Read The Strip Online

Authors: Heather Killough-walden,Gildart Jackson

The Strip

BOOK: The Strip

Big Bad Wolf Series, book two:
The Strip

by Heather Killough-Walden




The Strip©

by Heather Killough-Walden


Cover photograph provided through Shutterstock







For Eric and Sarah

Chapter One,
The Big Blind


“Well, it all looks good. Genuine and binding and all that.” Jessie sighed. “Nevada….” He shook his head and shoved the folder closed over the legal documents inside. He looked up at the woman sitting across from him. “Girl you’ll never see a brother again in Nevada.”

Claire stared at him for a moment, her expression unreadable. And then something flared in her eyes and the smile she shot him was devil-may-care. “That’s okay, Jess. You all look the same.” She waved her hand dismissively, took a pull of her beer, and continued. “You’ve seen one brother, you’ve seen ‘em all,” she finished, her voice lowering an octave, her stark blue eyes flashing in challenge.

Jessie’s heartbeat sped up and warmth flushed to his cock. He knew that look. He’d suspected that she was in a fighting mood. Something had gotten under her skin; he’d sensed it the moment he’d picked her and the rest of the band up at the studio. They’d wanted him to look over some papers – an offer made by someone out of town.

Claire had been too quiet. It was a reliable tell with her. And apparently, he was right. She wanted an out. She needed a release and as always, he was happy to oblige.

He waited a moment, absorbing the dare, and then he arched his brow lazily, accepting the challenge. His thick muscled arms were crossed over the edge of the table and now he leaned forward on them and pinned her with what he knew was a heated gaze.

Claire St.James bravely squared her shoulders, tossing a long, wavy lock of strawberry blonde hair out of her lovely face. She stared right back at him.

Jessie’s jeans were starting to feel tight between his legs. She was so gorgeous when she did that. She was so beautiful when she pretended she wasn’t about to fall. He fought the urge to smile. “Now girl,” he said as he shook his head at her and gazed at her through the tops of his amber eyes. “I know you didn’t just say that.”

The air between them seemed to grow thicker and fill with electricity.

Her own ice blue gaze narrowed in answer. “I’m pretty sure I did, P. Diddy.”

Beside Jessie, a young woman with shoulder-length black hair sighed and shook her head. She sighed, rolling her eyes as she finished off her own beer. Then she pulled a fresh beer from the ice bucket on the table and pushed her chair out.

“That’s our cue,” she muttered.

Her name was Mary Jane and she’d been down this road with he and Claire before. Jessie didn’t have to say anything to her. He kept his gaze squared on his blue-eyed prize.

The other two at the table were the male members of Claire’s four-person band. One was a well-built twenty-seven year old, the youngest member of the band. He had blue-gray eyes and buzz-cut blonde hair. The other was a touch taller and wore his long reddish-brown hair in dreads. The dreads were a rather stark contrast to his gold-flecked hazel eyes. Both men stood easily, following M.J.’s example, and simultaneously snatched up fresh beers for themselves as well. The bit-back smiles on their handsome faces showed that they plainly understood what was about to go down. They were probably sorry they weren’t going to get to be a part of it.

M.J. leaned over until her full red lips were a breath from Claire’s ear. The picture was decidedly erotic, as was everything about the notorious M.J., and Jessie began to feel impatient. Hungry.

“Try not to kill each other, Charlie,” Mary Jane whispered. “Scott’s gig is early tomorrow night and we don’t have time to find a new drummer.”

Jessie watched as Claire smiled but didn’t answer. She nodded a goodbye to the others, not taking her eyes off of Jessie.

Mary Jane and both of the men left the room without another word.

Jessie Graves waited until he heard his front door open and close again before he unfolded his arms and placed his hands palm-down on the table. He slowly pushed himself up and watched as Claire’s gaze flicked from his face to his broad chest, his powerful arms, and his narrow waist.

He could see the nervous anticipation flash through her beautiful eyes. It was there one moment, and seemingly gone in the next. She was good at hiding it. But he was good at reading her.

“Little white girl comes into a black man’s home and shows him disrespect?” His tone was low and deceptively calm as he began to move around the table between them. “You don’t really think he can stand for that, do you?”

Claire began to stand as well and Jessie watched as each of her muscles tensed, her lithe, strong body slipping effortlessly into fight mode. “Oh come on, Jessie,” she taunted softly, cocking her head to one side. “It’s not like you have time for the little things these days.” She grinned, flashing her perfect white teeth. “After all, don’t you have a country to run, Mr. President?”

Jessie blinked. He truly wanted to laugh at that one, but he managed to chew on the inside of his cheek instead. She was in rare form tonight. He shook his head, half in wonder, half in mock reprimand.

He continued toward her to close the distance between them, and she had the guts to stay where she was instead of stepping back. “Pretty little bitch, you’ve got a mouth on you,” he whispered when he was standing before her. She had to look up to meet his gaze, and he felt something melt inside. He loved it when she looked up at him like that.

It was one of his favorite things in the world.

She took a breath to retort with something new and he moved, like quick silver, his arms snaking around her body, his lips slanting over hers. His left hand fisted in her thick, soft hair; his right hand pressed hard against the delicate curve of her back, shoving her body up against his.

She moaned against his lips and yet tried to push him away with her hands on his chest. It was all part of the game. He was ready for it, of course. He broke the kiss and tightened his grip on her. He glared down at her, his smile rapacious and unforgiving. “Fucking
me?” he hissed across her lips. He shook his head. “You’re in for a long night, baby girl.”

With that, he stepped back and grabbed both of her wrists in his hands, using the full mass of his strong body to spin her around and then yank her arms up behind her back.

She gasped at the attack. He knew she hadn’t expected him to do it. He wasn’t playing fair. Claire St.James was not a helpless woman. She knew how to fight, how to defend herself. She worked with a trainer four times a week for two hours each session, and those self defense lessons were ruthlessly drilled into her head.

But Jessie had known Claire for years. They were best friends – with benefits – and at this point, he knew instinctively when she needed something more than their normal, friendly saber-rattling.

Tonight was one of those nights. Claire was hurting inside. He could sense it. She wore her armor well; her tongue was quick and her teeth were sharp. But he could see it in her eyes and feel it in the air around her. He intended to help her work it out.

If it took all night.

This attack position was the one position that Claire had not yet learned how to get out of. He knew that because she’d trusted the information to him a few nights ago while they sat watching the hockey game together. He couldn’t have cared less about the game; he just didn’t
hockey. But he listened intently to Claire as she confided in him that it was frustrating her that she couldn’t get the move down. And as always, he locked the information away in his brain for future reference.

Now, he roughly placed both of her wrists into one of his large hands and then snaked his other arm around her body to pull her back up against his chest.

She was breathing hard in surprise and a little pain. The position wouldn’t cause her any real harm – he had to be careful with her arms after all, because she used them to drum and it was her livelihood. But it could sure hurt like hell.

He spread his hand across her taut stomach and then slowly moved it up, grazing her perfect breasts as he continued to her neck. He wrapped his fingers around her slim throat and squeezed just hard enough to ensure obedience. She stopped struggling and closed her eyes. From above her, he could see her long, thick eyelashes flutter against her cheekbones. He used his grip on her throat to force her to rest her head against his shoulder so that he could whisper in her ear.

“You have a choice now, baby girl,” he told her. “You can walk ahead of me to my room and lay down on my bed without a fight.” He grazed his teeth over her ear lobe, his cock jumped where it had hardened in his jeans. “Or I can drag you there and it will hurt, and we’ll get there anyway.” He smiled to himself, squeezing her neck a little more, enjoying the ragged sound of her labored breathing and the moan that he choked from her throat.

“Answer me now,” he commanded, releasing his hold on her neck long enough for her to speak freely. “You gonna come easy?”

She bit her lip and then nodded. “Yes,” she whispered.

He knew it was a lie. It was the only time she ever lied to him. Again, it was all part of the game. He slowly released her arms and stepped back, waiting for her to turn around. When she did, he caught the defiance in her blue eyes and he tensed a second before she bolted. He was hot on her heels, following close behind her as she escaped into the living room. It was as far as she got before he grabbed her by the back of the neck and shoved her roughly to the carpeted floor of his living room.

He knew his only hope was to immobilize her arms and legs before they could do any damage. This was where his larger size came in as a distinct advantage. No matter how quick you were or how many martial arts classes you had under your belt, when you went up against someone who weighed a hundred pounds more than you, chances were, you were going to lose.

Claire quickly rolled over on the carpet and Jessie was immediately on top of her, straddling her. If he’d given her any time what so ever to use her legs, she might have caused him real pain. Tonight, she was a live wire, unpredictable and dangerous, and he very quickly needed to gain the upper hand.

He knew she pulled the punch that she aimed at his jaw, but it connected anyway, and the pain was just enough to bring his determination sharply into focus. His head snapped to the side and back again and he could almost feel his own amber eyes burning like flames.

She blinked up at him as if surprised by what she’d done, and real fear crossed her beautiful features for the first time that night.

He grinned a mirthless grin, all teeth, then roughly grabbed both of her wrists and jumped up, yanking her to her feet. At the same time, he spun her around once more, trapping her arms against her sides as he lifted her into a bear-hug embrace and carried her toward his room.

She thrashed in his arms, her movements now fueled by genuine trepidation. He laughed a pitiless laugh. “You made your choice, baby girl.” He said it as if passing a sentence. Final and harsh.

By the time he was shoving through the door to his bedroom and throwing her onto the bed, he’d made up his mind. Claire had never actually hit him before – not for any reason. She’d crossed a line.

She needed to be restrained.

When she hit the mattress, she bounced, and was immediately rolling toward the other side to escape. He let her go, knowing that the only way out of the room was through the door they’d just entered, and she would have to go through him to get to it.

There was a closet door beside him. He shoved the door open and pulled down several leather belts from where they hung on hooks beside his ties. All but one, he hurriedly tossed onto the bed. With practiced speed, he shoved the end of the last belt through the buckle, forming a loop.

In his peripheral vision, he caught Claire trying to run around the bed toward the door. He moved with dogged speed to cut her off and made as if he was going to attempt to capture her wrist in his left hand. When she dodged, he looped the belt over her head and let it slip through the buckle, drawing it tight.

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