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by Karin Tabke

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The author of Skin and Good Girl Gone Bad pens another sizzling tale of sex, scandal, and high-stakes corruption when a hard-hitting cop investigates the sultry, secretive hostess of an upscale "gentlemen's club" in the wake of a brutal murder...

It takes more than a red-hot body and stunning sex appeal to manage a clubSee more details below

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The author of Skin and Good Girl Gone Bad pens another sizzling tale of sex, scandal, and high-stakes corruption when a hard-hitting cop investigates the sultry, secretive hostess of an upscale "gentlemen's club" in the wake of a brutal murder...

It takes more than a red-hot body and stunning sex appeal to manage a club like Callahan's successfully. Jade Devereaux hides whip-sharp smarts and cold calculation behind her sleek facade. She's come a long way from the frightened teenage girl who was once prey to a brutal man. Now, in the cat-and-mouse game of sexual escapades, Jade makes sure that the men are her prey.

When a wealthy businessman is viciously murdered mere yards from Callahan's, cynical cop Jase Vaughn turns to the exclusive private club for answers. Luscious Jade Devereaux sends his masculine desires into overdrive the moment he sees her, but he has plenty of experience with both women and crime suspects, and he can tell Jade has secrets to hide -- secrets that are somehow connected to this twisted killing.

Jase is determined to strip away the pretense and expose the real Jade Devereaux, even if that means getting closer to her than the love-them-and-leave-them playboy has ever been to a woman. If she's guilty, Jase has sworn to see her behind bars. If she's innocent, then she could be the killer's next victim. But whether Jade is guilty or innocent, Jase realizes to his dismay that they are both falling victim to something neither has ever known -- the power of love.

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Saturday, 11:32 p.m.

"Touch me again, Mr. Townsend, and I'll cut your balls off and shove them so far down your throat you'll choke to death."

"My lovely Jade, is that any way for a lady to talk to a gentleman?" Townsend asked.

Jade smiled, the gesture not true enough to part her lips. She cocked her head back and to the side. Andrew Townsend's glassy eyes dropped to her chest. Though the smooth fabric of her sapphire-colored Chanel sheath dress covered her from neck to knees, the jersey hugged her curves like a taut second skin, detailing in sexy silhouette exactly what lay beneath. Its sole purpose was to tease. And Townsend was worthy prey. From the moment he picked her up at the club earlier that evening, his eyes, and hands, had strayed. She'd been hard-pressed to keep his groping at bay and her composure intact.

For the first time in many years, she felt the urge to turn around and walk out the double teakwood doors of the club -- and keep walking. But that was impossible. Instead she swept her eyelids low and maintained her even breathing pattern.

"Mr. Townsend, you are not my definition of a gentleman."

He grabbed her elbow in a quick movement that surprised her. With the amount of scotch he'd consumed she doubted he had it in him. He was not a nice man sober, but lit up as he was now, he was downright belligerent. She'd parried her fair share of rudeness from men in her day, but Townsend was driven by something more than the alcohol tonight. A man used to naming his price for whatever commodity he fancied at the moment was not getting his way, and as his kind often did, he resorted to bullying tactics.

"I don't know what your definition is, honey, and it doesn't matter." He yanked her against his chest, his scotch-soaked breath mingling with the garlic of their dinner earlier that evening. "I've paid for you lock, stock, and barrel, now I want what's coming to me."

Her back stiffened. Not wanting to create a scene that could ultimately cost her other exclusive members, Jade relaxed against him, giving him a taste of what he so desperately craved, and would never get. It was fair play in her mind, and she was not one to not exact a little revenge. Besides, if Townsend didn't come back in the hopes of one day landing her in bed, she'd failed in her job. In his heated pursuit he would return again, and again. She pressed her full breasts to the fine cotton of his tailored shirt. "You've paid my price -- for dinner and conversation, Mr. Townsend. There are no fringe benefits."

"You're a prick tease."

Jade laughed slow, the sound low and husky. She knew from experience the sound poured over a man like warm honey over a fresh-baked biscuit. A laugh she had been told could wheedle a priest from the pulpit. As intended, it garnered an immediate result. She felt him rise against her hip, his minimal package jabbing into her like a boning knife.

Men were so easily distracted and so easily led. And she was eternally grateful for that fact. Were it not true she would no doubt be working much harder for far less pay than what she garnered here at Callahan's. When she thought of the consequences of a nine-to-five job she reined in her temper. "I resent that remark, sir. I explained the nature of our date. If I remember correctly, you were rather intrigued to not go beyond my boundaries. You said, 'Why should I have to pay for something my wife gives me for free?'"

His dark eyes morphed into a hard glare. "I lied."

Jade pressed her hips against his erection, smiled wider, and then pulled her arm from his grasp and stepped back. "I didn't. Now, please excuse me."

"You'll regret this!" he called to her retreating back.

Jade didn't hesitate in her long sanguine stroll to her small office just past the long bar, the hidden door resembling another polished wooden panel. She smiled graciously at the couples whose heads turned at Townsend's outburst, as if it were a normal annoying occurrence.

"Mr. Townsend, a Glenlivet on the house," Mac, her bar manager, said. He'd no doubt witnessed the entire ugly exchange. Mac was a good man. He stood quiet sentry over the bar, and on the very few and very unpleasant occasions when a member became unmanageable, he maneuvered them as seamlessly as he uncorked one of the vintage bottles of wine for which Callahan's was known. He was their guardian angel.

Jade made a mental note to reward Mac once again for his ability to redirect a man's desires.

In these days and times it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep her "dates" in the neutral zone she had constructed around herself. The private nature of Callahan's was becoming less private.

It was rumored that Jack Morton, the new owner, was strapped for cash, and so instead of culling the applicants who had the necessary funds to buy in but lacked the pedigree, he ballooned the application fee, as well as the annual membership dues, and rewarded the mongrel's thirst for social status with a provisional membership. Andrew Townsend was one such member. The man inherited several car dealerships from his father, and spent the profits like a sailor on leave.

And because it was Andrew Townsend, and because he only understood one language, she had been more than willing to tell him exactly, in words he understood, what she would do if he pursued her.

Yes, times were changing at Callahan's. And armed with that knowledge, Jade consoled herself. She could roll with the change. Once a chameleon always a chameleon. She'd always been able to adjust her color to any palette. It's what kept her alive.

And if her time ran out here? She'd pull out and make stake somewhere else.

"Jade," a soft voice asked from the darkened corner next to her office door.

Jade's demeanor instantly softened, and she smiled at Genevieve, a girl not much older than her little sister, Tina. "Do you need something, sweetie?" she asked.

Genny nodded, her thick golden blonde hair bobbing under the low lights. "I need to ask you a favor. Can we -- "

"Well, now, look at Goldilocks," Townsend slurred as he stepped between the two women. He turned dark eyes on Jade, then looked at Genny. "I bet you like to show your appreciation, doncha, honey pie?"

"Mr. Townsend, in your current state, I don't think -- "

"It's okay, Jade," Genny interrupted. She bestowed a huge smile on the drunk, linking her arm with his. "Jade has told me all about you, Mr. Townsend. I think I remember her telling me you were an avid football fan. I love football."

Jade made a motion to stop Genny, but was warned off with a sharp nod from the girl. Jade held back, and not for the first time. She could control what happened in the club, but what members and employees did on their own time? That she had no control of.

Several hours later, tired and feeling uncharacteristically lonely, Jade made her way to the private parking lot behind Callahan's. Her feet were sore, her patience drawn as taut as a trip wire, and her sudden fatigue settled deep in her bones. She wanted to sleep for a month, putting her life on hold. She sighed. She'd have to settle for a soak in her tub with the spa jets full blast on her back.

Holding the keys to her BMW, she clicked the lock fob, the sound of the popping locks sounding strange in the empty lot. The headlights glowed eerily. She shivered, the seclusion unnerving, and looked up to see several spotlights out near her car. She made a mental note to call Ernesto, her maintenance man, when she got in later that night.

"Are you too busy for me now, Miss Jade?"

The fine hair on the back of her neck spiked. Warning bells shrilled. Turning slowly around, her back to the driver-side door, her left arm at her side, Jade maneuvered the key in her hand and pressed a button on the small black handle attached to the chain. A four-inch blade popped out.

"Mr. Townsend? I thought you and Genevieve had a date."

He stood a good four inches taller than she, which said a lot about his height. In her heels she stood six feet tall. "Yeah, we did. But she ain't you."

He closed in and pressed the length of his body against hers, the heavy odor of scotch mixing with the stale gas fumes in the cloying air of the lot.

She'd survived far worse than anything Andrew Townsend could dish out. Jade notched her head back and looked him square in the eye. "You have an awfully short memory, Mr. Townsend."

He laughed, the sound full of self-importance. His bloodshot eyes dipped to her lips. "You have the poutiest lips I ever saw. So full, and lush, and red. Do you know how many times I've dreamed of them locked around my dick?"

His hands rested against her hips and for such a blundering drunk, almost reverently he slid them up her waist. Her skin flinched beneath his touch. Claustrophobia closed in. Her chest tightened. Old memories, memories she'd buried long ago, reared their ugly heads. Spots blurred her vision. Her hands shook.

"I can be gentle, Jade. I can be whatever you want." He dipped his head to her hair and inhaled. "You smell so fuckable."

Townsend's voice yanked her back to the present. A surreal sense of relief flooded her. She could handle Townsend. He was just a horny, drunk, middle-aged man. Jade took a deep cleansing breath. She was safe from the ghosts of her past. She'd been too careful.

Her vision cleared and Jade looked straight at him and smiled. Townsend's eyes pleaded with her for relief. She'd seen it a hundred times on as many men. Her reaction was always the same. Cool disdain. And no desire for any physical interaction. On any level.

Softly, so as not to arouse him further, Jade pushed against his chest with her right hand. "Mr. Townsend. I can't be bought."

His eyes glittered under the low light. Townsend withdrew his hands from her waist and stepped back. Tenuous relief flooded her. Until he retook his step and jammed his fingers into her hair at the temples, digging deep into her scalp. Pain prickled. Her back arched. And her past came crashing into her present. Her fingers wrapped tighter around the key fob. He yanked her hard against him.

"Then I guess I'll take what I want for free."

Copyright © 2008 by Karin Tabke

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