His Southern Temptation(2)

By: Robin Covington

“Time’s up.” Ebony focused on a spot over his shoulder as she shot off his lap and started backing toward the opening in the curtain surrounding the space. She hadn’t even asked him for her money. One glance at her face and he knew why—she was scared shitless. “No more questions. I already ran my mouth too much.”

“Hey, wait. Who’s this other guy?” He never took his eyes off her as he drew out his wallet and pulled out the money. He kept his movement loose, always mindful that pervy Big Brother was watching. “There’s another twenty in it for you.”

Ebony cast another worried glance at the place over his shoulder. He fought the urge to turn and confirm that the camera was located there.

“Look, just give me my money and leave me alone.” Ebony scrabbled for the bills, dropping a couple in her haste to get out of this room. She hissed up at him as she bent over to retrieve the cash. “I already told you too much, and these people don’t joke about getting even. Look what happened to Sarah.”

“Wait.” Lucky reached out to grab her arm, but she was fast, pushing back the curtain and letting in the sickly glow from the tacky stage lights and the full brunt of the terrible eighties hair band music blaring out from the crappy sound system. In a flash, she disappeared behind a door marked EMPLOYEES ONLY—the one place he couldn’t go if he wanted to keep this low-key. Her quick departure had already drawn stares and smirks, so he let her go.

“Shit.” Lucky wove through the crowd. It was Friday, and many of the local losers who couldn’t get a woman unless they paid her were lined up to spend their paychecks. He ignored the glares from some of the men when he had to shove to get past them. They were all drunk enough that he could take them in a fight, but that didn’t fit in with the plan to blend in with the crowd. Spying Jack Cantrell sitting at a table wedged into the back of the room, he slid into the seat next to him, taking the beer he offered.

“Remind me to tell you to fuck off the next time you say a case is going to be easy,” Lucky grumbled as he took a swig of his brew.

Jack laughed, his eyes scanning the crowd like the ex-FBI agent he was. “You jumped at this case, asshole. As I recall the situation, I was prepared to decline when you said Mrs. Morgan was so pitiful and then offered to do it for free.”

“Well, then I should kick your ass for not talking me out of it.”

“You know you’re covered in stripper body glitter, right?” Jack asked, the beer bottle tipped up to his lips not quite covering the shit-eating grin.

Lucky looked down. His dark T-shirt was covered in smudges of sparkly dust. He rubbed at his chest and only succeeded in expanding the artificial galaxy around more of the cloth and getting it all over his fingers.

“Damn it, Jack. Next time you’re getting the lap dance.”

“Hell, no. Kayla would kill me. Or worse…she’d cut me off. I’m still getting newlywed sex and that would be a real shame.” Jack snickered, barely stifling the gut-busting laugh, but unable to stop his shoulders from shaking from the effort. He reached a hand up, his finger pointing to Lucky’s chin. “You’ve got it on your face.”

Lucky swatted the hand away, swiping his own fingers across his cheek and groaning at the extra glitter now on his digits. “Damn it. I’m done. Let’s get out of here.”

Lucky shoved his empty beer bottle away from the edge of the table and motioned for them to leave. Jack stood with him, pushing through the crowd and the stifling haze of sweat, beer, and too much Old Spice. The door swinging shut behind them was like a portal to another dimension, one where the summer air was humid but clean, and the thrumming beat of bad stripper music was second to the chirp of the cicadas.

It took a minute for Lucky’s eyes and ears to adjust to the sudden change, but he was alert to any unseen company hidden in the shadows of the parking lot. The gravel yard would be empty until the drunks inside had one too many and came outside to prove their manhood by busting each other’s heads open on the hard ground.

“I take it your little private-room interrogation didn’t go well?” Jack asked, his gaze curious. “Ms. Ebony didn’t fall for your many charms?’

“Hardly.” Lucky scanned the lot, making sure they were really alone before he started talking about something that could get his reluctant informant in trouble with her boss. He remembered her mention of a little girl, and he didn’t want to be the one who cost her the job.

“Ebony freaked out and bolted, but she did give me some new info before she took off. Here’s the big news. Sarah Morgan was sleeping with Bodean.”