Columnist Francesca Vierling thought she had it tough dealing with the cutthroat office politics at the St. Louis City Gazette. But stressors in the newsroom reach new heights when her dear mentor Georgia is diagnosed with cancer and Francesca offers to hide her illness from their boorish boss.
When Francesca goes to pick up Georgia from treatment, she is horrified to find the staff shot dead and a distraught Georgia the only survivor. The crime is bloody, shocking, sensational—and just the kind of story that would allow Francesca to break free from her oppressive employers. All she has to do is solve the crime.
The story quickly grows out of control when a doctor is killed in the same building as the massacre. And then another. And another… Because the killer isn’t just out for blood—they’re out for revenge.
And Francesca is about to get in their way…
Note: The author has made some minor revisions to the original text for this edition of the book.
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Jack was buttoning up his shirt. I stared at his upper chest, a slab of tanned and toned muscle. As he tucked in his shirttail, I admired that rippling washboard stomach once more, and imagined those muscles moving the way I saw them last night. My mind wandered to other visions now concealed by his pants. Those strong legs and hot buns and . . .
"So, was I good?" he asked, combing his hair with his fingers. He didn't wait for me to answer. He knew he was. He was the sort of man who made women howl and claw his hide.
"Got any hair spray I can borrow?" he said.
"Nope, never use it," I said. That wasn't quite true, but if you let him, the guy borrowed more stuff than a sorority roommate. He'd already used my powder compact, my teasing comb, and my pink lipstick to make his heart-stopping lips more luscious. He used his own eyeliner, though. I don't lend that out. I wasn't taking a chance of getting pinkeye from the handsome Jack.
I shifted on my lopsided chair in the men's dressing room at the Heart's Desire, a strip club ten minutes across the river from downtown St. Louis. We like to go across the Mississippi River into Illinois for our sin. That way we can pretend we really don't have it in our city. But we keep it close to home.
Jack Hogenbaum, a.k.a. "Leo D. Nardo, Your Titanic Lover," was the star of Ladies' Nights at the club. He'd been packing them in since the movie. He looked like Leonardo DiCaprio. Well, sort of.At least his brown hair hung down over his forehead on the left side, he had soulful eyes, and when he danced, he could do stuff with a life preserver you never dreamed.
It was my job to follow him around for a day. My name is Francesca Vierling, and I'm a columnist for the St. Louis City Gazette. I'm six feet tall, dark hair, smart mouth. I'm generally in trouble with the newspaper management, but this last punishment from my sleazy managing editor had turned into an unexpected pleasure. Charlie, who was slime in a suit, had ordered me to do a story about "a day in the life of a stripper on the East Side. Human interest, you know."
Humans were a species Charlie knew very little about. He was sure he'd make me furious with this porky assignment. But he never said which stripper I should follow. So I did a day in the life of a male stripper, Leo D. Nardo. So far I'd managed to extend this assignment to two days, for a real in-depth look. Last night I watched the show with the women in the audience. Tonight, I was backstage with Leo.
The club had that down-at-heels look you find backstage everywhere. The men's dressing room had a big silver star on the door, but the door was covered with dirty handprints. The room smelled of Lysol and stale cigarette smoke, and the walls were painted an evil yellow. There were two stained sinks, a wall mirror losing its silvering, and a cigarette-burned countertop littered with more makeup than Dolly Parton's dressing table. A scuffed black swinging door led to the shower and stalls. I stayed in the dressing room, which was fetchingly decorated with prime beefcake. Officer Friendly, an arresting male dancer in a break-apart police uniform, was applying eyeliner in front of the glaringly lit mirror. He danced before Leo, getting the women warmed up for the star.
Leo was dressing for his eight o'clock show. He'd shown up at seven-ten, wearing a sleazy purple mesh muscle shirt cut so low it barely covered his nipples, and tight jeans with a big bulge in front. I figured he
must have stuffed half his sock drawer in there. He was carrying a freshly dry-cleaned sailor suit. It was the break-apart costume for his act. Leo hung it carefully on a nail in the wall, right over his glitter-covered life preserver that had "Titanic" spelled out in dark blue sequins. Then he stripped off his shirt and pants while I interviewed him. He looked casual and comfortable taking off his clothes. I felt overdressed in my black Donna Karan suit. I was glad I was sitting down, even on that hard molded plastic chair. I wasn't used to carrying on conversations with men who wore only a well-filled G-string with "Titanic" on the front. It looked like the guy didn't lie, either, unless he was wearing the male equivalent of the WonderBra. My mind skittered away from awful puns about going down on the Titanic. I couldn't print them, anyway.
Any other man would have been embarrassed taking off his clothes and putting on makeup, but not Leo. He just got naked naturally. That was part of his charm. He didn't strut, although he had plenty of reason to. I could feel a blush creeping up my neck. Damn. I wanted so badly to be hard-boiled, but I couldn't escape twelve years of Catholic schools. The nuns got me, no matter
how hard I tried to be cool. And this was an occasion of sin, if I ever saw one. Impure thoughts buzzed pleasantly in my brain. I was going to hell. Oh,
well. Might as well enjoy perdition. I got hold of myself, since I didn't have the nerve to get hold of Leo. I tuned into what he was saying.
". . . and while I don't want to say it's every guy's dream to take off his clothes in front of a lot of women, it's by no means a boring job." Good quote. I wrote it down on my clipboard. I never used a reporter's
notebook, which looked like a skinny steno pad. I'm a big woman, and I like something I can hold. Argghh. That sounded wrong, too. I had to get those raging hormones under control.
Leo's next action didn't help. He rummaged in the clutter on the dressing table for a bottle of baby oil, and began oiling his golden brown chest and arms. They were smooth, hard, and hairless. I wondered if he shaved them. I could definitely see he worked out, but he didn't have a rubbery overmuscled
weightlifter's body, the kind with the veins sticking out on his neck and arms. I'd never known any woman who found those overdeveloped hard bodies attractive. Leo's muscles were well defined, but not bulging. He slathered more oil on a
perky pec and said, "I do this because the women like it."
Amen, brother, I thought. But I wrote that down, too.
"Did you pump up?" Officer Friendly asked him, as he used a Q-tip to flick away a stray bit of mascara. Officer Friendly had light eyelashes he was trying to darken. I wondered if he knew he could dye them, but before I could say anything, I heard sirens. That was Officer Friendly's cue to go onstage. He grabbed his nightstick and ran out the door.