Johnnie Riggs was a night owl. Tonight he sat at a table at
the Kitty Cat Club on Sunset Boulevard, watching a little
blonde pole dancer with the hottest body he'd ever seen
and trying like hell not to get an erection.
He reached for the Bud Light sitting in front of him, took a
swallow and set the barely touched bottle back down on the
table. He wasn't there to get drunk. He wasn't there
to get turned on by some sexy little piece of fluff.
He was there to make a collar and a nice chunk of change.
A former Army Ranger with a P.I.'s license, Johnnie
spent most of his time in the bars and clubs of Los Angeles,
digging up information for clients who could afford his
fees. And the occasional recovery job, if the money was high
He glanced around the club, one of the better run strip
joints in the area, a place an out-of-town businessman could
go for a little harmless fun and not feel like he was about
to get mugged when he walked outside to catch a cab.
Johnnie knew the owner, a guy named Tate Watters, a
reasonable sort who ran a clean operation. Tate knew Johnnie
was there to collect a skip, but Tate was a stand-up guy who
did his best to stay on the right side of the law, and
having a pervert aroundJohnnie's
targetwasn't good for business.
It was dark inside the club except for the neon beer signs
behind the bar and the soft glow of lights over gilt-framed
photos of nineteen-fifties strippers that hung on the walls.
A row of colored spotlights lit the woman performing onstage.
The place smelled like stale beer and cheap perfume, and
rock music hid the sound of clinking bar glasses and the
heavy breathing of the men. Customers sat in the darkness at
small round tables sipping whiskey or beer, staring toward
the entertainment with big smiles on their faces.
Johnnie didn't blame them. He'd be wearing a big
smile, too, along with a raging hard-on if he wasn't
there on business.
He watched the woman on the stage. She was twenty-five or
-six, a pretty little exotic dancer wearing nothing but red
sequined pasties and a matching G-string. She wasn't
just petite, she was dainty, little more than five feet
tall, with the shiniest, straightest, long blond hair
he'd ever seen. Short bangs fluttered across her
forehead above a pair of blue eyes that made him shift in
his seat against his growing arousal, and muttering a curse
between his teeth.
The music played, the beat steady, loud and erotic. She
raised a red spike heel, wrapped her calf around the pole
and slid up, then sank back down, rubbing the pole between
her pale, perfectly proportioned legs. He felt a tug in his
gut so strong he had to shove back his chair and get up from
the table. Grabbing his beer bottle, he walked to the back
of the club where he could survey the room and put a little
more distance between him and the scrumptious piece of ass
on the stage.
He scanned the patrons, keeping a careful watch for his target.
Earlier in the week, he'd gotten a call from his Ranger
buddy in Houston. Trace Rawlins owned a security firm with
branches in Houston and Dallas. In the years since
they'd left the army, they had worked together a dozen
times, most recently on an abduction case that had led them
According to Trace, a guy named Ray Carroll had jumped bail
and was on the run. Rumor was he had friends in L.A. and
odds were good that was where he had gone to ground. Good
ol' Ray had been arrested for possession and trafficking
in child pornographythe lowest of the low as far as
Johnnie was concerned. He would have taken the guy down for
free if he'd had to, which fortunately he didn't.
The case was interesting because Ray was the grandson of the
late Texas oil billionaire, C. P. Carroll. C.P.'s widow
was filthy rich and she doted on her grandson, which, with
that kind of money at his disposal, made Ray a flight risk.
His bail had been set at a half-million dollars, which his
grandmother had posted.
But Ray had taken off for parts unknown, leaving grandma on
the hook for a boatload of money if her boy wasn't
caught and brought back to appear in court. For ten percent
of the bail fee, a cool fifty thou less a referral fee to
Trace, Johnnie had agreed to find him. Surprisingly, once
he'd started digging, narrowing his search hadn't
been all that hard.
Since leopards didn't change their spots and jackals
like Ray were fairly predictable, it didn't take long to
find out that Carroll hung out in the local strip clubs.
The Kitty Cat was his favorite. According to the bartender
who ID'd the photo Johnnie had shown him, a guy calling
himself Ray Conners had been in the club both Wednesday and
Thursday nights. Johnnie had come in on Friday and again
tonight but so far hadn't seen any sign of him. Not
The black padded vinyl front door swung open, letting a thin
slice of street noise into the club. Recalling the photo,
Johnnie recognized Ray Carroll as he ambled over to the bar.
He was an average-looking forty-year-old, with thinning
brown hair and the kind of greasy smile you'd expect to
see on a creep like him. He sat down on one of the black
vinyl bar stools, and the bartender, a tall, spare,
good-looking Hispanic guy named Dante, flashed Johnnie a
heads-up glance before taking Ray's drink order, a
double Grey Goose martini on the rocks.
A cocktail waitress walked past. The girls who performed
also served drinks, though for that they wore a few more
clothes. This one, a brunette, was tall and svelte, dressed
in a little blue satin two-piece number, the bottom cut high
on the sides, a built-in push-up bra shoving her heavy
cleavage nearly over the top. Not indecent, but definitely
less than the old bunny outfits they wore at the Playboy Club.
Johnnie sipped his beer, his attention fixed on Ray, who
stared with fascination toward the stage. The dancer, Angel
Fontaine, being not much bigger than a kid, was Ray's
favorite according to Dante. He watched as she dipped and
swayed to the music, the red sequins on her nipples flashing
in the spotlight, the light changing color to the rhythm of
Johnnie tried to look away, but found himself as mesmerized
as the drunks at the tables. Like the rest of her body, her
breasts were perfectly formed, not too large, not too small
and tilted provocatively upward.
Her face wasn't perfect, he had finally gotten around to
noticing. Her mouth was a little too wide, making her pouty
lips a little too pronounced. Her cheeks were as flawless as
rose petals but her chin was a little too pointy.
She was the sexiest woman Johnnie had ever seen.
She turned, thrust her pale, luscious ass into the air and
wiggled it suggestively, and his groin tightened. If he
didn't make his move soon, he wouldn't be able to
walk, let alone make a collar.
Ray came off his stool just then and started toward the
stage. Johnnie noticed the folded dollar bills in one hand
as he approached the little blonde.
Another man beat Ray to her, leaning over and stuffing a
ten-dollar bill into Angel's sequined G-string, the
scrap of red barely covering the spot every guy in the place
dreamed of touching. Angel whirled away from him and smiled,
mouthing a thank-you. When she turned her back, raised her
arms above her head and began swaying to the hard rock beat,
another man stuffed a bill into the glittering strip of red
around her waist above that sweet little ass.
Ray moved closer, hovering as Angel approached the edge of
the stage. He leaned toward her, stuffed the money into her
G-string. He was grinning when he turned away, his mind on
pussy instead of escape.
Johnnie made his move, slamming into Carroll, knocking him
over an empty table, both of them crashing to the floor. Ray
struggled as Johnnie caught his arm, cranked it behind his
back, lifted and hauled him to his feet. Johnnie caught
sight of the club's big Asian bouncer moving toward
them, but he didn't seem to be in much of a hurry. Guess
he'd got word about the pervert, too.
Carroll squirmed in his grasp. "What the fuck? Who the
hell are you?"
"I'm your worst nightmare," Johnnie said,
cranking the arm a little higher, eliciting a satisfying
grunt of pain. "I'm the guy who's gonna make
sure you get back to Houston safe and sound." Ray
stumbled a couple of times as Johnnie's heavy frame
propelled him forward, slamming him into the wall beside the
door. "I'm the guy who's gonna put your sorry,
sick ass back in jail."
The moment the song ended and she stepped down from the
stage, Amy started to tremble. Angel, she reminded
herself. Angel, not Amy.
"You okay?" Her roommate walked toward her, Babs
McClure, Sugar Babs, she used as her stage name. She was
five foot seven with a curvy figure and chin-length dark
brown hair she sometimes covered with a hot-pink wig.
Amy managed to nod. "I will be in a minute." It was
one thing to be out there beneath the spotlights, dancing
almost naked as Angel Fontaine, another entirely to be just
a normal woman again. Onstage, she could fool herself into
thinking she was Angel, a woman who enjoyed every
catcall, every wolf whistle from the men she danced in front
of without her clothes. An illusion she worked tirelessly to
But it didn't last long once she stepped out of the
"That was quite a scene." Babs cocked her head
toward the side door where the brawny, dark-haired man had
just hauled a scummy-looking customer out of the club.
Amy followed Babs's gaze. As if she hadn't noticed
the brawl just a few feet in front of the stage.
"Dante says the creep that guy busted is into kiddie
Amy shuddered. "He certainly looks the part." She
crossed the backstage area and started up the stairs leading
to the studio apartment she and Babs shared above the club.
"So I guess the other guy is a cop or something."
"Or something." Babs fell into step beside her,
pulled off her pink wig and ranked a hand through her dark
hair. "He was in here last night, too."
"I saw him."
Babs grinned. "Hard to miss a guy who looks like that."
Amy grinned back. "No kidding." Six feet of solid
muscle, barrel-chested with a thick neck and shoulders. As
he'd walkedmore like swaggeredtoward the
stage, she'd noticed a tattoo of an eagle on his very
impressive biceps. Every move he made spoke of power and
strength, and in a rugged, masculine way, he was handsome.
"I asked Tate about him," Babs said. "Says his
name is John Riggs. He's an ex-Army Ranger. Does P.I.
work and pretty much anything else he can make a buck
at." Babs rolled her eyes. "What a hunk."
Just hearing the words brought his image to mind: dark brown
hair and eyes such a deep brown they looked black, strong
jaw roughened by the shadow of a beard. He was the kind of
guy who should have Dangerous stamped on his forehead.
Amy's mind slipped back to her performance onstage and
the way he had looked at her, his eyes following her every
move. She had never felt a gaze so intense.
It was late, nearly closing. Amy blew out a breath, suddenly
"You look like you could use a cup of coffee," Babs
said as they reached the small apartment they shared and Amy
unlocked the door. There were other small apartments down
the hall, cheap places for the girls to live. "I put on
a fresh pot before I went downstairs."
"Sounds good." The rich aroma filled the room as she
stepped inside. She and Babs hadn't known each other
long yet Babs watched out for her. She was Amy's only
confidante, the only person who knew the truth, knew she
wasn't really an exotic dancer, had never done anything
in her entire life remotely as wild as what she was doing now.
She wasn't a stripper, a pole dancer, a lap dancer or
anything the least bit similar. She was a schoolteacher from
Michigan, a woman who had absolutely no business being naked
They crossed the studio apartment: two single beds, a
kitchenette, and a small living area with a sofa and chair.
Babs went to the kitchen counter and took down two mugs,
pouring coffee into each one. Amy grabbed her robe from the
hook beside the door, slipped it on and breathed a sigh of
relief once she was more decently covered. Babs was still
wearing her dark blue satin cocktail waitress costume, sexy
but no worse than the bikinis women wore on the beach.
She took the mug Babs held out to her and they carried them
over to the tiny round table in the corner.
"So what about the hunk?" Babs asked, watching her
over the rim of her cup.
Amy's blond brows went up. "What about him?"
"He was certainly giving you the eye."
Amy just shrugged. "When you're up there naked, they
all give you the eye."
"This was differentand don't tell me you
Oh, she'd noticed all right. She could feel the heat in
those dark eyes all the way across the room. It was what
that hot look did to her that was startling. The Kitty Cat
Club was filled with men every night. None of them made her
stomach flip the way a single look from John Riggs had. Two
nights in a row, he'd sat in the shadows watching, his
fierce gaze singularly focused on her. At the same time he
seemed aware of every other person in the room.
"He got his man tonight." Amy sighed. "We
won't be seeing him again."
Babs sipped her coffee. "Wanna bet?"
Amy glanced up. "You don't think he'll come back
because of me?"
"I've been doing this for almost three years, hon.
One thing you learn to recognize is when a man is
interested. And let me tell you, honey, John Riggs has a
major interest in you."
Her stomach contracted. If she closed her eyes, she could
almost feel the heat in those dark eyes burning into her.
"You're crazy. He was here on business, that's
Amy laughed. "You're on."