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Mistress christmas, p.16
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       Mistress Christmas, p.16

         Part #1 of Wild West Boys series by Lorelei James
 
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Page 16

  Author: Lorelei James

  “Then who are you supposed to be in that getup?” He pointed to her clothes, the exact same outfit Holly had worn, minus the mask.

  “I’m Mistress Christmas. ”

  He lowered his voice. “Like hell. Where is she?”

  “Where is who?”

  “The real Mistress Christmas. ”

  “I am the real deal, buddy. ”

  “But—” Nick counted to ten. Where was Holly? He spied the door to the back. “My mistake,” he said, then sidestepped her and made a beeline for the private entrance.

  “Hey! You can’t go back there!”

  Once inside the darkened passageway, he zoomed past the dressing area where the strippers readied themselves. A door loomed ahead. Just as he was about to kick it in, Holly emerged.

  She stumbled over a fruit basket and tumbled right into his arms. “Nick?”

  Frustration set in and he hauled her upright until they were nose-to-nose. “Yes, I’m Nick, but who the hell are you? And where do you get off stealing my wallet and walking out on me?”

  Chapter Nine

  “I didn’t steal your wallet on purpose, Detective. ”

  At her use of his title, he knew guilt flickered in his eyes.

  “It ended up on top of my purse and it was so dark when I left—”

  “You mean when you snuck out like a thief in the night?”

  “I am not a thief,” she huffed.

  “Says you. But I noticed you didn’t dispute the fact you snuck out. ” Nick gave her a quick once-over. “Why aren’t you dressed in your Mistress Christmas costume?”

  She said nothing.

  “I saw the woman out there wearing your clothes. Did you give them to her hoping it’d fool me? Guess what? It didn’t work. ”

  “I’m sure nothing gets by ace detective Nick West. ” Holly reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out Nick’s wallet. “Take it. And before you ask, no, I didn’t snoop besides seeing your badge. If you hadn’t shown up here tonight to claim it, I would’ve turned it in to the police because I am not a thief. ”

  Nick thumbed through the contents. Satisfied nothing was amiss, he caught her eye again. “I suppose Holly North isn’t even your real name?”

  “That is my real name. ”

  “Why aren’t you working tonight?”

  Angry shouts sounded out in the main bar area, followed by the crash of breaking glass. “Dammit. ” Holly raced down the hallway toward the commotion.

  “Wait!” Jesus. Leave it to the woman to run toward potential danger rather than away. He chased after her.

  When Holly skidded to a stop he nearly crashed into her.

  A man was on his knees with his arms wrapped around the legs of the woman Nick had spoken to earlier. Beer bottles were shattered on either side of him. The man appeared to be sobbing. Or begging. Or both.

  “Please. Just one. ”

  The woman was pinned against the wall with no way to escape. “I said no. Let me go. ”

  “Please. Just one. Then I’ll go,” the man blubbered.

  Where the hell were the bouncers?

  Nick sidestepped Holly and moved to stand behind the man. “Sir. Release her. Now. ”

  The guy didn’t appear to hear.

  He really didn’t want to pull out his gun, but it looked as if he might have to. “Last warning, sir. Back away from the woman. ”

  “Why should I listen to you?”

  “Because I’m a cop. ”

  “Shit. ” The man cranked his head around. He blinked several times. “Nick?”

  Nick’s stomach plummeted at seeing his friend’s blotchy face. “Rudy?”

  Holly said, “You know him?”

  “Unfortunately. ”

  “B-b-but who—”

  He scanned Rudy’s disheveled clothes. “Are you drunk? And why in the hell are you on your knees?”

  “I’m trying to convince Mistress Christmas to give me a lap dance,” he slurred.

  Fury surfaced inside Nick at the thought of his drunken friend putting his hands on Holly.

  Rudy ignored him and pleaded with the woman, “I have money this time. You can’t deny me. ”

  The woman snapped, “Like hell I can’t. ”

  “Let her go. ”

  Soon as Rudy loosened his grip, the woman pushed Rudy on his ass and fled behind Nick.

  “Stay put. I’ll deal with you in a minute,” Nick said harshly to Rudy. He faced the woman. “You okay?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Do you know him?”

  “No, but he’s been harassing me for weeks. ”

  “Weeks?”

  She nodded. “Claims he’s in love with me. The bouncers banned him last month but somehow he snuck in tonight, probably because we’re short-handed. ” She turned and looked at Holly. “Did he harass you when you were filling in for me?”

  Holly shook her head. “This is the first time I’ve seen him. ”

  “Filling in?” Nick repeated.

  The woman nodded. “I’ve been sick as a dog the last couple days and she’s been filling in as Mistress Christmas. ”

  His gaze raked over the tall, raven-haired beauty. “You’re Mistress Christmas?”

  Her eyes narrowed. “I sure as shootin’ ain’t Santa. Who the hell did you think I was?”

  “He thought I was you,” Holly said. “As you can see, Nick, I’m not the real Mistress Christmas. And I’m also not even, ah…a stripper. ”

  “Then what are you?”

  “I’m an accountant. ”

  Everything clicked into place. Some great detective he made. All the clues had been there, bright as the Northern Lights—Holly’s inexperience with lap dances, her discomfort with men drooling over her, the shyness in exposing her body to him. He’d just been so bowled over by how much she made him feel, that he’d ignored the obvious signs.

  “So what now?” Holly asked.

  “I’ll deal with Rudy. ” He put his lips on her ear and whispered, “Then I’ll deal with you. With us. We need to talk about our future, so don’t run off. ”

  “I-I don’t know what we have to discuss. ”

  “Yes, you do. ”

  “Nick—”

  “Please. ” He inhaled, filling his lungs with the sweet, sugary scent of her. “Just please, darlin’. Don’t leave me hanging again. ”

  Her pause seemed too long.

  “What?”

  “Why are you so anxious to talk to me? Because you’re relieved I’m not a stripper? And you think we might actually have a chance at a relationship?”

  “We already have a relationship. ”

  Holly’s eyes went as wide as dinner plates.

  “Besides, I could give a damn what you do for a living. I thought I’d made that clear last night. ”

  Finally, she admitted, “I guess you did. ”

  “Good. ” After a lingering touch to the side of her face, Nick stepped back and stood in front of Rudy. “Get up and start talking. ”

  Holly paced in Ivy’s office.

  A knock sounded. The door opened. Nick came in and leaned against it, looking weary, but still as sinfully sexy as the first time she’d seen him. Holly asked, “You okay?”

  “Not really. I’m feeling all kinds of foolish, if you wanna know the real truth. ” He briefly squeezed his eyes shut. “Shit. I can’t believe I was so stupid. ”

  “About me?”

  “About Rudy. ”

  “You sure you aren’t a little disappointed I’m not the infamous Mistress Christmas?”

  “No. God no. You are everything I’ve ever…”

  “You don’t need to keep piling on the flattery, Nick,” Holly snapped.

  “I’m not. I mean, I am. But in my mind it’s not flattery if it’s true. Dammit. Just listen to me. Remember when I told you I wasn’t a regular at strip
clubs?”

  She nodded warily.

  “Well, that wasn’t a lie. Rudy is the reason I came to Sugar Plums in the first place. See, he told me Mistress Christmas had slipped something in his drink after a lap dance, then she stole his wallet and left him to pass out in his car. ”

  “And you thought I was capable of that?”

  “Yes. No. ” Nick scrubbed his hands over his razor-stubbled chin. “I see things a lot worse than that on a daily basis, which is why I decided to check into Rudy’s claims off the clock, on my own time. I knew he was embarrassed about what’d happened here, but I hadn’t suspected he’d flat-out lied to me.

  “I felt sorry for him, which is probably why I believed him without question. His wife left him last year during the holidays. Evidently coming here recreated the memory of happier times. ”

  Holly couldn’t imagine how low Rudy must’ve fallen to believe the limited attentions from a stripper could possibly be considered “happier times”. Sadly, she suspected Rudy wasn’t the only regular club customer who harbored that delusion.

  “Between the lap dances and the gambling machines, it’s no wonder he didn’t have any money. With his drunken obsession with Mistress Christmas, it’s a no brainer he’d been banned, since he’s half a step from stalker territory. ” Nick looked up at her. Intently. “Lucky for him he never put his greedy hands on you. ”

  She swallowed, trying to wet her mouth, which’d gone dry as Aunt Clara’s fruitcake.

  “Anyway. His choices were detox or jail. He picked detox. Maybe he’ll get the professional help he needs since I ended up being such a piss-poor friend. ”

  “His problems aren’t your doing,” Holly said. “You tried to help him when I suspect the rest of his friends either couldn’t or wouldn’t. ”

  “Thanks. ” Those gold-flecked eyes narrowed on her face. “Enough about Rudy. I wanna talk about you. ”
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