Annie's 3rd Strike by Willee Amsden by Willee Amsden - Read Online

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Summary

Since hitting New York like a Texas Tornado, Annie McCauley from little Mesa View Texas has been trying to make it in the high fashion world. After losing her gig with handsome Tomi Di Ponti and his cosmetic company and getting blacklisted in the modeling business, she’s been forced to accept a job from Ida Grolsch delivering and protecting people like Mary Jane Adams, a brilliant but troubled girl whose mama tried to strangle her.
Her first assignment takes her to Maine where a psycho and federal agents make life difficult. Her budding romance with Ida’s son Luther blows up in her face when a blonde bombshell from Luther’s past shows up at the door, but Luther can explain. Or can he? Like they say, it ain’t over til’ the fat lady sings and that’s right after your third strike. An ex-fiancé, a hermit, large women, and of course, her sidekick, Luis the gay Latino makeup artist, make Annie’s first trip to Vacationland (Maine) a memorable one.

Published: Willee Amsden on
ISBN: 9781310323348
List price: $2.99
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Annie's 3rd Strike - Willee Amsden

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coincidental.

Books by Willee Amsden

Annie’s 1st Break

Annie’s 2nd Chance

Annie’s 3rd Strike

Annie’s 4th Ace

Table of contents

Books by Willee Amsden

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 1

My life would make a great reality show, but who would believe it? Okay, I admit I do watch some reality TV even though I think it’s stupid and probably faked. I do it strictly out of professional curiosity because, as a model, I’m sometimes in the spotlight and I like to see how other women handle fame and attention, even if they’re only getting it for a brief period in their lives.

So far, each woman I’ve seen on reality TV is doing better than I am because not a one of them has had her ass super glued to a toilet seat, has been hung upside down from a hot air balloon, or thrown in a dumpster. I’m still not sure whether or not my modeling career is over, but for tonight, I seem to be on reality TV as a contestant on the Mister Right Show and they’re calling me a super model.

Mister Right? Oh, brother, that’s a laugh. Is it the Mister Right, Mister Right Now, Mister Right Away, or (Almost) Mister Right Show? As I’ve said before, Mister Right seems to come in a lot of flavors.

Who are the mystery men behind the two golden doors? Danged if I know, but in a minute I have to choose one and then I’m going to be married to that man on stage in front of the studio audience, which includes my mama and daddy, by the way.

Mama is grinning like a jackass eating cactus (sorry, Mama) and Daddy is scowling. Mama can’t believe her one and only daughter, little Rayanne Annie McCauley is finally getting married, albeit to a stranger. An all expenses paid honeymoon in Bangor, Maine is the prize along with Mister Whoever- I-Choose, if you can call the man or the trip a prize. Bangor, Maine? How did they come up with that one?

I’m not alone on stage. The host of the show is a cross between Alex Trebeck and Chuck Woolery with a little of Jimmy Kimmel thrown in for good measure. I also have the help of my BFF Luis, though what his skills as the best professional makeup artist I’ve ever known will actually do to help is unclear. He’s five feet tall, gay, Latino, and has a tendency to dress to the extreme. Tonight his hair is spiked platinum gold with orange streaks. He has dangling gold earrings and a stud in his nose.

I turn to him and whisper in his ear, I love the stud in your nose.

He leans toward me and whispers back, You know where I’d really like to have a stud tonight?

How can you make jokes like that at a time like this? I ask.

Have you seen the stud in the second row? Luis asks and nods in that direction.

Holy crap, I say. That’s Tomi Di Ponti, the CEO of the Di Ponti Cosmetics company! What’s he doing out there?

I don’t know, Luis says, but isn’t he gorgeous?

But if he’s sitting out there, who’s behind one of those doors? I ask. I thought he’d be one of the two men I’d get to choose from.

Oh, please, Annie, you’re not still carrying a torch for Tomi, are you? Luis asks.

No... well... maybe a little... maybe more like a candle than a torch? I say.

Luis rolls his heavily mascaraed eyes and says, What about Luther?

What about Luther? I ask. Isn’t he behind one of those doors? My heart begins to do that fluttery thing it does when I get that funny sinking feeling in my stomach that no matter what I do, it’s going to be a disaster.

Luis points to our right and there’s Luther standing off-stage, waiting in the wings.

What the hell? If he’s there, who’s behind the door? I ask.

The host is standing beside me holding a giant microphone. I swear his teeth are brighter than a hundred watt light. He grins at the crowd and winks while also pulling me a little to the right and saying under his breath so that only I can hear, You keep moving off your mark, stupid. Watch what you’re doing. You’re supposed to be a professional.

I look down at the stage beneath my feet and sure enough, someone has drawn a star on the stage.

Speaking out of the corner of my mouth I hiss, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to do this...

Tough! he hisses at me. Just pick one of the goddammed doors.

But how do I know which one to pick? I don’t know who is behind the doors. I say.

What difference does it make? he asks and chuckles. They’re both losers anyway and you’re going to Bangor, Maine... Bangor, for god’s sake. Did you actually read the contract?

Maybe it will be nice, Luis says, hopefully.

You’re a lot of help, I say. I’ll bet you had something to do with this, didn’t you?

He looks at me innocently and says, It’s your dream, Annie.

Dream? I ask. You call this a dream?

Will you stay on your mark? the host asks and roughly jerks me to the right.

What? I ask. A loud buzzing is drowning out his voice. The crowd starts chanting, Pick one... pick one... pick one!

I look at Mama and she’s furiously crocheting and chanting with the crowd. She holds up two little booties, one pink and one blue, and smiles at me.

On your mark! the host yells at me.

Get ready! Luis shouts.

Go! the crowd screams and I look down just as a trap door beneath my feet springs open and I drop into darkness.

I’m falling and shaking uncontrollably while the buzzing is getting louder and louder. A rough male voice says, Annie, Annie...

I realize that someone has a hand on my shoulder and he’s shaking me. I look up into the pale blue eyes of Luther Grolsch. All six foot six and two hundred and seventy pounds of him is sitting beside me in my bed and he’s calling my name.

What? I ask.

He reaches over me with one of his tree trunk sized arms and turns the alarm off. The buzzing instantly stops, but I swear I can still hear my mama shouting, Pick one... pick one.

You were screaming, honey, Luther says. He puts his arms around me and holds me tight. Was it the dream about the sadistic, hit man drowning you in the ocean after beating you? Luther asks softly.

Worse than that, I say. I bury my face in his hairy chest and mutter, "Marriage."

As I get myself ready for the day, I think about my living arrangement. I suspect that, while not pushing the marriage thing, Luther is not totally against it. If I pushed for a wedding, I think he’d balk, but on the other hand, if we slid into it, I don’t think he’d mind. I’m not ready to slide into anything, but my comfy jeans, a simple slipover top, running shoes and of course, my little three eighty automatic that now rides on my left hip in a stylishly chic black leather holster.

I have to wear a belt to hold the holster even though the gun weighs a mere twelve ounces complete with six rounds. Being a good West Texas girl, I have a black leather belt with a large brass buckle with a bucking bronc on it. A loose fitting sweatshirt or jacket hides the three eighty. That’s a good thing because it isn’t exactly legal. (Being Luther Grolsch’s gal kind of leads to doing a lot of things that aren’t exactly legal.)

My shoulder length brown hair is pulled back and slipped through the hole in the back of my Rangers cap and I’m ready to go. New York City is Yankees country so if I’m going to be wearing a Rangers cap, I’d better carry. It could be worse. If I was wearing a Red Sox cap I’d need more than that little automatic. These New Yorkers take their baseball seriously.

I look at myself in the mirror and assess the situation before I leave. I’ve got a birthday coming soon and I’ll be turning twenty two. For a lanky kid who grew up in a trailer park in West Mesa I think I’ve gone pretty far. I came to the big city to be a super model, but things didn’t exactly go as planned. Mama used to say, Life is what happens while you’re making other plans. I think she’d watched me for a while and figured she’d better firmly implant that in my brain so I’d be prepared.

Astrologically I’m a Sagittarius and numerologically, if you’re into that stuff, I’m a five. That means a lot of adventures and ups and downs along with a few monkey wrenches thrown into the gearbox. The good news is that I usually land on my feet, albeit a little bruised and worse for the wear. Take my nose for instance. When I came to New York City I had a perfectly straight super model nose.

When I was a senior in high school I had a boyfriend who went on to college and he was always reading about mythology. He told me I had a nose that Greek poets would have written poems about. Of course, at the time, he was trying to jump my bones, but I think he was sincere despite the panting.

Flash forward to last month and a run in with a hit man named Santoro Parmesan and I now have a slightly crooked nose and a tiny scar under my right eye. In all fairness to Santoro Sandy the Sandman, I did break his nose first, but that’s another story and he’ll soon be in federal prison for a long time so there’s no sense in dwelling on that. The main thing I’m trying to get across here is that I’m pretty easy on the eyes and don’t look like something the dog’s been keeping under the porch.

But today, I’m not dressed like a super model because I don’t need to be dressed like a super model. Today is the day I officially start my new job. I’m now a courier slash delivery person. My first gig will be a twelve year old girl named Mary Jane. That’s right, I deliver people. My boss is Ida Grolsch; Luther’s larger and louder than life mother. She has a heart of gold and a face that would stop traffic. I’m not sure if her straight platinum hair is a really good wig or a bad head of hair. She smears enough rouge on her cheeks to paint a barn door.

As usual, when we walk through the door she’s sitting at her desk in the front room of her Queens apartment wearing a white blouse with some ruffles at the throat, a gray business jacket, and a gray business skirt. She’s crocheting, that’s something she has in common with my mama, and when she stands and walks around the desk I see that, as usual, she’s wearing colorful booties she’s crocheted. They aren’t quite as garish as the afghan, matching toaster cover, and hat my mama crocheted for me, but they’re close.

So, yes, I am sleeping with the boss’s son, but it’s a tentative situation since Luther and I have our ups and downs. I don’t think my relationship with Luther will affect my employment, but I also think that Ida, like Mama, would love to have a reason to knit tiny booties. I can tell by the way she smiles at me and the corners of her eyes crinkle up that I’m high on the list of daughter-in-law candidates.

She gives me a hug and we go into the living room through one of the doors that leads off the office. Mary Jane is sitting on the couch, phone in hand, texting or playing a game, it’s hard to tell. She does look up and acknowledge our presence. Mary Jane is one of the reasons I was fighting the hit man and since I saved her she and I have become close. It’s a bond of trust because she knows that unlike her psycho mother who once tried to kill her and her rich eccentric father who ignores her most of the time, I’m here for her.

Are you ready? I ask and tousle her short brown hair.

She still has some trouble with hugs, but she leans into me a little with her arms straight at her side when I hug her. It’s a little awkward and I just give her a one armed hug, but it’s progress from where we started when I met her.

Yeah, she says.

You don’t sound very happy to be going to see your dad, I say.

She gives me a look and I instantly regret it.

At least it won’t be as bad as the convent, she says.

You’ll have me, I say brightly. Your dad hired me to spend the whole vacation with you.

Just to make sure my mother doesn’t show up and try to kill me again, she says.

I can see this isn’t a glass half full morning, Luther says.

Don’t take it personally, Sasquatch, Mary Jane says. But riding for eight hours in a car to Bangor, Maine isn’t my idea of a good time. When we arrive there will be nothing to do.

Don’t you miss home a little bit? I ask.

Nope, I like it here with Ida, Mary Jane says, but my father wants to send me back to the nuns.

The last time I saw the Sister Superior, she was gulping pills from a large jar after whacking Mary Jane upside the head and calling her their little blessing. I think Mary Jane’s chances of getting back into the convent aren’t good.

She’d hacked into their computer system and raised hell with their personal files, too. The fact that she’s a genius and a world class hacker was one of the reasons Luther would occasionally bail her out of the convent and bribe her to help him when he needed information that was only available from encrypted files. The nuns wouldn’t let her have a phone or a computer, but when she was with Luther he provided both, but only if she worked with him. When I met her she was helping Luther to hack into someone’s phone.

Can you talk to my father? she asks me.

I can give it a try, I say and look searchingly at Ida. I have no idea how she feels about Mary Jane living with her.

We can look at all the possibilities and work this out later, Ida says. For now, your father has sent for you. Luther and Annie will keep you safe and Annie will stay there with you for your vacation.

Are you ready? I ask Mary Jane.

As ready as I’ll ever be, she says. She’s wearing her usual MIT sweatshirt and jeans with sneakers. She shoulders her backpack and says, Lead on Sasquatch.

I told you to quit calling me that, Luther says and gives her a tap on the back of her head.

Luther! Ma Grolsch says.

She gives Mary Jane a farewell hug and as we’re walking toward the door the doorbell rings.

Saved by the bell, Mary Jane mutters under her breath.

Ida opens the door and a woman is standing there. She’s a few inches taller than me, maybe six feet tall and has ice blue eyes and silvery, platinum blond hair. She’s a little heavier, too, but in the right places. Her blue top is stretched to the limit over full breasts. She could easily be a model for the Scandinavian travel bureau or a Valkyrie.

Ida, she says and smiles.

Ida smiles and says, Ell, what a nice surprise.

This is Mary Jane and Annie, Ida says and turns to us.

Hello, I say and shake her hand.

They were just leaving with Luther to go on a trip, Ida says.

Oh, Ell says and her eyes nervously dart from Luther to me. Is it business or personal? she asks.

We’re delivering Mary Jane to her home in Maine, Luther says.

How nice, Ell says, but she’s giving me a cold look for some reason.

Are you going to be working in New York now? Ida asks.

Actually, I’ve quit. It’s time to make some life changes. I thought maybe I’d go free lance and do some consulting for a while... Luther, can I have a minute? she asks.

That’s when I notice she’s holding a small box in her hand. It’s the kind of box that engagement rings come in.

Uh, Luther says.

We can wait downstairs, I say.

That’s not necessary, Ell says and smiles at me. This will only take a moment. I want to return this, Luther, she says and shows him the box. Yikes! Strike one.

That’s not necessary, Luther says softly.

Yes, it is, she says and smiles a little. I think we both know it’s for the best. Strike two!

Ida nervously clears her throat and says, Maybe you’d like to be alone.

There’s a tear in Ell’s eye as she slips the box into Luther’s hand and gives him a quick hug. Have a good life, Ell says. As she hugs him she looks over his shoulder at me. He’s a great guy, she says. It just didn’t work out. It’s the kiss of death when your ex-girlfriend tries to sell you to the new girl.

She kisses his cheek and says, We’ll always be friends. Okay, that’s it, strike three, big guy, the old we’ll always be friends line. You’ve been dumped.

Luther kisses her cheek and she walks away.

Well, Ida says. I guess that’s that. She sneaks a peek at me.

Holy Moly, Annie, Mary Jane says. Did you see that? The big ape just got the old bum’s rush.

Luther’s face is red and he says through clenched teeth, All right, let’s get the little blessing in the car.

Mary Jane elbows me in the ribs and says, Old Sasquatch is always good for a laugh, isn’t he?

His hand goes up and Ida grabs his wrist before he can slap the back of Mary Jane’s head.

Shotgun! Mary Jane yells.

You’ll be riding in the back, Luther says through clenched teeth.

Oh, yeah, that’s right, she says. I imagine you two will want to talk.

Maybe we should tie her on the roof, Luther mutters under his breath.

When we’re in his SUV and driving out of Queens, Luther says to me, I’m sorry you had to see that, Annie.

You mean you’re sorry you got caught, I say.

"What do you mean, I got caught?" he asks.

Luther, we woke up in the same bed this morning. I just found out you have another woman.

The thing with Ell is over, Luther says.

No shit, Sherlock, Mary Jane says. She dropped you like a hot brick.

One more word and I pull over and strangle her, Luther says.

Ouch. Nice choice of words, my Yeti friend, Mary Jane says. Talk about insensitive. You do remember my own mother tried to strangle me and drown me, don’t you?

Luther gives me a look that asks, Is it any wonder?

Don’t blame Mary Jane, Luther, I say. She’s right. Ell dumped you and from the way she looked at me I’d say she had her suspicions about you.

Annie, she and I were over before I started sleeping with you, he says.

Maybe we should discuss this when we’re alone, I say.

No way, Mary Jane says and leans over the back of the seat.

This is very personal and private, I say.

Don’t worry about me, Mary Jane says. I won’t repeat a word I hear, Annie.

Annie, Luther says. It was over between me and Ell.

Were you ever going to tell me about her? I ask.

What’s to tell? he asks. We dated and it didn’t work out.

Dated? I ask. An engagement ring is more than just dating. You must have been pretty serious.

Maybe, he says, but not anymore.

"Maybe, Luther? I don’t think so. You obviously had strong feelings for her."

Like I said... it was over, he says.

Ask him the big question, Annie, Mary Jane says.

Stay out of this, Mary Jane, he says.

Ask him who dumped who? Mary Jane says. Did he walk out on her or did she walk out on him?

Yes, I say. That is a good question. Why did she still have that ring?

I don’t ask you about your old boyfriends and lovers, Luther says. You’ve obviously had a thing for Tomi Di Ponti since I’ve known you...

He’s got a point there, Mary Jane says. You’ve been goo-goo eyed over that Di Ponti guy since we’ve known you.

Okay, Mary Jane, I say. One more peep out of you and I’m going to let Luther pull this car over.

See, Luther says, It’s better to leave that stuff alone.

He’s being evasive, Mary Jane says. Look at those shifty eyes.

Mary Jane, I say, stay out of this.

No wonder she shot you, big guy, Mary Jane says.

Mary Jane, when I shot Luther it was an accident, I say. He was trying to save me from a woman who was going to shoot me. I got to my gun and drew first and fired just as he tried to jump her...

Apparently she isn’t the only woman he’s been jumping, Mary Jane says.

That’s totally inappropriate for a twelve year old girl, I say. You’re getting way too much pleasure out of the difficulties Luther and I are having.

Yeah, why don’t you just shut up and watch the scenery? Luther asks.

Oh, yeah, that’s what I call fun... Mary Jane says, sarcastically, sitting here and watching the cars go by on Route Ninety Five North.

We ride in silence for a while and Mary Jane says, Hey, I have to pee.

I’ll find a place to stop, Luther says as we drive into Connecticut.

As he pulls into a rest stop I say, Mary Jane, you remember the rules. You have to stay with me at all times and we have to be careful.

Luther hands me a photo and looks at me knowingly. The family resemblance is obvious. Mary Jane has her mama’s mouth and the same short brown hair. I know it’s her mother, the woman I have to keep an eye out for in case she tries to grab Mary Jane. I try to memorize the woman’s face and slip the photo into my pocket.

We park in the lot and walk to the building. Mary Jane and I enter the rest room while Luther stands by the door watching anyone who enters. When we’re in the rest room Mary Jane says, She sure was a looker. I’ve got to hand it to him, Luther can pick em’.

Listen, Mary Jane, I say. This is a sore subject right now. I don’t know how this is going to work out, but I’d appreciate it if you’d quit making comments about me and Luther.

Sure, no problem, she says.

When we’re back in the car Luther says, I’d like to keep going now with no more stops so we can beat the traffic in Boston. I’ll take Four Ninety Five around the city, but if we catch it wrong the traffic is still pretty heavy on Four Ninety Five.

I’ve never been this far north, I say. Is Boston a big city?

Pretty big, Luther says. The next big city after Boston is Portland.

We ride in silence for an hour passing through Connecticut until we reach the tiny state of Rhode Island. We drive through Providence, a maze of bi-passes and loops that leads to Pawtucket, a name that sounds familiar. I think Daddy told me that’s where the Red Sox have their farm team. The names on the signs sound exotic, probably because they were borrowed from the natives who named these places before the first white settlers.

Signs for Narragansett Bay and Barrington, Rhode Island fade away and we’re soon in Massachusetts. The air is getting colder and the sky grayer. I look over the seat and see Mary Jane is asleep, her head to the side and the shoulder harness holding her in place. Luther is eyeing the rear view mirror from time to time. He has that steely glint in his eye that tells me his systems are on alert.

Being followed? I ask.

Two cars back,