Forbidden Words Deafen Me

See how far a sinful man burns his tracks, his bloody robes...

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Winning and Losing (oneshot)

Written by: P
Rated M for strong language, some smut
Fandom: The Linguini Incident

A prequel fic for ‘The Linguini Incident’ trying to explain some of Monte’s back-story and a few throw-away lines of dialogue. Some spoilers for the film and shameless foreshadowing.

——————————

There are worse things than resembling one’s father. At least, he assumed there were. Maybe if he’d had a different father, one who was into fishing or motorbike repair or stamp collecting; not one who’d passed on both his gambling habit and his rotten luck.

Monte winced as he saw yet another hand fall to his opponent. He should have stopped as soon as he’d seen the man approach – tall, dark, and dressed to kill from his patent leather shoes to the woman on his arm, every inch James Bond. Monte, in stark contrast, was wearing his only remaining suit, a tattered check number that had gone out of fashion about two years previously. He’d only kept it because the cut flattered his lean frame – leaner now than when he’d bought it. Budget-induced crash dieting will do that to a person. He still received his share of admiring glances from the gold-diggers and floozies; he wasn’t sure if he was handsome, but he was certainly striking. He wore his dark blonde hair swept up and back from his face and had inherited his father’s accentuated cheekbones and blue eyes, along with a few other things. He’d seen the effect his smile and the subtle raising of an eyebrow could have on women. Not that they generally stayed long once they’d seen him lose at Blackjack, yet again.

He was suddenly aware that the dealer was addressing him.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Sir, you must bet or leave the table. I’d call it a night if I were you, Monte.”

He considered this advice, glanced down at his almost completely depleted pile of chips and nodded. He couldn’t remember the dealer’s name, though clearly they’d met before – they all became one after a while, an endless row of Ricks, Joes and Sams, just the face behind the hands that dealt the cards.

Monte stood up from the table and turned to shake the hand of the man who had successfully won a lot of his money. Money he couldn’t really afford to gamble with. Still, politeness cost nothing. The woman looked him up and down disdainfully, tossing her hair derisively as though in that glance she had seen all there was to know about him and wasn’t impressed.

“Er… Thank you,” he said, extending his arm. “You’re very worthy competition.”

The man guffawed. “I knew they said you English were dumb, but that was almost too easy!”

They didn’t shake hands. Monte blinked once or twice before letting his arm swing back to his side, deliberately leered at the ample cleavage of the woman and stalked off to the bar.

God, it was like a disease. Something compelling him to keep going, one more hand, one more game, one day he’d win big. And then, what? Stop? He could barely imagine it. He remembered his father’s last big win during his late teenage years, how he’d come home crowing his delight at having finally made it, how his mother had still sighed as she did every time he returned from his card games, whether he’d won or not. Of course, they hadn’t known how short their time together would in fact be, how sick his father was even at that time. After his father’s death, Monte’s mother had still sighed, but more sadly than her angered tone from before. She had given him half of the inheritance and he’d left as soon as he could. He couldn’t bear living in that house, knowing his mother resented every penny of the money she now lived on because she knew where it came from. Monte had continued living in London for some time by himself, working where he could, losing most of what he earned in poker games and had fallen in with a few questionable types. Finally he had run away to France, where he’d spent a few childhood holidays and where his father had spent his youth. He was always talking about his friends in France and Monte Carlo, the good times, the great wins he’d had. So great he named his son in honour of them. Monte remembered how his mother would scoff at this and tell the story of how he’d returned to England, flat broke and in disgrace, the shame of his family, and how he’d married the girl next door. She didn’t know why she’d ever said yes.

He’d left home so long ago. Monte thought about his mother and how she would react when she found out he’d made his father’s mistakes over again. He tried to remember if there had even been a girl next door at home; if so, she clearly hadn’t made much of an impact. But the last of the inheritance had gone on the Kentucky Derby almost six months ago and now Monte was living hand to mouth, day to day with more debts than he could count and yet always drawn back to the casino in what was known as ‘le quartier touristique’ where everyone spoke English. He was a regular, one of the few – most other people only stayed a few days or a week at most. He scrubbed his hands over his face to clear his thoughts and tried to get the barmaid’s attention. He’d almost say she was deliberately avoiding him.

“Whisky, please, Jeanne?”

She glared at him. “I am not talking to you.”

Monte chuckled slightly at this. “But, darling, you just did.” He said, teasingly.

She slammed a cloth down in front of him, forcing him to move his elbows as she wiped the bar like it had personally offended her.

“I am not talking to someone who thinks he can just lie to me to get what he wants. I’ve known you for weeks; I can’t believe you’ve been lying to me all this time. I thought we were…well, not friends exactly but…”

Monte groaned inwardly. His other weakness: sometimes he just couldn’t help himself. It was living in a foreign country that did it, being something strange and different, it made him want to see just how gullible people were. Well, not people, so much. Women. What was the alternative? Tell them the truth? That he was out of money, out of luck and rapidly running out of time? It’s not like he was malicious about it, it just amused him. He tried to recall what he had told Jeanne about himself. Their first meeting seemed so far away, a thoughtless little lie hadn’t seemed to matter.

“Lying, dear?” he said, mock-wagging his finger at her, playing for time, “Sounds like you’ve been listening to nasty gossip again.”

“Don’t call me that, I have a name.”

“Sorry, Jeanne,” he said, lengthening the vowels, pleased that she was, in fact, talking to him despite her annoyance. He was winning this particular battle of wills.

She exhaled sharply, angrily. “You know, it’s one thing to tell lies about yourself. I work in bars, I’m used to losers like you making out that they’re some kind of big-shot. But at least they have the decency to keep their story straight and not switch it up between different girls. Don’t you realise we talk to each other? And who is a professional speedboat test-driver anyway? What kind of a job even is that?”

Monte smiled. Ah, yes, speedboat test-driver, that was it. He didn’t know where that had popped into his head from. He’d considered ‘professional priest impersonator’, but wasn’t sure how anyone could plan to make money out of that. He knew he shouldn’t toy with Jeanne in this way, but she was so delightfully easy to irritate. He glanced at her stormy expression and tried to hide his mirth. “Whisky?” he reminded her.

“No way, I’m not serving you. Harmless lies still hurt, you know.” She looked at his tired eyes and softened slightly. “Play with the new girl if you must, but go gently. She’s like a deer or something. Still, better you than one of those other sleazes. At least you keep your hands to yourself.” She nodded over his shoulder to a pair of older men sitting at a nearby table. She called as she walked down the steps behind the bar which led to the cellar, “Laure! Whisky for this gentleman!” infusing the final word with as much disgust as she could. It was clear she wasn’t going to pity him any more than was absolutely necessary.

When Monte turned back from trying to see who Jeanne had indicated, a glass appeared in front of him and he looked into a pair of large brown eyes that seemed almost too big for the face they belonged to. His second observation was that the new girl was tiny – she couldn’t have been much taller than five foot and her slender form was swamped by the uniform barmaid shirt. She had dark hair pulled back into a tight bun and nodded at him with a slight smile as he reached for the glass.

Other people at the bar were few so she wasn’t busy. They could talk. Screw Jeanne and her easily hurt feelings.

Monte smiled grimly to himself as he considered his inner monologue’s choice of words; how eagerly they had flirted that first night and several times after. Of course, he would have been only too keen to move their relationship up a notch, if she’d asked. Intimate moments were few and far between for him these days. But she hadn’t, and he’d certainly lost his chance now. No point in brooding over it though, he reasoned.

“Hello,” he said simply, smiling brightly. “I’m Monte.”

Laure looked at him. “Hi,” she replied.

There was a pause but his smile didn’t shift.

“Is there a ration on syllables that no one’s told me about?” he said, “Some kind of shortage?”

“No…” she said. Then to fill what would otherwise be further silence she added “I’m Laure.”

“Yes, I know. Jeanne told me. Well, I say ‘told’. I overheard her yelling it anyway. Her voice does carry somewhat.”

“Oh. You’re a friend of Jeanne’s then?”

“You could say that, though she might think differently. She’s rather angry at me at present, I’m afraid. I told her a minor white lie, but she hasn’t taken it very well.” Laure smiled as he sipped his whisky and tried to subtly throw a glance over her.

She was very small, but not ill-proportioned. It was rather more like she’d been built under scale, reduced by 10% from the average person. He noted her breasts just barely visible in the folds of the too-big shirt, the way the ties of her apron cinched the material in at her slim waist, the skim of the fabric over her hips. Was he being too obvious? God, it had been a while.

He wasn’t even sure if he just wanted sex. That is to say, he did want sex, but maybe part of that was the desire to be close to another person for once. He must be getting old to be thinking this way, especially about a girl he’d just met. He wasn’t one to rush into serious relationships. Still, nothing ventured…

“When do you finish?” he asked nonchalantly.

“Why do you ask?” she rebounded, matching his tone.

“Well, I was just wondering if now would be a bad moment to offer you a drink. If it’s the end of your shift anyway, I mean. If not, do you like eating? We could eat together sometime if you do. If you don’t, then I could eat and in the same room you could do whatever you normally do at mealtimes when you’re not eating.”

He looked into her eyes for a response and in the hopes that a twinkle in his own might make the deal easier. She shrugged.

“I’m on kitchen duty tonight,” she said.

“Oh.”

“But I’m free tomorrow if you’d like? And don’t worry, I like eating.”

Monte grinned at her. “Great, I’ll pick you up here. How’s seven for you?”

“Fine,” she said, smiling shyly. It seemed she didn’t do this kind of thing very often.

He downed the last of his whisky, not wanting to give her any time to change her mind or question him further, shot her one last smile and left the bar. That had gone rather well, better than he could have expected really. Suddenly a hand grasped his and he turned in surprise as it was shaken heartily.

“Well, as I live and breathe, Cecil, look who it is!”

“No, Dante, you’re wrong, it couldn’t be!”

“It is! I’ll bet you one hundred francs.”

“One fifty.”

“Two hundred.”

“Five hundred.”

“Done. It’s you, isn’t it? I know it is!”

“I’m sorry, gentlemen,” said Monte, “but I’m utterly confused as to how you expect me to answer that. Tell me who you think I am and I’ll tell you if that’s right.”

“Listen to that accent,” said the first man, “There’s no way this isn’t Tony’s boy! He’s the very double of him!”

These two Americans knew his father Monte realised, and looked at them in surprise. How could they possibly?

“Well, yes, Tony is my father’s name, but –“

Cecil grudgingly pulled a note from his wallet and pressed it into Dante’s waiting hand. “Losing money because of Tony, that’ll be the day!” he said. “Sit down, son. We’re your daddy’s oldest friends! Don’t you remember us?”

“Oh, Cecil,” said Dante, “The poor boy was just a child when we last met, of course he doesn’t remember.”

Monte had the strange feeling that these two men were speaking from an entirely different reality to the one he was in. His father’s oldest friends? The names didn’t sound even vaguely familiar. Then he remembered that when he was a child (very young, possibly four or five) some strange men had bumped into them on holiday, and how angry his mother had been. Where had they been? Caen? Possibly. He’d been afraid. And he suddenly recalled his father’s voice shouting “If I hadn’t met them, I’d never have come back and married you!” He remembered the stories. The letters that arrived from time to time. How his mother hated them!

Monte blinked and smiled.

“My God,” he said, “Cecil. Dante. What a surprise! I thought you lived in New York?”

“Oh, we do,” said Cecil, “We do. Just having a little vacation back round our old European haunts. Looks like we just met a ghost too!”

They laughed enthusiastically. Monte tried to keep smiling, feeling slightly uncomfortable. “Well,” he said, “I’m sorry, but I really don’t have time to stay and chat…”

“Oh, what a shame! Still, we’re here all week. I’m sure we’ll see you again at the craps table?”

“More than likely,” said Monte, not sure whether his smile was going to hold as he bid them goodbye, his thoughts drifting back to his money problems. Still, surely the situation couldn’t be that bad. He’d be fine; he always was. He set off to leave the casino finally.

“MONTE!” he turned as Jeanne stomped towards him down the corridor towards the exit. She looked furious, her ponytail bobbing behind her as she advanced.

“Yes, dear?”

“I told you not to call me those pet-names,” she said angrily. “What did you lie to Laure about?”

“Darling, I’m insulted that you would even say such a thing. I told her nothing but the truth.”

“She tells me that you’re taking her out for dinner. She just asked me to tell you that in fact she can’t manage seven and she’d prefer you to come for her at eight. What lies did you tell her to make her agree to that?”

He had lit a cigarette as she was talking and slowly blew the smoke away from her face. “Honestly, none. I’m most disappointed that you think so little of me and my natural charm. I merely said that I’d like to buy her a drink or dinner. Nothing untruthful about that. Why,” he said stepping closer to her as her eyes flashed at him. “I’d almost say you were jealous, love. Sorry, I mean Jeanne.”

She snorted. “That stupid accent might work on girls like Laure, but it does nothing for me.” He smiled at her condescendingly before taking another drag. Her tactics changed. “Monte, you simply cannot afford to take her to dinner. Your bar tab is as long as my arm. And how much did you lose tonight alone? One day they’ll come after you. You can’t live on credit forever.”

His smile froze, the smoke flowing from his mouth as he spoke. “How long is it since I last paid my tab?”

“Coming up to three months. Longer than I’ve even been working here, Monte.”

The last three months flew through his mind. The whisky, the tequila, the gin…and all the losses. Had he won anything in all the time Jeanne had worked behind the bar? Had he ever held onto his winnings? How much was his rent this month?

Jeanne’s expression was hard to read. Partially concerned and partially triumphant that she’d managed to rattle him up. He turned his best breezy smile towards her.

“Don’t worry, darling, I’ll be fine.”

As the door swung shut behind him, he heard her shout “My name is Jeanne, you infuriating Rosbif!”

Outside, he threw his finished cigarette to the ground and sighed bitterly.

——-

Thinking over his financial situation caused Monte to forget the reason Jeanne had spoken to him in the first place and he arrived at quarter to seven, leaving him with time to kill before Laure was due. He had been sitting gloomily alone for about half an hour when a hand clapped down on his shoulder.

“Monte!” Dante beamed at him. “Fancy meeting you again so soon!”

Monte forced a smile. “Actually, I’m waiting for a lady, I’m a little early.” He hoped this would make them leave. He wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea of spending time with his dad’s old cronies. He’d been thinking about it and had realised he couldn’t remember ever hearing a story about them that didn’t involve big losses for somebody. They were practically professionals in the world of crazy bets.

“Oh, so you’ve got time for a drink on us, then! Scotch?”

However, it was unlike Monte to turn down alcohol if someone else was buying. He listened inattentively to what seemed like endless reminiscing about their youth.

“To think you’re here, following in your father’s footsteps,” said Cecil eventually. “Well, I hope not too closely! He was broke when he had to go back to England.”

“That he was,” said Dante. “If you ever get into that sort of trouble, young Monte, you just let us know, we’ll help you. After all, we’re practically your Godfathers; it’s the least we can do for the son of our oldest friend.”

Monte’s thoughts flew to his bar tab. His losses. His debts. His mother would die if she knew he was about to ask for charity, especially from these two, but this way she never had to know. Never ever. It was worth a try.

He coughed. “Actually, I do find myself in a bit of a pickle at the moment.”

“I should have known!” cackled Dante. “Like father, like son!”

“What’s happened?” asked Cecil. “Don’t worry, we’ll help you out.”

Monte paused. “The truth is, I’ve rather overspent my means and I owe some money here.”

“How much?”

“…I’m not exactly sure.”

“Oh, Monte! I thought you had inheritance from your father. Didn’t Tony write to us about a big win, Dante?”

“He did, Cecil,” came the reply. “Quite soon before he…er…passed on.”

Ah, the inheritance. They’d be less likely to help if they knew the truth about how he’d squandered that. Monte thought quickly.

“Well,” he said, “The inheritance is all in my bank in England and I’m having a bit of trouble getting at it – they’re a bit funny about you spending money in mainland Europe. It’s absurd, really. So I can’t use it just yet. Paperwork.”

Dante and Cecil looked at each other. “Tell you what,” Cecil said conspiratorially. “We’ll have a word with the management here and see just how deep you’ve gotten yourself and see what we can do.”

Monte sagged with relief. “Really? You’d do that?”

“Certainly! We’re nothing if not philanthropists.”

He wasn’t sure how to react. “Thank you! Of course, I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.”

“You really are your father’s son! He was always promising to pay us back. Anyway, if it’s really a lot, we can always make a bet for it!”

They laughed. Monte had the uneasy feeling that he was among the wolves and hyenas. Dante gestured to something behind him.

“I think your lady friend has arrived,” he said. “Good choice, she looks feisty!”

Again unsure of quite how to respond, Monte stood while making his farewells, thanked them again and turned to see Laure standing demurely by the wall. ‘Feisty’? She was wearing a simple blue dress that better suited her figure – and a beautiful figure it was, Monte found himself thinking, not the perfect hourglass, but lovely nonetheless. A little thin, too, you wouldn’t have much to hang onto, but other than that…

He was surprised at his own lechery. What was he trying to get out of this girl – this woman, he mentally corrected himself. She wasn’t that much younger than him; she just seemed so innocent. Was he after a relationship with her? Did he just want a date to prove he had still got it? Was he going to try to seduce her? It would be a lie to say the thought hadn’t entered his head, but as he walked towards her and saw her open smile, still tinged with timidity, he felt like the lowest of the low. See how the first date goes, then see if you’re heading in the same direction, he resolved.

——-

Laure was charming, that was for sure. He took her to a modestly priced restaurant, hoping that she wouldn’t notice. She smiled and chatted quietly when he asked her about herself, her family, how she was just working in the casino to pay for her training – she wanted to be a dancer but was concerned her height might work against her. He was far less candid. He made up lies about wanting to explore French culture as a reason for living where he did, making a joke about his language skills, or rather lack thereof, to explain why he was so often found in the tourist areas. Better that than tell her he was just a guy with a gambling problem, playing cards wherever he’d managed to somehow land on his feet this time. She nodded, sipped her white wine and carefully dabbed her lips with her cloth napkin, not smudging her lipstick at all. She was nice. She was elegant. He wasn’t sure that they had very much in common, but they could still be friends. Probably better friends than he and Jeanne were, since she didn’t trust him anymore. Monte just about resigned himself to this, thinking about how afterwards they would have coffee, he’d walk her back to her flat and they’d share a short, chaste kiss before parting amicably. She probably felt the same way, he reasoned. Shame, but that’s how things go sometimes.

Dessert arrived. He wasn’t having one, thinking to save a little on the bill, but saying instead that he was full up. Laure had ordered Pavlova.

“This is divine,” she said, spearing a bit of meringue loaded with cream and red berry juice on the small dessert fork. “Here, try it.”

She held it out to him, but as he leaned in, she withdrew. He looked at her quizzically as she pulled the piece from the fork and held it out in her hand instead.

What was she doing? He looked into her eyes, and saw something like fear staring back at him. Fear of what? What reaction was she frightened of?

Her arm started to move back and she dropped her eyes down. He grabbed her wrist, and guided her hand to his mouth, slowly and carefully taking the morsel from her and sucking the remains of the juice and cream from her fingers, feeling the sweetness spreading. She had looked up again in surprise and he locked eyes with her as her soft hand left his mouth. Her lips parted slightly. He couldn’t help but find himself thinking about what other parts of her would feel like against his tongue.

“I-I’m sorry,” Laure stammered. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“Don’t worry,” he said softly. “I’m not offended. At all. Far from it, in fact.” He paused. “Look, Laure, you’re a lovely girl –“

“Oh, God, don’t start.”

He stopped abruptly. “Pardon?”

“Look, I was inappropriate, I’m sorry. You don’t want anything to do with a girl who’s willing to give it up on the first date, I get it.”

Monte had a moment of confusion. “Did…did you just suggest we have sex? Tonight?”

Laure sighed and put her head in her hands. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You came here for a nice date and I just made everything awkward.”

“No, no. Well, a little,” Monte smiled at her, trying to cheer her up. “In fact…” he paused until she met his gaze again, waiting for him to continue. “I was just about to say that I wasn’t sure a serious relationship would be a good step to take.”

She groaned. “What does that even mean, ‘serious’?”

“Well…I don’t think we’re suited to be life-long partners is all. I just wanted you to know that. Before you did anything you might live to regret.”

“Huh.” She paused, thoughtfully, picking up her wine glass and swirling what remained of its contents. “If I make no assumptions as to the nature of this relationship, are you willing to let me choose of my own free will to do ‘something I might live to regret’?”

“Er…” What were you meant to say in this situation? “Yes. Well, I suppose so. If you want to. And as long as you’ll remember I gave you a chance to back out.”

She scooped some cream onto her index finger and slowly licked it off. Then she leant across the table, displaying her cleavage and caught his lips with hers. He could taste the cream still on her tongue as she gently, but assertively, explored his mouth.

“I think I agree to those terms,” she said when they broke apart, before adding “This is your chance to back out, by the way.”

This evening had taken an unexpected turn; but, if he was honest, Monte preferred this outcome to the one he had imagined. He grinned at her and signaled the waiter for the bill as she finished her wine.

——-

They could walk to her place, apparently it wasn’t far. Monte couldn’t decide what he was feeling. Happy? Well, he was about to have sex with a charming, beautiful woman, so that was a natural reaction. Confused? Certainly – this had never happened to him before. Oh, he’d had casual sex, women he’d met in bars and the like, where both parties knew exactly how much, or rather how little, it meant on an emotional level. But this was different. He’d never had a first date end with the woman suggesting a casual…actually, a casual what? Was this a one-off thing? Was he entering into a ‘friends with benefits’ situation? What was going on?

“You look perplexed.” Laure’s voice caught him off guard. He glanced down at her.

“No, I’m…” he began. “Laure, what are we doing?”

“Do you have memory issues, Monte?” she teased. “We just had a lovely dinner – thank you for that by the way – and now we’re going back to my apartment to sleep together.”

A sudden thought hit him. “You’re not doing this because you think you somehow owe me for dinner, are you?”

She laughed, loudly for the first time since they’d met, as though a weight had been lifted from her. “No!” she said, firmly. “I’m doing this because I find you very attractive and though I don’t want a full-time relationship at present, I would like to have sex with you. Why do people always think women don’t understand what they’re letting themselves in for? ‘Owe you for dinner’!” she laughed again, and Monte found himself smiling too. “You say that as if you’re the only one who’s going to get any pleasure out of this!”

Monte slid his hand round her waist as they walked along and pulled her closer. “Well, I hope I get at least some,” he said, feeling her arm snake up his back and come to rest on his shoulder nearest to her.

“Let’s see, shall we?” she said playfully as she steered him round a corner to outside her front door.

They walked up two flights of stairs and Monte waited while she unlocked her flat. Inside was quite bare. Minimalist. A simple kitchen/living area and other rooms leading off from it. He heard the door click shut behind him.

“Have you…?” he stopped himself.

“What?”

“No, nothing. Not important.”

She raised her eyebrows. “What?”

“Just…have you done this before?”

She paused. “What, sex? Yes. Why, you’re not…?”

“No, no. No, I’m not. And no, I meant…this! Sex on a first date where both parties accept that the development potential for an in-depth, emotional attachment is pretty low?”

“And that they are mutually attracted,” she pointed out. “Yes, I have. Not very often, but I have.”

“Oh. It’s just…you seemed very innocent when we first met.” Yesterday, he added internally.

She pouted and threaded her arms under his coat, her hands surprisingly firm on his flesh. “What, you mean I wasn’t overly flirtatious? Might I remind you that you asked me out during our first conversation and took me to dinner for our second meeting? I wasn’t sure of you at first, but I warmed up to you and didn’t feel it was fair to let you do all the work. So once I’d decided I liked you, and I was pretty sure you liked me, I figured I’d lay my cards on the table. This way there’s no guessing. We know where we stand. Why? Do you have a problem with this arrangement?”

He pulled off the jacket, dropped it behind him and leaned down until their foreheads touched. “Not at all,” he answered, wrapping both arms around her. “Which one’s the bedroom?”

She smiled and kissed him, longer than in the restaurant, and he felt her breathing quicken.

“It’s the door on the left,” she said turning. Before she could take a step however, Monte picked her up bodily. She was slightly heavier than he expected - all that dancing muscle, he thought – and she laughed as he carried her through the indicated door and laid her, somewhat unceremoniously, on the bed.

Laure sat up and slid her way to the edge. Monte knelt on the floor beside her, their heights more evenly matched now, and felt her arms lock around his neck, his hands stroking her hips. He gazed briefly into her large eyes, darker than ever now with desire, as he knew his own must be. She decorated his face with tiny kisses, seeming to deliberately be avoiding his lips. The sensation was at once delicious and tortuous and his neck writhed to find a good angle, to gain control, to feel tongue meet tongue once more. Their noses clashed as he tilted his head to the side but he caught her. He felt her moan gently into his mouth as her hands deftly undid the buttons of his shirt and practically massaged his chest. He was struck again by how strong she was as he gently squeezed her thighs and buttocks. He’d have to speed up with the undressing though, as Laure had already manipulated his belt with one hand and was scrabbling to undo the button beneath. One handed and while still kissing? To think he’d assumed she was inexperienced. His hand found the zip at the back of her dress, the other becoming acquainted with the area of bare skin on her thigh between the top of her stocking and the edge of her underwear. She slipped her arms free from the straps of the dress and quickly unhooked her bra, throwing it unceremoniously aside. One less thing for him to worry about, he mused as his large hands explored her chest. She undid his fly, and he hardened at her touch, the feeling of being so close to someone else after so long… He wanted her, he wanted this…

And abruptly she stood up in front of him, his hands falling back to her waist automatically, her thighs touching his chest, and he noticed his own heavy breathing for the first time. She smiled down at his questioning look as she stepped out of her dress, one of the few times she’d be taller than him, unashamedly drinking in the sight of his bare skin.

“I can’t get any more of your clothes off while your knees are against the ground.” She explained.

She turned and crawled back onto the bed, giving him a deliberate show with her black underwear and stockings as she went. “The condoms are in the bottom drawer,” she added as she lay back leisurely and watched him stand and remove his trousers, biting her lower lip.

“I’ll take this opportunity to take off my socks as well, then,” he said, slightly breathlessly. “I can never tell when it’s the right moment to do that.”

Laure threw her head back slightly as she laughed, gently caressing her own stomach as if in anticipation of the touching to come. Rummaging through her drawer for contraception, Monte was almost surprised to acknowledge to himself that he was having fun. He’d known Laure for little over a day and yet, here they were, almost naked, laughing together. She was right, this was better than months of guesswork about each other’s feelings that could lead nowhere. Did he love her? Of course not. And she didn’t love him. But they were two people who wanted one another and at this moment that was all they needed. He was knocked out of his reverie by a stocking hitting him in the side of the face, and the sight of Laure, lying with her head propped on one elbow, and the other arm beckoning to him. With her bare breasts, her smooth skin and her strong legs, she was quite a sight. Not one he’d expected to see this morning, but not at all unwelcome. He threw the condom onto the bed to be within easy reach and climbed on next to her, sliding his hand up her remaining stocking-enclosed leg, reaching the point where the elastic tightened around her thigh and pulled it down, taking the opportunity to stroke every inch of her dance hardened muscles. Her fingers were tousling his hair, gently tugging in an effort to bring him face to face with her. He obeyed, bringing his hands up over her hips, feeling the dip of her waist, the slight curvature of her breasts as she kissed him fully and ran her hands over his shoulders and back. He eased one hand down and slid it beneath her underwear, feeling her heat. Laure obligingly rocked her hips off the mattress to allow him to remove the garment completely. He felt her slickness, how easily his fingers slid over her, into her. He was about to explore further when to his surprise she sighed and shoved him from her onto his back. He had little time for confusion however, as she was already lying upon him, laying kisses along his jaw-line.

“I’m sorry,” he said incredulously, “Was I boring you?”

“No,” she whispered at his ear before pushing herself up to look into his eyes again, pinning him down, her hands on his shoulders. “It’s just I think it’s my turn now.”

She grinned and fell upon his mouth again, before moving down to his neck, chest and stomach, kissing as she went.

“Oh…” was all he could manage as he realised what she was doing.

Her hands removed his shorts easily while she continued working with her mouth, her hot breath ghosting on his length immediately preceding her tongue. She took him into her mouth, using her lips and tongue confidently, responding to the panting that he couldn’t disguise. His breath was catching in his chest, his heartbeat so heavy it seemed to him practically audible.

“Laure…” he gasped. “Laure, careful, don’t make me… Not yet…”

Her head remained where it was, though her rhythm slowed and she extended an arm, palm up, along his torso. She opened and closed her hand a few times. It took him a moment to realise what she wanted, but then he gave her the condom. The arm withdrew and he glanced down to see her sit up slightly and tear open the packet with her teeth. His head jerked back as he felt her dress his shaft with a firm hand.

“Anyone would say… you’d practised this, darling…”

She slid back up his body and silenced him with another strong kiss. He wasn’t sure if his teasing had angered her or if she was proud of the compliment to her technique. Of course, maybe she just wanted to kiss him. Her motives so far had been refreshingly transparent.

She straddled him and he was aware of pressure from the strength of her thighs before she guided him inside her with one hand, the other on his chest balancing her weight. His own hands flew to her waist as she settled into a rhythm. They moved in tandem, almost matching each other breath for breath, moan for moan. He felt her constrict around him, and she tightened the grip of her legs apparently unconsciously in sympathy. Her chest heaved, causing her skin and breasts to shift tantalizingly. He moved one hand up to them. At the same time Laure reached down to further stimulate herself. Monte considered for a moment – she’d surprised him, maybe it was his turn now. Without warning, he sat up and wrapped both arms around her, one around her waist, the other at head level, and gently rolled her onto her back without breaking the connection between them. Both her hands were now free and she caressed her available one over his face as they moved towards breaking point, her ankles all-but crossed behind his back, trying to reach the best angle. He caught her fingers with his mouth and playfully bit them. The hold of her thighs around his hips tightened still further until finally she cried out and the tension flowed out of her body as water from a bath. A few more strokes feeling her body quiver around him and Monte came undone as well. Her hands ran through his hair to pull him down for one last kiss, a tangle of tongues and teeth before the last of their energy was sapped from their bodies and they lay panting at one another, faces flushed, sweat cooling on their skin.

——-

She asked if he wanted to stay the night after they had recovered and freshened up. Monte was sorely tempted, but knew he had to go to his own job in the morning - a badly paid post, cleaning up after nights of tourist excess in one of the bars in town - and so politely declined. He promised to visit her at work again as soon as he could.

As he left her flat he felt elated. This had been such a good decision. He couldn’t even remember why he’d been so apprehensive. Whether it was due to endorphins or otherwise he couldn’t say, but he hadn’t felt this good in weeks. When he got back to his own home however, he remembered his current woes. It was a tiny flat. He had one room which was a combined living, sleeping, cooking and eating area and a bathroom without a sink. And he wasn’t even sure how long he could go on living here before the eviction notice arrived. Had he actually paid last month’s rent? He sighed. Maybe he could ask if he could move in with Laure – no, that was absurd. Fair enough, his paradigm about first-date sex had been thoroughly shattered tonight, but to move in with someone you barely know was a different thing entirely. If he wasn’t careful, he’d have no inhibitions left whatsoever. He remembered that Cecil and Dante had offered to help him out. The rest of the evening had somewhat overshadowed that agreement. But it was a start at least.

——-

Monte didn’t go back to the casino for three days. Not because he didn’t want to, but because he forced himself to avoid it, taking his pay when it arrived on Friday straight to his landlord, ensuring a roof over his head for a little while longer at least.

When he finally went back, hoping to see Laure, or even Jeanne for a bit of company, he was waylaid by security on his way in.

“Hey! Aren’t you that guy? That Brit?”

“It’s entirely possible. There are a few of us about though.” Monte tried not to be sarcastic sometimes, but he wasn’t very good at it.

“That Monte guy?”

“Yes, that is me. Why, is something wrong?”

“You’re to go up to management. Something about a message being left for you. Wait, I’ll get someone to accompany you.”

Monte obediently waited, even as he wanted to run away. This was it. He was fucked. Totally. He was going to be banned, evicted, hunted down by the courts. Could you go to prison for unpaid debts?

The security guard reappeared with Laure at his side. “Take this gentleman up to management, will you?”

Laure nodded and gestured to Monte to follow her through a door marked “Staff Only”.

They walked in silence down a corridor. “So,” Laure said eventually, “Alright, stranger?”

“What? Oh. Yes. Sorry, I’ve had a lot to think about over the last few days.”

“How do you mean?”

He glanced at her. Was there any point in keeping secrets from someone who’d made your body shudder with pleasure less than a week ago?

“Money problems,” he admitted. “I owe a little here.”

“Oh, that’s fine then!” He looked at her in surprise. “I thought maybe you were avoiding me. That you were having second thoughts about Tuesday.”

“What?” he spluttered. “No, not at all. How could I, love? It was good. I enjoyed myself. Really.”

They had reached the office.

“OK,” she said, smiling, “I’ll see you back at the bar then. Maybe set a date for next time.”

Monte smiled back and waved at her retreating form before knocking on the door.

He was shown in and a suited man informed that his debts had been paid.

“What? All of them?”

“Yes. Your bar tab, your gambling dues, all of it. Believe me, sir; I’m as surprised as you are. Someone’s looking out for you. And they left you a note.” The manager handed over an envelope with an air of finality which Monte took to mean that their short interview was over.

“Well. Thank you.” He said, letting himself out.

On the way down to the bar, he could barely keep from clicking his heels. He’d gone from broke to mostly debt free in less than a week. And he’d developed an understanding with a beautiful young woman. A lovely young woman who wanted there to be a ‘next time’. The only way this could have been a more perfect week would be if Laure had been Ukrainian.

He grinned widely at Jeanne as he took a stool at the bar.

“And why is Mr. Monte looking so happy?” she asked, without enthusiasm.

“Mr. Monte,” he said, imitating her, “is now debt-free in this establishment. Whisky, please, Jeanne!”

“Oh. Well, congratulations. I thought it might be something to do with Laure.” Jeanne said, as she placed a glass in front of him.

His hand froze halfway to his lips. “Why, what did she tell you?”

“That you had a good date and that she’d like to see you again.”

“Ah!” he said pleased, and took a sip of his drink. He opened the envelope from Cecil and Dante, not entirely sure what he expected to find there, read the note and choked, the whisky burning the back of his throat.

Jeanne proffered a glass of water in front of his eyes when he’d mostly recovered and he took it gratefully.

“Bad news?”

“Five hundred thousand dollars,” he said hoarsely.

Jeanne blinked, waiting for him to clarify.

“I now owe the equivalent of five hundred thousand dollars to the men I think bankrupted my father.”

——-

This was unlikely to end well. Monte finished his water and whisky in quick succession. He was about to head for the exit, meaning to go to Cecil and Dante’s hotel immediately and sort this out, when he remembered Laure.

He hurriedly scrawled a note on a napkin – “LAURE- Sorry, unexpected business, called away, here’s my number, call me later, MONTE” – and handed it to Jeanne.

“Give this to Laure, will you, love?”

“Of course,” she said, pocketing it. “And I’ll tell her that her new boyfriend has had to dash off due to his multi-thousand dollar debts.”

Monte stared at her in disbelief. “You wouldn’t do that to me, Jeanne. We’re friends, aren’t we? Is this because you’re still peeved about the lying? Because if it is, I’m truly sorry.”

“This isn’t about the lying, you idiot, this is about you getting involved with a girl who doesn’t know that you’re bankrupt, probably about to be evicted and have an insane gambling problem! This is about being a decent person and warning a girl who’s clearly out of her depth!”

“Look, darling,” he snapped before walking away, “maybe she’s not as far out of her depth as you think!”

——-

Cecil and Dante were staying only a few streets over based on the hotel stationary they’d used for the note. As Monte rushed into reception, he realised he didn’t know their names any further than ‘Cecil and Dante’. This could be a problem.

“Excuse me,” he said to the receptionist, “I’m looking for two men, always in each other’s company, tendency to laugh very loudly, flush with cash, betting on things all the time?” He smiled at her, in the vague hope that flirting might make her more inclined to help.

“Is one of them a dirty old man?” she asked.

Monte paused before remembering Dante’s ‘feisty’ comment. How right he’d been, actually.

“Yes, that’s them! I have very important news for them, it’s vital that I see them; we’re talking life or death. Please, do you know which rooms they have?”

“No,” she said, apparently unimpressed by his urgency, “But I know they’re in the restaurant right now.”

“Thank you,” he said as he careered off to find them.

It wasn’t difficult. Their laughter carried through the double doors that led into the hallway. Cecil and Dante were seated with a variety of well-dressed patrons. Monte was almost certain that this wasn’t the right time or place to approach them, but he had no choice.

“Sorry, excuse me, sorry…”

“Monte!” Dante leapt to his feet and shook Monte’s hand warmly. “How lovely to see you, my boy! I hope you got our little note?”

“Yes, that’s what I’m here about, actually.”

“Oh?” said Cecil, “Well, what’s wrong? After all we’ve just saved you from bankruptcy out of the kindness of our hearts.”

Monte glanced around at the other diners. There was some degree of amusement on most of their faces.

“And I’d like to thank you for it,” he said, “But…I really can’t pay back five hundred thousand dollars.”

There was a gasp from a woman to his left. He cringed.

“The inheritance, though, Monte?” said Dante.

Possible escape route!

“YET! You didn’t let me finish, I can’t pay back five hundred thousand dollars yet. When the inheritance comes through, I’ll be fine, obviously, but that could be months away and I can’t ask you to wait that long, so…”

Cecil and Dante looked at each other.

“You know, you’re right,” said Cecil. “We can’t possibly wait several months for five hundred thousand dollars. We might be willing to wait for a million dollars though.”

Monte stared at them. “I’m sorry, I don’t follow,” he said.

“It’s quite simple,” said Dante. “We’re offering you a double-or-nothing bet. If you win, we simply write off your debt and you carry on with your merry, youthful ways. If you lose, however, you’ll owe us one million dollars instead.”

Monte paused. All he had to do was win one bet and he’d be free? Was this some kind of joke? It sounded too good to be true.

“What’s the bet?” he asked suspiciously.

“Oh, we’ll decide that later. You can think of something, I’m sure. It’ll have to be something spectacular though, to be worth so much money. We’re here until Monday evening so we’ll meet you in the casino tomorrow afternoon at 2 to hear what you’ve come up with. If we deem it acceptable, we’re on.”

“Right,” said Monte, “So I find something suitably entertaining for you to bet on, and then if I win I’m free?”

“That’s the idea!” said Cecil. “Though I feel that, if you lose, you should owe us one million dollars and come to work in one of our restaurants in New York. So we can keep an eye on you.”

“New York?!” said Monte, “But what about flights and working visas and-l”

“Oh, don’t worry about that!” scoffed Dante. “We’ll sort all that out. We’ve got connections. And anyway, you might win! Think positive!”

They extended their hands. Monte paused one last time and then shook on it while the surrounding diners laughed and applauded. Whether they were celebrating his bravery or his folly he couldn’t tell. He had a feeling that making a deal with Mephistopheles himself might have been safer.

——-

What was he going to do? What the fuck was he going to do? Something to bet on, something ‘spectacular’. He sat in his room trying desperately to think and jumped when the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Monte?”

“Who’s asking now?”

“Laure.”

“Oh! Hi! Terribly sorry!”

“That’s alright. Er… You dashed off in quite a hurry tonight.”

“Yes, and I’m very sorry, I had to. Did Jeanne give you my note?”

“Yes. That’s how I know your phone number.”

“Of course it is. That makes sense.”

“She also said that you are a sociopathic liar and that I should get out while I still can.”

Monte couldn’t help but laugh.

“Are you going to?”

“Depends. Are you going to tell me honestly what’s going on?”

Monte sighed. “Look, Laure… When I said I owed a little money… I owed a lot. And, long story short, some American friends of my father’s paid off my debts, but I can’t afford to pay them back and if I don’t think of some unusual spectacle that they can bet on in the next fourteen hours then I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Laure paused, digesting this.

“What happens if you find something?”

“Then we have a double-or-nothing situation. If I win, I’m free. If I lose, I owe them one million dollars and they’re going to take me back with them to New York and make me work for them until I pay it off.”

Another pause.

“If this is a lie, it’s unbelievable and I’m insulted that you thought you could trick me.”

“It’s not a lie. I swear it.”

“Well. I guess I’ll miss you, Monte. Good luck in New York.”

“Wait, Laure! Help me, please! There must be something. Anything at all. Have you got any… hidden talents? I don’t care what, anything will do! Please!”

A third pause as Laure considered.

“I used to be pretty good at push-ups…” she ventured uncertainly.

Monte thought of the strength of those little arms. How she’d pinned him down so easily. He had no other contacts. No other friends who he could rely on right now. This was all he had. It was worth a try.

“What are you doing tomorrow at two?”

——-

Monte was chewing his fingernails and smoking nervously as two pm grew closer. Laure would finish her shift and join him. They’d see whether a display of her unlikely strength would be acceptable to Cecil and Dante. And then his fate would be sealed either way.

Ten to two.

They’d even considered what to do if he had to go to New York. Well, he’d considered it. He couldn’t deny being slightly disappointed by how well Laure had taken that possibility.

“It’s not like they’re going to kill you,” she had said.

“Yes, but I’ll be so far away,” he’d replied.

“From what?”

“Well…you… You know, us…”

She’d laughed.

“Monte, I thought we were clear on what was going on. Sure, I wanted to see you again, but there is no ‘us’. There’s you and there’s me, and I’m sorry, but if you’re suddenly whisked off to New York then that’s that. I mean, I’ll be disappointed not to get to fuck you again, but I’ll not lose any sleep over it.”

“If I don’t matter to you, why are you helping me?”

“I didn’t say you didn’t matter, I just said I’m not going to pine away for you. I’m helping you as a friend, Monte.”

“A friend who wants to fuck me if this works out?”

“Yes. Is that alright?”

He’d thought about this. “Yes, I suppose so.”

“Good. And don’t you start having strong feelings for me. If you go to New York, I’ll move on. I’ll find someone else. Maybe I’ll fall in love. And you should too. If you must, you can flatter yourself with the knowledge that you were the best I’ve had in a while.”

She was so matter of fact about things. Which was great, in a way, and yet irritating in others. He just thought that someone missing him if he suddenly moved halfway round the world would be nice. It seemed Jeanne wasn’t even talking to him if his earlier attempts to chat to her at the bar were anything to go on.

Five to two.

Cecil and Dante arrived, with quite an entourage. They sidled up to him, smiling cruelly.

“Well,” said Cecil. “What have you got for us?”

Monte tried to seem confident.

“Wait till you see this! At two, a lovely barmaid named Laure is going to come out here and you won’t believe what she can do!”

“I think you underestimate our levels of belief,” observed Dante.

“Honestly, she’ll amaze you, you’ll see!”

Laure had evidently managed to sneak away a few minutes early and approached them from behind the bar.

“And here she is!” said Monte, in his best showman’s voice.

“Good afternoon, Miss… What was it?” Dante began.

“Laure.”

“Miss Laure! You’re going to help out young Monte today?”

Laure appeared unimpressed by his patronising tone.

“I’m going to try,” she said eventually.

“Excellent, excellent,” said Cecil. “And what exactly to you plan to do?”

“Push ups.”

A glance between Cecil and Dante before they burst into shrieks of laughter.
“Push ups!” said Dante. “Push ups? How many, little lady?”

“How many will you consider acceptable?”

They paused, still laughing slightly, until Cecil ventured, “Two hundred?”

Monte stared at him and then to Laure.

“Fine.” she replied simply.

“Wait, Laure,” said Monte, taking hold of her shoulders. “Are you sure? Two hundred, really?”

“Don’t you trust me?”

He looked deeply into her enormous eyes. Nothing but frankness looked back. Well, if she was sure…

“I have faith in you, Laure” he said, feeling the muscles of her upper arms through her shirt. Maybe she could do it, after all.

She looked at Cecil and Dante, who shrugged their agreement.

“Well then.” she said.

She knelt down and laid her hands palm down on the casino floor. She stretched her legs out behind her.

“Who’s going to count them?” she asked.

No one replied. Laure took a deep breath and began to lower her tiny frame towards the floor, then raised it again.

“One,” she said. “Only another one hundred and ninety-nine to go!”

——-

Monte tried to calculate how many she was doing per minute but it was impossible. Whilst she had started with a rhythm, she slowed down and sped up erratically when fatigue began to set in. She had made it to nearly forty before that happened, which Monte considered impressive enough as a feat. The realisation that this was less than a quarter of what she had agreed to made his heart sink. Cecil and Dante seemed less certain of victory now they had seen Laure in action, but whenever she slowed they would glance over at him to gauge his reaction. He tried to keep his face clear of emotion. Sweat had long since begun dripping from Laure’s forehead as she passed the hundred mark. Several of the people who had come along for the show applauded. Laure had propped herself in mid-up and asked them to stop – she was concentrating on ignoring the pain. Monte winced. He couldn’t believe she was putting herself through this for him. She’d made it clear she didn’t mind too much what happened, so why was she doing this? The hurt and exhaustion showed on her face. The push ups came slower and slower. One hundred and forty-five. One hundred and forty-six. And yet, she kept going. He breathed a long sigh of relief when she made it past three quarters. Come on, Laure, he thought. You can do it.

He was suddenly aware of someone standing close behind him. He glanced around and saw Jeanne.

“Monte,” she said as quietly as possible, “Make her stop. She’s going to drop any second.”

Monte looked back at Laure. Sweat had soaked through her clothes. Her hands trembled against the wooden floor. Her breathing was haggard, uneasy and shallow. She kept closing her eyes for extended periods of time and then flashing them open again.

“But…if I stop her then I’m fucked, Jeanne,” he hissed, turning to face her again. “Really, I am.”

“Look, I don’t know what kind of weird relationship you guys are in, but she cannot do this. Stop her now.”

“I can’t! I need her to do this.”

There was a thump. Their heads whipped round. Laure had collapsed at one hundred and fifty-seven push ups completed.

"Shit!" shouted Monte, rushing to the side of her limp body.

——-

An ambulance was called. Laure was suffering from dehydration and had damaged her arm muscles severely through over-exertion. With little else to do, little else he could do as Laure was taken to hospital, Monte went home and packed up his few belongings. In less than a week he’d gone from broke, to debt-free, to doubly debt-ridden and from single, to in some kind of relationship-esque-thing, to getting his non-emotionally-involved pseudo-girlfriend hospitalised. He knew he didn’t have the best luck in the world, but this was absurd. And tomorrow he was going to New York. He still didn’t know how Cecil and Dante had arranged that so quickly. They kept mentioning their ‘connections’ and, whoever they were, Monte had a feeling that they were much worse than the minor crooks he called friends. He sighed looking at his empty room. He’d visited his landlord, who’d seemed frankly relieved at the idea of potentially finding a tenant who could pay the rent on time when told of his imminent departure. Cecil and Dante owned him now. He’d lost the bet and that was all there was to it. How much is a man’s life worth? One million dollars apparently.

As he pondered his self-value, the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“It’s Jeanne.”

“Jeanne! God, how is she?”

“She’s conscious but I think she’s still delirious. She wants to see you. Fuck knows why. Visiting hours are between four and six.”

She hung up.

——-

Jeanne was even less inclined to speak to him the next day at the hospital. She never wanted to see him again. Or rather, she wanted him to know he was “a fucked-up imbecile whose lack of empathy was matched only by his lack of basic intelligence” and she never wanted to see him again as long as she lived. He had nothing to say to that – she was right, it was his fault entirely. Too many debts, too many mistakes and getting involved with Cecil and Dante when he should have run a mile. And now Laure lay in a hospital bed because of him.

He couldn’t believe the sight of her. Tubes everywhere, saline drips, her arms lying limp by her sides. She seemed to be sleeping.

“Laure?” he whispered, simultaneously trying to wake her and wanting to let her rest.

Her eyelids flickered open.

“Monte?”

“Yes, it’s me.”

“Good.”

He waited for what she had to say, but she remained silent.

“You wanted to see me?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“To say goodbye. When do you leave?”

“Actually there’s a car waiting outside to take me to the airport right now. ‘My bags are packed, I’m ready to go’, and all that.”

She smiled weakly.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get you out of your debts.”

“Oh, do come along, dear. Small potatoes next to hospitalization. You tried your best.”

“Yeah.”

“The one thing I don’t understand though,” he said slowly after a pause, “is why you did it? You don’t love me, you barely know me in fact. Why did you put yourself through that?”

“Because you asked me to. Because you had faith in me. Because they laughed and they thought I couldn’t. Mostly that last one.”

“What do you mean?”

“They injured my pride, Monte. They laughed in my face. I wanted to prove them wrong.”

“They injured your pride so you injured yourself?”

She smiled at that.

“Yeah, well, trust me, Monte, if you ever try to get another girl to risk life and limb for you, just appeal to her vanity. Or beg. Begging’s good too. I really should have warmed up first, though.”

He wanted to take her hand, but was afraid of hurting her. Instead he carefully stroked her cheek.

“I’m so sorry for what happened to you. I don’t think pride is worth it,” he said. It didn’t seem like enough.

“Just remember,” she said. “Sure, I’ve never had something as weird as this happen off the back of a one-night-stand before, but I knew what I was getting myself into.”

“Really?”

“Yes. And Monte?”

“What, darling?”

“You were right. I’ve lived to regret it. But I don’t blame you. After all, I could have backed out.”

There didn’t seem to be much to say after that. They didn’t love each other, but they weren’t going to forget each other or this incident in a hurry. Even if they wanted to. He kissed her one last time, closed-mouthed, and felt the roughness of her lips, healing from where she’d bitten them in pain the day before.

He flew to New York.

——-

Monte reluctantly climbed, jet-lagged, into the back of the yellow taxi. Apparently one of Cecil and Dante’s other employees, coincidentally named Tony, had agreed to take him in for a while. He looked at the hideous silver shirt and patterned waistcoat they’d given him for his new role as a bar tender in their painfully hip restaurant. ‘Hideous’ was an understatement. He’d spent the plane journey trying to figure out exactly how many years he would have to work in this Dali place before he paid off the one million. It was a depressingly long time. And then Dante had tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Monte, my boy, we’re going to give you another chance to pay off your debts.  How do you feel about marriage?” He could still hear their cackling laughter. But what choice did he have?

Last week he’d been concerned that first-date sex was developing intimacy too quickly. This week he planned to get married to someone he’d not even met yet and she didn’t know it.

He put his head in his hands. The driver looked at him from the rear-view mirror in concern.

“You OK there, buddy?”

“Not really. I have to convince a girl to marry me by next Friday. Not a specific girl, any girl. Well, any girl who works at a specific restaurant rather.”

“…Why?”

“It’s a long story…”

-Complete-

——-

Author’s notes: Jeanne having a similar name to Jeanette from the film is not deliberate – I chose the name for her before realising and then couldn’t think of another one that fit.

Monte’s father is called Tony due to the joke that after the births of Zowie Bowie and Rolan Bolan, Tony Visconti should have had named a child Monte Visconti. Then I remembered the name of the other bar tender, but I figured it didn’t matter too much.

‘Rosbif’ is a French derogatory term for British people. I was trying to think of an equivalent to ‘limey twit’.

The song that Monte briefly quotes is “Leaving on a Jet Plane” just in case you’re wondering/have no access to Google.

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