Atlantic City is the perfect place for detective Bradley Hudson to nurse his broken heart. A week of beer and strippers is sure to erase his former fiancée from his memory for good. What he didn’t count on was running into a sassy redhead from his past. Maybe a rebound romp is an even better plan…
Trina Trimble, private eye in training, is thrilled to be reunited with the hottie she almost hooked up with last summer. She’s undercover on her first solo case, but there’s always time to lock lips with a sexy cop. Besides, a fun fling with Brad doesn’t have to last beyond his week in town.
Brad and Trina are supposed to be just flirting, not forging a new forever. Brad’s still healing, and although Trina changes careers the way other women change shoes, she has finally found her calling in her new life of disguises and stakeouts. But when an irresistible job offer threatens to lure her away, Brad will need to decide to let her go or bet it all on love and risk his heart again.
Worst honeymoon ever. Not that Bradley Hudson had experienced much in way of comparison. But he knew it was missing some key ingredients. First clue? He was not sitting on a sunny Caribbean beach, sucking on a rum punch. Second clue? No sex. And the third, most telling piece of evidence?
He took a sip of something brown and tasteless that was as weak as it was pricey. Oh, well. Not as if he’d come here to get blitzed. Brad could drink for free when he hit the casinos. At a strip club, the draw was the eye candy. What he could see of it past all the fake greenery.
The strip clubs here weren’t just your basic stage and a pole like the ones he’d raided as a beat cop back home in Baltimore. No, in Atlantic City everything had to have a theme. Here at Club Eden, each of the stools at the edge of the stage was shaped like the ass end of a different animal, complete with tails hanging from the back. A spiky green plant poked at the top of Brad’s head. More surrounded him, giving his fake grass-covered banquette in the corner the feeling of a private cabana. A very green, very tacky cabana.
So his view was limited to straight ahead. Only about a third of the stage. Since Brad only gave a third of a rat’s ass about seeing the gravity-defying racks on the dancers, it didn’t matter. After all, he hadn’t even wanted to come. But his dad—of all people—made him promise to engage in the age-old custom of staring at fake boobs at least once, just to stick it to the memory of his ex-fiancée. And everyone at his Maryland State Police barracks had pitched in to give him a wad of singles to stuff…somewhere.
What he did enjoy was the view of the waitress who was to-and-fro-ing it in front of him. She wore a green bikini top with a few strategically placed twining vines. A grass skirt was too long by the width of a single blade of grass for him to arrest her for indecent exposure. Her butt twitched the grass with every step in a hypnotic swish that pulled him far more than the gyrations on stage. As did the cascade of deep red curls that skimmed the top of it.
Not that it mattered. Not that Brad intended to do anything more than just look. ’Cause if you dug a hole straight through to the opposite side of the earth, you still wouldn’t get low enough to rank women on his priority list. Right now, for him, they just made good scenery. Like the backdrops he’d painted the summer he pitched in with the school musical to catch the eye of Kerri…no, Cammie? Some hot blonde a year ahead of him who’d kissed him across an enormous canvas covered with wheat fields and haystacks. The night the backdrop got stuck up in the fly system, the show still rolled on. The music and story came out just as well without the backdrop. And for now Brad’s life rolled on, better than ever without the complication, heartache and headache of a woman in it.
The music switched from Eurotrash pop to a technobeat that buzzed in his molars. Brad shifted to pull his phone out of his pocket. He wanted to take a picture of his cheesy fake grass-covered seat and shoot it to Coop. Chances were his cousin wouldn’t believe the description without photographic evidence. Distrust for what he couldn’t see was part of what made Coop such a good detective. Not quite as good as Brad, of course, but close.
As soon as the flash went off, little Miss Grass Skirt barreled over, long hair almost covering her face. “No photos in here, hon. You’re lucky the bouncer didn’t see you, or you’d be losing an arm along with your phone.” She held out a hand.
“Sorry. I didn’t think.” Brad passed over the phone. “Look for yourself—there aren’t any people in this photo.”
She took it. Snorted. “Talk about pointless. Did your butt form a deep, sentimental attachment with the fake grass beneath it? Wanna remember it forever?”
Wow. Bet she didn’t get many tips with that kind of an attitude in this place. But it did tease a grin out of him. “I don’t have to explain my spank bank to you.”
“Funny. Or really sick and twisted, if you’re not kidding.” She flipped the hair out of her eyes. Gasped. “Brad?”
He looked at her. Really looked, past the glitter caked on top of green eye shadow. Past the fake lashes and scarlet lips to the face beneath the painted-on mask. The delicate, almost elfin features. Eyes the same green as the beer bottles on her tray. And realized he’d ogled this particular face and figure before. Four months ago, to be exact. On the beach. Where she and her best friend Darcy stumbled across a counterfeit green-card scam. Since Brad’s cousin Coop was falling ass over heels for Darcy at the time, he and Brad got dragged into their investigation. They got the bad guy, and Coop got the girl.
A dimple formed at the corner of her smile. “You remember. Even my last name. I’m impressed. Here I thought you detective types had to consult your pocket notebooks to remember anything.”
“Two minutes, and two insults. You haven’t changed a bit, Trina.” Knowing it was her now, and not just some random set of great legs, Brad gave her a slow head-to-toe. The view from the front was just as good as the one from the back. Tan, freckled legs were bare all the way down to feet jammed into clear, well, he had to call them hooker shoes. No other way to describe the Lucite stilts she wobbled on, with toenails peeping out the same glittery green as her eye shadow.
“Why fix what’s not broken?” she sassed back.
Trina set his phone on the table. “What’s a nice boy like you doing in a skeezy place like this?”
“Seriously?” Brad huffed out a laugh. “Good or bad, young or old, most men come to a strip club at least a couple times in their lives. You really think you need to dig deep to discover my motivation?”
“Most men like you don’t come alone and drink in a corner. Unless…” She slammed down her tray, bottles rattling. Leaned forward far enough he could see the emerald satin edge of her bra. Made him wonder if her panties were the same color. “Are you here on a stakeout?”
This was the Trina he remembered. The one who jumped to conclusions faster than a kangaroo on speed. “Hope not. Since you just yelled that loud enough for everyone within ten tables to hear.”
The sparkle of excitement in her eyes snuffed right out. “Sorry. I got excited. Thought I’d get to see some action in here.”
Her choice of words cracked him up. “I’ll bet you get to see all sorts of action in here most nights.”
Trina grimaced. “Not the kind of action I want to see. Or even think about. I sort of want to bleach my memory bank after every shift.”
Exactly the feeling Brad had after some of his shifts. As a homicide detective, he saw things all too often that he didn’t want popping up in his dreams. Which they invariably did. It was a hazard of the job. Worth it, though, to catch the scum who perpetrated the crimes and make sure they never repeated themselves.
“I don’t want to get your hopes up, so no, I’m definitely not on a stakeout.”
“Bummer. Of course, if you’re not on official business, then I get to do this.” Trina slid in next to him. Leaned over for a hug. Even with the plastic vines attached to her top poking at his chest through the open collar of his white polo shirt, it was one hell of a hug.
In the short time he’d known her, Brad had noticed that Trina threw herself into everything she did with whole-hearted enthusiasm. This hug was no exception. Most people did a polite squeeze and release. In and out as fast as the flu shot the department made him get every year. But Trina clung tight. Which was fine with him, as it pressed those perky breasts right up against him. Her face burrowed into the hollow of his neck. Brad could swear her lips rested on the pulse point that hadn’t picked up its pace over a woman in six long months. All of a sudden, blood pounded through him, on a much swifter course due south, away from one head straight down to his other.
Oh yeah. This hug was chock-full of potential. And the night suddenly looked a hundred times brighter.
Christi Barth earned a Masters degree in vocal performance and embarked upon a career on the stage. A love of romance then drew her to wedding planning. Ultimately she succumbed to her lifelong love of books and now writes award-winning contemporary romance. Christi is President of the Maryland Romance Writers and lives in Maryland with her husband.