“But Cassie, it's a birthday party!” Elly frowned as she stared Cassie down. “Your birthday party
.” Her lower lip trembled, a sure sign she was upset because Cassie was upset and would act accordingly.
“I didn't want a party. I told you that.” Cassie gritted her teeth together as she spoke through them. Why was that so hard for people to understand? Cassie saw Jen's hand in this. She didn't know the woman well but at their last encounter, Jen had suggested such an affair. “I appreciate you doing this. I do. But I thought we were going to go dancing…”
“I thought a party would be better.” Elly brought her hands together and wrung them out a little like old laundry. “All your friends are here.” She suddenly beamed. “Hi, Jen. See? All your friends are here. We can have all the fun we want. Drinks too. Until eleven. That's when my boss said it has to be over.”
Cassie's thoughts of shutting down a local bar had been abbreviated. Instead, they had to shut down the office. Not to mention any hope of going home with some cute guy was getting torpedoed. She knew everyone who was out there, even though most were like Jen, who was closer to Elly than to Cassie. Cassie had a few other friends that she didn't see in the crowd of ten.
The party was definitely of the hen variety, but it was a party and these were sort of her friends. Elly had to have worked hard to plan this, and she had asked her boss for the use of the office. Didn't matter if this wasn't the way Cassie had wanted to spend her birthday. She plastered a smile on her face. “It'll be great.” Yeah, right.
Elly visibly relaxed. A smile curved her lips and her worry lines vanished. “Yes! It will be. Wait until you…”
A knock sounded on the door.
“That must be it.” Elly's expression grew crafty. A look that Cassie had seen on her cat before he started to pounce. “Get the door. It's another surprise.”
I'm not sure my heart can take another one
. Cassie didn't say it aloud. Her friend was trying to make her birthday special and do things for her. She'd keep telling herself that.
Elly clapped her hands together. “Everyone! Listen up. Cassie's going to get the door
.” She pulled out her camera again and focused it on Cassie.
A collective “oohhhhhh” spread around the room.
Cassie winced. This was not going to be good.
What could her friends have in store for her? She looked around the room. Everyone's eyes were trained on the door and her. Everyone
. She pursed her lips and put her hand on the door. Yanked it open.
A police officer stood there. With a bigger dude in back of him who stood with his hands behind his back. The fluorescent lights shone off the gold badge pinned to the cop's massive chest. “Cassie Lincoln?”
She blinked at him. What the hell? “Yes.”
“I need to ask you a few questions.” He stepped inside, coming so close to her she could feel his body heat. Could smell his spicy scent.
A slight shiver raced across her. He smelled of a popular cologne. And a breath mint. She backed up a couple of steps. Not because she wanted to but because he used that big body to move her. He stepped into her personal space with the sureness of a panther.
The other man followed the police officer into the room and shut the door behind him. It clicked into place.
The cop smiled, showing even white teeth against his mocha skin tone. He was wearing sunglasses so it was impossible to see his eyes. She wanted to. His head was covered by a hat but she saw a tuft of tight, curly hair. It was cropped close. He was tall and muscular, even though the other man was taller and wider. “Cassie Lincoln?” He repeated her name in a gruff, authoritative voice.
She squared her shoulders. Looked around to her friends. None of them were freaking out that this cop was here asking her questions. Which gave her pause. She looked back to the cop. “Yes?”
“Is this your birthday?” His teeth continued to gleam as his lips curled up. What did his eyes look like behind those dark glasses? She wanted to pull them down and peek.
“Yes.” She glanced back to her friends. No sign of anything on their faces except maybe a dose of lust for the burly policeman.
Elly snapped a picture. A flash of light snapped across Cassie's nerves.
She turned back to the cop. Looked him up and down. Oh hell. Surely they hadn't done what she was thinking. That would be way too cliché.
“You're twenty-five?” He stared down into her face. His mouth tightened in a harsh line, instead of a grin.
“Yes.” For some reason she liked the somber look better on him. The wide grin had gotten on her nerves. This look made her think she was in trouble. A position she liked to be in.
He pulled out a baton. “Well, in that case…I'm going to have to bust you.” He said the words in a singsongy voice.
The other man placed a boom box on the floor beside the door and punched a button. Music blared from the little speakers. The song was “Another Night Another Dream” by La Bouche.
The man started bucking his hips and twirling the baton.
Cassie pinched her nose. It was what she'd thought. “A stripper?” She turned toward Elly, who snapped another picture of Cassie. “A stripper?”
Elly grinned. “Surprise! I figured you could use the attention after working so hard lately. From someone hubbalicious.” She looked even prouder than Cassie's cat now. “I have dollars for you too.”
Cassie had to admit as she turned back toward the stripper that the man was fine. He could dance. She shifted back, watching him move gracefully, keeping his eyes on her at all times.
His body stretched and turned, the muscles bunching up and relaxing. He looked like a finely carved statue. Was that an erection?
She didn't want to look too closely but couldn't help a quick glance. Her gaze scanned the rest of him, paying attention to the muscular dips and bulges, which were everywhere.
Okay, maybe this was a better idea than she'd thought it would be. A little eye candy never hurt anyone. The music rolled over her, catching her in the sensual strains. She could get lost watching this man dance for her. How much would he take off? Probably not as much as she'd like, but she'd enjoy what he did. She licked her lips.
He reached down, pulled something on his white shirt, and it ripped apart. Showing off rolling pecs, he dropped the remnants on the floor. Bounced so that his nipples rolled.
Her mouth went dry. She could taste him. He'd taste better than coffee on a cold morning.
The other man stood impassively by the door with his hands behind his back. His jaw tightened.
His eyes met Cassie's for a second, but then he looked away. Interesting
. What was that all about? Was he as drawn to the stripper as Cassie was? Maybe they were already lovers? Who knew? She imagined the two of them in bed with each other.
She almost had to fan herself. What a picture that would make. Two huge cocks battling it out. Large, sweaty, hairy bodies coming together in a perfect pitch of domination. Yeah, she definitely needed that fan.
Jen moved up behind Cassie and Elly. “You did a good job Elly, finding that one. He's a hottie.”
“Oh, yeah.” Elly bit her lip and snapped another picture, all of which Cassie saw from her peripheral vision. Because she was not
taking her eyes from the man dancing in front of her. Maybe he'd do a lap dance later. Elly did say she had dollars for her. She was the birthday girl, she'd take advantage. Hottie didn't do him justice.
Jen piped up. “I bet this is nice for you, Cassie. Having been so long and all.”
Cassie did look away from the man to stare at Jen this time. “So long and all?” What the hell was she talking about? The comment seemed underpinned by something more substantial.
“You know. Since you got laid.” Jen sighed. “I'd be curling up with my electric friend every night if I were you.”
“Shh.” Elly motioned to Jen. Her face flushed a light shade of pink. She nodded her head to Cassie.
Cassie ground her teeth together again. She forgot about the stripper and what he'd look like in bed with the other man. “How do you know how long it's been?” Cassie knew but wanted to hear the words from Jen.
Elly looked guilty, but didn't offer up anything. Instead, she looked away.
“It's been a while since you and Dewitt broke up” -- Jen, however, continued instead of staying silent -- “'Course with…” She put her hand over her mouth. “Oh, never mind.” She did a little oops smile like she'd said too much.
“No, whatever it is, say it.” Cassie now watched the stripper from her peripheral vision. He wasn't doing lap dances yet. Damn shame because right about now she needed one. If she was going to have a stripper, might as well experience the whole thing. He hadn't yet yanked off those black pants either. But his dancing was sinful. He moved with sensuality etched through every line of his body.
“Well, with your weight and all” -- Jen waved a hand dismissively -- “I'm sure it's hard to find guys into that.”
Cassie straightened up while Elly slumped. “Jen.” Elly shook her head. “You and your big mouth.”
“I'm just saying, El.” Jen's face took on a look like she was pleased with herself, instead of fake upset by making the comment. “Not everyone can be thin.” She smoothed down her shirt over her tiny size-3 waist.
“Yeah, not everyone can be a twig.” Cassie turned her attention back to the stripper. She bit her tongue to keep from saying any more. Don't say anything else. Don't give them the pleasure.
Jen gasped. “Well, at least I don't have to have a friend hire a stripper so I can find some action.”
Cassie's jaw jutted out. Couldn't ignore that comment no matter how many men were dancing in front of her. “Excuse me?”
Elly groaned. “Jen. You know that's not what I said. I said with her working all the time. Not because of her weight.”
“Is that what you think? That Elly has to farm me out like a cow to get me a man's attention?” Cassie put her hands on her hips.
The stripper was suddenly there. He danced around Cassie, pushing his body up against hers. He still wore pants but seemed to be going for a lap dance. “The first dollar must come from the birthday girl.” He grinned, exposing more straight teeth. His face was angular. Almost beautiful. She itched to run her hand along his cheekbone.
Elly handed Cassie a dollar, looking relieved at the distraction. “Here you go.” She must have figured that the matter of discussion was dropped now that the hot male had come over.
The stripper thrust out his hips to get Cassie's attention.
Normally, she would have given him her gaze and more. It was all she could do not to reply to that suggestive move. She couldn't right now though. Cassie stuffed the money back into Elly's hand. “No, you keep it. You'll need it for him, not me.” She shook her head. “I'm out of here. Sorry, Elly.”
Elly stammered. “B-b-b-but it's your party. Your stripper.” She grabbed Cassie's arm. “Come, on. Stay.”
“I appreciate this. And everything else you did for me.” She hugged her friend. “But, I can't do this.” Not if everyone here thought she needed a stripper so she could have a date. Jen would make sure everyone thought that. Cassie had dealt with girls like this in high school. She'd learned it was better to walk away than to punch them.
Yeah, she was a plus-size woman. So what? She didn't lack for male attention. Not most of the time. Lately there had been a dry spell. Her last boyfriend had been a jerk who would have dumped her even if she'd been Tyra Banks or any other supermodel.
“Cassie. Don't do this.” Elly bit her lip, looking as though she might cry.
If Jen and another woman hadn't broken into peals of laughter, Cassie might have stayed. For Elly's sake. Elly was a good friend, but easy to manipulate by people like Jen. But most of these people were closer to Elly than her and that meant they were friends of Jen too. Not the people she wanted to spend her birthday with. Not after that comment.
The stripper looked confused. “What's going on? I'm supposed to dance…” He broke off. “Are you leaving?”
She patted his arm. It bulged under her touch. Fired her senses. As did his spicy scent. “You'll still get lots of money. I've got to head out.”
She rushed for the door. Cursed herself for letting Jen get to her. She collided with the big guy standing in front of it.
He caught her with his huge hand at her elbow. His fingers wrapped around her arm, which meant they were damn long. “Watch out.”
His hands were warm on her cold skin. Tight. Large. Made her tingle with awareness. She blew out a breath. “I'm all right.”
“Are you sure?” His dazzling blue eyes glanced down into hers. His gaze probed her. The stripper might have been oblivious to what had gone on but this man wasn't. His full lips looked so soft. Kissable. She'd like to know what they felt like. His eyes looked like pools of sparks.
Had the stripper ever removed his glasses? She'd wanted to see his eyes, but it was too late now to turn back. These looked like the sky on a cloudless day. “I'm sure. I need to…leave.” This was turning into a bad birthday all the way around. This man's concern did nothing for her feelings of angst. So much for this being her lucky day.
“Cassie, don't go.” Elly tried one last time, but Cassie ignored her.
She loped for the stairs as her face grew hot. Her hair came spiraling down, and she reached up to help it fall. Didn't feel much like dancing anymore. Her eyes tightened. Damn Jen. She shouldn't be crying over one lame bitch's opinion of her. Hadn't she done enough of that in high school? Hadn't she resolved to love herself and see that there was more of her to go around than most?
Easy to say. Hard to do all the time.
She was at the halfway point when she remembered. The outgoing door would now be locked with a chain. Tight. No longer outgoing. The door had shut behind her upstairs and would now be locked.
“Dammit.” She turned around. She should have remembered that. What had she been thinking?
The second level door popped opened. “Cassie?” said a gruff voice followed by one even deeper. “Cassie?”
She scrambled up the steps as fast as her feet would move. “Don't let the door shut!” Good thing they'd followed her.
With the click
that followed, her order meant nothing. The door had automatically slammed shut before they could catch it.
“Dammit.” She reached the top of the steps to find the stripper, still wearing black pants and no shirt or glasses, and the other guy, holding the boom box.
“What's wrong?” The other guy had a nice baritone voice.
She looked up at them both with a shrug. Another place and time, she might have thought her luck was continuing. Not now. “I hope you like stairwells. Because we're locked in one now.”