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Jordan Sommerville stared at the hand-painted sign po-sitioned crookedly over the ramshackle building. Visible from the roadway, the sign boasted some of the worst pen-manship he'd ever seen. The bright red letters seemed to leap right out at him.
He cursed as another icy trickle of rain slid down the back of his neck. He could hear the others behind him, murmuring in subdued awe as they took in the sights and sounds of the bar. It was late, it was dark, and for Septem-ber, it was unseasonably cool. Surely there didn't exist a more idiotic way to spend a Friday night.
The idea of trying to convince a bar owner to institute a drink limit, especially a bar owner who had thus far al-lowed quite a few men to overimbibe, seemed futile. Jor-dan started forward, anxious to get it over with.
Somehow he'd become the designated leader of the five-man troop, a dubious honor he'd regretfully accepted. The men had been organized by Zenny, a retired farmer who was best described as cantankerouson his good days. Then there was Walt and Newton, who claimed to be semi-retired from their small-town shops, though they still spent every day there. And Howard and Jesse, the town gossips who volunteered for every project, just to make sure they got to stick their noses into anything that was going on.
Jordan stopped at the neon-lighted doorway to the seedy saloon and turned to face the men. A strobing beer sign in the front window illuminated their rapt faces. Jor-dan had to shout to be heard over the loud music and laughter blaring from inside the establishment.
"Now remember," he said, and though he used his cus-tomary calm tone, he infused enough command to hold all theirattention, "we're going to talk. That's all. There'll be no accusations, no threats and absolutely, under no circum-stances, will there be any violence. Understood?"
Five heads bobbed in agreement even as they looked anxiously beyond Jordan to the rambunctious partying in-side. Jordan sighed.
Buckhorn County was dry, which meant anyone who drank had the good sense to stay indoors and keep it pri-vate. There'd been too many accidents on the lake, mostly from vacationers who thought water sports and alcohol went hand in hand, for the citizens to want it any other way.
But this new bar, a renovated old barn, had opened just over the county line, so the same restriction didn't apply. Lately, some of its customers had tried joyriding through Buckhorn in the dead of the night, hitting fences, tearing up cornfields, terrorizing the farm animals, and generally making minor mayhem. No one had been seriously in-jured, yet, but in the face of such moronic amusements, it was only a matter of time.
So the good citizens of Buckhorn had rallied together and, at the suggestion of the Town Advisory Board, decided to try talking to the owner of the bar. They hoped he would be reasonable and agree to restrict drinks to the rowdier customers, or perhaps institute a drink limit for those that leaned toward nefarious tendencies and overindulgence.
Jordan already knew what a waste of time that would be. He had his own very personal reasons for loathing drunks. He would have gently refused to take part in the futile endeavor tonight, except that he and his brothers were considered leading citizens of Buckhorn, and right now, due to a nasty flu that had swept through the town, Jordan was the only brother available to lead.
With a sigh, he walked through the scarred wooden doors and stepped inside. The smoke immediately made his lungs hurt. Mixed with the smells of sweat and the sick-ening sweet odor of liquor, it was enough to cause the strongest stomach to lurch.
The dank, dark night worked as a seal, enclosing the bar in a sultry cocoon. The walls were covered with dull gray paint. Long fluorescent lights hung down from the ex-posed ceiling beams, adding a dim illumination to an oth-erwise gloomy scene.
Men piled up behind Jordan, looking over his shoulder, breathing on his neck, tsking at what they saw as sala-cious activity. Which didn't, of course, stop them from ogling the scene in deep fascination. Jordan could almost feel their anticipation and knew the evening was not des-tined to end well.
Hoping to locate someone in charge, Jordan looked around. A heavy, sloping counter seated several men, all of them hanging over their beers while a painfully skinny, balding man refilled drinks with the quickness of long practice. At the end of the bar stood a massive, menacing bouncer, the look on his face deliberately intimidating. Jor-dan snorted, seeing the ploy for what it was; a way to keep the peace in a place that cultivated disagreements by vir-tue of what it was and the purpose it served.
There were booths lining the walls and a few round ta-bles cluttering up the middle of the floor. Overall, the place seemed crowded and loud, but not lively. An atmosphere of depression hung in the air despite the bawdy laughter.
Then suddenly the noise of conversation, clinking glasses and rowdy music died away. In its place a heavy, expectant hush filled the air. Jordan felt the hair on his arms tingle with a subtle awareness. Everyone stared at a low stage to the left of the front door, almost in the center of the bar. It couldn't have been more than eight feet wide and ten feet long. A faded, threadbare curtain at the back of the stage rustled but didn't open.
Jordan stared, feeling as mesmerized as everyone else, though he had no idea why. Behind him, old man Zenny coughed. Walt eased closer. Newton bumped into his left side.
Slowly, so slowly Jordan hardly noticed it at first, music from a hidden stereo began to filter into the quiet. It crack-led a bit, as if the speakers had been subjected to excessive volume. It started out low and easy and gradually built to a rousing tempo that made him think of the Lone Ranger series. All the men who'd previously been loud were now subdued and waiting.
The curtain parted just as the music grabbed a bounc-ing beat and took off like a horse given his lead. Jordan caught his breath.
A woman, slight in build except for her truly excep-tional breasts, burst onto the stage in what appeared to be an aerobic display except that she moved with the music, and looked seductive as hell.
He'd seen his three sisters-in-law do similar steps while exercising, but then, his sisters-in-law didn't have breasts like this woman, and they were always dressed in sweats when they worked out.
And they sure as certain didn't perform for drunks. Nearly spellbound, Jordan couldn't pull his gaze away. His mouth opened on a deep breath, his hands curled into and kept him off guard.
As he stared he realized the woman wasn't exactly doing a seductive dance. But the way she moved, fluid and graceful and fast, each turn or twist or high kick keeping time to the throbbing beat, had every man in the barin-cluding Jordanholding his breath, balanced on a keen edge of anticipation.
She wore a revealing costume of black lace, strategi-cally placed fringe, and little else. The fringe glittered with jet beads that moved as she moved, drawing attention to her bouncing breasts and rotating hips. Her legs were slen-der, sleekly muscled. She turned her back to the bar, and the fringe on her behind did a little flip-flip-flip. Jordan's right hand twitched, just imagining what that bottom would feel like.
He cursed under his breath. The costume covered her, and yet it didn't. He'd seen women at the lake wearing bi-kinis that were much more revealing, but none that were sexier. She kept perfect time with the heavy pulsing of the music and within two minutes her shoulders and upper chest gleamed with a fine mist of sweat, making her glow. Her full breasts, revealed almost to her nipples, somehow managed to stay inside her skimpy costume, but the thought that they might not kept Jordan rigid and enrapt.
Next to him, Newton whispered, "Lord have mercy," and the same awe Jordan felt was revealed in the older man's voice. Jordan scowled, wishing he could send the men back outside, wishing he could somehow cover the woman up.
He didn't want others looking at her. But he could have looked at her all night long.
His possessive urges toward a complete stranger were absurd, so he buried them away behind a dose of con-tempt while ignoring the punching beat of his heart.
The audience cheered, screamed, banged their thick beer mugs on the counter and on the tabletops. Yet the woman's expression never changed. She didn't smile, though her overly lush, wide mouth trembled slightly with her exertions. She had a mouth made for kissing, for de-vouring. Her lips looked soft and Jordan knew with a man's intuition exactly how sweet they'd feel against his own mouth, his skin. Every now and then she turned in such a way that the lighting reflected in her pale gray eyes, which stared straight ahead, never once focusing on any one man.
In fact, her complete and utter disregard for her all-male audience was somehow arousing. She looked to be the epitome of sexual temptation, but didn't care. She might have been dancing alone, in the privacy of her bed-room, for all the attention she gave to the shouting, leer-ing spectators.
Feigning nonchalance, Jordan crossed his arms over his chest and decided to wait until her show ended be-fore finding the proprietor. Not because she interested him. Of course not. But because right now it would be useless to start his search, being that everyone was caught up in the show.
Despite his attempt at indifference, Jordan's gaze never left her, and every so often it seemed his heartbeat mirrored her rhythm. Beneath his skin, a strange warmth expanded, pulsed. Something about her, something elusive yet in-trinsically female, called to him. He ignored the call. He was not a man drawn in by flagrant sexuality. No, when a woman caught his attention, it was because of her gentle-ness, her intelligence, her morals. Unlike his brotherswho were the finest men he knewhe'd never been a slave to his libido. They'd often teased him about his staid per-sonality, his lack of fire, because he'd made a point of keep-ing his composure in all things. At least most of the time.
His eyes narrowed.
Short, golden brown curls framed her face and were be-ginning to darken with sweat, clinging to her temples and her throat. It was an earthy look, dredging up basic primal appetites. Jordan wondered what those damp curls would feel like in his fingers, what her heated skin would taste under his, moving as smoothly to his sexual demands as it moved to the music.
As the rhythmic beat began to fade, she dropped smoothly to her knees, then her stomach. Palms flat on the a woman in the throes of pleasure. The move was bla-tantly sexual, deliberately seducing, causing the crowd to almost riot and making Jordan catch his breath.
Her face was exquisite at that moment, eyes closed, mouth slightly parted, nostrils flaring. Jordan locked his jaw against the mental images filling his brainimages of him holding her hips while she rode him in just that way,
He wanted to banish the thoughts, but they wouldn't budge. Anger at himself and at the woman conflicted with his growing tension.
He knew every damn man in the place was imagining the same thing and it enraged him.
In that instant her eyes slowly opened and her glitter-ing gray gaze locked on his. Jordan sucked in a breath, feel-ing as though she'd just touched him in all the right places. They were connected as surely as any lovers, despite the space between them, the surroundings and the lack of prior knowledge. Her eyes turned hot and a bit frightened as they filled with awareness.
Then she caught herself and with a lift of her chin, she swung her legs around and came effortlessly to her feet.
Scowling at the unexpected effect of her, Jordan tried, without success, to pull his gaze away. There was nothing about a mostly naked vamp dancing in a sleazy bar for the delectation of drunks that should appeal to him.
So why was he so aroused?