by Tagan Shepard
Marisol Soltero’s life is built on big scores and fast women. From her nightclub she rules over the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago with ruthless calculation. Though everyone knows her as the Queen of Humboldt, Marisol lives part of her life in the shadows. When she hears of an impending assassination attempt against the Governor of Illinois, those shadows threaten to ruin everything she’s built.
Governor Sabrina Sloane has spent her life cleaning up the streets, first as State’s Attorney in Chicago and then as Governor of Illinois. Every criminal to cross her path has ended up behind bars—except one. When that criminal saves her life, she’s forced to shine new light on everything she thought she knew.
As a mutual enemy forces them together, Marisol and Sloane must work as a team in a fight for their lives. Can they overcome their differences and their growing attraction to find their way to freedom? And can Governor Sloane ever bring herself to trust the Queen of Humboldt?
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Confession: I want to star in an action movie.
I was born in 1981, at the beginning of the golden age of action films. With two older brothers and parents who were shockingly open-minded about the movies we could watch, I grew up on a steady diet of emotionally stunted men and their damsels in distress. They had quite an impact on my baby butch brain.
America is obsessed with the idea that the best way for a man to prove his love is to get the crap kicked out of him for his lady. I’ve always been masculine-of-center, so it’s no wonder I identified with those male action stars.
I longed to travel through time to protect Sarah Connor, dying heroically after a single night in her arms.
In the few short hours we spent together, we loved a lifetime.
Watching that, I was the pre-teen embodiment of the heart-eyes emoji. I watched everything I could get my hands on: Top Gun, Die Hard, Speed, Bad Boys, anything and everything with Jean-Claude Van Damme. The more blood, bruises, and bad stunts the better. After all, those minor injuries never seemed to stop them from sealing the deal with their damsels. In fact, the more beat-up the star, the more the leading lady wanted them.
Realistic? No way.
Romantic? Well…also no through the modern lens, but gosh did I eat it up in those days.
Fast forward a few decades and here I am, still identifying with the broken boys of action flicks. Only now I want to see a reflection of myself.
Writing Queen of Humboldt is my foray into the action-packed, blood-soaked stories of my youth. A way to see myself reflected in the stories I love. It follows a masculine-of-center badass (who might be a little emotionally stunted) and the woman she’s loved from afar for years who, like Sarah Connor, does just fine saving herself. They’re two of my favorite characters I’ve ever written. Modern versions of the heroes and heroines of my youth, just way more queer."
Noni M. - This is my first time reading a book by this author. Queen of Humboldt surprised me. At first, when I read the description I thought that the two main characters would be fighting a common enemy on their home turf but boy was I wrong. I really enjoyed this book and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.
The Lesbian Review
The story is told from both Sabrina and Marisol’s perspectives and is nonlinear in that some of the chapters are flashbacks. I found these glimpses into the past to be a great way to introduce some much needed character history as well as helping to understand and sympathize with Marisol. This structure can sometimes be confusing, but Shepard does a great job using this device and I never felt disoriented or lost. It is a pulse pumper with a ton of action that will keep you excitedly flipping the page to see what is coming next.
Orla S. - Wonderful. Spectacularly good. The characters in Queen of Humboldt are very well crafted and even when they are not necessarily at their best, they are still very sympathetic. I would, and indeed will, highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Her ability to capture emotions and reel the reader into her world is part of what makes Tagan Shepard's books so beautiful to read.
Karen R. - Queen of Humboldt does not disappoint. This is a second-chance romance with a dose of opposites attract and almost a taboo feel thrown in for good measure. Be sure to pay attention to the chapter headings where a year is involved, because there are flashbacks interspersed and the timing definitely matters. I don't want to give any of the story away because this one is a doozy. A true roller coaster ride that ends with a bang.
Colleen C. - Well, this came out of left field. I honestly wasn't sure about this one, because of the darker themes it promised, and it is hard to really balance that grit out with some hope. But dang, this is done so well. Marisol's character and life is well plotted, utilizing flashbacks to help slow down the breakneck pace a bit. I love that there are hints for what Marisol is doing in the shadows of her criminal enterprise, but when it's revealed, its done so well that it doesn't lose any of its punch. Shepard avoided switching between Marisol's and Sloane's perspectives too much, giving most of the storytelling duties to Marisol, and it works well. Marisol is a compelling narrator and having events playing out through her eyes was great.
This is dark, pretty violent, but is also full of hope and goodness. Sloane and Marisol are well balanced characters, and one of the few examples where they don't have to grow that much to make them compelling. It is well paced, with some really great action sequences, some slower moments, and some truly emotionally impactful ones. This was a lovely surprise, and is quite possibly my favorite book this month.
Leslie S. - This book moves at a million miles per hour with plenty of action and romantic tension. With hints of enemies-to-lovers and the-one-that-got-away mixed with high stakes and espionage, I was hooked. When I finished it, I said out loud, “Aw, man! It’s over? I want more.” Been a minute since a romance has captivated me so completely.
Don’t get me wrong, I usually enjoy them, but I don’t lose myself in them like I did this one. I don’t think I’ve read any of Shepard’s previous works, but I’ll definitely be seeking them out after this one. It definitely made a slow, boring workday go by a lot faster.
Leslie S. - Marisol Soltero has had a tough life, and the criminal underground is the only place she belongs. She rules over the nightclubs and shadier side of Chicago as The Queen of Humboldt with her pick of women. Sabrina Sloane has been cleaning up the streets her whole career, first as a DA and then as Governor of Illinois. During an assignation attempt, the two women’s lives cross paths, drudging up old memories and endangering the life Marisol has built for herself, that is, if they even make it out alive.
This book moves at a million miles per hour with plenty of action and romantic tension. With hints of enemies-to-lovers and the-one-that-got-away mixed with high stakes and espionage, I was hooked. When I finished it, I said out loud, “Aw, man! It’s over? I want more.” Been a minute since a romance has captivated me so completely. I don’t think I’ve read any of Shepard’s previous works, but I’ll definitely be seeking them out after this one.
Marisol lay back, content to let Sabrina do all the work. Her view from the nest of pillows was almost as delicious as the sensations Sabrina’s work was creating. Their legs were entwined, smooth pale white and lean red-brown glistening with sweat in the morning sun. Sabrina’s hips tipped forward, mixing Marisol’s raven black curls with her deep auburn. She moaned low in her chest and grabbed at Marisol’s hips, her eyes closed as she moved faster.
She tipped her head back and screamed as her tension broke, and Marisol yelled right along with her, her own voice an octave lower than Sabrina’s high, delighted soprano. In just three short days they had attuned their bodies perfectly. Pulses of pleasure rippled through Marisol as Sabrina continued to rock against her, her movements slower and more languid after her release.
Sabrina slowed and stilled, her sweat-soaked body collapsing against Marisol. Once she was down in the pile of pillows, her chest heaving, Marisol was on the move, laying a trail of kisses across Sabrina’s face and neck as she slipped her body on top. She nipped at the tip of her collarbone, a spot she’d learned last night was ticklish, earning a giggle and playful shove. Her kisses moved further down. As she passed over Sabrina’s ample breasts the giggling died and her breathing deepened. Lower still and Sabrina’s long, sure fingers snaked into the short strands of Marisol’s damp hair. Her first taste of the morning had Sabrina panting.
“Mmmm,” she hummed. “Don’t stop. Please don’t stop.”
Marisol had no intention of stopping. She wrapped her arms around Sabrina’s thighs and redoubled her efforts, Sabrina groaning above her. The groan lengthened into a moan which ended in a shout, her hands fisting in Marisol’s hair.
Flopping onto her back and tossing away some of the ridiculous number of pillows, Marisol pulled Sabrina to her. She was still breathing hard from her last release. Marisol had discovered Sabrina liked to be held as she came down. Sabrina curled against her side, spreading her palm over the spot between her breasts where Marisol’s heart pounded. Marisol put her hand on top of Sabrina’s making her smile and look up with dreamy, glassy eyes.
“I could get used to this,” Sabrina said, her voice languid and her eyes drooping.
“It was one of the better weekends I’ve had in a while.”
“Ugh, don’t remind me it’s over.”
“There’s another one coming soon.”
Sabrina’s eyes were clearer now, meeting Marisol’s. “So you…want to do this again next weekend?”
There was hope in her voice, poorly hidden behind a forced casualness. Marisol pushed her own anticipation down, all too aware that hope had never brought her anything good. “I don’t have any plans.”
Sabrina didn’t respond, just smiled and laid her head back down on Marisol’s shoulder, their joined hands resting on Marisol’s heart.
They both had to get ready for work, so Marisol declined a shower in the hotel. After all, their one-night stand had stretched from Friday night to Saturday morning when Marisol had joined Sabrina in the shower. The same had happened Sunday morning. As nice as third repeat would be, she had an appointment.
Marisol refused a lift back to the bar to collect her Harley, preferring a brisk morning walk. Its handlebars were peppered with parking tickets, which she tossed into the nearest trash can before speeding across town to shower and change.
She snagged one of the last spots on the top level of the parking deck across from the George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse. Crossing the lot, she spotted a familiar white SUV and stopped in the process of calling the elevator to watch the driver’s door open. What Marisol wore today wasn’t her usual and felt strange on her skin. Her tailored slacks didn’t fit like her leather pants, but at least the shirt was from the men’s section and the leather blazer smelled like her motorcycle jacket. Watching a very familiar pair of legs emerge from the SUV made her clothes feel all the more uncomfortable. All weekend those legs had been wrapped around her naked body and her body yearned to be naked again at the sight of them.
“Marisol?” Sabrina squeaked, her sharp heels skidding to a stop.
“Good morning,” Marisol said, then let one side of her lips twitch up. “Again.”
Sabrina looked much as she had when they’d met at the bar Friday night. Her skirt suit, professional haircut and sensible shoes had reminded Marisol of a lawyer then. The assessment seemed even more accurate now.
“What are you doing here?” Sabrina asked as the elevator doors slid open.
“Holding the elevator,” she replied.
“Of course.” Sabrina looked her over from head to toe, her tongue peeking out to catch her upper lip. “I don’t think it would’ve left me, though. The elevators here are really slow.”
“Are they? I’ve only been here once before.” The doors jerked shut and the gears groaned into life. “You come here often?”
Sabrina’s perfume had Marisol’s head spinning with the scent of lily and peach. So did the way she laughed and looked away.
“Sorry,” Marisol replied, her own smile widening. “That sounded like a line, didn’t it?”
“And not even the best one you’ve used on me,” she said. Her eyes wandered again and she caught her bottom lip between her teeth. “Journalist?”
“Is it that obvious?” Marisol waved a hand over her meticulously bland outfit. They hadn’t gotten around to exchanging trivial information like professions or even last names.
“It’s not the clothes,” Sabrina responded as the elevator ground past another floor. “It’s the knack for setting your audience at ease.”
“So you’re at ease?”
Sabrina’s purposeful hesitation was as good as affirmation. “To answer your question, I haven’t come here often, but it’ll be a regular stop from now on.”
“Ah,” Marisol leaned in. “Lawyer.”
“Is it that obvious?”
The doors opened and Marisol held them back for her. “It isn’t the clothes. It’s the knack of making your audience nervous.”
She laughed and Marisol forgot all about the courthouse and the asshole waiting inside and the cops milling around like fleas on a dog’s back. They both looked at the imposing structure across the street and then around them, as if searching for a reason not to cross the pavement.
“Well, I should warn you it’ll be a long day,” Sabrina said, indicating the coffee shop next door with a jerk of her head. “You should probably fortify yourself.”
“Only if you let me buy you a cup.”
Sabrina pulled the door open and said over her shoulder, “I’ll even sit with you while you drink it.”
Marisol usually only drank the thick, deliciously bitter brew from her local Puerto Rican bodega, but she’d drink mud to spend more time with Sabrina. She watched the easy way Sabrina ordered for them both, the way she commanded the room effortlessly. It had been that confidence that had attracted Marisol, though she’d been at the bar on Friday night to study the crowd in preparation for her role today, not to pick up a beautiful woman. Sabrina had a way of making her forget everything she was supposed to do and everyone she was supposed to be.
While she waited for their lattes, Marisol considered the new knowledge that Sabrina was an attorney. It would complicate matters, but she did want to see Sabrina again and she knew all about complicated. She could make it work. All she had to do was win her over before she found out the truth.
“Mind if we drink these while we walk? I’m meeting someone outside the courthouse and I don’t want to keep them waiting.”
“Should I be jealous?” Marisol asked. She tried to make it playful, but she felt the words gnaw at the pit of her stomach.
Sabrina turned to her while they waited at the crosswalk. She took a sip of her coffee, leaving a pale-rose lip print on the lid. Marisol had washed a similar print off her inner thigh during one of her many showers at the hotel.
“Krone’s a colleague and old enough to be my father.”
A tiny voice in the back of Marisol’s head told her this conversation was a bad idea, but she ignored it. She was only halfway through the coffee and she was ready to take risks with this woman.
“Are you here for a particular case, or are you covering a beat?” Sabrina asked.
The question reminded Marisol she was playing a part and she slipped back into it reluctantly. “I’m freelance. Hoping to find something worth writing about today. Want to give me any tips?”
“Oh no,” Sabrina said, swirling her paper cup. “I can’t talk about my cases.”
“God no,” she replied, her face hardening. “I couldn’t imagine helping a guilty person go free. I mean—don’t get me wrong—I believe everyone has the right to a fair trial…”
“You’d just rather be on the good side.”
“And what about the wrongfully accused?”
“I’d never send an innocent man to prison.”
There was such sincerity in her words, Marisol was inclined to believe her. She couldn’t help thinking of the prosecutor at her own trial. He’d taken far too much joy in sending her away. Of course, she’d been guilty of everything she’d been convicted of and more.
The light changed and Sabrina started forward with the crowd. She must be the new Assistant State’s Attorney Marisol had heard about. As if things weren’t complicated enough. She should let it go—keep the memory of a lovely weekend and disappear into the crowd. Instead, she hurried to catch up and leaned close to Sabrina’s ear.
“Like you said, Brin, it’ll be a long day. I’ll need a drink after. Maybe even dinner.”
Sabrina’s smile answered before she did. “Brin? Hmm. I like that. We’ll discuss dinner over the first drink.”
When they made it to the courthouse stairs, a man in an off-the-rack suit waved his arm and Sabrina waved back. Turning to Marisol she said, “There’s Krone. So, Mario’s? Six thirty?”
Marisol nodded and Sabrina hurried away. As she made her way into the crowd surging up the stairs, Marisol caught the man’s confused glare in her direction. He pointed at her and Sabrina’s frowning gaze turned to follow.
Making herself comfortable in the pool of reporters at the back of the courtroom, Marisol pulled out a notepad and started doodling while the room filled. Sabrina marched in, her eyes straight ahead, but her colleague was looking into every face. When he finally found Marisol, he smirked and she smirked right back. He whispered in Sabrina’s ear but she didn’t react. It was the lack of response that had Marisol’s gut twisting.
The judge arrived fifteen minutes late, looking bored. He addressed Sabrina as Assistant State’s Attorney Sloane, confirming the trouble Marisol had gotten herself into. As the day progressed Marisol’s notepad filled with doodles. Men in orange jumpsuits filed in and out of the room. Marisol stopped squirming after the third one. She remembered all too well what it felt like to be shackled wrist and ankle. Her jumpsuit had smelled like beef stew and had made her itch all over.
Sabrina threw the book at most of the violent offenders. Anyone who had used a gun, Marisol noticed, earned a higher bail. In contrast, the nonviolent offenders, particularly petty drug offenses or the obviously destitute, were shown a shocking amount of leniency. Marisol wondered if Sabrina would be so kind in this new role after she’d been burned a few times.
By the time Marisol’s mark shuffled into the room, she already knew he wouldn’t be walking free. Marisol had come to court to assess the new prosecutor, fully prepared to take matters into her own hands if she thought the law wouldn’t exact justice, but she needn’t have bothered. No way Sabrina would be lenient with him, given his crimes. This day had been a waste, but she waited it out anyway. His face was smug and his lawyer was exactly the sort of clown Sloane had described over lattes. She barely gave him a chance to speak. His client went back to jail, his unattainable bond the least of his worries with a prosecutor like that on his case. Marisol could’ve left the courtroom, knowing she could leave her target’s punishment to ASA Sloane. Another abuser off the street, even if it took the coke Marisol planted on him to put him away. A few familiar faces hurried out, shaking their heads and no doubt writing off their colleague for good. She didn’t leave though. She waited until the end of the docket when even the judge looked exhausted.
As the crowd hurried for the doors, Marisol watched Sloane pack her bag. She didn’t look tired, but strain pulled at her eyes. Sloane looked over her shoulder once, her eyes meeting Marisol’s. The lightness that had been there that morning was gone. She looked at Marisol the way she’d looked at all the men in orange jumpsuits.
Even though she knew she’d be drinking alone, hope took her to the bar at Mario’s at six thirty. She drank beer at first, then switched to tequila. By the time the kitchen closed Marisol was slumped in her seat. She looked at the door every time it opened, but Sloane never walked through. When the bar closed she called a cab rather than risk a DUI. While she waited on the curb she looked into the high-rise apartment buildings around her, wondering if Sabrina Sloane was pacing behind one of the lit windows.
Ten Years Later
The dance floor moved like a living creature, a hive of humanity swaying and gyrating in unison to the techno bass line. The lighting was dim and blue, with white spotlights flickering across the crowd, illuminating flashes of skin. The mob jumped and danced in harmony, the unified ecstasy palpable through the semidarkness.
The band finished in an electronic crescendo and the crowd roared their approval. The singers, a threesome of indistinguishable blondes in tight dresses and wild makeup, bowed and filed off the stage. The club’s sound system picked up with a similar track at a lower volume. As some of the crowd made their way to the bar, Marisol Soltero returned her attention to the redhead draped across her lap.
“You havin’ a good time, baby?” the woman asked as she dove again for Marisol’s neck.
She was drunk and sloppy and drooling all over Marisol’s leather jacket, but she was warm and that was enough these days. She didn’t bother to answer. Marisol guessed she was in her early twenties, so she probably didn’t care about much beyond having a good time and getting laid. Marisol had had the same priorities then. Now at forty, she had other concerns, but the distraction wasn’t unwelcome.
Marisol gripped hard at the redhead’s miniskirt, pulling the woman toward her, enjoying the way bare legs slid along her leather pants. She squeaked with pleasure and redoubled her efforts to leave her saliva on every inch of Marisol’s exposed skin, her hands roaming freely under Marisol’s leather jacket. It didn’t take long for her to bore Marisol, who let her attention wander to her club.
Club Alhambra, nestled in the heart of Humboldt Park in Chicago’s West Side, was Marisol’s center of operations. Her place to see and be seen. Where her clients, rich and poor, could mingle and make her a fortune. She’d gutted and remodeled an old 1920s theatre and made it into her sanctuary. The stage was original, if shortened significantly to provide a larger dance floor. The mezzanine was a massive bar and everything above remained as before, private seating for the rich and famous. Marisol charged outrageous rates for the privilege of renting a box and the compulsory bottle service.
Of course Marisol’s box was the best. It was massive, comprised of two boxes from the original design. Deep leather couches and polished marble tables surrounded by wingback chairs filled the space. She had the best view from here—the width and breadth of the dance floor and the length of the bar. She could see every entrance and exit. More importantly, everyone could see her. It was the one area of the club that was well lit and the speakers were turned low. The thumping bass line was ever present here, but the rest was a hollow echo.
Most people called Marisol’s box The Throne Room. Admittance was by invitation only. Everyone kept an eye on The Throne Room, hoping they were cool enough, sexy enough or rich enough to catch Marisol’s attention. Most of them, like the redhead whose attentions were now an annoyance, had no idea what to do with themselves if they ever got up here.
Marisol caught the eye of her bodyguard, Gray. He was a lumbering, massive specimen, his muscles straining the seams on his tailored suit and his bald head gleaming in the orange glow of the lights. He looked like a meathead, but his eyes were sharp and his mind even sharper. She cut her eyes toward a nearby table where an unconscious occupant’s face was plastered to the marble next to a half-finished line of cocaine.
Gray took a phone out of his breast pocket as he walked across the room. He snapped pictures from several different angles before hauling the guy up by the armpits. He was so stoned his head lolled around on his neck as Gray dragged him out. A minute later, Marisol’s phone buzzed.
“Take a break, cariño,” Marisol said, removing the girl from her lap.
Far from being upset, the redhead helped herself to some fine añejo tequila while Marisol checked her phone. Gray had an eye for staging. Unfortunately for Judge Marshall, his adult son wasn’t careful about where he snorted coke. Marisol filed the photos for another day when they would have more value.
Gray made it back to The Throne Room just in time to intercept a gate-crasher in the form of Twitchy D, a tweaker who had worked for Marisol until he started smoking more meth than he could handle. The usual punishment was a trip to the bottom of the Chicago River, but she took pity on a longtime employee. He was thin and tall, with gangly arms and erratic movements. His stringy, curly hair always looked like he had just showered, but his body certainly didn’t smell like it.
Twitchy D turned his manic gaze on Marisol as Gray stopped him with a hand on his chest. His eyes held a desperate glee that intrigued Marisol, so she waved him over. Gray kept a close eye on him as he shuffled over, hopping along like a marionette caught in a windstorm. He cut a glance at the coke Judge Marshall’s wayward son had abandoned on the table, a weaselly giggle bursting from his lips.
Marisol waited until his eyes focused on her before she asked, “What’re you doin’ here, D?”
“Got some info, Your Majesty.” Words burst out of him in a rush. “There’s a new gang trying to push into your turf. Got a big thing goin’ down tonight.”
Gray shook him by the shoulder and his whole body flopped around like a rag doll. “Don’t be an idiot, D. No one’s stupid enough to move in on Marisol.”
The last group to challenge her dominance had been skinheads calling themselves The Moscow Mules. Six years earlier they had roughed up the local bodegas for protection money. Marisol had visited their leader at his biker bar hangout and had politely informed him he had exactly three days to move his men along. Three days and one hour later, when they had still been in place, she came down on them like fire from heaven. No one had come near her territory since, earning her the title The Queen of Humboldt.
“I know!” D said, giggling and picking at a sore on his cheek. “That’s why I came to tell you first! So you could take care of them. You know I’m loyal. I want you to destroy them.” His eyes went to the cocaine again. “Tonight.”
“You know I watch my borders, D,” Marisol said, drumming her fingers on her own leather-clad thigh. “Closest gang with any clout’s in Fuller Park.”
“Not moving on Humboldt yet. That would be suicide.” His shoulder shot up and back down again seemingly of its own accord. The movement caught his eye, dragging his attention from Marisol so his next words were mumbled into his shirt. “Gotta get themselves on the map first. That’s what tonight’s about.”
Marisol snapped her fingers, regaining his focus. “What’s happening tonight, D?”
“Something big.” His anemic tongue slid over his cracked lips. “They’re going to take her out.”
“Take who out?”
“That tight ass little governor of ours. Getting too tough on crime, they said. Need to send a message.” He giggled and put his fingertips in his mouth, saying his next words around dirty fingernails. “Shame. She’s a hot one.”
Marisol’s jaw tightened. She held still as she spoke. “Tell me.”
“She’s coming to Chicago tonight. Left the capital late, but she’s on her way here. They’re gonna get her in her apartment. Not much security there and anyone can deal with the state pigs.”
1115 Riverview. Apartment 30GH. One doorman and a geriatric rent-a-cop who could be overpowered by a determined house cat. But they wouldn’t have Chicago city cops to deal with. The Governor’s security detail of Illinois State Police officers would put up more of a fight, but how many would she have with her? The Governor, no matter where she was, was the jurisdiction of the State Police.
“Who?” When D didn’t answer the question, Marisol sat forward and said louder, “Who are they, D?”
He shrugged, chewing on his nails.
Marisol sat back, throwing her arm around the redhead and dragging her close. “Gold Coast isn’t my territory.”
Panic flooded Twitchy D’s eyes. She watched him register his reward slipping away. “They’re after the whole city. This is just a first strike. They’ll be after you next.”
Marisol looked at Gray, who had perfected a stoically neutral expression and was using it now. She looked back at Twitchy D, searching his face for a lie. After a moment, she jerked her head toward the table. Gray released him and D attacked the surface with glee.
“Why don’t you go get a drink, cariño?”
“Got one,” the redhead said, reaching for Marisol’s tequila again.
Gray caught her wrist. He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder and she hurried off. When she was out of earshot, he leaned in close and said, “Twitchy D isn’t a reliable source. Everyone knows he’s out of his mind half the time.”
“Which is why he hears more than he should.”
“It’s none of our concern, boss.”
Scanning the crowd at the bar, Marisol spotted a dark-skinned Marine in full uniform, her ponytail wrapped in a bun at the base of her neck. She nursed a beer, her eyes darting up to Marisol’s Throne Room often enough to be obvious. “No, it isn’t.”
“It would be nice though,” Gray mused, rubbing his chin. “She’s been on our asses for years. Having her out of the way and our hands clean will make our lives a lot easier.”
Moving to the balcony railing, Marisol watched the Marine raise a toast with a few uniformed buddies. When she turned her eyes back to the Throne Room to find Marisol watching her, she choked on her beer.
Twitchy D fell out of his chair with a muffled crash.
“Damn that guy.” Gray turned back to Marisol. “We can decide about this after I get rid of him.”
“There’s nothing to decide, Gray.” She looked back into the crowd, noticing several pairs of eyes on her. That would complicate things. She looked back to the Marine. “I think I’ll go have some fun.”
He followed her gaze and shook his head. Marisol knew he wouldn’t be fooled, and his words carried an icy warning. “I’m serious. We should stay out of it, boss. See what happens tonight and go from there. Or, better yet, turn D over to the cops after she’s toast.”
The Marine was looking up at Marisol every few seconds. The way she was laughing along with her friends looked forced, like she wasn’t hearing anything they said. Marisol straightened and slapped Gray on the shoulder.
“That’s a good plan,” she said, descending into the crowd.
Music wrapped around her as she stalked through the dance floor, the masses parting for her. Though she saw hunger on more than one face, her patrons were too well-behaved to approach unsolicited. The Marine’s eyes continuously flicked over to Marisol as if drawn to her body. One look. That was all it would take. She would give the Marine one look and she would follow Marisol anywhere.
The soldiers were the only ones who held their ground as Marisol approached, though her Marine looked ready to faint. Marisol stepped close enough to smell cheap beer and expensive perfume. She let herself wonder for a moment what this woman would look like out of that starched collar and those gleaming shoes. She had every opportunity to find out, but she knew she didn’t have time.
When she felt the Marine’s breath on her cheek, Marisol captured her with a long, smoldering look and watched her shudder. Only one woman she’d ever met had been able to resist Marisol’s cobra-like eyes. Just as she suspected, the Marine’s breathing hitched and she licked her lips.
Without a word, Marisol walked away. She went past the long line for the men’s room and the longer line for the women’s room, stopping at a guarded entrance marked “Private”. She spoke a few words into the guard’s ear before continuing around the velvet rope. At the end of a dark corridor stood another bathroom, this one deserted. Slipping inside, Marisol washed her hands and neck, removing all trace of the redhead.
It wouldn’t take long for Angel to extend Marisol’s invitation to the Marine, and not much longer for her friends to convince her to accept. She’d be here in moments and Marisol needed to be gone. Pushing aside the painting of a Spanish landscape, Marisol flipped the switch for the hidden door. Slipping through, she pulled it shut just in time to hear the bathroom door open. She was in the alley a moment later, sliding onto the seat of her motorcycle.
If she’d read the Marine correctly, she wouldn’t tell her friends she’d entered an empty bathroom. Disappointment and confusion would keep her hidden there long enough to convince the others Marisol had given her the night of her life. That was all the alibi Marisol needed.