By the end of the night, Pretty Saro’s was a crush of people all headed for the exit. More than once throughout the evening, Melody had spotted Frankie and Denny in the audience, but they were always occupied. Asking them to be in her film wasn’t something she wanted to just spring on them, not with loud music and conversation competing for their attention. She’d never had much luck shouting.
But now, having said good night to Rachel and bundled back up into her coat, she couldn’t find them anywhere. Of course, at five feet two inches, she’d never been able to see much of anything in a crowd.
Roasting inside her down jacket, Melody cursed the northeast, her height, and the apparent pressing need for the entire city to cram itself into this club to see men take their clothes off.
Finally she managed to squeeze out the door and into the blessedly frigid night air. All around her, clusters of women laughed, slipped, and stumbled to their cars—hopefully with designated drivers to make sure they got home safely. There were men too, mostly from the audience. Melody hadn’t been sure how many were indulgent spouses and how many were gay, though she guessed more of the latter than the former.
Not seeing either Frankie or Denny anywhere, she was beginning to fear that she wouldn’t find them when she nearly ran into Rinko and Tommy.
“Oh! Hello,” she said and smiled as Rinko waved from where she was tucked inside one half of Tommy’s coat. He held her tight against his side and offered Melody a warm smile.
“You all right? Need help finding your car or something?”
Melody nodded. “Well, I’m a little lost, I guess, but it’s people I’m trying to find. Have you seen Frankie or Denny anywhere? They danced after you did. I don’t know if you know them at all, but I’m looking for them.”
Tommy hesitated, glanced quickly around the lot. “What for?” His smile had gone, and in its absence, his face clouded over with a far less welcoming expression.
“I wanted to ask them if they’d be in a movie I’m shooting. Is that not—is that…”
Tommy’s eyebrows lowered, and she could almost feel the suspicion rolling off him until Rinko elbowed him in the ribs. “Melody is not a cop. Be nice.”
Tommy looked her up and down as though he needed to determine that for himself. More than once, his pale blue eyes caught on something over her shoulder. Finally he only shrugged. “Pretty sure they’re across the street. You should, uh…just be careful, all right?”
Frowning, Melody turned and searched the shadows where Tommy had been looking. She could see a few figures, moving about where the streetlights didn’t reach. The exhaust from nearby cars plumed out in white clouds in the frigid air as she made her way over.
Wondering if she was about to interrupt a drug deal, Melody was careful to make her approach as obvious as possible. She doubted Tommy and Rinko would put her right in the middle of something like that—she couldn’t have come across as that
As she crossed the little side street into the parking lot adjacent to Pretty Saro’s, she spotted Frankie first, his giant shoulders a dead giveaway. He leaned over a woman wrapped in a stylish red wool coat, her gloved hands pressed lightly against his broad chest. The woman did not appear at all threatened as she tilted her face up to his, her smile downright sultry.
A drug transaction did not appear to be in the offing.
Melody decided if she was going to interrupt, she might as well do it before things got any more serious between Frankie and his lady friend, so after a deep breath of cold air, she stepped forward and cleared her throat.
“Excuse—excuse me, Frankie? It is Frankie, right?”
The big man turned, offered her a guarded smile as he looked her up and down. Did she exude a “cop” vibe? She’d never thought of herself as having any real gravitas in these types of situations.
“Yes?” he said.
“Hi—I’m Melody. I’m friends with Saro”—bit of a stretch—“and her partner, Rachel.” Much less of a stretch. “I was hoping I could talk to you—that is, pitch an idea to you. About a job.”
Frankie glanced between the woman leaning against her car and Melody. “Sorry, but I have plans for the evening.”
Flushing, Melody shook her head and nervously hoisted her bag higher on her shoulder. “Oh—no, we wouldn’t need to discuss it now. But soon, I hope—this week. I’m shooting a movie, and I’d like you to be in it.” His handsome face had still not revealed a thing beyond careful attention, so she stumbled on. This part was never easy. “It’s—it’s just, I thought your dance was great. And your friend, Denny—I liked his too. I’d like to sit down with both of you and talk a bit. About the movie.”
At Denny’s name, Frankie finally relaxed a fraction, a broad smile spreading across his face. “Really. Did you hear that, Denny? This young lady—” He looked to her with a guilty expression. Few men remembered her name the first time she gave it.
“Melody liked that pathetic excuse for a dance you did tonight.” Then he laughed, a happy sound that rumbled in his chest.
A short distance away, two figures shifted against another car, and Melody recognized Denny’s narrow build. He was slouched so he appeared even smaller as he leaned back against the passenger door of a sedan. A man curled over him with obvious intent, arms braced on either side of his shoulders. Melody thought the man looked much more threatening than Frankie had looming over the woman in the red coat, but Denny didn’t appear concerned as he casually pushed the man away.
“Well, it wasn’t bad for his first time dancing,” Melody said in his defense.
At that, Frankie gave her a conspiratorial wink. “It may have been his first time dancing at this club, but he tells the DJ wherever we go that it’s his first time so he doesn’t have to practice.”
“Hush,” Denny said as he drew near. “You’re not supposed to give away the trade secrets.” His voice had a strange lilt to it, like an almost-forgotten accent.
“I won’t tell,” Melody promised. The accent was faint, but she’d put money on northern England. “In your place, I might do the same. Inexperience makes you appear vulnerable, and I think women respond to that. They’re at least more likely to overlook your abysmal dancing.”
She offered a teasing smile that Denny didn’t return. Instead he shoved his hands into the front pocket of his hoodie and gave her a very frank once-over before turning to Frankie. “What’s the story? I’ve got somewhere to be, and so do you.”
Frankie gestured toward her. “Melody has a job opportunity she’d like to discuss with us.”
The gentle skepticism and mockery in his tone were not lost on her, but she didn’t think he meant any offense. It was quite presumptuous of her to approach them when they were so clearly otherwise occupied.
“I wanted—I wanted to ask if you’d think about being in a movie that I’m shooting,” she said.
“Starring me or him?” Denny asked. His eyes glinted as he slid a glance at Frankie, his obvious competitive streak surprising Melody not even a little.
“Ideally, both of you.”
“What kind of movie?” Frankie asked. His voice betrayed the beginnings of curiosity.
“Well, it’s a—a love story.”
Denny wielded his grin like a knife. “Well, we’re in—aren’t we, Franny?
“Please, don’t call me that.” He said it as though this was a regular point of contention between them.
“You don’t have to commit now,” Melody said quickly. “I thought we could meet over the weekend, maybe?”
“How much would you pay?” Denny asked as he cast a quick glance over his shoulder to the man waiting by the car.
“Twenty thousand each.” The money was the hook—no point hiding it. She didn’t want it sitting in her bank account, a constant reminder of what she’d lost.
Frankie’s eyes widened, and Denny barked a laugh. “You’d pay us forty grand to mess around with some girl.”
“Not exactly. I’d pay you forty grand to tell a love story between the two of you.”
A frosty silence descended then that Melody had foreseen but was unable to avoid. The rumble of car engines and the sounds of distant laughter from the club parking lot were brittle between them until Melody jumped back in.
“Anyway, if you’d like to talk more about the job, here’s my card.” Flipping open the slim brass case, she pulled out two. Frankie took one without hesitation, though his expression was a bit blank as he looked down at it, and Melody suspected he was only being polite.
Denny didn’t even bother to take his hands out of his pockets. “I live with him,” he said. “We’ll only need the one, thanks.” He cast a cagey look at Frankie. “I’ll see you back home, yeah?”
His voice seemed to bring Frankie out of his daze, and he blinked, straightening to his full height. “Yeah. Be careful.”
Denny saluted as he jogged back to the man waiting by the car. As soon as Denny was within arm’s reach, the man grabbed for him and spun him around, kissed him, and pushed him down into the open front passenger door.
She turned at the sound of her name, finding Frankie once again smiling at her. He held up her card.
“It’s a nice name. Sounds like the heroine of her own movie.”
Melody felt his easy charm wrap around her like another coat. “Thank you. I—I hope you’ll consider my offer.”
“We’d be idiots not to.”
“I’ll give you a call, Melody Gellar.” With a flourish, he pocketed the card. Then he hesitated, took a step closer, and leaned down to speak into her ear. “And my name is actually Francis.” As he straightened, Frankie—Francis
—winked at her, like he was pleased to share his name. With a grin, he returned his attention to the woman in the red coat still waiting for him.
Not wanting to intrude any further, Melody backed up a few steps and fished in her bag for her car keys. After that first opening gambit, she wanted to be home in her quiet house more than anything.
As she crossed the street, she looked back once as the cars behind her pulled away. Both Francis and Denny rode in the passenger seats. Melody didn’t have to ponder too terribly long why Tommy had been hesitant to send her over there. Though it hadn’t been drugs, she suspected a transaction of some kind had taken place.
Unlocking her car, Melody decided that might actually work in her favor.