Episode Three - Gone in a Flash
Okay, all you amateur sleuths, here’s the third installment of my reader-solve mystery. How you doing so far? Starting to form a few suspicions? Read on, and maybe you can refine your thinking.
Episode 3 – Gone in a Flash
No Elizabeth didn’t come right out and say someone stole the ring. And also, no, there wasn’t a chance in hell of her keeping me here if I really wanted to leave. I can safely guarantee that went for Rochelle too.
The cousins got a little pouty.
But here’s the thing—I didn’t want to leave. Not just because we were waiting on the stripper (the totally ripped, awesome stripper, thanks to me), but because I was more than curious. Where the heck had that ring gone?
At least things were swinging back to a bit of fun. Though everyone seemed to be keeping their eyes peeled for the ring as we chatted away, made jokes, ate around Bieber’s hairless chest.
Then Rhianna was suddenly hit with a notion: Why don’t we let go, and let it come back. Trust the universe to bring that ring back to Elizabeth.
Dix Dodd is here—make way for the hero! She’ll find the diamond ring for us!
Okay, that second part is not exactly what Rhianna said, but hey, we all knew that was what she meant.
There was a knock at the door.
“Finally!” Rochelle said. “Bring on the stripper man!”
Shelby squealed. “I hope he’s hot. Like fireman hot!”
I jumped up to answer the door. If there’s one thing I’m good at … wait, there are so many things I’m good at…
“Nope, not a fireman, but definitely H.O.T.” In full dramatic wait-and-see mode, I held the door open wide. “Ladies, may I present–”
I pulled the door wide.
“Dylan?” Oh shit, that’s right—the pigs-in-a-blanket.
Elizabeth took one look and snorted into her freshly topped-off champagne glass—she knew Dylan. As did Rochelle. But Alyssa, Rhianna and Shelby had never met my PI partner, the tall and handsome Dylan Foreman.
“Oooooh!”Shelby grinned widely. “You went for the cowboy stripper! Oh, ride em’, cowboy—giddy up!”
Cowboy? They thought my boyfriend was a freakin’ cowboy?
Well, all right!
It was the motorcycle chaps, of course. He must have ridden over on the bike. Shelby must have thought they were for riding—
“I’m the range! I’m the range!” She shouted, laughing.
Rochelle reached and snapped to life the iPod on the table, and the unmistakable beat of stripper music filled the hotel suite.
“Pole dance for us!” Rhianna shouted as she jumped to her feet and started to shimmy-shudder up toward my boyfriend.
“This is a hotel suite, not a bar,” Alyssa said. “There’s no pole here.”
“No pole here?” Rhianna glanced south. “Well there’s a challenge if I ever heard one.” She stared at Dylan like she meant to take up that challenge.
Dylan held the tray of food protectively in front of him. Then I held something protectively in front of him.
“Sorry to disappoint, ladies,” I said, though frankly I was thrilled to disappoint. “But this isn’t the stripper. This is my boyfriend … West. West Texas. Bull rider. Ranch owner.”
I glanced up at Dylan—and appreciated the smirk on his face. Oh good—he’d play along. “Why, howdy ladies,” he drawled.
Wow! If we put all those sighs and shudders together, would we have a complete orgasm? Ah, me and math.
“Give me a break!” Elizabeth said. But at least she was smiling.
“Oh you poor baby–”Rhianna said, advancing still.
“Did I mention he’s my lonely cowboy? Yes, yes, I think I did.”
Rhianna stopped dead in her tracks.
“Lucky you.” She grabbed the food tray from Dylan, turned on her heel, and rejoined the others in the center of the suite.
I stood by the door with Dylan.
“Thanks for that,” I whispered.
“No problem,” Dylan said, his tone low. “But do you think you might have oversold that cowboy thing, Dix?”
Hmmm, oversold…? I’d barely started. Loudly enough for all to hear, I said, “What’s that, West? You’ve been longing for the comfort of a woman in your arms for how long?”
Astute guy that he was, he rolled with it. “You’re right, Miss Dix. I’m powerful lonesome after that long … um … trail ride.”
“Oh, poor, lonesome cowboy. Is there anything I can do to ease or comfort you?”
His eyes glinted, and it was only partly humor. “I can think of a few things.”
I batted my eyes at him.
To the delight of the girls, he lifted me off my feet and hauled me outside the hotel room, closing the door behind him. Then he kissed me silly in the hallway, the squeals and hoots of the girls clearly audible through the door.
When he turned me loose, I’m pretty sure my eyes had a sparkle of their own.
“Can you get away early?”
Could I ever. I looked at my watch. I knew Rochelle was determined to be out by eleven, with or without Elizabeth’s blessing, and that was close to an hour away. “Come back in an hour.” I knew I’d be drinking so hadn’t brought my car. I had planned on calling a cab, but this worked better.
Dylan thought so too.
“See you later, cowboy,” I breathed into his ear.
“See you later, Miss Dix.”
Damn, that sounded hot.
He rapped on the door, then smiled down at me. When Rhianna yanked the door open, the other gals, including Rochelle, were right behind her. “Evening, ladies.” With a nod, he ambled off, doing his best cowboy impression. It was pretty damned good.
Rhianna hauled me inside. “Damn, girl, where did you find him?”
I smiled mysteriously, tugging the hem of my dress, which seemed to have crept up from all that action, back down to a more modest level. “You know, some gin joint.”
“Gin joint?” Rochelle snorted. “Wrong genre, Dix. Saloon, maybe.” To the other girls, she said, “He’s her PI partner.”
“Partner with benefits, I presume?” Shelby asked.
I smiled wider, but now that Dylan had left, they’d lost interest.
“When’s the stripper coming?” Rhianna asked.
She and Shelby made their way back to the sofa, Rochelle went to uncork another bottle of champagne, and Elizabeth plunked herself in a big wingback chair. I took a seat on one of a matched set of white leather club chairs.
Bolt headed for the sofa. I expected him to jump up between Rhianna and Shelby, but he didn’t. Hell, maybe he couldn’t jump that high. He was a little … stout. He heaved himself up so his front paws rested on the sofa and looked expectantly at Shelby. She set a foot under his puggly little butt, and with what had to be a practiced lift, helped him up onto the couch. Bolt turned around in three clockwise circles before he settled on the cushion. Then he stared at me.
We had a moment.
And in that moment—niggle, niggle—my intuition kicked in. But kicked in on what? I knew I had to pay attention.
Was Bolt trying to tell me something? About Rhianna? Shelby?
Okay, yes, I was a little tipsy. I don’t usually look to canine conversation, but the way that dog eyed me as he sat there with Rhianna on one side and her sister, Shelby, on the other was … well, strange.
Don’t get me wrong—I do love dongs, I mean dogs. But it was more than that. As Bolt sat there between these two sisters, why did I get that intuitive nudge? Had Rhianna actually stolen the ring, then cried to me that it was missing, hoping to draw me into her corner? Or had bling-crazy Shelby snagged it?
I broke eye contact with Bolt (okay, but he blinked first) only to find that Shelby was looking at me. Hard. Then, quick as anything, she broke into smiles and giggles again.
I glanced over at Rochelle. She’d refilled her champagne flute and was leaning back in a wingback chair that matched Elizabeth’s. She had her head back, eyes closed. Not asleep, but really enjoying the champagne. And I hope enjoying the night, despite the ring fiasco. She did come as a favor to me, after all.
“Good choice on the champagne, Rochelle,” I said. “It’s really–”
“Ha, ha, you said her name!” Rhianna was delighted to point this out.
“Oh … okay.”
I tipped up my champagne glass and drained it.
Rochelle opened her eyes. “It’s easy to select excellent champagne when someone else is paying.” She leaned in to take one of the hors d’oeuvres Dylan had brought. “These are great, ladies,” she told the others. “As good as the stuff the hotel sent up.”
I made a mental note. Don’t tell Dylan the party was catered by the hotel. He might get the idea I’d asked him to do bring the pigs-in-a-blanket just so I could show him off. Which I totally did.
“Hey, they are good,” Rhianna said.
And I had to wonder: Hey, why wasn’t I eating?
I grabbed a napkin imprinted with DRINK UP, BITCHES! and piled a half dozen of the treats Dylan made onto it.
And then there were four pigs-in-a-blanket.
Just that quickly—and yeah, I do mean quickly—Bolt had jumped down from the couch, dashed past my chair, and grabbed two of the treats right off the napkin. He ran into the bedroom with his booty, and with a might bound, actually managed to leap onto the bed. What a little actor! He could have easily jumped onto the sofa, which was much lower than the bed.
Bolt lay down with his stolen goodies and looked at me.
What are you trying to tell me, little doggy? Well, besides the fact that you really can jump. And that everyone likes pigs-in-a-blanket.