The new guy laughed, shook his head, and motioned us toward a hallway that seemed to stretch the length of the club. Owen moved us all down that narrow corridor. There wasn't actually room for us to walk three abreast, so Nathaniel dropped ahead, and kept his arm around Owen. Owen must have taken that for a good sign, because he was suddenly draped around Nathaniel like some kind of tall, thin fashion accessory. Micah caught up with me, his arm sliding around my waist like I was his new security blanket. I guess I couldn't blame him, I wasn't exactly comfy myself.
There were small booths on either side, with curtains that could be drawn in front of them, though not everyone seemed to be bothering to pull curtains. Most of it was perfectly legal, a private lap dance. Rules for a lap dance are: The customer keeps their hands to themselves. The dancer does the touching, and even then, there are rules about what kind of touching can be done. Funny how living with a stripper and dating someone who owned a strip club had made me pay attention to things I never thought I'd want, or need, to know. But once you go in private, it's a negotiation between the dancer and customer. I don't mean just sex. Jason had one woman who wanted to lick the back of his knees, and was willing to pay fifty dollars for the privilege. Not my idea of fun, but not sexual, not legally. Or by most people's standards, at all.
I hadn't really thought how to find Ronnie once we were back here. Most of the booths were closed. I couldn't just start yelling her name without maybe getting Owen in trouble with this Dallas person. Shit.
But I didn't have to find Ronnie, I damn near tripped over her leg when it shot out from underneath a drape. I thought I knew the leg, but I was sure of the voice. "I fell down, God, I'm drunk." A man's voice murmured, and I think he was helping her to her feet.
I fought the urge to knock and said, "Ronnie, is that you?" Though I knew it was, sometimes you just have to say the stupid shit. Giggling was the only answer she offered. I took a deep breath and pulled the drape aside.
Ronnie was on her knees in the back of the booth. There was a flash of pale br**sts, her shirt was up, and there was no bra in sight. A man was leaning over her br**sts like he owned them. The dancers are allowed to touch, but not that much. If the management found out, he'd be booted out, or at least that was the theory.
"I'll wait down the hallway," Micah said.
I nodded. "Yeah."
Nathaniel took Owen by the arm and said, "I'll look after Micah." I was left alone with my friend and her friend.
Ronnie giggled and drew him up for a kiss. I don't think she realized that the curtain was open. If she'd been sober, I'd have turned on my heel and left her to it. She's over twenty-one, but she was drunk and depressed and confused and my friend. So I moved a little into the booth, close enough that she could see me over his shoulder.
She smiled up at me. "Anita, why are you here?"
"You called me to give you a ride home, remember?"
She frowned up at me, as if to say, no, she didn't remember.
The man who was on his knees in front of her turned and looked up at me. "You want to join us? I won't charge extra."
"I'll just bet you won't. Come on, Ronnie, let's go home."
"I don't want to go home. Not yet. I just found Dallas. We're having a private dance."
"I see that," I said, "but if you'd planned on doing private dancing, you shouldn't have called me. I need to get to bed, and so do you."
"But isn't he cute?" She put her hands on either side of his face and turned him to face me again. Truthfully, he was okay, but the face wasn't the show. He had the first body I'd seen since we got to the place that looked like a man's body and not that of a preadolescent boy. He had broad shoulders, nice waist, hips, muscles in his arms and legs that showed he lifted weights. The tattoo on his arm was a Marine tattoo. What was an ex marine doing in a place like this?
"Yeah, he's cute, now let's go." I reached for her arm. Dallas didn't touch me, or try to keep her by force, he was sneakier than that, and smarter, too. He buried his face in her chest and nibbled gently on the edge of her breast. Ronnie threw her head back and made a noise that I never wanted to hear my friend make while I was in the same room.
Micah called, not quite a yell, "Anita, what's taking so long?"
"Ronnie doesn't want to leave."
"Then, let's go." Something in his voice made me want to see what was happening with him.
"I'll be right back, don't do anything that you can get arrested for." Dallas gave me a look that said plainly he was going to try and do just the opposite, but it was the best I could do, unless I wanted to drag Ronnie out of the booth by her hair. I wanted to see why Micah's voice sounded the way it did.
Micah was very politely, but firmly, saying to an older gentleman, "Thank you, but no, we're waiting for a friend."
"I'll be your friend," the man said. He flashed a wad of bills about waist height, so you wouldn't see it from farther into the club. The bill that showed was a twenty, leaving the implication that it was a roll of twenties.
Micah shook his head.
The man peeled off two twenties.
"No," Micah said.
I was almost up to them, when the man peeled off two more twenties--eighty bucks--and held it up to Micah. "No one else is going to offer you more tonight."
"Oh, I don't know," I said, "I'm throwing in room and board, and sex with a girl." I put my arm around Micah's waist, and he did the same to me.
The man's eyes flicked to me, then back to Micah, then to me. "You're his friend?"
"You really were waiting for a friend," the man said.
"I did tell you that," Micah said.
The man frowned and started folding his money away. "I didn't think you meant this kind of friend."
"He did," I said, and gave him the smile that was bright and cheerful and never reached my eyes. I looked around for Nathaniel and found that I could barely see him around the backs of a couple that had him backed into a corner. He raised a hand, so I'd be sure to see him. Or maybe he was asking for help, like a drowning man.
I took Micah's hand and brought him with me. I think safety in numbers was our best bet. "Excuse me, boys and girls," I said.
The couple turned and looked at me. The man was tall and dark, the girl was a little taller than me and blond. She was wearing a halter dress that needed to be lined better. Her ni**les were dark imprints against the pale fabric. I carefully kept my gaze above her waist, not even wanting to know if there were other dark imprints lower down. I don't mean to give the idea that they were cheap looking, they weren't. The girl was wearing a diamond in her engagement ring big enough to choke a puppy, and her bracelets were gold and more diamonds. Her makeup was artful, which meant she looked like she was wearing almost none but was actually wearing a lot. The man was dressed in a suit that had been tailored to his body and had probably come from the same shop that Micah and Nathaniel got theirs from. It had the look.
"I'm sorry, but we were talking to the gentleman first," the man said.
I took in a lot of air through my nose and let it out slow. The woman's perfume was powdery and expensive. "Actually, I was talking to him first, because I brought him here."
They gave each other surprised looks.
Nathaniel started trying to ease past them. "Sorry," he said, "I did tell you I came with somebody." When he was safely beside me, and I was holding both Micah's and Nathaniel's hands, I figured we were safe from any more propositions. Silly me.
The woman went up on tiptoe, and the man bent down so she could whisper. I didn't care anymore. I started trying to maneuver us back to Ronnie. The area was just a little narrow for three people to move easily.
"Wait," the woman said.
I turned back, because that's what you do when someone speaks to you.
"All three of you with us," she said.
I blinked at her, the long blink that gave me time to process information when I just didn't believe what I'd just heard. Once upon a time, I'd have asked her what she meant, but I'd grown up since then, and I knew the answer. "No," I said, and sort of pushed Micah in front of me and pulled Nathaniel behind. We came to an abrupt halt, because Nathaniel stopped moving.
I knew what I was going to see before I turned back. I was half right, the man had grabbed Nathaniel's arm. I'd thought it would be the woman. Again, silly me.