Beyond Paradise

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
Jonny and Cheryl are caught in a life neither wants. When they meet they finally see what their future could hold if they have the courage to break free.

Submitted: November 20, 2016

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Submitted: November 20, 2016

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Cheryl Benson loved drunks. They made her job so easy. Approach the target, capture their attention, and make the grab. But grab was such a harsh word. To her it came second nature, like brushing her teeth or combing her hair. A choreographed routine she performed nightly at the Oasis, a dive bar wedged in between abandoned warehouses and tumbledown tenements at the end of a Brooklyn pier.

At twenty four, her level of expertise assured the mark never realized their valuables were missing. The thrill of the theft was the addiction, but lately the conscience she thought had long ago deserted her returned at the most unexpected times. 

She made her way around the maze of tables that choked the smoke-filled room. Even the state of New York didn’t care if these people puffed their brains out. 

“Here you go, gentlemen.” She laid their change on the table, and leaned in to make sure her long, blonde hair teased her best assets.

“Hey, she called us gentlemen,” the guy with the biggest beer gut hollered over the din of rowdy customers and hip-hop music. “She sure don’t know us very good.” That made them all guffaw and slap each other on the back. 

“It was my pleasure to serve you tonight.” Cheryl lingered at the side of the quieter, shyer one of the group.

“I’ll give you something to service.” Big Mouth leered, making a repulsive hand gesture.

She bent just enough to make the strip of material she called a skirt rise to an almost indecent height. “Maybe next time, handsome.”

They were all whoops and fist pumps, as Cheryl felt Big Mouth’s clammy hand on the back of her bare thigh. She sidestepped, suppressed the shiver that slithered through her, then completed the show with an extra twitch in her hips as she wiggled her way to the service bar. 

Guys like them were a cinch. Be attentive to the loudest one in the group while fleecing the other two.

She headed toward Nicky slumped at his usual perch at the end of the bar. He only cared about how the results would pay off the long list of bookies he held at bay. “How’d we do?” His voice thick with cocaine and whiskey, his latest feel-good combination. 

He used the word we without hesitation, yet she assumed all the risks. Such a shame, because Nicky had been fast, sharp and quite charismatic when he’d swept her off the streets six years ago.  Although he wasn’t to blame. Her life of crime began way before Nicky. 

She unzipped the secret pocket at the waist of her pleather skirt and handed the money over to him. 

We did good.” She shifted to relieve the pressure of the five-inch stilettos holding her feet prisoner.

“Not as much as usual.” He fanned through the money, then tapped her cheek with the wad of bills.

“Slow night,” Cheryl shot back, refusing to let him intimidate her. Her height of five foot six plus the spike heels put them almost at eye level, but Nicky outweighed her by at least one hundred pounds.

“Hey, I’m working on a big score.” His body caged her in as his hand grazed her cheek.

“I don’t want much, Nicky.” Cheryl’s mind flitted to the backpack she’d stashed behind her winter coat in the rear of their closet. Tonight, she would make her escape with her younger brother, Dylan. The little boy who had become her responsibility at an early age, cause Mama didn’t worry about things like eating. Her main focus was men and drugs. Sometimes one more than the other.

“What’s with you?” Nicky leaned in to kiss her, and she shied away. “Are you still thinking about that guy last night?”

“He had his kids’ pictures in his wallet.” Cheryl tried to fight off the latest waves of conscience. “Maybe he needed the money for them.”

“He would’ve drank it all away.” Nicky shrugged off her concern. “We did him a favor. Instead of stumbling home drunk off his ass, he probably went home early.”

Cheryl had once believed Nicky’s every word. His smoldering good looks, schemes, and promises had captivated her. Now he was just another raggedy-jeaned hood who sniffed and twitched from too much coke. 

“I suppose.”

But tonight her dream of a life without Nicky could come true. A life where she didn’t go to bed at three in the morning and wake up after noon.  A nine-to-five life. A straight life. A life with more daylight.

“Fuck.” Nicky hissed, his eyes trained over her shoulder.

She followed his gaze to a guy who could be on a GQ cover. Long, lean muscles rolled with every deliberate step. Dark hair cut to perfection and even darker eyes squinted against the smoke filled room. Cheryl tried not to gawk, but this guy was gorgeous. Six plus feet wrapped in a designer black button down shirt and slacks that could probably pay the rent on her room upstairs.

“Hey, Jonny, can I get you a drink?” Nicky said with a slight quiver, as he gripped Cheryl’s arm with one hand, and snapped his fingers for the bartender with the other.

“You know why I’m here.” His voice sounded bored, but its rough rumble sent a shiver straight down to her toes, as if her body anticipated the danger that swirled around him.

“Doesn’t mean we can’t have a drink first.” Nicky slapped the bar top and yelled for the bartender again.

“Maybe you’d rather do this in private.” Jonny’s eyes shifted to Cheryl, and her breathing hitched. His eyes were black. Deep, haunting, soulful eyes that lingered long enough to make her wonder what he was thinking.

“I got no secrets from her,” Nicky said with a dismissive shrug.

“Fine,” Jonny said. “Frank’s tired of waiting. He wants his ten grand. Tonight.”

Cheryl’s mind flipped through her Rolodex of street names and came up with the worst choice possible, Frank Barnett. Brooklyn thug, suspected money launderer, extortionist and murderer. Great.

“Tonight?” Nicky gulped down the cheap whiskey the bartender had placed in front of him. 

Cheryl knew Nicky had gambling debts, but owing Frank Barnett, and now having to face a guy who could star in The Godfather, Next Generation? Not smart.

“You have it or not?” Jonny’s low rasp intimidated more than if he had yelled the question.

“I got five hundred,” Nicky offered.

Jonny shook his head and pursed his lips as if trying to keep from laughing. 

Cheryl had given Nicky way more than five hundred dollars this week. Were the drugs screwing with his brain so much that he thought he could outsmart this guy?  

“This isn’t gonna end well.” Jonny’s cool, calm voice raised the little hairs on the back of her neck, and old loyalties to Nicky nagged at her. True, she wanted to get far away from him and his drama, but she didn’t want him floating face down in the East River either. 

“He can give you more than that.” Cheryl’s thoughts tumbled out of her mouth without her permission.

“Shut the fuck up,” Nicky growled as he yanked her tighter to his side.

Jonny stepped into their space and glared at Nicky until he released his grip. She’d never seen someone so intense. This wasn’t some tough guy act, this was real, raw and . . . sexy as hell.

“Seems like she’s got more sense than you.” Jonny raised his chin in her direction.

“You’re right.” Nicky switched gears. “She’s got some very interesting talents.” The amount of sleaze in his voice made Cheryl regret her moment of sympathy. 

Jonny shook his head in disgust, and for a second Cheryl wondered if he was turned off by Nicky’s offer or by her? 

“The money. Either you have it, or you don’t.”

“All right.” Nicky dug into his jeans pocket, and pulled out a wad of cash. “Here’s three grand.”

Jonny snatched the banded money out of his hand and held it in front of Nicky’s face. “Your girlfriend bought you another week.” Then he pocketed the money. 

Nicky huffed out a long held breath. “Now we should have that drink of the good stuff.”

When Nicky walked around the bar to retrieve a bottle of bourbon, Jonny trained those pitch-black eyes on her.

“I have a feeling your boyfriend isn’t always so nice.” His voice had lost its edge, and became as smooth as honeyed whiskey.

He leaned in close, and her pulse pounded under his scrutiny as she tugged at her too short skirt, then wrapped her arms around her bare midriff. 

“You don’t belong here.” His hard eyes softened. 

“Oh, no?”

“Run away with me.” His lips quirked up into a smile.

“And where would we go?” She played along with his flirting. 

He paused in thought. “Some hot tropical island?” He smiled full out and warning bells blared, but her vivid imagination still conjured up warm sand, cold exotic drinks and his hot body wrapped around . . . 

“Here we go.” Nicky returned with the bourbon, poured out two glasses, and slid one toward Jonny.

Jonny stepped away from the bar and his expression flipped as he pinned Nicky with a stony glare. “Next week, the usual drop-off.”

When he spun back to her, he winked so quickly she thought she’d imagined it. Then without another word Jonny weaved his way through the crowd, and Cheryl experienced a strange sense of loss.

She followed him with her eyes, but then her street sense kicked in.  Anybody who worked for Frank Barnett was just an upgraded version of Nicky. Another hood, only with a better wardrobe . . . and a hot body to show it off. She’d play it safe and forget about him.

“That fuckin’ guy, coming in here talking to me like that,” Nicky raged as he downed one shot of bourbon and then the other.

Cheryl suppressed an eye roll.

He moved her away from the bar and into the back hallway. “Now you gotta help me do this deal with JP.”

JP Drake, Nicky’s latest project. 

Four months ago, a raging blizzard had stalled JP’s Lamborghini right outside the Oasis. Only a fool would drive a custom-made sports car in a snowstorm but there stood the heir to the Drake Towers, Drake Shipping and the Drake Hotels.  

Nicky had zoomed in, and before long the uptight Long Island billionaire and the waterfront hustler were best friends. Seems JP got off on slumming at the Oasis, and they both shared a powerful love. Coke. 

Cheryl didn’t like it. Rich men intimidated her, their eyes demanded more than they deserved.

“Great, so what’s the deal?” Cheryl tried to sound interested, but at two in the morning with the anticipation of freedom on her mind, having to listen to another one of Nicky’s get-rich-quick schemes made her ears bleed.

“This time I got us a sure thing.”

Another sure thing? Like his producer friend in L.A. who hustled them out to a seedy garage in Burbank for porn flicks. When she refused to join in, Nicky ranted and screamed insults at her for about ten seconds before he slapped her hard enough to leave a welt under her left eye. 

When they returned to Brooklyn, Nicky became more edgy and erratic. Doing coke all the time and drinking more. But the drugs and the liquor were the symptoms. Failed dreams and lost hope was the disease. 

She had no intention of waiting until he lashed out again, and with her take from tonight and the other money she had stocked away, she had enough for two one-way tickets to California for her and her brother. Getting Dylan out of Brooklyn had been her main focus, because the little boy who once adored her had grown and found new heroes on the street who offered swag and power, but maybe she could save both of them. 

“All right, let’s hear it.” She measured her breathing and feigned interest because the sooner she got it over with, the sooner she could get away.

“JP’s such a fuckup that to keep his inheritance his family is demanding he gets married by age thirty.” He ran his other hand over her hip and nudged her closer. “His birthday is next month, and he has no prospects.”

“I find that hard to believe.” Cheryl snickered. “The guy’s an idiot, but his money alone should be a selling point.”

“He wants a quickie marriage, get his inheritance, then a quickie divorce.” Nicky drew himself up with pride. “And I’m the one who’s gonna get him a wife.”

 “And where will you find this wife?” She motioned around the cramped, dingy corridor. 

“Easy, she’s standing right in front of me.”

………………………………………………………………

Jonny brushed the invisible dirt off his shirt as he stood outside the Oasis. Just being inside the place made him want to take a shower, then run to his dry cleaner. He sucked in a deep breath hoping for some fresh air, but the smell of rotten fish and stagnant water surrounded him. A stench that clung to everything. Including the decaying tenement two blocks away that he’d spent most of his twenty-nine years trying to forget. 

Memories of another hot, steamy night answering to Frank Barnett. One whiff of the stagnant water and it all flooded in. It’d been rough back in the day, running the streets, but Frank knew talent when he saw it, and put Jonny in charge of the Paradise Lounge, Frank’s legitimate money washing machine. 

Jonny made the Paradise a hit, and raked in stacks of legal cash, but Frank kept him in line with side jobs like tonight. Freedom. Jonny had surrendered that years ago in exchange for money and power.

He needed a drink. Not the cheap bourbon out of a dirty glass that Nicky offered. A high-end scotch, or a smooth tequila from his private stock. That would squash the bad memories. Make him forget the Oasis, Frank, Nicky. But not the blonde. 

He realized he didn’t even know her name. Fuck. He liked to put a name to his fantasies, and he had a suspicion she would be a headliner for the next few days.

Silky, straight, platinum blonde hair that reached the middle of her back, and brushed the swell of her breasts. She wore the slutty clothes like a fashion model. All long legs, curvy hips and a tiny waist that belonged on a runway, not hanging out with Nicky Falcone in a dump like the Oasis.

Jonny expected her to seduce him into giving Nicky a pass, but she seemed embarrassed by Nicky’s offer, and almost shy the way she tried to cover up her sexy midriff. Wash off the heavy makeup and you had a girl next door, not a small time hustler.

Her eyes had followed him, anticipating the worst, on point and ready to bolt out the door in short notice. Not that he would’ve blamed her. Hooking up with Nicky and working at the Oasis had to be two of her worst life choices. 

Then Nicky moved away from her and all that fear and anxiety vanished. Jonny had one shot, but playing the conversation back in his head made him wince. Asking her to run away with him? He’d sounded like a stalker, or a fuckin’ moron. 

Either way they hadn’t exchanged more than four sentences, but when those pleading green eyes of hers connected he knew he wanted to save her. Like, had to do it. Now. It didn’t make any fuckin’ sense, but she knew. Yeah, she felt it, too.

The wad of money weighed heavy in his pocket, and reminded him he had bigger problems than the fate of a hot blonde, like the phone call he had to make.

Frank in a good mood unnerved Jonny, but not getting all his money from a lowlife like Nicky would make Frank’s attitude unbearable.

Jonny fished his phone out of his pants pocket, and prepared for the worst.

“Yeah.” Frank answered before the first ring ended.

“I got three grand,” Jonny said. Frank wanted bad news fast.

“Should’ve been ten.” Frank paused. “You do anything about it?” 

“Figured he’s more useful in one piece.”

Frank knew some payment was better than none, and a thief with mangled fingers or broken arms couldn’t work.

“Stupid fucker tried to pawn off his girlfriend.”

Silence. Never a good sign.

“Girlfriend, huh?” Frank’s voice tightened. “You taking the rest of my money out in trade?”

“Fuck, no.” 

That jacked up the first fantasy. Dragging her away from Nicky, and down a back hall. It would get crazy fast. Hot, wet kisses. Sweet and dirty up against a wall, a door, or any flat surface where he could wrap those incredible legs around his hips, and sink into her so deep that . . .

“Did you hear what I said?” Frank shouted into the phone, shattering the best part of his night.

“Yeah . . . no. What?”

“I said,” Frank’s voice measured, as if talking to a child, “I’ll be by later.” 

Code for he’d be bringing a duffle bag of money that Jonny would finesse through the club’s account. Fuckin’ wonderful. Bad enough Frank had degraded him into collecting tonight, but now he’d have to entertain him, too.

On impulse he pushed through the splintered wooden door of the Oasis again. His eyes fixed on where he’d seen her last, but she was gone. No sign of her or Nicky. He shook his head. He didn’t want to think about where they were or what they were doing.  

Back out on the sidewalk, Jonny hoped the walk back to the Paradise would get his head straight. Maybe he could finish his fantasy, or maybe he’d cut through the alley and see if she was hanging around out back.

…………………………………………………..

“What?” The squeak of horror in Cheryl’s voice bounced around the narrow hallway.

“You’re gonna marry JP.” Nicky squared his shoulders and preened with pride like he had handed her a winning lottery ticket. "Perfect, right?"

She parted her lips as she waited for the punch line. There had to be a punch line.

“I get some money up front, he gets his inheritance, and then when it’s nice and legal, we get a percentage.” He ran his fingertips over the strap of her tank top. 

“Why would he want to marry me when he could have anyone on the social registry in New York?” 

“He wants someone who’s not—rich.” He smirked as if enjoying an inside joke. “See, he’s pissed at his family for doing this, and he wants to stick it to them by marrying . . .”

“Someone like me?” She waved her hand over herself. “Throw the slut from Brooklyn in their face, right?”

“You make it sound so bad.”

“So, you’re selling me to JP?” She laughed in disbelief, and spun away from him.

Nicky jerked her around, no longer smiling. “Thanks to you and your big mouth I’m out three grand, but that fucker Jonny still wants more.”

She pulled her arm free, but couldn’t suppress the fantasy as Nicky was replaced by Jonny, her knight in black Brioni. He’d sweep her away to that tropical island. Both of them, breathless on the warm sand. His hands roaming over her body. Hot, sweet and slow.

“You listening to me?” Nicky shouted.  

She shook her head as the best part of her night disappeared. 

“Let’s go upstairs.” She tried to steer him toward the stairs. Placate him, and then she’d sneak away later after he passed out.

“No!” He pulled away from her and paced the small, cramped hallway. “You’re gonna do this for me.” 

She slipped around him, gambling that some distance between them would settle him down. 

The crowd shifted, and she saw him. Jonny. Standing at the edge of the bar, neck craned, eyes searching. A frantic impulse urged her toward him. Then Nicky swooped up from behind, hustled her out the side door, and into the alley.

The steamy night air wrapped around her bare legs, and her spike heels caught on the uneven cobblestones as Nicky half dragged, half lifted her around the broken beer bottles, and mangled shopping carts. 

Halfway down the narrow passage, he stopped and caged her in against the crumbling brick wall. “You’re gonna listen to me.”

She tasted the sweet stink of discarded liquor and day-old garbage in the back of her throat, as the security lights cast an eerie greenish shadow across his face.

“Let's talk inside,” she wheedled. “We’ll go upstairs and relax.” She snuggled into him, and rubbed her hand over the front of his jeans. “Isn’t this better than fighting?” She heard his low moan as she moved him toward the club door. 

Suddenly he stopped and shook her off. “What kinda fuckin’ game are you playing?”

“What do you mean?” She forced her voice into coy innocence. 

Nicky raised his massive forearm and wedged it against her throat. He squeezed harder and her vision blurred while her hands grappled with his arm. “All right, stop.” She gasped out. 

“I knew you’d come around.” He eased up the pressure. “I never wanted to hurt you. You know that, right?”

“Sure, baby.” She leaned into him, parted her lips, and when he moved in to kiss her, she shoved him hard. He staggered, and she darted around him. 

 “No more schemes, no more plans.” Her words echoed off the bricks of the alley walls, and she knew what she had to do. “It’s over Nicky!”

“We’re not over, until I say we’re over.” 

He lunged at her, and she sidestepped away from him, then reached into her bra, and pulled out the knife he had given her long ago for protection.  She hit the tiny button on the side, and a long, menacing blade appeared. 

“What the fuck are you doin’ now?” Nicky mocked.She glanced over her shoulder. The side door was closer than she thought. Her brain scrambled to stay calm. 

 “Give me that blade.” When he laughed at her she used the opportunity to run. 

The heavy thud of his boots against the concrete, and then his thick hand clamped onto her shoulder, and spun her around. 

“Where you goin’, huh?” He fisted her tank top, and raised his hand.

With all her strength she knocked his hand away and sliced the metal blade through the air between them.

He shouted a curse, lunged for her, and stumbled on a stray piece of metal. His stoned eyes flickered. He swayed and then pitched forward. The pressure of his body drove the blade deep. Nicky clutched at his middle as a hot gush of blood covered their hands. Their eyes locked, his frozen in disbelief. She staggered back, and his body collapsed over the dirty, garbage-strewn alley.

She concentrated on her breathing as it sawed in and out of her lungs. Freedom. It had come so close.

The slap of leather-soled shoes broke the silence. Her head snapped up and she searched the shadows.

“Put down the knife, babe.”

“He was hitting me.”

“I know.” Jonny moved into the light, then sidestepped around Nicky’s body.

“I had to do it.”

“It’s okay.” His hand encircled her wrist and then slipped the knife from her palm. He scanned the alley, found a crumpled newspaper, and wrapped the knife in it. Then he knelt down, placed his fingers against Nicky’s neck, and looked up at her. “He’s alive.”

“What will I tell the cops?”

“Nothing.” He pulled out his phone and she heard him giving directions to what must’ve been a 911 operator. Then he pocketed the phone and stood. “You’re coming with me.”

She watched him take control and it filled her with a sudden strength and determination.

“Where?”

He held out his hand. “How about that tropical island?”

 

 



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