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I nudged his shoulder. “Seriously, Mario. I’m not up for it.”

“I’ll handle her.” He braced his fingers on the table and sent the cue ball into no-man’s-land, barely grazing the thirteen. “Well, shit.” He stood up. “Now I’m off.”

Candy weaved through the tables but didn’t look our way. I turned my back to her. “Mario, I really don’t need this shit. She wrote me a week ago. Corabelle found her texts. It was a brutal scene.”

He downed a swig of beer. “So block her.” He reached for his wallet and dropped it on the ledge of the table. “Or give her to me. She’ll get hot for my dollars.”

“That’s messed up,” I said. I didn’t have a claim on any of those women, but imagining Mario with the same girls I’d been with was a damn freak show.

“Yeah. It is, actually.” He stuck the wallet back in his pocket. “But she’s coming over here anyway.”


“Gavin? Is that you?” She came up beside the table, dressed in a vivid orange tank that hugged her breasts like a wet T-shirt. A short frayed denim skirt barely skimmed her thighs. She looked a lot like a sexed-up college girl, her hair curled away from her face, other than the lines around her eyes.

“Forget him,” Mario said. “Come over here and talk to me.”

Great. Now she’d never leave.

“You’re cute and all,” Candy said. “But Gavin owes me some texts.”

“You into sexting?” Mario leaned on the pool table, separating Candy from me.

She stepped around him. “How come you never wrote me back? I thought you cared a little.”

I didn’t even want to look at her, the mega-lashes, bright lips, and nipples poking out a mile. “I think it’s great you’re out on your own,” I said. “I’m just seeing somebody now.”

“Oh, that girl isn’t going to be enough for you,” Candy said, pushing up against me. “You’ll want a little something on the side.”

I glanced over at Mario, who shrugged.

I grasped Candy’s arms as gently as I could and set her aside. “You’ve been great, but I’m done.”

Her face took on a tragic expression. “You can’t leave me now! I have to find my own jobs, and half the men didn’t care if it was me or some other bimbo that Jerry set them up with. I’m way, way down.” She tried to come close. “I even offered you a freebie.”

“I’ll take it,” Mario said.

Candy flashed into rage. “You’re a little putz,” she said.

He backed away, hands in the air. “Sorry!”

“I’m sure there are lots of prospects here,” I said. “I’m going to have to go.” From the corner of my eye, I could see a couple dudes watching our little exchange with their cue sticks standing on end like swords. “See, those guys over there seem awfully interested.”

She turned to look. “Uggh. Whatever. They think I’m an easy sorority girl.”

“Really?” Mario choked on a laugh.

Candy scowled at him. “You can just shut up now.”

I stuck my cue back in the rack. “I’m done here.” I took off across the bar, planning to just walk home if I had to. A few miles in the cold would chill me out.

Candy raced up to me, hanging on to my arm. I’d really had it. I couldn’t do anything for her. I tried to shake her off.

She tottered on her spike heels and fell back on her ass. The pair who’d been watching decided now was the time to get involved, and I saw trouble racing toward me like a monsoon.

Mario must have seen it too because he came up beside me and clapped me on the back. “Time to go, buddy. Right now.”

I turned to help Candy back up, but one of the men smacked my hand away and did it himself. Normally I would have jumped his ass immediately, but I had enough trouble for the moment and just headed for the door.

“I don’t think so,” one of the men said, laying his meaty hand on my shoulder to whip me around.

I predicted the blow and ducked below it, coming around his back. “I’m not interested in a fight,” I said. “So walk away.”

“If I have anything to do with it, you won’t be walking anywhere.” He charged at me, but he was clumsy and large, and I dodged him easily.

“Bartender’s on the line,” Mario warned. “Three-minute warning.”

I really did not want to get arrested today. The man circled around, embarrassment probably fueling him as much as his misplaced chivalry. His friend held on to Candy, who squirmed against him. I hope he kept holding her, as I didn’t need her tangled up in this. I flashed briefly to Rosa, aiming the Glock at Sideburns. Who knew? Maybe she was just as scrappy.

“Whatcha think, you need to run away from me?” the man asked, doing a poor imitation of a boxer, thrusting his fists in front of him.

“Seriously, bro, did you learn that from a video?” Mario asked.

“They’ve already called the cops,” I told the guy. “Unless you want to post bail tomorrow, bring it down.”

He charged again, but this time he got lucky, and when I dodged to the side, he picked the right direction and moved with me. He tackled me like a linebacker, knocking over a bar table as we went down.

I didn’t want to strike even a single blow, but I had to shut this guy down. He was trying to pin me from on top, which was about his only advantage due to his size, but a hard elbow to his groin sent him reeling to one side.

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