Authors: Diane Bator
Tags: #Cozy, #Detective and Mystery Fiction
Since there was more than enough ice in the freezer, Gilda guessed his comment and nudge were not-so-subtle hints for her to get Razi away from Charlie Hunt.
"Good idea." Mick nodded. "You and Razi go take care of the party stuff. Kane and I will look after things here."
Razi didn't flinch. His full attention remained on Charlie. "I refuse to fight a man who abuses his fighters, then sets them up for public humiliation."
"That's enough." Kane scowled. "He's also done us all some good at one time."
Razi snorted. "Great. All that Zen training has made you even softer in the head."
"Oh, Kane, there you are." Mena, wearing four-inch heels that jabbed the grass like knives, tried to saunter across the yard with a glass of wine in one hand, the silver sequins on her low-cut dress glittering like a curvy disco ball in the yard lights. "Be a dear and get me a drink, will you?"
"Oh, heaven help me." Kane groaned
When Mena finally stumbled and fell against Mick, her drink sloshed onto his pants. She giggled then caressed his chest with one hand. "Well, hello, handsome. What sort of nonsense are you boys up to now?"
Mick grabbed Mena's bare shoulders and spun her around. "Charlie, you remember Mena, don't you? Why don't the two of you go get fresh drinks and catch up?"
Kane stepped forward. "That's not a good idea, mate."
"Why not?" Charlie's nostrils flared. "Are you scared of losing her for good?"
"Are you crazy? I'm more scared she'll come back. Listen, mate, you know she's a heartless dingo, and she'll tear you apart like a two-bit steak. You're best off with a real woman." Kane nodded to Marion. "Like that one."
"Huh, and here I thought you liked me." Marion huffed then headed into the house.
Kane met Gilda's gaze and winced. "This is going to be a long night. Would you be a love and…uh…"
"But I thought you wanted me and Razi to go look after…" Gilda sighed. "Never mind. I'll talk to her."
"Give it a rest, Kane. We all know you're jealous because I'm your
-girlfriend. You really need to get over me." Mena twirled a strand of hair around one finger and turned her full attention to Charlie. "You know how Kane is. If I spend the entire evening entertaining you, he'll get so jealous he'll get tunnel vision before his fight tomorrow."
"Well, that's perfect then, because I've got a huge bet on him." Charlie put one arm around Mena then steered her toward the bar. "Maybe he'll actually put on a good show for us in the octagon, while he tries to win you back from me."
"Yeah." She blew Kane a kiss. "Maybe."
Kane muttered beneath his breath as Mena and Charlie walked away. He edged closer to Gilda and grasped her arm. "Actually, I was going to tell him she's a crazy lunatic who follows me everywhere I go and has become an even bigger psycho bitch from hell, but… you know, I think they might deserve each other."
Mick snorted. "You wanted her, you got her. Don't blame me for that one. I just backed off and let you have her."
"What?" Gilda's mouth dropped open. "When did that happen?"
Mick's face reddened. "That's one of those things you'd rather not hear about. We can talk about it in private over a big glass of wine. Speaking of which, would you like another drink?"
"I haven't even had a first one yet, but I'm starting to think I might need one, especially since I have to go calm Marion down. So what's this about you and Mena?" Gilda had hardly caught her breath when the side gate opened and a murmur swept through the crowd.
People stepped off to the sides to let two men walk through Razi's backyard toward Kane and Mick. The air suddenly seemed charged with enough anxiety and excitement to make her stomach churn. So much for going anywhere just yet.
A short, bald guy with one gold front tooth led the way. His wide nose and cauliflower ears screamed that he was, or at least used to be, a fighter. Judging from his menacing glower and bull-like demeanor, she'd classify him a brawler. A street fighter. He seemed to clear the path for the taller man, who walked close behind him.
The tall, dark-haired man wore an easy smile, along with his tailored suit with a goldenrod dress shirt and glittering diamond cufflinks. He didn't bother to glance around at the crowd but kept his gaze trained on where she stood with Mick and Kane. Handsome, even with his crooked nose, he oozed confidence to the point of obnoxiousness.
Kane groaned. "Well, I'll be stuffed. You might not want to stick around with us for a bit, love. These blokes aren't here to shake hands and make nice."
"Aren't they here for the MMA fights?" she asked.
Mick turned to shield her from the newcomers. "Yup, but they're not here for a good time, just to make everyone else's lives miserable. Mostly mine."
"Who are they?" Gilda peered around him.
Kane lowered his voice and leaned toward her. "The bloke built like an oak tree is Rico Gomes. He's an MMA fighter with a pretty good left hook and a bad reputation. The ankle biter beside him is Kris Sanchez, his trainer."
Sanchez growled and flared his nostrils. The gesture was enough to make Gilda take a small step toward Mick.
"Ankle biter." Gomes' smile broadened. "I'd forgotten that's what you call him."
"Stay away from my fighter." Sanchez took a wide stance and glowered. "He's far better than you'll ever be. Better looking too."
"If you like tall, dark brutes." Kane snorted. "You'd better get a good look at him while he's still sort of pretty, love, since I have the honor of beating his face into stew meat in the octagon tomorrow."
Gilda raised her eyebrows and glanced at Mick. She didn't remember putting that fight on the card. When he didn't meet her gaze, she looked for Razi, but didn't have to look far.
Razi came up behind Gomes and Sanchez and clapped a hand on each of their shoulders. "Greetings, gentlemen."
While Gomes seemed unfazed, Sanchez jumped and spun around. "What do you want?"
"To welcome you to our gathering." Razi's smile seemed forced.
Kane folded his arms. "He was just saying hello and trying to be polite, mate. You could at least do the same thing, especially since you're in his home."
"Mate?" Sanchez laughed. "Give it up, Kane. We all know you've never even been to Australia."
"You haven't?" Gilda raised her eyebrows. "Really?"
Kane shifted his stance, and his jaw clenched.
Sanchez snorted. "Whatever this guy's told you, treat it like pure fantasy."
When Kane opened his mouth to retort, Mick stepped between them and nudged him away. "I'm glad you guys made it. How was your drive in from Detroit?"
"The drive was good, even better now we're here," Sanchez said. "That hotel you recommended is a dump. They had the nerve to tell us the hot tub is out of order for the weekend. After his fight tomorrow, my boy here will need a good soak. I told them if they didn't get it fixed tonight, I was calling my lawyer first thing in the morning."
Kane raised both eyebrows then glanced at Gilda. The crude comment that probably sat on his lips went unspoken as he bowed his head.
"Sensei Mick, it's a pleasure to see you. I'm glad to see you provided some much needed entertainment." While Gomes spoke to Mick, his gaze swept over Gilda. "Hello, darlin', this is your lucky night. You've just met the man of your dreams."
Mick shook his head. "Sorry, guys, Gilda's not here for your entertainment. She's taken. Go spread your honey somewhere else."
"Honey?" Kane barked. "Smells more like sheep dung to me, mate."
Sanchez snorted. "Is she with you or the wannabe Aussie?"
"Does it matter, Sanchez?" Kane asked. "With that ugly mug, a knuckle-dragger like you doesn't stand a chance with someone as classy as her anyway."
"Knuckle-dragger?" Gilda covered her mouth to keep from laughing.
Sanchez lunged toward Kane.
Gomes chuckled and moved faster. He held back his riled trainer. "Go get a drink, Sanchez. I'll deal with him."
"Maybe I should be the one to fight him instead of you." Sanchez cracked his knuckles. "If this wannabe thinks he's hot stuff now, just wait until I'm done with his sorry face."
Mick grinned. "Better yet, maybe we should turn Gilda loose on him."
Gilda tugged at Mick's arm. "That's not funny."
"It's alright, babe, I'm joking. Gomes would never lay a hand on a lady. He's got too much to lose." He hugged Gilda then kissed her cheek. "Why don't you go help Razi with the food? I'll make sure the boys behave themselves."
"Trust me. It's all just hot air before their big match." Mick leaned his forehead against hers. "Tomorrow night they'll all be best friends and sit down to toss back a few pints together."
Gilda certainly hoped that was true. She nodded then turned toward the food tables.
Charlie stood near the hot tub with Mena glaring at him, her eyebrows lowered and her nostrils flared. It seemed their friendship had already hit a snag. Mena shook her head then reached for his hand and smacked something onto his palm. Gilda strained to see what it was, but someone pushed in front of her, obstructing her view.
Sanchez stormed over to Charlie Hunt and shoved Mena aside, so hard she bounced off the hot tub and stumbled to the ground. He spoke a few muffled words before shouting, "You ripped me off. You're nothing but a lousy crook."
"Settle down." Charlie scowled. "You're overreacting. We'll discuss this later."
"What's wrong with right now?" Sanchez gave Charlie a shove. "You afraid of me?"
Charlie rolled his eyes. "Hardly. You were a punk when I met you, and you're still a punk. It doesn't matter who you coach."
"Leave him alone, Sanchez." Mena clung to Charlie's broad shoulders. "He never did anything to you or Gomes."
"Oh no?" Sanchez snarled. "Lady, you have no idea what this creep is capable of. I have a list longer than your legs of the things he's done to people. I'm more than ready to take him down a few pegs anytime."
Gilda frowned. It seemed Charlie Hunt wasn't exactly a well-respected member of the MMA community. Not tonight anyway. Considering it appeared no one had even touched any alcohol yet, the night was shaping up to be a memorable event.
"Back off, Sanchez." Mena pushed them apart then stood between the two men.
Before Sanchez could make another offensive move, a large bald man with a hoop earring grabbed him by back of his shirt collar and lifted him off the grass. Charlie took a step back, straightening his shirt and grinning.
"I suggest you end this conversation without your fists," the bald man said, "or you'll wind up floating in the lake."
Gilda stared. She'd been so concerned about Charlie and Sanchez, she hadn't seen the six-and-a-half-foot man walk into the yard.
"Bite me." Sanchez flailed his stubby arms and connected with Charlie's cheek.
"Knock it off." Gomes stepped in to separate Charlie and Sanchez before things could escalate. He stood with both fists at his sides, his entire body tensed.
Gilda swallowed hard, apparently more intimidated by Gomes than any of the others. The menacing glower in his dark eyes made her take a small step back.
Sanchez clambered to his feet and straightened his slacks and dress shirt. "So, you've got a new watchdog now, huh, Charlie? You'd better hope he's good at his job."
Kane pulled Gilda away from the confrontation as he handed her to Mick. "Get her out of here, mate. These guys are bonkers."
Mick nodded. "Gilda, why don't you go find Marion? I'm sure she'd be glad to keep you company while we calm these guys down and make sure they don't cause any more trouble."
"These guys?" Gomes chuckled. "Nah, they're just blowing off steam before the main event. They're harmless." He shot Sanchez a nasty look. "Right?"
"Yeah, as harmless as cobras." Mick met Gilda's glance.
When Sanchez pushed Gomes aside and dove at Charlie once more, Gilda jumped back against Mick. Charlie swung a solid right then landed an upper cut with his left fist. Sanchez's teeth clacked together as he fell back onto the manicured lawn. With a growl, he started to kick at both Charlie's shins.
Kane grabbed Sanchez's left leg and spun him away from Charlie. "That's enough."
Sanchez's right foot caught Kane across the chin with enough force to knock him back a couple feet. Before Kane could collect himself enough to fight back, Mick grabbed his shoulder and steadied him.
"That is enough." Razi picked up Sanchez up by the back of his shirt. "You will be civil or you will all leave my home."
Sanchez snorted and spit a wad of watery blood onto the grass near a twinkling solar light. "I have nothing to be civil to him about. That son of a rattlesnake owes me big time, and I plan to collect any way I can."
Gilda clutched Mick's arm. "What's going on? What does Charlie owe him?"
Mick sighed. "Money. Lots of money. Go find Marion. I'd feel a lot better if you were out of harm's way in case things get any uglier."
"What the hell is going on out here?" Marion stormed out of the house with a platter of watermelon. "Can't a girl even refill party platters without missing all the excitement?"
Sanchez stood and brushed the dirt off his clothing. "Who's she?"
"Someone who doesn't need the displeasure of meeting you." Kane snorted then steered Gilda away from the melee toward Marion. "It's all a show, love. A little male posturing before the fights begin tomorrow morning. Go keep your friend company."
Gilda winced. "Actually, it looks like the fights are already well underway."
"Mick and I have things under control." Kane gritted his teeth.
She touched his chin where Sanchez had kicked him. "Obviously."
Kane winked and leaned his forehead toward her. "You can kiss it better for me later, love. Maybe after I cook you breakfast."
"Mick, do you want me to—?" Gilda peered around Kane to where Mick held Gomes back from putting his hands on anyone else.
Mick, his hands still pushing against Gomes' chest, glanced back over his shoulder. "Don't worry about a thing, babe. You and Marion go have some fun. I'll deal with these clowns. Once the fights are done tomorrow, the heated tempers will die down."