2005 RITA — Novel with Strong Romantic Elements
|LADY LUCK’S MAP OF VEGAS
Author: Barbara Samuel
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pub Date: January 2005
Barnes and Noble
Award-winning author Barbara Samuel brings us a heartfelt story of second chances and unexpected detours. As two women come to terms with themselves and each other, the past unravels and the future spreads out before them like the open road.
A successful Web designer, forty-year-old India has a fabulously hip life in Denver and a sexy Irish lover in New York who jets out to see her on bi-weekly visits. The long-distance romance suits India just fine: Though Jack is the only man who has ever made India feel truly alive, she doesn’t want things to get too serious. But then her father passes away, and India must honor the promise she made to him: to look after her mother when he’s gone.
Suddenly India finds herself back in Colorado Springs with the woman who both intrigues and infuriates her. Eldora is sixty something and exquisitely gorgeous, but her larger-than-life personality can suck the air out of a room. True to form, Eldora throws India a curveball, insisting that they hit the road to look for India’s twin, Gypsy, a brilliant artist who lives a vagabond’s existence in the remote mountain towns of New Mexico. It looks like India can’t avoid her mother’s intensity any longer, especially after she discovers stunning secrets from Eldora’s past.
Thirty years ago, Eldora regaled her twin girls with glamorous stories about her days as a Las Vegas showgirl – stories of martinis and music at the Sahara, back when Frank and Sammy ruled the town. But the story of how she really ended up in Sin City, and the unsavory life she’d run from with her daughters in tow, is full of details she’s never seen fit to share-until now.
As mother and daughter sail down Route 66, the very road Eldora drove those many years ago, looking for Gypsy, while passing motels, diners, and souvenir shops, Eldora must relive a lifetime of memories that have tormented her before she can put them to rest once and for all. . . .
LADY LUCK’S MAP OF VEGAS © Barbara Samuel
It’s funny how the moments that change your life sneak up on you. The night I met Jack, saucer-sized feathers of snow were falling out of a heavy pink sky. I walked to the pub, not minding the kink the moisture would give my hair. There’s nothing quite like the soft air of a falling snow. Light from the pub, with a proper Irish name-O’Connell’s-spilled yellow onto the sidewalk through a mullioned window. I could hear the rush of voices inside, and there was an agreeable sense of happiness in my chest. New work. That was what I was thinking about.
We’d only communicated by e-mail, Jack and I. He’d seen my Web designs and wanted to talk to me about putting together something for his magazine, a publication for adventure travelers. I had a picture in my mind of a jowly Irish American, an Ernest Hemingway type, hard drinking and hard living, with fists like hams and white hair. It was some face my brain sent up from central casting to go with “Jack Shea, magazine publisher and outdoorsman.” He’d been skiing at Aspen and had hired a car to bring him into Denver for the night.
All great for me. It was plain he had deep pockets and wanted a substantial site.
I pulled open the heavy wooden doors to the pub. Air heavy with a heady mix of cigarettes and ale, perfume and old nights enveloped me. From the jukebox came the sound of a heavy, fast Celtic drum, which lent a sense of excitement to the room. It was crowded, but I’d asked him to meet me by the main taps, and I pushed through the college students and businessmen.
Spying Jack, I knew right away it was him, even though he was so very different from the picture I’d had in my head. He had a pint of something dark in front of him, and he wore a black leather jacket with many years of wear on it, not battered, but comfortable to the last degree. He was digging in the pocket of his jeans for a bill to give the bartender, and a lock of that thick black hair was falling on his face. I had a glimpse of a sharply cut white cheek, and light glanced off the crown of his head, and I swear, it had been years and years, but my heart flipped.
It scared me. I stopped and thought about leaving. I stood there for a minute, waiting for him to raise his head. His nose was strong and straight, that elegant right angle, and his mouth was generous, which is a sort of requirement of mine.
What surprised me was the aura of rough-and-tumble about him. The well-worn boots, the jeans, the scuffs on his leather coat, his too-long hair. Not a bad boy-he was tougher than that. Bad boys were posers where he came from.
And how do you know all that about a person in three seconds? I don’t know, but we all do it. And sometimes we know we’re right.
I had the advantage when he looked up and saw me. His face didn’t show a damn thing, but his eyes-and this was the first time I’d seen them, so clear and even a gray, the exact color of the ocean on a cloudy day-flickered.
He said, “Your picture does you no justice.”
“You’re Irish Irish,” I said without thinking.
One side of his mouth lifted. A thin white scar cut through his left eyebrow. The eyes were spectacular up close, flecked with darker gray. “So I am. Galway.”
“Sorry,” I said, and stuck out my hand. “That was pretty idiotic. Jack Shea, right? I’m India Redding.”
His hand went around mine, white and strong, with scatters of dark hair on the back. His nails were clean, oval, neat; a contrast to his hair, which seemed curiously untended, a little shaggy, too long across his forehead. The blackness pointed up the gray of those eyes, which were having a conversation with me, sweeping my face, my lips, my breasts-but in the right way, admiring without leering.
He looked at me. Not politely. Not with any expectation. Just looked, and I felt it all through me, as if he really could see everything I was, all I’d ever been. After a moment, he lifted his chin. “I am very pleased to meet you, India.”
I admit it, the accent slayed me. Who could resist that brogue, ruffling the Rs and frolicking through ordinary words like “very” and “pleased.” I gave a passing imitation of someone with a brain, however, and gestured him toward a booth. “It will be quieter over there. We can talk about what you’re looking for.”
He followed me over. Not so tall, I noticed, but graceful, light on his feet. We settled across from each other, both of us shedding our coats, then leaning forward over the table. There was a moment of collision, almost shocking, when our eyes met. I was arrested for a moment, and the air was thinner-all those things that sound absurd. Wonderful. Terrifying. Electric.
“Well,” he said, clasping his hands around his glass, “I’m flummoxed. You’re beautiful, and I don’t know what to say.”
I smiled at that, ease coming back into my chest. “So are you.”
“Now that I know is a lie,” he replied, and I noticed his finger stroked the scar on his eyebrow. “But it’s a nice one, so I thank you.”
We made small talk until the waitress brought me an ale. I was going to order Guinness, but I was afraid he would think I was trying to curry favor, and ordered a microbrew instead. The waitress cooed over him.
“I just love that accent,” she said.
“Thank you.” He smiled at me, and cocked his head a little as she left. “It’s Irish Irish, you know.”
In my younger days, I would have blushed. Instead, I inclined my head in return, smiling to acknowledge his little insider joke. “Now, how can I help you, Mr. Shea?”
One brow lifted. “Well, Ms. Redding, I’d like a Web page.”
I had a steno pad and took notes. It was a quick, straightforward exchange; he spoke clearly and directly. I asked for clarification, he gave it. I sketched, he shook his head; I sketched again, he began to nod, tapped the page with his index finger.
I leaned back, poked the page with my pen. “The demographic is not the twenty-something, then. You’re looking for a market share among an older set.”
“Exactly. A fit fifty-year-old who wants to hike to Machu Picchu or take an adventure cruise in New Zealand.”
“Excellent.” I sipped the ale, made a note to myself to check some of the other magazines in this age group. “What about the financial demographic?”
“Sensible, not luxury.”
“Arthur Frommer, not Condé Nast?”
Again that quirky half smile. “Right.”
“Interesting. I think I can come up with a few ideas for this. I’ll require a retainer, but it will apply toward the final bill if you hire me.”
“Fair enough. I’d also like you to meet some of my staff and get their ideas as well. Is that possible?”
“In New York?”
“Sure. It shouldn’t be a long trip, but it should be face-to-face. I’d be happy to put you up-we keep an apartment.”
What the heck. I hadn’t been anywhere in ages, and it would be tax deductible, and, well, how awful would it be to listen to him talk a little more? “I’m sure I can arrange that.”
“Good.” He raised a hand for the waitress, and patted the notebook. “End of business, then. We’ll just be ourselves now. Is that all right? May I call you India?”
When the waitress appeared, he said, “What’ll you have?”
“I didn’t want to be patronizing before,” I said, and grinned, “but I’d really like a Guinness.”
A little breeze of surprise over his mouth. “Make it two.” When she’d gone, he said in that musical way, “My kind of woman.”
“Tell me about yourself,” I said, leaning forward. “You’re from Galway. How did you get here?”
“That is a long and tangled story, girl.”
“All right. Tell me a little bit of it then.”
He fingered the scar again, and seemed to notice me noticing. “Beer bottle when I was seventeen.” He mimed fisticuffs. “I had a bit of a temper in those days.”
“Rakish. You could be a pirate.” The pints of Guinness came, black and frothy. I sipped mine and sighed. “They always say it doesn’t travel well, but it tastes fine to me. I love it.”
“It’s better in Ireland, but it’s not so bad here.” He raised his glass. “Cheers.”
I clinked the glass. “So you were a wild young man?”
“Sure, I was,” he said. And he spun a tale, cheerful and funny, of his youth in a neighborhood of council houses in Galway. His fa- ther worked for the railyard, his mother as a clerk for the local grocery. Both were quite religious and dragged him to mass far too often for his pleasure. There were seven brothers and sisters, of which he was the eldest. “There were too many of us in that house, and I signed on with a freighter going to Australia. Didn’t have to go to mass anymore.”
He traveled the world and made his way into travel writing, and made a good living for himself.
The story unrolled in a droll voice that poked fun at himself and his life, and had the ring of an oft-told tale, which I didn’t mind. It was funny and punctuated with bits of trivia. On a trip to San Francisco, for example, he fell to drinking with a group of young computer geeks. He did an article on them, and one sent him a thank-you with an offer to invest in a software product they thought would revolutionize certain business practices.
Jack paused, lifted his glass. That heavy lock of black hair fell on his forehead and he tossed it off. “It was a bloody coup. I made a fortune. Bought the magazine, and here I am.”
“Sure, I was married.” A darkness crossed his face, the expression I recognized could probably be thunderous. He said, “Everyone marries, don’t they? But I prefer not to think about it.”
“Now your story, India. No husband? No children?”
“Nope. Not interested.”
His gaze went through me, seeking the truth of that. I didn’t look away. “Unusual.”
I told him then, up front. “I have a twin sister who is schizophrenic. It seems wiser not to have a child.”
Something was drawing me under his spell again. The agreeable atmosphere, the shimmer of those gray eyes, the lure of putting my hands in his hair. I wanted to touch him, very badly. I wanted even more to kiss him. He looked at my mouth.
“I think I’m going to have to get going,” I said lightly.
“Early morning,” I lied. I was afraid if I stayed I would end up sleeping with him. A very bad idea, considering how much I wanted the contract to design his Web pages. I stood, held out my hand. “It’s been wonderful talking to you, Jack. Really.”
He dropped some bills on the table. “I’ll walk you out.”
So we put on our coats and went out into the saucer-sized snowflakes, falling like fake snow to lie in little fluffy piles in corners. I held out my hand to shake his, and he gave me that little half smile as he accepted it.
Then he drew me forward, closer and closer, just our hands held, and he lifted up his other hand and cupped it on my face.
And kissed me. His mouth was hot as a bubbling dessert, sweet as blackberries. A voice in the back of my mind said <i>Be cool, be cool, </i> but instead I moved a little into a more comfortable position, and put my arm around his shoulder, and we kissed some more.
I finally raised my head. “Um . . . I have to go.”
He moved his thumb over my lower lip. “I’ll see you again, India. Good night.”