Part 5 Now!
This had been a long day and it wasn’t ending any time soon. Sugar had left him in the apartment, and he couldn’t help but open the closet and look at the tassels again. That got his blood firing, his mind rolling, and he itched to find her and watch her in action. Even with her clothes firmly in place, he wanted ringside tickets. When the tassels came into play…Jared drummed his fingers on his thigh, there was no telling how he’d react.
But he played poker, sharked more than a few games of pool. Eyeballing Sugar would be a piece of cake. Waiting, on the other hand, that was killing him.
Jared looked at Thelma. “Have a seat.”
She obliged, big brown eyes watching his every move. Neither were thrilled at the moment. Acting as Sugar’s manager equated to slow torture. He didn’t have to be here. He could’ve left Sugar alone, smoked her out to Marco the Douchebag in Charge and been done with this mess. But no. No, he decided that playing house with his own Dita-Von-Teese-in-training was a better idea.
Maybe he should’ve YouTubed ‘burlesque staff’ instead of ‘burlesque show’ because this had none of the makings of the heart-stopping sexiness that splashed all over the internet.
Sitting on his ass, twiddling his damn thumbs, Jared felt…less imposing than normal. People still walked a wide girth around him, but gone was the comfort of tactical gear and visible weapons. Jeans and a cotton t-shirt, well that blew. As average a Joe as Jared could be, though this Joe was strapped to the hilt, concealing a small arsenal.
Thelma shifted and groaned, darting eyes to the actors and dancers who milled about, going in and out of various studios, practicing lines and singing. Someone played the piano. A few men in tights stretched feet away.
Jared reached down to his bulldog and rubbed her head. “I know girl.”
No one said a word when he’d arrived with Thelma, sans leash. He didn’t know if it was his glare or the dog’s toothy jowl that made the arty-fartsy man at the reception desk stare at the ceiling instead of saying something stupid like no dogs allowed.
He chuckled. At least he could laugh about it.
“Jared.” An intern-looking-kid stuck his head out the door. He’d introduced himself earlier as an assistant to the assistant of somebody important in the world of burlesque theatre. “She’s ready for you.”
Thank the fuckin’ Lord. Seriously. How goddamn long did it have to take for Sugar to try on a couple bathing-suit things?
Jared stood and Thelma rose with him. Together, they trudged past a gaggle of models who all looked like Anna Kournikova and all smiled, so obvious and typical. He stepped over a red-head kid in pigtails lying on the floor, reading a commercial script for apple juice.
They pushed past the door, rounded the corner, and—
Holy hell…dry mouthed, he nodded at Sugar instead of speaking. She was busy talking to the seamstress at her knees, who sewed something shiny onto something that glittered. Under the glaring lights, Sugar sparkled.
The sky-high heels, corset, and fringe had nothing on her flat stomach, perked breasts, and legs that every model in the hallway would commit homicide for.
And she had a tattoo way below her waist?
A man carrying a clipboard swaggered to Sugar, inspecting her. He pushed his glasses into his hair, put his knuckles to his chin, and studied. The bastard might not live through the day. Jared fisted his hands into his pockets and needed to calm the urge to rip the guy’s eyeballs out.
Ricky bounced over, a feathery mess slung over his shoulder. “Costumes are going well. This is the last one to get fitted—”
“Who the hell’s that?” Jared growled.
“Talking to Sugar? That’s the director, Colton. Cole for short. He’s a late addition to the team.”
“Well, Cole’s too damn close to her.” Jared took a step forward, fists still in pockets, rage bubbling as the man adjusted a strap on Sugar’s leg. Thelma growled. “Good girl.”
With a flip of the feathers, Ricky tapped Jared on the chest. He stifled another urge to maim more theatre staff and growled again instead.
“Both you and Sugar are so delightful. Maybe you needed a smoothie too. She’s in such a better mood since we gave her a snack….Oh, and who is this?” Ricky stared at Thelma. A small puddle of drool encroached on Ricky’s shiny shoe. The choreographer took a step back. “I don’t think—”
“Alrighty.” He flicked his hands out with the feather rope, then drew it back at Jared’s scowl. “What, you don’t like my boa?”
Sugar looked over, finally noticing him, laughed. She did look in a good mood, which was more than he could say about himself right now.
“Thelma?” she asked.
He nodded at her half-naked, jewel-costumed body. That woman had stunned his thoughts silent.
“What do you think?” She gave a spin, ignoring the seamstress trying to keep up with her.
Another tattoo on her shoulder blade. He pinched his eyes closed. What did he think? Well, shit, that was a problem. His thoughts were all bad ideas and great times.
“Everyone out.” Jared stepped toward her.
Cole took a step back from her, eyebrows bunched, but stopped and walked forward, extending his hand. “Jared, nice to—”
“Not now.” Jared clomped across the worn wooden floor as the seamstress scuttled past, not looking his way. Mirrors surrounded him on three sides. Floor-to-ceiling windows served as the fourth wall. The room was almost vacated, just that damn director.
“Sugar are you sure…” The director looked to Sugar, and she rolled her eyes, nodding it was okay.
“Get lost, Cole.” Did that asshole just question him? Their working relationship was explosively close to the danger zone.
A quick grumble and Cole scampered out. Thelma remained by the door as it clicked shut. Two more steps and Jared was in front of Sugar, unable to look away.
She smirked. “You have to stop kicking people out of the room. It’s not very team-player-ish.”
“Do you even know how you look right now?”
“Well, J-dawg, you better be thinking pretty or hot, because if you tell me to suck it in or cover something up, I’m liable to give you a busted lip. Just so we’re clear.”
“You want hot? Pretty?” Were there even words for how she looked? “How about you try every man’s lifelong fantasy? You’re making Victoria Secret angels look like a knobby-kneed bums.”
A piece of dark hair dangled over her eye and he brushed it back, dragging his finger into its softness. Fuck, he didn’t need to do that. He dropped his hand and let his fingers slide down the slope of her neck, tracing a path to her bicep. Didn’t need to do that either, but goddamn, he couldn’t stop.
She sucked a breath and held it for a two-count. “You shouldn’t do that.”
She blinked, and he could’ve have sworn he could see resolve. “Don’t trouble yourself playing my man when they aren’t any eyes on us.”
“Why would you assume there aren’t any? Someone’s always watching.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“You have no idea what I’d like right now.”
“Keep it to yourself. People are waiting, so if you’re done trying to get into my head, let them back in.”
Funny, he wanted into her head as much as her pants, and she stood there pretending this wasn’t going to play out wet and wild. Someday, some way, it would. “Such a tough girl.”
“Try to remember it. I’m not some chick that’s gonna fall on her knees in front of you, begging to be your plaything. So take your hand off me. I’m not interested.”
Again with that bullshit lie. He dropped his hand to her flat stomach between the corset top and the sequin bottom. His finger traced the top of a silver dueling pistol tattoo, peaking from beneath the sequins. “Nice ink.”
Her skin was velvet under his touch, forcing him to react and remind his lungs to breathe. Finger still pressed to her skin, he didn’t move. They were suspended in the moment, Jared holding Sugar to him with the strength of a gaze.
He saw her chest rise and fall a beat faster, mirroring his tempo. He was long past thinking getting down-and-dirty was a bad idea. No, he was ready for the fireworks and okay with cleaning up the carnage afterward.
“How many times do I have to tell—”
“That you’re not interested? As many times as you need to feel less guilty for agreeing to go to bed with me. One time blowout, you and me. No strings. No consequences. And no bullshit awkward, unavoidable moment afterwards. Deal?”
A knock on the door, and Cole popped his head back in. “You guys good? Photographer’s here for her promo pieces.” Thelma growled at him. “Is your dog going to bite me?”
He dropped his finger, but they ignored the director.
Sugar sucked her bottom lip, nailing him with textbook bedroom eyes.
Her palm found his, smoothing it from her hip, over her bare stomach and stopped on the corset. She leaned against him, pushed onto her toes, and pressed her lips against his ear. Her tongue flicked the lobe. Warm breath caressed him and his mind spun.
“No dice, baby.” She bit his ear and pulled back, a smiling she-devil.
No? “Excuse me?” What the fuck did she just say?
“I take it you don’t hear no often. Poor Jared.”
The room filled. All the people he tossed out were back to work. FBI folks. Theatre folks. Cockblocking sons of—
“Jared,” Ricky sang to him. “I got you a smoothie. Wheatgrass with strawberries. It’ll help your mood, whatever’s wrong with you.”
“He’s annoyed, Ricky,” Sugar said. “Annoyed and surprised, I’d guess.”
Jared looked from one to the other. Ricky held a plastic cup. It’s green? He took a fortifying breath. “No thanks.”
“Take it anyway.” He pushed the cup into his hand. “I’d say he looks horny too, but that’d cross the line, wouldn’t it?” Ricky winked at Sugar and walked away.
From across the room, Thelma laid down, whimpering, and put her paws over her face.
“There’s a first time for everything, J-dawg.” Sugar looked so damn pleased with herself, then she smacked his ass as she walked by, heading for the director. “Whoopsie.”
What the hell had just happened? You were shut-down and shut-up, that’s what.
But as Sugar walked away, her sequined covered hips swaying, he would’ve signed up to do this whole thing over again. The game just started between them. He could handle an undercover op and an old fashion game of chasing tail. It’d never seemed interesting before, but maybe that was because a worthwhile opponent had never surfaced.
Sugar looked over her shoulder, and with one look he knew, the game was definitely on.