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Chapter One


Stephan stood outside The Fire House, a strip club just off The Strip in Las Vegas; not exactly high end for the industry, but far from rock bottom. There were seedier parts of Las Vegas. Parts so seedy few locals ventured there. The Fire House was high end for clubs regarded as middle of the road. Clean, but dated and staffed with troubled girls that had yet to reach despair.  
     s
Letting The Judge talk him in to this. Mistake number one. He was a musician. Twenty years ago he was a member of a rock band that had a really good run. Steel Ryder; he, Warren, Cole, Edmund and his little brother Talon and it had been great, until it wasn’t. Some where, their status surpassed them. They went from a five member band to five rock legends. As five musicians they had no trouble making music. As five rock legends the music became about meeting expectations. So, they left the music behind and went on to different lives.

Warren became a judge; Edmund a state senator and Cole started a foundation that helped fund rehab centers all across the country. After years of reclusive behavior, Talon married and started a family and brought Austin, the lead singer of Silent Innuendo, in to their lives. With Austin came music, a connection to a new generation of musicians and a friend.

A family in all their dysfunctional glory, they protected each other and their life style using what power they had to help each other out. Stephan envisioned this stage of his life more Jimmy Buffet, but the beach and margaritas remained just out of reach. He spent most his adulthood trying to keep a promise he made on his mother’s deathbed and as a result never got around to the new career either. Until now, apparently The Judge thought he showed great potential for stripper repossession.  

Mistake number two; agreeing to keep his trip secret from Austin since this particular stripper might be Austin’s long lost sister, Gina. Stephan saw her on his last trip to Vegas and The Judge sent him back to find out. Standing in the parking lot Stephan knew one thing; sooner or later, this would bite him in the ass.

Yes, he should have told Austin, but instead he flew in secret to Nevada planning to figure everything out when he landed. He left the airport over an hour ago and damned if he knew what to do next. Staring at the building didn’t seem to be helping any, so Stephan did the next logical thing; he went inside the club.

Like most of Vegas, the atmosphere of The Fire House was set to permanent night and Stephan took a moment to adjust to the dim surroundings. A pretty big crowd for ten in the morning. Slot machines pinged and flickered. Some of the men cheered, some of them swore and some continued to hit the buttons in the same vain hope they tucked singles in to stripper’s g-strings. Each one was going to pay out just enough to get more money.

Two ramps connected the stage to the curved bar, which doubled as an apron. This gave the girls room to perform up close and personal for the customers on the stools. Every six feet a pole ran from the bar top to a hole in the ceiling. Each shift began when the alarm rang and the girls slid down to put out the fire.

They performed a synchronized dance stripping down to a mini blue t-shirt that covered the top halves of their breasts, a pair of yellow shorts covering just about as much ass, a pair of red suspenders and tight, knee high, black vinyl boots. Some how the bartenders kept serving and the girls never kicked over a drink. Strip Club rule number one; nothing interrupts the drinking.

Tank, a very tall, very wide bouncer approached Stephan. He came with a Marine style haircut and his name embroidered over his shirt pocket. “Show’s not free, buddy. If you’re standing, you’re drinking.”

With a nod, Stephan handed Tank several bills and scanned the club for Gina. “A girl with red hair, blond streaks gave me a great experience my last trip. She here tonight? Kind of Cindy Lauper in seventies.”

Tank pocketed the bills. “That’s Lily. She’s finishing up a private session. I’ll get her a message when she’s through.”

“Tell her there’s three hundred for lap dances.” Stephan walked toward a secluded booth in the back of the club.

“Hey!” Tank yelled after him. “What’s the other hundred for?”

“The four shots of scotch she needs to bring with her.”

#

Harold Flynn stood as The Judge and the two police officers entered his office. The tall, neatly groomed man buttoned his suit coat as he walked around his desk.

With a handshake as smooth as his movement, he greeted his distinguished visitor. “Warren Carver, it’s a pleasure to meet you. We don’t usually get such illustrious company.” He meant every word he said out loud. His concern about why a man of Judge Warren Carver’s stature felt it necessary to appear personally remained unspoken. So did what this unexpected appearance have to do with his newspaper.

The Judge carried himself in the manner of an affable man and Harold liked him immediately. Under better circumstances, this meeting might continue over drinks upstairs in the executive lounge. No, Harold didn’t know the specifics of The Judge’s visit, but he knew they were on opposite sides.

“I’m guessing by your escort this isn’t a social visit.” Harold’s gesture acknowledged the presence of the police officers. “Why don’t we sit and you can tell me what this is in regards to.”

He motioned to the chairs in front of his desk and waited for The Judge to sit down. He didn’t bother offering a seat to the police officers because a man of his position innately understood the officers remained standing. Tabloid press or not, he ran an extremely successful publishing empire. Many people despised the content he printed, but as a business man he gained respect.

Harold Flynn took the chair opposite The Judge instead of returning to the chair behind his desk. A man of his position also had no need to prove it. He smiled. “Judge Carver, you have my undivided attention.”

The Judge leaned forward; straightened his posture and dropped his voice to stress the seriousness of his visit. “I have a problem with one of your employees. A reporter named, Gail Richardson.”

In response, Harold leaned back and folded his hands together. Gail. Of course, Gail. Gail and the band she’d been obsessed with for years. The stunt she pulled in Vegas and the stories she wrote about them increased their circulation thirty percent. And though that made Harold happy, it also made him wary. Of the five band members, two now held influential positions in the state government. After the last story they printed he told Gail in the future if it had to do with Steel Ryder – he wasn’t interested.

The Judge studied his reaction. Noticing, Harold held up his hands. “I’m sorry. Please continue.”

“Miss Richardson took some photographs of my friend’s daughter just hours after she was born.”

“Madeline Taylor.” Harold adjusted his black rimmed glasses. Contacts were more practical, but in his line of work every bit of distinguished helped.

“Yes. Madeline Taylor.” The Judge conceded. “I contacted Miss Richardson and informed her my friends filed charges I was willing not to prosecute – IF she refused to print the pictures, returned all copies and the memory card from her camera.”

Harold Flynn shook his head. “As Editor in Chief, I’m surprised one of my reporters had pictures of Madeline Taylor I didn’t know about. I’m also surprised there’s legal action pending against this reporter that I didn’t know about either. Since I know we didn’t run any pictures of Madeline Taylor; I’m assuming Gail hasn’t turned over the photos.”

“For the last eight months I’ve been playing an increasingly annoying game of phone tag with Miss Richardson,” The Judge explained “that ended this morning when charges were officially filed with the District Attorney.”

Harold took the complaint The Judge pulled from his suit jacket. He quickly scanned the document. “Invasion of privacy - intrusion upon seclusion, commercial appropriation of private information, violation of the consumer protection act… this looks pretty thorough. I see Flynn Group Publishing is named as the defendant.”

“Gail used an investigator hired by your firm to obtain personal information in order to trace and locate the Taylor’s doctor and obtain details of their delivery plan.”

“This means I can also be sued in civil court.” Harold beat The Judge to the inevitable conclusion. “You realize, of course, we’ll argue First Amendment.”

“It may be a difficult lawsuit to win, but it’s certainly strong enough to keep you in court for quite a while.” The Judge stood up ending their conversation with abrupt formality.

Still seated, Harold smiled. “Judge Carver, why did you bring the officers with you?”

“They’ll be arresting Miss Richardson for obstruction of justice. She’s refused to release evidence imperative to a criminal investigation.”

“Meaning what, exactly?” Harold asked.

The older officer stepped forward and spoke. “We’ll take her back to the precinct and process her. She’ll be held until she’s decides returning the photos is the right thing to do.”

Harold stood and leaned against the edge of his desk staring at the three men. “And just how do you convince her?”

“Well,” the officer continued “over the years, Miss Richardson showed a lot of interest in The Judge’s private life as well as the private lives of some of his friends.”

“Joe’s right.” The Judge said. “I felt if Gail was so interested in our life style, she might benefit from a little first hand experience.”

“And when she’s convinced, then this all goes away.” Harold finished waving the complaint.   

“That’s correct.” The Judge answered.

Harold laughed out loud. He really liked this man and when this was all over he was going to buy Warren Carver a drink. Hell, he might buy him a whole bar.

Still laughing, Harold buzzed his assistant. “Jonathon, can you please tell Gail I need to see her in my office.”

#

Ten minutes ago, lap dancing seemed like a good way to get close to Lily, but it would take more then four shots of scotch to get him through this. As Lily straddled his hips her pelvis ground against his thighs awaking the part of his body that didn’t care if she was related to one of his friends. Her suspenders, shrugged off her shoulders, fell to her waist and each she raised her hands her t-shirt, which really wasn’t a t-shirt, exposed more of her chest. His body immediately responded to the set of spectacular stripper boobs. If she was truly Austin’s sister, seeing her nipples wasn’t a good idea. 

Stephan leaned forward and her leg muscles tightened around his prepared for inappropriate behavior. Trying to calm her, he dropped his hands and whispered in her ear before she took off her shirt completely. “I’m a backdoor kind of guy, babe. You need to turn around.”

Maintaining constant zipper contact, Lily spun like a pro taking the hem of her t-shirt and pulling it over her head three quarters of the way through the maneuver. Not that turning away helped Stephan out at all. He caught flashes of dark rosy skin as Lily gyrated on his lap and her perfect D cup teardrops swung with her movements. Stephan closed his eyes and silently recited The Pledge of Allegiance to keep his body from committing the sin his penis so desperately desired.  

Gaining some semblance of control, he opened his eyes and studied her back. It told him all he needed to know. A two inch patch of skin right above her shoulder blade bore the tattoo of a small, purple lily.

Reaching out, he gently traced the design. Lily looked over her tattooless shoulder. “What are you doing?”

“Nice flower.” Stephan smiled, grabbing a shot glass from the table beside him downing the scotch. “My buddy’s sister had one kind of like it.”

“Let me guess. You had a crush on her, but you never screwed her because you’re an honorable guy.”

“Not exactly.” Stephan answered truthfully.

She started to turn back and with out thinking Stephan covered her breasts with his hands to keep her in place. He never could think in a crisis. There was no good way to explain this to Austin. Stephan played the conversation in his head.

     Austin:      How much did you see?
     Stephan:     Not that much.
     Austin:     Did you see her nipples?
     Stephan:     No.
     Austin:     Are you sure?
     Stephan:     Yes. I hide them under my hands.

During this thought his fingers were doing things his fingers shouldn’t be doing.

“You’re good at this.” Lily gasped and drove her body, hard against him.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Tank take a few steps toward them, but Lily stopped him with a delicate shake of her head.

Stephan checked with Lily. “Isn’t this against the rules?”

Her fingers tighten around his wrists, pushing his hands together, showing him what she wanted. “You paid three hundred dollars. You get to cop a feel.”

“Cop a feel?” Stephan chuckled in her ear. “I can teach you things about yourself you never knew.”

He ran his finger under her nipple. Not the pad of his finger, but the side, his nail gently grazing the bottom skin with each stroke, awakening nerves that, unless she spent a lot of time exploring her own body, she never discovered.

Her body stopped moving to her rhythm and began moving to his. “What the hell?”

He grinned because he’d surprised her and he bet very few things surprised her anymore. “Lean back. Push a little harder against me.”

Underneath her, he moved his hips creating a sensual friction. At the same time his thumb found her other nipple. Her back arched and her head slammed against his shoulder as she twisted trying to draw his thumb roughly back over her taut peak.

“Uh, Uh, Uh.” Stephan moved his thumb away from her rigid skin easily breaking her hold of his wrist. “None of that now. I control the fun.”

Reluctantly, she gave in and his fingers resumed their incessant strumming. He was absolutely eternally damned for not stopping, absolutely spending some time in hell with the other louses who made it with their friend’s sister.

Not that it mattered. There was something special about this girl. He made her body hum, like he’d done this before specifically with her. He sensed her sensitive spots, recognized the places that made her twitch and cry in the same inexplicable way he knew, he knew exactly what she needed to come.

“Who are you?” She asked searching his face for an answer.

He looked back in to an ocean of blue emotion and he was gone. So gone his first response was the truth. “I’m the guy who came here to ask you the same the thing.”

They drew unwanted attention and she wriggled on his lap, the pretend dance hiding her reaction to his hands. It didn’t matter if she called herself Lily or Gina. All that mattered right now was being with her, proving his mastery of her body, showing her with every touch she belonged to him.

“Who do you think I am?”

Stephan paused long enough to answer her question. “I think you’re mine.”

He felt the tension in her body. “I think you’re wro-“

He bent his head down kissing the base of her neck, gliding his tongue over the salty hollow, catching a bit of skin between his teeth in a quick, sharp nip. Her body jerked and shuddered with such intensity his legs almost failed to support her.

Lily turned and grabbed his face with her hands. “Shit.” She whispered and covered his mouth with hers.

She tasted like cherry candy when he’d expected something minty or something more work related like cigarettes and alcohol. Enjoying the surprise, he allowed her assault to continue longer then normal, but as she demanded more he stopped participating. This wasn’t a kiss, this was a take over; an attempt to switch the balance of power between them, to control the pace of their encounter.

Stephan broke away resisting her attempt to tug him back to her lips. “I know you need it harder. I know this slow stuff drives you crazy, but I paid, babe, and that means I’m in charge.”

She stared at him, quite obviously thinking not so nice thoughts about him. Stephan handed her a shot of scotch and she emptied it on his lap dismounting him like an animal. He probably could have handled that better.

He considered not going after her, but involving himself in Lily’s life was much more preferable then telling Austin his sister disappeared again. He stood up to follow her, to try and explain but Tank blocked his path.

“The manager would like to have a word with you in his office.”

#

Gail Richardson studied the cell in the downtown county police department. One ray of sunshine streamed through the small barred window a good twelve feet over her head. She sat down in the exact spot it broke in to an array of beams on the floor. She supposed she looked odd with her back against the concrete wall and her legs stretched out in the tiny patch of light. After all, there was an almost comfortable cot less then a foot away. Of course in this cell, she wasn’t more then one foot away from anything.

Not that there was much here. The toilet and the cot were pretty much the extent of the furniture. Three white cinderblock walls and a set of white iron bars framed the six by ten foot space. Thin grey carpet covered the floor, ran under the bars and in to the hallway separating two rows of cells.

Gail figured she drew the V.I.P cell because in her cell bright white, bleach smelling sheets hugged a plump mattress with a soft, maroon, chenille blanket tucked over it. Two like wise plump pillows sat at the top of the cot dressed in matching, bright, white pillowcases. The other cells had thinner mattresses, one pillow and dingier sheets.

She stood and walked to the front of the cell, wrapping each hand around a bar trying to fit her face through the space between. She turned her head to the left. “Hello! Is any body in here?”

Silence. Okay. Definitely weird. Instantly, a million conspiracy theories filled her head. White slavery rings and secret government experiments topped her list but blackmailed in to becoming an assassin wasn’t far behind. She had to stop watching the Women’s Channel. It messed with her head.

The door at the end of the hallway opened and she heard footsteps approaching her cell, not so much footsteps because the crappy grey carpet muffled the sound. But, then why buy good carpet if you’re going to paint a long yellow line down the hall and small yellow lines outside each cell door. No, it was more a jingle of keys and some kind of rolling cart. Maybe alone was better.

Gail turned her head to the right. “Hello? Who’s there?”

The sounds abruptly stopped. A short, whispered discussion she couldn’t hear took place, then silence and the closing of a door.

“Hey!” Gail yelled through the bars. “Don’t leave me!”

“I’m not going any where.”

Gail screamed and jumped back as The Judge materialized directly in front of her cell.

“Easy.” The Judge chuckled. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

She wanted to slap that grin right off his face, but she dialed back her anger. He was her only visitor. “I disagree. I think you went to a lot of trouble to do exactly that.”

“You’re mad at me?”

“Yes, I’m mad at you! I’m in jail!” She hated the high pitched, banshee quality this man’s presence brought to her voice.

The moment Gail started to get hysterical, The Judge’s demeanor changed. She could almost see a curtain of calm descend over him.

He placed his hands in the pockets of his tan pants and rocked back on the heels of dark, brown loafers; an outfit that struck her as casually dressed for The Judge. He still wore suspenders, which were also tan with some kind of pattern too small for her to distinguish at this distance. But, underneath the suspenders, his white dress shirt was rolled up to his elbows and unbuttoned at the collar. She almost mentioned this was a good look for him, but he spoke first and ruined the whole thing.

“I warned you I was serious.”

Gail fisted her hands and looked around the cell. “If I had something to throw at you, I’d be throwing it right now.”

“You’re not really mad at me.”

“One – you don’t get to psychoanalyze me because two – you’re not impartial.”

“That was over twenty years ago.”

Oh, no. This was not only about her. He had some responsibility here too. “None of you got over that article. You closed ranks on me ever since.”

“You toured with us and then you betrayed us. What did you expect?”

“I’m a reporter. I write the story – not the story you want me to tell. Is it so hard for any of you to believe I might be a decent person? That if you gave me any professional respect we might not have reached this point?”

The Judge stopped rocking. “Yes. Because you stole those pictures and now you won’t return them.”

“I didn’t give them to the paper either!” She charged to the bars. “Why is it when ever we’re together, we’re always back in London?”

“Are you done?”

She glared through the bars and found a look of curious amusement stuck on his face. “Done what?” It came out much more like a challenge then a question.

“Seething” He began rocking again. In a moment he would start to whistle.  

She plopped down on the cot. “I am not seething.”

“I’ve seen my fair share of seething and that was it.”

“Stop twisting my behavior so you can use it to prove me wrong.” She didn’t want to banter any more. “Why are you here?”

“I brought you dinner.”

“Good.” She let her head rest against the wall and closed her eyes. Exhaustion had been threatening to take over for the last hour. “I’m hungry.”

#

Gina put up the best fight of her life, kicking, clawing and biting from the moment Stephan and his thugs showed up at The Firehouse. She continued fighting in the car they dragged her to and halfway across the parking lot of where ever the hell they were now.

Halfway across the parking lot was exactly where Stephan bent her over the hood of a dark, blue station wagon, took off his shoe and smacked the crap out of her ass. Before she had time for outrage, he’d marched her through a restaurant kitchen and in to a service elevator, much to the amusement of their two companions.

Presently, the two apes standing on either side of her grinned like morons while Stephan used one hand to pin hers behind her back and the other to control her head with a fist full of her own hair. Still pissed beyond belief, Gina twisted, pulled and pushed in her fight for freedom. The best chance of getting a shot at Stephan was in the elevator.  

The infuriating man simply held on and rode out her tantrum like a rodeo cowboy. When gorilla number two coughed in to his hand to cover an obvious chuckle, she turned her foot, lifted it high and drove the heel of her boot in to his thigh. Gina felt a certain amount of self satisfaction. He wasn’t chuckling when he fell to the floor.   

She gloated and missed the opportunity to prevent Stephan from bending her over. Amazed, she watched as Stephan quickly pulled gorilla number one’s walkie-talkie out of the holster, gripped it by the antenna and bounced it off the seat of her shorts. When the elevator doors opened, he re-holstered it in the same deft movement and marched her down the hallway with out ever saying a word.

Gail tried to plant her feet, but Stephan propelled her forward as if she offered no resistance at all. They stopped in front of a set of rather elaborate black doors while the gorilla she injured punched some numbers in to the panel beside the door. Some thing clicked and the doors swung slowly open.

The grip on her hands tightened and Stephan threw her in to the room and let go. She stumbled forward afraid she might fall over some thing, but discovered there was nothing directly in front of her. She stood up and turned around slowly taking in her surroundings.

“You could’ve just said you were taking me to an incredibly luxurious suite for a private party and saved my ass the workout.”

“You’re not here to perform. You don’t dance any more.” Stephan told her.

“Of course I do. I’m a dancer. That’s my job.”

The shorter ape, with curly black hair and almost black eyes opened his mouth. “He means you don’t have a job any more. I brought out your contract.”

“That’s crazy. I don’t have a contract.”

He smiled at her and Gina suppressed a shudder. “Trust me. If I say you have a contract and I brought it out, you won’t be able to get a job bagging donuts in this town.”

“Do we sell donuts in Las Vegas?” Gina quipped while searching for an escape route. It was past time to get out. She tried to dodge the trio, but the big ape grabbed her around the waist and held her off the floor.

Raging and more then a little frightened, she screamed. “Put me down! I’m going home!”

“You don’t have an apartment any more either.” Stephan explained. “As we speak, your stuff is being packed up and moved in to storage.”

“Who the hell are you and what the hell is going on?” Gina demanded.

The smaller man held out his hand in an absolutely meaningless gesture since his orangutan had her arms pinned to her sides. “I’m Tony ‘the Bear’ Spatuzza and the gentlemen currently restraining you is my head of security, T.W. Malone.”

She looked at Stephan. “I guess that makes you Stephan ‘The Asshole’…. I’m sorry with all the kidnapping shit I missed your last name.” If she were closer to Stephan, she would have spit on him.

“Taylor.” Stephan responded. “My last name is Taylor. Although I prefer Stephan ‘The Big A’ Taylor when you put it all together. It’s what the rest of the guys call me.”

She was about to make another smart assed comment when her memory kicked in and she placed the names the men had given her. She didn’t know who Stephan was, but if he worked with The Bear and The Wall, he was trouble. She stopped fighting and The Wall set her down.

“What do you want with me?” she asked quietly.

Stephan coughed. “Here’s the part you’re not going like. Remember I told you about my buddy whose sister had a tattoo like yours?”

Gina nodded waiting for the bad news to arrive.  

“His name is Austin Hunter.”

She screamed, right before she charged him.    

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