. Just couldn't get her out of his system.

Maybe he should try just being her friend. As ridiculous as it sounded, it could work. She didn’t owe him anything this time, and their positions were so different than they used to be. Elizabeth was currently the lifeblood of Lozano. She held the power. Nothing new there, she had since that night in the bathroom.  Rio had an opportunity now to gain back the power from her; he had basically been handed the ‘keys to the kingdom’ from Salazar. But he wanted to share it with her.

That was what he wanted in the first place with her. But she was just so stubborn. Always wanting to do things her own way. Oh well. This time Rio would try a different approach with her. Let her think she held all the cards. She did, didn’t she? When it came down to it? She had only just come back into his life a few days ago and she was all he was thinking about.

He didn’t think it would be too difficult to get her back as a partner. Elizabeth loved making money, especially when it was illegal. They were the same like that.  Worse case scenario, he would use his charm and piss her off. Maybe he would be graced with that gorgeous flush she tried so hard to hide when she was angry.

Damn. He had missed her. Didn’t realize how much until he saw her up on that stage.. like she was born to be seen.

And she was good. Really good.

He pictured her moving her beautiful body to the rhythmic beats of the band. Her lips painted red and her skin glowing under the lights. Rio knew that it was as soft as it looked, and it filled him with a kindling rage thinking about another man touching her.

He would deal with that dude later. He may not even have to. The situation may just take care of itself. As long as she still felt what he did.

Time would tell.









Chapter Text

Beth was the first to arrive at the small waterfront bistro and was seated at a table on the enclosed patio. Brunch with the gals could not come soon enough. She gazed beyond the sparkling Detroit River to the gorgeous fall foliage visible on Belle isle. The holidays were right around the corner.

 She thought about last year’s Thanksgiving ‘gluten-free’ debacle, which then made her think about him. Annoyingly, every memory Beth had of the last year and a half somehow came back around to him. She couldn’t believe it had been a year since ‘the ultimatum”. Since.. That day in her room. Beth closed her eyes briefly remembering his face above her. He had seemed so tender towards her that day. But none of that mattered, she realized as she blocked the memory from fully forming. Whatever had transpired between them was in the past; and the fact that he was back brought nothing but trouble.

She had gone to sleep thinking about Rio and woke up thinking about Rio. It seemed  he was telling the truth about his business with Salazar, but convincing Ruby and Annie of that may prove challenging. She was nervous to tell them about his reappearance mostly because she didn’t want to worry them. They didn’t talk about what had happened nine months ago, had barely spoken about the cleared debt; all three women just hoping that he had been sincere when he had cut them loose. Not that they had any other choice but to simply hope he didn’t show back up.

Beth knew that the mention of his name would immediately put the other two on edge. Hell, Beth was on edge. It's not like she had even really processed it. Rio was still a dangerous man. Even if he hadn’t been aware of her presence at Lozano, who’s to say he didn’t have lingering resentment  about what went down? That when he saw her, he remembered all the trouble she caused and would change his mind about the mercy he had shown? Had it really been mercy? There were still so many unanswered questions.

It was unnerving to say the least.

All three women had pushed the lingering doubts to the side and fallen back into the monotony of regular life. The reappearance of Rio was forcing Beth to now face those questions and doubts, and she knew it would be the same for Annie and Ruby.

Their arrival brought Beth from her thoughts.

“This place is nice,” Ruby said as she took her jacket off and sat down. Annie followed suit, taking a lemon and squeezing into one of the water glasses.

“Yeah sis. What's the special occasion? I hope you’re paying.” The waitress came to the table then and Annie looked between Beth and Ruby. “Mimosas?”

“You know it,” Ruby said.

“Mimosas please. And keep them coming. Also- can we get one of these to start?” Annie pointed to a picture of an enormous cinnamon roll dripping with frosting.

“Bless you child.” Ruby said and then turned to Beth. “So what is going on? You are being cryptic as hell.”

“So..” She looked between the two women and took a deep breath.

“Oh shit. What.” Ruby deadpanned.

“You know Salazar the owner of the club?” both ladies nodded impatiently. “Well, he has taken on a new business partner and its someone we know.”

“Ok..?” Annie gestured with her hands for Beth to get on with it. Beth was stalling. She was suddenly nervous for a different reason. Like they would think she was happy about it or something. Like just saying his name would do something to her face that would give away the fact that, despite her suspicions about him, she didn’t hate that he was back.

“Its Rio.” She tried to keep her face neutral.

“What!?” Ruby gasped out. “How?”

“I have no idea. I saw him and he told me he was there for business and that he didn’t know I was associated with the place.” Beth elaborated calmly.

“My ass.” Annie interjected. Beth looked at her. “What? You expect us to believe he just happened upon the same place you are singing at?” Her voice was tinged with worry.

“We were free, Annie,” Beth said matter of factly. “He let us go nine months ago.”

“Or so we thought. We still don’t know what really happened..how everything was just resolved .” Annie said.

“Do you really need to know the details? I for one was just happy to have that body out of my garden and for Mary Pat to be off our backs.” Beth said pointedly, eyes wide. She was almost indignant at her sisters ungrateful attitude.

“I’m just saying I still have a hard time believing its over. That things aren't going to come back around and bite us in the ass, and now this.,” Annie said and Ruby was nodding in agreement.

“I hear ya. I feel like I’m still watching my back sometimes, to be honest.” Ruby added.

Beth took a deep breath. Things were spiraling even quicker than she had anticipated. “Look, Rio doesn’t leave loose ends. Especially for close to 9 months. He wanted me to take care of our rotten eggs. I didn't. Instead of “handling” us, he made the executive decision to clean up our mess and cut us out. We should be thanking him.”

Annie scoffed. “And you really  think it's just a coincidence that he is now doing business at your new place of work?” she asked.

“I really do, yes,” Beth replied. “He has no reason to come after us again. He told me our debt was paid up, and he wouldn’t say that unless it was true. He is a lot of things but he’s not a liar.”

Faced with the girls’ suspicions and worry seemed to force Beth into the voice of reason position. She wasn’t sure why she felt the need to almost defend him, though.

“But what about the drugs that Ruby and I dumped? And the fake cash he had us on the hook for? Our debt wasn’t paid. I know we haven’t talked about this but Its kinda been hanging over me.”

“Same.” Said Ruby, “And I don’t believe in coincidences.”

“Wait, so you think he tracked me down there too?” Beth asked Ruby.

“I don’t know what I think.” She replied honestly. “Just keep your guard up. If we still owe him, I'm sure he's gonna let us know. I just don’t know why he would wait 9 months.”

Annie eyes went wide. “Maybe he wanted to pull us into a false sense of security.” she said.

Beth shook her head. “What would be the purpose of that? No. Whatever debt was left..for whatever reason.. He forgave it. I honestly think that us owing him, having to work our debt off,  became more of a liability than anything.”

“Wow. We could teach a course on how to avoid being “handled” by a street gang.” Annie said. “It’s almost insulting.” Beth and Ruby both looked at her unamused. “I’m just saying. We weren’t that bad at crime.”

“Oh. We were,” Ruby said. “Maybe we just got lucky. We should all be dead. Beth is right. Homeboy doesn’t mess around. If we owed him, we would know. He never would have let us off the hook to begin with. I’d be lyin’ if I said I wasn’t curious as to why he cleaned up our mess and let us go. But I guess it's best not to question it.”

“I agree,” Beth said.

“I do have a question for you though, and don’t take this the wrong way,” Ruby looked at Beth. “How is this gonna go down with you?”

“What do you mean?”

Both women stared at Beth pointedly. “I’m saying, if you are in the clear with Rio, you should probably keep it that way.”

“She’s saying, keep your distance.” Annie interjected.

“I’m going to.” Beth replied. “What I do there has nothing to do with him.”

They looked unconvinced.

“Look Beth. There is some bizarre force between the two of you that was there before you guys did the deed in the bathroom. There's a pull. We know it. You know it. Hell, you went through withdrawals after he cut us loose. Just.. be aware.”

And she was. Of course she was.

“It's true. You could like, feel the tension pricking your skin. disturbing.” Annie visibly shuddered.

“I think that is just the affect Rio has on people. He is intimidating and just.. I don’t know. All the oxygen gets sucked out of the room when he walks in. I think that's why he has been so successful. People tend to do what he says.” Beth explained.

Annie tilted her head and looked at her sister. “Except you, of course.” she said.

Beth smirked and nodded in agreement. And just like that, the thought of being stubborn with Rio gave her a rush of nostalgia.  

“No this wasn’t just him,” Ruby insisted. “I remember the feeling I got when he was pointing guns at our heads and smashing dolls. That was different. But I’ll never forget the first time I felt that weird..whatever.. Between the two of you. Nobody makes eye contact for that long.”

Beth’s chest clenched when she thought about a particular long look.

You wanna clean 500 Gs.

She had thought there was something there too, at one point. It still stung to remember the intensity she felt coming off of him in waves, but to know that ultimately she was nothing but work to him.

“It is what it is. We will just have to see how it plays out. I'm definitely not going out of my way to talk to him,” Beth thought about the pearls. Not anymore.

So how Is Sara doing?” Beth asked Ruby, suddenly desperate to change the subject.

“We are coming back to this,” Ruby said, fixing her with a knowing look.

“Fine. But there’s not much more to say. I just thought you guys should know. I want to hear about Miss Sara.”

“She’s doing really really good, you guys,” Ruby smiled as she spoke. “I’m just glad our insurance is covering this new treatment. At least for now. Did I tell you she ran for president of debate club and won?”

“Oh my God. That’s amazing. I love that kid.” Beth said.

“And she beat out that little bitch Annalynn Tucker.”

“Yay!” Annie said “Delia Tucker’s daughter? I went to high school with her. Is she still a hoe?”

“I have no idea but her daughter has never been nice to Sara. Kinda loved seeing her face when they announced her the winner.”

Beth sighed in relief. This had gone better than expected. The women talked about their kids for awhile; Beth had renewed enthusiasm for hers, no longer feeling weighed down by her role as a mother, but finding joy in it. It was strange but she was actually getting to know her kids better as individuals since the divorce. Maybe it was the limited time she had with them She just didn’t want to take it for granted anymore.

“So, tell us what happened. Did you just see him at the club and casually ask what the F he was doing there?” Annie asked.

“Not exactly. I saw him Friday night. Noticed him during the last song of the set, sitting in the shadows.”

“Ominous.” Annie commented.

“He was watching you?” Ruby asked.

“Yeah. It was not easy to finish the song once I saw him, let me tell you.”

“Did you talk after?” Ruby asked

“Not then, no. I practically ran off the stage and to my car. It wasn’t until last night that we actually talked. I went to pick up my check and ran into him. He was...nice.”

“He was nice?” Annie eyebrows lifted up in disbelief. “This whole thing is just..”

“I know,” Beth sighed. “I guess we just have to try and be civil. Maybe there won't be too much overlap.”

“But are you ok?” Annie asked, looking at her sister with sympathy.

“I’m fine. What do you mean?” Beth asked defensively. And ok so maybe she wasn’t.

“Well, like Ruby said, I remember there was a bit of an.. Adjustment period.. when you, i mean when we got out of ‘book club’. I seem to recall a lot of ice cream.”

“It was just a crazy year last year. I was emotionally exhausted and i mean, hello? Divorce?  FBI on our tails..? It wasn’t parting ways with Rio that had me in a funk.” She tried to sound convincing.

Beth didn’t even really know why she was denying it. Possibly because if she were to admit out loud that it had been hard losing him so abruptly from her life… that she would be acknowledging something she wasn’t ready to acknowledge. Something she never wanted to acknowledge. Because honestly, what would be the point of it?

 

So that’s what I am to you? Work?

Pretty much, yeah.

 

“If you say so. Well, I want to know what happens. Keep us posted.”

“I second that.” Ruby said. “Just try not to get sucked back into criminal activities. Things have been so calm. It's been so nice having our freedom and not fearing for our lives.”

“It has been nice,” Annie nodded in agreement. “A little boring, maybe..”

“I will never take boring for granted again,” Ruby added.

Beth thought about what the girls had said. She doubted he would want her anywhere near his business again. Maybe he would try to run her off?  She didn’t think that would happen either. He seemed.. Kind of pleased to see her. She had no idea what to make of the situation. And as much as she tried to tamp it down, she wondered what Rio had planned for the club, the activities that would be going on..  

She would be lying if she said she wasn’t  curious. That familiar thrill that came with the life she had a year ago; she could feel that it still lived in her. But that wasn’t who she was anymore. In fact, she should be pissed that her new legit venture was now tainted by Detroit’s most elusive Kingpin. Was there no where she could exist?

They took their time eating and drinking. Afterwards, they stood in front of the restaurant figuring out what to do next. “Do you guys want to shop a bit? I was going to try and find a few vintage pieces.” Beth said, hoping for some more time with Annie and Ruby. They had all been so busy lately.

“I have to go, babe. Stan’s mother is coming over for dinner and I need to get the house ready.” Ruby said.

Beth hugged her friend goodbye and then turned to Annie. “Can you come?”

“Yeah, I’m free for a few more hours.” She answered.

Ruby ubered home and Beth and Annie  went to a few shops. They were in a tiny vintage boutique that had bright tapestries splayed across the walls and smelled like incense.

After digging through some evening gowns in the back, she spotted a gorgeous champagne colored dress. The Bohemian-dressed shop owner saw her eyeing it and came over.

“Gorgeous, isn’t it?” she said

“Yes. Is this 60s?” Beth asked. She held it up and admired the strapless cut and cut belt that cinched the waist. 

 “Close. 1956 Chanel. Try it on! I can only imagine how stellar this would look on your body.”

Beth smiled graciously at the women but she doubted it would fit her.

“You would kill in that. Try it on.” Annie came up behind her wearing a nautical tea dress.

It turned out, the dress did fit Beth perfectly, cascading over her curves. The silky fabric fit to her hourglass figure in all the right places. The bottom flared out in a trumpet cut over her ankles, the material coming up just a bit in the front to reveal whatever amazing shoes she decided to pair with it.

“I could wear this for the reopening,” Beth suggested to Annie, turning side to side in the mirror to see each angle. She had invited both Annie and Ruby to the reopening in a few weeks. She was feeling nervous but excited about it; the set they were performing would be the longest one she had done. And of course, Rio might be there which was adding a whole layer to her anxiety.

“You could.” Annie smirked knowingly.

Ok so Beth was thinking about Rio seeing her in it. But regardless, it was a perfect dress. She felt like it had been just waiting here for her.

“Oh my stars!” The shop lady exclaimed when she saw Beth in the mirror. “Honey, you were born for that dress. So gorgeous!!”

“I’ll take it,” Beth smiled at her.

 

*****************

 

Her phone rang right after she had gotten into bed and was about to turn the ringer off. The number was one she didn’t recognize and the fact that it was 10 pm added to the confusion.

“Hello?”

“You’re still up.” something hot shot quickly up her spine at the familiar voice. She didn’t say anything for a few seconds, her mind attempting to catch up with the fact he had called her.

“I just laid down.” and she doesn’t know why she needed to tell him that. She rolled her eyes and sat up in bed.

It was awkward. The pause.  Beth didn’t know what to say, she wasn’t the one who called and frankly, she still felt like she was in the twilight zone with the whole thing. So she just waited for him.

“You able to talk? I don’t wanna interrupt your beauty sleep.” He finally said.

“I can talk,” she responded hesitantly. “What do you want?”

“So you heard about the renovations happening at the club, yeah?” Beth made a sound in the affirmative. “I was just thinkin’ you could come with me tomorrow to pick stuff out. You know, help with the design aspect and what not.”

“Come with you..?” She was even more confused now. “Why?”

“Cause I know you have an eye for these things.”

“So do you. What do you need me for?”

She heard him sigh in that way he often did with her. She figured he was running his hand over his face or some similar act of impatience. Beth waited for a response.  

“It’s not a matter of need sweetheart. I just think you and I work well together, don't you?”

“I don’t know if that's exactly true.” She replied. “I seem to remember quite a few issues.”

“Hmph, yeh.. Maybe things change.”

“Do they?” Beth had gotten off the bed and was pacing. Suddenly irritated from lack of just.. Comprehension of the situation. “Because I doubt the business you are doing with Salazar is anything close to legit. Which means things haven’t changed and I don’t think I want to just waltz back into that shit show.”

Rio was quiet again for a few beats.

“Car man taking care of you better than before or somethin?”

“What?”

“Can’t imagine alimony and child support is enough to make ends meet.,” he said smoothly, and Beth glared at the phone.  

“That is none of your,”

“And I know for a fact you ain’t makin’ much to get up on stage and move those delicious curves back and forth.”

“How dare..” and he cut her off again as she sputtered, indignation licked at her neck.

“C’mon Elizabeth. I’m just tryin’ to help you out here.”

“I don’t need or want your help. Not anymore.”

“Ten grand.”

“What?” She asked again confused.

“Ten grand. For your consulting on the design.”

“Why are you so adamant about this?”

“Because you got the Midas touch, baby.”

Beth’s cheeks burned red at the compliment. And of course, it was tempting. Her bills were paid and she was actually doing just fine; Not that she wouldn’t like to have more money. Who wouldn’t? But It wasn’t really the money that was tempting. He was tempting. Like that snake from Jungle Book. the one with the hypnotic eyes. And like the tiger too. The one with the sexy voice.

She had wandered out to the kitchen to get a drink. She hadn’t said anything yet, afraid to agree and even more afraid to reject the offer. She was already getting that tingly feeling in her extremities. It was the same feeling she always got with him. Anticipation of doing something that was dangerous, risky. Not that picking out materials for a remodel was all that risky. So maybe it was just the anticipation of being around him. For the millionth time she wondered if it was the criminal aspect he brought that set her on fire, or just Rio himself. She hoped it was the former. And what a crazy thing to hope for.

“You still there?”

Beth thought about brunch earlier that day and how she had just told the girls she would avoid getting sucked back in.  It was like twelve hours ago. She sighed heavily into the phone.

“Yes sorry I was thinking about how stupid I am for even considering this. So, you just want help with design? I don’t see how my keen eye for color palettes is going to improve revenue that much.”

“Nah I want more than just your keen eye. But we can discuss that later.Just come with me. It'll  be fun.”

She scoffed. “Fun is not a word I would use to describe you.”

He laughed then, the deep timbre of it filling her with warmth right as the bourbon began to work its magic.

“Hm. I can be fun.” He said it with such sincerity that once again Beth was taken aback by the contrast Rio presented; who talked about fun in such a serious tone?’

“Pfft. ok.” smooth. She rolled her eyes at herself.

She was quiet again. Took a drink. A deep breath. Counted to at least five.

“Fine. I need to be done by 3 to get the kids.”

“I’ll pick you up at nine.” Click.

Beth stared at her phone for a second.

“Dammit.”

She finished her drink and went to bed. Sleep didn’t come all that easily, her mind was preoccupied with memories of just how much fun Rio could be. Her last thought before drifting off to sleep was,

Here we go again.

 

**********************

 

Beth woke up to her alarm at 8am. Anticipation floated up from her stomach to her chest as she turned the shower on and waited for the water to get warm. Rio would be there in an hour. She sat at her vanity bench and looked in the mirror.

“What are you doing?” She asked herself.

She pushed the skin above her eyebrows up, lifting her eyelids a bit. Did she look older than last year? She doesn’t think so. The Marks women were blessed with elastic skin that stood the test of time. Not that it mattered. But it didn’t hurt.

Beth got in the shower and felt goosebumps spread across her body at the feeling of the hot spray. She closed her eyes and let the water pour over her face and she thought about him.

His eyes. They were pitch black, but burned like fire. Beautiful. And as if they weren’t stunning enough on their own, the lashes that framed them were long and straight… making his face appear deceptively soft when he wanted it to.

And his voice… her lower half clenched at the memory of his words buried in her thigh.

Damn baby, your blush goes all the way down huh?

Beth shivered as she allowed herself to remember what had come next. His mouth, soft but determined, had worked the sweetest torture on her body. Beth’s hand slid down her stomach but stopped right above where her need was throbbing.

His voice. Deceptively soft like his eyes, could build her up and then tear her down. Just like that.

 

That’s it?

That’s it.

 

Beth groaned in frustration and forcefully grabbed the shampoo. She squeezed some out, roughly scrubbing her hair and rinsing it. She couldn’t allow him to get to her. Again.

He was just an attractive man. He didn’t wield supernatural power over her. She was going to make ten grand today. That was why she was doing this. She would put it towards her car and be that much closer to having it paid off.

Sensible Beth. That’s who she was again. It’s not like she was about to get sucked back in. She still had no idea what Rio’s real motivations for wanting her to help were; she doubted it was just her taste. Maybe he just liked messing with her. Maybe he was bored? None of it made sense. She had no idea what to expect for the day and that made her nervous.

Beth blow dried her hair and curled it into soft waves that fell a few inches below her shoulders. She then pulled on her black skinny jeans, black Guess boots with the leather ruffle cuff at the top, and her pine green cashmere sweater that dipped just a tad in the front. The boots and jeans combo made her legs look amazing, and she loved to wear green with her new hair color. It made her feel confident and sexy. She was doing it for her, she told herself. It helped her feel on more even ground with him, physically. Somewhat at least.

Just as she was walking through a spritz of perfume, the doorbell rang. Beth looked at the clock.

8:57. He would.

Beth opened the door and was greeted by a smiling Rio holding two cups of coffee.

“Why are you smiling?” She asked before she could think better of it.

He smirked then. “Mornin’ sunshine. Light roast, cream, and 3⁄4 of a splenda,” he said as he handed one of the coffees to her. Beth took it and just continued to stand in the doorway staring at him.

“You know, that stuffs not good for you. You should use Stevia, instead.” Rio said, taking a sip of his own coffee.

Beth realized she was literally gaping at him and shook herself out of the momentary shock. It was the ¾ Splenda that did it. And his outfit. He was wearing a plain white tee under an expensive looking coat, dark colored jeans and black and white chucks.

He looked so good it hurt.

“Oh sorry, I didn’t realize you were the authority on artificial sweeteners.” She said as she finally moved to the side to let him in.

“Its ok. I forgive you.” He said, coming unnecessarily close to her as he crossed the threshold.

“Haha very funny.” Beth was acting a bit juvenile she realized as she led the way to the kitchen. She came to stand at the island and Rio sat across from her in a barstool. He cradled his coffee in his hands, partially covering the orange ‘Bigby’ logo.

Beth took a sip and it was divine. She looked at him and smiled a bit sheepishly. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure,” he said, returning her smile. The cadence of his voice as always, dipping into parts unknown. They looked at each other for a few seconds; Beth was the one to break.

“So, where are we headed first?” She said, needing to exit the flirty, soft, whatever they were doing.

“I was thinking we could head about twenty miles north; hit up the Restoration Hardware for lighting and possibly seating. And then head to my buddy’s shop to pick out flooring and some materials for a new bartop… Lunch, too. If you want.”

“Lunch sounds good.” She said too quickly, mentally chastising herself.

“You hungry already?” He asked teasingly.

“No. I just mean… yes. We could have lunch too. Its..i’m sure we will work up an appetite after all that shopping.” she finished lamely.

Rio was smirking again and it irritated her but then his face was softened into something.. else. It was weird.

“Cool.” he said nodding. “You ready?”

“Yep. yes. Let's go.” Beth tried to sound normal. She was nervous around him. And just feeling a bit itchy and uncomfortable under his gaze. And nothing about this was normal. She was having a tough time reconciling this Rio with the Rio from last year. He looked the same, but it was like his softness towards her had become more solid, less...strategic? She didn’t know.

As she sunk into the ridiculously comfortable passenger seat of his Cadillac, she felt a twinge of shame remembering the last time she had been in it. But things were different now. People valued her. Wanted her. Rio wasn’t the only powerful man in Detroit. She tried to focus on that fact.

Rio glanced over at her after a few minutes of driving. “You let it grow.”

“What?” She had been counting sheep which is a thing she taught Annie to do when they were kids. Anytime she got nervous. Or wanted time to pass quickly.

“Your hair. It’s longer.”

“Oh. ya. I thought.. For the singing..”

“It looks nice.” He said, eyes fixed back on the road.

Beth blushed. “Thanks.” she said softly.

A couple of minutes passed by in silence but the awkwardness was starting to dissipate, much to Beth’s relief. She stole a glance at him and noticed his scruff had grown out quite a bit. His profile was relaxed and cool; never giving away anything. She wondered what he was thinking.

“So,” she began, “How have you been?” Lame.

“I’m gettin’ by.” He replied and Beth just nodded.

“That’s good. How is..how’s your son?” Beth braced herself for a freeze out, knowing how private Rio was.

He huffed out a laugh. “He’s good. He’s been into these small squishy toys. Collecting them. They are all over the place.

“Ah. Shopkins.” Beth said knowingly.

“That’s it. Those things piss me off.”

“And it’s never ending, too. They will never stop coming up with new themes for them.”

He huffed again, glancing over at her.

"So what do I do?”

Beth shook her head. “There’s nothing you can do. You just gotta wait it out.”

She looked back at him and felt a warmth spread out at the sight of his subtle smile. She liked this side of him. The friendly, ordinary side of him.

“You wanna listen to music?” He asked her then, and it was such an odd thing to hear out of Rio’s mouth.

“Sure.”

He turned the radio on from his steering wheel and started moving through the stations.

“Fancy,” She commented.

“What, your new ride doesn't have steering wheel controls?”

She laughed. “Actually it does but I have no idea how to use it.”

“Nah? Its a safety feature. You need to learn.”

“Ugh I can’t. There are so many weird settings. I try to just keep my hands on the wheel and look forward. All these safety features are distracting.”

Rio chuckled. “You need to get with the times, ma,” She looked at him at the sound of the pet name, “My bad. Elizabeth. Or should I call you El, like those try-hards at Lozano?”

Beth felt her cheeks growing red, suddenly embarrassed that he brought up her music persona.

“How'd that come about anyway? The name thing.” He asked.

She was quiet for a moment thinking about the conversation she’d had with Griffin about her name.

“It wasn’t a big deal. Griff just thought Beth wasn’t a great stage name.” She told him.

Griff , huh?”

“Yes, he's kind of like a manager? I guess? I don’t know the whole thing is pretty unorganized, actually.”

“That must drive you crazy.”

“Its starting to, to tell you the truth. It’s been a lot of fun but they've been wanting me to perform more often and it's starting to feel less.. Casual, I guess.”

“Well, yeah. The nights you sing are their highest earning nights at Lozano.” 

“They are?” Beth’s eyes went wide as she looked over at him.

“Yeah. You didn’t know?”

“No, I mean, Salazar calls me his “gold mine” but I thought he was just being nice.”

Rio shook his head. “You got more power there than you realize.”

“Well that’s.. Good to know, I guess.” They locked eyes again and smiled. “Maybe I should start making demands.. Ask for some bourbon in my dressing room.” She joked.

“You got a dressing room?” He asked.

“Yes! That’s where those doors in the hallway lead.”

“Hm,” he said bobbing his head in agreement. “Maybe you should.”

The two fell into a comfortable silence after that, motown quietly streaming in the background. Beth kept her eyes focused on the road but she felt Rio steal glances at her every so often. Every time, a frisson of warmth spread through her chest. It was remarkable how much of a physical effect he still had on her.

As off-kilter as the attraction made her feel, she decided to just lean into it for the day. It felt good, after all.  And it didn’t have to mean more than a simple attraction. Big deal. She didn’t have to allow it to go further than innocent flirting and banter. The girls were worried for no reason. She could handle Rio and his 5 o’clock shadow. She was fine.

“What’re you thinkin’ about?” He asked suddenly and Beth felt like she had been caught red-handed.

“Nothing I was just, uh, trying to visualize what would make Lozano stand out from other places.”

“You been around in that area?” He asked

“A bit.” She said, “A pub across the street, and there's another jazz club about a mile up the road from Lozano. It’s pretty upscale.” She paused and noted that Rio was listening intently. “So when you mentioned that we were going to Restoration Hardware, it made me think of the importance of distinguishing it from other places.. Were you thinking of a more high-end look?” She asked.

“Not necessarily. I’d like to keep the rustic charm but incorporate some good quality elements. I want anyone to feel welcome there. Not just pretentious assholes.”

Beth nodded in agreement. “The other place, I think it's called the Green Room? That’s their main  demographic. Over-confident, rich A-holes.”

Rio laughed. “Let me guess. You got hit on every five minutes?”

“Not just hit on. Propositioned. Some old guy offered me the same amount of money you did, to accompany him for a weekend.”

Rio’s playful expression turned hard in an instant, his jaw ticking.

“I was so pissed,” Beth continued. “I threw my drink on him like something from a movie.”

He smirked at her and it made her blush. Again. God.

“Should have told him you're worth way more than that.” He said.

Beth laughed. She knew he was trying to get a rise out of her. “Maybe I should have taken him up on it. I’ve done worse things in the past few years.”

His smirk faded as they pulled into the parking garage of the shopping plaza. They pulled into a parking spot. Rio turned the car off and looked over at her.

“You best hit me up if you ever find yourself that desperate for cash.” He said seriously.

“Please. Since when did you become helpful?”

His posture stiffened as he glared at her. “That was different.”

“How so?” she challenged.

“Everytime you asked me for help before it was to clean up your mess. Your rotten eggs..”

“And?” Beth asked, still not seeing his point.

And I wanted you to handle your own shit. Get your hands dirty. Prove yourself.”

“Guess I failed that test. More than once.” She said, as she leaned her head on the headrest looked over at him.

“Yeah,” he mirrored her on his side and his eyes met hers, at once relaxing. “It’s all good. Not everyone is cut out for the work I do.”

“Still don’t know why you never handled me , though.” The rare moment stretched out. It was quiet and settled. Time seemed to stop and Beth felt like they were in a bubble. Outside world be damned. Reality twisted and skewed, rules bent and sometimes broken when their eyes met.

Rio blinked and she was struck again by the way his lashes swept just above his cheekbones.

“I’ve never been able to handle your ass.” He said quietly, a teasing smile on his lips. “But don’t tell anyone I said that. Got a rep to protect.”

Beth looked away from his gaze, an act of self-preservation. She didn’t trust herself not to lean over the middle console and smash her lips into that smirk.

“Well, I appreciate you not killing me.” She said, her eyes focused on the spray paint littered across the wall in front of them.

Rio didn’t respond. They sat there for a few more seconds in silence. The energy between them was obvious. Felt strongly by both of them, but neither party willing to address it.

“Alright then. Let’s go shopping,” he said suddenly, opening the door and getting out. Beth followed suit, standing and pulling her coat and purse off the seat.

Her nerves caused her body to move quicker than her brain and so when she tried putting her coat on and setting her purse on her shoulder at the same time, she got tangled up. Rio had walked over to her side and much to her mortification he noticed her predicament.

“What happened.” he looked at her confused.

“I’m stuck,” she said, struggling to get her arm back out of her coat. “Shut up!” she said when she noticed his amused smile.

He came over to her and gently pulled her coat off her arm, he caught her purse before it fell to the ground, and held onto it as she buttoned the black peacoat up and flicked her hair free from the collar.

“Thanks,” she reached for her purse and he handed it to her, his hand cupping hers more than necessary at the hand-off. It was a familiar gesture and it made Beth’s heart skip a beat.

As they made their way to the store, she could still feel the warmth of his hand and the heat of his gaze on her. The day has just started and she already felt her defenses falling all around her. She looked over at him where he walked at her side. He smiled at her, eyes hooded and relaxed.

Just two people attracted to each other.

But as he held the door for her and watched her walk through it like a panther eyeballing his prey, she wondered how he really felt. He had said she was just work. But if that was the case, why didn’t he handle her from the get go? Beth was starting to suspect maybe he had lied back then. This felt like more. So much more.

She silently prayed for strength.

















Chapter Text

Rio held the huge door open as she stepped through, taking in the massive space. She had been there before, but Restoration Hardware always impressed. The store was architecturally gorgeous, with 70 foot ceilings, and intricate crown mouldings along the walls. Antiqued furniture and oversized down sofas filled the space; all washed in their signature muted palette. 

“We have a few minutes to kill before my appointment,” Rio said, looking around.

Beth nodded and strode deeper into the store, taking the lead. As she walked through, she admired the giant spotlight lamps, and the distressed benches that looked like luggage from the Titanic. 

She stopped in front of a lavish bathroom display. Rio came up behind her and leaned against a wall of linens, pulling his phone out. Beth ran her hand over what appeared to be a very soft blanket. She looked at the price tag and scoffed. 

“Looks softer than it feels,” she said to herself.

She turned her attention to a shelf of metal-encased aromatherapy candles and opened one, sniffing into the lid. Rio had put his phone away and was watching her. She held it up to him. He leaned forward and sniffed, making a disgusted face. 

“You don’t like it?” 

He shook his head. “Smells like a white dude’s man cave,” he said, and Beth smiled, picking up another candle. 

“You know this place is a total racket, don’t you?” she asked, sniffing it. 

“How so?” 

“Well, not only do they charge exorbitant prices for “quality” woods and furnishings that are actually cheap materials from China,” she dramatically air-quoted the word ‘quality’, “they also have terrible customer service and zero accountability. They’re basically crooks.”

“You're one to talk,” he said, smiling at her. 

“My crooking days are over.” She said picked up another candle and put it to his face. This time he shrugged. 

“Not bad?” 

“Smells like Mid-life desperation,” he said, his voice dropping an octave. 

“I guess that’s why i like it, huh?” 

 He smirked and then his eyes caught something behind her. 

“Alright let’s go,” he said, taking the candle from her hands and setting it back on the counter. 

 Beth followed him up the steps to the second floor. “Where are we going first?” 

“To pick out lighting. We need new chandeliers. The whole club is being rewired, and those dusty lights we have now got to go.  And yea, i do know this place is shady. But i got a guy here.” He turned around and winked at her. 

“Of course, should have known.” 

“And,” Rio continued, “The lighting is hand-crafted; made from a different source than the furniture.” 

“Good to know,” Beth said under her breath. 

“So pick out anything you want. Sky’s the limit,” he said, looking back at her again.

“Be careful when you say that to a woman.” 

 

When they arrived on the second floor they were greeted by a blonde woman who looked to be in her early 30’s. She was dressed sharply in a tailored suit, and wore black-rimmed, cat eye glasses that complimented her face nicely. She smiled warmly at the pair as they walked up. 

“Mr. Saez, welcome in!” she said as she approached them. “And you must be Elizabeth,” the woman reached out her hand and Beth was a bit taken aback at the fact that this woman knew her name. “I’m Dawn Masters, I’ll be assisting you today.” 

“Hello, It's nice to meet you,” Beth returned her smile, attempting to keep her face neutral as she processed the fact that she had just learned Rio’s last name. 

Christopher Saez. huh.  

Dawn looked back to Rio. “We received your payment, sir. It should cover any lighting on the higher price points as well as any of our finest quality leather sofas and seats. We have put together a few different showrooms of items that I thought would compliment your club.” 

Dawn began walking and gestured for them to follow. Beth fell into step beside her as she continued talking. “The pieces are modern but rustic, which i think will be an absolutely beautiful way to set off the exposed brick and dark woods that I saw in the pictures.” 

Beth nodded and peered into the first showroom. There were two crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, each had a different geometric, 3D cage around it. One was shaped like a hexagon, and the other spherical. 

“Here we have the Foucault Orb collection. Very industrial. These are RH’s signature chandeliers and our top sellers.”

Rio looked at the extravagant pieces, worrying his bottom lip. His eyes then fell back on Beth, raising an eyebrow in question when her eyes met his. 

Beth instantly had an opinion about the collection. Though lovely, she knew they weren’t the right fit. She didn’t want to overstep, but Rio had brought her along for her opinion and he seemed to be waiting for it. 

“These are... dramatic. I love them,” she began hesitantly, “I just don’t know if they'd be a great fit for Lozano.” She looked at Rio again and when she saw he was listening intently, she continued. “I think we need something that blends into the space better.” 

“Makes sense. We want peoples’ eyes on you not the lighting,” Rio said.

“That’s not what I meant,” she replied, embarrassed. 

“No, but you’re right, Beth,” Dawn said. “I think this next collection may be more fitting.” She led the way into the next showroom. 

“So this is our newest line, the Ravelle collection. Very chic. Definitely modern, but still has that industrial feel. Here we have both round and linear chandeliers. I think a mixture of both would be ideal. There are also beautiful pendants we could install above the bar, and in the bathroom to tie everything in.”

Beth eyed the elegant fixtures; taking in the straight lines and simple design. The unadorned, metal band of the linear chandelier held a row of nine slender glass cylinders, with thin edison bulbs encased in each one. It was almost perfect.

“Do you have these in a different color? Something warmer, maybe?” 

“You don’t like black?” Rio asked.

“I think black is gorgeous and would definitely work in the space,” Beth said, “But, I don't know. I’m feeling like a brass or maybe something a little more muted would be unique enough to set us apart but still blend in? Does that make sense?” She turned to Dawn. 

“Yes! I agree. This collection comes in a burnished bronze that is absolutely exquisite. We don’t have any here in the store, but I can show you in the catalogue and we also have samples of the metal.”

Dawn left to retrieve the samples, leaving the pair to continue through the remaining showrooms. They wandered through quietly; Beth keenly aware of Rio’s silent observing. She could tell he was allowing her to make decisions and it felt good. 

It was also confusing. 

They walked into another showroom, a tufted leather sofa in a deep brown sat in the center of the space. In front of it was a large, square coffee table with a giant chess set sitting atop it. Beth sat down on the plush sofa and smoothed her hand down the leather of the armrest.

She saw Rio in her periphery coming closer. She was sort of enjoying this Rio, and felt like she was getting a taste of the man she spied on the day she broke into his apartment. But as always, any positive feelings she had for him, were shielded from resonating too deeply; self preservation quickly rising up in the form of skepticism and assumptions. 

She wondered what his angle was. What had made him decide so quickly to enlist her help a few days after seeing her? As she sat there, her brain rapidly filled with questions and familiar doubts. 

Suddenly Rio was standing in front of her, tilting his head slightly.

“You good?” he asked. 

Beth nodded, purposely avoiding his gaze. “Yes. I just need a moment.” 

“S’fine. Take your time,” he said and wandered over to a bookshelf lining one of the walls. She wondered if he knew it wasn’t the many options for lighting that were overwhelming her.

Beth watched him tinker with some decorative books and then pick up a small airplane that appeared to be made out of spark plugs. “Weird,” he muttered and returned it back to the shelf. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked back over to her. 

She took a deep breath and steeled herself for the business at hand, allowing a casual mask to slip over her features. 

“This sofa is comfy,” she said. 

“Yeh? Good for Lozano?” he asked. 

“Mm.. maybe. It’s a bit squwooshy for a club.” 

“Squwooshy?” he repeated, eyebrow raised. 

“Yes, I mean... People may feel inclined to nap and that wouldn’t be good for business,” Beth felt a sudden boldness, patting the spot next to her. 

He sat down close enough that she had to adjust her arm a bit to accommodate his. She breathed in his expensive-smelling cologne and was hit with a wave of nostalgia.  

“What do you think?” she asked, looking at him. 

Rio’s gaze trailed from her eyes to her lips.

“It's way too squwooshy.” she could also smell the spearmint on his breath. There were so many ‘Rio’ smells. Too many. 

“So,” Beth said, putting a bit of space between them, “your last name..” 

He was still staring at her. She paused, hesitant to breach their carefully crafted boundary. 

“What about it?” he asked after a few beats. 

“I like it.” 

“Yeah?”

“Mmhm. It suits you. Saez..,” she said dramatically. 

“Nah,” he said, smiling.

“What? That’s not how you pronounce it?” He shook his head.

“How should I say it then?”

Saez,” he said softly. It sounded like ‘size’, and the way he said it made heat pool in her belly. 

“Saez,” she said, matching his softness. 

“That’s it.” They looked at each other for a moment, his eyes flickering down to her mouth again, the action causing her to catch her lip between her teeth. 

“I got a question for you.” Rio said, propping his elbow on the back of the couch and resting his head on his hand. 

“Not this again.” She said as she mirrored his position. 

“That’s funny.” 

Beth shrugged and smiled. 

“Nah for reals. I’m just curious.” 

“What?” 

“What the hell were you gonna do with that body in your garden?” 

Beth blinked rapidly a few times as her brain played catch up. She hadn’t expected him to bring up the past quite yet or.. In this context, exactly. Her mistake. 

Rio waited patiently for her response as if he had asked her a normal question. His whole vibe was casual as usual. 

Beth looked around for anyone who could be in their vicinity. “I didn’t have a final plan concerning.. Jeff,” she whispered the dead man’s name and Rio smiled in amusement.

“Jeff?” 

“Shh!” Beth looked around again. 

“Why you so paranoid?” 

“This is not the place to be discussing this!”  she said in a hushed tone. 

Rio chuckled and stood up. “Yeah you right. Let’s get back to work.” 

He reached out to help her up and she obliged, noting that it was the second time in a short period he had touched her hand. He casually released her, and walked out of the showroom.  Beth followed, shaking off the familiar haziness that settled around her any time she experienced an intimate moment with Rio.

She was almost relieved to know that underneath that easy going vibe he was giving off, there was still an objective. Rio was curious about the past. She could just be honest with him; she no longer had anything to lose, and didn’t need to maintain any proverbial ‘upper-hand’. She did wonder why he was interested in the details though. Why did it matter anymore?

Still, their shared history was somewhat of an open wound; the bandaid having been ripped off the moment she saw him in the club. She wanted to forget most of it. Not all of it.. but most. 

They came upon another section with several chandeliers hanging in rows. Rio stopped in front of the display and Beth came up beside him. 

“Why did you want to know about Jeff?”

“I told you. I’m curious.”

“Being curious isn’t a reason. There’s something that makes you so curious.” 

A hint of a smile appeared on Rio’s face. 

“You think?” he said. 

“I do, yes. And sorry to disappoint, but I had no plans. I was so overwhelmed…I had no idea what I was going to do.” 

Rio nodded in response, signaling that he understood. The conversation had been tabled for now; Beth suspected it had to do with the fact that she had exposed a chink in his armor. 

The next hour was spent sitting on sofas and looking at samples. Beth had made a final decision to go with the burnished bronze Revelle collection for lighting, and they had chosen some seating from the Savoy collection; four ultra modern stream-lined sofas with tufted backs and straight lines, as well as about a dozen chairs that matched. She knew that having a variety of seating configurations would be appealing to people. 

In addition, Beth had suggested they purchase a few of the oversized board games. They were stunning; especially the chess sets. Her idea being that it could be a unique way for people to settle in and enjoy themselves. Rio had voiced his agreement, and added that chess was a good way to break the ice with new business partners; that it could be an interesting way to set Lozano apart.

Despite the past rearing its ugly head, the morning had gone well. Rio’s support of her ideas allowed the creativity to flow organically, and Beth was struck again by how enjoyable it was to work with him without the threat of death or incarceration hanging over them. 

She loved design to begin with, but having performed at Lozano for the past few months gave her a real advantage. She had watched how the crowd moved, where they seemed to migrate to, and the types of people who came in. She felt like she had a pretty good understanding about what appealed to them, although she hadn’t really thought about it until she had been consulted. 

“We will get these items delivered over to you within the next 10-14 days,” Dawn said as she walked them out of the store. “It was lovely meeting you, Beth. Thank you again Mr. Saez.” She shook both their hands and went back into the store.

Beth turned to Rio. “I thought you said you had a guy ,” she said. 

“Just an expression,” Rio replied with a smirk. 

 

The crisp air felt refreshing on Beth’s face as they walked back to the parking garage. Falling into step beside him, Beth felt that familiar thrill that came with engaging in illegal activities, and the need to prod him for information about the fake cash and all the inner workings of buying materials with it; how they were able to manage such large purchases with it, etc.- it was strong. She had to bite her tongue. 

And that was only part of it. She was buzzing with a feeling of accomplishment. And gratitude. Because once again Rio had seen value in her that she didn’t realize she had. 

She looked over at him, taking in his scruffy profile. He had put on his beanie, and seeing him wearing it instantly brought her back to that day in the park when he had warned her about the feds. He was a loyal business partner, there was no denying that. Lozano was lucky to have him. 

“You look deep in thought,” he said. 

“I am,” she said, smiling and pointedly not elaborating. 

By the time they made it to the elevator of the parking garage, Beth’s hands were freezing.  She cursed herself for not just grabbing a cheap pair from Rite-Aid after losing hers the other day. As they waited for the elevator to arrive, she rubbed her hands  together, blowing hot air on them. 

“It ain’t even that cold yet,” Rio said.

“I know. My hands are always freezing, though.” 

“Where your gloves at?”

“I need new ones.. I left them on the roof of my car and drove off.”

“That don’t sound like you.” 

“I was pretty distracted that day.” That day was yesterday and the reason for the distraction was the observant guy standing before her. But he didn’t need to know that. 

“How you only have one pair of gloves in Michigan?” 

“I can only wear nice ones. The cheap ones are scratchy and don’t fit my fingers right. I just haven’t replaced them yet.” 

Beth stepped into the elevator as it opened. She leaned against the back of it. Rio pushed the ‘P2’ button and leaned right next to her. 

“What are you doing?” she asked. He just looked at her. “Haven’t you heard of proxemics?’ 

He shook his head. She sagged against the wall, feeling his heat against her. 

“You have a problem with personal space,” Beth said, but she didn’t move. Rio pulled his gloves out of the pocket of his coat and handed them to her. 

She took them and rubbed the soft fabric between her fingers. She noticed the iconic equestrian knight logo stitched into the black leather. Burberry. Of course, she thought, as she slipped them on. They felt absolutely divine. 

Beth thanked him softly. 

 

They sat in the car a few minutes later, letting the engine warm up. Both were quietly checking their phones. She had gotten a text from Griff and was trying to decide how to respond back. 

“You hungry?”  

“Uh sure,” she said distractedly, not looking up from her phone. She typed out a few words and then deleted them, biting her lip in thought. Vaguely aware that Rio hadn’t spoken again, she looked over at him to find him fixing her with an annoyed look. 

“What?” She asked. 

“You’re on the clock.” 

“You were on your phone!” she said 

“That was business.” 

“How do you know this isn’t,” she asked.

“I can tell.” 

Beth rolled her eyes, finished the text and pressed ‘send’. She tucked the phone away in her purse and turned to him. 

“I don’t work for you anymore.” 

“You do today,” he said as he pulled out of the parking garage and on to the main road. 

“Your moods are worse than a teenager’s.” 

He laughed then, and they settled into a comfortable silence as they drove to the restaurant. 

“So who were you texting?” Rio asked after a few minutes. 

“None of your business!” 

He shook his head chuckling. “C’mon Elizabeth. Tell me who’s got you so focused on a response.” 

Damn, he was perceptive. Beth felt a flush rising up. 

“It was Griffin, the guy from Lozano,” she said. 

“Hm. The manager.” 

“Mmhm.” 

“You missin’ rehearsal?

“No.”

“He need a netflix recommendation or somethin’?”

“N- what? You are ridiculous,” she said, disbelief coloring her tone. 

“I mean, its gotta be important or you wouldn’t be bitin’ your lip and makin’ that face you make when you thinkin’.”

“Why are you being so nosy? You wanted nothing to do with me 48 hours ago and suddenly you're screening my texts?”

All playfulness had left his face and Beth could see his grip tighten on the steering wheel. His tongue moved back and forth on the inside of his bottom lip; an action Beth was familiar with. He was formulating a response. Suddenly his face softened and he looked over at her. 

“You’re right. Its none of my business,” he said and looked back at the road. “Unless it affects my business. Does it?” 

Beth stared at him, feeling a growing frustration that he was assuming a position of power over her. Again. 

“No.” And just like that the affection she was beginning to feel towards him for seeing her potential, started to vaporize. This was about business for him. It always was. She would be a fool to forget that. He had told her what she was to him. 

Rio was in this for Rio, and she should probably be grateful for the consistency of that. She could always count on him to make good business sense. This was about making money and capitalizing on each other. They were good at that. Beth needed to recalibrate, stick to her boundaries, and try not to get distracted by his smell again. 

 

************

 

“Right this way,” The hostess grabbed two menus and smiled at the pair. Beth fell in step behind Rio and as they walked through the main dining area, her eyes fell immediately to his form in front of her. 

He had irritated her in the car, but that had never stopped her from checking him out before. It was like he was sliding in, gracing everyone there with his presence. She felt a flash of powerlessness at the way her body reacted to simply watching him walk. Beth looked at the back of his head and remembered the way his clipped hair felt under her fingers; deceptively soft, like other parts of him. His ears stuck out a bit which gave him a boyish charm. Of course, there was nothing boyish about the lean slope of his shoulders and back or.. That... she thought as her gaze sunk lower. Rio’s frame wasn’t large by any means, but he was strong and firm in all the right places. 

Beth’s mind wandered back to the text from Griff. He had asked if she would come to dinner with him and an associate to discuss expanding her talent to other clubs. She had been caught off guard by the request; not knowing how to respond. She wasn’t sure she wanted to expand . She loved Lozano. She felt a certain loyalty there, however, it had been Griff that had presented her with the opportunity. She agreed to the dinner, but only to hear them out.

Rio slid into the booth and his eyes went to Beth as she sat across from him. 

“Your server will be right with you,” the hostess said and handed them their menus. 

Beth took in her surroundings. The restaurant was small but beautifully designed.  The entire north wall was distressed brick and there was an open loft built up against it, where Beth could see diners eating. The elevated area had black, rod-iron railings around the perimeter. The industrial look was popular, especially in the old, converted buildings downtown. 

“So this is different.” she said, gesturing between them. 

“This is.” 

The air sparked between them briefly before the server came and took their drink orders. Beth ordered a bourbon. Thirty minutes prior she had wanted caffeine, but she suddenly needed a drink. 

“Jasmine Green tea, please,” Rio said and Beth noticed the server’s eyes light up. Yep. The sound of his voice just had that effect , she thought wryly. 

“Hot or iced, Sir?” she asked, biting her lip.  Beth rolled her eyes.

“Hot.” 

“Great choice,” she said and bounced off. 

Beth crossed her arms in front of her and looked at him, amusement dancing in her eyes. “Have you always sounded like that?” 

“Like what,” he leaned back into the booth, spreading his legs out and resting one of them lightly against her ankle. 

“You know exactly how you sound. Don’t make me imitate you.”

“Like you could.” Beth moved her leg just enough so that she wasn’t touching him anymore. 

Jasmine green tea, please,” she said in her version of ‘Rio’ voice, which resulted in him shaking his head and looking at her like she was crazy. 

“Oh, come ON. You have to know how it affects people. Just be honest.” 

“Yeh, I do. What can I say? I was born with it,” he said, smiling slightly. 

“Well, you sure know how to use what your mama gave you then.”

He huffed and looked away. 

The waitress came back with their drinks and took their orders. After that, Rio wanted to know how Beth came to Lozano. Buzzed by the energy of the day as well as the bourbon, she told him the entire story- beginning with their drunken girls night and going into a lot of detail. She was spurred on by the fact that he had his hand in his chin and was listening intently with an amused smile on his face. Every so often he would laugh loudly and it would fill her with a sense of pride that she could make him smile like that. 

When she decided she was done hearing herself talk, Beth asked Rio about his vision for Lozano, hoping he would let some of the underground plans slip. As she listened to him she marvelled- she had never heard him talk this much in one sitting.  He really was great at building things. Its like he saw all the moving parts and knew how to use each one to its full potential. She admired that about him. In this light, Beth was beginning to understand her attraction to him more objectively. 

Maybe it was the time apart or maybe it was just the lack of pressure, but either way, It was pretty remarkable. The power this man had. He was handsome, yes. But it was his energy that was hypnotizing. The effortless way he moved through his environments; adapting and making the space he invaded his own. And his voice. It wasn’t just the sound of it, but the way he composed each sentence to appeal to whoever was listening. It was the way he curled the cool, deep cadence around each word. And then his body, the way he moved his hands when he talked. It wasn’t that anxiety-ridden animation like Annie did, no, when Rio talked with his hands it was purposeful. An orchestrated number that was in perfect harmony with his voice. 

Beth nodded along as she ate her street tacos; giving him the same undivided attention he had given her. The conversation soon turned to Marcus, and she could see the light in his eyes, despite the fact that they were black as night. Beth then brought up her kids and how their extra-curriculars were crazy-making. They compared horror stories about the playdates each had experienced; Beth winning thanks to Jane’s new friend Duncan who, instead of playing with Jane, preferred following Beth around the house repeating random facts about bugs. 

She was jumping out of her skin to have an honest conversation with him about all the unresolved things hanging between them. She decided just to ask him because she didn’t have anything to lose anymore. Worst case scenario would be him clamming up and she had dealt with that many times before. 

“So...I get that you wanted my input today. But I’m a little surprised that you’re not, like, mad about all the past stuff,” Beth said. 

He tilted his head, considering her a moment before answering. 

“I figure it’s better to work together than have strained relations. Since we got history I wanted to smooth things over. Start fresh.” 

“So all of this, is what? A peace offering? I don’t understand. You cleaned up our mess, my mess , why would there be a need you to “smooth things over”? I assumed you would consider us indebted to you.” 

“It’s not a peace offering. I like working with you. I just saw an opportunity and now I’m taking it.” 

“You like working with me? Do you have memory loss or something?” 

He answered simply with a shrug. 

“You did your best before,” Rio continued, “you just couldn’t cross over into my world. Was like you were  playin’ twister at the Four Corners.” 

That was a hilarious visual, Beth realized, and scarily accurate. She felt pulled in all different directions during that time. Admittedly, things would have probably ran smoother if she had been able to take Marion’s money, handle Boomer and Mary Pat.. allowed Rio to reclaim the money that was stolen from the back yard. All of these things were lines she hadn’t been willing to cross, and she had suffered the consequences...well, sort of. Because despite her stubbornness and unwillingness to get her hands dirty, Rio had dealt with it and sent her on her way. The only thing bruised was her ego. 

And what had he risked doing that for her? She hadn’t asked. She never even wondered about it. Her heart clenched at the thought. 

“Thank you for helping us,” she said, hoping it wasn’t in vain.

“No need to thank me,” he said, obviously sensing her guilt.  “Dealing with all that shit benefited me as well. I’m not as altruistic as you're thinkin’ sweetheart.”

Beth supposed not. But the thing was, Rio getting rid of Jeff and dealing with Mary Pat was not something that he needed to do to cover his own ass. That whole mess was Beth’s. And sort of like with the Dubby, Beth suspected it meant something. 

“Still. You helped me many times when you didn’t have to.”

“People I work with, we look out for one another. It's part of it.” He shrugged. 

She noticed a hint of a challenge in his eyes. It was almost as if he wanted her to prove that he cared. She fixed him with a knowing look. 

“And my daughter’s blanket? That was just ‘lookin out’ for yours?”

Rio blinked languidly and continued to stare at her. The familiar heat stirred somewhere deep in Beth’s chest. 

“Mmhm,” was his reply and she realized that was all she was going to get.

Beth conceded. To reveal one’s motivation was to reveal the heart, and she had no reason to expect that from him. Still, at least now he knew she wasn’t completely blind to his special treatment of her. For what it was worth. 

She looked away, her hands fidgeted under the table. They had long finished their meal and talked through Beth’s second bourbon. 

“You done?” he gestured to her empty glass. “We still got work to do.”

“Yes, lets go,” she said, smiling. 

 

Beth settled into the passenger seat and flipped the passenger mirror down, she rifled through her purse locating her lipstick and then proceeded to reapply. She ran her finger under her bottom lip and looked over at Rio who she had just realized was being very quiet. 

“What?” she asked when she saw he was staring. She looked back in the mirror to make sure she didn’t have anything in her teeth. 

“You’re beautiful,” he said and then huffed like he was making fun of himself. Beth felt her face flush and about a hundred thousand butterflies take flight inside of her. 

“That’s a nice thing to say.” She rolled her lipstick down and put it away slowly. She looked over at him then, smiling softly. The air felt heavy between them and she wasn’t quite sure how to respond. 

“You weren’t meant to be hidin’ up in the suburbs makin’ sandwiches.” Beth held her breath as she felt tears prick the back of her eyes. “I’m serious,” he continued, “I knew I seen somethin’ in you. It's cool you found this, Elizabeth.”

“That’s…-” she didn’t know what to say. Embarrassingly, a few tears had slipped out and she looked down to hide her face. “Sorry,” she said sniffling. She huffed a laugh and wiped at her eyes. 

He just started the car and began the drive toward their next destination; calm and cool like he hadn’t just stolen her breath with a few statements. 

Rio talked about flooring options for Lozano after a few minutes of quiet, and Beth was grateful for the break in silence. There was one stop left on the most surreal shopping trip of Beth’s entire life, and that was the ‘floor depot’, as Rio called it.  

Beth wondered why they weren’t just refinishing the wood floors  that were there, and when she brought it up to him, Rio informed her that there was rot in some spots, and that all of it had to go. 

“You got a guy at this ‘floor depot’, too?” she asked. 

“Yep.” 

“Cool.”

 

The place turned out to be only 20 minutes from Beth’s house. She had driven by the huge warehouse many times but never really noticed it. It was an unmarked building with just a tiny sign by the road that led up to it. 

“Deposito de piso?” Beth squinted as she tried to read the sign. “Does that mean..?”

“Yep. Floor depot.” Rio smiled at her and the damn butterflies went at it again. 

“It's gonna be cold in there, put my gloves on,” he said to her as they exited the vehicle. The day had been so bizarre that slipping her hands into Rio’s five-hundred dollar gloves felt like the most normal thing in the world. 

The warehouse was huge and surprisingly bright, thanks to the massive skylights that lined the ceilings. There were rows and rows of square flooring samples for residences, as well as blocks of tiles and countertops. 

“C’mon, darlin’, the good stuff’s in the back.” He tugged her sleeve and pulled her along, dropping it when they walked into a spacious office in the back. 

“Yo! Dante, where you at?” Rio called out to the empty space. Beth looked around what looked to be a very organized work space; there was another door on the other side of the room that said ‘Protective gear must be worn before entrance’, a nice looking industrial desk and few file cabinets, a water cooler, and… a Keurig. 

“Can I get coffee?” She started to say to Rio but someone had emerged from the other door and suddenly he was hugging and speaking spanish excitedly with the mystery person. 

The man wore goggles and a hardhat, and was about the same height as Rio, maybe an inch taller. He was covered in dust. Beth just stood there watching, delighted by the display. 

"¿Qué demonios estás haciendo allá atrás, no eres el jefe?" Rio asked the man after they had broken away from the hug.

"Mierda, si no lo hago, no se hará bien, sabes cómo es, mijo.”

"Buen negocio?"

"¡Por supuesto! ¿Tienes algo más para mí?”

“Si, mucho,” Rio said, and finally other man noticed Beth. He took off his hat and goggles and dropped them on his clean desk. Beth cringed inwardly as dust puffed out. 

“Quien es esta bella dama?” he asked Rio. 

 “Elizabeth Marks,” he said, turning to Beth, “Don’t mind him, he doesn't get out much.”

The man wiped his hands on his pants and walked up to Beth to shake her hand. “Pleased to meet you, I am this boy’s older, hermano más maduro . Dante Saez.” 

Beth smiled wide and looked at Rio. She could definitely see the resemblance. Dante’s facial structure wasn’t as chiseled as Rio’s;  he had a more rugged look. He was incredibly handsome. 

“Older, yeah. That much is obvious,” Rio said. 

“It's so nice to meet you, Dante,” Beth said. 

“Can I get you anything? Water? Popcorn? Tequila shot?” 

“Actually, coffee sounds amazing right now. Do you mind?” she asked and pointed at the Keurig. 

“Mi casa es Su casa, Mrs. Marks.” 

“Ms,” she corrected him as she made her way across the room. 

“Ah, my mistake,” Dante laughed out. 

“Nope. that one was all mine,” she said over her shoulder as she worked the coffee machine. 

“I like her, Christopher! Where have you been hiding this one?” 

“Are you done?” Beth heard Rio say. She looked over at the pair and Rio had sat down in one of the chairs at the desk. His brother sat down in the other and they started talking business. Beth learned that Dante owned this company which provided flooring to a large number of businesses all over Michigan as well as residential. She also learned that Rio washed cashe through the successful business and from what she gathered, he had been doing it for awhile. 

After much discussion between Beth and Rio about manufactured wood vs. concrete;  polished concrete won out due to its durability. It was also gorgeous, low maintenance, and lasted forever.  Rio was pretty much dead set on it, but he did want Beth’s opinions on color. There were so many options for stains that it took them at least an hour to decide; going through dozens of sample slabs. 

In the end, they had decided on  a stunning navy blue stain, that Beth thought would look perfect with the burnished bronze metals of the chandeliers. Rio and Dante worked out the details of purchase and delivery, and by the time they left it was almost two oclock. 

On the way home from the floor depot, Rio got wrangled into telling Beth a few childhood stories about he and Dante; all of them coloring Rio in the best light possible. She laughed picturing a young Rio locking his brother out in the snow in his underwear, and then hiding in the basement to avoid the inevitable ass whooping. She pictured those ears being less in proportion to his head and it filled her with a feeling awfully close to affection. 

When he pulled into her driveway, Rio put the car in park and  reached over her into the glovebox. He took out a stack of cash and dropped it in her lap. 

“Your cut, Ms. Marks.”

“Why thank you, Mr. Saez. It was a pleasure doing business with you.” She smiled at him before stepping out of the car. 

Beth fought the urge to turn around again. She walked up the steps, put her key in the lock, and stepped into the house. It wasn’t until she was shutting the door that he started to back out of the driveway. 

She needed to leave to get the kids soon, and pulled her phone out of her pocket to check the time. With the action, Rio’s gloves fell out onto the floor. 

“Crap.” 

She didn’t have his number anymore. Hopefully he had another pair he could wear until she saw him again. She didn’t think it would  be any time soon since the club wasn’t set to open for at least a couple weeks. 

Her phone beeped just then and she looked at the screen. 

You can wear those til you get new ones 

Her thumb caressed the phone screen and she smiled down at the message. 

It may be awhile.. 

It’s cool. I got better circulation than you. 

She sent him an eyeroll emoji, and he sent back a wink face. 

I guess we’re friends now 

I guess so. Rio responded. And then… see you soon Elizabeth

 

As she drove to pick up her children, Beth felt pretty damn good. She had put her skills to work today, gotten paid, and made a new friend. Not a bad day, on the whole. 

She was looking forward to her meeting with Griffin now, as well. Working with Rio had bolstered her confidence, and she was kind of excited to see what these people had to offer. She called the shots in her life now, and she was willing to explore every opportunity that came her way. 

He had taught her that, after all. 












 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Griff walked Beth to her door after dinner, animatedly telling her a story about getting turned around in Dubai, and making friends with some royal person’s son. She laughed along good-naturedly. He was charismatic and easy to be around, but after the night’s events, she was feeling just a tad distracted. 

The meeting with Griff’s associates at the Green Room had gone well. They wanted Beth to come perform there two nights a week and offered a pretty penny to get her to agree. And though the idea of it was exciting, now that she was faced with an actual decision she was feeling  quite unsure. Her loyalty to Lozano was pretty strong and though she hated to admit it, the fact that Rio owned a piece of Lozano now made her loyalty feel even more important. That, of course, was ridiculous because she didn’t owe him anything. And yet... there it was. Like she was tied to him in some way. 

“I woke up the next day with a raging headache and wearing a women’s dress. I still have no idea what the bloody hell happened that night,” Griff laughed as he told the story. 

“Was the dress cute, at least?” she asked, smiling.

“I’m sure it looked cute on me, darling.”

“I’ve no doubt!” Beth said, giggling at the idea of Griffin in a dress. They reached her front door and she turned to him. Despite the light mood and overall fun night, doubt was prickling on the periphery and she needed to address it. 

“So... just curious, have you talked to Salazar about any of this stuff with the Green Room?” she asked.

Griff smiled and tilted his head slightly. “Not yet, luv, but you don’t need to worry about that part of it.” 

Beth felt a slight irritation at his patronizing tone. She gave him a tight-lipped smile. “I’m not worried, I just want to make sure he’s in the loop. We will need the band to be on board, of course. I can’t sing without them.” 

“We are going to work all of that out, I assure you. And if Detroit Mink pledges an undying loyalty to Salazar, then you can sing with Green Room’s house band.” 

Beth considered that for a moment. She didn’t like the idea of  singing with a different band. Detroit Mink had been patient with her while she got her feet wet, and she had needed their patience. She was definitely an amateur, and banked on the bands amazing talent and her look to distract the audience from her mess-ups. Granted, they were becoming less and less with each set, but when they did happen, her bandmates were kind about it. 

Griff stepped into her space and put his hands on her shoulders. “I know what you are thinking and I’m telling you, you don’t need to worry. Be confident! You are ready for this, El.” 

“Those people are my friends. I won’t be involved in anything shady, Griff. I’m serious.”

He laughed and moved his hands down her arms, pulling her closer to him. 

“They’re my friends, too,” he said and his eyes were sincere enough that Beth would let it go for the time being. 

“I know. I just really want to be transparent if we are going to do this,” she said. 

“It’s all about the timing, trust me. Let me iron some things out with the guys over there. We aren’t making any big decisions but it’s good to at least be open to branching out. People will come just to see you. There’s potential to make some serious money. For all of us.” 

That didn’t sound terrible to Beth. But this whole thing started out as something fun to try; she never expected to be “branching out”. 

“Ok, fine. I’m open,” she said smiling. 

“Ah. Good. Now tell me, what else are you open to?” Griff leaned in and brushed his lips softly against hers. 

Beth kissed him back, opening her mouth slightly and allowing him to deepen it and move her against the front door. His hands moved up her waist slowly, thumbs brushing just under her sweater covered breast- she thought about Rio then, his hesitant sweetness and heated black eyes and was tempted to pull away, but Rio didn’t want her and Griff did, so she tried her best to push him out of her mind as she  pushed herself closer to Griff. 

Beth wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately. He moaned into her mouth and moved his hands up higher, squeezing her soft flesh. 

“So beautiful,” Griff said between kisses and Beth instantly heard a lower voice telling her the same thing… she actually did pull away then, annoyed with herself and her stupid fixation on Rio. 

“I better go back inside and relieve the sitter,”she said. 

Griff cupped her face and looked her in the eyes. “You are meant to be seen. Just tell me you will think about this and possibly have another meeting? Maybe with the other band if need be?” 

“Ok. But not until we talk to Salazar. I don’t want to have any more meetings behind his back.” 

“Fine,” he said crossing a finger over his heart. He kissed her on the cheek then headed down the stoop. “Night, darling.” 

“Night,” Beth said as she waved and went inside. She really liked Griff, and was having  fun with him. She had been pretty close to saying screw it  and really having fun with him- like in the bedroom- and then Rio had waltzed back into her life and now she just couldn’t imagine letting anyone else touch her like that. 

His touch still burned. Or, maybe it had just been reignited. 

She dropped her purse in the foyer and listened for activity. She was relieved to be done with the night and was dying to get into bed.

“Hello?” she spoke quietly  into the house. Maybe she’d get lucky and the kids would all be asleep.  

“Mommy!” Emma yelled and ran to hug her legs. 

I guess bed will have to wait. Beth thought, smiling through a yawn and running her hand down her daughters silky hair. 



********************



Beth watched her kids as she made her way slowly up the driveline.  Kenny was talking to his new friends, Danny was staring off into space, and Emma was dutifully holding her sister’s hand; knowing that if she were to let go, the youngest would run off and Beth would have to park to go get her. She smiled and waved to Emma when the middle child’s eyes met her own and lit up. 

It was Friday, finally, and as tough as it was to drop them off at Deans for the weekend, she was grateful for the break. It had been an exhausting week. Three of the kids had projects due which, along with extracurriculars, compounded Beth’s workload. She was ready to collapse. 

It was all relative, of course. 

The spacy, tired feeling Beth was experiencing was nothing compared to the bone-deep, desperate exhaustion she’d lived through when she was heading up Boland Motors and partnering with Rio. No, this was regular mommy-needs-a nap-and-a-bourbon tired, and she wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

“Hi guys!” 

Collective “hi’s” greeted her back as the kids piled in to the SUV. The kids loved the new car, especially Kenny, who was happy to finally be old enough to sit “shot-gun”, as he called it. Getting rid of the van had been cathartic for Beth. The old vehicle had held so many memories, and when she realized the bad outweighed the good, she made the decision to upgrade. 

As she drove her sleek, bullet-hole free Evoque towards Dean’s place, she went through a mental checklist for the weekend. Wash all the bedding, laundry, clean the kitchen, make and freeze meals for next week, call Ruby, text Rio, cancel Hulu, wait what? Text Rio.. ? 

What happened was, the night before, Beth had a thought that maybe Rio could use help with the seating arrangement at Lozano. A week had passed since their shopping trip, and ever since then Beth had been brainstorming about the remodel. 

She had ideas but despite that, she’d come to a final decision that if he wanted her help again he would contact her. She didn’t need to be offering her services. Especially to Rio since she had been there done that. 

And so the point for Beth was that “text Rio” should not be popping onto her mental checklist as the decision had already been made. She mentally berated herself and continued to run through her tasks. 

Call Ruby, add money to hot-lunch accounts….

“Mommy, can we get cinnamon twists?” Jane’s voice broke through her thoughts. 

“Yeah! I want tacos!” Kenny added. 

“No we aren’t getting Taco Bell we had fast food yesterday. Besides, Daddy is probably planning on a fun Friday night dinner,” she said. 

“I hope he takes us to Taco Bell,” Jane said. “I don’t like the fancy place.” 

“But that’s where Julia likes to go,” Emma said. 

Beth cringed slightly at the sound of Dean’s newest fling. She looked in the rearview and noticed Danny was quietly looking out the window. 

“Danny, how was school?” He continued staring and shrugged his shoulders. The youngest boy had been taking the divorce and its resulting back and forth, the hardest. 

“Hey,” she said and he looked up at her. “Let’s me and you have a day next week. You can skip school and we’ll go see the new Spiderman.”

“NO FAIR!” and “What?!” came as a chorus from the other three. 

Danny’s eyes lit up. “Ok,” he said. 

“Everyone will get to have a fun day with me. I promise,” she told the others. 

“But why does Danny get to go first?” Jane whined. 

“Why not?” Emma responded logically. 

Beth smiled in the rearview at her. “Exactly. It doesn’t matter who goes first. You will all get to have a super duper fun hooky day with mom. And! You get to pick what we do.”

“Cedar point!” Jane yelled. 

“Within reason,” Beth clarified, “Think movies, shopping, crafts, that kind of thing. 

“That sounds boring,” Kenny said. “Can I choose to stay home and play video games?” 

Beth rolled her eyes and looked over at him. “The point is to spend time with me.”

“Ok. I choose for you to play video games with me and not just watch.” 

“That would be great! I’m down,” Beth said. 

Kenny groaned. “I told you not to say that.” 

Beth laughed. She was entertained by Kenny’s annoyed-teenager phase. It reminded her of Annie’s except he was quite a bit nicer than she had been; also Annie hadn’t quite outgrown her’s yet, Beth thought in amusement. 

“Ok here we are,” she said as they pulled into the driveway of Dean’s modest one-story home. The kids piled out excitedly. All except one. She came around and stood at the open door where Emma sat with her seatbelt still on.  

“I don’t wanna go,” she said softly, looking up at Beth with eyes identical to her own. 

Beth’s heart clenched. “Aw bubba. It will be fun!” 

Just then Dean came out of the house and jogged up to the car. Beth smiled and moved to the side as he leaned in and started tickling Emma. Her belly laughs rang out, smoothing Beth’s guilt just a smidge. 

“What’s taking you so long silly goose?” he said as he unbuckled her seat belt and picked her up. 

“I just don’t wanna leave mommy today.”

“You don’t want to stay with me, bug. I’m going home to take a really long, boring nap right now,” Beth said, scrunching up her face. She reached up where Dean held her and smoothed Emma’s hair. 

“Plus,” Dean said, “WE are going to Chuck E. Cheez tonight. You don’t wanna miss out on that, do you?” 

“No,” Emma said. “Is Julia coming with us?” 

Dean looked at Beth. “Uh..yeah, honey,” he stuttered out, “Julia was maybe gonna come. Is that ok?” 

Beth smiled knowingly at Emma. She was actually the only child out of the four that liked Julia; having told Beth she prefers when she goes with them. And as difficult as it was for Beth to know there was another woman around her kids, she wasn’t all that terrible.  

Beth was also pretty grateful for the distraction Julia provided. Dean hadn’t given her puppy dog eyes or suggested family dinner in awhile. He just did better paired up with someone, and Beth found she was doing great on her own. She was actually happy for him. He was who he was and she was glad he was no longer her problem. 

After hugging her kids, Beth drove home, making a few pit-stops to pick up dinner and a bottle of bourbon. Annie had wanted to hang out, but she was looking forward to solitude and told her that. 

When she arrived, Beth went to the kitchen door and  punched in the code on her new security lock. She set her bags down on the island, and as she was pulling stuff out, something caught her eye. 

Lying a few feet away was a skinny rectangular box. Beth immediately looked around the room, realizing that someone had been in her house. She walked closer to the package, her eyes focusing in on the logo printed on the top. 

Gucci? 

She opened the lid and moved the delicate, gold tissue paper to reveal a pair of very red leather gloves. She pulled one out and gingerly slid it onto her right hand, immediately melting at the feel of the silky fur on the inside. She ran her other hand over the buttery soft leather, marveling at the gorgeously stitched chevron pattern and small, gold Gucci charm. 

Rio.

The idea of him breaking into her house to leave the gift instantly filled her with warmth. She had no idea why he would spend this kind of money on her, but Beth had never owned anything this extravagant before, and she loved them. She placed them gently back in the box and sat down at the island to eat her salad. 

An hour later, and Beth was freshly showered and drinking her first glass of bourbon on the couch. It was only 6pm and she was already bored. As she flipped through channels, snuggled under her favorite blanket, her eyes kept moving to her phone which was lying next to her. 

She really wanted to text him, but she also wanted to play it cool. This new, friendly version of her and Rio was uncharted territory, and she wasn’t familiar with the rules or if there were any. 

Of course she wanted to thank him for the gloves, but she also had a desire to interact with him ever since the shopping trip. Every day for the last week it seemed she was coming up with new excuses to text him. Each excuse was quickly shot down by common sense, but they just kept coming. 

Now she had an actual good reason to text him, and the temptation was that much stronger because of it. 

Beth jumped as her phone beeped with a new incoming message. It was Griffin. 

 

Hi luv! I made reservations for 8pm at Russo’s. Meet me at the club at 7? Have a quick meeting there. 

Sounds good. :) 

 

A small thrill shot through her as she thought about her date with Griffin. There was something about being with him that was fun… it was like she could pretend to be someone else, in a way. Griff hadn’t met her children, or had the misfortune to run into Dean. He had never seen her in mommy-mode, or witnessed her failing miserably and breaking down. 

She could just be El; sexy and confident. 

As fun as it was, she knew it was likely a casual thing. Figured he thought the same, at least, she hoped he did. Beth certainly didn’t want to be leading him on, though the prospect of that seemed a bit ridiculous. She was certain he was dating others. He had to be- he was just too charming and outgoing. 

So different than Rio. 

There he was again- back in her thoughts. Beth sighed loudly and poured herself another drink. She flipped through the channels absentmindedly, thinking she was probably going to wear the new gloves on her date with Griffin. She wondered what Rio would think about that or if he would even care. 

Beth realized she had a goofy smile on her face and suddenly she was holding her phone and scrolling to the message thread her and Rio started a week ago. She suddenly had an idea that was probably alcohol fueled, and went to the kitchen to grab the gloves. She slipped them on and plopped back down on the couch. 

Positioning her phone just right, she took  a picture of one of her hands wearing the glove, and sent it to Rio along with a text that said: 

I think you brought these to the wrong house

She stared at the screen and exactly four seconds later he replied.

Pretty sure you’re the only redhead I know who leaves their gloves on top of their car. 

What does my hair have to do with anything? Beth typed out, confusion marred her features. 

Got those to match. You like them?

He had bought her red gloves to match her hair. Beth was momentarily stunned. Why would he do something so thoughtful? 

I love them. 

Good

How are things?

Things are good Elizabeth. How are your things?

My things are fine. 

Cool. 

She really wanted to keep texting him, but Rio had never been one for small talk, and if she were honest, neither was she. 

She lay her phone down next to her and brought her legs up under her, situating the blanket better and continuing the search for a show. She finally settled on something, downed the rest of her drink, and snuggled deeper into the couch. 

She tried to focus on all the delicious drama of the show, and it worked for about ten minutes until her mind drifted back to those soft, black lashes and the way they looked when she was close to him the other day. 

She loved how straight they were. Beth had the thought several times that it would be really fun to use the eyelash curler on them and see how close to his eyebrows they would reach. 

She would never admit it to another living soul, but she had this guilty-pleasure habit of imagining how Rio would be in a domestic situation. Particularly with her. It could probably be called fantasizing, and more often than not the thoughts started off innocent and then became… not so innocent. They had stopped for awhile; when he had called her just work and then cut her loose; but had recently started back up and it was as if they had never stopped. 

She was staring at the TV but her thoughts had taken flight. 

They’re in her bathroom wearing towels and Rio’s is slung low on his hips. She dips her finger into the front of it and pulls him close so that they are chest to chest. He looks down at her as her as she slowly pulls his towel off...

Brrrrringggg!!! 

Beth sat up suddenly and flipped her pillow over looking for her ringing phone. She saw it lying on the floor and bent over clumsily to retrieve it, trying not to tumble off the couch. 

She saw ‘private number’ and assumed it was Ruby’s house phone which came up the same way. She was the only one who called Beth on Friday nights. 

“Yello!” 

She heard a “hmph”.  Nope, not Ruby. 

“Oh uh.. Hey.” 

“Hi.”

“What’s…? I mean why are you..uh..,” Beth squeezed her eyes shut. “Hi,” she said, trying to start over. 

“Hi,” Rio said again, amusement coloring his voice. “What you doin’?

“Oh, um, very meaningful and important things,” she said. 

“that so?” 

“Mmhm.”

“Like what?” His voice sounded like sin personified. 

“Mmm… none of your business.” 

“Tease,” he said, and the cadence of his voice dipped low and Beth swore she could feel it. 

“What are you doing?” she asked him.

“Just left the warehouse. Had a new shipment come in.”

“Shipment of what?”

“Quartz countertops.”

“Oh. For the club?” she said. 

“Nah, I got my hand in flippin’ houses too lately. But, you know, with my own twist.” 

“Of course,” she said, kind of surprised and flattered that he offered up that information to her. “I don’t know how you keep up with all your work. I could barely survive six months.”

Rio chuckled. “I got some good folks workin’ for me. S’not like I do it all myself.” 

Beth nodded as if he could see her. She was quiet for a few seconds, imagining him driving home. Relaxed posture, one hand on the steering wheel… 

“You still there?” he asked.

“Yes, just thinking.” 

“Bout what.” 

“I was actually wondering where you were driving to since you moved.”

  “I live about ten minutes from you.” 

“Oh.”

“Mmhm. So let me see if I can guess what you’re doing, yeah?”

“Ok.”

“You’re on the couch...right?”

“Yes.”

“You’re drinkin’ bourbon and watchin’ reality TV. That right, too?” 

“How are you doing this?” Beth looked around frantically, wondering if he had cameras up in her house. 

“Relax,” he said. “I’m not peepin. You just predictable is all. Bet I can guess what you wearin’, too.” 

Warmth started to spread through her at the thought of Rio imagining what she was wearing. 

“Definitely one of those silky pajama sets. The black one? Wait, no… the light pink one.” Beth’s cheeks burned as she looked down at the black pj set. She didn’t say anything; suddenly feeling emotional as she realized the gravity of what was happening.

“Please tell me I’m right about the PJs.” 

Beth huffed softly. “You’re right. I’m wearing the black ones.” 

“Mmm. I like those.” 

The slow warmth that had been gathering became a raging inferno in a split second as soon as the words reached her ears. Beth kicked the blanket off of her and pulled her hair off neck, twisting it up and holding it on top of her head. 

“You do?’ she ventured. 

“Yea.” 

“When did you ...?”

“Member that one time I came for your drop in the morning? Cuz you had to reschedule? You told me to come to your bedroom doors early before the kids woke up.” 

Beth did remember that. She thought he’d been super annoyed at her for rescheduling. She also remembered  feeling embarrassed that she had had no makeup on and messy bedhead. The memory made her drop her hair and start combing through it with her fingers. 

“Yes, I remember,” she said. “I thought you were mad at me.” 

“Nah, I wasn’t mad. More like frustrated.” Rio huffed out a laugh and Beth worried her lip; anticipation prickling in her chest at the direction of their current conversation. 

“Why were you frustrated?”

“C’mon. You don’t know?”

“Because you had to come over early?”

“Try again.”

“Uh...because you forgot your Earl Grey at home?” she teased. 

“You want me to tell you?” he said, ignoring her joke. The familiar, gravelly tone of his voice made her feel warm and restless. 

“Yes, please,” she said breathlessly. 

He paused before continuing. “See, I was havin’ a tough time that morning, darlin’, because I had to come into your room and see your peaches-and-cream skin all freshly scrubbed.”

Beth closed her eyes and let his voice wash over her. 

“Yeh. and not only that, but you were wearin’ those black Pjs and you’d forgotten to button up all the way.” 

Beth looked down at her cleavage and felt her face and chest heat up as a blush made its way down. 

“You were tryin’ to remedy the situation but the damage had already been done- and now i’m thinking about it all over again.”

Beth tried to school her breathing which was coming faster and louder, his voice having its intended effect on her just as it always had. 

“You got them buttons undone right now, sweetheart?”

Her fingers immediately went to the top buttons. “No, I’m all buttoned up.”

“That’s too bad.” 

Her brain was pleasantly foggy and she was turned on in a warm, buzzy way; tempted beyond all reason to unbutton just for him.

“It’s just me here, so…” she said.

“Even so, I think you need to let those babies breathe.” 

“They are perfectly fine, I promise,” she said, laughing softly. 

He was quiet for a few moments and Beth could hear his soft breaths. 

“Are you still driving?” she asked him. 

“Just pulled up to my place.” 

“What are you gonna do now? Go to sleep?” 

“Take a shower. You wanna join me?” he asked playfully, and Beth smiled. 

“Tempting, but I already showered.”

‘That don’t matter. Come over.” His tone was suddenly serious and Beth felt her heart rate speed up. 

“What? You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Hell no i’m not kidding .” 

“Rio…”

“Mm. I like when you say my name,” he said softly. 

Her chest filled with affection at his words but right after that, alarm bells went off in her brain. They had been here before. Granted, he was acting different this time, softer, but jumping into bed with him did not seem like a wise decision. Also, his past dismissal of her was still pretty fresh. 

“Can I be honest with you and you promise not to use it against me?” Beth asked him. 

“Yeah I can’t promise that.”

Beth rolled her eyes because - of course- but continued anyway. “I just…I enjoyed working with you the other day.” She held her breath waiting for his response. 

“Me too,” he said after a few beats. 

“But this can’t go any further than a working friendship. It's just…too dangerous.”

“You don’t have to get involved in anything dangerous, Elizabeth.”

“No. That’s not…” she faltered as the vulnerability of what she was about to say threatened to take her under. 

“I mean you and me. That ’s what's dangerous. Like… emotionally. For me.” 

Beth’s heart was pounding. She wasn't used to being open like this, especially with Rio, but she was feeling more sure of herself lately and felt good about drawing boundaries. The vulnerability was scary, but her instincts were telling her that there was power behind the act of it. 

She waited for him to say something but he was quiet. 

“So,” she began again, “I better not come take a shower with you,” she said on a laugh, realizing how silly it sounded. 

“Yeah, I get that,” he began, “I just thought.. you know, we good together like that.”

“We are. ” 

“Right?” 

“So good,” she agreed.

“And that’s such a shame cuz I really wanna touch you.” 

Beth closed her eyes as a wave of lust rolled through her body. “Me too,” she breathed out. “But…”

“It’s cool. I got it,” Rio said. “I mean, if you think you can resist me then so be it.” 

“What?” 

“We’ll see how long that lasts, yea?” 

“Wait, what?”

Click. 

Beth stared incredulously at the phone in her hand. 

She could not believe the nerve of him basically declaring lust-war right in the middle of her opening up and sharing her heart. Frustrated as she may have been, a secret smile bloomed across Beth’s lips as she lay there. He was dangerous. But it wasn't a secret that she kinda liked danger. 

Soon, sleep began to call her; the sweet coaxing of brown eyes and strong hands pulling her into hazy, sensual dreams that lasted through the night, and brought her into the next morning refreshed and glowing. 

Chapter Text

Beth pulled up to Lozano around 9am the next morning for rehearsal. She was sufficiently caffeinated and ready to work. Having the weekends to herself really was nice and rehearsal was always fun. Plus, it had been awhile since she had seen her bandmates so she was looking forward to singing and goofing around with them. 

Conrad had sent her the music that they’d be doing for the reopening in a week, and Beth was pretty comfortable with the set, but she definitely needed the practice time. Singing at Lozano was helping her to grow in so many unexpected ways and the timing had been amazing- It was such a great distraction from the bizarre reality that was her newly divorced life. 

Things had changed so much. And then they kept changing. She could barely keep up. That was one thing she was learning- to just go with it. Take life as it came. She wasn’t exactly the free spirit that Annie was, but she was definitely learning to loosen up a bit, and that was good, especially after the shit show that was last year. She was grateful for the “stress” she had these days and hoped she would never take it for granted. Because it wasn’t actual stress. Not really. 

Stress was washing fake money, stress was dealing with rotten eggs, stress was dead bodies and guys with tattoos from the neck up threatening you. That was stress.. Everything else? Well, that was just life. 

As Beth walked in she took in all the construction activity. There was a whole crew in the club buzzing around like bees. She walked toward the stage seeing that everyone was already there.  Bea was sitting on the edge of it, legs dangling. She jumped up and ran over as soon as she spotted Beth. 

“Finally!” Bea said, hugging her tightly. “I missed the shit out of you!” She laughed and hugged her back. 

“I missed you too. Oh my gosh it’s been such a crazy couple weeks,” Beth said. 

“Tell me about it. I’m almost caught up with my credits and am on track to graduate in May,” Bea told her excitedly then took a hit of the joint in her fingers. She passed it over to Stu who did the same, then offered it to Beth. 

“Oh no thank you,” she laughed. “I would make a fool of myself if I smoked that.” Stu chuckled good-naturedly.

They rarely rehearsed without lighting up; Conrad and Salazar were the only ones who didn’t smoke besides Beth. She had thought about trying it but so far had been too chicken. She kinda wanted to though… just to loosen up.

Maybe it would get her mind off Rio and she could just have a fun time with her friends. Of course, just being at Lozano had her  hoping to run into him. Their conversation last night had sparked Beth’s competitive streak, and she was looking forward to showing him how easy to resist he would be. 

Bea was laughing at something Dickie  said, and he was looking at her like she was crazy. Dammit, they always made getting stoned look like so much fun. 

“Ok let me have that,” she said to Bea. 

“Oh shit! Yes!” Bea handed her the joint and Beth took a drag like it was a cigarette, just a tiny one, immediately coughing. 

“Easy, babygirl,” Stu teased. “try again, hold the smoke in longer if you can.” 

Beth took another hit, this time holding the smoke in and blowing it out slowly. She felt light-headed immediately, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. She passed the joint to Stu. 

“I see you finally took our advice and dressed casual for rehearsal,” he said and Beth looked down at her outfit. 

She had on a form fitting cream sweater, light-wash skinny jeans, and the dreaded UGGs Annie had bought her for Christmas. Beth had sworn she would never wear them, but once she put them on her feet she had been a goner. She rarely wore the boots anywhere but the grocery store or around the house, but when the band had teased her at the last rehearsal for always wearing business casual, she decided to suck it up and just be comfortable. 

“These things feel like clouds on my feet,” she said as she looked down at her boots. “They look so stupid though.” 

“Yea, they do,” Bea agreed and both women started laughing hysterically. Beth took one off and kicked it over to Bea. 

“Try it on. You’ll eat your words, I guarantee.” She unlaced her Doc Martens and slipped the UGG boot on. 

“Oh.” 

“See!” Beth laughed out, jumping up and down excitedly. 

“Oh my God, what is this sorcery?” Bea said, looking down at her feet. 

Stu was watching the exchange in  amusement. He handed the joint back to Beth who took it and enthusiastically hit it again— blowing out a cloud like a damn pro. She was a quick study, no one would ever deny it. 

“My wife insisted on a pair of those for her birthday. Almost broke the bank.” Stu said. 

“So worth it though,” Beth said as she slipped her boot back on. 

“Alright, you lay-abouts, let’s get this party started,” Conrad said from the stage. Beth made her way carefully up, she was a little unsteady on her feet but overall was feeling great. 

“So what do y'all think about the set?” he asked them. Conrad was sort of the leader of the band. He was a brilliant Jazz pianist and was the one who started Detroit Mink with Dickie, who played the sax and also sang with way too much soul for a man with flaming red hair and freckles. 

“I love it. So much fun,” Beth said. 

She was excited for the reopening; their set had a “Fool for Love” theme, and one of the songs, ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’ was a duet she would get to do with Dickie. 

“Ok kids- the order is ‘These foolish things’, Spooky, ‘Don’t get around much’, Why don’t you do right- with Dickie’s clarinet solo, and then we will wrap it up with ‘Autumn Leaves’. Sound good?” 

Everyone nodded and started preparing their instruments. Beth readjusted the mic to her height.

“You have a mic for our duet?” she asked Dickie.

“I was thinkin’ we could share, baby,” he said and winked at her. 

“Uh uh. This is my mic,” she said and he chuckled. 

Practice began and Beth found herself more relaxed than ever. She moved to the music, allowing it to wash over her and feeling like she was one with it. The words flowed out of her and she found herself intensely drawn into the set; the lyrics calling to mind the one man who fit into each song. 

After a run-through and making some adjustments, they decided to take a break. Beth plopped down on the stage, Bea joining her  with a couple bottles of water. 

“You sound great, El. Your range has improved.” Bea said. 

“Thanks,” Beth said smiling at her. “I’ve been training my voice via YouTube. Probably need to spring for voice lessons.” 

“Not a bad idea. I know someone if you want their info.” 

The two women took out their phones and exchanged information. Beth was checking her texts when Bea whistled lowly. “Damn, who is that?”

Beth looked up and saw Rio standing by the bar with Salazar and another man. He was wearing one of his signature button up shirts and black jeans. Their eyes met and held, Beth first to look away- her attention turning to the other man who she quickly recognized as his brother, Dante. 

“I’ll be right back. Gonna say hi,” she said to Bea, getting up. 

 

                  ***********

 

As the band practiced on stage, Rio and Dante had been in the back office with Salazar talking about countertops. Rio could hear Elizabeth singing which made it tough for him to focus. He couldn’t have predicted things would play out like this, but her hidden talent and undeniable beauty were a recipe for success, and it excited him to know she was capitalizing on it. 

Thing was, Rio had a thing for Elizabeth from the beginning- but now that he saw her exercising her power, his attraction to her and just overall need for her, had grown exponentially. 

And that put him in a risky spot. See because when Elizabeth was makin’ him money before, he was in control. Now she had some control- it turned him on, yeah- but it also filled him with a need to balance that shit out. 

The three men came out to measure the bar, and Rio couldn’t help but glance over at the stage. He saw Elizabeth sitting there indian-style, laughing with who Rio assumed were the other people in the band. 

“There’s your girl, Chris. I didn’t know she worked here,” Dante said when he noticed Beth. 

Salazar looked at him confused. “Your girl?” 

“Dante!” All three men turned their heads to see Beth coming over. Rio took in her outfit and bit down a smile. She was wearing chestnut UGGs. He knew this useless information because his little niece had wanted some of those ridiculous lookin’ things for Christmas, and had been adamant about the color.  

“They have to be chestnut. Not brown. CHESTNUT,” she had said. 

Rio watched her sidle up and throw her arms around his brother, squinting his eyes as she hugged him. He had to will himself not to wrench her off of him. Dante didn’t seem to mind, Rio noticed in irritation as he squeezed her back. 

“Hola reina de belleza!” Dante laughed out as she pulled away and smiled brightly at him. 

“How are you?” she asked and Rio noticed her voice sounded different. 

“I’m good, Mija, workin like always.”

“You stoned or somethin?” Rio asked her and she scoffed and waved him off. 

“Barely.” she said. 

Salazar was watching the exchange with interest, curiosity and confusion coloring his features. Rio noticed but he couldn't really have cared less. His relationship with Elizabeth was nobody’s damn business. Beth seemed to notice though, and apparently felt the need to explain. 

“Oh um yeah, I actually know Rio. We used to work together.” she said to Salazar sheepishly. 

“Did you now?” Salazar put his hand to his chin and turned to Rio. 

Rio didn’t say anything, content to let things play out. 

“Mmhm,” Beth said. “He was a really bad boss, so I quit.” Dante laughed loudly. 

“Not how I remember it,” Rio said casually. He let his eyes roll over her form—jaw tightening at the perfect fit of her jeans over her wide hips, and she looked so damn cute in those stupid boots...his imagination conjuring up an image of her in nothing but them and fuck

“I’m kidding,” she said and slapped Rio playfully on the arm.“He’s a great boss.” Beth linked her arm with his then, cuddling it and leaning her head on his shoulder. 

He peered down at her, trying his best not to smile like an idiot and steeling himself against the smell of her peachy shampoo and the feel of her soft curves pressed against him.

Salazar looked like he was trying to figure out some elaborate math equation and Rio was pretty amused by the whole situation. He was enjoying the shock on the dude’s face as his favorite girl pawed at him. He and everyone else was whooped over her and it was pretty ridiculous.

“Well, this is quite interesting,” Salazar said, smiling slyly. Just then a voice from the back rang out. Beth immediately let go of Rio’s arm and looked behind her towards the voice. 

“Where’s my girl?” 

Rio watched as the band’s manager addressed the people sitting around the stage. Beth stepped away from Rio and he felt the loss of her way too strongly. 

“Hey Griff, I’m here.” she said, waving at the man. She glanced at Rio and then over to Dante. 

“It was nice to see you again. I better get back over there…,” she said pointing behind her. 

Dante was watching things play out with as much interest as Salazar, however, he had more insider information. He’d been giving Rio the third degree about his ‘relationship’ with Elizabeth ever since their shopping trip, and regardless of how tight-lipped Rio had remained, Dante knew something was going on there. He had always been able to read Rio like a damn book. 

And Rio knew the look on his brother’s face. He was about to pull something.

Rio gave him a menacing look, but it was only met with a sly smile. 

“Ms. Marks,” he called out to Beth and she turned back around raising her eyebrows in question. “I’m having a get together Sunday at Mi Casa. Would love it if you came.” 

Rio cursed under his breath, looking up to the heavens and then at Elizabeth who was staring at him. She was clearly enjoying how uncomfortable he looked.   

“I would love that, Dante. Thank you.” 

Ok so that’s how we gonna play this.

Rio knew Beth thought she had the upper hand. It was cute. He wasn’t exactly gung-ho about bringing her into his personal circle, but seein how close he was to his family would bring him that much closer to havin’ her naked and writhin’ underneath him. She was predictable like that. He still remembers the look of longing on her face the few times she saw him with Marcus. 

Rio levelled her back with a challenge in his eyes. “She can ride with me. I’ll pick you up at noon, Mama,” he said. 

“Sounds good. And don’t call me that.” she said, turning around and joining her bandmates. 

Rio watched as she hugged Griffin. His fists balled up as he clocked the guy’s hands wandering a bit lower than Rio would prefer. 

He turned to his brother and Salazar and started talking figures again. That dude wasn’t shit. Rio had something special with Elizabeth, and she knew it just as much as he did. He would let her have her fun… she was clearly enjoying this new identity. But he knew her better than those people did. 

This club has become part of his Kingdom, and that goofy-ass redhead was his Queen. Whether she was ready to accept it or not. 

 

                                                                                                    *********************

 

Later that night…… 

 

Beth sat in her SUV with the heater blasting, waiting for Griff. He had asked her to meet him at Lozano for their date, and she was hoping to not have to get out of the car; not super eager to run into Rio again. 

She opened her peacoat and looked down at her outfit to make sure she didn’t have any loose powder or God forbid- ranch dressing, on it.  She was wearing a gorgeous black lace dress she’d dug out of the annals of her closet. It had long sleeves and a sweetheart neckline and fell mid-thigh. It was a little shorter than the dresses she usually wore. Her style changed after having kids, and it felt nice to slip into the dress again and have it still fit. 

Beth had been flirting and fooling around a bit with Griffin, but she’d only been on one date with him, and even that was only a sort-of date. It had consisted of  drinks at Lozano and listening to Movimiento play. They had gotten pretty cozy in the booth and though it wasn’t nearly as intense as her fling with Rio, it’d been nice to feel wanted. 

Tonight they would be going to dinner and Beth told herself she was going to try and give him a chance, despite her current feelings about it. Admittedly, her recent interactions with Rio had somewhat dulled her interest in the whole date situation, and that kind of pissed her off. She’d been trying to move on and just have fun but it was hard to focus on anyone else when he was in the picture. 

Since Rio had been back in her life, her thoughts had been somewhat focused on him. Ok, more like consumed by him. Not just simple thoughts either… there had been more colorful scenarios conjured up in the dark of the night and in the comfort of her steamy shower, and that was just… She was  simultaneously drawn to and frustrated by the force of nature that was her former business partner. Especially now that he had challenged her to try and “resist him”.  It was just ridiculous, and Beth didn’t have time for childish games. It was as if their new non-life threatening partnership gave him free reign to act like a teenage boy. 

Although, she was the one that had acted childishly earlier that day, during rehearsal. She had been excited when she realized he was at the club, and being stoned it turned out, made her more affectionate than normal. Beth groaned out loud in the car thinking about how she had man-handled Rio and flirted with his brother. She needed to keep her wits about her around him. She made a mental note to not drink at Dante’s get-together. 

And that? A get-together with Rio’s family? Beth really needed to stay far away from the drugs. The fact that she had agreed to go to this thing was just… not smart. She should probably make an excuse and get out of it. Of course, if she did that Rio would definitely know she was chickening out. 

God he was exhausting. 

As if she’d summoned him, Beth heard a knock on her window and looked up only to lock eyes with the man in question. He was wearing a black beanie pulled down over his ears and his expensive looking coat. He looked amazing. So much for avoiding him. 

She rolled the window down and freezing wind whipped up into her car. 

“Ah Cold! Come around,” she said, rolling the window back up and gesturing with her hands. She unlocked the door and watched as he came around to the other side and hopped in. 

Rio settled in and started rubbing his hands next to the heater. Beth looked at him, eyebrows raised in question. Finally, he met her gaze.

“Hi,” he said, smiling. 

“Hi. What are you doing?” she said, gesturing to him. 

“Jus’ saw you so I came over,” he said, pulling his beanie off. Beth watched the motion and immediately felt the need to reach over and run her hand over his soft hair. His eyes softened and she realized she was staring, and he was noticing. 

“Oh! I have your gloves,” she said, grateful to her brain for finding something to distract her from the look and smell of him. She reached into her center console, pulling them out and handing them over to him. 

Rio put them on and then stuffed his hands in his pockets. “What’re you doin’ out here?” 

“Waiting for Griffin,” she said and immediately bristled at his reaction which was to huff out a condescending laugh. “Why is that funny?” 

“That guy is a lame,” Rio said. 

“A lame?...what...” she was about to snark back at him but he’d moved on and was eyeing her like prey where her coat fell open. 

“What’re you wearin’, damn!” 

“None of your business!” she said, pulling her coat closed. Rio reached over and tried to open it back up but she slapped his hand away. 

“Lemme see. Please?” He gave her the most ridiculous puppy dog eyes. Biting back a smile, she turned to face him and opened her coat.

“See? There. Now how can I help you?” she asked, pulling it closed again.

He looked at her heatedly, which spiked her body temp in the way it always, frustratingly did.  She turned the temperature down on the heater and, looked over again only to see a smirk gracing his perfect face. 

“Pretty warm in here, maybe you should take off your coat,” he said lowly. 

“I’m fine actually.” 

“Oh yea?”

“Mmhh. Perfectly cozy.” 

“Huh. So, you smoke weed now?”

Beth scoffed. “No, I don’t smoke weed now. I just tried it out today.”

Rio was doing that contemplative half-smile he did and she could tell he wanted to tease her, but instead he tongued the corner of his lips obscenely.

They sat there in somewhat companionable silence, watching people go in and out of the club. Five minutes had passed before either said a word, and Beth was all too aware that she felt comfortable just being next to him. She wasn’t sure what that meant. She tried to shut off her brain but instead indignation began rising up. 

Beth turned to him, taking in his handsome profile- the sharp angle of his cheekbone, his straight black eyelashes, and that fucking lip that just stuck the fuck out, begging to be latched onto. God. Why. 

“Don’t you have better things to do than sit in a car with me?” 

“Nah, not really,” he said not looking up from the phone in his hand. Beth just stared at him, trying to muster up the desire to kick him out of her car when an alert on her phone rang out. She pulled it out of the drink holder, checking it and narrowing her eyes at him. 

“No,” she said. 

“Why?” 

“I hate these stupid games. I always lose.” 

“C’mon play wit me.” He still wasn’t looking at her and his casual demeanor was just so presumptuous. Like he didn’t even have to try to get her to bend and fold the way he wanted. 

Beth looked down at the little ‘8-ball’ request in her message thread with Rio. She clicked on it and started playing, scratching on her first shot. She scoffed and threw her phone back in the drink holder. 

Rio’s phone pinged and she watched as he played a pretty long round; a ghost of a smile apparent in the creases of his eyes as he undoubtedly sunk all the balls in. Beth rolled her eyes and sighed. 

Where is Griff? She had been sitting in her car for 20 minutes. 

She picked up her phone and texted him - Status?

Her phone rang immediately after. “Hey,” she said into it, glancing sideways at Rio. 

“Hi luv, sorry to keep you waiting. Salazar has me held hostage with these dodgy blokes from the east side,” he said. “Why don’t you come in for a drink?” 

Beth looked at Rio again; he seemed to be engrossed in the iPhone game, but she knew better. 

She angled her body slightly towards her door and attempted to speak quietly, which she knew was ridiculous. She just felt odd talking to Griffin in front of Rio. 

If she had a nickel for every time Rio made her feel uncomfortable...

“Don’t we have reservations at 8?” she said, lowering her voice as much as possible. 

Rio put down his phone then, and turned his entire body to her, bringing his leg up to the seat, and leaning against the passenger door. She glanced over at him and rolled her eyes at his attentive posturing. 

“Yes but we can change them, c’mon then, I need to see that gorgeous face,” Griff said. Rio scoffed and reached over trying to open her coat again.

 “Fine,” she said, blocking his hand and trying not to laugh. “I’m hungry though so just one drink, ok?” 

 “Of course, luv,” said Griff. 

 Beth hung up and flipped the mirror down to check her face, all too aware of the judgemental silence coming from the other side of the car.

 She looked over at Rio. “I guess I’m going inside now,” she said. He didn’t respond just stared at her like they had all the time in the world. Or like the rest of the world didn’t exist when they were together like this. 

“Just say it,” she said. 

“A lame.” 

Beth rolled her eyes for the millionth time as a smile crept onto her lips. 

There was something about having Rio’s attention like this that was making her feel powerful… that rush that she had been addicted to for over a year, she was feeling that in this moment. Aware of the danger but deciding to ignore it, she reached over and grabbed his beanie out of his lap, then pushed it onto his head. 

Rio’s hands quickly came up and grabbed hers at the side of his head, bringing them in front of him and running his thumbs over the soft, red leather. 

“Your hands look pretty wrapped up in these gloves. Perfect fit.” he said softly, turning them over before squeezing them once and letting go. 

He opened the door then and walked around, opening hers and reaching out to help her down. 

“Aren’t you charming tonight,” she said sarcastically. She pointedly ignored his hand, getting out and shutting the door only to be pushed up against it so quickly her breath rushed out of her lungs. 

“Darlin’ I’m always charming,” Rio said as he looked down at her. It had been awhile since he’d invaded her space like that, but it never ceased to amaze her how thoroughly he was able to box her in without using his arms.

She wanted to wrap her arms around him and burrow her face in his chest but that would be ridiculous. Instead, she brought her hands up right below his shoulders, splaying them there. She watched his eyes travel down to watch as she dragged them slowly down to his chest ...and pushed him away. 

She started walking to the back entrance of the club, pulling her coat tighter around her, and tying it. He fell into step beside her, keeping up with her fast pace. 

Beth’s head was spinning. Having him close made her feel so restless. She needed to put some space between them.

And then suddenly she needed to remind herself out loud, who he was and what he had represented to her back then. Intimidation. Manipulation. 

She knew it was petty to bring up the past, but this was about self-preservation. She didn’t trust this thing between them. Didn’t trust him. Couldn’t. 

“Yes always so charming. Especially all those times you fedex’d me body parts.” 

 She continued her hurried pace, glancing over at him when he didn’t respond, only to see a genuinely confused look on his face. 

“What are you talkin’ about, body parts?” He moved in front of her, stopping her in her tracks. 

That feeling of power she sometimes felt around him was quickly becoming eclipsed by powerlessness. What did he have to gain by this mind game? She was tired. She shoved her hands in her coat pockets and looked at him. 

“Very funny.” 

“Not tryin to be funny,” he said and she could tell by his face, he wasn’t. 

Wait.

“You didn’t send me the body parts?” 

“Don’t know what the hell you talkin about. You got me real curious, though.” 

“But if you didn’t send them…” 

“Damn, who else you piss off, Ma?” 

“I told you not to call me that,” she said, stepping around him and pulling open the back entrance. She made a beeline for the bar. 

“Hey gorgeous!” Griff greeted her as she walked up, arm stretched out towards her. “Come meet my new friends.” 

Beth side-stepped him and saddled up to the bar, snapping the bartender over. 

“Bourbon…,” 

“On the rocks, yeah. I got you, El,” the bartender said, winking and filling up the tumblr he already had in his hand. 

“El.” She heard Griff say over her shoulder. 

“Thanks Teddy,” she said, ignoring him and smiling gratefully at the bartender. 

With her drink in hand she turned around and leaned against the bar, finally addressing Griff. 

“Hey…” she said, looking around distractedly. 

Griff’s eyes softened. “Hi luv.” 

Beth was in no mood to meet new people, and thankfully Griff seemed to pick up on that, waving his associates off to talk amongst themselves and turning his attention fully to Beth. 

“I’m…,” she looked past him and saw Rio right next to him, leaning against the bar and nursing his own drink. 

“Have you ever just wondered what the fuck is your life?” 

“What…?” 

“Like, you think things are one way and then you find out that they’re just… not?” 

Griff chuckled and grabbed her waist, pulling her closer. “What are you on about?” 

“No, I… stop...” Beth pulled away from him, and Griff looked at her confused, holding his hands up in surrender. 

“What happened? Are you ok?” 

“She’s fine. Just needs to eat. You gonna take her or should I?” Beth narrowed her eyes at Rio as Griff turned around to address the gravelly voice beside him. 

“Ah. Mr. Saez. This doesn’t concern you. But thanks anyway, mate.” Griff said bitingly, whipping back around to Beth and fixing her with a soft smile. 

“I apologize for keeping you, El. Let’s go, yeah?” 

Beth nodded and glanced back at Rio. He downed his drink and walked over to her, ignoring Griff. 

“See you tomorrow, Elizabeth. This conversation ain’t over.” He squeezed her arm before walking off towards the back offices. 

Beth looked back at Griff and smiled sheepishly. “Sorry about that. We were just talking earlier and I got a bit riled up.” 

“Something tells me there’s some real history there,” Griff said. 

Beth nodded but didn’t offer anything else. 

“Right then. You ready?” 

“Mmhm.” 

The date was nice; Griff’s animated story-telling paired with an expensive aged wine provided an adequate distraction for the night. But the fact that Rio has not been the one to send Beth the body parts raised so many questions. Whoever it was… were they still a threat? It was concerning to think she had been just living life with her guard down with some unknown foe out there. 

When Beth kissed Griff goodnight, she was thinking about Rio. 

“Thank you for a lovely dinner,” she said, pulling back. 

He looked at her with a smile. “You know, I thought we had a fun thing going, but now it seems you are losing interest. Is that true? It’s ok luv just tell me.” 

“I like you, Griff. It’s just…”

“Let me guess, Rio Saez. What is the deal with you two?” he asked. 

“We used to work together. It’s a long story.” Beth said, looking out into the parking lot. She felt really sad all of a sudden and they sat quietly for a bit. 

She didn’t realize she was crying until she felt Griff touching her chin softly.

“Hey,” he said softly. “I don’t know what happened there but I know you are a woman worthy of royal treatment. Any man that doesn’t realize that doesn’t deserve you.” 

“Thanks Griff.” 

“I don’t stand a chance next to him, do I?” 

Beth laughed  and shook her head sadly. “I don’t think I’m ready for this,” she said, not wanting to answer his question because the truth was just too pathetic. 

“I understand. I have one of those myself back in the U.K. in fact, I came out here with my tail between my legs to escape from her clutches.” 

Beth smiled at him. She swiped under her eyes and put her purse on her shoulder. “I should go. I'm sorry for… this.” 

“Don’t apologize, El. You’re gorgeous and I’m obviously disappointed that I don’t get to see more of you. But I understand if we have a purely working relationship.” 

“It won’t affect anything, you’re sure?” 

“No, no. Of course not. I am tickled pink to have found you. You are talented and an amazing woman. Way out of my league, honestly.” 

“No way that’s true,” she said, smiling at him. She leaned over and kissed his cheek softly. “Goodnight, Griffin.” 

“Night luv. And listen, if you ever want to make Mr. Saez jealous… I’m available,” he said and winked at her. 

“Thanks,” she said, laughing as she got out of his car. She smiled and waved goodbye. 

She felt relieved that she and Griff had talked candidly, but was also annoyed that Rio had essentially ruined the fun little fling she had going. It wasn’t Rio’s fault that she was smitten with him. It was just a losing game, because no matter how heatedly he looked at her, the fact remained that to him, she was just work. He had to have an angle with this soft, flirty behavior and for Beth to believe otherwise was a risk she wasn’t ready to take. 

On the way home, Beth ruminated about everything that had happened over the last few weeks. She needed to talk to the girls and Rio. Between the four of them maybe they could figure it out. 

Anxiety filled her chest again, but she didn’t want to think about it so she popped a sleeping pill when she got home. As Beth’s head hit the pillow she felt disappointed that she would have to revisit such an ugly time in her life- one that she had tried to put behind her.

She supposed it was true what they say though, secrets don’t stay buried forever. 









 

Chapter Text

Rio pulled up to her house and looked down at his phone. She still hadn’t answered his text. Maybe she was blowin’ him off? Or chickening out… he thought smugly. Either way, it wasn’t happening. 

He got out of his car and walked to her back door, knocked once...twice….It wasn’t like her to just ignore him so he made the executive decision to break in- just in case something was wrong. 

He pushed to the back of his mind the fact that breaking into her home was as normal as grabbin' milk at the store for him. He didn’t break into anyone else’s house. He shrugged and punched in the code on her new security locks. Had taken him exactly two tries to guess it. Was Kenny’s birthday and Rio sure as hell remembered that day. He couldn’t get that damn mama dress out of his mind since. 

 

You can’t just show up here. 

The door was open

And you brought a gun? Of course you brought a gun. 

 

That whiny incensed shit turned him on for some reason. He supposed it was because it had come from her… her red lips pouting, and blue eyes blazing… yeah he remembered that date.

When Rio entered the kitchen he noticed the coffee pot was empty and her ‘I’d Rather Be Crafting’ mug was flipped over on the drying mat. 

“Elizabeth?” he called out, walking stealthily over to her bedroom. The door was cracked so he peeked in and saw a lump under her comforter. Suddenly, he was hit with another barrage of memories. 

 

“That feel good, mama?” he says as he moves in and out of her, her legs squeezing him like a vice every time he slams into her. 

“Uh! Yes…” 

“Fuck.”

“Don’t stop.. Please”

“Never,” he says into her ear like a promise, before completely losing himself in her..

 

Never. And that day? When they’d been kissing and fucking so damn sweetly? He meant that shit. 

Things were better now. More open, but damn. That had been quite a blow to his ego. He knows she don’t realize it. Maybe someday he’d tell her how she really messed him up that day. Maybe they’d laugh about it, who knows. They’d laughed about the body in her garden, after all. 

Realization dawned that she was probably stressin’ about the whole body parts situation and drank herself into oblivion. He walked over to the bed and peered down at her sleeping form. 

“Elizabeth,” he said softly. She was facing away from him on her side. 

“Mmffhmm” she groaned out.

“What?” he asked, trying not to laugh. Suddenly she flipped the covers off of her and he didn’t feel like laughing anymore. 

She must’ve gotten hot sometime in the night cause’ all she had on was a tiny shirt and panties. Satin ones...he tilted his head trying to get a better look. Satin and lace. Black and white. 

Damn. 

Rio was kinda starting to feel like a creep, and went to grab the blanket to pull over her before attempting to rouse her again. As he was doing it though, she turned and faced him, and he could see everything under her thin white t shirt. 

Her body made him want to punch things. LIterally, he spent more time at the boxing gym when he was working with Elizabeth than all his years combined.

He held the blanket above her and watched as she curled into herself-- my god her tits are going to fall the fuck outta that shirt -- and brought her hands up under her face, sighing contentedly and smiling. Smiling. He laid the blanket down over her carefully, looking at her huge tetas regretfully and tucking it by her hands. 

“Lizabeth,” he tried again a little louder this time. Her eyebrows creased adorably. “it's rude to keep your date waiting.” He sat down next to her and shook her a bit.

She opened one eye and squinted at him and then pulled the blanket over her head. 

“Why are you always here?” 

“I’m not.” 

“In my house, in my dreams… is there no escape?” 

Rio chuckled and pulled the blanket off her face. “Did you forget about Dante’s house?” 

She smiled sleepily at him. “No. sorry,” she said, sitting up and taking the water bottle Rio was offering her. “I took a sleeping pill last night. It knocked me on my ass.” 

“I see that.” 

“Yesterday was just bad. Bad, bad, bad.” 

“You best stick to bourbon, baby, you don’t need any drugs,” he said, tucking some hair behind her ear. “You wanna talk about the body parts situation?” 

“Not really. We can’t do anything about it today anyway,” she said. 

Rio nodded. “You got any idea who it mighta been?” 

“Maybe.” 

“Aight look. I'll help you with this. It should be pretty easy to figure it out and handle it.” 

Beth smiled gratefully at him. “Thank you,” she said.

Rio took in her slept-in look… it was beautiful. “This how you look in the morning?” he asked. 

"I guess,” she said, smoothing her hands over her hair self-consciously. 

“You’d never be able to tell you a junkie,” he teased and she shoved him. “You still wanna go or no? Cuz I understand if you’re too weak today to handle this,” Rio said gesturing to himself. 

“Pft. give me a break. I’m definitely going, and I plan on hanging out with your brother the whole day, so, I’m not really worried about it.”

“Oh, is that right?” 

“Yes. Oh no!” she said slapping her forehead. “I haven’t prepared anything to bring.” 

“We got plenty of food there.” 

“There’s no way I’m walking into that party empty handed.” 

Springing into action, she threw the covers off and got out of bed, walking to her dresser and opening it. She turned to him where he was still sitting on her bed, enjoying the view.

It was interesting as fuck because the black satin part of her panties just barely covered her… and then the rest was white lace… 

“Hello? Up here,” she said snapping her fingers. Rio dragged his eyes slowly up and he tried to make it up to her face. He really did. But that shirt… 

“You askin’ a lot of me right now, sweetheart.” He was staring openly at her tits so she put her hands over them. “That’s not helpin at all,” he said.  

“I need to take a shower. How much time do I have?” 

“However long you need. It's not like a set time. We just show up whenever. You need to relax.” But she was already throwing things out of her drawers, and then she was in her closet looking for something. 

Rio made himself more comfortable on her bed, kicking off his shoes and scooting towards the middle. He grabbed one of her pillows and laid on it. 

It smelled like peaches. 

Beth came out of the closet wearing a short, pink kimono much to Rio’s disappointment. His eyes followed her as she made her way to the bathroom. She stopped at the door and tilted her head, looking at him. 

“Are you comfortable,” she asked him sarcastically. 

“Mm. very.” 

She huffed and smiled at him. “I’ll be right out.” she went into the bathroom and shut the door. The sound of the lock clicking was audible, and Rio thought that was probably on purpose. Like, you’re not welcome in here.. Not that he was a pervert. He wouldn’t break into her damn bathroom while she was showering. 

He could though. If he wanted to.

She emerged a few minutes later smelling heavenly and wearing a fluffy, short towel. 

“Damn, you’re a tease!” he laughed out from his spot on her pillow. 

“You’re in MY bedroom. Do you mind? This is an invasion of privacy!” she said, hands on her hips. 

“Come over here.” he said. 

“No,” she laughed out. 

“I’ll make it worth your while,” he said. 

“I have no doubts about that,” she said softly- that little admission going straight to Rio’s groin. 

She turned back around and grabbed some things from her dresser and went into her closet, emerging a few minutes later in black jeans and a long-sleeve denim top that hit just below her hips. A little brown belt cinched the shirt at the waist. She was holding brown ankle boots.

“Cute,” he said, as she walked over to the bed and sat down next to where he lay. 

“I need to put my shoes on,” she said, leaning back on her hands and looking down at him. “But I think I need a nap first.” 

“Nah, you just need coffee,” he said, getting up. Maybe he’d have better luck getting her naked if he was helpful. “I’ll make some.” 

Beth’s eyes brightened at that, and she started putting her shoes on as he left the room. 

As he waited for the coffee to brew, Rio listened to the white noise of Beth’s hair dryer, and his thoughts went to Lozano. 

Things had gone well with the remodel, as far as the fake cash was concerned. The transactions went over smoothly and the work was getting done on time. He hoped the place would be profitable. He was starting to realize that the talent was really important. The crowd at Lozano actually listened to the music; it wasn’t just background noise. They seemed to be aficionados, and Rio loved that. 

He wanted to make money but he didn’t want to compromise the integrity of the place. Especially since he had plans to go legit with it. Well, with the club and his house flipping business. Quality was important to him. And Elizabeth was definitely the quality he wanted to represent their club. 

It was crazy how shit was working out. It made him excited, like he had the whole world at his feet. It felt like when he first started out slangin dope and makin money. He loved that power and quickly became addicted to it; loved being able to make money his way and not owe anyone shit. 

But then, you always gonna owe someone. And now that he’d built up an empire, sacrificed his safety, and put his relationship with his son and his freedom at risk, Rio felt like he’d done his time. That he’d earned this choice to start earnin’ money on the up and up. There’s no way he would fail. He had worked hard to earn the peace of mind that would come with it. 

And if all else failed, he still had that fucking degree in Engineering to fall back on. 

The coffee finished and Rio set about making a cup just the way she liked it. She walked into the kitchen and sat at the island just as he finished it, he pushed the mug over to her. 

“Thanks,” she said, smiling gratefully and taking a sip. 

He leaned up against the counter, sticking his hands in the pockets of his fitted black bomber jacket, and watched her. He saw her eyes roaming over him- he had on a white long sleeve shirt under his jacket and black jeans, his black J’s… nothin’ special about what he was wearing. You’d think so by the way she was lookin’ at him, though.  

“You have such great style,” she said finally. Rio raised his eyebrows in surprise and couldn’t help a smile from breaking out on his face. 

“Thanks,” he said simply, enjoying the easy space between them. She drank her coffee as they stared at one another; they were both weird as hell. But, it wasn’t awkward or nothin’. 

Beth decided to pack up some cookies she had made a few days ago. She’d been extremely displeased about it and had first insisted they take the time for her to whip up her “fancy marinated olives”. Rio convinced her it wasn't necessary, however, and he’d pointed to the cookies saying, “Just bring these” to which Beth had pulled a face and said that she’d made them *gasp* two days ago. 

Rio grabbed one and ate it, his eyes practically rolling back in his head they were so good. 

“These are perfect, trust me.” Her eyes had gotten that proud beamy look, the one that makes Rio want to simultaneously bow at her feet and boss her around. 

They walked up to Dante’s sprawling ranch house about thirty minutes later, Beth taking in the scenery. His brother had always wanted land and as soon as his construction company started doing well, he had purchased about twenty acres on a lake and built his own home on it. 

The property was lined with lots of trees; weeping willows around the lake and at least ten acres of woods. It was gorgeous- Rio loved coming out here. He could tell by the look on Beth’s face that she liked it too. 

“Wow, it's really amazing out here,” she said as they walked up. Rio stopped and stared at the door for a few seconds.

“Why aren’t we going in?” she asked. 

He turned around and faced her. “My family is loud,” he said, warning her. 

Beth smiled. 

“Also, they gonna think we together. It ain’t gonna matter if we tell them otherwise so you can say whatever you want but its gonna fly over they heads.” 

“Aw, that’s cute,” she said smiling bigger. 

“What?” 

“When’s the last time you brought a girl over here?” she asked him curiously. 

“About five years ago.” 

“Marcus’s mom?” Beth guessed. 

“Mmhm.” she nodded and smiled at him. 

“Well, I can certainly handle it,” she said with that brave face. 

“Aight, then.” he opened the door and let her through. They stepped into the foyer and Rio took Beth’s coat and his own, hanging them up. 

“This tile is gorgeous, wow,” Beth said, marvelling at the intricately laid Spanish marble, and running her hand along a marble topped console table bookended by two huge orchids. 

“C’mon,” he said walking further into the house. They passed through the tiled courtyard which had sunken rooms on either side of it. People were sitting around chatting in one of them, they looked up and waved as Beth and Rio walked by. The house was eclectic in its style; mostly modern mixed with traditional which basically explained Dante and his wife, Melanie. 

Rio continued down to the kitchen, Beth trailing behind him. 

“Christopher, finally! Dónde has estado?” his mother, Rosie came over and hugged him; she was tiny and beautiful- brown hair just past her shoulders with a white mallen streak running down the side and his same eyes, but blue-grey, which she inherited from the French side of her family. 

Rio picked his mom up off the floor and squeezed her tight, setting her back down. 

“Tuve que recoger a mi amiga mamá,” he said gesturing to Elizabeth. 

Rosie came over to Beth and smiled, “Ah and who do we have here Christopher?” 

“Hi, I’m Beth Marks. Its so nice to meet you,” she said with her most charming smile. 

“Beth,” Rosie said grasping Elizabeth’s hand between both of her tiny ones. “It’s nice to meet you as well.” she smiled warmly. 

“Is there a restroom I could use?” Elizabeth asked. 

“Right around the corner,” Rio said pointing behind her. 

“Thanks. I’ll be right back.” She handed the cookies to Rio who set them down on the kitchen island, then took her purse from her, dropping his keys in it and setting it on a side counter. 

As soon as Beth walked off, Rio could feel his mother’s eyes on him. He busied himself eating her famous guacamole with pomegranates, hoping if he ignored the pointed stare it would somehow go away. 

“Chris.” 

He looked at his mom. “What,” he said around a mouthful of chips. 

“Beth is so pretty.” 

“Yeah, so?” 

“How come I’ve never heard about her until now and you two are maneuvering around like you are an old married couple?” 

“Estas loco…” he muttered under his breath, sticking a baby carrot into ranch and popping it in his mouth. 

“No. I am observant. ” 

“You mean, nosy?

 “I just find it interesting that you were sad a few months ago and now you’re not.”

“You bored or somethin? Where’s Bella, I’m sure she’s got some shit goin on you can analyze.” 

“Aye! Language!” 

“Sorry,” he said sheepishly as Elizabeth walked back into the kitchen. She came and stood next to him. 

“Can I help you with anything, Rosie?” 

“Oh no, Mi querida. We are fine here. Go. Enjoy yourself. Rio get Beth a drink, I gotta find your sister,” Rosie said and left the room. 

“You want water or somethin?” he asked, touching her waist softly. 

“I wasn’t gonna drink, but I’m a little nervous,” she said looking around. 

“You ain’t gotta be. If my mama likes you, everyone else will.” Rio tucked her hair behind her ear because it was begging for it, and she was looking at him all uncertain. 

“You easy to like.” 

“This is all very strange. Being here… with you. Yeah. I need a drink.” 

Rio huffed out a laugh and pulled her over to the bar next to the kitchen. He expertly pulled out the bourbon and poured her a generous amount. 

“There. That better?” he asked, handing it over. 

“Mmhm.” They were staring again and that heat was starting to build up between them. 

“It ain’t all that strange,” he said. 

“You don’t think?” she asked, taking a drink and licking her lips. His eyes caught the movement. 

Rio shrugged. “Life keeps bringing us back around each other. It’s like… synchronicity or somethin.”

Beth seemed to be contemplating that when Dante came into the kitchen with his wife, Melanie.

“Ms. Marks! You came!” 

“I made it,” she said, smiling.  

Melanie was holding their new baby in one of those hipster lookin’ sling thingies. She came up to Rio and hugged him and when she pulled away, he touched the tiny baby’s face and kissed her head. 

“Hola mija, you’re so pretty,” Rio cooed at his niece. He melted every time he saw her. 

“Hi, I’m Mel, that one’s wife” she said to Beth, pointing at Dante who was grabbing a beer out of the fridge. 

“Beth. Nice to meet you. She’s so beautiful! How old?” she asked, looking lovingly at the baby. 

Dante came over and kissed his wife on the side of the head. “She’s one month old. I haven’t slept.” 

Mel rolled her eyes. “No, I haven’t slept.” Beth laughed. 

“How are you?” Dante asked Beth. 

“Better now,” she said, holding up her drink. 

“If this one gives you any trouble you let me know,” pointing to Rio around his beer. 

“You are a day late and a dollar short there, buddy.” Beth joked. 

“Me?” Rio pointed to himself. “Elizabeth is the trouble-maker here. Not me,” he said

Melanie was watching the exchange with interest. “Elizabeth? Do you call her that when she gets in trouble, then?”

“No he calls me that because he’s weird.” 

“Mhm. Sounds like a Saez nickname to me. These boys can’t help it. Rosie was right. You do act like an old married couple,” Mel said, gesturing between Beth and Rio. 

Damn. Word travelled fast with this bunch. 

Rio clocked Beth’s inevitable blush as it spread across her cheeks prettily. 

“I’m gonna put this one down,” Mel said. “Beth, it was nice to finally meet you. I’ve been hearing things.” 

“Oh no," Beth said. 

“Good things,” she quickly elaborated, smiling at her before walking out of the kitchen. 

“Y'all are intrusive as hell,” Rio said to his brother once Mel had left. 

Dante laughed. “Cmon Ms. Marks, I’ll introduce you to the rest of the family.” 

“You can just call me Beth,” she said. 

“Nah, I like Ms. Marks.” 

The Saez boys did love a good nickname. 

Two hours later, Elizabeth was surrounded by four of Rio’s nieces, ages three to twelve, and they were putting her hair in braids and painting her fingernails. 

This was not going to plan. Rio figured he’d have her pushed up against a wall somewhere by now, but instead she was playin’ makeover. 

“Ms. Beth, you have soft hair,” Mia, Dante’s five year old daughter said, as she braided one side. 

“Thank you, Mia. So do you.” Beth said smiling at her. Rio watched from his spot on the couch across the room. 

She was so….

“What are you staring at?” she asked him.

He didn’t answer immediately, just stared at her because when he did that long enough he swore he could feel her start to fidget. It was entertaining. 

“You look like the Lion from Wizard of Oz.” 

“What?” 

“Yeah you know when they go into the Emerald City and they like curl his mane and shit.”

“Don’t say ‘shit’!” Te’a, Rio’s sister’s kid, screamed at him. 

“Te’a, don’t say ‘shit’!” they heard from the kitchen and everyone started laughing. 

The day had been fun, Beth fit in well with Rio’s family which only served to deepen the feeling in his chest when he looked at her. She had met Rio’s two sisters, all his nieces and nephews and a few family friends. The only family member left to meet was Rio’s pops; but he was in Mexico visiting family. Rio had attempted to corner her a few times, turning on the charm and finding excuses to touch her, but she had all but blown him off in favor of mingling and small talk. She was just too good at this socializing thing. 

But he'd noticed she wasn't completely immune to his charms. At one point during the day, he was playing catch with his nephew and Beth sat on the patio steps watching him. He clocked that fond look in her eyes and when they walked back into the house together, she had touched his arm and laughed at something he'd said. The small gesture meant something to him. Everything from her did lately. 

He leaned his head against the back of the couch and squeezed his eyes shut. Sometime in the last few weeks he’d crossed over the point of no return with her. 

He wanted her, plain and simple. But it wasn’t like before. It was different. 

“Ah, damn,” he said under his breath. 

He focused his eyes back on her as she played with his nieces, watching one of them attach a big bow to the side of her head. He heard a noise and looked up to see Dante standing in the archway to the living room, smirking at him. 

Rio ignored his brother, biting down a smile as he came over and sat by him on the couch. 

“Is Marcus comin?” Dante asked.

“Nah, he still in L.A. with Denise.” 

Dante nodded and watched the activity across the room. “She’s good with kids, huh?” 

Rio huffed. “Yeah. She got four of em’. Two girls, two boys.” 

“Oh yeah?” 

“Mmhm. Good mom,” he said. 

“Damn, Chris.” 

“What?” 

“You in love or somethin’?” 

Rio frowned slightly, took a drink of his Dos Equis and settled into the couch, putting his sock-covered feet up on the coffee table. He looked at his brother and shrugged. 

Dante leaned back on the couch with him and held out his own beer. Rio clinked his against it, and continued to watch as Rachael, the twelve year old, carefully applied blue eyeshadow to Beth’s eyelid. 

 

**************

 

Soon Beth and Rio were the last ones there since the families had to leave and get to bed for school in the morning. She had told him earlier she didn’t pick the kids up until after school on Mondays, so Rio was hoping the night could go on.. He still hadn’t given up hope that his original plan would come to fruition. 

“I thought it looked good,” Rio said, chuckling as she scrubbed her face with a baby wipe. They were in one of the guest bathrooms, Rio sat atop the large vanity watching Beth clean off her “makeover”. 

“They didn’t do too bad of a job as far as little girl makeovers go,” she said smiling. “My skin is sensitive though. If I left this on any longer I’d break out into hives.” 

“Figures you’d need some special makeup for special people.” Rio said teasingly. He was not sober. Not by a long shot. 

Beth rolled her eyes dramatically at him. She leaned towards the mirror, squinting at her reflection and having a harder time than necessary wiping the color off her face. 

She wasn’t sober either. 

Rio grabbed her wrist. “Let me try,” he said, effectively maneuvering  her body so she was standing between his legs. He took the wipe from her hand. Beth’s arms hovered awkwardly for  a moment before coming to rest gingerly on his thighs. She smelled damn good as always, and his cock twitched when he imagined her moving her pretty hands a little higher. He bit his lip hard, tamping down his desire to focus on the task at hand. 

Rio held her face with one hand. “Close your eyes,” he said, and proceeded to run the baby wipe gently across her eyelid. Once, twice. Then the other eye. 

He grabbed another wipe and skimmed it over her cheekbones where a garish pink color had been painted on. Next was her lips, which were pretty badly smeared with red lipstick. Rio smirked as he rubbed the wipe there back and forth, applying a little more pressure. 

He kept doing it, even after the lipstick was gone, and watched in fascination as her lips puckered and kissed him through the wipe. 

Beth opened her eyes and he stopped the movement, staring into the deep blue like they held the answers to everything. He tossed the wipe to the side and traced a line down the side of her face with his fingers, just like old times. As he did, her eyes shut again and the cutest pout formed on her lips. 

Rio rubbed his thumb over them and then leaned back on his hands. She stayed like that with her eyes closed and that damn pout gracing her face.

“Why are you poutin’ like that,” he asked, the effects of the alcohol were makin it feel like they were in their own bubble. He was hyper focused on her whole vibe towards him; her hands burning into his thighs, the smell of her hair, all of it. 

She opened her eyes again and shrugged. Wasn’t an answer, but it was all the invitation he needed as he lunged forward and pressed his lips to hers. 

Beth squeaked in surprise but immediately kissed him back, her hands squeezing his thighs and standing on her tip-toes to reach him better. Rio held her face, turning it this way and that as he kissed her from every angle, searching the depths of her mouth and needing to taste every part of it. 

Soon it wasn’t enough anymore so he hopped down, grabbing her hips and walking her backwards. She went with him willingly too, her hands going up to his face and pulling him down to her mouth like she couldn’t wait another second. 

They collided with the wall harder than intended. 

“Sorry bout that,” he said, smiling against her mouth and then drawing her full bottom lip between his teeth. They couldn't stop kissing; it seemed to go on forever and he never wanted it to end. 

He pushed himself hard against her soft curves, groaning at the feel of it. They kissed and kissed, Beth’s hands holding his face so tenderly, it made his chest ache. 

Her hands suddenly left his face and went down to his hips. She squeezed him there and started running them both down the front of his pants, one hand grabbing him and squeezing hard, the other coming around to his ass. Rio groaned again, thrusting hard against her. Then she went for his belt and he had this crazy thought outta nowhere. 

She deserved more than another fuck against a bathroom wall. 

He wrenched his mouth off of hers, grabbing her hands and bringing them up to his chest. She looked confusingly at him. 

Rio’s breaths came hard as he steeled himself.

“We need a bed,” he finally said, closing his eyes and resting his forehead against hers. 

“We do?” 

“Mmhm,” he looked at her lust-filled gaze and had to kiss her again; this time slow and soft, their hands wrapped together between them. Her lips molded around his at the same pace, as they drew one another’s breath in and out - so slowly - He’d never been so in sync with anyone before. 

Pretty soon, Beth’s jaw started shaking with need and she whimpered- the sound going straight to his core. 

“C’mon,” he said, stepping back and pulling her out of the bathroom. 

Dante’s house was dark and quiet; he and Melanie had gone to bed an hour earlier. Rio led Beth to a door attached to the kitchen and opened it slowly, hoping it wouldn’t creak. He watched her as he did it, smiling at her panicked look. 

“Relax, Mama. They know we still here. It’s fine, trust me.” 

They descended into the finished basement, her hand still in his. Rio led her into a furnished bedroom with a huge king-sized bed. 

“Oh my god, this looks amazing,” she said, letting go of him and sprawling out on the bed. She started kicking off her shoes and then she was throwing off her belt. Rio watched with interest as she continued to undress; shimmying ungracefully out of her jeans. 

He crawled up from the foot of the bed, grabbing her ankle and yanking her towards him. Then he pounced, caging her in on all fours and leaned down, capturing her lips. When he pulled back she looked at him sweetly.

“I want you so bad right now,” she said and then hiccuped. Rio raised his brows in amusement. 

“Me too… in fact,” he said as he brought her arms above her head and held them there. “I need you.” He stared down at her with a look that was neither playful or sweet. He was dead serious.

He needed her to know. 

Rio unbuttoned her shirt and she pulled it off hastily. He brought his hand to her neck and wrapped around it gently before drawing it down her chest and between her breasts. He lingered for a moment, then snapped the front clasp of her bra open. 

“Mmm...,” he said at the sight of her tits falling out. They were huge and also just so damn pretty like the rest of her. He squeezed one and ran his thumb over her nipple. 

“I love when you touch me...love your hands,” she said, her words turning him on even more.. He wasn’t used to her sayin stuff, being open- but he liked it. A lot.  

“Yeah?” he pressed himself into her then, and her legs went around him. He kissed her. “Where do you want me to touch you?” 

“Everywhere,” she said desperately. “But…”

“But what.” he pushed his hard cock against her center eliciting a moan from her. 

“Right now I just want you inside me,” she said  and then she was kissing him again. Rio sprung into action because he wasn’t about to let the lady down. He quickly stripped off his pants and crawled back up to her naked as a jaybird, ripped her panties down her legs, and threw them off the side of the bed. 

He lined himself up with her and ran his swollen tip up and down her hole, coating himself in her wetness. He thread his other hand in her hair and brought their faces close… staring into her soul as he pushed inside her. They both moaned loudly at the reunion, having forgotten how perfectly they fit together. 

Rio filled her all the way to the hilt, feeling her hot tight walls squeezing him. He started moving, kissing her and building up a slow rhythm. 

“Yes,” she breathed against his mouth.

Her hands came up and gripped his ass, guiding his movements. Rio was pumping in and out of her slowly.. he just.. he needed it to last. He wanted to feel every moment, every slide of her flesh...was tryin to memorize it. He pulled out almost all the way and then pushed in slow, angling her leg up higher and pressing so deeply into her; the sound she made as he did filling him with a desperate need to brand her. 

After what seemed like centuries of, what Rio realized was actual love-making, he felt her fluttering and pulsing around him. 

“Elizabeth,” he said against her ear, building up a faster rhythm. “Come with me.” 

“Mmm I…”

“Yes. C’mon baby. Oh fu..,” 

“Rio I’m...,” 

“Me too,” he felt the beginnings of his orgasm cresting when the heat of her's burned him, pulling him over. He kissed her as they came together, both moaning into the other’s mouth. They rode it out until Beth was twitching and giggling underneath him. 

Rio flipped them, staying deep inside her. She sat up and looked down at him, his hands going to her breasts, squeezing them lovingly. She bit her lip like she was deciding whether or not to say something.

“What,” he asked, looking up at her through hooded, satisfied eyes. He smoothed his hands down her sides and then came to rest them on her ass. 

“Was that work?” she asked him. 

“Huh?” 

“You told me I was just work to you. So was that work? I’m just wondering. Its ok, I wanted to… you know, do that... I really wanted to. But...” 

Rio twitched inside of her. Her soft, milky white skin, pink nipples, wide hourglass hips, beautiful face, all of it and now with her insecurities about what they were? It was all so fucking perfect he thought maybe he’d died and gone to heaven. 

He pushed her hips down and started rocking his up against her. Her eyes widened and her hands came down to his chest to steady herself. He reached up for her and pulled her down to his mouth, fingers threading through her ruby locks. 

She kissed him sweetly, too buzzed and sated to insist he answer her. One hand left her head and went back to her ass, pushing it back and forth to rock on him. 

“Oh.. fuuckk..” she whined out, sitting back up and starting to bounce on him. His eyes went to her breasts where they bounced and twirled, and his hand went to her clit and started rubbing circles there.

“Mm gonna feel real good when you come on me like this. Fuck you’re wet.” His thumb slipped roughly against her center. He looked at her pretty face, rapture coloring her features, her rosebud lips were red and swollen from kissing him- her everything just so affected by him.

He was overcome. 

“Elizabeth,” he said and she opened her eyes to look down at him. He could tell she was close and he slowed the movements of his thumb to a soft caress, knowing she needed less pressure when she got close. He loved that about her.  

“I was lyin',” he said softly, looking into her eyes as he felt her throbbing around him again. 

“Wha..? Oh uh uh…” she rocked her hips faster as she chased her peak.  

“You ain’t work, baby," he said, watching her face. "You so much more." His words stuttered out as she rode him hard. 

“Oh.. Rio” 

He watched her orgasm rip through her, whole body shuddering and growing warm and pliable as she fell forward. She continued to move herself on top of him, eventually bringing her head up and kissing him. They could hear the sounds their bodies were making rubbing together, and it was fucking beautiful. 

Rio was fucked. He was in love. 

He grabbed her ass and thrust into her once, twice...As he poured into her a second time, she whined sweetly. 

“I love how it feels when you come in me,” she said and Rio groaned- a deep feeling of possession crashing over him. 

Mine. 

He pulled out of her after a few minutes of comedown, his mind reeling with the discovery he had made about his feelings for her. Rio moved up the bed, pulling her with him. Somehow he managed to get both of them under the covers and her body tight against his… thirty seconds later they were asleep. 

 

https://images.app.goo.gl/NkygixzcFP7BTHXXA

 

Chapter Text

Beth woke up and squinted at the unfamiliar surroundings for a second before the events of last night came back live and in technicolor, along with a slight tummy ache. She was at Dante’s house. In his… basement? And they had… yeah.

She turned over and saw Rio’s shaved head on the pillow next to her. She smiled as she heard soft snores coming from him. Not able to resist, she scooched closer to him and draped an arm over his skinny waist. She kissed the smooth skin on his back and nestled her face against him.  

After a bit, Rio stirred and took her hand where it lay next to him and pulled it into his chest. She let herself enjoy the quiet moment holding him; something she had never experienced before. Beth thought about the night before and felt a stirring in her chest. They had been drinking and probably said some things they wouldn’t have normally said but that didn’t mean it wasn’t the truth, right?

Rio had told her he was lying about her being just work. He said she was much more than that. 

But what did that mean? 

Rio was… well, Rio. And yes maybe he was having a good time trying to get her into the sack, she knew he liked a challenge; but then what? What happens tomorrow? A week from then? Two months down the road? 

Beth thinks about the women he hugged so tightly and smiled so genuinely at that time after the bar bathroom. She had been kind of hurt by it and that was when they were barely civil. 

Could she handle seeing that now? It's not as if Rio was about to go exclusive with her. She really had no reason to believe that. The thought of it made her already sour stomach lurch. She started to pull away from him, suddenly needing to get dressed. He grabbed her hand and pulled it back to his chest using his strength to keep her there. 

She sighed and relaxed into him again. She waited for him to fall back asleep, listening to the steady sound of his heart and smelling his skin which --no fair-- was intoxicating. It made her decision to slowly slip away and gather up her clothes all the more difficult. She gave his resting form one last look before ducking out of the room and into the bathroom next door. 

After she was dressed and somewhat refreshed, Beth steeled herself for the dreaded “walk of shame”.  She’d only heard about it from Annie who was the poster child, but she always shuddered and silently judged her when she’d mention scurrying barefoot out of some guy’s apartment. 

This wasn’t exactly the same, of course. No. This had the potential to be much, much more humiliating. 

Beth climbed up the basement staircase, hearing activity in the kitchen above. She took a deep breath and opened the door slowly, stepping out, and greeting a smiling Melanie. 

“Hi,” Beth said, smiling back; albeit a little sheepishly. 

“Hey! Want an Iced Mocha? I’ve gotten so good at making these.” She buzzed around the kitchen wiping countertops and pausing to take a drink. “This is decaf but I can make yours however you’d like?” Beth noticed little Eleanor, the baby, sat in a table-top bassinet sound asleep. There didn’t seem to be anyone else in the vicinity and Beth was very grateful for that. 

She glanced down at her phone, checking the Uber status. “Um.. I’m ok, thank you.” 

Mel dropped the rag in the sink and leaned against the counter, arms crossed and looking like she wanted to ask Beth something.

“So, did you have fun meeting everyone yesterday?” 

“I did. Your family is... amazing.” 

“His side, yes. Mine is crazy. Grateful for the Saez clan for taking me in,”She smiled warmly at Beth. 

Her phone pinged and she looked down, seeing the Uber had arrived. “Thank you for everything. My uber is here.” 

Mel nodded and walked her to the door. She pulled her into a tight hug. “So nice meeting you, Beth.” 

“You too,” Beth felt a little sad that she wasn’t likely to see this sweet family again. She opened the door and began walking down  the stoop. 

“Rio likes you,” she said, and Beth turned around, looking at the other woman.

She huffed humorlessly. “Rio likes parts of me,” she said, not meaning for it to come out as bitterly as it did. 

“No girl, I’ve known him since we were kids and I'm saying, he likes you. Just thought you should know.” 

Beth smiled politely. “Thank you again. I gotta…,” she left then, walking briskly to the waiting cab.

When she got inside the car, she closed her eyes and immediately saw him, heard him, felt him. Intense memories of soft words and gentle caresses assailed her, and she felt the damn about to break. 

Beth inwardly cursed herself for being over-emotional and hungover. Again. She needed to stop drinking for awhile. She felt like shit. 

Thankfully she made it home without crying, because really what was more pathetic than crying in an uber after failing to resist the one man you swore you wouldn’t sleep with again?

As soon as she stepped into her kitchen though, the tears started to fall. She dropped her purse on the counter and it fell over, the contents spilling out. Her vision blurred and a wave of nausea hit, so she just left the mess and stumbled into her room. The tears streamed out as she tried to keep it together long enough to just get in the shower. 

Beth pulled her clothes off and made a beeline for the bathroom, turning the shower to HOT and standing there letting the steam envelop her as sobs wracked her body. 

Later, she woke up to the alarm she set for 2pm- to pick up the kids. She had slept like the dead for five hours and felt better physically, but emotionally… it was worse. She was sad and anxious, and... God! Why did she do this to herself, again? 

She told him it was too dangerous. The way she felt about Rio made her feel utterly powerless. She felt great when they were flirting and supporting one another, but in the end she was left bereft because all that good? It was fleeting. It wasn’t sustainable. He wasn’t sustainable. He was like a wild animal or something. A really sexy wild animal with strong hands and a voice that could literally melt her panties off… 

Beth growled and rubbed her eyes, throwing herself out of bed and putting on some clothes. She needed coffee. Picking up the kids sounded both wonderful and torturous. She hoped the night would go smoothly with homework. 

As she wandered out to the kitchen she saw the contents of her purse littering the island and the floor. Rolling her eyes she bent to pick up the fallen items. Her keys, a tampon, lipstick… wait. 

Shit. shit. SHIT> 

These were not her keys. They were Rio’s. He’d asked her to hold them in her purse, which she thought was odd, but it was also kind of nice. Like Girl-Friendy...and yesterday Beth had allowed that fantasy to just take root and play itself out, consequences be damned. 

Beth looked at her phone and saw a text from Rio at 10am. 

 

You got my keys. 

She typed out a text to him:

Sorry, I was sleeping. I forgot I had them. 

 

God she was an idiot. Now she had to see him after leaving him like a cheap hoe. 

Oh... . Again

But Rio didn’t care about that did he? Being left in the morning? She was doing him a favor in a way… unfortunately, Beth’s gut told her he probably wouldn’t see it that way. She just… she hadn’t been thinking about the implications. She was just trying to get away from the inevitable vortex that would pull her in the moment he woke up and turned on the charm. This was truly about self-preservation. And to be fair, she’d told him about her fears. 

Her phone buzzed then and she jumped, putting her hand on her heart and looking down at the text.

 

It’s cool. You home?

Yes, until 3. 

I’ll be there in 20.

 

She blew air through her bangs and stood there for a minute, momentarily stuck at the mere thought of having to face him so soon after last night. After leaving and… ugh. 

She sat on her couch holding his keys for about fifteen minutes and then she decided she needed to just act normal, natural. This didn’t need to be a big thing. They had slept together. It had happened before and they’d moved past it. Granted, last night had felt… different. But feelings were not facts. Beth was pretty sure she heard that from someone who had a good head on their shoulders. In any case, she had things to do, so she got off the couch and started doing them. For exactly five minutes. And then the doorbell rang. 

Why was her heart beating so hard? Why did she feel so afraid? Dammit, she knew why. Because it was DANGEROUS. Exactly like she had said. Yes. Feeling validated in a completely unsatisfying way, she stomped over to the door and opened it, sticking the keys out and levelling him with the most confident look she could muster. 

Rio smirked and took the keys. “Thanks.” 

Beth nodded and wrapped her arms around herself. The awkward tension was heavy, making her feel dizzy.

“You good?” he asked her. 

“I’m fine.” 

“Looks like you been cryin’,” he said, tilting his head. The smirk had fallen away and he just looked curious. 

She didn’t say anything, couldn’t. 

“Let me know if you still need help with that body parts mystery, yeah?” 

Beth cleared her throat. “Oh um yeah. I’m going to meet with Annie and Ruby. See if we can come up with anything..” she said and lifted her hand like ‘I don't know’ and let it drop to her side again.

His mouth turned down slightly and he nodded. 

“Aight then,” he said, and turned to go. Beth watched him wistfully, wishing she could run up and hug him from behind.

“Hey.. um,” she called out and he looked at her, leaning against his open door. “I really appreciate it. You being willing to help us.” 

He nodded once, and got in his car. Beth closed the door and leaned against it- jumping when she heard him peel off down the street. 

The rest of the day she was haunted by the look on his face right before he had driven off- it was either sadness or defeat. Possibly both. There was no way she could’ve evoked those feelings in him though, right? Maybe something else was going on…. With business or his son..? 

Her heart was screaming at her to consider that she was indeed the source of his discontent- but her brain was like a mountain around her; rugged and stationary. It wasn’t allowing for any of that nonsense. 

The kids were a welcome distraction. They ate a simple dinner of tacos and rice, and then watched a movie together before bed. Danny curled up on her lap and she played with his soft hair until he dozed off. After they were all tucked in, Beth texted the girls and made a plan to meet at her house the next morning. 

That night she slept fitfully, not able to stop her brain from reminding her of every word he’d spoken in her ear and every soft touch. 



***********************

 

Beth busied herself with the breakfast dishes as Ruby and Annie filed into the kitchen. 

“Sup beotches,” Annie said in a monotone voice, huge sunglasses framing her face. She plopped down at the island and lay on her arms. 

“What’s with you?” Beth asked. 

“Had a pity party last night.” 

“Huh. Me too.” 

“Well I am in a great mood!” Ruby said enthusiastically. 

“Good for you,” Annie said. 

“Stan and I are finally going on vacation and let me tell you, it has been a long time comin’.” 

Beth brought the coffee pot over and filled the three mugs she had set out. “That’s for sure. I’m so happy it worked out. You sure you don’t need any help with Sara and Harry?” 

“Yep. Grandma is coming to stay.” 

“K. Let her know I’m available please,” Beth said. 

“She’s got your number,” Ruby said and Beth nodded. 

"You'll be at the opening night thing though, right?"

"Yes mam. We have to leave early the next morning so its not going to be a late night for us. But we will be there. Stan's been dying to hear you sing." 

"I bet. He's going to tease me for the rest of my life." 

"Probably," Ruby laughed. 

"You have to come, you got me into this mess in the first place," Beth said to Annie, pushing on her bent head.

Annie came up for air. "What?"

"The re-opening at Lozano. Saturday, remember?"

"Yep. I'm there sis. You got that bangin' dress, right? Can't wait to see Gangfriend pop a capillary." She pushed her sunglasses up onto her head and took a sip of her coffee. 

"Speaking of Rio..." Beth looked back and forth between the women. 

“Oh Lord, here we go,” Ruby said. 

Beth explained to the women about her conversation with Rio in which she discovered he was not the one who sent the body parts. Their first reactions were to panic, much like they did after hearing Rio was involved with Lozano, but then they quickly shifted to brainstorming mode. 

 

“I mean, do we really need to do anything about this? Whoever was doing it stopped.” Annie said 

“I thought about that but it’s just a bit disconcerting to think there’s a body out there that was being used to scare us. Or frame us. Who knows what they were planning on doing.” Beth said 

“So when you thought it was Gang Friend it was less disconcerting?” 

“Well, yeah. I mean, it’s Rio, he…” Beth said trailing off. 

“Wait,” Ruby interrupted. “Did Rio for sure take the body out your garden?” 

“I assumed it was him. His note said ‘the heat is off you and yours’, when he fired us so I just thought…” 

“Thought that he dug a body up to get rid of it for you? To what, be a nice guy?” Annie interjected. 

“I don’t know…”

“You need to call him up so we can fill in the blanks,” Ruby said. 




***********************

 

And that is how Beth found herself at Lozano the following day, waiting to meet with Rio. She wanted to talk at a neutral location, afraid if she was in her home, her feelings for him would be more distracting. She realized it probably didn’t matter but it was worth a shot, at least. 

She stood by the entrance, not sure where he would want to talk when he got there. Construction crews were busy working in several areas of the club, and she watched with interest as a man on a tall ladder installed one of the chandeliers she'd picked out. Her eyes skittered over the ceiling noticing several that had already been put up. It looked as good as she'd imagined. Beth felt a flash of pride that she had something to do with it.

In the bar area, men were  nstalling new shelves and equipment. The bar top was gone, and she wondered what material Rio had decided on for the new one. She was sure whatever it was would be perfect. God, she was pathetic. 

Just then she felt a warm hand at her back guiding her forward. 

“C’mon let's go to the back,” Rio said, walking ahead of her. She followed him to the back and into Salazar’s office. She stood in the doorway and watched as he walked around the desk, her eyes taking in the black track pants and white t-shirt he was wearing. He sat down behind the desk and gestured to the chair on the other side. 

“You wanna sit?” he said, and then coughed, hand coming up to cover his mouth. Beth looked at his face then, and saw a light sheen of sweat on his forehead. 

“Are you sick?” she asked as she sat down. 

“Yea,” he said and coughed again. 

“You should be in bed… I feel bad…”

“Had to come by and check on shit anyway, it's cool. What you wanna talk about?” 

She figured she may as well cut to the chase. Hopefully after this he would go home and rest. He looked awful. Well, beautiful. But awful. 

“The girls and I were discussing the situation and we realized that we’d been assuming certain things…”

“Obviously,” he interjected. 

“Not just about the body parts in the mail but the body itself. Were you the one who dug it out of my garden and got rid of it?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Ok. Why?” 

“Because Turner was sniffin’ around. I didn’t trust you and your crew to be able to keep that shit covered up. And in fact, it was half dug up already when I sent my boys out there,” he said. 

“The neighbors dog,” she said and Rio hung his head and chuckled. 

“When you figure out it wasn't that grocery store guy in that bag?”

“Um… we…”

“Can’t believe you lasted as long as you did. You lucky you still alive and not in prison.” he looked at her seriously then. “You realize that, right? How fucking messy you were?” Beth just looked at him, she couldn’t really argue. 

“Yes. It.. the whole year, it was a mistake. I wish I could take everything back but I can’t.” 

Rio frowned slightly, leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands on his stomach. “You mean that?” he said, gaze piercing hers. 

“It was terrifying. I didn’t sleep… I thought you were going to kill me half the time…”

“That’s bull.” 

“No it's not! You…”

“It don’t matter. Forget it,” he said waving her off. He didn’t sound mad just tired. 

“It wasn’t all bad,” she said quietly. 

Rio huffed. He wasn’t looking at her, his eyes were focused down on the desk in front of him and he was worrying his lip. Why did she feel so guilty right now? He was acting like his feelings were hurt or something, and Beth had a tight feeling in her chest and an intense need to remedy that. 

“I mean, a lot of it was good. Like really, really good. ” 

He looked up at her then, eyes hooded. “Yea?” he asked, then he sniffed and scratched under his nose with the back of his pointer finger. 

“Mmhm.” 

“Like what parts?” A ghost of a smile appeared in the corners of his lips. 

Ok this was not going to plan. Beth really needed to try and solve this mystery or at least bring some useful information back to Ruby and Annie. It's like nothing else mattered when she was with him lately. The damn vortex. Didn’t matter what type of walls encased them. It wasn’t the setting, it was them. Together. 

“I really liked when you took a chance on us and gave us the 500Gs.” 

He blinked languidly. “You.” 

“What?” 

“I took a chance on you,” he clarified. “What else you like?” 

The look in his eyes was making her feel trapped, claustrophobic. Her purse suddenly feeling heavy on her lap and her coat choking her. She dropped her purse to the ground and peeled her coat off. 

It didn’t help. 

He raised his eyebrows, still waiting for an answer. 

“I liked it the next week when you upped it to 750,” she said smirking at him. 

“S’all about the money then, huh?” 

“Not entirely no,” she said and immediately thought shit because the conversation was quickly escalating. 

“Hmm. What else, Elizabeth?” 

Her fingers twitched involuntarily then, and she drummed them on her thighs to channel her nervous energy. 

“That time you gave me the Keys to the Kingdom,” she began. 

“Money, again.” 

“I wasn’t finished," she said looking at him pointedly. "That time you gave me the keys to the kingdom, and then told me I was interesting.” 

A smile started to creep and he pulled his top lip into his teeth to stop it. “What else."

Now if Beth was following a timeline here, they both knew what came next. And they both knew she had definitely liked that.  Was this some elaborate seduction plan? He was sick, he didn’t look like he was in any shape to try and seduce. Of course, Rio didn’t really have to try. Maybe she’d throw him for a loop. Just for fun. 

She tilted her head slightly and burned her eyes into his. “I liked it when you smashed up Dean’s corvette.” 

Rio’s mouth opened slightly, an action Beth had come to recognize as something he did when caught off guard. He leaned forward on the desk then, hand under his chin. 

“Did you now,” he said, licking his lips. 

“I really did.” 

“Hmm.”

She was feeling strangely bold and really liked the way he was reacting to hearing these things--The secret things she loved about their time together, that no one else knew about. 

“I liked having someone believe in me,” she said softly. Beth looked down- emotion rising up in her chest. “You… you thought I was capable of more than I was, which was frustrating but.. Sort of flattering.” 

He wasn’t saying anything so she took a deep breath and looked up at him again. He was flipping his thumb through a stack of post its, still laying on his hand. He looked at her and smiled with his eyes, making her heart beat a little faster. She decided to take their conversation a step further. 

“What did you like?” Beth asked him. She was curious about that time, as well. 

Rio looked at her for a beat before getting up. He came over to where she sat and leaned against the desk in front of her. 

“The first time I touched you, when you shorted me?”

“We didn’t short you… Mary Pat..” she trailed off when she saw him giving her The Look™️.

“I grabbed the back of your neck and lay my gun right there on your chest, remember?” he looked down where her cleavage peaked out of the black v-neck sweater she was wearing. Beth swallowed audibly and nodded. 

Of course she remembered. She also remembered feeling ashamed that the incident had played a role in her fantasies that night, instead of filling her with terror the way it should have. 

“What I really liked was those freckles on your chest. Didn’t know they were there… guess you have to be close up to see em’.” 

Beth’s hand went to her chest and her fingers rubbed there as a blush fanned out. She hated her freckles.

Rio stood up so he was standing over her. He reached down and pulled her hand off her chest, then drew a random swirl pattern over them with his finger, so gently goosebumps rose up on her arms. 

“Later that night I thought about how badly I wanted to play connect the dots,” he rasped out. She could feel the heat from his fever burning her.

He dropped away then and leaned back against the desk. 

“It was that rotten egg,” he said. 

“What?” Beth was dizzy. Like really dizzy. And turned on. 

“That bitch who killed her husband. She was the one sendin' you body parts.” 

“Mary Pat? How do you…?” 

“Last night we ended up doin’ some reconnaissance. Turns out she killed more than once.” 

“Yes, well she killed Boomer, too.” 

“Nah.” 

“Yes, I… I’m sorry I know I led you to believe that we killed Boomer but actually…”

“Nah, sweetheart, I know you didn’t kill him. You think i was born yesterday? That dude aint dead.” 

Beth’s heart dropped into her stomach. Her head was spinning trying to catch up. 

“That’s a whole nother story. But what I’m sayin’ is that your rotten egg from book clubs got bodies, plural, stashed in her basement. Bitch is crazy.” 

“Wait hold on.” Beth stood up. “Boomer is alive? How do you know this?” 

“Don’t matter how I know. He ain’t your problem. I got him handled for now. Actually worked out, you not killin’ him.” 

“It did?” 

“Mhm. Let's just say he’s bein’ used  efficiently until he aint’ useful no more.” 

“And then you’ll kill him?” 

“Like I said, you ain’t gotta worry about that.” 

Beth’s shoulders slumped in defeat. She was more confused than ever. Rio walked into her space and she looked up at him. 

“Look. I wasn’t sure if you needed me or what. Was just gonna put some feelers out and see what we came up with. Turns out these criminals are worse than you and your girls were. Lots of loose ends. Sloppy as fuck. My boys handled it last night.” 

Beth just stared at him she wanted to ask him questions, wanted to know what they found out, how they handled it… but she just couldn’t get her mouth to work. 

“If you really wanna know the details, I’ll tell you. But I highly suggest you let it go and just concentrate on your new life,” He ran his fingers under her bangs and down the side of her face. “It looks good on you.” 

Beth just looked at him like she didn’t know what to do with him. She wanted to hug him. She didn’t want to know the fucking details. She wanted to leave that stuff in the past. And she was overwhelmed by the fact that he had made it possible for her. 

She slowly unfurled her arms from where they were wrapped around her waist and brought them around his neck. She lifted up on her tip-toes and pulled her body up flush with his, hugging him tightly. 

Rio stood stock still for a few seconds and then he wrapped his arms around her waist and just collapsed into her, wrapping tighter as he exhaled completely, his breath hot on her neck.

“Thank you,” she whispered. 

He didn’t answer her, but his unrelenting grip spoke volumes. They had passed the socially-acceptable hug time, steam-rolled over intimate hold, and were barrelling towards desperate clinging. 

He was an inferno. She ran her hands up his neck and into his hair and it was soaking wet. He needed to get to bed. Beth pulled her head back and he followed suit, keeping his arms tight around her. She brought her hands up to his face, feeling it, swiping one hand over the sweat on his forehead. 

“You need to get in bed. You’re burning up,” she said, her face awash in concern. 

“I got shit to do.” He looked down at her softly, making her knees weak. Why was he looking at her like that? 

“What shit? Can I do it for you? Let me help.” He seemed to be considering it, as he moved his hands up her back, splaying his fingers there and squeezing gently. 

“Just need to pay the crew and make sure the lights all get installed properly. Also, now that the floor is set, the furniture is ready to be brought in from the trucks. Gotta direct that.” 

She smiled at him. “I can do all of that.” 

He started coughing again, this time harder, and he let go of her. She rubbed his back and frowned. 

“Aight then,” he said, walking to the desk and swiping a kleenex to wipe his nose. “Guess I’ll head home. I'll text you the code to the safe. Its right over there." He pointed to a storage closet in the corner. "They'll give you the invoice and you pay em' half funny money half regular, cool?"

“Ok. Can you drive?” 

“I'm good, mama.” he said. “Sorry.” He smiled apologetically at the slip. 

“Its ok,” she said. “You can call me whatever you want since you’re so sick.” 

“Oh yeah?” He walked closer to her, moving her back against the office door. 

“Yep. Free reign,” she said looking up at him. “I feel really bad for you right now.” 

“Maybe I need to be capitalizing on this, then?” 

“You would.” She smirked as he reached for the door handle but didn’t move away from where he had her pinned. 

“I'll talk to you later then,” he bent down to her ear. “ Mami.” 

She moved as he opened the door and breezed out, leaving her with no additional instruction. 

The fact that he trusted her to take care of the club, along with his whispered endearment in her ear, was enough to have Beth right back where she was the day before. Hot, bothered, and completely unable to think of anything else but him. Hell, she’d never really left. 

After shooting off a quick text to Annie, asking her to pick up the kids, she straightened her sweater, ran her hand through her hair- and headed out to the floor to work. 

 

*******************



Six hours later, Beth was exhausted but extremely satisfied with the end result. The club looked amazing. Completely transformed. It had been wonderful to actually place pieces exactly where she had envisioned them that day her and Rio shopped for materials. Her favorite was the seating area with the large game boards. They were set up in the back nook, to draw people deeper into the club and encourage them to stay and relax. 

It turned out Rio chose a gorgeous slab of granite stone for the bar, black with shades of dark blue and bronze/gold splatters throughout. The bathroom counters were the same, with stunning bronze faucets and a black marble trough sink. 

Beth gathered her purse from behind the bar and waved goodbye to all the nice hard-working people she’d met and worked with over the last six hours. As she walked out to her car another truck pulled into the parking lot. She waited for the man to get out and he walked over to her with a clipboard. 

“Is there a Rio Saez?”

“He’s away. I can help you. Is this another delivery?’

“Yeah. Sorry we’re so late. We got a vanity, pink sofa, crystal chandelier?” the man looked up from his clipboard. “Should I bring everything in through the front?”

“Yes that’s fine,” she said, eyebrows furrowing in confusion. Pink sofa? 

She went back inside to direct them even though she had no idea where Rio wanted the random sounding items. The men stood inside the club holding a gorgeous blush-colored tufted sofa, and staring at Beth. 

“Oh uh…” She looked around dumbly trying to figure out where to leave it.

One of the men rolled his eyes. “Mr. Saez said something about a dressing room?” 

Oh. oh. 

“That’s right through here, sorry,” she said, leading the way to her dressing room. 

When she opened the door she gasped, walking further in and getting out of the way of the men. She was shocked to find it completely emptied of all the hoarded, dusty items that had been stockpiling there over the years. She smelled fresh paint, seeing that not only had the walls been repainted in a lovely grayish violet hue, but the floors had been redone as well. 

It looked like Carrara Marble, but that. That couldn’t be. 

“Excuse me lady. Where do you want this?” 

“Um..” Beth pivoted around and pointed at one of the walls. “Up against there is fine. Thank you.” 

They dropped the couch down and left to bring in the rest. After they were gone, Beth stood in her dressing room dumbfounded. She walked slowly to the vanity that had replaced the old rotting one, and sat down on the pink velvet seat. It was a good size, with tripled staggered mirrors and brushed nickel accents. The mirrors on the sides swiveled so she could see the back of her hair, and the mirror in the middle had lighting built into the frame. 

There was also a huge, extremely soft wool rug and a wardrobe that matched the vanity. 

The electrician, James, knocked softly on the open door. 

“Hi, come on in." 

“Hey. You want me to hang that?” he said pointing to the ridiculously extravagant looking mini-chandelier laying on the sofa. 

“That would be great, thank you.” 

As he set about doing that, Beth took her phone out of her coat pocket and sat down on the sofa, loving the feel of the soft velvet. 

She was about to text Rio but decided to call him instead. 

“Lo’.” 

“Hey,” she said softly. “How are you feeling?” 

“Like shit.” 

“I’m sorry.” 

“Why you sorry? You get me sick?” he teased. 

“No, but I’m probably going to get it.” 

She watched as James finished hanging and connecting the light. He waved a silent “bye’ to her, and left carrying his ladder. 

“You singin’ Saturday ain't you?”

“Yes. I’ll OD on Vitamin C when I get home.” 

“How’d it go today?” 

“Good. Great, actually. The club looks incredible,” she said. 

“That’s good. All that stuff you picked out worked out huh.” 

“It did,” she said proudly.

“Knew it would. You did good. Thanks for helpin’ me out.” 

“Rio.” 

“What’s up” 

“I’m...you…the dressing room,” she laughed out. 

“Oh yeah. Damn. that was spose’ to be a surprise.” 

“It was very much a surprise. I think I’m still in shock.” 

“You like it?” 

“It's… I’m in awe. Why did you do this?” 

“Cause you the Cat’s Ass up there Mama you deserve to get ready in style.” Beth blushed and smiled into the phone. 

“Thank you. Again. God I feel like I’m always thanking you. I need to do something nice for you for a change.” 

“You did today. That was really nice. I slept like the dead and my ma brought me chicken soup.” 

“She did? Awww.” 

“Yup. She good like that.” 

“I can make chicken soup.” 

“I bet you can.” 

Beth took a deep breath in and out, completely overwhelmed by her feelings for the man on the other end of the phone. 

“I guess I’ll see you Saturday, then.” she said, not sure what else to talk about; the thing between them like a huge elephant just sitting there. 

“Can’t wait,” he said softly and Beth felt the heat travel from her chest down between her thighs. 

Maybe Mel was right. Maybe he did like her, like her. She was so close to just asking him but instead she whispered : 

“Bye.” 

“Night, Elizabeth.” 










Chapter Text

 

Beth's dress: http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Christina+Hendricks/64th+Annual+Primetime+Emmy+Awards+Arrivals/bdzXTr2J3IG

Rio's loft: https://www.condo.com/property/1135-SHELBY-Street-2905-Detroit-MI-48226-165649204

 

Rio woke up with a tiny arm over his face and carefully removed it, tucking the covers back over his boy where he lay curled up next to him. Marcus had returned the night before (finally), and had insisted he go straight to Daddy’s. Rio’s cold was just about kicked thanks to Mama Rosie’s famous caldo de pollo, and Elizabeth’s help with the club. Being able to rest was exactly what he’d needed; had been running ragged trying to tie up loose ends all over the damn place. 

Since Carlos was primed to take over his dealings, Rio had been spending most of his time introducing him to the leaders from North End to Midtown. Their operation was pulling entirely out of the south and westside of Detroit, both regions doing less counterfeit due to an influx of heat from the feds. Guess those fools didn’t know how to just go underground with that shit. Or maybe they just didn’t want the hassle. Sometimes it's easier to stick with what worked; guns, pills, trafficking. Wasn’t gonna be his problem anymore. He’d worked his way to the top and now he was about ready to pull the trigger and go legit for reals. 

Saez Realty was off and running, thanks to Dante and God’s good grace. Rio had already banked over a mil just flipping a few McMansions in Birmingham and Gross Pointe. He was good at this shit. Couldn’t have done it without his big brother, though. The dude had worked his ass off building up his contracting business. and had wanted Rio in with him for years. Now that they’d joined forces, they would both be benefitting. It had taken quite a bit of convincing for Dante to agree to funneling the last of Rio's funny money into the startup. It paid off though and it seemed like all of Rio’s dreams were coming true. 

Well most of them anyway. 

He wondered how Elizabeth would feel about him forsaking the dangerous life she’d been so intrigued by. Her little admission about getting turned on when he smashed that corvette made him think his new lifestyle wasn’t gonna do it for her. But nah, it wasn't’ the illegal activity Elizabeth was attracted to. It was the power. And he still had that. Always would; it was just who he was. A natural born leader. She was too, actually. Thing about it was, Rio'd be happy if it ended up being just him and Marcus. The kid was his whole world. But Elizabeth… she was like his destiny or something. And maybe it was just a coincidence that she was amazing at remodeling, staging and aesthetics, but he wanted her in with the company. Was pretty much dead set on the idea. 

Baby steps, though.

First he needed to feel her out. See where she was at now that some time had passed since their rendezvous in Dante’s basement. And that was his cue to get up. 

He thought about her in the worst place possible. The shower. He always did, and he supposed it could be the best place to think about her depending on how you look at it. It's just that there was this bench in there, and it wasn’t a regular sized shower bench. It was wide, and he could just see himself sitting there and she’s reverse cowgirl, bouncing up and down on him and he can feel the slip-slide of her soft skin... his hands are holding her tits and he’s watching his cock comin’ and goin’ between her plump, perfect cheeks. 

Goals , he thought as he grabbed a hold of himself and let the fantasy play out to his favorite ending-  her coming apart with him inside and them living happily ever after. He rolled his eyes, grabbing his shampoo. 

Fuck. 

Since they’d reconnected, the considerable lack of stress from criminal activity had proven to be just what their chemistry needed to explode and grow into actual feelings. Like actual heart pounding, palm- sweating feelings. He remembered her words from a few weeks ago had it really only been that long? Damn. She’d said it was dangerous for her to get emotionally involved with him so he needed to let figure her own shit out. 

Maybe he needed to tell her how he felt, and that was… it wasn’t ideal. He would rather things organically unfold, you know? Like in a perfect world she would just stay next to him, warm and pliant- willing. But she was skittish as fuck, and he couldn’t really blame her. He’d rather her come to him but he wasn't about to let her slip through his grasp again. 

After his shower, he went into his closet and shook his head, chuckling to himself over the sheer size of it. He thought she’d probably love the space; pictured the right side filled up with stupid floral blouses and sensible shoes. He could see her taking her time getting dressed- maybe he’d put in a fancy chair so she could sit and put lotion on her legs. Maybe she’d be wearing one of those long satin robes with nothin’ under it…

He wondered for a beat just how normal it was for a Kingpin like him to wax poetic, but fuck it. He was a passionate guy and she brought it out in him. The way she looked at him after… maybe she’d like to get swept off her feet. She liked the dressing room he set up for her. He could just imagine the look on her face- it was cute how confused she got when he did things for her. He ain’t never felt this way about another woman before. He’d loved Denise, still did as a friend. She’d been his best friend for years. But this fire with Elizabeth was unquenchable- felt like an eternal flame or somethin’. 

He really needed to stop. 

He made his way down to the kitchen, heated up some of the veggie quiche his mama had also whipped up for him, and made an espresso. He shook off the feeling of loneliness that tried to creep. The new place was huge; 5000 square feet and three levels of lavish space decked out in the finest of marbles and lush furniture. At times the large space made him hyper aware that it was just him the majority of the time. He resisted the urge to go wake Marcus up earlier than necessary. 

Luckily he didn't need to as Marcus came into the kitchen then, rubbing his eyes. His green blanket was wrapped around his head like a sari and Rio smiled at the image.

"Daddy?"  

“Hey pop, you hungry?” 

“Yeah.” 

“I got quiche or cereal.”

His nose scrunched up. “Quiche?” 

“Its like eggs and veggies in a pie crust. Your abuela made it,” Rio said, getting down and putting his dish in the sink. 

“I’ll try it,” Marcus said with a smile, “But only cause Nana made it.” 

“It's good, trust me.” Rio put a piece of quiche on a plate and popped it in the microwave. 

Marcus climbed up onto a barstool and stared tiredly into space. The fact he’d wanted to see Rio as soon as he got home was more validation that going legit was the best thing. His son needed him. Safe and alive. Not that legitimate business dealings kept you safe inevitably- everyone was gonna die eventually. But having a high risk career didn’t appeal to him the way it used to before Marcus was born. Hell, he’d been on his way out since the day he held the small boy in his arms for the first time. Sides' he knew how to make money either way. 

“Whatchu thinkin’ about Daddy? You’re staring.” 

“I was zonin’. Thinkin’ about you actually.” 

“What about me?” Marcus asked. The microwave pinged and Rio took out the quiche, setting it in front of the boy. 

“Careful that’s hot.” 

“Duh,” Marcus said and Rio gave him a look. If this kid picked up bad habits from those damn hooligan cousins in Los Angeles, him and Denise were gonna have words. 

“Was just thinkin’ it would be nice to spend more time together,” he said. 

“Yea!” Marcus smiled huge and toothless at him. Rio smiled back.

“Aight, then. You wanna come to work with me today?”

“Ok!” 

“We can spend the whole day together and then you gotta come back here and have a sleepover with Nana Rosie. I’ll be out late tonight but we gonna hang tomorrow again, cool?” 

“Cool,” Marcus said, giving his dad a thumbs up. 

After breakfast, Marcus went to get dressed and Rio took his coffee to his favorite chair to enjoy the spectacular view. He was pretty sure he bought the best loft in Detroit. His phone buzzed after a few minutes and he saw ‘Mama’ pop up on the screen. He changed her contact to the pet-name after she told him not to say it anymore. 

“Hi,” he said

“Morning. How are you feeling?” Rio’s heart clenched pleasantly knowing she cared enough to check on him. 

“All better now. How you doin’?”

“I’m tired and nervous but other than that, peachy.”

That was for sure. Peachy skin, peachy-smellin’ hair, her ass plump and juicy...

“Rio?” 

“You ain’t gotta be nervous,” he said, coming back to earth. 

“Easy for you to say. There’s gonna be more people there than usual. I think the pressure is getting to me.”

“What you think you gonna fall off the stage?” 

“No,” she laughed out. “Just that I’ll mix up the lyrics, or come in at the wrong time.”

“Don’t think anyones gonna notice you messin’ up a few words when you look like you do.” And yeah, he was sweet-talkin’, but it was also the truth. She was quiet on the other end, and Rio could just imagine the tiny, barely-there smile that was gracing her face. 

“Well, here’s hoping,” she said. 

Marcus came bounding down the stairs sounding like a herd of elephants somehow. “Ready!” he yelled out. 

“You’ll be fine, Elizabeth. Just relax and let it flow, yeah? I’ll see you soon….”

“Is that Marcus?” she asked.

“Yeah. Just got back from his trip.” Marcus jumped onto Rio's lap and he grunted. “I think you gained some weight in Cali, Pop.” 

“Who’s that?” he asked Rio. 

“Nunya business,” he said, tickling him. Marcus’s belly laugh rang out and Beth laughed too. 

“God he’s adorable,” she said. 

“You think so?” Rio asked her. 

“Mmhm. Very. Looks just like you.” 

A few seconds of silence passed and then…

“Why you smiling like that, Dad?” 

Beth huffed causing Rio to smile even bigger. Shit he may have been blushing. “I see how it is. You gonna call me out?” he said to Marcus. 

“You guys have a fun day.”  

“Aight I'll see you at the club later,” Rio said. 

“Can’t wait,” she said sweetly, echoing his words from the other day. He hung up and smiled at the quizzical look on Marcus's face.

“What?” he asked. 

“You look funny!” Marcus said pointing to his face and he tickled him again which always worked as a great distraction. 

Father and son were soon on their way to Lozano. It was a pretty chilly November day, so they were bundled up in hoodies and beanies, but the club was close to his place and it felt good to get some fresh air. When Rio walked in, his jaw almost dropped. The place looked good. The flooring, the lighting, the seating all of it had come together perfectly. 

He instantly got that nostalgic feeling he used to have listening to jazz with his Pops; the vibe was definitely there.  Elizabeth had done a good job with the seating arrangements and the lights she had picked out gave the place that cozy, upscale look that made people want to stay awhile. It was perfect. Damn he was really starting to like the place. He couldn't wait to bring his father in there and show it off to him.

While he waited to meet with Salazar, Rio and Marcus played chess on one of the oversized hand-crafted sets Elizabeth had suggested. He wasn’t exactly sure how the games would go over with patrons, but they looked cool as hell. Rio looked up when he heard voices carrying over from the bar area. It was Griffin and Salazar. That was his cue, he didn’t have all day. 

“Stay here, Pop.” Rio walked over to the men, Salazar smiling as usual and the other dude lookin’ salty as fuck. 

“Gentlemen,” Rio greeted them. 

“Rio I cannot begin to tell you how happy I am with what you’ve done here. The place is almost unrecognizable. Thank you, sir!” Salazar said shaking Rio’s hand and then pulling him into a hug. Rio chuckled and waved him off. 

“It’s nothin’ man. Elizabeth did most of this.” 

“Elizabeth…? You mean El? She helped you?” Salazar asked. 

“Mmhm,” he said, glancing at Griffin when he said it. 

“She’s an amazing woman, that’s for sure,” Griffin said staring right back at Rio. 

“You ain’t gotta tell me.” 

The two men stared one another down until Salazar cleared his throat to break the tension. Rio saw that Bullet had just arrived with Rio’s attorney. He nodded at his boy to keep watch over Marcus, and then Salazar and he went to the back to iron out the last details of his cut and sign some paperwork. 

Rio had some fake money running through Lozano still but ultimately his dealings there would be on the up and up. He liked the idea of becoming a full time partner as long as Salazar didn’t mess around and let the place go to shit like his uncle had. His attorney had drawn up a contract so that Rio could easily pull out if need be. He’d also had them write up a clause for the entertainment; in order to protect Elizabeth. It promised her a decent cut of the earnings on the nights she performed and made her an employee of Lozano with independent performing rights, instead of working for the talent manager. She would have to agree to the terms but Rio thought it was pretty clever of him. Somethin’ about that Griffin dude was throwing him off. 

“Where does Griffin stand in this ?” Salazar asked. 

“You said he’s an independent contractor, yeah?”

“Yes, he discovered El, I can’t help but feel indebted in some way.” 

“He don’t own her. Pretty sure never signed anything so if I were you, I’d have her come on as your employee or else you gonna have an issue once she starts bringin’ in the big bucks.” 

“What do you mean?” Salazar looked at him wide-eyed. Rio rolled his eyes. The guy really was dense sometimes. 

“I’m sayin’ he could try and poach her there wouldn’t be nothin’ you could do. Up to this point there hasn’t been any formalities but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had some type of contract of his own being drawn up.”

“Griffin wouldn’t do that to us,” Salazar said, waving him off. 

“Look man, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with having some insurance in place. Just talk to Elizabeth and see what she says. This is for her protection too.”

“Ok, I’ll talk to her about it tonight.” 

After their meeting, Rio went to collect Marcus. He sent Bullet home and as they were walking out of the club, Griffin stopped him. 

“Exciting about El, isn’t it?” he asked. 

“What’s that.” Rio deadpanned, turning around to face the man. 

“You know, how she’s planning to expand her talents,” he said smiling disingenuously, and then a thoughtful expression appeared on his face. “Wait, did you not know about that?” 

Rio squinted at the man trying to figure out his angle. He was obviously trying to piss him off which was really pretty stupid. 

“Nah.” 

“You didn’t think she would stay at this dive indefinitely, did you? Oh, I figured she would have told you. Sorry mate, this is embarrassing,” he said chuckling. 

Rio shoved his hands in his pockets, fisting them tightly and stretched his neck in an effort to calm the rising anger. He started walking closer to the man; since the dude obviously felt like havin’ a chat. 

“Our new associates are coming to watch El perform tonight,” Griff continued, eyes widening as Rio came closer.  

“Our?” Rio asked as he came right up into the other man’s personal space. 

“Yes. El and mine. And it would be a shame if you or anyone else tried to hold her back from reaching her full potential.” 

Rio tilted his head and stared at him long enough that Griff started to fidget. “Who are you again?” Rio asked, and Griff stepped back, clearing his throat. 

Rio smiled menacingly at him, then he turned taking Marcus by the shoulder. “C’mon Pop.” 

“Who was that guy, Daddy?” Marcus asked as they walked hand in hand down the street. 

“He’s the talent organizer for the club.” 

“What’s that?” 

“Means he finds people who sing real good and sets em’ up to perform there.”

“Why were you being scary to him?” he asked, looking up at his dad. Rio chuckled. 

“You thought that was scary? I barely said anything to him.” 

“You don’t have to say stuff it's just how you look.” Rio smirked. 

He thought about his conversation with Griffin and  was a little annoyed that Elizabeth hadn’t said anything about singing at another club. She could do what she wanted, obviously. He wasn’t about to hold her back. Fuck that guy. But he’d be damned if that dude was gonna be makin’ money off her back. He knew it wasn’t rational but he felt possessive over her in a way that he hadn’t before. It was strong. He knew he was letting his emotions get the best of him, and that she didn’t belong to him, but hearing that other man talk as if Elizabeth and him were on some team together… it was just wrong. 

She was his partner. 

 

                 **********************

 

Beth heard a knock on her dressing room door and looked up from her phone. 

“Come in!” 

Ruby, Stan, and Annie came into the newly remodeled dressing room, mouths instantly agape. 

“Daaamn Gina! Who died and made you the Queen of Sheba?” Ruby asked, pivoting to and fro. 

Beth blushed from where she sat on her sofa. She didn’t really know what to say; it was quite lavish. “I know right? It’s… a lot.” 

“I knew Gangfriend had an emotional boner for you. I knew it!” Annie said, plopping down at the vanity and applying one of Beth’s many lipsticks that were spread out. 

Stan looked at Ruby. “Do I want to know what an emotional boner is?” 

“Oh you know exactly what it is, my friend,” Annie said to him. “No one has a bigger emotional boner than you do.” 

“Ok, enough. Do you guys want a drink? I keep the top shelf stuff in here,” Beth said getting up and going to the mini bar cart she had added herself. After everyone had their drinks, they sat and talked for 30 minutes or so until Beth had to shoo Ruby and Stan out to get ready. Annie stayed  in the room, chillin’ on the sofa. 

“This is the life,” she said. “And you have me to thank. What a trip, right?” 

“It’s very strange, I’m not gonna lie..” Beth locked the dressing room door and went behind the folding screens she’d bought at IKEA that week. They were white with black trim and had a gorgeous cherry blossom tree painted across it. 

Beth came out in the champagne colored, strapless dress she had bought a few weeks prior. Annie whistled lowly. 

“Gangfriend is gonna shit a brick when he sees you in that,” she said. 

“Gross,” Beth said, rolling her eyes and applying her lipstick. “I better get out there.” 

“K. I’m gonna go find Ruby and Stan,” Annie said before walking off. 

Beth made her way up to the bar, seeing Griffin there with two other men. He smiled as she came closer. “You look absolutely stunning, luv!” he said, kissing her cheek. 

“Thank you,” Beth said, a blush rising up. She smiled in recognition at one of the men standing with him, he was the owner of the Green Room- Howard Barrett, and had been present at their dinner meeting a few weeks ago. Seemed like ages ago, she mused.

“Nice to see you again. How are you doing?” she asked. 

“Fine, just fine. Lozano has undergone quite a transformation. It’s.. impressive.” the man said, looking around impassively. Beth immediately bristled. She did not appreciate his tone. 

“Yes, we have. Our new investor is quite advantageous,” she said, feeling a sense of pride thinking about Rio. 

“And how did you come about finding him?” 

“You would have to talk to Salazar about that,” Beth said. 

“Oh yes, the new owner! I knew his uncle well. Unfortunate about him, isn’t it?” Beth shrugged slightly and looked at Griff. She wasn’t aware of the family history or the circumstances surrounding Salazar’s inheritance, but she could definitely sense animosity coming from the other owner. 

“El, these men came to hear you sing tonight,” Griff said, changing the subject. 

“Yes, I’ve been hearing a lot about Lozano’s rising star,” the other man said, leering at her. Beth scrunched her nose and narrowed her eyes at him. 

“El, this is Timothy Barrett, Mr. Barrett’s youngest boy.” Griff said and Beth gave him a tight-lipped smile. 

“Well, I hope you have a lovely time,” she said. “Detroit Mink is an amazing band; they are the real stars.” 

“I doubt that. Jazz bands in Detroit are a dime a dozen,” the elder Mr. Barrett said. 

“Maybe at the Green Room, they are,” Beth said. “But here at Lozano we prefer quality over quantity.” 

“Yes, very true. I’m sure we can all agree that quality is of utmost importance, can’t we?” Griffin seemed to be attempting to lighten the mood as Beth stared the men down in a very Rio-like fashion. 

“Hmm. Maybe we’ve wasted our time coming here tonight, Griffin.” 

“Yes, maybe you have,” Beth interjected. 

Griff laughed nervously. “Nonsense. Stay and enjoy the show, drinks are on me. Teddy,” he gestured to the bartender. “Put these men on my tab, they’re my guests.” Beth clocked Teddy rolling his eyes and had to bite down a smile. 

“Griff, can I speak with you please?” Beth asked. 

“Sure luv. Gentlemen, enjoy the show,” he said to the men. 

Beth started to walk to the back but Griff grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the dance floor. “Lets talk and dance,” he said. 

She smiled and went with him, she supposed she could dance with him one last time before telling him she was 100% uninterested in singing anywhere else.

Detroit Mink was playing a Horace Silver set and the cool melodies drifted through the atmosphere creating a peaceful but exciting vibe. Griff tried to pull her closer once they got to the dance floor but she situated herself an appropriate distance placing one of her hands on his shoulder and the other in his hand. 

“You really do look beautiful,” he said, settling his hand on her waist. 

“Thank you,” she said, glancing away hesitantly. She hoped Rio wasn't anywhere in the vicinity. 

“So, that was a tense conversation,” he began. 

“Yes, I…”

“Don’t worry about them. It's just what people do; put down rival clubs.” 

“Salazar wouldn’t do that,” Beth said. 

“Yes, well. Salazar hasn’t been doing this very long. Eventually you learn how to compete.” 

"I don’t want to compete, Griff. I just want to have fun and sing. At Lozano.”

“El, I don’t think you quite understand what Mr. Barrett is offering…”

“I don’t care what he is offering. I don’t like him and I really don’t like the clientele over at the Green Room either. I’ve been there before and it's not a very respectful crowd,” she said. 

“If you stay here you will sing what? Once a week? Twice? There’s just so much more we can do to capitalize on your talents.” 

“I guess I just don’t feel like capitalizing. I like working just a few days on the weekend. I want to be with my children at night.” 

Griff scoffed. “Even a few days a week at the Green Room would be double what you are making here,” he said, and for the first time Beth noticed he was starting to sound impatient. 

“I don’t care about that. I love Lozano. I just want to stay here, with Detroit mink, and…”

“And Mr. Saez?” he interjected. 

“Excuse me?” 

“That’s the reason you are having this crisis of loyalty, is it not?” 

“No…”

“Look,” Griff tightened his hold on her and brought his face close to hers. “I discovered you. I think I have a say don’t you? Where’s my loyalty?” 

Beth gasped and wrenched away from him. “Wow. Nice act. Do not speak to me like that and don’t ever touch me again.” She turned to go. 

“If you say no to this offer with the Green Room I’ll make sure you are blacklisted in Detroit. You’ll be stuck at Lozano indefinitely. And even then… I have ways of souring people to certain acts. I’ve done it before.” 

Beth turned around calmly and walked back over to him. Looking him in the eyes, she spoke in a mock-sweet voice,“Are you threatening me, Griffin?” 

“I’m just telling you the truth, darling. This is show business.” 

She huffed and smiled. “You have no idea who you’re messing with, luv.” And with that, Beth turned around and walked down the corridor to the backstage entrance.

Despite her cool demeanor she was shaking with anger. How dare he?! She felt so stupid for trusting Griffin and for oh gross, kissing him and letting him… ugh. 

“Still nervous?” 

Beth jumped at the voice, immediately calming down when she saw Rio leaning against the wall next to the backstage entrance. 

“God you scared me,” she said laughing. He looked so good she just wanted to hug him after the shit with Griffin. “You look nice.” She smiled at him. 

“You look fuckin gorgeous,” he said, pushing off the wall and coming closer to her. His face was a cool mask, immediately setting off warning bells in Beth’s heart. 

Something was wrong. 

“What’s the matter?” she asked, trying to meet his eyes but they were flicking to the side and not staying on her. “Rio?”

She watched him lick his lips and crack his neck before resting his eyes on her. 

“Nothin’ wrong with me, baby. Break a leg, yeah?” He turned and left, and Beth felt like she’d been punched in the gut. Had he seen her dancing with Griffin? 

She was about to yell after him and clear up whatever misunderstanding was operating, but just then Bea opened the door. 

“Oh. There you are. That was easy. C’mon we are about to start our set,” Bea said, pulling her through the door. They walked together to the small backstage area. Beth wiped at her eyes in frustration and Bea noticed. 

“What’s wrong?” she asked. 

“Nothing. Its stupid. Men are just so… childish. It's unbelievable.” 

“I wouldn’t know,” Bea winked at her, garnering a laugh out of Beth. The two women took a shot of bourbon and after a few minutes Beth felt a little better. She told Bea about Griffin. 

“Asshole. Yeah he tried getting the guys and I to sign something a few months ago, but we didn’t. I thought he worked strictly for Salazar but I guess he’s more of a free agent.” 

“He’s way more sleazy than I thought, that’s for sure.” 

Beth heard the music stop and Salazar talking to the crowd. Conrad popped his head backstage. 

“Ready ladies?” 

Beth’s heart jumped in her chest. She took a few deep breaths and looked at herself in the full length mirror they had put up. She ran her finger under her bottom lip, straightening her lipstick and fluffed her hair. 

“Let’s do this,” she said. 

Salazar came up on stage and winked at her, borrowing her mic. 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming out to Lozano for our reopening! All of us can agree that love is painful, right?” The crowd whooped and hollered. “I don’t know about you guys but I am definitely a fool for love, and I wouldn’t have it any other way," Salazar winked down at his wife who was standing off to the side cradling their new baby on her chest. "Our lovely band is going to break our hearts singing all about our favorite way to suffer… in the arms of a lover. So sit back and cry, laugh, get drunk… whatever tickles your fancy and enjoy El! And the Detroit Mink!” 

Salazar jumped down off the stage and the music started for ‘Spooky’.  Beth closed her eyes, letting the music flow through her and as soon as the first notes came out, she instantly relaxed. She tried not to focus too much on Rio and just enjoyed the energy from the crowd; as usual they seemed really into her performance. The smiling faces were encouraging and their energy fueled her. 

After Spooky, the crowd had a lot of fun with Beth and Dickie’s duet to Nat King Coles ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’. People hit the dance floor during the number, including Stan and Ruby. 

The next song, ‘These Foolish Things’, caused Beth to search the crowd for Rio, unable to resist once the words left her lips. She spotted him standing in the back, aware of how awkwardly fitting the lyrics were. 

Oh Will you never let me be?

Oh Will you never set me free?

 

The ties that bound us

Are still around us

There's no escape that I can see

 

He stood there leaning casually against a pillar watching her, eyes hooded and relaxed. 

 

And still those little things remain

That bring me happiness or pain

 

She smiled softly at him, and noticed his mouth lifting up in the corner. 

In all honesty, every love song reminded her of him. And with a theme like ‘Fool For Love’, it was futile to think of anything else but his deep brown eyes and his gentle touch, despite his frustrating tendency to be closed off. She could relate to that anyway. It was so hard to let people in. 

Beth watched as Ruby and Stan danced, staring lovingly into each other's eyes. They were made for one another, and as happy as Beth was living on her own, she thought it might be nice to have someone look at her the way Stan looks at Ruby. It is nice, she thought and she glanced at him again, watching him drift closer to he stage. He sat at a table in the front off to the left. Beth saw Annie take notice and the two make eye contact. Rio nodded hello to her. 

The rest of the set went smoothly, they ended with ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’ with Dickie playing an impressive clarinet solo. Beth was reminded again just what an honor it was to be singing with this band; their talent was remarkable. 

Afterwards, the crowd went wild. Beth slipped backstage with the rest of the band-  adrenaline pumping and a smile stretching her face. 

“That was fun, you guys all did great tonight,” Stu said. 

“I can’t believe I get to sing with you people. You are all so amazing!” Beth said hugging Bea. 

“We’re lucky to have you too, El.” Conrad said and Beth smiled. She was touched to hear that from the usually reserved keys player. 

Stu and Conrad went home to their families and Dickie and Bea planned to stay for Movimiento’s set. 

“You and Annie should hang with us,” Bea offered. 

The group joined Annie, Ruby, and Stan at their table in front, and Beth made introductions all around. 

“We gotta go, babe. You did good,” Ruby said, her and Stan rose to go.

Stan leaned in to Beth.“You did good I was impressed. Also, I don’t know if you noticed but you have an admirer,” Stan said, pointing subtly in Rio’s direction.

“Oh, I noticed,” Beth smirked. 

“Isn’t that…?” he asked. 

“I told you about this already, remember? The dressing room?” Ruby said impatiently to her husband. 

“Yea, but you didn’t say he was all,” Stan motioned dramatically to Beth. “Like that.” 

“You guys have a fun trip,” Beth said changing the subject. She pulled them both into a hug. “Literally no one deserves it more than you.” 

After Ruby and Stan left, the group listened to Moviemiento and talked. Bea and Annie were hitting it off great and it made Beth smile. After a few minutes, she glanced over at Rio to find him staring at her. He looked away as soon as she made eye contact. 

“Angel must be swamped,” Beth said, referring to their server. “Do you guys need drinks?”

“Vodka cranberry,” Annie said holding up her empty glass. 

Beth went to the bar and ordered drinks, talking to Teddy about his night as he mixed them. She saw his eyes focus behind her and a small smile appeared on his face as he stopped talking. 

“Mr. Saez,” he said, “What can I get you, Sir?” 

“You don't gotta be so formal, man. Rios fine,” he said, saddling up to the bar next to Beth. “I’ll take a mezcal, thanks.” 

Beth turned to face him and watched as his eyes dipped to her chest which, to be fair, had happened with everyone she’d spoken to that night. Rio’s lingered longer than anyone else's, though, warming her from the inside out. 

“Hi,” he said when his eyes reached hers again- he looked distant. 

“Are you upset with me?” she said, not in the mood for games. 

 “You gonna tell Salazar you plan on singin’ for other clubs?” he asked, ignoring her question. 

“What?” 

“Yeah your boyfriend told me all about your little plan with him. Sounds like you guys got a good partnership goin’. That should work out well as long as he knows your bargaining strategies.” 

“Excuse me?” 

“You should prolly let Salazar know before he gets his hopes up. The crowd went absolutely crazy for you tonight, El,"  he bit out sarcastically. 

“Rio, what are you talking about?” 

“You know, it's funny. You said this thing between us is too dangerous but you’re gonna get involved with that sleazy piece of shit? Nah. you know what? It's none of my business. You do what you want. We good.” He turned to go but her raised voice stopped him. 

“For your information, I’m staying at Lozano and Griff is not my partner . He lied to you. Thanks for making me feel so cheap.” She picked up her and Annie’s drinks and shoved past him, making a beeline for their table and dropping Annie’s drink unceremoniously. 

“Whoa,” Annie looked up at her. “Gangfriend?” 

“Yes,” Beth said in irritation. “I need some air. I’ll be back in a sec.” 

She grabbed her shawl from the booth and pulled it around her shoulders as she slipped outside to the back patio. There was new furniture out there as well as fire pits that a few couples were huddling by. Twinkling lights had been strung elegantly from the roof of the oversized pergola that encapsulated the space, washing it in an inviting warmth. The music from inside drifted softly out and a few couples danced in the area provided. Beth’s eyes lit up when she noticed them; it had been her idea to create a more private, romantic area outside. She was happy to see people were actually utilizing it. 

Suddenly Rio appeared in front of her with his hands in his coat pockets.

“You wanna dance?” he asked. 

Beth looked at him like he’d grown two heads. Yes I would, she thought, taking in his handsome attire; a white button down under a black coat and black jeans.

“No,” she said, scoffing. 

“C’mon.” His bottom lip stuck out in a mock pout. “please?” 

Beth rolled her eyes. 

“You danced with Gryffindor.” He said, trying to sound lighthearted but she could hear the edge in his voice. 

“Yes well, the dance with Griffin didn’t end well for him,” she said. 

She turned away from him then. Arms criss-crossing her waist and fiddling with the belt that cinched her dress. She didn’t want to fight with him but it was difficult because misunderstanding and mistrust lingered between them. At the same time, things had evolved recently. They’d become softer and Beth wanted so badly to just stop resisting. 

“Elizabeth.”

Her heart spiked at the sound of her name falling from his lips. She focused on the flames crackling soothingly in front of her. 

“Will you look at me?” He asked seriously. 

“That’s how it starts,” she said. 

Rio huffed out a laugh. She knew he knew exactly what she meant, and she smiled in spite of herself. He reached out and gently tugged in the crease of her elbow until she turned around. The open look in his eyes made her breath catch.

“Sorry for assuming back there. You got me all fucked up," he said, smiled sheepishly, eyes as gentle as his touch. 

“Why are you doing this?” she asked. 

“I wanna dance with you.”

“But why?” 

He didn’t say anything for a moment. Just continued to look at her. His fingers had moved from her elbow to her hand where he rubbed his thumb softly over hers. 

“I wanna feel you,” he said, and an intense heat spread through her body; from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. The evidence fanned out across her cheeks and Rio seemed to notice because he took it as an invitation to move closer and continue talking.

“....I wanna see that blush close up, feel the heat from it.” His voice was low and gravelly as he continued into her space until there was none between them. Her knuckles brushed against his leg; her hand still cradled loosely in his. 

Rio’s stare and the heat from his body had weakened her resolve, and she closed her eyes from the weight of it. She wanted to feel him too. She missed him. 

“Ok.” She whispered as she opened her eyes. 

He smiled slightly and pulled her towards the makeshift dance area where another couple was swaying back and forth. He pulled her body flush with his, wrapping his arm around her and she shivered when she felt his large, warm hand splay over her back.

Their hands rested clasped together on his chest, his right in her left, and a quiet sigh sounded in his throat as her head came to lay against his shoulder. With her tall heels she was only a few inches shorter than him and she could feel his smooth chin against her forehead. 

“You shaved,” she said. 

“Yeah.”

“You look good. I like the scruff too, though.” she lifted her head and brought her hand from his shoulder, scratching lightly with her fingernails. She watched his eyes close at her touch. She smiled and then settled back against him, revelling in the deceptively strong feel of his slim frame. She felt his heavy hand move imperceptibly lower as his other hand tightened on hers. Beth was aware of every fractional movement, each breath out of his nose; she wondered if he was just as keyed into her. 

They swayed gently to the music and she breathed in his intoxicating smell; woodsmoke and spiced apples. 

“I wondered if you danced.” Beth said after a bit. She spoke softly, not wanting to disturb the moment but also feeling pressure from the silence. He grazed his thumb lightly across the skin above her dress, and another shiver passed through her. 

“You wonder about me?” he said, rubbing his face on the crown of her head, inhaling her scent. 

She nodded. “All the time.” 

“I don’t dance very often, but I could get used to this,” he said as he squeezed her hand. 

Beth pulled her hand out from where he held it, and brought both her arms around his neck. He pulled her flush against him, his hand joining the other on her low back. Her fingers caressed the hairs on the back of his neck softly and she felt him shudder. They continued to sway as she looked at him, her eyes wide and bright.

“You want to feel me like this?” She asked him, her bottom lip coming out in a slight pout. He leaned into her neck, rubbing his lips there. 

“Mmhm. Just like this,” he spoke into her ear. “Kinda wish we didn’t have an audience though.” Goosebumps fanned across her skin at the feel of his breath.

He moved his hands down to the top of her full bottom and pulled her even tighter against him. Beth moaned quietly when she felt him growing hard against her thigh. She wanted him, of course. But this right now...this was nice too. She lay her head back down against his chest, clasped her hands at his neck, and closed her eyes. 

“Lets just dance.” she whispered. 

“That’s all we’ve ever done, Mama.” 

And how true it was. She thought about their “dance’ over the past year and a half and how it had simultaneously frustrated her and given her life. They worked well together. This was proving to be true even more so with Lozano. He had asked her to work with him; help him. He had wanted her opinions, valued her intelligence and savvy. After only knowing her a little under two years, he saw her value and understood her strengths more than her husband of twenty years had. 

And wasn’t that something? 

Beth had realized this to a certain degree before, of course. She loved the way Rio made her feel. She sighed as she felt his hands move up her lower back and back down again, delighting in the feel of his nose in her hair. When the song ended, they stayed connected, neither wanting to let go. Beth pulled away slowly and watched as the cool mask began to slip over his features again. It didn't quite take hold though, the warmth in his eyes heavy and sustaining as he stared at her.

 “So, I got a business proposition for you. You wanna meet up soon?” he asked after a few seconds of them awkwardly standing there. A thrill went through her core at the mere thought of “business” with Rio. 

“When do you want to meet?” She asked.

“You got your kids this weekend?” 

“No, Dean does. He gets them every other.”

“Nice to get a break?”

“Sometimes. But most of the time I just miss them.” 

Rio nodded. “Sounds about right.” 

And there they were again. Staring. Electric pulses firing off between them. She shook her head and looked away, huffing out a quick humorless laugh. 

“What’s so funny,” He asked, eyes still trained on her. 

“Nothing.” She looked back at his playful smirk. She glanced down at his lips. He dragged his tongue across the inside of his bottom lip, watching her eyes move from there back to his stare.

“Nothin’, huh?” 

“You’re annoying,” she said. 

“Why’s that.” His look changed then, his eyes turning black and serious. 

“You know what I mean.” She replied softly. 

“Maybe I wanna hear you say it.” His voice had dropped low and the words felt like silk through her ears.  

Beth’s breath hitched and heat pooled in her belly. She had heard him speak those words before, in a more...intimate setting. She glanced down again and saw that his lips were parted. Dammit. Why did his mouth have to be so active? 

“Maybe I don’t care what you want,” she said emphatically. “Now if you’ll excuse me I need to get back to my friends.” 

She walked away without looking back but she could feel his eyes on her the entire time it took her to reach the table. He could just text her a time to meet. She needed to get some space between them or she was going to pounce on him. 

Not that he would mind. 

“You good?” Annie asked her when she got back to the table. 

“Yes.” 

“That Rio guy looks at you like he wants to eat you,” Bea said, and Annie did a spit take across the table. 

Beth rolled her eyes but also fought a smile because it was satisfying to think other people noticed Rio’s affinity for her. 

Beth felt her phone vibrate in her bra. She took it out, peering down at the incoming message. 

 

Tomorrow 9am.. your house? 

Beth stared at the text for a second and then looked up. He was at the bar talking to Salazar now. He glanced over at her and raised his eyebrows like “Well?” 

Well. 

Ok. Bring me coffee?

She watched him check the text and clocked his subtle smile as he texted back. 

That all you want?

She felt that special thrill that only he was capable of giving her.. then as that liquid courage pulsed through her veins,  she thought maybe… maybe it wouldn’t hurt to flirt a bit. 

No

Rio looked up, his gaze drifting back and forth from her to Salazar, who was gesturing wildly with his hands. 

Beth giggled as she watched Rio attempt to pay attention to whatever Salazar was going on about. He held his finger up to the man like “hold on a sec”, and punched something else into his phone. 

What you want a McGriddle or somethin’?

Beth was full on smiling now and definitely looked ridiculous. 

“What are you smiling at?” Annie asked her. 

“Nothing, just texting someone,” Beth said distractedly as Annie and Bea shared a look. 

Not exactly- she texted back. 

She looked over towards the bar, twirling a finger in her hair. This time when their eyes met, his look could melt steel. She looked down at the incoming text. 

What do you want, Elizabeth?

 

The raging inferno in her body was growing and spreading down down down until she was throbbing inappropriately and why, why did he affect her this way? Fueled by the bourbon and the look in his eye, instead of texting back, she stood to go. 

“I have to…,” she said to the people at the table and pointed in the direction of the dressing room. 

“Uh huh,” Annie smirked. 

“I’ll see you guys later,” she said. She purposely didn't look at Rio again before grabbing her items and walking to the dressing room.

When she got inside she sat at the vanity and pulled her bourbon out of the cabinet. She poured herself a drink and looked in the mirror. Her hair was in big soft curls framing her face, falling a few inches past her shoulders. The ruby red made her skin glow- And knowing Rio liked it made her feel sexy and confident. 

She ached for him suddenly and fiercely; for his hands to be in her hair and squeezing her hips, caressing her face and pulling her closer to him. Her eyes focused anxiously on the door in the mirror.. she knew he would come and was having the most insane deja vu. 

Moments later he opened the door, and she had to bite her lip to keep from smiling like a goofy idiot. He closed it and leaned on it like he had that night in the bar bathroom, but his time he was smirking- obviously aware of the parallels and as amused by them as she was. 

She stared at him in the mirror for a beat before getting up as gracefully as possible and walking to him. The smirk on his face didn’t last long. As she came closer, his face transformed into pure need and he looked exactly how she felt. ..  She didn’t stop until she was right up against him. The unique smell of him and the feel of his hard angles against her soft curves was overwhelming her, as she reached a shaky hand behind him and locked the door. 

Beth stayed close against him, her breasts smashing into his chest as she rose up slowly and brought her hand up the back of his head to pull him down. Her lips lingered close to his feeling his breaths coming hard. Finally she closed the distance, pressing her mouth firmly against his. Her soft moan pulled one from him, as his hands rose to her face. 

She pulled away slightly but Rio leaned back in, kissing her forcefully. He held her face to him with both hands and groaned when she bit his bottom lip. Suddenly he flipped her around and pushed her up against the door, pressing his body against hers. 

“We always endin’ up here, huh,” he huffed out as his hand slid into her hair and gripped her tightly. His lips moved to her neck, nipping at it and then sucking the same spot into his mouth.  

“Rio… mm..” Her hands were everywhere; running over his hair, pawing at his strong shoulders, and then pulling his shirt up and splaying her fingers on his hard abdomen.“Oh.. you’re so… you’re,” 

“What, mama?” he asked into her ear as he quickly threw off his coat. Beth moaned, hands going up his smooth back as Rio trailed kisses down her neck and licked his way back up to her ear. She could feel her walls tumbling down with every kiss, every touch. 

“You’re just so…oh...god,” she trailed off as he palmed her breast, his mouth moving down kissing and licking the tops that were spilling out of her dress. He came back up to her mouth and kissed her as his hand slipped into the back of her dress, undoing her bra and pulling it off, then dipped into the front and caressed her breast, rubbing his thumb over her nipple and squeezing it softly between his fingers. 

A shiver went through her as he kissed his way back to her ear, and whispered desperately, “Please tell me.” 

Beth was filled to the brim with want and affection for him and couldn’t keep it in any longer, his whispered pleas breaking the last of her hesitance. 

“You’re everything,” she said, head falling against the door. She looked at him desperately, her expression absolutely bare, as she held the air in her lungs. His breaths came fast and heavy as he stared at her, his hands stopping their ministrations.

Beth’s hands slipped down from his shoulders to his chest, then rested gingerly on his abdomen. He wasn’t saying anything. She squeezed her eyes shut as shame pricked there, forming tears. She felt more exposed than she had in her entire life. 

“Oh God,” she whispered shaking her head and closing her eyes just as two tears tracked down her face. She felt so stupid. 

Suddenly she felt his hands at her shoulders. He smoothed them up into her hair, pushing himself up close to her again and pulled her forward to rest her forehead against his. He swiped his thumbs over her tears. 

“Why you cryin’?” he asked and she could feel his warm breath against her lips. 

“I’m scared,” she said. 

“You don’t gotta be,” he said, pulling back and looking at her. 

“I don’t?” 

“Nah. I feel the same way, baby.” He leaned in and nipped at her full bottom lip. “Don’t you know that?” He massaged her head with his fingers and kissed her again. When he pulled away, he let her soft locks slip through his fingers. She huffed softly. 

“I guess… now that I think about it,” she said, bringing her arms around his waist and holding him close. 

“Yeah, I figured it was pretty obvious but I guess you kinda slow…” 

“Shut up,” she said against his lips and kissed him with renewed confidence before running her hand down the front of his pants and squeezing, eliciting a groan from him that went straight to her center. 

“I need you. Now.” she said, fumbling with his belt. He stepped back from her and started unbuttoning his shirt, his eyes roaming up her body as he did. After he got his shirt off he pulled his belt out and stepped back into her, taking her hands and bringing them to his pants. 

“You finish,” he whispered against her ear, planting soft kisses there and on her cheek as she undid his pants. Her hands pushed inside, under his boxer briefs and she squeezed his ass before  making a show of bringing his pants and underwear all the way down to his feet. She kneeled there looking up at him and took him in her hands, running her hand down the length of him and kissing the tip. Rio groaned and threaded his hands in her hair. She stroked him more firmly, kissing and licking him. She caught his eye and the look there turned her on in a way she had never felt before. She just wanted to please him so thoroughly, so utterly perfectly. 

With this mindset, she set about to do just that, sucking the head of his cock and stroking her hand up and down with varying pressure. He was so beautiful. Beth pushed him up and licked a firm trail up the underside with her tongue then went back to stroking and sucking. The moans and heavy breaths coming from Rio, and the tight grip in her hair, were making her ever more wet and ready; her patience dwindling. As much as she enjoyed having him in her mouth, she was almost relieved when he gently tugged her to her feet. 

“Mm your lips look so sexy around me, Mami,” he said, licking into her mouth and squeezing her breast. He had her against the door again, pushed the top of her dress down, and bent to lick her nipple. Then he fastened his mouth and sucked hard as his hand went behind to unzip her dress. 

“Uh!” Beth held his head to her chest as he nipped and mouthed all over her, moving southward and dragging her dress as he went. 

“Need to see you,” he said desperately.

Their positions had swapped and now it was Rio looking up from her on his knees. She was standing before him in her tiny satin slip and heels and he gently lifted her feet, one after the other, removing her shoes. Then, he brought his hands slowly up the sides of her thighs and hooked his fingers in her panties, pulling them all the way off. He grabbed her hips then and buried his face in her center, bunching the fabric of her slip up and breathing her in. His hands squeezed the flesh of her hips. 

Beth moaned, the need to feel his mouth on her bare skin so strong, she was about to move the fabric herself and push his face where she wanted him. She didn’t have to wait long though, because he shoved the material up to her waist, holding it here and pressed his lips to her. Beth’s hands went back to his head and she canted her hips gently against his mouth as he kissed her sweetly and licked a line from bottom to top. 

“Elizabeth,” he whispered into her, biting her folds softly, and drawing a desperate sound from her. It felt so amazingly good but she wanted… needed him inside her. 

She tugged on his ears. “Please, I need..” 

“What you need,” he asked, looking up at her and then licking her most sensitive spot again. 

“Inside,” she said, pulling him up roughly. He moaned into her mouth as she kissed him and walked him backwards all the way to the velvet sofa he'd bought for her. 

She pushed him down onto it and sat astride him, they both groaned at the feel of their most intimate parts pressing against one another. She leaned down and kissed him, sliding against his length, then sat back up and lifted her slip over her head, tossing it to the side. 

“Fuck,” he said, looking at her. One hand was on her hip and the other on his cock, rubbing the tip back and forth across her opening. Beth lifted up slightly and he pushed the head into her both moaning loudly in relief as she sank slowly down onto him. 

She sat there, filled to the hilt with him and closed her eyes, moving her hips in little circles as his hands moved reverently from her hips over her ribs and up to her breasts, covering them with his large hands and squeezing. 

“You’re so beautiful. I love your body,” he said and she opened her eyes and looked down at him. 

“I love your body, too,” she said as she gazed into his eyes. She continued staring into them as she rode him slowly, one of his hands drifting down to rub her clit in rhythm with his thrusts. Her orgasm was soon approaching as she watched Rio’s eyes search her face and saw the wrecked look there; his eyebrows pulled together and his lips parted. His eyes kept darting from hers to where their bodies were joined. 

“Damn, we look so good together. Look at us. Look mami,” he said throwing his head back as she looked down at them and started riding him faster. 

“I’m gonna come baby, uh.. Rio,” she leaned over him and his hands went to her ass as she glided over him, slowing down as she came around him, a long moan spilling out of her lips. 

Rio started thrusting faster, building their speed back up and gripping her ass hard. “I’m close. Is this ok?” he asked and it was funny how kind of late it was.. But she was covered and she trusted him. 

“Yes, please come in me,” she said breathlessly into his ear. 

“Oh fuck, Elizabeth,” his hips stuttered and he kissed her passionately as he spilled inside of her. They lay there moving against one another slowly as they came down, kissing languidly, his fingers playing in her hair.

Beth moved to his side, snuggling up against him and pulling the soft blanket she’d brought from home over top of them. Rio turned his face into her hair, kissing the top of her head. 

“You smell like peaches,” he said. 

“It's my shampoo. It's like $4. At Rite Aid,” she said, laughing. 

“I love you,” he said suddenly.

Beth froze, blinking the shock from her eyes. She sat up and stared down at him, his teeth worried his bottom lip and his eyes darted around before finally landing back on hers. 

She stared at him until finally he asked, “What?!” 

“You do?” she asked. 

“Yeah,” he said shrugging like it was no big deal. 

“I love you too,” she said and suddenly he flipped them, tucking her under him and kissing her heatedly. 

“You know that means you’re mine, yeah? No more dancing with British douchebags,” he said as he kissed her chin and started moving down her body. He kissed a trail down her stomach and then rested his chin right above her center, Beth’s legs falling open to accommodate him. He looked up at her from where he perched on her lower half. 

“Ok,” she whispered softly, running her thumb over his cheekbone and then closing her eyes as his mouth dipped lower to taste her again. 

 

**************

 

The next morning Rio hadn’t come over at 9am with coffee and a McGriddle because he was already there. So Beth made homemade mcgriddles instead and they were infinitely tastier. 

“Damn. I could get used to this,” he said around a mouthful of food. 

Beth watched him eat as she leaned against the counter sipping her coffee. She smiled as she thought about the last month and all that had transpired. After their admissions last night, a dam had broken and the acceptance of their feelings for one another allowed for an intense peace to come over her- washing her in a love she didn’t think she’d ever feel, apart from the kids.

“Why you smilin’,” he asked. He came around the island and put his plate in the sink behind her, boxing her in and kissing her cheek, then tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. 

“I’m just taking it all in,” she answered honestly. 

“It's good, right?” 

“Yes.” she pushed up on her toes and kissed him before he moved away. 

“Gonna get dressed and get home to Marcus. Promised him we’d spend the day together.” Beth nodded and watched him go into her bedroom. She finished her coffee and then met him in the foyer. 

He wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her neck, breathing her in. 

“Didn’t you say you had a business proposition for me?” she said and he pulled back. 

“Oh shit. I forgot.” 

“You? Forgot about business?” 

“Always happens around you," he said, smirking down at her. Beth smoothed her hands up his chest and then behind his neck, rubbing the hair there softly. 

“Well? What is it?” she asked, curiosity shining in her eyes. 

“I started a house flipping business. I want you to be a part of it. Help with picking out materials, staging, that sorta thing. You so good at it, Mama.” 

“That… that’s amazing. Wow.” 

“You want to?” 

“Yes!” she lifted up and kissed him, the heat quickly building between them as he deepened it. His hands dipped low squeezing her, and he groaned against her mouth. 

“Ah.. I gotta go. I’ll call you later,” he said dropping another sweet kiss to the side of her mouth and slapping her ass before wrenching himself away and opening the front door. 

She leaned against the entryway and watched him walk to his car, noting the contrast between this moment and the one from a week ago; when she had been so heartsick. 

Turns out communication was pretty important. 

“Bye,” she called out to him and he smiled brightly at her before dipping into his car. She shut the door and leaned against it falling all the way to the floor in a puddle of blissed out euphoria. 

Beth thought singing at Lozano would be a fun hobby and a good distraction- she had no idea it would lead back to him, and now with this incredible career path on the horizon, she was feeling overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of her blessings. 

A lush life, indeed. 

 

The End 

(Epilogue coming soon…..)



Chapter Text

Rio's loft: https://www.wbc2905.com/

 

 

******

 

“What you think about staying in tonight?” 

“I was gonna wear my cute black dress…” 

“You can still wear it,” he said. 

“What’s going on?” Beth asked. 

“Just want you to myself. Miss you.” 

She smiled and felt warmth spread down her chest to her stomach.  The way her body reacted to hearing him say sweet and simple things like that to her was shocking in its intensity. She still wasn’t used to it.

“I miss you too. That was a long week.” 

“It was.” 

“There’s no food at your house though,  I’ll have to go to the store. Anything in particular you’re in the mood for?

“You ain’t gotta cook. I’ll take care of the food,” Rio said

Beth’s eyes widened. That was new. 

“Just hurry up and get home. I need you,” she said, her face heating up. She was trying to be more expressive in her relationship with him since he always had so many sweet words for her, but it made her feel embarrassed. Her therapist said the reaction is common for adult children of alcoholics. It was nice to know there was a reason for it.

“I know how you feel. See you in a few hours," he said.

“Too long.” 

He huffed. “Will you be at my house when I get there?” 

“I can be,” she said smiling.

“I’d appreciate it if you were,” he said in that deep way that made her melt. 

“I love you.” 

“Love you more, Mama.” 

 

Beth finished up some laundry, called the kids, and then went to the back of her closet to get the dress. It was black with a sweetheart neckline and one inch straps. It hugged her curves perfectly and had a small zipper going down the front that she knew Rio would love. She felt sexy when she wore it and excited that he’d never seen her in it. A thrill shot through her at the thought of the look he would likely give her when he did. She stuffed the dress in her purse and left for Rio’s place shortly after. 

She stepped into the sprawling 5,000 square foot, 3-story loft and as always,  was overwhelmed by the beauty and extravagance of the place. It was a few days after opening night at Lozano that he brought her there for the first time. They’d pulled in to the underground garage and she had asked why they were at a hotel. 

 

“S’not a hotel darlin’.” 

“But it says Westin on the front.” 

“Residences at Westin. It's a house trust me. I think you’ll like it too. I got a huge kitchen and barely use it. Maybe you can cook for me. Naked.” 

When she walked in to the loft for the first time, she’d almost keeled over in shock. The first floor was entirely laid out in Carrara marble, and had panoramic views of the city. She’d walked through the space in pure shock, glancing at him every few seconds, and noting how pleased he was at her reaction. The kitchen was nothing short of heaven, completely whited out besides the black marble island and the black and white subway tile. She couldn’t wait to start cooking in there and it hadn’t taken long. 

 

They’d been together for six months, and in that time Rio had effectively dissolved his illicit dealings around Detroit. He’d taken a huge amount of “savings” from offshore holding companies and invested into his newly founded real estate company. Dante and him had joined forces which helped get Rio on the map quickly since his brother had connections all over Michigan and was a  well-established contractor in the region.

Beth was so proud of Rio for going after this, and when he asked her to come work for Saez Realty, she fell even deeper in love with him. The business was already pulling in a ridiculous amount of money which wasn’t surprising, considering Rio was a genius. 

She was crazy attracted to that part of him, and had been since the day she saw him directing his workers in the warehouse. They’d only known one another for a few years but it seemed longer; like their souls were acquainted before that. 

Beth hadn’t known his plan to go legit; he’d waited to tell her until after the real estate thing took hold. After they’d been steadily working for three months and running successfully, he broke the news which resulted in happy tears and a fierce joy that she didn’t realize she’d been missing.  

She would have been with him anyway, was with him. He knew that. Once she realized she didn’t want to live a life without him in it, Beth was all in- regardless of his profession. But to hear he was forsaking that way of life for peace of mind and security made her happier than she ever thought she could be. 

Beth was still singing as ‘El’ at Lozano, but only once a week, and only because she loved doing it.  And because Rio loved watching her do it. She'd found a new passion however, with renovating and remodeling homes.  She loved picking out materials and even showed houses for Rio here and there. He had always valued her, and she saw that more and more the longer they were together. Putting her on the payroll and giving her authority in the company was just another way of him showing her what she was worth. 

He’d been out of town for a week  in California, visiting his attorney that took care of all his offshore money. 

There had been a few other things to take care of down there, as Rio was still funneling funny money through some businesses. His plan was to buy them out and he’d been a little unsure of what to expect from the players down there, indeed running into a “snag” (as he called it),  but thankfully it had been taken care of with no one getting killed and he was flying home tonight. 

She couldn’t wait to see him. 

They’d grown closer and truly become not just lovers but friends . It gave Beth fulfillment to know he opened up to her, and that she opened up to him.

Well, she was working on it anyway. 

It was Rio who suggested she try counseling, and at first Beth had been stubborn and frankly offended. But after he explained in his calm manner that she needed to “address some shit so that we can just be happy and have fun,” well, that had gotten her thinking. 

Her fears and insecurities were only going to hurt them if left unaddressed, and she really wanted a future with Rio. A good one.

Divorcing Dean, single-parenting, and finding Lozano had all been steps that helped shape her new, authentic sense of self, but being with Rio made her realize that the deep-seated stuff was still there, and though it would be painful, it was time to clean house. It had been painful at first. But now, Beth was loving it and looking forward to her sessions. It was nice to unload on someone who was objective. 

Beth put the finishing touches on her makeup and fluffed her hair. The reflection in the mirror took her breath away. 

She looked happy. Excited. At peace. 

Her life the past few years had been such an insane series of events; sometimes exciting, sometimes devastating. She felt grateful that it had all culminated in the life she had today. That it had all led to him. 

 

She heard him come in and started making her way down the staircase. 

“Hello?” she called out. 

“Yo.” 

Beth rounded the corner to the kitchen and her eyes immediately landed on the huge bouquet of yellow and purple lilies Rio was setting on the black marble island. 

“Got you flowers,” he said. 

“I see that. They’re ridiculously beautiful.” 

He looked exhausted, but still more handsome than anyone she’d ever laid eyes on. She walked up to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, pulling him close. He followed suit, wrapping around her and smelling her hair. 

“Damn you smell good,” he said. Then he pulled back a bit and looked down at her. “And you look even better. Lemme see what you wearin’.” 

Beth stepped back and twirled around, modeling her dress, heels clicking pleasantly on the marble floors. Rio pulled her back into him roughly and kissed her, opening her mouth with his tongue and deepening it, while his hands ran down over her lower back and grabbed her ass. 

“Do you like it?” she asked him breathlessly as he broke away from her mouth and started kissing down her neck. 

“You have no idea,” he said, kisses moving southward over her bared cleavage. 

“You barely looked,” she faux-complained. She didn’t care, obviously, but she liked teasing him. 

“I’ve done plenty of lookin’ from afar.” He stood up to full height and looked down at her, leaning in to peck her lips softly again. And again. 

“You’ve never seen this dress.” she said, meeting each kiss as it came. 

“Yeah I have. You were wearin’ it way back when at the club. First time I saw you there.” 

“No. I was wearing a different dress that night.” 

“Nah. not when you were singin’. I saw you before that.” 

“You did?” Oh god. The only other time she’d worn this was with Griff. She mentally face- palmed.

“Mmhm. Couldn’t take my eyes off of you. Fuckin missed you even then.” 

Beth frowned. “I missed you then, too.” 

Rio huffed. “Sure bout that? You looked fine to me,” he teased. 

“You… you saw me with.. Uh.. you saw..”

“Relax sweetheart. Soon as I get this dress all  hitched up around your waist, and you’re wrapped around me nice and tight,” he said touching her face softly. “I ain't gonna be thinkin about you kissin’ that hobbit.” 

Beth smiled as heat pooled in her belly. 

“That sounds wonderful,” she said. She put her hands on either side of his face and looked at him. “You’re my favorite.” 

He looked sort of bashful and it was adorable. Beth had been seeing all sorts of different faces from Rio since she’d been trying out the whole “express love” thing. 

“I better be,” he said, bringing his hands up to cover hers and looking into her eyes pointedly. 

“Please,” Beth rolled her eyes. “Like I can even think about anyone else. I’m completely obsessed with you.” 

“Good.” He smiled softly and moved her hand to his mouth, biting the fleshy part of her thumb, and keeping his eyes fixed on hers as he did. The heated look in his eyes quickly unraveling any plans she had for a romantic dinner. She knew he was hungry though, and they had all night together. 

“So what’s for dinner?” she asked. “It smells heavenly.” Rio smirked, knowing exactly what he was doing to her. 

Thankfully he dropped away and grabbed the food, moving into the dining room while Beth poured them some wine. They could keep their pants on long enough to eat at least, she mused. 

Rio had picked up Beth’s favorite Italian food from the bistro next door, and as he came into the dining area, he raised his eyebrows at the effort she’d made by setting up the table with candles and dishes.  Beth shrugged like it was no big deal, but they both knew it was. Nothing about them felt insignificant; the importance of who they were to one another and each interaction they shared wasn’t about to be taken for granted by either of them. And tonight, Beth felt like celebrating. 

She sipped her wine and took in the  beautiful views of the city and Lake St. Clair from the floor to ceiling windows, and allowed the happy feelings to wash over her. 

“I’ll never get used to this view,” she said. 

Rio looked over his shoulder at it and then back to her. “S’why I bought the place. Cept’ I like my view better.” 

Beth blushed. “Cheesy.” 

“I’m cheesy?” He said pointing to himself with his fork. “You’re the one who took out the candles.”

She laughed. “I just wanted this to be a special dinner and since you’re anti-social...” 

“What’s the special occasion? Me comin’ home?” He asked around a mouthful of Gnocchi. 

“That, and just the business, and…”

“And…?” he smirked knowingly at her. 

“And us , ok. I wanted to celebrate us being together and not pointing guns at each other anymore. I'm so proud of us,” she smiled cheekily at him. 

“We talk too.” 

“What?” 

“We talk about shit now. That’s cool, you know?” Rio said. 

“It’s very cool,” she said, nodding in agreement. 

After dinner, Beth cleaned up their dishes while Rio went upstairs to shower and put away his luggage. She was standing at the island pouring them both another glass of wine when she felt him come up behind her, arms boxing her in. 

“Got you Tiramisu,” he said against her ear kissing it softly. Beth turned her face into him. 

“I’m still too full. Do you want it?” she asked, sighing as he rubbed his lips back and forth across her neck, his strong arms wrapping around her waist. 

“Mmm all I want is you, baby,” he said. 

Beth pushed up against him and brought her arms up behind his head, scratching up his scalp just the way he liked. He turned his face and kissed her bicep then flipped her around so he could look into her eyes. 

His eyes were different tonight; intense and questioning. Almost like he was searching her out- like he used to. Beth, overwhelmed by the feeling it was provoking in her chest, leaned forward and kissed his bottom lip chastely. 

She was about to ask him if he was ok, but then he pulled her in flush with his body and hugged her tightly, burying his face in her hair. She matched the pressure with her own, holding him firmly around his neck and rocking them side to side gently. 

“Don’t like bein’ away from you,” he said after a bit. 

Ah. She stroked his head, reaching up and kissing under his jaw. “Me either, honey. Felt like longer than a week.” 

“Yeah this week sucked but i’m talkin’ about in general.” 

She pulled back and looked at him. “What do you mean? We see each other all the time.” 

“You stayin’ tomorrow night too?” 

“No, I have to get the kids. You know that…” 

“That’s what I mean.” 

“Rio..’

“Come on,” he said, interrupting her. “Grab your wine.”  He took her hand and led her up to the second story. 

 

The second floor of the loft was just as impressive as the first; sprawling open concept with gorgeous hardwood floors, two bedrooms, an office space and a seating area. One of the rooms up there was Marcus’s, which Rio had decorated adorably as a mini Detroit Tigers Stadium; complete with a mural of the stands full of people on one side, and the baseball diamond on the other. The sitting nook overlooked the Detroit River and had two blue velvet sofas facing one another and a marble block coffee table between. 

Rio led her over to the sitting area and they spread out on the sofa facing away from the windows. Beth scooted as close as possible to him, and watched as he leaned back, spread out his long legs, and closed his eyes. Bringing her hand up to his face she caressed his eyelids, his chiseled nose, and his perfect cheekbones. She then drew the outline of his lips with her finger, marvelling at his handsome features. 

He groaned softly at her touch. “So damn good to be home.” 

“So damn good to have you home.” she said. 

“Is this your home?” he said, opening his eyes and turning his head to her where it lay on the couch. 

“I mean, I guess? Sort of. Home is… my house, obviously. But home is also wherever you are,” she said smiling softly at him. 

“You really feel that way?” he asked, an unfamiliar concern coloring his features. 

Beth scrunched her eyebrows at him in question before snuggling into him; bringing her hand to his chest and hitching one leg over his lap.

“You know I do,”she said. 

She moved her hand up the side of his neck, splaying it across the right wing of his bird and feathering her fingers over it. She felt him shiver and then felt goosebumps fan out where she was touching him. 

Rio was incredibly reactive to her touch, and it was such a beautiful aspect of their relationship- it made Beth feel a romantic empowerment that gave her the ability to bring him the sweet pleasure and joy he deserved. Of course, she knew exactly how he felt because she responded in kind to his touch. 

She kissed the other wing and pressed her nose against it, smelling him and marvelling at the way her nerve endings buzzed just being in his presence. Suddenly, he pulled her up onto his lap in a fluid motion, her dress bunching up around her hips. 

“Oh is it time for this now?” she said smiling down at him. His hands rested above her hips and Beth’s smile faded as she took in the dark intensity on his face. 

“Why so serious tonight?” she asked. 

“This is serious.” 

“What is? You’re acting strange,” she said as anxiety pricked her chest. She could feel him growing hard against her though, and couldn’t resist running her hands up the firm muscles of his chest, gripping his shoulders, and pushing herself down into his lap. 

“Mmm,” he moaned out. His grip tightened and he moved his hands to the top of her ass, pushing her down harder. Beth closed her eyes and rocked back and forth on him.

“You feel so good,” she said, her fingers gripping his shoulders tightly as he guided her hips in tandem with her movements. 

After a few seconds, Rio’s grip loosened and he stopped, whispering her name reverently. She opened her eyes and looked into his, love shining back at her. She watched through a haze as he lifted her hand from his shoulder and pressed something into her palm, closing her fingers around it. 

“You wanna marry me?” he asked, reaching up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. 

Beth opened her hand and looked down, blinking rapidly at a sparkling ring as the last bits of lust cleared enough for her to begin comprehending what was happening. 

“What… I..” Tears pricked the back of her lids and quick heart beats matched her breath as realization set in.

“So, you want to or what.” He tilted his head trying to meet her gaze and when he did, he raised his eyebrows in question. 

Beth’s eyes darted back and forth from his to the beautiful rose gold ring, trying to speak but too overwhelmed to form words. Finally, a smile quirked the sides of her lips, warring against emotion and she nodded vigorously as tears began to fall down her face. 

She yelped as Rio pushed her onto her back. “Fuck. Why’d you take so long to answer me?” he said, kissing her heatedly and then pulling back. He smiled down at her and wiped her tears with his thumbs. 

Beth pulled him back to her, wrapping her legs around him. Rio groaned and ground himself into her, moving his mouth lovingly over hers. He bit her bottom lip, sucked it into his mouth, then moved down and kissed the dimple on her chin he’d told her so many times that he loved. 

“You’re so crazy,” she said, laughing softly. He propped himself up over here and she brought the ring up between them, gazing at it in utter astonishment. 

“I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s incredibly beautiful,” she said.

“Yeah?” 

She nodded and he leaned down close again, biting her ear. “It’s stolen,” he whispered into it. 

Beth smiled as goosebumps spread down her arm. “Oh good. I’m into that sorta thing,” she said, turning her face into his and catching his lips again before he chuckled and sat up on his knees. 

Beth scooted back to lean against the side of the sofa and Rio took the ring from her. He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed her fingers before slipping it on. 

“Perfect fit, Ma,” he said softly, holding her hand and rubbing his thumb across her knuckles. 

“What is this? Sapphire?” she asked, flexing her fingers. 

“Nah. That’s a blue diamond.” 

“I love it so much. I love you so much,” she said, choking back tears. She grabbed his shirt and pulled him back down to her, needing him closer. 

Rio moaned into her mouth, kissing her needily and grabbing the soft flesh of her breast over her dress. Then his hand smoothed its way up over her neck and threaded into her hair, holding her to him as he worked her mouth with his. 

“Mm.. love kissing you,” he said against her lips, licking across them and then moving to her cheek and kissing her there. “Love your face. Your skin…” he rubbed his nose along her cheek and Beth sighed contentedly as he moved down the length of her neck. 

“....you smell so good, baby.” Rio continued his path over her bared cleavage, biting and licking at the flesh that spilled out. 

“Rio,” she whispered, stroking his scalp as he moved down her body. 

“Love when you say my name,” he said voice rough with need as he found the zipper of her dress and started pulling it down between her breasts. It only took a few inches until they fell out into his waiting hands and lips. He held one in his hand and swirled his tongue around her nipple, looking up at her as he did. 

“Love that these beautiful tetas are all mine,” he said moving to the other one and giving her equal attention there. He pulled his mouth from her nipple with a loud “pop” and stopped what he was doing, looking off to the side. 

“What…?” she blinked at him. 

“Let’s go to bed,” he said suddenly, getting up from the couch gracefully and reaching for her. 

She took his hand and he pulled her up, pushing her towards the staircase and  wrapping his arms tight around her from behind. She laughed as his hands travelled everywhere; the feel of him touching her and holding her tightly making her feel deeply loved and wanted. He held her exposed breasts in his hands as they walked to the staircase, Beth breaking away from him when they reached it, and zipping her dress back up as she started climbing the steps. Rio was right on her heels, however, trying to push her dress up over her ass as she walked. 

“Don’t know why you keep tryin’ to put this dress back on when I’m tryin’ to take it off.” 

He stopped then, arms stretched out on the railings as he watched her walk to the top. Beth reached the top of the staircase and smirked down at him when she noticed that he had stopped to take in the view. 

“Maybe I want you to fuck me in the dress,” she said, eyebrow quirking. 

Rio growled and launched himself the remaining distance, grabbing her head and kissing her roughly. Tongues and teeth collided messily as he walked her backwards and pushed her onto the bed. Beth felt an intense shudder go through her when she saw the wild look in his eye. Things were about to get rough. 

“Turn over,” he commanded and it was embarrassing how quickly she flipped over and stuck her ass in the air. 

Fuck,” he whispered, his hands going to her round cheeks and pushing the fabric up over them. His hand stroked over her lace-covered center and he groaned when he felt how wet she was. He wrapped his hand roughly around the crotch of them and yanked, tearing them clean off. 

She tilted her head towards him. “I liked those,” she said around a smile. 

“Me too, baby. Collateral damage,” he said before running his hand softly up her ass and then slapping it. Hard. 

“Uh!” 

“You like that?” he asked, already knowing the answer. He knew exactly what she liked. He caressed the spot soothingly before slapping it again. 

“Fuck yes,” she whined out. And she knew what he liked too; having a filthy mouth in bed was just one example. 

Once Beth and Rio had commited to one another, things started evolving in the bedroom.  They could be soft too. Really soft. But sometimes the urgency to posess one another translated into rougher sex. It was new and uncharted territory for Beth; that which Rio was more than willing to show her. 

His hands dropped from her as he quickly undressed and then he was back up against her rubbing the length of his cock along her wetness. 

“Mm please..” she cried out. Rio teased her, pushing the head into her hole and then pushing her body forward so it slid back out, barely resting at her entrance. He held her firmly as she tried to push herself back onto him, desperate. 

He slapped her ass again and told her to behave,  but she heard a laugh in his voice so she peaked back at him and sure enough, a goofy smile was spreading across his lips. Beth reached under herself, gripped him and stroked him firmly, attempting to guide him into her. He groaned at the feel of her hand, but slapped it away. 

“I need you, baby. Please?” she asked. He cupped her and started rubbing the pads of his fingers on her clit in rough circles. 

“Want you to come first,” he said, his voice broken and desperate sounding which spurred Beth on ever-closer. She brought her hand up against his, pushing his fingers harder against her clit for more friction. 

“Oh my god,” he whispered, squeezing the soft flesh of her ass with his other hand. “Love how your pussy feels… oh fu-... come on my fingers Elizabeth. Now.”

Beth’s hand dropped and she gripped the sheets on either side of her head as her hips started to stutter, the firm tone in his voice taking her right to the edge. She circled against him, the feel of  his fingers at her clit and his cock tapping her entrance finally pushing her over, as a powerful orgasm rippled through her entire being- causing her to tremble against him. 

As she came, Rio grabbed her hips and slammed into her, groaning loudly. Beth screamed out as pleasure-pain ripped through her fiercely, and she pushed back against him, her inner walls squeezing him as her orgasm continued to pulse through her. 

“My tight hot Mami. You’re so perfect. Fuck. fuck! ” Rio started thrusting faster, fucking her harder than he ever had. It felt like he was staking his claim. Branding her. She allowed it; welcomed it. Even though she’d belonged to him long before this night. 

“Uh! I love… I.. Oh!” she cried out, pushing into him. Her legs starting to go numb at the sheer force of his thrusts. 

“Whaddyou love? Huh? Tell me,” he said squeezing her hips hard and slamming into her over and over. 

“You. Uh! Your hands.. Your...your cock,” she cried out and suddenly he pulled out of her. She whined and he tapped her ass lightly. 

“Turn over, baby. I wanna see your face.” Beth flipped over and scooted back to the pillows at the top of the bed. “Take that dress off,” he said as he crawled over to her.  She unzipped it the rest of the way, shimmying out of it and throwing it to the side. 

“Damn. Every time I see you naked it's like the first time.” He came to lay on top of her, gripping her hair on either side of her head and kissing her. Beth’s hands smoothed down over the corded muscles of his sweat-slicked back and over his ass, squeezing the firm flesh as he slid easily back into her. 

“Mmm..,” he moaned out loudly. “You’re so wet.” Rio started building up a fast pace again, sliding in and out her tight channel in perfect rhythm with her hips.  He sat back then, lifting her hips up off the bed and fucking into her as he watched her face intently. Beth closed her eyes, unable to hold up under his gaze. 

“Open your eyes,” he demanded and she blinked them open, biting her lip and meeting his eyes again. “Watch me fuck you.” 

“I… I can’t.. Its too,” she said, faltering as his relentless thrusting continued. 

“Please.” He smiled smugly knowing he would get her with that. She couldn’t resist him when he was polite. 

Beth watched his cock slide in and out, her eyes meeting his every few seconds just to catch the wrecked look on his face. She saw his eyes close and his lips part just as his cock started to swell even more and she knew he was getting close. 

“Now who’s eyes are closed,” she stuttered out. He switched their position again, draping her long legs over his shoulders and practically bending her in half as he slammed back into her. 

“Oh! Rio!” 

“Mm.. yeah baby… touch yourself.” He watched as she brought her hand between them and started rubbing her clit. “The other hand,” he said. 

Beth switched hands, bringing the fingers of her left hand to pleasure herself, flattening it so that her ring was on display for him. She felt her walls tightening as she neared the precipice once again. Beyond eager to come with him inside her, she rubbed faster until she was right at the edge and then stopped, allowing the thick spread of his cock to tip her over. 

“I’m gonna come. Don’t stop. Oh.. Rio,” she cried, grabbing his hips. 

“Never, baby. I’ll never stop fucking you. Uhh… just like this…” The sound of his voice did her in and she let out a long moan as she fluttered around him, milking him. 

“come in me..” she whispered  and he made a sound in the back of his throat before slowing down and letting her legs drop from his shoulders. 

Rio took her hands in his, threading their fingers together and bringing  her arms above her head, spreading himself out along the length of her body, and continued to thrust devastatingly slow in and out. Their bodies slid against one another, wet from perspiration and it felt so good Beth wanted to die. Her clit was being stimulated again by the slide of his pubic bone against her and there was no space between them. 

“Damn baby your tits feels so fucking good rubbing against me like this. And your pussy is so tight .. Fuck I love you so much,” he said, his voice breaking. He groaned loudly then. “I’m gonna come.” 

“Yes, please,” she said, wrenching her hands from his and bringing them back to his ass. She pushed down hard and tried to speed up his thrusts but he kept the pace agonizingly slow. 

“Mm Elizabeth…” His breath was hot against her neck as he pushed hard into her and came, the heat from it warming her and filling her with a satisfaction that seeped deep into her bones. She wrapped her body tightly around him as he thrust gently a few more times, enjoying the slick feel of their joined bodies. 

They lay there breathing heavily until Beth started giggling; something she often did in the aftermath of amazing sex between them. 

“You silly-ass,” he said lifting up on his forearms and smiling down at her. “You lucky I don’t develop a complex with all that laughing after sex.” 

“I can’t help it. I'm giddy.” He pressed his lips against hers, biting her bottom one as he rose back up and looked at her with hooded eyes. 

“You’re so pretty.” Beth’s heart clenched pleasantly. His sweet words to her always made her feel treasured and for the millionth time she wondered what she did to deserve him.  “Especially after you get fucked so hard,” he added softly.

She rolled her eyes and pushed on him until he fell to the side, laughing. He scooted up on the pillows and pulled her against his chest. They lay there in the  quiet for a long while, Beth lightly scratching up and down his chest and arms with her fingernails just the way he loved, worshipping his body the way he deserved. 

As the fog of bliss started to lift a bit, she thought about her kids. Would they move into this loft? Of course they would. But where? The second floor only had two bedrooms, one of them being Marcus’s. Where the hell were they going to put 5 kids? They loft was humongous but it was open concept. 

As if he could read her mind, Rio shifted against her, lifting a hand to her hair and tucking some behind her ear. “What’s goin’ on in there?” he asked, tapping her forehead. 

“What are we gonna do with the kids?” 

Rio huffed. “Got that all figured out, Ma.” She looked up at him from her spot on his chest. He kissed her forehead and then moved off the bed, grabbing his pants from the floor and pulling them on. 

“I’ll be right back.” 

Beth hopped up from the bed and went into Rio’s obscenely large closet where her robe was hanging. She slipped the rose-colored kimono over her body and went into the bathroom to clean up. After brushing her teeth and washing her face, she brought her hand out in front of her and finally took a minute to look at the gorgeous ring he had put on her finger. 

She gasped as she studied it. The metal was rose-gold, her favorite. The stunning light blue diamond was held by six prongs, with delicate hearts on either side and sparkling smaller classic diamonds next to the hearts. Beth was incredibly touched that he had obviously customized a ring that was so her it was insane. She just couldn’t believe him. 

Suddenly missing him, she rushed back into the room as he was coming back in and strode over to him, launching herself into his arms and hugging him tightly. He chuckled and pulled her close, a roll of paper he was holding crumpling against her back. 

“I missed you,” she said and he chuckled, dropping a quick kiss to her lips and pulling her over to the bed. 

“Look,” he said spreading out the long roll of paper out on the white down comforter. 

Beth peered down at what appeared to be blueprints, trying to figure out what exactly she was looking at. 

“What is it?” 

“It's the second floor, reconfigured. Here’s Marcus’s room,” he said pointing in the corner. “These are for Jane, Emma, and Danny. They can pick whatever room they want. And Kenny can have the downstairs suite. If you cool with that.” 

Beth stared open mouthed at the complex graphs, amazed that he had already planned this out and put so much care and thought into it. She wasn’t surprised- he had welcomed her kids into his heart immediately. 

“This is...amazing. Thank you, honey,” she said, reaching up to kiss his cheek. “I’m so… excited.” 

Rio wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her close. “Me too, Mama. Can’t wait to make you mine,” he said dipping down and kissing under her ear. 

“I’ve been yours for a long time,” she whispered, pulling his face to hers and kissing his lips softly. 

They fell asleep wrapped around one another, jazz music playing softly in the background.

 

 

Beth's ring. Its only $100K no big deal *shrugs*

 https://www.glamira.com/glamira-ring-naidene.html?diamond=bluediamond&stone2=diamond-Brillant&alloy=red-585