Excerpt: Sleight of Hand

Classic Romance Collection, Vol. 1 from Laura Leone (Laura Resnick)

Contemporary Romance

Excerpt © 2014 by Laura Resnick a.k.a. Laura Leone

Ally wasn’t sure why she cooperated when Chance took her hand and dragged her into the casino. Maybe it was just instinct. He was the only person who seemed to be on her side. Or maybe it was because she felt pretty sure that Ambrose Kettering had just destroyed the possibility of her being released from prison before the century was out. Detective O’Neal had been practically purple with outrage by the time Kettering was done with him, and Ally had little doubt about who would suffer for that.

So she and Chance plunged into the casino, hoping to be obscured by the crowd. They had only gone a few yards when she heard the shouts behind them.

“Police! Freeze! Halt!” the cops shouted, as well as all the other things that cops usually said in such situations.

Her insides twisted with dread as she realized what could happen next, but it seemed too late to stop running. The cards were dealt. There was nothing to do now but play out the hand.

“Through here!” Chance dragged her past a bank of slot machines, recklessly shoving through a crowd of middle-aged women who were all trying their luck. The ladies’ concentration on the one-armed bandit was so focused that they never even seemed to notice the magician and actress pushing through their ranks, closely followed by a herd of armed policemen.

Freeze!

Ally ran faster, truly terrified now.

Theft. Armed assault. And, of course, resisting arrest.

“Oh, God,” she moaned.

She heard screaming behind her and realized that someone had finally noticed the police, whose guns were exposed as they ran through the crowd.

“Stop or I’ll shoot!” O’Neal warned.

“Chance…” she panted.

“He won’t shoot,” Chance said. “Too many people. Come on!”

“Everyone hold still!” O’Neal cried.

Hardly anybody could hear him, since the casino was so noisy. And the people who could hear his order did exactly the opposite and starting running around frantically.

“Where’s the exit?” Ally asked.

“Jackpot!” some lady cried.

“We need a diversion,” Chance said, leading the way past a row of blackjack tables.

Ally glanced over her shoulder, then she tripped. “Ow!”

“Are you all right?” Chance was already hauling her to her feet.

“Hey, buddy! What’s going on?”

The man who asked this question was blocking their path. An incredibly large person, he was wearing a tuxedo and appeared to be a hotel employee.

“God Almighty,” Chance said respectfully.

Ally looked way up at the man’s face, gauging his size advantage. He outweighed the two of them put together. They’d never get past him.

A diversion, Chance had said.

She stuck her hand in the pocket of her peach-colored blazer and spoke in her most convincing Brooklyn accent. “I’ve already killed the bellboy, buddy, so don’t think I won’t blow you away, too,” she snarled, using the same tone she’d used upon murdering her character’s pimp in Northern Comfort.

Chance’s eyes went so wide, she thought he forgot to keep breathing.

“Okay, lady, let’s stay calm,” the big guy said, gaze fixed on the threatening shape in her pocket.

“Hands up and start backing toward the exit!” she ordered. “Unless you want all these nice people to get a good look at what a thirty-eight can do to a new tuxedo.”

The man raised his hands and started backing up.

“Ally… ” Chance looked uneasily over his shoulder.

“Tell the cops they better stop right there,” Ally ordered the man. It came out: Tell da cops dey bedda stop roit deah!

“Don’t come any closer!” the big guy shouted. “I got three kids!”

O’Neal came closer anyway, so Ally warned him, “Two more steps and I’m gonna blow him away. I mean it, O’Neal! Don’t push me! Don’t you push me! I’ll do it, O’Neal!”

“She’ll do it!” the big guy cried. “What’s one more stiff to a woman like her?”

“What?” O’Neal said, stopping in his tracks. “She’s not armed.” He blinked and his jaw dropped. “Is she armed?

Ally laughed nastily. “The big detective didn’t think to search me.”

“Don’t overdo it, okay?” Chance said out of the corner of his mouth.

“We’re getting outta here now,” Ally warned. “Anyone tries to stop us, this guy is dead meat!” Under her breath, she added to Chance, “Get behind me, you idiot. Don’t you ever go to the movies?”

“What? Oh!” As they backed toward the exit, he whispered, “What do we do once we’re outside?”

“Didn’t you have a plan when you decided to break and run?” she muttered.

“I thought we’d just run,” he shot back. “I didn’t know we were about to become Bonnie and Clyde.”

Realizing that misleading the cops might be a good idea, Ally raised her voice enough for her hostage to hear every word clearly. “As soon as we’re clear, we’re gonna make a break for the car. Thank God you put the luggage in there this morning.”

“The car? But, Ally—Oof!” An elbow in his ribs prevented him from finishing. He winced and murmured, “You’re so impetuous.”

“Okay, Prince Charming,” Ally said to her hostage. “We’re going out the door. You cause any trouble, and…”

“No trouble, lady. I’m not paid enough to cause trouble. My take-home isn’t even four hundred a week, I—”

“Never mind the autobiography,” Chance advised.

When they reached the doors of the casino, they released their hostage and looked for a way to disappear quickly. As luck would have it, O’Neal hadn’t had time to call for backup, and no one outside the casino seemed to know they were fugitives. They jumped into the first taxi that rolled up and ordered him to take off.

“Where are we going?” Ally asked Chance.

“I don’t know. There hasn’t been time to think.”

“The police?”

“You can’t be serious.” He cast a warning glance at the driver. The less anyone knew about them, the better.

“Then let’s go back to New York and sort things out from there.”

“You folks know where you want to go?” asked the cabby.

“West Ninety-third Street in Manhattan,” Ally said.

“Lady, how about I just take you to the bus station, okay?”

“The bus station? Can’t you take us all the way to New York?” she asked plaintively.

“Sorry, lady. My shift’s over in an hour.”

“How about dropping us two blocks from the station, in that case?” Chance suggested.

“Why not right at the station?” Ally asked.

Chance shook his head. Ten minutes later, she realized why. They watched the bus station carefully, hiding behind magazine racks at a newsstand about half a block away. Two patrol cars were parked outside the station, and several uniformed policemen were obviously on the lookout for them.

“Damn it,” Ally said. “No bus for us, I guess.”

Chance sighed, his mind spinning. “I could hotwire a car, but I think we’re in enough trouble already.”

“No doubt they’ve got the nearest airport covered, and all the car rental agencies, too. Forget about trains… How are we going to get out of town?”

“I’ve got an idea,” Chance said.

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