Nick leaned with his back against the bar but at a slight angle that gave him a view of the mirrored surface behind the bottles. Old habits he couldn’t get out of. He held his drink loosely, but not so loose that anyone could knock it out of his hands. He could see it at all times. Basic urban safety. Interesting how few people did that and still—in these days of drugs dropped into drinks—left their glasses on the tables so they could dance. Even left their jackets slung across the chairs behind them for the pickpockets and occasional thieves. His lip curled. Fucking idiots deserved what happened to them.
He turned his attention back to the stage. Naked women cavorted around their poles, their bare pussies rubbing against the metal surfaces in a way that made him think about hygiene, not sex.
Too many clubs, too many women. Story of his life. He grinned mirthlessly. Poor baby.
He could hear his brother’s amused voice in his head, even though he hadn’t set eyes on Larry for four years. Nearly five, now. He’d done what he had to in order to get food and later, to survive in one of the worst areas in Britain. He’d got good at it too.
All gone, all in the past. Except in his mind, where his old life existed as vividly as it ever had. Larry and him against the world, running through the streets, beating the other gangs, going for the top of their particular stinking pile of shit. Nick missed his brother so much that an aching void opened inside him every time he thought of him. But he couldn’t contact him, couldn’t risk it until he knew he was free and clear of the contagion that had followed him halfway across the world, here to New York City.
Perhaps he’d find someone to help fill the void, at least temporarily.
He took another visual pass and returned his attention to the woman he’d noticed the minute he’d settled against the bar. She’d taken the same position as him, except she’d chosen to perch on one of the high bar stools. She held a brightly colored drink in one hand, and to his practiced eyes, it looked virtually untouched. She’d had it in her hand for an hour, ever since she got here.
Interesting. So was she. Gorgeous legs, encased in silky hose, one foot propped against the rung of the bar stool, the other on the floor. Shoes with three-inch heels, not too extreme, but enough to showcase those slinky limbs.
The owner had done a great job of making the club female friendly without deterring the regulars who wanted to relax and watch a few strippers do their stuff. Down here the stripping tended to the burlesque, with tassels, corsets and the like, although they did get naked eventually. If the women who came here could handle men hitting on them at regular intervals, this was a good, reasonably priced place to get a drink in the early hours of the morning. Here in New York, where the city never slept, there were always women looking for a drink. Like this one. For the first time since he’d started coming here, Nick’s interest piqued.
Her dark red dress skimmed her curves, but didn’t mold them too tightly, hinting at tantalizing secrets instead of displaying her wares. Her body was the kind to attract the connoisseur, not the person avidly searching for sex at any cost.
“She’s not a hooker, in case you’re wondering.” He’d been aware of the approach of Odell Prejean, the owner of Bared. He trusted Odell and allowed him to get close.
Since the club had become a place for the avant-garde, Odell had kept the working girls out. “I know. You keep them out pretty effectively. The female punters don’t appreciate the competition.” He kept his voice low, below the loud music.
Odell flashed him a grin. “Punters? You are so fucking British, man.”
Nick shrugged. “Ordinary joes. Customers. Do you know her?”
“Nope, first visit tonight,” Odell said. He nodded to the barman, who reached under the counter for his bottle of VSOP cognac.
Odell poured a generous dose of cognac into a clean glass and offered it to Nick. He took the liquor with thanks, inhaling the fragrant distillation. “Where did you get the taste for this stuff?”
“In da ghetto?” Odell suggested.
Nick gave a derisory laugh, matching the gleam in Odell’s eyes. “Don’t kid a kidder. You’ve no more been near the ghetto than I’ve been to Seattle.”
While he chatted with Odell, he kept his attention on the woman. She watched the crowd as if waiting for someone or something to happen. He scanned the club again through narrowed eyes. He couldn’t see anything amiss, and if he couldn’t and neither could Odell, chances were there was nothing to see. “Think she’s waiting for a date?”
“Maybe.” Odell shrugged. “Do you want her? I can get her for you. Every woman has her price.”
but he wouldn’t need any help. Either she’d want him or she wouldn’t. He didn’t need a mediator.
She slid off the stool, and the sinuous, graceful movement sent his cock stirring, surprising Nick, because the old boy hadn’t shown interest in a random woman for some time now. He should have expected its resurgence, he reflected with a wry grin. Working on his doctoral thesis had left little time for socializing, and he hadn’t fucked a woman for—shit, months.
This was one prime specimen of womanhood. Maybe time to break his self-imposed celibacy.
When he tried tilting his glass at her, she ignored his salute. He shrugged. That suited him fine. He’d drink up and go home. Maybe he’d just walk. Then finally he might get some sleep. He never slept well.
With the honed instincts of a long-time streetwise operator, he sensed trouble. She was waiting for something to happen or someone to arrive, and everything she did convinced him that she didn’t want to be here. “Watch yourself, my son,” he murmured to Odell. “There could be trouble ahead.”
“Don’t worry,” Odell said sotto voce. “I arranged a webcam just for her. And a bouncer too.” He nodded at one of the men propping up the walls. Although they didn’t wear monkey suits and weren’t standing with arms folded like the doormen, they were, to Nick’s eyes, just as obvious. “She’s probably vice. They come here from time to time, to try to catch us. Watch Freda and Alberto blow her mind. They get as close to the line as they can.”
Nick pursed his lips in a soundless whistle and changed his mind about leaving. Freda and Alberto were worth hanging on for. “I didn’t think this was their night.”
Odell shrugged. “It is now.”
“If she orders a raid, I want out the back.”
Odell chuckled. “Can’t take the heat?”
“Something like that.” Keeping below the radar was an art, and Nick didn’t exactly need Odell’s help to get out of here if the cops moved in. He knew all the private exits.
He might need it with Freda and Alberto. They could raise the fucking dead, and their act frequently skirted legality, but they did it with artistry and style. Upstairs in the private rooms, legality didn’t have a meaning, but down here the club kept to the letter of the law. No physical contact with the customers, no penetration of anything with anything. The dancers concentrated on the dancing and wore inventive, sexy costumes for most of their acts. Most.
The lights on the stage area changed to blues and greens, and the dancers collected their tips and slid away. The poles slid away too, into the area below the stage, leaving an unimpeded view and an empty space. An air of anticipation filled the club, and the lights flashed up the names of the performers. This was one reason the club was so popular. Odell must be paying a fortune to keep them here, because they were truly talented and other places were constantly trying to poach them.
Freda and Alberto had many different acts and different moods. This time they were tango dancers.
Freda was a beautiful, full-figured woman with tits any woman would kill for. As far as Nick knew, she hadn’t had significant surgery done, which enhanced her beauty to him. Tonight she wore a knee-length dress in a pale color. Lavender, Nick thought, although it was hard to tell under the colored lights. The slit up one side from knee to hip flashed a string of underwear underneath when she moved. Her black hair swung down to her waist, loose and straight but tousled. Her feet were clad in crazy high-heeled shoes. It must be like walking on stilts, teetering on those things, and this woman danced in them. Shit, could she dance.
Alberto was about an inch or two taller than his partner in her stupid shoes. He wore black pants and a white shirt, the top couple of buttons open, his long black hair caught back so that the front strained against his forehead.
They danced. The tango had to be sexy enough clothed—Nick wouldn’t know; he didn’t waste his time watching it—but this was almost unbearably erotic.
After a few tense turns around the small stage, her partner unzipped her dress right down the back in a movement that appeared more like he was ripping the garment off her. She gave a careless shrug to let it fall to the floor.
Fuck, she was built. They’d sprayed or polished their skin so the planes of their bodies gleamed as the lights changed from the cold end of the spectrum to the warm. Heat played over them. Alberto stripped off his shirt like a matador’s cape and flung it away as if it offended him. They approached each other like enemies who couldn’t stay away, their bodies sliding together, then separating. He had only his pants on now, and she wore an opaque black bra that hoisted her breasts up to twin plump temptations, and a black thong, her buttocks clenching as she slid his fabric-covered thigh between hers and he lifted her into the air, whirling her around. Her red-painted nails dug into his biceps, and Alberto responded by unclipping her bra.
The garment lasted a few more moves, and then she arched back, away from him, and it slid down her arms, exposing her top half.
Alberto spun Freda around so her back was to his front, and he cradled her breasts in his hands before lifting her once more and swinging her around. She let her hair trail over his chest, strands clinging to his arms. Her nipples were brown and hard, evidence that this wasn’t just a show for them. Or seemingly so, Nick thought cynically.
Alberto lifted his arms, and she hung on while he twisted and turned her, displaying her body perfectly. When he put her down, he tugged the front of her panties and ripped them away. Now she was naked. She bent, legs open, flaunting her bare pussy and backside to the audience while she unzipped and slid his pants down, a supplicant to him.
Alberto wore the least he could get away with, a barely there pouch that covered his erect and impressive cock, the fabric so fine it might as well not have been there.
Nick glanced at the woman at the other end of the bar to see how she was enjoying the show. Good though Freda and Alberto were, he’d seen them already. He hadn’t seen this woman’s reaction before, and he intended to enjoy it.
The light was clearer here, the extra spots behind the bar illuminating the people near it. He didn’t miss the flush that had risen to her cheeks, emphasizing her high cheekbones and fine features. Until now, the act had done nothing but engage his admiration. That was before he’d looked at the woman in the dark red dress. He saw the distinct shape of her erect nipples under the silk, and she’d crossed her legs, probably to squeeze them together and bring her pussy some relief. When she got home, would she use an aid or just her fingers to bring herself to orgasm? His mouth watered as he imagined watching her doing it, watching with her acceptance. She’d glance at him to ensure his complete attention, and hold his gaze while she worked herself in the way she liked best to climax.
Nick’s cock rose, filling and pressing against the zipper of his pants. Instead of hiding it, he leaned back against the bar, resting both elbows on the wooden surface behind him. The action pushed his pelvis forward so he displayed his shaft like a fighting cock putting up its ruff. She could look if she wanted to. He invited it. He wasn’t ashamed of what he owned and what he could do with it. He wanted to see her reaction to that too. Women usually teased men. No reason he couldn’t turn that around and make her suffer a little bit.
As if she couldn’t prevent herself doing it, her avid gaze crept down his body, arousing him to a point he hadn’t experienced recently. All without touching him. He’d let her stroke him, circle the base of his cock with her hands, and finally take it into her mouth.
Then he’d pull away, taunt her for a while before letting her back. Drive them both crazy. Mmm, nice.
Too close. His breath short, Nick tore his attention away from the temptress at the bar and back to the couple on the stage who were now doing what they did best. This he could cope with. Moody Argentinian accordions played in the background as Freda slid down her partner’s powerfully built form. She paused to run her wicked fingernails over his cock, clawing her fingers to score the sensitive skin under the thin fabric.
Alberto pulled her away, and she panted, opened her mouth, but he brought her up and kissed her, an openmouthed kiss, their tongues exploring each other.
Nick breathed in deeply, reached for his drink, changed his mind. He hadn’t watched the glass closely enough. Onstage, Alberto brought Freda down on his cock, and they turned the dance into a long and sinuous bout of simulated sex.
Giving the woman at the bar something to think about. Under control again, Nick dared another look, just as she did exactly the same thing.
Eye contact. Sizzling. Fuck, he could get something really interesting going with her. Fill a few empty hours. If she felt the same, then they were on.
This time he smiled, feeling his lips curve and his eyelids droop into a sensuous invitation that was hers to accept. If she did, he’d have her tonight. Somewhere. Maybe one of the party rooms. Maybe somewhere else. Not his apartment, though. He kept his private rooms private. He’d spent enough years in shared spaces to value his privacy once he’d achieved it.
While the couple on the stage bumped and ground, twisted their dancer’s bodies into impossible contortions, Nick found the cautious glance of the woman at the bar more of a turn-on than anything Freda and Alberto could show him. He was one of the few men in the club who usually finished watching this act without a hard-on tenting his pants. But this wasn’t usual.
He moved so he could see the woman in red with his peripheral vision and still keep his attention on the action on the stage. Less because he was desperate to see it, more because he wanted to see her reaction to it.
He was right. When she thought he wasn’t watching, she shifted, working her thighs over what Nick guessed was an active pussy. Her clit would be full and plump, the color of her slit richer, pinker than normal. Fuck, yeah.
Her breasts moved, enough to tell him she was wearing a bra, but maybe one of those half-cup things, because he could see her nipples as if she wasn’t wearing anything under her dress. Although she hardly moved at all, that slight shift sent his imagination soaring.
Onstage, Freda worked her body over Alberto’s cock. The man had a great arse, rounded and currently taut with tension. His arms, roped with muscle, strained to hold his partner steady while she worked him. Nick had no idea if Freda and Alberto were partners in real life, but they fit together perfectly onstage. If they weren’t lovers now, they had been in the past. They knew each other’s bodies too well.
Freda and Alberto exited the stage to waves of enthusiastic applause. The poles glided back up, and the girls returned, this time dressed. They’d dance for a while in the fancy underwear that passed as clothes onstage. Then they’d do slow strips, but coordinate with one another so they weren’t all taking their clothes off at the same time.
They didn’t twist and turn with that bored, don’t-want-to-be-here expression on their faces, or the stoned-to-the-eyeballs one he’d seen in similar places. This was a classy joint. Men could bring their women here to learn a few tips. Odell even let the girls run pole-dancing classes in the daytime. Lap dances were with thongs on and no touching. About as straight as these places got these days, although Nick didn’t for one minute assume that everything was on the level here. He’d run a few clubs himself in his time. No more, though. Keeping his head down was the best he could do. In the strange limbo between illegal and going straight, Nick was a hybrid of two spheres—the academic and the underworld. A natural chameleon, he adapted to fit his surroundings.
“Do you plan to talk to her?” Odell asked him.
“Hell, yeah.” No coy pickup line either. No point. He knew what she wanted, and he’d shown her what he could offer her.
“Ask her if she wants a job. If she does for the clients what she’s done for you, she’s got something special. I’ll give her an audition.”
Strangely, anger simmered deep inside Nick, an emotion that didn’t get much exercise these days. He wanted to protect her. Oh, he knew all about protecting his assets, and sometimes in the past that had included women, but this was far more personal, leaving him oddly vulnerable. Used to brushing his finer feelings aside, Nick ignored the urge and grinned at Odell. “I can ask.”
Lights flashed across his face from the swinging lamps that sent colors rippling over the club, and as he turned away to put his drink on the bar, he saw it.
The guy standing next to her, ostensibly waiting for his drink was tipping something into her drink, a clear liquid from a tiny vial. He’d have missed it, but the light glinted on the glass just as Nick turned his head.
In a movement so efficient that most people in the club wouldn’t notice anything wrong, he left his spot and took a couple of long strides so he could clamp his hand over the bastard’s wrist. The guy jerked his elbow back, trying to slam it into Nick’s stomach. Like he wouldn’t be ready for that one. Nick turned to one side, still with his hand over the wrist, and applied pressure, finding the nerve and pinching it. He felt rather than heard the man’s low cry of pain. Nick gave him another squeeze, just to get his point across.
The woman stared at him, her shocked eyes dark and wide in the dim lighting. Odell must have had the strafing lights redirected and the bar lights dimmed, or one of his staff did. Good thinking.
He cursed the necessity of making this move. He’d been so careful to keep a low profile in this place, but now Odell knew for sure that he could take care of himself, and a little more. Couldn’t be helped.
He turned his attention to the would-be attacker. Picking up the bright blue drink the woman had put on the bar at some point, he shoved it at the bastard. “Drink it.”