Ortega, not at all put out by the impromptu and covert tussle, continued the charade of pleasantries exchanged for any interested onlookers. “You threw away my card,” he said regretfully. “You don’t get to call me at all.”
“Yeah. That’s the bright spot in all this.”
Ortega studied him, his gaze speculative despite his smile.
“Which leaves me wondering what exactly brought you to the Club Madrone last night, Contadino.”
Gabriel’s heart thudded hard against his ribs with alarm.
“Really? If anyone should know, you should.”
“Yes,” Ortega said slowly, “but why were you in that private office? And why did you tear up my card?”
Gabriel drawled, “Didn’t you ever hear of a one-night stand?
Don’t tell me everyone falls in love with you at first fuck.” It was hard to tell in that light, but he thought there was a tinge of red in Ortega’s bronze face. He pressed his advantage, “I could ask what you were doing in that private office too.”
“I was following you.”
Gabriel tried to think. Even if Ortega had followed him from downstairs at the club all he would have seen was Gabriel looking around, and the guy was clearly egotistical enough to swallow the idea that Gabriel had been hunting for him.
He said coolly, “Looks like what we call a Mexican standoff.”
“And stand off is what you would prefer me to do, eh?”
“Just as far as possible.”
Ortega chuckled. His eyes moved past Gabriel, and he nodded smiling acknowledgment to someone. Then his gaze fastened on Gabriel’s once more.
“Very well. We will agree to forget our previous…encounter.”
He waited for Gabriel’s acknowledgement.
Gabriel nodded curtly.
And with a murmured apology, Ortega moved away.
Surprised, Gabriel turned to watch his broad shoulders move through the crush of people. As Ortega reached a half-circle of smiling businessmen, he clapped one of the men on his shoulder as though they were old friends.
Interesting. How was it that the second-in-command of a Mexican drug lord was apparently on hobnobbing terms with a Sonoma Valley vintner?
“I wanna go dancing!”
It was several hours later. The musicians had played “La Bamba” six times, the floral arrangements were starting to wilt, and most of the important guests—the indigenous ones at least—had departed.
Reaching out to steady his sister, Botelli found Gabriel’s gaze.
Gabriel straightened from the wall he had been propping up and made his way to Botelli’s side, ready to do whatever Botelli needed doing, up to and including barring Gina from leaving the premises.
Gina swayed, leaning back on her brother’s arm, and turned her much-practiced doe-eyed look on him. “Ricco! You hear me?”
He patted her cheek. “There’s musicians here, go dance.”
She pouted. “I want real music, Ricco, not elevator noise. I want to celebrate my fabulous engagement with my fabulous friends!” She made a sweeping gesture with one arm, taking in the dozen or so offspring of the richest people in the city, expensively groomed twenty-somethings whose main purpose in life seemed to be keeping drug suppliers like Ricco Botelli and Don Jesus Sanchez in business.
“Yeah, but maybe your fiancé objects.” Botelli darted a questioning glance at Sanchez, who stood silently to the side watching his fiancée’s antics with an amber, unsmiling look. It was an easy guess what Sanchez thought of Botelli’s method of handling Gina—which basically consisted of giving into her every demand and then making it someone else’s headache. As he was attempting to do now.
Gina swayed toward Sanchez and batted her eyes at him. “You don’t mind, do you, Jesus?”
Gabriel didn’t get the impression that Sanchez suffered from insecurity, but he eyed Gina for a long moment and then studied the tipsy, giggling clique of sleek sophisticates. Most of them were young women—and none of the soft young men in the group showed any undue interest in Gina. Gabriel had been keeping an eye out in case he needed to run interference for some poor slob.
Unexpectedly, Sanchez smiled a disconcerting, predatory smile.
“Why not? Your brother and I have matters to discuss, chiquita.
Perhaps it’s best if you spend time with your friends.”
Disengaging herself from Botelli, Gina sparkled brightly up at Don Sanchez. Her smile was full of promise and mystery—and about 100 proof in Gabriel’s opinion. “I knew you wouldn’t care.” She threw a triumphant look at her brother. “You’re a man of the world. You know a girl can’t sit
around…just…just…knitting while her man works.”
Knitting? What was she playing at? She wasn’t stupid, really, so why was she deliberately tugging the tiger’s tail? He watched her absently stroke the creamy, satin skin of her half-bared breasts, the enormous rock on her hand glittering in the thousands of tiny lights strung around the ballroom ceiling.
“I think you’re going to be a fabulous husband, Jesus,” Gina murmured, batting ridiculous lashes.
Gabriel didn’t care for the faint curve of Sanchez’s mouth. He suspected Sanchez had no trouble reading Gina, that the man understood how she hoped to manipulate him with her unsubtle charms—and was untroubled, even entertained by it. He watched her every move, every expression like she was something delectable on a dessert cart.
“Well, that’s settled then!” Botelli said jovially. “Gina and her friends can go dancing while we talk.” He jerked his head at Gabriel. “Gio, go tell Paulo to drive Gina. I don’t want her getting in any cars with drunk drivers.”
Sanchez interjected silkily, “That won’t be necessary. My wife—my future wife—is under my protection now. My own men will escort her and ensure her safety.”
Gina blinked at him, puzzled. “Paulo always drives me,” she said. “Or G.”
Even Botelli looked uncomfortable as Sanchez’s wasteland gaze found Gabriel. The Mexican drug lord said nothing.
Gabriel didn’t move a muscle.
Happily oblivious, Gina smiled brightly, reassuringly at her bleak-faced betrothed. “G’s all the protection I need. He saved my life, you know? Last year this fricking maniac attacked me right outside of Gallery of Jewels, and G happened to be walking by, and he came to my rescue.”