Copyright © January 2013, Kassanna
Cover art by Mina Carter © January 2013
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this novel are fictitious or used fictitiously. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
Sugar and Spice Press
North Carolina, USA
Fre threw her arm up above her head and swung it around before sliding her hand slowly down her body. She grabbed the metal pole and twirled around it. Then she started her climb up, using her arms to pull her along the rod. When she reached the top, she gripped the cold iron with her thighs. Fre extended her arms, waving them smoothly as she fell back.
She moved to the beat of the guitar strings being strummed in a discreet corner of the gentlemen’s club. She arched her body and took hold of the bar. Upside down, she unwrapped her legs from around post and did an inverted split. Twining one leg around the metal, she spun in a downward spiral and thrust out her other leg, flipping forward to land on her feet.
She rolled her hips, accentuating her strut with every step she took. All around her men whistled catcalls and waved bills hoping to catch her attention. Some tossed the funds on the stage as she strode by.
She ignored them, moved by the music, dancing for the pure freedom it provided. The tempo increased, and she adjusted her movements to keep in time with the beat. Fre thrust a leg out and bent to grab her ankle, jiggling her ass as she trailed her fingers up her calves. A man snatched at her foot, and she scrambled to move out of his reach, temporarily thrown off her rhythm. She glanced back at the overly enthusiastic patron and narrowed her eyes, dancing to the other side of the platform. As the song came to an end and the lights dimmed, she slowed her gyrations. When the club went dark she hastily picked up the tips scattered at her feet as she crossed the stage and eased down the stairs behind the curtain.
As she turned the corner in the hall that led to the dressing rooms, she grabbed her satin robe off the hook where it hung. While she counted the bills in her hand she ran smack into the hard wall of a chest. Absently glancing up, she excused herself and moved to walk around the person. A big, beefy hand yanked her back. Fre rolled the money up and secured it 1
in her fist.
“Do you mind?” Fre wrenched her arm away and peered up into eyes so dark she would swear they were black. The man towered over her and nearly filled the hallway. He wasn’t fat. He was solid muscle with a barrel chest, huge arms, and a bald head. His gray suit jacket was just a bit too tight and the seams pulled at the shoulders. It was the stranger who had tried to touch her on the stage.
“I like the way you dance,” the man standing in her way said in a raspy whisper.
“Most men do. Excuse me.” She tried to push past him and he followed her, crowding her close to the wall. “Is there something I can help you with?” She refused to look from gaze.
“Thank you, now if you can let me by…” Fre eased toward the sliver of space that he didn’t occupy.
He raised a meaty arm and planted a palm on the opposite wall, blocking her path.
From behind him a soft voice called out, “Everything okay, Fre?”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s a customer complimenting me on my dancing,” Fre called out to her friend and fellow dancer, Anya, as she pushed off the wall.
He moved a few steps back, glanced over his shoulder, and then turned his head to stare at Fre. It was a weirdly possessive perusal that made the hairs on the back of neck stand up. The stranger grazed her cheek with the blunt tip of his index finger. She flinched. A predatory smile spread across his face, exposing an extended canine tooth. She closed her eyes and swallowed. When she opened them again he was still standing there.
“I’m not done with you,
.” He leaned in, his face mere inches from her throat and sniffed her skin. The strange man straightened and brushed past her as he sauntered away.
“Are you all right?” Anya stepped up to her 2
“I’m fine. He was just peculiar.”
“What do you expect? We get the creeps from the airport on a layover.
It’s one of the negatives of being the only strip club in the vicinity.”
“Well, this chick won’t have to worry about it for a couple of weeks.
I’m going home for my vacation, so I will leave the odd folks that seem to find their way here in your very capable hands.”
“Gee, thanks.” Anya blew Fre a kiss as she headed toward the stage.
Fre continued on to the dressing room, humming her music as she went. She stopped to chat with her boss, Stan, reminding him she’d be gone for couple of weeks. As he did every year, Stan tried to talk her into canceling her long-overdue days of relaxation. Their verbal sparring had become her prevacation ritual. She let him finish his speech and chuckled before shaking her head to decline his offer. With a wiggle of her fingers, she went to change. She needed to get to the cabin before the first snowfall or her old truck might not make it.
Tossing her toothbrush in her bag, she checked her station, making sure it was clean. She hefted the strap of her overnight bag over her shoulder and pulled the plastic handle up on her suitcase. Anya returned, pushing the door open as she pulled it.
“Oh sorry. I thought you’d be gone by now.” Anya walked to her dresser.
“I stopped to talk to Stan. You know how long-winded he can be. I’ll see you when I get back. Nix is supposed to be meeting at the cabin. I left the landline number and a note with directions if she gets lost on her station.”
“Okay, I’ll let her know. Be careful, that strange guy that had you hemmed up earlier is still out there. You may want to use the back exit.
You and Nix stay out of trouble this time.” Fre giggled. “I’ll try. Thanks for the heads-up.” She crossed the threshold and walked to the back of the building.
Icy wind nipped at her exposed skin when she pushed the back door open. She released the bag and zipped up her coat.
Damn, I should have
brought a cap
. Fre navigated the alleyway, stepping over the trash that littered it, taking the long way to the parking lot to avoid the front entrance.
A single lightbulb fixed to a wooden pole situated in the middle of the lot illuminated the deserted area. Her truck was parked beneath it, the windshield reflecting the dim yellow glow. Beyond that there were deep pockets of shadows. She took in her surrounding and started to quickly cross the gravel that covered the space. A scraping sound filled the air.
She stopped to listen. The scratching came from one of the cars. She tilted her head to get a better idea of where the noise was coming from. There it was again—a light, constant clamor. She dropped her bag and left her luggage, walking toward the sound. Fre leaned over to peek into the windows of different cars as she passed them.
Wind whipped between the automobiles and created a high-pitched howling. Cold air blew up her coat, wrapping icy fingers around her torso and chilling her. She stepped away from the vehicles.
Girl, you are losing
it. You have been watching way too many of those investigation shows.
She admonished herself and turned to face another vehicle in the maze of cars. Something threw itself at the window, and she stumbled into the sedan behind her.
Tiny paws appeared on the glass, and Fre reached out a gloved hand to wipe the frost away. A puppy appeared behind the glass panel. “Oh, what are you doing all alone in there, cutie?” She straightened up and looked around the parking lot as she tried the door handle. It didn’t give. “Well I can’t leave you out here in the cold. It’s supposed to drop into the teens tonight and goodness knows how long you’ll be there,” she added with disdain as she studied the door while talking to the puppy. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to pick a lock on one of these babies? I miss the old locks before everything became ‘hidden.’” Fre pulled her glove off and cold nipped at her fingertips. Sighing, she ran her fingers along the rubber seam at the glass’s base. “I don’t have the kinda time or the tools to jimmy the lock.” Her breath turned the air 4
around her white as she groaned. She searched the ground for anything that might work to get the window open. Her gaze focused on a medium-sized rock, just big enough to fit in the palm of her hand.
“Okay, pup, I don’t know if you can understand me but move away.
Shoo.” She slipped her glove back on and tapped the glass with the sharp edge of the rock a few times in search of the weakest point. Turning her head away she lifted her arm high and swung it at the window. The tinkling sound of glass shattering rent the air. She dropped the stone and started to brush the shards away when the puppy launched itself at her and started licking her face. Fre lifted him up and gazed into clear blue eyes.
“You are a handsome fellow, aren’t you? What shall I call you?” In the distance, she could hear voices that carried on the wind.
Unzipping her coat, she stuffed the little guy beneath her arm and closed him up in it to retain some warmth. Heads appeared above the cars. She bent and jogged to the spot where she’d left her luggage. Dragging the pieces behind her, she hustled to her truck. She pulled out her keys and slid them in the lock as she tried to control the wiggling ball of fur that tickled her side. Her door squealed as she pulled it open. She set the puppy on the front seat and threw her bags into the back of the cab. Fre climbed in, started the truck, and drove off. The rescued pup sat faithfully in her lap, wiggling with gratitude.
Rhys sat down heavily in his office chair and stared at the destruction he’d caused. The deep gouges in the wall and the upturned furniture were a testament to his anger. A quick knock, and his younger brother, Myka, stuck his head through the hole in the door. Rhys watched his sibling’s eyes widen at the damage that he’d inflicted to the room. Pain stole through him. He placed a hand on chest over his heart and bunched the fabric of his shirt in a fist. Inhaling deeply through his nose, he banked the rage still running through him and placed a tight rein on his emotions. The 5
sweet scent of his son wafted under his nose. Grief rushed through him anew. He bit back the change that was threating to overtake him. The wolf in him wanted to rip and tear into the unseen foe that had taken his son.
But he had to find the bastard first. Willing himself to stay in human form, he threw his head back and howled, pouring all his anguish into that one note.
“Are you finished now?” Myka asked drily. He pushed the door open, and it fell off its hinges.
Rhys snapped his mouth shut. His teeth would prevent him from speaking clearly. He closed his eyes. Slowly his canines and claws receded. He opened his eyes to gaze at his brother. “It’s not your child who has disappeared.” Rhys spoke through clenched teeth.