The moment Naia meets sexy Cortez, passion sparks between them... But Naia’s secrets could ruin everything.
What the hell am I doing here? Naia DeVoe asked herself. She wasn’t a friggin’ spy. And yet here she was, crossing the nearly deserted parking lot toward the building on the corner of Chester and Fifth. Ever Nights: the most popular nightclub in town. It didn’t look like much now, but every evening, this place was hopping.
There were a few cars peppered throughout the lot. Most belonging to the staff, she assumed, or to those cut-and-paste individuals who practically lived at every bar, whose friends consisted mainly of servers, bartenders, and the women on stage with their faux smiles, gyrating hips, and eyes on their wallets. She knew those types all too well. Not because she shook her ass on stage, but because she worked as a part-time singer and waitress at Dante’s Pit, otherwise known as The Pit, or more crudely referred to as The Pussy Pit.
Naia never liked to call it that.
She opened the door to Ever Nights and stepped into the darkened foyer where a bouncer was usually stationed during the bustling late-night hours. Right now there was no need. It was too early for rabble-rousers.
In the lobby Naia marveled at the high-end decor. This place was like the Sistine Chapel of nightclubs, a touch of elegance lingering in every feature, from polished wood floors to the coffered ceilings and sparkling chandeliers throughout. There were several rooms allocated to the different shows that went on each night, a flavor for every taste.
She’d visited this establishment only a handful of times before, always looking for work, always rejected. The excuse? They either weren’t hiring, or were only seeking experienced top-tier acts. Ever Nights was known for providing over-the-top performances, incorporating burlesque with other genres of entertainment such as acrobatics, theatrics, music and dance, which is why she so badly wanted to work here. A position at Ever Nights could slingshot her toward bigger and better things.
Of course, all she needed at this point was some quick cash. This time she had to get hired, if only for a couple of days. So much was riding on it.
She peeked into one of the main ballrooms, spotting several tables scattered throughout, some occupied, others set with white tablecloths and clean glasses awaiting purpose. A woman on stage was getting intimately acquainted with a pole. The only other employee whom she could see resided behind the bar, his back turned to her as he dried and put away glasses for the evening to come.
Before entering, Naia checked her reflection in a full-length mirror that hung in the lobby. The employees at Ever Nights were all attractive. She’d taken extra care with her appearance today. Her makeup was perfect, her curls just right. Her ombre-dyed hair merged from her natural chestnut to a brilliant jewel toned purple. The ends were tipped by a sultry sapphire; a homage to her stage name.
Her outfit was designed to entice. The tight purple and black crop top covered her chest while revealing her stomach and slim waist. Her black mini skirt hugged her hips. But the piece de resistance was the sleek, knee-high fuck-me boots that she had borrowed from her friend, Goldie, and was seriously considering confiscating for life—if she didn’t think Goldie would straight up tackle her to the ground to retrieve them.
Completing the ensemble was her most prized possession: the vintage, floral-etched locket given to her by her mother. Pure silver. The only thing she owned of value. She rarely took it off.
After adding a last touch of lip gloss, she was ready to nail this interview. Well, if she even got an interview. I have to.
As she approached the bar, her heels clacked on the hard floor. The bartender faced her.
Attractive was an understatement. This man was one step down from godlike. A full head of tousled brown hair framed a set of whiskey-iced eyes, so unbelievably iridescent they nearly glowed like a mocha-colored sun. She didn’t normally like facial hair on a man, but his five o’clock shadow made him look rugged and dashing while the sport coat over a black T-shirt gave him an urban sophistication.
In short, everything about his appearance was lick-worthy.
She smiled, hoping to charm him from the start. First impressions were everything, and he was an obstacle on her way to Cortez, the club’s owner and her best chance at getting hired.
The bartender’s quick perusal of her body was like a whip to her spine, forcing her to straighten to her full height and crank her chin higher.
“Hi,” she said, realizing instantly how lame and unprofessional that sounded. She cleared her throat. “Hello. I’d like to speak with Cortez, if I may.” She’d been instructed to ask directly for Cortez and deal with no one else. He’d see it as a ballzy move and a sign of initiative, according to Dante.
The bartender’s brow arched and his lips quirked on one side as though he found her request rather amusing. She tried not to be insulted by that…or drawn in by the way it made his features all that more handsome.
Her chin went up another notch. “Is he available?”
“What is this regarding?” His voice. My god, his voice! How could a simple, rumbled sound tap directly into her knees? The weakness quickly traveled north, invading the rest of her body. If vocal cords could cause spontaneous orgasm she’d be ripe to put on a better show than the woman on stage.
She mentally shook away the ridiculous thought. What was wrong with her? She never reacted this strongly to anyone from the opposite sex.
Psyching herself out here, she decided. Dante had to be mad to have asked her to apply for a job at Ever Nights in order to spy on Cortez and his crew. She should have declined, but the money was too good to pass up, especially now.
“I was told to speak with Cortez,” she said. “I believe my talents can benefit his establishment greatly.” A true enough statement.
The hottie’s eyes darted to the stage, where the woman had taken to spinning around the pole upside down at jet speeds while dressed in skimpy lingerie, then came back to her for another inquisitive body-scan…as if he found her lacking?
Turning his back to put away the glass he’d been drying, he told her. “We’re not hiring new talent at the moment.”
“Not that kind of talent,” she said, giving his back a derisive glare.
“Oh?” Over his shoulder, his gaze shot to her cleavage, indicating something more salacious had entered his thoughts. “We’ve got plenty of T and A too.”
What an ass! She balked, instantly cured of her attraction to him. “Not that either! If you don’t mind, I’d prefer to take it up with your boss.” And because she wanted to belittle him the way he was belittling her, she added, “Not some unimpressive bar monkey.”
He chuckled at that, and her traitorous knees responded, growing gelatinous once more. She locked them down tight. His laugh was not bedroom-sexy. It was grating!
He grabbed another glass out of a soapy sink, rinsed it off, and began drying.
She recognized his type: good looks, charm, the guy who never got rejected by anyone he wanted, whose off-the-chart arrogance only made him more attractive to those of the opposite sex. His type took advantage of that natural power…
She had the scars to prove it.
“I don’t think anyone has ever dubbed me unimpressive.” He cocked his head at her. “In fact, quite often the opposite.”
She opened her mouth for a snappy retort, then reminded herself, if hired, she could be working next to this guy for the foreseeable future. Best to keep their interaction civil and her opinions to herself. Plus, he could roadblock her if she wasn’t careful.
Softening her features, she worked a smile over her lips and shrugged. “Hey, some of my best friends are bar monkeys. A noble profession. Look, I know Cortez is going to want to hire me.” I hope Cortez is going to want to hire me. “He wants the best this town has to offer working for him, right?” She gestured to herself.
At first, he looked unconvinced. Then he went still and tilted his head, as though he was listening to something in the distance. All trace of humor gone, he examined her closely for a second, a crease forming between those intense amber eyes. Almost incredulously he glanced at the stage, then in turn at each patron before landing a narrowed gaze on her once more.
What in the world? She almost felt exposed. Like he somehow knew what she was. A spark of adrenaline shot through her and she had the very strong urge to bolt.
But no. He couldn’t know. That was impossible. Psyching myself out.
Finally his expression relaxed, and once more his half grin took her aback. Rag still in hand, he laid his arm atop the bar, studying her like one might a textbook. “Boss man is a busy guy.”
She saw it then. Fangs! Peeking from behind his grinning lips.
Very likely he was part of Cortez’s inner circle. And she’d practically insulted him. So bad at this.
Think cute and flirty thoughts, Naia.
She flashed him a smile dipped in honey. “Would it be possible to set up an appointment to meet with him?”
He returned to drying glasses, his expression now shuttered. “He’ll be available later tonight. Why don’t you come back after-hours?”
She snorted. “This place doesn’t have any after-hours. It’s open twenty-four-seven.”
“Except on holidays,” he quipped.
She rolled her eyes.
“I’ll schedule a meeting around one. How does that sound?”
One in the morning was like afternoon to vampires. “Sounds perfect.” She pivoted around to leave before she said or did anything to screw this up.
“Wear something sexy,” he called after her.
Tension stiffened her shoulders. She glared over her shoulder. “I told you, I’m not that kind of talent.”
He only shrugged and then faced away from her. Before leaving, she stole an extra couple of seconds to appreciate his physique. There was a hint of titillating muscle under that sport coat, and a glimmer of powerful legs under his perfectly fitted slacks.
He glanced back at her as well. Then his lips formed a smile that was both arrogant and knowing. “Still unimpressed?”
Whirling around, she hurried out to the parking lot.
The contrasting light of day seemed to crush her as she stepped out of the slightly darkened foyer, and for some reason, her heart was racing, her cheeks flushed. Had he been flirting with her?
She felt a ridiculously girly giggle threatening to rise.
Inner shake. She knew better than to allow a frivolous attraction mess with her judgment. Especially at a time like this. Too much was at stake.
She checked her watch. Eight in the morning. It was going to be a long day.
The trek to her apartment on the edge of town was brutal in her high-heeled boots. Eventually she took them off, walking the last stretch barefoot. She had a few hours till her mid-day shift at Dante’s and could get in a quick nap beforehand.
Dropping her boots by the door, she passed the couch that doubled as her half-brother, Cole’s, bed. He must still be at work. After they paid off their debt and saved up a little money, maybe they could finally get a place with two bedrooms.
That dream was a long way off.
In her room, she relaxed on her bed and closed her eyes. Visions of whiskey-colored irises invaded her mind. Her lids popped open. Why the hell would she be thinking of him right now? She mentally shook herself and once more closed her eyes.
A cocky smirk flashed. She groaned and sat up, rubbing her eyes till she saw stars. Then her mind called up the memory of his roughened voice. Wear something sexy, he’d practically ordered.
So why was her body warming at the idea?
Irritated, she flopped back down, covered her face with a pillow, and bopped herself in the head. She wasn’t going to nap any time soon.
She went to her closet and riffled through her clothes, most of which were second-hand bargain buys. Functional, faded, and stretched out. Which meant not sexy.
She was going to have to borrow another outfit from Goldie. She cringed at the thought. Already everything she wore was a Goldie exclusive. Everything but her undergarments, of course, because ew.
She hated asking for more favors, but if doing so would add to her chances of landing a position at Ever Nights she would kick her pride to the gutter and step on it three times over.
The walk to Dante’s was even longer than her hike home from Ever Nights, but this time she had on a sensible pair of tennies while she carried her boots in a plastic tote looped around her shoulder.
She wasn’t waitressing tonight. And though she only had one ten-minute time slot on stage, it was a much needed performance. She could feel her skin itching for it. Her vocal cords were throbbing to get to work; it had been too long since her last gig. She shivered, recalling another time she’d gone too long.
The parking lot of Dante’s was barren. One unfamiliar car was parked in the stumble spot, the spot so close to the entrance no one, no matter how inebriated, could get lost on the way to their car. She glanced up at the three-story building. Paint was chipping off nearly every surface. The neon sign was so old, several portions were snuffed out so that it looked like it read: DAN E’S IT. A couple of the windows showed cracks, but the security bars kept B&Es to a minimum.
Compared to Ever Nights Dante’s was a shithole. The dichotomy so much more stark now that she’d just come from the other establishment.
The cloying scent of ashtrays and booze billowed around her as she entered dust mite central. Sun rays sliced through shuttered windows, sparkling fragments of dust in the air. The sight alone made her feel like she needed to sneeze.
Her sneakers stuck to the surface of the floor as she passed the stage where Jayney was busy contorting herself for the amusement of their single patron. One surprisingly toned leg went over her head as she pivoted on the poll, her other foot sweeping the floor. She was practicing her new routine.
Naia waved at Cole behind the bar as she sidled around toward the dressing room. He grinned and jerked his chin in greeting. He had no idea where she’d been today, or where she would be going tonight. She hated keeping things from him, but Dante had been explicit in his instructions not to tell anyone—anyone!—what she was up to. And Dante was scary enough…that order was only lacking an or else. If she had any question about her task not being on the up and up, that clenched it.
In any case, she didn’t want Cole involved. He was already in enough trouble. The Boyle twins were breathing down his neck.
Naia checked her reflection in the grungy backstage mirror, waiting for her time slot. Five of the ten bulbs that lined the mirror were burned out, but the remaining light softly illuminated her skin. Ignoring the harsh crack down the middle of the glass, she applied one last layer of lip gloss and sat back, satisfied.
She practically vibrated with anticipation. It was the same before every performance, but it wasn’t from nerves. Excitement surfed her bloodstream. She felt alive on stage. It was home to her; her voice stoking and guiding the mood of the audience lit her up like nothing else ever did.
Unlike the other ladies getting ready for their turn on stage, her clothes would remain on. Her talent was in singing, not stripping, though she’d been told she’d make bank doing both. Many of the girls teased that she was wasting the goods, and that she could clean up, but they never really pushed her to join the ranks. Truth be told, they didn’t want the added competition. Goldie had told her once, “With that sick voice and rad bod, you’d put the rest of us out of commission.”
Just then, Goldie stumbled into the dressing room on three-inch-high platforms that sparkled like diamonds with each step, even in this dim light—well, cubic zirconia.
Judging by the wads of bills sticking out of her bejeweled thong, the room must be packed now. As soon as the sun even hinted at setting, patrons began meandering in. Each night was the same. Naia could almost set her watch to it. It was as if men clocked out of work and beelined it to the nearest dive. Many of them wore wedding rings—or a telltale tan line around their ring fingers. Scum. If Naia had a partner waiting for her at home, she certainly wouldn’t spend her time at a broken-down place like Dante’s. But then, men were stupid.
Two vanities down, Tiffany applied a generous amount of mascara to her fake lashes. “Nice haul,” she said to Goldie. “I hope you left some for the rest of us.”
Goldie turned the money into a fan. “Ooh, suckers are just begging to hand over their cash tonight. Though they’re awfully rowdy. One guy grabbed my ankle and wouldn’t let go. Finally Landon noticed and came over to pry the guy off me. Bastard took his time, though.”
Landon was one of the bouncers. Nice guy for the most part, but he definitely had his favorites. Naia and Goldie weren’t among them. But then, they’d never given him any favors.
Naia said, “You should have kicked him in the balls with those bejeweled clodhoppers you’re wearing.”
“Who, the client or Landon?”
Goldie lifted her leg forty-five degrees and twirled her ankle. “And scuff these beautiful babies? Besides, I could see Dante’s response now. Oh, wait, no I can’t, because I’d be dead.” Goldie plopped down in the seat next to Naia, counting her bills. “Maybe you could sing something soft to calm them down a bit, Sapphire.”
Naia contemplated that, already coming up with a list of songs that would do the trick.
“Boss don’t want ‘em calm,” Boomer scoffed from the doorway. Skeevy letch that he was, he always liked to linger there when the girls were changing. “Boss wants ‘em good and loose. Especially their pockets.”
Naia never liked to engage Boomer in conversation—or eye contact, for that matter, but sometimes she didn’t have a choice. There was something about him that gave her the willies, which surprisingly had nothing to do with his grotesque potbelly, perpetually stained shirts, greasy hair, or the green tint to the few teeth his gums managed to cling to, though none of that worked in his favor. Without all that, the guy would still be a walking sleezeball. But she had to play nice if she wanted to remain on the evening schedule. Piss Boomer off and you might never work nights again. Some of the girls would cuddle up to him for the best time slots. Ew. Gag. And ew again.
“Hi Boomer, baby,” Goldie beamed. She shared Naia’s view of the man, but a girl’s gotta work.
Naia forced an easy smile. “I can loosen them up all right. Just give me that mic and they’ll be as loose as you want.”
“Not too loose, honey. We don’t want ‘em falling asleep out there.” He tossed something at her feet. “Why don’t you wear these instead of that top you got on?”
Naia glanced at the old tattered pasties that could have been living in his pocket for the better part of a year.
Hold back the dry heave.
She turned her lips down into a pout. “You know that’s Crystal’s signature look. Wouldn’t want the other girls to think I’m encroaching on their style. Could cause discontent among the staff.”
Tiffany snatched them up and tossed them back at Boomer who managed to catch only one of them against his big belly while the other flopped to the ground. “Go on, you dirty old man.” She said playfully. “Stop teasing our little Sapphire. And you know you’re not supposed to be back here during work hours.”
“The club never closes,” he said. “All hours are work hours.”
Tiffany countered, “Then it’s a wonder you’re always back here. You’re going to have to start coughing up some dough for all the peep shows you get.”
He chuckled and scratched his gut. Then with a lingering look at all of them he backed out of the door.
“What a dickhead,” Goldie muttered when he was gone.
“He’s just a horny old fart,” Tiffany lightly defended.
“You wouldn’t be saying that if you had to work the day shifts like me and Sapphire here usually do.”
Tiffany shrugged haughtily. “Give him a little slap and tickle, and you might get better time slots.”
Naia shuddered. “No thank you. I’d rather swan dive into concrete.”
Goldie folded her cash over and secured it with a rubber band. “That’s only because you don’t rely on randy fellows throwing dollar bills at your crotch while you’re taking off your clothes so that you can afford to buy the clothes that you’ll later be taking off.”
“True,” she allowed. As a waitress, she worked for salary and tips. It wasn’t much, but, in her book, it beat the alternative. And she got a cool fifty every night she got to sing. Bonus!
Double bonus, actually, considering, were it to come down to it, she would sing for free. Nobody needed to know that, however.
She was lucky. With the economy in the bucket, times were rough. Many would grapple to slip into Goldie’s glinting plastic shoes for a night. And not just women. On Wednesdays, Dante hosted an all-male revue. He’d gotten the idea from an Ever Nights’ flyer, though he would never admit that.
Most of the town’s income came from entertainment facilities such as Dante’s Pit. But it was Ever Nights that brought the crowds. Tourists flocked there since it was also a hotel.
“But I also don’t get paid the big bucks like you and the other girls.” Naia applied a final layer of powder to her face. “I get a flat fee per performance, and my money is strictly for food and shelter.” And paying off my brother’s debt, she didn’t add. “New clothes are a luxury.” Once more, she admired the borrowed boots climbing up her calves.
As if reminded, Goldie pointed to the boots “Scuff my shit, and I’m going to have to kill you before I snatch them off your cold, rotting corpse.”
Naia lovingly petted the smooth leather. “Don’t let her scare you, babies, you can stay with me as long as you like.”
“Oh, god. You’re getting attached. I knew this was going to happen. Not a shoe person my ass!”
Tiffany pointed out, “If you want a pair of your own, you could probably have Boomer add you to the roster tonight. That is if he’s feeling generous. A little skin goes a long way, sugar.” She winked. “A lot gets you everything.”
Goldie moaned, “Ew, Tiff, really? I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.” She turned to Naia. “Don’t listen to her. If I had a voice like yours, I might sing for my bread, too, rather than shaking my ass for it.”
“You sure about that?” Tiffany reached out and snatched Goldie’s cash, then hopped back and fanned herself with the pilfered loot.
Goldie leapt up and ripped the wad back from Tiffany’s clutches. Shoving it in her purse, she chirped, “The key word was might. I do have expensive taste after all.”
Tiffany laughed and turned back to her mirror.
Through the scratchy backstage speakers, Naia heard her introduction. “You just enjoyed the beautiful and talented Goldie,” the announcer said, “and now for the girl with the golden voice, let’s hear it for the sexy Sapphire!”
“Good luck,” Tiffany called after her as she hurried to the stage.
“You’re supposed to say break a leg,” Goldie chided then added something else but Naia didn’t catch it.
As the steady beat of music started, she pasted on a smile and sauntered to the microphone at the center of the stage. Typical, she was greeted by a barrage of hoots and hollers.
Some of the men in the crowd sidled up to the edge of the stage with dollars in hand, looking as though they thought she was another stripper. Most of the regulars knew her as filler entertainment, intermission while they refreshed their drinks and did a little gambling in the back rooms.
That didn’t mean they could keep their eyes off her. She wondered if some of them ever realized how often their gazes strayed to her, many having to squint through latticework that walled off the gambling tables while the dealers claimed their winnings. Were they ever curious why they just had to look at her while she sang?
Though her performance didn’t call for her to disrobe, she had moves. Her routine was provocative. Yet a little pop of her hips and sway of her body wasn’t the reason they found it difficult to tear their eyes away.
It was the siren in her blood. In her voice.
Several years ago, she learned she descended from an ancient line of sirens; the kind from mythology said to lure seafarers to their deaths. Everyone believed she had worked tirelessly to perfect her voice, but it was a talent she’d been born with. A natural ability. A natural curse.
No one but Cole knew what she was. She spotted him behind the bar serving drinks. She gave him a wave. Some of the other men thought it was for them and waved back.
She’d managed to get Cole this job a couple months ago, just after she’d been hired. Good thing too, because they would need all the money they could get if they were to pay down his gambling debts.
The Boyle twins, hard-ass bookies, had been circling him like sharks for the last month. It was either pay them off, or run for their lives. And without a decent amount of cash, neither option was feasible.
Cole responded with a double thumbs up accompanied by a funny face with his tongue sticking out to one side. She smiled, but it didn’t trip her up in the least. She was used to his fun-loving, sometimes childish, personality. He almost seemed too innocent for a place like this, though she knew better. He was only a few years younger than her, and just as hardened.
She hated that he had to work here. However, he was having the time of his life. He got propositioned daily by many of the female patrons looking for a little fun—as well as some of the working girls—because he was, according to what people told her, a hottie. Blech. If she had to think about that too much, she’d give herself a headache. To her, he was just her little brother; the kid who used to whine to their mother about an ouchy on his finger or a tiny scrape on his knee.
Yet, at some point, when she wasn’t paying attention, he’d gone and turned into a man. Since their mother’s disappearance ten years ago, she’d done her best protecting him, raising him, and he’d done his best keeping them both in the black with his talent at counting cards. That is until his luck had run out six months ago. A string of bad games had them fifteen grand in the hole. He’d never lost so badly in his entire life, even when he was wet behind the ears.
Part of her suspected those games had been rigged, but you don’t go around accusing gangsters of cheating unless you’re prepared to get shot in the face for your trouble.
When they decided he should step away from gambling for a while, supporting them had fallen on her shoulders.
Before this gig had come along, she would sing outside busy establishments while Cole manned a bag for donations. But as much as people loved to stand around and enjoy her voice, getting money from them was like pulling teeth. Everyone was hurting for funds these days thanks to the human/vampire wars that had ripped through the country over the last century. The world couldn’t seem to pick itself back up.
A lot of people believed the fighting wasn’t over, that some factions were still recruiting for the next assault. Naia wasn’t even sure what they were fighting over. Money? Power? Territory? Guess what, bitches. We all lost. Time to give it up.
Her grandmother used to spin tales of a nation that had been united by a strong government. Of opulence and excess. If you wanted something, you just ordered it over the Internet and wham bam it was yours. Naia couldn’t even imagine that kind of world.
Must have been nice.
The Internet still existed, but most people couldn’t afford it, and from what she understood, it was mostly used for porn anyway.
On the same token, very rich people had cell phones, and could call other very rich people and talk about very rich things.
Dante’s Pit had a general landline. It rarely ever rang.
In some parts of the world, she’d heard folks had gone as far as rejecting paper money all together, returning to the barter system. But no matter where you were, commodities were always preferred; jewelry, stones, precious metals.
When she had offered to pawn her mother’s locket, Cole had vehemently objected.
Accelerating her tempo, she drowned out her thoughts and let her song carry her mind away. Her enthrallment tonight was just a light dusting over the room, drawing energy from those who were caught in her snare, as she liked to call it.
She often wondered if her ancestors ever hated what they’d been compelled to do. If Naia didn’t sing, over time she would weaken, eventually growing ill. She’d been just a teen when her siren nature emerged. Her mother warned she could even die if she resisted the need too long.
But she hated having to suck energy from the unsuspecting. It made her feel like a leech. A freak. Unnatural.
At sixteen, she’d tried to go cold turkey. She could still remember the extreme exhaustion that dogged her. But she had persisted, hoping to change what she was, push past it. Be like everyone else.
But that turned out disastrous.
One terrible night, something dark had taken her over. She had awoken in the middle of the street that fronted their home, singing her lungs raw with no recollection of having left her bed in the dead of night. She’d decided later she must have sleepwalked.
Terrifying, yes, but that wasn’t what still sent shivers through her bones to this very day.
Barefoot and frightened, she’d spotted several males from the neighborhood coming for her with lust in their eyes, some half-dressed. Some not dressed at all…
Horrified, she had sprinted back inside to her mother’s room as deranged men started banging on the doors and windows. Without even packing, her mother had snuck them out the back.
They’d never returned.
Her mother warned her later that she could literally have driven men to insanity with her voice. She’d claimed that was what happened to sailors eons ago. Ships would pass by islands inhabited by Sirens who’d been trapped by the ocean, alone and mindless with starvation, never dying courtesy of their pureblood. They could not control their hunger, and the poor men, unable to resist the Siren’s song, would hurl themselves into the ocean, drowning as they battled waves to reach that beautiful sound.
Mindless with starvation, she thought. Yup, that was what it had felt like. Ever since then, she strived never to get to that uncontrollable point again. If she felt as though she was getting close, she would amp up her wattage ever so slightly—like tonight.
However, lately it didn’t seem to be enough. Last week, that same starved urge had unexpectedly come over her. This time it had jerked her awake at dawn, her vocal cords already hard at work.
Her instinct had been to run—what if the neighbors had heard? Cole was immune, but even still, he’d already left for work. There’d been no one to help her keep a lid on it. And the lid had been about to explode. If she let it, they’d have to move yet again, something neither of them could afford.
Dressed in nothing but her nightgown, hand slapped over her mouth, she had tripped through the living room on her way to the back door. Their building complex was nestled against woodland foothills—the whole reason why they’d rented the ground-floor apartment.
She’d raced into the surrounding woods, down the familiar path she and Cole had carved for just such an occasion. The plan was like a fire drill. She was to seek complete isolation in the foothills and let her voice free till the danger passed. Then, when she was more in control, she could feed freely without zombifying anyone. That was the theory. Except, in all their planning, Cole was meant to be there to help.
After what felt like half an hour of hiking the rocky hills, her vocal cords fighting every inch of the way, she finally unleashed her voice—
—and had immediately started to feed.
A hunter’s tent, hidden in the darkness, was several yards from her. But she couldn’t bottle it back up. It was too late to stop…
Two men had emerged wearing fatigues. They appeared dazed at first, but quickly focused on her as if she were their next prey, burgeoning madness in their eyes.
There was no churning ocean to stand bastion between them. A few terrifying seconds more and she would have discovered what happens when an ensnared male catches his Siren.
But before they reached her, they had turned on each other like wolves, grappling and clawing each other like savage dogs. Fighting for the sole right to claim her?
She hadn’t stuck around to find out. Able to finally cage her voice, she’d slipped away, racing back down the mountain.
After slamming the apartment door closed and engaging the lock and chain, she had hunched by the back window, puffing out harsh breaths and watching for her doom to stalk out of the forest.
The two hunters didn’t seem to have followed her. Perhaps they had killed each other. If so, their blood was on her hands.
That same morning, she had confessed everything to Cole.
He’d been a ball of positivity, reassuring her that he would protect her, that everything would be fine, that they just have to figure out how to keep it from happening again. Then he had instructed her to feed a little more than she had been. Even joking with her. Don’t forget, you’re a growing mythical creature. Got to make sure you eat your veggies. Though his voice had been teasing, she could tell he was worried more than he was letting on—
She gasped, her voice stuttering to a halt as she completely froze up on stage.
Heartbeat thudding in her throat, she dropped the mic with a resounding thud, then turned on her heel and scurried off stage to the back room. Goldie took one look at her face and sat up straighter. “Jeeze, girl. You about to be sick or something?”
Tiffany glanced up from her vanity. “What happened? You look like I felt the day after a client shared a whole bottle of tequila with me. Worst morning ever. Best payday though.”
“I’m fine,” Naia blurted too quickly, then cracked open the side door and peeked into the main room. That corner booth was empty! Oh, God! Where did he go? Her gaze darted around, coming to land on Cole, who was clearly worried as he headed her way. As was Boomer, only he appeared pissed.
She stepped out of the dressing room to address Boomer first, but he cut her off.
“What the hell was that?” he hissed. “We don’t pay you to choke on stage. Not unless there’s something interesting in your mouth.”
“Are you okay?” Cole asked her, glaring at Boomer like he wanted to snap the man’s neck.
“Get back to the bar, pretty boy,” Boomer snapped. “There are customers waiting.”
There actually weren’t, but Naia waved Cole’s concerns away, surreptitiously sweeping the room with her gaze. Neither of them could risk their jobs. “I’m alright. I’ll talk to you later.” Should she tell him what she’d seen? He’d want to run. What if she was mistaken? The lights could have obscured her vision. She didn’t see that man anywhere now. Could she really have imagined him? It was likely her thoughts had conjured his visage. Like a ghost from her past.
“Come with me,” Boomer demanded, gripping her by the elbow. “The boss wants a word with you.”
“I didn’t mess up that bad,” she protested as he tugged her along. Was she about to get fired?
“He asked for you earlier, but I’m damn sure going to tell him what just happened, and you’re off the schedule for the rest of the night.”
“That’s not fair. It was just a little hiccup. It won’t happen again.”
He paused, and scanned her body with lewd innuendo. “There’s a free room downstairs if you want to persuade me to change my mind.” The sub-level rooms were reserved for private shows—and whatever else clients arrange for.
Somehow not yacking at his proposition, she said, “Dante doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
In Dante’s office, a slighted Boomer proudly detailed Naia’s fuck up, stating for good measure that she should be suspended, if not outright fired.
Dante glanced up from his computer screen displaying several live security feeds around the property. He rolled a listless gaze at Boomer. “Add Debbie to the roster tonight and make sure James stays on for the second shift. That will be all. Sapphire, have a seat.”
Boomer frowned. “What should I do about her?”
Dark eyes turned threatening. Apparently, Boomer was dismissed. Getting the message, he left, closing the door behind him.
Naia settled into the hard metal chair across from Dante’s desk. He was a big man, or rather vampire, as almost all the local business owners were, with wide-set shoulders and an I-can-kill-you-with-my-thumb aura. His dark, short hair matched perfectly with his nearly black irises, tanned skin, and dark tailored suit. Past his thinned lips, she knew there was a pair of razor-sharp fangs just waiting to sink into flesh.
High-class attire aside, he did not resemble a gentleman. He looked like something from an ancient time, better suited to a battlefield rather than a desk. She’d heard rumors that he was unnecessarily rough during feedings. She pitied the humans he tapped. Sealed in a room alone with him, he was terrifying.
As unnerved as he made her feel, she refused to telegraph it, using her confident exterior as a shield. “Boomer made it sound worse than it was. I…”
Dante waved his hand in the air. “That’s not why I asked you here. Have you accomplished your task?”
Ah. He wanted a report. “I have an opportunity to meet with Cortez later this evening.”
That pleased him, but the smile he flashed was more like the cat who got the canary—and would gleefully rip the ever loving shit out of it.
He stood and strolled to a sideboard, filling two glasses with a golden liquid from a decanter. He offered one to her. A little afraid to decline, she accepted the glass and took a small sip. A warmth that hinged on burning heated her esophagus as the liquor worked its way to her belly.
“I hear your brother is in a bit of a jam.”
Discreetly, she cleared her throat. “What do you mean?” Her uneasy feeling tripled. Had Cole been blabbing about their debt?
“Rumor has it the Boyle twins are looking for him. Breaking of thumbs was mentioned.” He tsked. “Got yourselves in a bad way with that lot.”
Dread tumbled like marbles and splashed into her stomach. The Boyle twins never made idle threats. She and Cole were running out of time. Together, they had only accumulated thirty-five hundred dollars. It wouldn’t make a dent in their debt. Maybe if they handed it all over now, they could buy another week or two.
“Oh, chin up,” Dante cooed. “Complete the job and there’s five grand in it for you.”
She nodded. That was more than she’d make in six months waitressing at The Pit. “I will. But once I’m hired at Ever Nights”—if I’m hired—“I’m still not sure what you want me to do.”
He smirked. “All I need is some information. Day-to-day activities. Any unusual purchases or transactions. Keep your eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary.”
“What do you mean by out of the ordinary? Do you suspect they’re engaging in illegal activity?” If so, would she be putting herself in danger?
He shrugged. “Not sure. But if they are, I want to know about it.”
She’d do anything to keep Cole from harm. Surely she could snoop around without turning heads. Still she asked, “Why me?”
He leaned back, appearing as though he was choosing his words. “Of all my employees, you’re the best fit for this particular task.”
“Let’s just say you’re…unique.”
She managed to keep her eyes from darting guiltily. What did he mean by that? Could he know what she was? She decided to play dumb, feigning as though she was flattered by his words. “Unique? I don’t know about that.” Smile, smile.
He took a swig from his glass. She mirrored him.
“There’s a certain…mystery about you. I think it will intrigue Cortez. He might even be drawn to you. If he is, use it to your advantage. I want to know if he’s running things on the up and up, or rather, if he’s not.”
Realization hit. “You want a reason to report him to the VEA.” The Vampire Enforcement Agency, like cops for vamps. The only authority their kind recognized.
“Keen girl. That’s exactly it. It’s not personal. It’s business.”
Then was Dante planning to take over the city? She suspected the Boyle twins were already working that angle, accumulating IOUs throughout town.
“If you suspect something, why wouldn’t you just call the VEA and report him now? If he is doing something wrong, they’d find out, I’m sure.”
“The VEA is busy. Without solid evidence, Ever Nights would be a low priority. And if they did follow the lead and came up empty, I could incur some major fines for wasting their time. No, I’d need a little sweetling such as yourself to—” he cocked his head “—discover something.”
She blinked, trying not to narrow her eyes. “Is there something to discover?”
“No doubt in my mind, sugar. I have reason to believe he’s abusing the humans in his care, tossing them at any vampire with enough change in his pocket, forcing women into prostitution for his own gains. Hell, he could even be the one bringing drugs into this town.”
She’d heard about that. A new drug was floating around with an overdose rate that was off the charts. Goldie mentioned a good friend of hers had died from it a few months back.
She took another small sip of her drink. Swallowed hard. “This sounds dangerous.”
“Only if you get caught,” he said. “So don’t.”
She fretted her lip. Could she really add spy to her resume? “Make it ten thousand.” Had she really just said that?
His eyelids slitted dangerously. She worried she was about to lose this opportunity. Or worse….
Then he barked out a laugh. “I can appreciate your position. Five thousand is very generous, but…” he teetered, “I can add two grand to the total…once you get me what I need.”
Seven thousand dollars! With that she and Cole would be well on their way to paying off the debt.
“Deal,” she said, even as a swath of apprehension wrapped her spine. “But what if he doesn’t hire me?”
For the second time today, Naia entered Ever Nights. The atmosphere had changed. That bartender had said to come after-hours. For normal people, that would be weird, but vampires were night-crawlers. Most of the business they did was by the cusp of the moon.
She tugged at the hem of her ridiculously short red dress with a V in the front that displayed her cleavage. Goldie had practically insisted she wear it tonight. Naia had told her she was going on a date. She hated lying to her friend, but couldn’t see any other option when she had asked to borrow something, ahem, sexy.
Though it was late, the club was hopping, dance music blasting, burlesque in full swing with a trio of flexible ladies on stage doing an impressive acrobatic routine using black hanging fabric. Goodness, the muscle strength needed to move like that! No wonder this place was so popular. The entertainment was light years beyond The Pit.
Dante had to be losing money because of this place.
A smart business man would visit his competition, take notes, up his game. Dante wasn’t dumb, so either he couldn’t afford to provide better entertainment, or he didn’t want to. That meant he was looking for an easier option, hence her infiltration. He wanted to crush this place to dust.
If Dante’s accusations were correct, Cortez and anyone else complicit in his crimes deserved it. If she found something worth finding, she’d relay it without bias. But if Cortez was clean, she’d still have done her job, right? Dante couldn’t fault her if there was nothing illegal going down here.
By the same token, he couldn’t expect her to be Naia The Super Spy. You don’t send in an amateur if you’re looking for gold. Still, she’d do her best to get the job done. In the meantime, she could potentially be working alongside this town’s elite talent! Making connections.
She glanced around in search of the bartender from earlier, but a different man was behind the bar now. She was oddly disappointed. She hoped he told Cortez to expect her like he’d said he would. By their flippant exchange, she had to wonder if he’d just been screwing with her. There had definitely been a teasing light to his eyes.
Just then she spotted the bartender in a side room with an open archway. He glided around a pool table holding a cue stick.
A few other big guys were with him. Two were smiling and drinking while a third lined up his shot.
She crossed toward them, avoiding the enamored crowd as the three women on stage wound their toned bodies up those drapes and then spun precariously to the ground in a gracefully coordinated display. Stunning.
The sharp crack of a ball being struck greeted her as she stepped over the threshold. A striped ball met the corner pocket with authority.
“Nice shot,” she said.
All eyes turned to her, and she wondered if she wasn’t welcome. She glanced at the bartender, willing him to recognize her from this morning. A weird kind of tension stole through his body.
“Christ,” he muttered, taking his time scanning her body.
Well, at least she’d nailed the sexy part.
“Thanks,” said the man who had just sunk his shot. “Can I buy you a drink?” He had a surfer’s style, loose shorts, shaggy hair, and a boyish grin synonymous with lazy days on a beach. He reminded her a little of Cole. Except the look he was giving her was so not brotherly.
“Actually, I’m here on business.” She slanted her gaze back to her acquaintance. Damn, he looked even more handsome than before, if that were possible. He’d changed into a black sweater that lovingly hugged each and every muscle in his torso. The sleeves were bunched above his elbows, displaying strong forearms lightly dusted with hair. His short haircut was somewhat messier than before, as though he’d been running his hands through it all day, but it looked good on him, and combined with that five o’clock shadow, it gave him an edge. Their eyes locked and she nearly groaned. She’d been hoping she’d imagined that whiskey iridescent hue.
“You said I could meet with Cortez,” she reminded him lightly.
The other men seemed to go stiff. They glanced between her and the bartender. Was it unusual to try and get a meeting with the club’s owner?
“I did. Stick around and have a drink. You can have your meeting later. For now, I’ll be doing the pre-interview.”
“Pre-interview?” she asked, incredulous. “And you want me to drink?” She smelled bullshit.
“We are in a club, after all. If you can’t handle your alcohol, then it’s not the best place for you to be working, is it?”
The others went back to focusing on the game, but there was an underlying strain among them. She tried not to let it make her uneasy.
This time when the surfer shot, he scratched, and the cue ball found a home in a side pocket. The bartender was up next. He scanned for a clean shot.
“I wouldn’t be drinking while I work,” she pointed out.
The bartender replied, “You might. Patrons love to buy shots for our female employees. And the more drinks they buy, the more money we make.” He lined up his shot: seven ball, corner pocket. Of course he sunk it. She’d lose respect for him if he’d missed such an elementary shot.
Years ago, while her mother had bartended, she and her brother would have nothing better to do than hover around the pool table. At first it had just been a game. Something to do to pass the time while they waited for their mother’s shift to end. Then they’d discovered how to hustle, and what a team they’d made.
The bartender stood and gestured for a server. A petite blonde in pigtails and micro mini skirt bounced over. “You boys need another round?”
“Yes, luv, and whatever she wants.” He gestured to her.
The waitress sent her an assessing look that held a hint of surprise and curiosity.
Naia didn’t need to be getting tipsy on an interview, no matter what this bartender thought was appropriate. “Water would be fine.”
Groans all around.
Surfer Guy said, “Don’t be so stuffy.” While the other two just shook their heads in derision. The bartender, leaning over the table with the cue resting on his left hand, raised a contentious brow at her. Apparently she was bombing this pre-interview.
“Fine.” To appease them, she ordered a beer.
Peer pressure was a bitch.
“There’s a girl,” The bartender faced the table and swiftly landed his shot: Four ball, side pocket.
“And a water,” she called after the waitress.
The bartender scowled, but said nothing, making his last shot and winning the game. “Rack ‘em up,” he said to the others. He approached her then, and she was suddenly acutely aware of his size. She had to tilt her head back to meet his gaze. His wide shoulders gave him a natural way of looming, even though he’d buffered several feet between them.
Even still, as if some sort of primitive instinct were warding her away, she nearly stepped back, but held her ground.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
Briefly she wondered if she should provide her stage name or her real name. She decided on the latter. “Naia. Yours?”
“If all goes well for you, you can call me Boss Man. But for now, Sir will do.”
“You want me to call you sir?” The arrogance!
The other men hid amused smiles behind their drinks. They were screwing with her, she decided. Perhaps there was no meeting later with Cortez. Either that or they were hazing her.
Maybe that was a good thing. Like coworkers hazing the newbie. You didn’t haze a potential coworker if you didn’t plan to hire them, right? Unless these guys were just dicks.
In any case, she had nothing better to do than play along while she waited to find out. Seven grand, she chanted in her head. But there was no way she was calling this guy sir in any kind of serious manner.
“Well, what can I call you if I beat your ass in pool? Would chump work for you?”
All four men swung surprised gazes at her. Surfer Boy eagerly handed over his stick. “I have to see this.”
The other two backed up against the wall as if she’d thrown down a gauntlet.
With an amused expression, the bartending prick fanned his hand out toward the pool table. “Racked and ready, luv. Be my guest.”
Oh, it was on. First break? Yes please.
Swiping the stick from Surfer, she sauntered to the table. The felt was practically new, and she had the urge to run her hand over the surface of it. Dante’s pool tables were worn to the base and slightly lopsided, which made every shot a surprise, no matter how good the player.
Aiming the cue ball, she steadied her shot. The weight of the stick in her right hand was familiar, calling up memories of bygone days with Cole. Hustling and drinking and laughing. Not a care in the world.
God, she missed those lazy days.
However, while she’d been in it for fun; Cole had been in it for the money, hustling bigger and bigger fish. It was a wonder he hadn’t gotten in trouble sooner. She’d called it quits when their shenanigans caused Cole to get his ass seriously kicked one night. Not that he hadn’t had his share of ass-whoopings, but that night had been particularly bad.
Even Naia’s easy smile and sex-pot voice hadn’t been enough to cool the rage of a drunkard who’d just lost a pocket full of cash to them. What she and Cole hadn’t known was the man they’d hustled was a vampire. One who didn’t like to lose. Outside the bar, he’d beaten Cole soundly as she’d watched in horror, helpless to help. Worse, someone had called their mother out to the alley for the last two meaty pummels to Cole’s face before the vampire let him drop to the ground, unconscious.
To add insult, before walking away, the vampire tossed some bills onto Cole’s unmoving body. It had taken a week before Cole could see out of his swollen right eye. Another month before he was back to hustling, but after that, she had lost her taste for it entirely, and from then on had only played for her own enjoyment.
The whole experience should have taught her not to mess around with those of the pointy-tooth variety. Yet here she was.
Though she knew she should go easy, her pride demanded she wipe the floor with these guys. Put an end to this jock-fest ribbing, maybe earn a little respect right out of the gate.
Tightening her grip on the base of the stick, she rammed it forward, striking the cue ball hard. It rocketed into the triangle gathered at the other end of the table. Balls exploded in every direction, ricocheting off one another and the bumpers. Three of them found homes: the one, the four, and the nine. Two stripes and a solid.
The bartender’s friends hooted with jubilance, claiming nearby stools as if settling in for a show.
She faced the head jerk with a cocky grin, wanting to see the surprise on his face as well. But that wasn’t what she found. In its place was something else she couldn’t decipher, something that had her body growing warmer under his intense gaze.
“I’ll take solids,” she chirped, then turned back to read the table.
The waitress arrived then, carrying a tray of drinks. She fluttered around the room, passing them out to everyone and finally setting Naia’s beer and water down on a side table before making herself scarce.
Before the guys could jibe her, she took a hard pull from her beer. A couple sips would cool her nerves.
“Cheers,” Surfer called and followed her lead. “Now kick his ass, girly.”
She planned to do just that.
“Whose side are you on?” The bartender snapped.
“Hers,” replied Surfer Boy with a duh hanging at the end of his tone. The other men shrugged and nodded their agreement.
“Bunch of turncoats.”
She grinned at that. Maybe these guys weren’t so bad after all.
A moment of assessing the table, and she had her game plan set. This would be a clean sweep. Her next two shots went in without a hitch: the two and the three.
The bartender decided now was the time to question her. “So you were pretty adamant earlier that Cortez would want to hire you. Well, what is it you do?”
Straightening, she leaned on her cue stick. “I’m a singer.”
He waited as if there should be more.
“And I have waitress experience. But singing is really what I love.”
He glanced out into the main room where those talented women were flying around the stage in a wide circle while twining their fabrics together.
Naia swallowed, feeling suddenly inadequate. “It might not be as exciting as Cirque du Soleil over there, but I’m good.” Better than good. While she pulled strength from a crowd, she could feed it right back to them, energizing them as well, lighting them up with excitement and passion. It was a marvel to see, according to Cole.
“Hm,” was all the bartender said.
Did he think she was just talking herself up? Well, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was getting face time with Cortez. Dante had assured her once Cortez met with her, he would want to hire her. How Dante was so sure, she didn’t know, but she had to assume he knew what he was talking about. Why else choose her for this covert mission?
All serious now, she lined up her next shot.
From behind her, the bartender asked, “When did you learn to play?”
The girl who used to hustle spoke, “Oh, I only learned recently. Pretty sure I’m still riding beginner’s luck.”
He snorted. She glanced back at him. Nearly gasped. His eyes were fixed on her backside. While hustling a group of men, she’d often purposely bend a little too far for effect. Redirecting a little blood away from the brain tended to handicap men. But this time hadn’t been intentional, and flames entered her cheeks. It didn’t help that she’d never played pool in such a short dress.
She quickly shook it off. Look all you like. It could only help her win. “You don’t believe me?”
“I’d sooner believe the sky was purple.”
“I’ve seen that happen you know. Usually at sunset.” She re-focused on the table and made her shot. The six ball bounced off the ten and then slowed, hovering just on the edge of the pocket she’d been aiming for. A breath later, it fell in like a co-ed who’d had one tequila shot too many.
Dang that was close. Head in the game, Naia. Her next shot was on the mark. She wanted to gloat, but the bartender just stood there, raking his gaze over her body as if he didn’t care he was getting smoked. His lids were heavy and his gaze was on her in a way that made her feel stripped. It was unnerving. It was intriguing. She tried to ignore it, figuring he was just attempting to throw her off her game, but every time she glanced his way, his penetrating eyes were lapping her up.
Men had looked at her in a similar fashion, but not quite like this. While other men’s eyes might be filled with lust, his burned with something more.
Usually she could shrug off such intense attention, but her body seemed to be responding on a primal level. Her skin became over sensitized, prickling as though being caressed wherever his gaze landed. Thankfully the somewhat thick fabric of her dress hid her puckered nipples. She couldn’t help imagine what he might do were she alone with him…
Thoughts like that were dangerous. Draw too much interest from a vampire and you’re likely to wind up down a few pints with a ghastly neck wound. Not exactly her idea of a good time, even if he was hot as hell with a voice that stoked a slow furnace within her.
Goldie had admitted to dating a few vampires. Once, with a dreamy look, she’d admitted to Naia the experience was like nothing she could explain, following up with a shiver and a sigh.
And why had that thought popped into her head?
“Tell me how long you’ve really been playing,” he said, interrupting her mind’s descent into the gutter.
“Very well,” she said. “The truth is I’ve been playing my whole life.” Until recently. Lately all she had time for was work.
“Clearly. You haven’t missed a shot yet.”
“Getting worried, Sir?” She made her tone mocking.
His friends chuckled.
“Not at all, Naia.” Her name on his tongue shouldn’t sound so good. “In fact, I’m thoroughly enjoying my beating.” He pointedly scanned her body again. Again warmth bloomed in her, and again she regretted her dress choice. She should have donned something more professional rather than following the bartender’s dictate. She still wasn’t sure if he was messing with her for his own amusement. But another glance at his expression said he might actually be into her.
It was disconcerting what a simple look was doing to her. Was this merely a chemical attraction or was he working some of his vampire mojo on her? Rumor had it they could hypnotize anyone into doing anything they wanted. She shuddered.
It wouldn’t be a major leap to think a certain type of vampire might abuse that kind of power.
She suddenly worried she was in way over her head with this lot.
With that in mind, she checked the clock on the wall. More than thirty minutes had passed since she’d arrived. “When might I be able to meet with Cortez?”
The three men in the corner all seemed to get very thirsty in that moment, and they found the surrounding walls quite interesting. By their reactions, she was willing to bet Cortez wasn’t even coming.
“Getting tired of my company already, luv?” the bartender said. “Got another interview after this? Or perhaps a date is waiting on you? I know I said to dress sexy,”—he gestured to her outfit—“but this is ridiculous.”
“Is something wrong with my outfit?” Damn it, she told Goldie it was overkill, but the second her friend had heard date, she’d been gung ho.
He blinked at her. “Wrong?” He stepped into her personal space, his face coming inches from her ear so that only she could hear. “You look out-of-this-world mouthwateringly delicious.” Before she realized what he intended, he brought her hand to his mouth and kissed her knuckles.
She sucked in a breath, her heart speeding up. She knew he could hear it.
Yanking her hand away, she cursed the flush creeping into her cheeks. “You’re just trying to make me miss my last shot.” She only needed to sink the eight ball to win.
“Perhaps.” He shrugged, his lips twisting into a crooked grin. “It’s only fair since it took you a mere second to floor me with this stunning dress.”
Needing a moment, and some distance, she turned to take another swig from her beer. Head in the game.
As if he knew his words were getting to her, continued. “I thought you were beautiful before, but I was wrong. You’re positively gorgeous.” She glanced back at him. His gaze was eating her up. “And that blush you’re building up is making you even more so. Does your man not compliment you enough?”
“I don’t have a man,” she blurted, instantly regretting her words.
The other three men sat silently, their eyes volleying between her and the bartender. Curiosity lit their expressions. They almost appeared surprised by this interaction.
The bartender cocked a brow. “No man? But you must have many admirers.”
“Sure,” she said flippantly. If you count salivating pervs as admirers. If she had a dollar every time a guy tried to pinch her ass while she delivered their drinks, she’d be able to afford a better apartment.
“I assume you have a date later, though?”
“That’s really none of your business.”
“I wouldn’t want your meeting with the boss to intrude on your busy social life.”
“Is this a fishing expedition or an interview? If you must know, I do have a date.” With a bed. She was beat. Today seemed to have gone on for ages. “But it can wait till after my meeting with Cortez, though I’m starting to doubt there even is a meeting. Admit it, Cortez isn’t even here, is he?”
“Oh, he’s here,” Surfer Boy gave a hearty laugh. “And he’s getting his ass handed to him.”
One of his buddies punted him in the chest.
Naia got a sinking feeling then. She faced the bartender suspiciously. His expression was shuddered.
At that same moment, the pigtailed waitress entered. “Hey Cortez, do you need anything else before I clock out for the night?”
Naia’s lips parted on a breath. No. Her eyes snapped to his…to Cortez.
To the waitress, he said, “We’re fine, Cindy. Have a good night.”
Cindy nodded and then scurried out of sight. It took Naia what seemed like an eternity to regain her composure. “You’re Cortez?”
At length he nodded, then winked.
Before, she’d been turned on by his flirtatious banter. Now she just felt foolish. He’d been playing games with her. Making jokes and secretly laughing at her with his buddies.
Humiliation burned in her gut. Dante had been wrong. So wrong. Setting her stick on the table, she spun on her heel to leave.
He blocked her path. “Leave now and forfeit the game.” She had yet to sink the eight ball, but winning no longer mattered.
She sidled around him. “I don’t appreciate being made a fool of.”
He halted her with a hand on her elbow. “That wasn’t my intention.”
She pulled out of his grip and kept walking.
He was right behind her. “I merely wanted to see how you would act around me, not knowing who I was.”
She stopped. “Why?”
“You provide a rare experience for me.”
Because she was the only dummy in this town who wouldn’t know him on sight? Come on. Sure he was a big deal, but it wasn’t like his face was plastered all over the place. “Your friends sure did get a good laugh at my expense.”
He shook his head. “They were more amused by my behavior.”
“Because you tricked me.” In her haste, she knocked into a guy, spilling a bit of his drink. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she called, but kept going.
Cortez kept pace. “Because I’m not often so taken by a female.”
That made her stop. Taken? Could he really find her attractive? She studied his expression for falsities, but found none. Though, clearly he was a good liar.
“Stay and have a drink with me.”
She had intended to land an interview. Well, here he was. She fretted her bottom lip. His gaze followed the movement, and something intense flashed behind his eyes. The ice in her veins flashed red-hot. How did he do that?
He grinned as though he sensed her reaction to him. Drinks with a hotter-than-sin wealthy club owner who possibly found her attractive? Or a chilly walk home at two in the morning? Cole hated when she went out alone this late at night. This town was filled with predators, not only the vampiric kind.
Still, she felt out of her league here. Super spy she was not. Face to face, she hadn’t even sighted her mark. How could she gather intel on supposed illegal activity without getting caught? She glanced at the exit. She could leave now and end this charade. Tell Dante he’d picked the wrong girl for this task.
But that seven grand? Cole was depending on her. If anything happened to him, she didn’t know what she would do.
“Perhaps a wager would encourage you to stay,” he hedged.
Why would he want her to stay? Hadn’t she endured enough embarrassment? Now she understood the strange looks his buddies had given her when she’d first shown up. They must think she was an idiot for not knowing who this man was. Not to mention….
Did he say wager?
“What kind of wager?”
“First have a drink with me.” He gestured to an empty table at the edge of the room. “Come sit and talk with me.”
She eyed him hesitantly.
“You wanted a meeting with me, didn’t you?” He spread his arms out invitingly. “Are you hungry? I’ll have our chef make something special.”
Still mentally debating, she allowed him to direct her to the table. He even pulled her chair out for her before taking the seat directly opposite her.
Feeling eyes on her, she scanned her surroundings. Peppered through the crowd, several employees gazed at her with open curiosity. On the other side of the room, a waitress was paused in the middle of filling a water glass. Not paying attention to her task, the water began to spill over. The two men sitting at the table let out a sound to alert her to her blunder. The waitress jumped and hastily sopped up the mess with napkins.
Finished with their routine, the entertainers on stage were taking their bows. Naia caught one of them elbowing the others to direct their attention toward Naia and Cortez.
His buddies from the pool room were peeking around the wide arched threshold.
What in the world was going on?
Cortez called a waitress over and requested a menu. Apparently Ever Nights boasted a full three course menu. Dante’s only offered basic tavern grub, and she would warn anyone away from the chicken wings. Blech.
As she scanned the menu, her tummy growled. The last thing she’d eaten was some pilfered chips from Dante’s kitchen. “You’re paying?” she asked Cortez.
He responded with a single nod.
Naia glanced up at the waitress. “Then I’ll have the lobster, darling.”
The waitress reclaimed the menu and hurried off without a word.
“You have expensive taste,” Cortez observed, but he didn’t sound put out.
Oh, the irony. “Not really. I’ve never had lobster, but you deserved that and more for your little trick.”
“Maybe I do.” There was an ease to his smile that managed to settle her nerves somewhat.
“Your employees are gawking.”
“They are not used to me chasing after women.”
She supposed women just naturally fell at his feet. If she was smart, she’d be doing the same. “So what would you like to know. I can give you my work history.”
“Is Naia your real name or a stage name?”
“Real. On stage, I go by Sapphire.”
“Are you a dancer as well?”
“Uh, if you mean with clothes on, then yes. Otherwise no.”
“So yours is a clean show.”
She lifted one shoulder. “I’d say my dancing is provocative, but not X-rated.”
“If you’re not a dancer why not just go by your regular name. It’s beautiful enough. And it suits you better, I think.”
“Thanks. The girls told me a stage name would give me an added level of anonymity.” They’d emphasized that stalking is a problem in their line of business.
She nearly bit her tongue. “Yeah, some friends of mine who work over at, uh, one of the other clubs.”
“Oh? Which club?”
Damn. She decided to stick to the truth as much as possible during his inquiry. “Dante’s Pit.” There was nothing wrong with knowing people who worked there, she told herself.
“Couldn’t your friends have gotten you a job there?”
Double damn. She had to tread carefully here. It would be easy to ferret out a lie. He knew her stage name. Her real name. All he’d need was to do a little research to find out her previous, or rather, continued employment. “I’ve worked there,” she admitted. “Waitressing and singing.”
He assessed her for a moment. “Do you still work there?”
Triple damn! She resisted a guilty squirm that wanted to snake through her body. “Kind of. But I don’t want to.” That at least was one hundred percent true. “Unless I want to start a career in stripping, I’m not making enough to cover my bills.” Debts, she mentally amended.
“So you think you’ll make more if you work here?”
“I know you pay even your lowliest employees better than anyone around.”
Her lobster arrived then. Big, red, alien looking thing. Though they were only miles from the coast, and seafood was a staple in this area, she’d never had the opportunity to dine on lobster. Too pricey. Curiosity had her digging in.
With an elbow on the table and his chin perched on his palm, Cortez watched as she took the first bite. She chewed, and chewed. The texture was not what she expected. Almost rubbery, but not quite, and not in a bad way. The flavor was somewhat sweeter than she’d anticipated, salty and buttery and distinctly its own, but nothing marvelous. Why did people rave about this?
When she finally swallowed, she muttered, “Huh.”
“Not what you expected?” he asked, mirroring her thoughts.
“The girls at the club prattle on and on whenever a date buys them lobster. I thought it would be like crack.”
Almost as if he couldn’t help himself, he barked out a laugh. “It could be more of a status thing for them.”
“Silly? How so?”
“I don’t know. I guess I never understood all that status stuff. If it’s not the best, why pretend it is just because it costs more?”
“Perceived value, I suppose.”
“See, that’s a silly notion. You could mark two identical items different prices, and people would automatically assume the higher priced item is better.”
“True. But how else should they determine value? Price is often equated to quality. In markets where people are not completely sure of how to assess quality, price is often used as a qualifier. And it’s human nature to want what others covet. It’s why since as far back as history allows, women have covered themselves in shiny rocks and metals to attract the best mate, because they believe the rocks add to their beauty and therefore their perceived value. Same goes for some men and luxury sports cars. Isn’t that why you ordered the lobster in the first place?”
“I ordered it to ding your wallet as payback.”
“Then you’ll have to do better than that.”
“And I don’t adorn myself in jewels to attract a mate.”
“Likely because you can’t afford it. I see you wear silver around your neck.”
She fingered the locket, and huffed. “This has sentimental value. I suppose you drive a luxury sports car?” She took another bite of her lobster, determined to enjoy it.
By way of answer, he said with a grin, “I’m not looking for a mate.”
The way he stared at her now told her what he might be looking for. Her heart rate ratcheted because all that intense, unbroken attention was directed her way. Perhaps Cortez flirted this strongly with all his potential employees, to see how they’d handle themselves in a real-world scenario. A waitress in this town had to be glib of tongue and quick on their feet to handle some of the miscreants that popped into town to harass the locals. She decided she would ace this interview no matter what Cortez had to throw at her.
When the waiters came by to check on them—they were very attentive to their boss—Cortez ordered another round of drinks and then a second main dish, toasted sesame ginger salmon, stating that Naia might enjoy it more. Then he continued with the questions. “Do you live around here?”
She nodded. “I live near the hills.”
“You can’t have been in town for very long.”
She cocked her head. “Why do you say that?”
“I’m sure I would have noticed you before now.”
Flirting again? “Well, you’re not as observant as you think. We-uh-I’ve been here for a few years now.” At the last second, some protective part of her decided it was best not to mention Cole in any way. If she wasn’t careful, things could go south for her in a bad way, and he was in enough trouble. But Cortez noticed her cover-up.
“We? You mean the man who’s waiting on you even now?”
“No one is waiting on me. I have all night.”
Again he scanned her dress, this time dubious, clearly not believing her.
“Why haven’t you applied here sooner?”
“I did. A couple of times. I don’t have a phone, so I had to keep checking back, but I was told there weren’t any openings. You have such stellar acts on your roster. I guess a simple singer didn’t measure up. But I’m good. I can promise you that. Your clientele will love me.”
He leaned back in his chair. “Who did you speak with?”
“Which one of my employees did you speak with when you came looking for a job?”
“I, uh.” She glanced around as if their faces would pop out at her. “Not sure I remember exactly. A woman with long dark hair the first time. A guy the second. Why?”
“Just wondering who I need to punish for not sending you straight to me.”
She stiffened, then caught the teasing light in his eyes and returned a smile. “In that case, I really don’t remember. If I’m going to work here, the last thing I need is to start off by throwing my peers under the bus, handsome though that bus may be.”
Something inscrutable flashed behind his eyes. Oddly, some of his humor faded. Did he not like compliments?
The salmon arrived then, and with her first bite, she groaned. “My god, this is incredible!”
His chest puffed up a bit and that pleasing grin was back. “I’m glad you like it. It’s one of my favorites.”
She glanced up at him, incredulous. “You eat? I mean, like, people food? Not people food, I mean human food. You actually do eat people food, though don’t you….” She huffed at her stammering and fought a blush.
He chuckled. “I enjoy human food, but I couldn’t live on the stuff.”
How interesting. She’d never seen Dante so much as snack on a chip.
Around another mouthful, she muttered, “This is so good,” And she wasn’t even putting on airs. An explosion of flavor invaded her mouth with each bite. Before she knew it, she was scraping the plate for more.
“My god, doesn’t your man feed you?”
She flushed and set her utensils down. She was supposed to be impressing this man, not scarfing down food like a starved mammal. “I guess I didn’t realize how hungry I was. Give my compliments to the chef.”
“Would you like to tell him yourself?”
Meet the chef? “I’d love to. But I wouldn’t want to bother him while he’s working.”
Cortez shook his head. “He loves it. To be honest, he can get a little grumpy when he’s not flattered enough.” He snapped his fingers for the waitress and had her retrieve the chef, Victor.
She expected a pudgy middle-aged man with a gut and an apron. Well, he had on an apron, along with full chef garb, sans hat. And he was drop dead gorgeous! Tall, with wild dark hair, the shoulders of a linebacker, and a jaw so chiseled it could slice bread. She wondered if even the cleaning crew looked like cover models.
“Da.” He said to Cortez with a distinctly Russian accent.
Cortez gestured to her. “This is Naia….” He was looking for her to provide a last name.
“DeVoe,” she said without thinking. She realized too late it was a mistake to give her full name. So bad at this. Burying her irritation with herself, she shook Victor’s hand. “I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the salmon. Honestly, it was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Better than the lobster. Uh, though that was good, too,” she added hastily, not wanting to insult him.
“Lobster is shit,” he said. “They used to feed it to prisoners long ago. A peasant dish. You have good taste.” He smiled, and a set of fangs poked out from behind his lips.
A vampire chef? Huh.
It would be just her luck if Cortez only hired vampires.
“You want dessert?” Victor continued. “I make you something off menu.”
“Oh, I couldn’t,” she rubbed her stomach. “I’m stuffed.”
He waved away her statement. “I make you something.” Then he stalked back to the kitchen before she could utter another protest.
“I think you made his night,” Cortez told her. “He’ll be high on his own importance for weeks.”
“Your chef is a vampire.” She had inadvertently leaned forward as if she were revealing a secret.
He mirrored her. “You caught that did you?”
Their faces mere inches apart, a strange spike of adrenaline burrowed through her. She caught a whiff of his cologne, and it seemed to go straight to her head. It was a faint scent, musky and enticing. Not cloying like some men who often smelled as if they’d bathed in rat piss. No, Cortez smelled…perfect.
She just managed to stop herself from inhaling deeply and giving herself away. With effort, she sat back in her seat. Cortez did the same, seeming to go through a similar struggle.
The music and chatter from the other guests filled in around them as if the volume had been turned up, even though nothing outside of their little bubble had changed. She cleared her throat, mentally acknowledging the moment. Something was going on. Maybe it was just in her head, or maybe he was feeling it as well. This whole interview was unorthodox.
She tried to find her footing. “I’d be happy to audition for you.”
His eyes lit with a kind of humor that bordered on mischievous. Had she said something funny?
“Perhaps something can be arranged.” He stood and held out his hand. “Come.”
“Where are we going?”
“I want to give you a tour.”
Tour. That was a good sign, right? “But the dessert?”
“Someone will bring it to us.”
She slipped her hand in his and allowed him to guide her around to the back of the room toward a set of elevators. As he pressed the up button, she glanced down at their clasped hands with fascination. His hand nearly swallowed hers, making her fingers look dainty in his grip.
The doors slid open and he pulled her inside, pressing the button for the top floor. As the doors closed, she detangled herself from him, feeling the space constrict around them. She wasn’t normally claustrophobic. It was him. His presence was almost too much in the tiny compartment. As if both needed the extra distance, they moved to opposite sides of the elevator, facing each other.
The look he gave her now was almost carnal. Like he was starved and she was the only meal in sight. It was unnerving. It was exhilarating. Receiving such unwavering attention from a vampire should not send forbidden tremors through her spine. Her heart began a slow drum. Her breaths began to shallow. The effect must have been causing her chest to noticeably rise and fall because he lustfully glanced down at her breasts, then back into her eyes, smiling when he realized he’d been caught.
“You are exquisite.”
“Thank you,” she breathed. My god, he was making her feel as if she were the sexiest woman in the world.
Ding. The doors parted. She practically dove out. He followed her, albeit, more slowly.
They were in another hallway, and there were doors lining either side.
“This way.” Cortez started down the hall, not taking her hand this time. Relief and disappointment took turns kicking her in the gut. But when they got to a dim stairwell, he once more held out his hand to her. She glanced up cautiously. Where in the world was he taking her?
Maybe it was the stark switch from being surrounded by a crowd to the sensation of complete isolation with this engrossing man, or the sporadic strobe of the cold, blue-tinged halogen bulbs that lit the stairwell, but she was suddenly hesitant.
“It’s safe,” he said as if he sensed her wariness. “You are safe with me.”
Her mind split into two camps. One vying to believe him one-hundred percent, recklessly willing to follow him through hot coals just to experience more of the delicious way he was making her feel. The other wondered if, to her at least, he wasn’t the most dangerous man alive.
A beautiful sea of twinkling stars above greeted her as cool ocean air rolling in from the coast fanned across her face.
They were on the roof. She marveled at a three-sixty view of the darkened city. Ever Nights was the tallest building in the city, so for miles there was nothing to obstruct her view. To the west, she caught the moon glancing off the Pacific, like liquid white-gold on black. What must it look like in the day? Sunsets had to be breathtaking.
Half of the roof was set up like a mini retreat, complete with a pool, hot tub, sidebar, and a seating nook under a trellis of wisteria. The other half looked like a greenhouse. The scent of different herbs and sweet fragrances mixed in the air.
They were completely alone.
Now that the initial awe had worn off, she faced Cortez, suddenly aware that he’d been watching her, not saying a word, as she had taken everything in.
This couldn’t be a normal interview. In fact, it felt very much like a date. But that couldn’t be right. She had to be imagining things. Except the look he was giving her—had been giving her the whole night—said she might be on the money.
He strolled to the bar. “Would you like a drink?”
“I think I’m confused. Is this an interview or a date?”
He pulled out two flutes and a bottle of Champagne, cracking it open. After filling each glass he passed one to her. “Which would you prefer?”
Her mouth briefly popped open. She squashed her surprise behind her glass, taking a quick sip. Wow! This Champagne was delicious. The garbage she’d had before must have been squeezed through the ass of a donkey.
She took a bigger sip and tried to get her bearings. “Is this how you welcome all your new employees?” She was suddenly racked with inexplicable jealousy over all the beautiful women she’d seen below. But why should she be? She’d only just met this man.
“I don’t date people I work with,” came his simple reply.
Her brain took a pause. Surely that meant that they wouldn’t be dating. “You just feed them unbelievable meals and ply them with Champagne?”
He turned wry. “Not quite. I’m sure you could tell by the reaction of some of my employees earlier, there haven’t been many to garner such treatment.”
“Why me then?”
His smile was elusive. “You fascinate me.”
You fascinate me too. But he shouldn’t. There was a danger in this dance. She couldn’t get too tangled up in his game. And that was surely what it was. She wasn’t an idiot, her features were pleasing, she might even go as far to say above average, but not by much and there certainly wasn’t anything fascinating about her…aside from her siren lineage, which no one could know about. Was that what he was sensing? Was he drawn to that part of her? Her voice had never had any effect on vampires, thank the Lord! She could run from a human. She could even…kill a human…
She shivered. Block that out.
…but against a vampire? She had no chance at all. Point. Set. Match.
He sidestepped the bar and came to stand in front of her. His forefinger hooked under her chin, and he lifted her gaze to his. Tawny eyes bore into hers. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
Once again she wondered if he was mesmerizing her, but she didn’t feel compelled to answer. She could refuse.
She decided not to. “I fear you’re playing a game with me.”
His big hand came up to cup her cheek. “I don’t play games with people.”
Her heart rate was slowly rising, his nearness filleting reason. A mysterious crackle of energy seemed to pass between them. Just as her eyes dipped to his lips, his tongue darted out to wet them. She swallowed, and worked to get more air into her lungs. He’s going to kiss me. Her pulse was banging in her ears now, blood rushing to her brain, fogging her thoughts.
His head dipped, and warm lips molded over hers. She was helpless not to kiss him back, leaning into him. Her heart thundered now. Every vamp in a five block radius could probably hear it.
When his tongue delved, testing, she welcomed him into her mouth. Fire roared through her blood, burning away what little resistance she had left. Giving into him completely, her hand came around his nape to hold him close as she deepened the kiss. His arms hooked her waist, drawing their bodies together. Her heels practically left the ground, her tiptoes barely touching, but she only wanted him to hold her tighter.
She’d been kissed before, but never like this. Never in a way that was so frighteningly consuming, so deliciously decadent. Never in a way that made her mind grow dim and her body spark like a live-wire. Never in a way that made her want to groan into this man’s mouth with primal triumph.
He let out a guttural sound as though he were on the exact same page, and the sound bounced around her every nerve like a pinball, lighting her up.
A small gasp to their right had her eyes flying open. Breaths heavy, she pulled back to see one of the waitresses holding a plate: Victor’s special dessert.
Cortez shot the poor woman a look of such malice, Naia wasn’t sure she shouldn’t worry for her safety. “Apologies, I-I’ll just leave this here.” She hastened to set the dish down on a nearby table and then tripped over herself to get back inside.
Too late. The spell was broken. Naia was appalled at her lack of self-control. Untangling herself from Cortez’s arms, she took several steps back while her lungs continued to battle for the proper level of oxygen. God, she was out of her element. She was here to get a job and scrounge up some information for Dante, not to seduce the boss. Or rather, get seduced.
Cortez still appeared perturbed by the interruption, but wisely gave her space, though he studied her expression closely. She must look half in shock. Or half in lust. She couldn’t decide.
“I think we should go back.” She didn’t wait for him to agree. She beelined it to the door and started down the stairs, her heels clanging on the metal. She still had her Champagne glass in her left hand. How she’d managed to hold on to it, she couldn’t say, but she did notice some of the liquid had spilled over the edge onto her clutching fingers.
At the elevator, she triple pressed the button.
“Will your man be upset by what just happened?” he asked, sidling up beside her.
She was about to snap again that she didn’t have a man, but wondered if that was wise. Could she salvage her mission if he thought she was taken? “Wouldn’t you?”
His jaw clenched. “If you were mine, I’d be murderous.” At her slight intake of breath, he added. “Any man who attempted to take you from me would be risking death.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“I said if you were mine. You’re not…yet.”
She gaped at him, speechless, as the elevator doors parted. He stepped inside and held the doors for her. For several moments, she couldn’t quite get her legs to obey. Stiffly, she made it inside and then was once more entombed with the man who was both terrifying her and amazing her with his every unpredictable action. What would he do next?
“Stay the night with me.”
Stunned, she said, “You don’t waste any time, do you?”
That half-smile returned to his features, blasting the butterflies in her stomach into a frenzy. “When I see something I want, I go after it.”
And he wanted her? She liked the idea way too much. “You don’t date employees, but you sleep with them?”
He frowned. “No.”
“So then if I stayed with you, I’d be ruining my chances at a job.” They landed on the first floor, and she exited the elevator.
“What if I told you I have no intention of hiring you anyway?”
Her heart sank, but she didn’t let it show. “Then I’d say I’m wasting my time here. And as you pointed out, I have better things to do.” His lips thinned at the double-entendre. Let him think she had someone waiting on her. Served him right for pulling that rug out from under her. Seven grand went poof in her mind, gone from her future with not so much as a snap of the finger. Her dream job with it. She realized then that there was no way she and Cole could gather the money in time. They were going to have to run.
She was already mentally packing when Cortez said. “What about that wager?”
“I proposed a wager earlier. You seemed interested.”
“And what would that be?”
“Another game of pool. If you win, I’ll give you a job.”
The whole reason she’d sought him out! She faced him, steeling herself for the catch. “And if you win?” She almost didn’t need to ask.
“You’ll blow off your date and stay the night with me instead.”
She bit her lip, seeing that money land back in her future. The hustler in her bellied up, while logic danced like a prizefighter ready to box. Cortez was good at billiards. As good as her, if not better. Playing him was a risk. If she agreed to this ridiculous wager and she lost, he’d expect her to pay up. She’d have to stay the night with him. As in with him with him? It wasn’t like he was asking for a pajama party and Parcheesi. He wanted her body at his disposal. And would that really be a hardship? Part of her knew a night with him would be mind-blowing. She was using all her willpower not to picture it.
A successful club owner such as he could have his pick, of both vein and body. Literally. Toss his room key into the crowd and women would be throwing elbows to get to it. So why was he so focused on her?
“I suppose it’s my blood you’re after.”
He shook his head. “I have plenty of donors ready and willing. Biting is off the table if you’d prefer.”
“I would.” Had she just said that? Was she seriously considering this?
And why not? It was practically a win/win scenario?
She was smart enough to admit to herself she wanted him too. That small taste on the roof had parts of her brain still fogged with lust.
Now that she thought about it, her mission had nothing to do with her landing a job, per say. Sure, as an employee, she could snoop around, but as a lover, what sort of doors might open to her?
Of course, that was only if she lost. If she wiped the floor with him again, would he keep his word and hire her? She glanced back at the shiny stage, imagining herself up there singing her favorite tunes, Cole’s debt paid, no more worries for either of them.
She studied Cortez, and her thoughts turned to those talented lips, those hard muscles…at her disposal.
It seemed no matter how she viewed the situation, she was looking at a win/win.
Grinning up at him, she said blithely, “I’ll break.”