I never said I wasn’t stubborn.


I don’t stop to think about it. I just point the expensive SUV toward Exotic Nights, and I marvel at how quickly I’ve come to feel comfortable in this vehicle. When I pull into the parking lot, however, I can’t believe my eyes. There are no cars in the parking lot. Sure on a Monday afternoon there aren’t many people, just Timothy and few of the diehard regulars, but there’s usually someone. The lot is empty. I park the Rover and go to the front door, and my heart stops.

There’s a piece of printer paper taped to the inside of the door, with a short and simple message printed on it in a huge font.

CLOSED PERMANENTLY. FUTURE HOME OF BOB’S BOOZE CAVE.

Is this a joke?

I pull at the door handle, but it just rattles, locked. I go around to the side, to the door that leads to the backstage area and the dressing rooms. It’s locked, too, but that’s not surprising, as it’s always locked from the outside.

The club has been sold? What? I stand in the parking lot, baking in the late afternoon heat, sweat trickling down between my shoulder blades, my head spinning. How could it have been sold to a liquor store? It may not have been a thriving franchise like Deja Vu, or an upscale place like Skin or Spearmint Rhino, but it still turned a pretty profit. We served crappy booze to down-on-their-luck middle- and lower-class working men. But…a liquor store? Bob’s Booze Cave? Really?

My head is about to explode.

Then…the penny drops.

No.

No.

Hell, no.

He did not.

I spin on my heel and storm back to the car. I sink into the leather seat of the Rover…what I’ve actually begun thinking of as my Rover…and try to decide if I’m going to scream, cry, laugh, or all three.

He did it. I know he’s behind this. He has money to burn, and he said himself that money means nothing to him. But would he drop—I don’t even know how much…several million dollars?—just to make sure I don’t go back to stripping?

He just might.

In fact…I know he would.

I race the Rover through the streets of L.A. toward Beverly Hills at a speed and recklessness that would have made Dawson proud. In thirty minutes I’m at the gate of his neighborhood, and the guard just waves me through. How does he know me? Does he know this car? Did Dawson tell all the guards who I am? I resist the urge to squeal the tires down the wide street to his house. It’s a neighborhood after all. I pull into driveway at a sedate pace and park under the arch. His Bugatti is backed into the only open garage bay. A battered red pickup truck sits in the driveway, a massive beast of a machine with fat, knobby black tires and lifted spring-things making the mammoth truck even taller. Dirt coats the truck, and I hear the engine popping as I make my way past it. It doesn’t seem like Dawson, this absurdly masculine truck, but then again, it does. I pound on the front door with my fist, clutching my purse strap at my shoulder with my other hand. I’m shaking all over, even after a half-hour drive to calm me down.

Dawson answers the door wrapped in a too-small white towel, his hair wet and plastered to his head, drops of water running down his sculpted chest. He has a toothbrush in his mouth and a dab of foamy toothpaste on his chin. He pushes the door open and holds it, and I move in past him. He smells delicious, like something citrus layered over shampoo and deodorant.

My hand moves of its own accord, reaching up to wipe away the toothpaste from his chin with my thumb. I’m standing close to him, and I feel the heat billowing off him.

I’ve momentarily forgotten why I’m angry at him.

He’s got the toothbrush clamped between his molars on the right side of his mouth, and he’s leaning against the door. His towel looks dangerously close to falling off, but he grabs it with one hand, pulling the toothbrush from his mouth with the other. “I was wondering if I’d get a visit from you.” His voice is cool and amused, but his eyes are stormy and overcast-gray, the color of pensive tumult and boiling emotion.

“You…you…” I can’t get words out.

He’s as naked as a man can get without being actually nude, and it’s awfully distracting, because I have visions running through my head of licking the drops of water from his chest. I physically stop myself from actually doing it by grabbing the doorframe.

“I was in the shower,” he finishes for me. “And you look sweaty enough that you could use one yourself.” He leans over me and sniffs. “But you smell good. You’d smell even better if that was my sweat smeared on your skin.” His voice buzzes in my ear, intimate and suggestive.

What devilish new game is this? What is he doing to me? I’m trapped in place. He’s letting the towel slip, just slightly. I can see the V of his groin muscles, and now a shadow of black hairs closely trimmed. He’s going to let it go, right here in his foyer. He’s trying to distract me from being angry at him. It’s definitely working.

I turn around and put my face to the door. “Damn it, Dawson—”

“Did you just swear? I wasn’t sure you ever swore.” His voice is at my ear, so close.

Why can’t he just leave me alone? And why don’t I really want him to?

“You paid off my tuition.”

“And your room and board. Don’t forget that.”

“And the club?” I whisper. Another tendency of mine when I’m dealing with Dawson.

“Oh, that?” He sounds pleased with himself. I don’t dare look to see his matching smug expression. I can imagine it well enough. “My buddy Avi was in the market for a new property, so I made that slimy f**king worm Tim an offer he couldn’t refuse.” He says this last part in a passable Marlon Brando impression, but I’m so shocked and angry that even his Godfather quote doesn’t impress me.

“Tim? Timothy van Dutton?”

“Yeah, that little cocksucker. He didn’t want to sell, but everybody’s got a price. Turns out your buddy Tim’s price was two million.” He says this casually.

I can’t help wondering what Candy and the others are going to do, now that the club is gone.

“You spent two million dollars to close down the club, just so I wouldn’t work there anymore?” I steal a glance at Dawson, which is a mistake, because he’s loosely holding the towel around his waist, teasing me with glimpses of what lies beneath.

He just shrugs. “Yep. It was a filthy shithole anyway, and Tim was an oily cockroach. You can’t honestly say you’re mad about this, can you?”

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