When Bobby arrived in New Orleans, he discovered that Gambit had made arrangements for them to stay at the lush Royal Sonesta Hotel, which was located on the Rue Bourbon. It was breathtaking, to say the least. The walls and drapings gleamed gold, and contained a number of lounges and large, open areas that were perfect for gatherings. Around various corners, he found beautiful, green courtyards where plants grew and bloomed. They reminded him of Ororo's loft with its exotic plants and air of being in a tropical paradise. A little more exploration also revealed a swimming pool and an excellent restaurant; both of which he hoped to visit at a later stage. Facing the pool area, mercifully removed from perpetual party that was the Rue Bourbon, their rooms lived up to the promise of the rest of the hotel.
All in all, he had been very surprised when their taxi drew up in front of it. It had not been what he had expected from Remy, had asked about fifty times whether they were in the right place. When he had heard that the Cajun was organising their accommodations, he had automatically thought 'rathole motel' where all rooms came with ensuite cockroaches and crack dealers. He had not thought five stars. He consoled himself with the thought that it was exactly like Remy to spend the professor's money on an overly expensive hotel. He was such an ungrateful moocher!
Once they had settled into the hotel and had checked into their rooms - with Remy insisting that Mercy and he had separate ones, never mind that the hypocrite was sharing with Rogue! - they had made plans for dinner at Broussard's, one of the finest restaurants in the French Quarter. And, as tended to be the case when men and women dressed for the same function, Bobby was ready some hours before his date. Consequently, six o'clock found him in Mercy's room drumming his fingers against his thigh, and wondering whether any woman was capable of spending anything less than a week primping in the bathroom. She had said that she was going to take a shower before they went down to dinner, but he suspected that they would barely make Christmas dinner at the rate that she was going.
"Are you ever going to be out, Mercy?"
"I'm jus' puttin' on lipstick," a Cajun drawl said from behind the closed door.
Bored, he checked his reflection in the full-length mirror and debated whether to button his jacket or leave it unbuttoned. It was the sort of profound, philosophical speculation that was commonly found in post-office queues and dentist's waiting-rooms. Hazel eyes narrowed critically as he examined himself. Either way, the combination of white suit and black shirt would have done Bond himself proud. He definitely had a license to thrill.
"Are you ready yet?"
"No, I'm not," irritation tinged her voice, "Go to the bar and wait for me dere. I promise ya dat I'm worth de wait, though..."
Realising that his getting lucky that night depended on keeping Mercy happy, he sulkily shoved his hands into the pocket and mumbled his way down to the bar. His mood did not improve when he arrived. There, sitting on a barstool and staring into a glass, was Remy LeBeau. Rogue and he had evidently had a similar conversation. He lifted a hand in greeting, waving Bobby over to come sit next to him. That was suspicious. Gambit hated him with a passion, probably because he was jealous of Bobby's luck with women. It could only mean that he wanted to talk about Mercy and how he should not see her.
"Barkeep," Remy said, "I'll have a sherry on de rocks, an' m'friend will have de Shirley Temple."
That was a good start, Bobby thought, as he slid onto the stool next to Gambit. He was already treating him like an equal by buying him a drink. He had never heard of a Shirley Temple before, but he imagined it was one of the boozy cocktails his father liked so much. If the Cajun had the courtesy to treat him like an adult, he would respond in kind. He smiled benevolently at Gambit, even though it became somewhat fixed when the barkeeper returned with a bright, pink drink in which a twisty straw and an umbrella were balanced.
"Ya do know she's fifty," Gambit said nonchalantly, as he handed Bobby his drink.
For a moment, Bobby almost choked on his Shirley Temple, then he realised what Gambit must mean. He was talking about her ... her ... well, her unmentionables. Unsurprisingly, considering how he spent all of his free time, the Cajun had a knack for navigating the alphabet soup that was women's ... women's foundation garments. Every romantic anniversary at the mansion, the men of the team underwent moral crises as they had to decide between either getting the size right and giving Gambit permission to ogle their girlfriends, or getting it wrong and facing the wrath of a woman to whom size really mattered. As odd as it was that he brought up the subject of her ... her ... her delicates in casual conversation, the other option was still more absurd. Mercy did not look as if she were out of her twenties! She did not act that way either! There was no way that she was as old as his mother!
"I knew that," he said, affecting what he fondly imagined to be an air of jaded sophistication. He, Robert Drake, was quite at home discussing ... discussing that sort of thing with Remy.
"Did ya?" he raised an eyebrow, looking surprised.
"It's obvious, Remy."
Gambit snorted, refilling his glass from the bottle on the counter and swallowing it in a single gulp. Bobby was mildly curious, now. Gambit was actually volunteering personal - very personal - information about his family for once in his life, and Iceman did have a question he needed answered for his personal well-being. Namely, if Mercy was his sister-in-law, who was the brother and could he run faster than Bobby? He had obviously met Henri, who had died on the lawn of the mansion with an assasin's arrow in his back, but it couldn't have been that brother. Mercy only went for hot, young studs like him, and everything had been middle-aged about Henri. As Hank would have said, his waistline had began outdistancing his hairline, which had given up and began retreating. He had even had a mutton-chop moustache. Those had gone out of fashion with frills around piano legs. So, as frightening as the thought was, there must be another LeBeau brother.
"What happened to the husband?" inquired Bobby.
"He's passed on," was Gambit's only reply on the subject. His eyes, however, spoke of a pain that went beyond words, while his long hands toyed absently with the glass on the bar in front of him. Bobby felt a little uncomfortable, but was also relieved he wouldn't have to worry about a jealous husband. He groped around for another discussion topic in a vain attempt to forget his faux pas as soon as possible. Weather? Too cliche. It would make him seem desperate. Politics? Too depressing. Sports? Probably not, seeing as the Cajun's tended to be indoors and played without any kit. Think, Bobby, think.
Much to his relief, however, the women made their entrance at that point and took the burden of conversation off him. He let loose a low whistle. Both their outfits gave new meaning to the "little black dress." He had handkerchiefs that had more fabric than what either of them were wearing; than their dresses combined, if he came to think of it. Bobby felt an old, half-forgotten feeling bubble up in his chest like champagne when he saw Rogue. Her spaghetti-strap dress was an example of elegant simplicity, despite all it revealed. Apart from the few diamantes that sparkled and shimmered around the neckline, the black velvet seemed almost too plain for his friend's tastes. When she twirled to show Gambit, however, he saw that the back was a intricate, crisscrossing webbing of straps.
Looking at Mercy, on the contrary, was like having vodka or brandy injected directly into his veins. His brain ceased functioning when he looked at her. She was wearing a black, leather dress that was cut low about her ... her top and high about her ... her bottom, both of which the outfit made no pretense of hiding. A circular cutout about her bellybutton showed a tattoo - a ring of red roses - while a similar, smaller one showed that her ... her foundation garments were not as important to her as Remy's earlier casual comment had suggested.
"Close y'mouth, man," Remy said in irritation, nudging him with his elbow, "Ya be droolin' all over ya shirt. Mind ya, considerin' de garment, it's almost an improvement."
Bobby barely noticed Remy's crack about his dress sense, as Mercy undulated up to him and placed her mouth firmly on top of his. Her hand traced a line down his back before settling on his tush with a playful squeeze. Her other tightened around his neck in a vice-like grip. He heard a sharp hiss of indrawn breath that could only be Gambit making his disapproval known.
Evidently noticing her boyfriend's discomfort, Rogue cleared her throat: "Guys, come on ... It ain't right to eat dessert before dinner. Besides, watchin' y'all makes me lose mah appetite an' that's just wrong."
"Don't t'ink she's skipped too many meals," Mercy whispered in his ear, "Not wit' hips like dat."
All of a sudden, Bobby felt a strange twinge of disgust for the woman standing in front of him. It was like he was really seeing her for the first time. The lush, but overripe, beauty. The heavy make-up. The brassy, bottle-blond hair. The too-tight leather dress. Mercy was ... Before he could complete the thought, she touched her lips softly to his and his brain was swept under in another tidal-wave of testosterone.
"Let's go, loverboy," she purred and he could only follow her.
Continued in Chapter 8
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