A staccato rap on the door put him on alert. He wasn’t expecting a contact until the bust went down. The last thing he needed was to blow his cover too soon.
"Come in." He sat back in the folding chair. The door opened, and she walked in.
It was the customer. Or rather, The Customer. The one he’d noticed right off, even over the wince-inducing shock of seeing his colleagues in the audience. Of all the places he might expect to see a woman like this, a sleazy strip club was pretty much last on his list.
The first thing he’d noticed about her was her hair. Flame red, with a hint of curl, it swooped around her shoulders like that cartoon babe from Roger Rabbit, all sexy and sort of retro. A half-smile curved full red lips. And her body—have mercy.
What the hell was she doing at Strippendale’s?
"Can I help you?" He prayed the rickety chair wouldn’t collapse and dump him on his ass.
"Yeah," she said, and licked her bottom lip. Shit, who needed a collapsing chair? That little nervous gesture almost dropped him to the floor. "I, uh, really liked your…" She waved her hand around. "Uh, your show."
Hell. If the guys down at the station knew he was getting groupies, he’d never live it down. Then again, a groupie who looked like a long tall shot of sex might not be such a bad thing, either.
"Thanks," he drawled.
"I’m Caroline," She held out her hand.
He shook it, trying not to react to the softness of her skin contrasting with the firmness of her grip. "Tony," he replied, motioning her to sit.
Too late, he remembered that he had the only chair, but before he could offer it to her, she had perched on the counter in front of the mirror. Her skirt hiked up, giving him a splendid view of her long, slim legs.
Why, why, why did he have to meet her here?
And why tonight, fifteen minutes before the operation was shut down for good?
"And I, uh, was wondering…" This time, she bit that poor abused lower lip. He wanted to take it home and lavish it with loving care. Oh, the things he could do with that lip…
Okay, man, focus. "Wondering what?"
She fiddled with her purse, then took a deep breath. "I was wondering if you were available."
"You know, outside the club." She looked him straight in the eye for the first time tonight. "How much do you charge?"
Just like that, his private fantasy turned into another nail in Strippendale’s coffin.
"I really liked you," she continued. "So I was wondering, do I have to clear this with someone, or do you work privately?"
This had to be the first time she’d done this. Otherwise, she’d know that management handled all the gigolo action.
Just her bad luck she decided to take a walk on the sleazy side tonight.
He sighed inwardly, wishing he had met her somewhere else, under very different circumstances. He didn’t understand why the hell someone who looked like her felt the need to pay for sex.
"What are you willing to pay?" If she took the bait, he’d have no choice but to haul her in with the rest.
"I don’t know." She colored a little, an interesting contrast with her gorgeous hair. "I’ve never done this before. Is two hundred enough?"
"Sounds about right." He stood up. Even in her high-heeled shoes, she only came up to his shoulder. Brushing past her, he pushed the door all the way open. "What do you say we head back into the club and finish our negotiations there?"
She smiled at him, and it was like a fist to the gut. Why did she have to be so sexy, so enticing, so—sweet? Her smile had none of the hard-edged cynicism he had grown used to over ten years of working vice.
But if he’d learned anything during those years, it was never to trust appearances.
He held the door for her, taking the opportunity to check out her assets as she walked past him into the hallway. Then he escorted her out of the backstage area—and straight into hell.