Lover Undercover
Author:Samanthe Beck

chapter Seven

“Snowflake, you’re not pregnant, are you?” Ginger crouched close and draped a cool, damp towel across the back of Kylie’s neck. Arm braced on the rim of the waste can, Kylie raised her head and looked at the women gathered around. Ariana handed her a bottle of water. Lee Ann took her hand and tipped some breath mints into her palm. Her gaze swung to Ginger. She sipped the water, tossed the mints in her mouth, and said, “No. I’m not pregnant.”

“Something you ate?” Lee Ann drawled sympathetically.

“I’m sure it’s nothing. I’ve just been under a lot of stress lately.”

“I know, sugar, stumbling on poor old Carlton, dead in the parking lot. We’re all queasy about that.”

“You all need to be careful.” Kylie gave each woman a serious look. “The police don’t know who killed Carlton, but they think it might have been another customer or even someone who works here. Please keep your eyes open. Look after yourselves and don’t take any risks.”

“Always,” Ginger said. “But that’s not what’s got your head in the trash, is it? I’m guessing the cause is about six feet two inches of suited-up sexy. Your private dance?”

She sucked in a breath, coughed, and swallowed the mint lodged in her throat. “No.”

“Oh, Snowflake.” Ginger laughed. “You’re falling for a client.”

“I’m not.”

“You are. You’re all tied in knots over him. It’s so not like you,” Ginger insisted.

“Yes,” Ariana seconded. “You have been different, ever since the first night he came in. He likes you so much he comes every night you dance. You get nervous.” She smiled and nodded. “You like him, too.”

Lee Ann sighed. “So ro-mayn-tic!”

“It’s not like that,” she protested. Feeling trapped under the weight of three sets of eyes, she sprang to her feet and grabbed her lockbox and started counting bills and calculating her tip-out. “He’s totally buttoned-down and…traditional. For him, I’m a temporary diversion. Stripper and client?” She shook her head and forced a hollow laugh. “That kind of thing never works.”

“You do not know,” Ariana disagreed, and patted her shoulder as she passed by on her way out of the dressing room.

“That’s right, sugar. Never say never. A friend of mine at a different club knows a dancer who landed one of her VIP clients. Now she’s a housewife in Palo Alto,” Lee Ann finished dreamily, and followed Ariana out the door.

Kylie rolled her eyes, whisked the fifty-dollar bill from her thong, and tossed it in her pile. A manicured hand reached over and pulled the bill out. Irritated, she looked up at Ginger.

“Don’t include this in your tip-out,” the redhead said. Nodding her head to the pile of bills, she added, “That’s business. This”—she flicked the fifty—“was personal—a gift.”

Kylie arched an eyebrow. “You, too?”

Ginger shrugged and dropped the fifty on Stacy’s vanity. “What? I like ro-may-ance as much as the next girl.”

Me, too, she thought sadly as she watched Ginger leave. Unfortunately, “romantic” didn’t really describe the current situation. Dirty dancing for a hot cop who would probably toss her in jail and throw away the key if he knew she’d lied about her identity and impeded his investigation? Not romantic. Try scary, dangerous, reckless.

You’re falling for him.

Okay, yes, the girls were right. The feeling went beyond attraction and into something deeper and far more elemental. But finding it now, with Trevor, didn’t help her predicament. It made already-difficult circumstances darn near impossible.

The dancing was hard, but not as hard as she’d first imagined. Self-consciousness faded after a while because the customers didn’t really see her, they saw a willing canvas upon which they projected their own fantasies. Dancing at Deuces equated to a strange Halloween party. She wore a costume and pretended to be something she wasn’t. And everyone more or less bought the pretense, except Trevor.

He’d seen through her act right from the start. Looked at her, looked for her, and seemed genuinely intrigued by what he found, instead of projecting an identity or expectation onto her. A thrilling and unnerving experience, that. Especially for someone who so often faded into the shadows cast by her wilder, more outrageous twin.

Of course, Trevor thought she was Stacy. In a bizarre way, her sister still held the spotlight, even with a guy she’d never technically met. Kylie wondered how much of Trevor’s interest really stemmed from the “Stacy” role she was playing rather than herself.

Her shoulders slumped. No way to know. Maybe this was why all the experts warned about founding a relationship on a lie?

He sensed the lie. That much she knew. She might intrigue him, even attract him, but he didn’t trust her. And while everything inside her yearned to come clean—to trust him with their secret—she couldn’t confess without breaking her word to Stacy.

Her phone rang. She dug in her bag until she found it, and checked the caller ID. Speak of the devil.

“Hi, Stacy.”

“God, you sound like you just learned there’s no such thing as Santa. What’s wrong? Slow night?”

“No, actually it was busy. I’m just tired, I guess.”

“Yeah, but even so, Ky, it’s not like you to sound so depressed. It’s freaking me out. You’re normally Miss Zen and Centered, even lately, with the cops and all. What’s put you in such a dark place?”

“I don’t know,” she said evasively, then felt bad. Stacy was usually too busy with her own dramas to notice anyone else’s. She must really be worried in order to ask twice. Maybe the time had come to confide in her twin for a change? Kylie sighed. “I’ve been feeling some things, and, um, wanting some things I really shouldn’t—”

“Hot damn, it’s finally happened. Saint Kylie’s thinking about having sex, aren’t you?”

She blinked. Leave it to Stacy to home in on the hormones and ignore the emotions. “It’s more than just sex.”

“Please don’t tell me you’re getting hung up on someone at Deuces.” Her sister’s words conveyed genuine dismay.

“He’s not really part of the Deuces scene. Not normally, anyway.”

“Oh, Kylie.” Stacy’s voice dropped to a horrified whisper. “Not the cop. Have you lost your mind?”

Kylie shut her eyes. “Maybe.” More to herself than Stacy, she groaned, “What am I going to do?”

“Ugh! You need to do the deed and get him out of your system,” Stacy stated firmly.

“You think so?” It sounded risky. What if “doing the deed” had the opposite effect, and instead of getting Trevor out of her system, she grew even more attached?

“I know so. Chemistry screws up your brain sometimes, and makes you think you’ve found a soul mate instead of a playmate. As soon as you give this cop a tumble, satisfy the itch, you’ll start to lose interest. Once, twice—sometimes the third time’s the charm—but trust me, you’ll work him completely out of your head. I’m kind of an expert in this area.”

She couldn’t argue.

“Come home and let’s talk,” Stacy urged. “I’ll help you solve a problem for a change.”

“There goes your girl,” Ian observed from across the table. Trevor stared out the window of the all-night diner across the street from Deuces, and watched the yellow Bug zip down Sunset. He tracked her until the taillights disappeared into the kaleidoscope of lights on the strip. What was she thinking right now?

Turning back to Ian, he said, “Yep.”

“Any impressions from tonight?”

“My impression is…we’ve got a problem.”

“Yeah, like two dead guys, and no suspects. I’ve never seen such clean backgrounds in my life. None of her regular customers or any of the long-term employees has significant priors. Hernandez and I interviewed them, but nobody pops. Either the alibis hold or there’s just nothing in their demeanor or responses that raises any suspicions. Kinda hard to know where to focus.”

“I know. Ramon might be our guy. His alibi doesn’t clear him. He could have made it to Deuces in time to off Long if every single thing went exactly his way, but—”

“But if he had that kind of mastery over the space-time continuum, he wouldn’t be working as a bouncer.”

Trevor couldn’t help but smile, despite the depressing lack of leads. “I’m still leaning toward an employee rather than a client, because of the timing of the attacks. Our guy knows when to strike so nobody will see him. To me, that says employee.”

“Me, too. I like the bartender.”

“Gary Swinton?”

“Yeah. He comes across as pretty laid-back, but the dancers say he hits on them constantly, despite being told to cut it out. Size-wise, he’s up to the job. Plus, you know, the killer seemed to know both men were good and drunk, and a bartender would be aware of exactly how much they’d ordered. Finally, forensics says the initial head blow looks to be from a liquor bottle…”

“So, you’re guessing the bartender, in the parking lot, with the vodka bottle?”

Ian grinned. “Yep. And you?”

Trevor shrugged. “I don’t know. Could be Benny. Could be Vern.”

“Vern?” Ian’s voice rang with skepticism. “He’s kind of a geezer for this type of crime, don’t you think?”

“Statistically speaking, yeah. But he’s in good shape for a guy in his midfifties. His build, his knowledge of the clients and their disruptive incidents, all support the theory.”

“Maybe, but I don’t get the sense he’s inappropriately interested in any of the dancers, including Stacy. He’s interested in them making money for the club, and that’s about it. Now Benny, he’s definitely got the size and strength. But his biggest muscle is not the one between his ears.”

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to lie in wait, club someone on the head, and then beat them to a pulp.”

“True. Whenever you’ve pushed his buttons during any of the private dances though, he’s never really lost his cool. Do you think he’s got the unbridled temper and…I don’t know…inherent violence this type of crime requires?”

“Not sure.” Trevor ran a hand through his hair, trying to stimulate his sluggish brain. “I do know what we’ve done so far isn’t working, in terms of forcing our guy out of the shadows.”

“You don’t think continuing to pose as a difficult customer will inspire the killer to make a move?”

“It hasn’t so far. That’s our second problem. I need to be more than just a difficult customer. Long pulled Stacy offstage and sprained her ankle. Montenegro slapped her—”

“On her superior posterior.”

“Right.” He shook his head. “I can’t do anything physical like that.” Kiss her, touch her, let her drive him right out of his mind? No problem. There were rules, and then there were rules.

“Not for real. But can’t you and Stacy put on a show? Down a few shots, and then get in her face and start yelling. She shoves you, you shove her back.”

He spread his hands out on the table, palms down, and shook his head again. “Stacy’s another problem. She won’t cooperate.”

Ian’s brows knitted. “Why not? Is she worried about her safety?”

“More worried about mine, I’d say.”

“What? She’s met you. More importantly, she’s met me. How can she possibly worry knowing I’m watching your back? Did you tell her what an amazing partner I am?”

He hid his smile behind a sip of coffee. “I’ll have to work on her.” Thinking a moment, he added, “Maybe create an opportunity, too. Tomorrow night I’ll hang out after closing and drive her home.”

“What if she says no?”

“She won’t. I’ll tell her I need to speak with her about the investigation, which is true.”

“So, you think her self-appointed protector will watch you two leave together and the sight will push him over the edge?”

“Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. But somebody always walks the girls to their cars, so at least one person from Deuces will see us leave together. According to Vern, Stacy doesn’t hook up with customers, so word of her breaking tradition should spread pretty quickly. If the killer doesn’t see us tomorrow night, possibly he’ll hear something through the grapevine. That alone might be enough to compel this guy to make a move on me. Especially if I can convince Stacy to come in to work on Saturday and tell everyone I turned out to be a prick. Then, if I show up Saturday night and cause even a hint of trouble, our killer’s not going to have a choice. He’ll have to take me out.”

“Could work,” Ian agreed. Then his lips curled into a lazy grin. “You know, for someone getting a private dance every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, you’re in an awfully big hurry to close this case.”

“Yeah, well, that’s a problem, too.”

Ian’s easy laugh rolled out. “She is one very sexy girl. Anytime you want to trade places, let me know.”

“Dream on.”

“Oh, I do. Believe me, I do.”

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