No, after months of thick stockings and boots or fuzzy bedroom slippers, my toenails required some heavy-duty attention. A flimsy fingernail file or standard toenail clippers just wouldn't do the job. Not with my toenails.
It was a tad embarrassing. The nail technician's gaze bounced from my feet to my face and back to my feet again. He raised his thin arms heavenward and left them drop to his sides while he screamed curses in a foreign language. Two co-workers scurried over to his side, their shocked expressions ricocheting from my toes to my nail technician's pinched face. You know the look. Like when someone's sucked two lemons dry.
He marched to a storage cabinet. His elbows jerked erratically before pulling out his special manicure tools for horses, elephants, and Vonnie Davis's feet.
Then he and his two helpers set to work on my toenails. Each wore two masks. Sparks flew. Dust covered my hair. My face. Finally, the job was done. They soaked my feel and followed that with bottles of polish. My nails are now fit to show off.
Now, like Alyson, the heroine in NIKO: Licensed to Kill, I was ready for summer heels. I don't plan on running in mine, though, especially when they're brand new . . .
When Niko ended the mind-blowing kiss, he pulled her closer, if that were possible, and whispered in her ear. “We’re being followed. Hold my hand and run.”
Run? Melting came to mind, but running? How could she run when he kissed her until the bones in her legs turned to jelly? Plus, she was wearing expensive new high heels. His arms squeezed her for an instant. “Now."
He grabbed her hand, and they took off. They dodged throngs of pedestrians and at one point, Niko hurtled over a poodle, its protective owner shouting in French outrage, calling him a fool. “Fou! Fou! Mon chien, mon chien!"
Alyson had done her fair share of running, especially after her break up with Robbie, the stranger she was married to all those years. Running was a stress reliever; so were the StairMaster and martial arts. Still, those activities were done in sneakers or barefooted, not high heels. Stilettos, no less. Oh, and the thong, damp thanks to him. She couldn’t ignore the damn thong chafing her in places she didn’t want to think about. She’d kill Zoey when she got back home.
“You put me in four-inch heels and expect me to run fast? You bossy Frenchman with a foot fetish.” She stumbled, and he caught her by the arm.
“Typical woman. Kiss her once, and she figures she has the right to bitch at you.” Niko’s head turned, evidently scanning the area as they sprinted.
She tried jerking her arm free of his tight grasp. “So help me, God, if that terrorist doesn’t kill you, I will.”
He pulled her around two uniformed nannies pushing toddlers in strollers. “Promises. Promises.”
“Yeah, well look how nice my hips sway now, asshat, running in these damned heels.”
Niko quickly glanced up and down the wide tree-lined street and with a slight break in traffic, ordered, “To the other side. Now!”
They bolted across the six-lane boulevard and its well-manicured median. Two motorbikes rumbled past, nearly hitting them. Horns blared as several Renaults and Audis barreled down the street. Niko shoved her out of the way and she fell, her hands and knees scraping on the asphalt. Brakes screeched and there was a dull thud behind her. She glanced over her shoulder just as Niko rolled across the hood of a silver car. He never broke stride. “Run, dammit!”
She struggled to get up. Niko’s hands wrapped around her waist and set her on her feet again. “Go!”
A delivery truck swerved toward them as if to run them down.
In a blur of movement, Niko drew his weapon.
He dove and rolled clear of the truck’s path, shooting the driver between the eyes.
The truck jumped the curb, striking a tree.
Sounds of metal crunching and a tree branch cracking obliterated—for a few horrible seconds—the pedestrians’ shrieks.
Still on the move, Niko barked orders at the observers. A man nodded and reached for his cell phone.
“Quick. In here. While we’re hidden by the truck.” Niko wrapped his hand around her arm and tugged.
Alyson trembled, the back of her hand covering her mouth and her eyes glued to the man slumped over the steering wheel of the truck not five feet away. Blood flowed from his forehead.
Her stomach twisted. She was going to puke on the spot. Niko’s grip on her arm tightened. “Move it, Aly! We’re still being followed.”
“But…but…” She looked over her shoulder at the steam rising from the damaged radiator as she jogged. Dear God, she was running with a murderer. He killed some poor nameless truck driver with one well-aimed shot. For God’s sake, why?
The bell over a door jingled as Niko nudged her into a small shop crammed with framed art prints and old books. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing. He was one of the terrorists. Mohammed Bazel. Same organization as Dembri. Hide in here. I’ll be back.”
Alyson’s stomach clenched, her heart in her throat, as she tried to catch her breath. Would this nightmare ever end? “Wha…what will you do?” Would he kill again? He made an instantaneous identification and in a split-second killed a man.
What if he’d been wrong? What if…
“Monsieur, me dire pourquoi?” They both spun to find a diminutive woman with a horrified expression on her face. She gestured at Niko’s gun.
Niko flashed his badge and evidently asked the lady if she had another exit. She pointed to a faded red curtain hanging over a doorway. “Aly, stay here until I call you. I have to get the other guy.” He bolted from the back of the shop.
Police sirens pierced the air. Screams and loud talking added to the uproar outside. At this moment, Paris didn’t seem so charming. Suddenly, Paris seemed very cold and full of evil menacing shadows. She wrapped her arms around herself, digging deep for calm to stop the trembling and keep her shit together.
“Vous avet un problem, jeune dame?” The silver-haired lady fingered a strand of pearls at the neckline of her navy and white suit. In the midst of this hellish situation, Alyson felt a moment of shoe-sisterhood when she noticed the woman wore navy stilettos on her tiny feet. The elderly woman’s smile was tremulous, wary. Poor thing, we charge into her quiet shop like Bonnie and Clyde with a gun drawn. She probably thinks we’re going to rob her.
“A problem? Yes! A man, a terrorist is after me! Ah…French…I must speak French. I’m sorry. Excusez moi.” She put her fingertips to her temples willing her brain to work. At this moment, she could barely think in English, much less pull her limited French from her scrambled, terror-filled mind.
She gave a quick glance outside the shop window as blue police vans and an ambulance parked around the delivery truck. A man had been killed because of her. “Ah…the Mona Lisa…”
The woman grabbed Alyson’s hand. “You are her? The American who saved the Mona Lisa? The woman raved about in the news? You saved our tresor, our treasure? Oui?” She breezed kisses on both of Alyson’s cheeks and smiled. “Come. I hide you. Marie-Claire will keep you safe.”
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