As Bridget Rodgers stared at the old meat-packing warehouse, she kept seeing flashes of the movie Hostel in her head. According to her friend, the invite-only, highly gossiped about Leather and Lace club was the place to be. But from the cemented-over windows and graffiti-sprayed exterior walls, in what were probably gang symbols, plus the dim flickering light from the nearby lamppost, Bridget figured most patrons of this club ended up on missing persons posters or on the evening news.
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this, Shell. We’re probably going to become some perverted rich man’s victim by midnight.” Bridget straightened the thick leather belt around the waist of her dress. The belt was purple, of course, and her sweater dress a deep red. Her signature look was a bit gaudy, but at least it would help the police identify her body later.
Shell passed her a droll look. “You don’t even want to know what I had to do to get an invite to this club.” She waved the business card–sized paper in front of Bridget’s face. “We’re going to have fun doing something different. Boo on the local watering holes.”
For all the hoopla surrounding Leather and Lace, one would think it would be in a better location than Foggy Bottom. With the creepy, unsightly look to it and the fog rolling in every night, it seemed doubtful the place catered to the rich and powerful in DC.
The club had become sort of an urban legend, and the name probably had something to do with it. Leather and Lace. Seriously? Who thought that was a good idea? Supposedly, it was a sex club. A means of hooking up people with “mutual interests,” like Match.com for the sexually wild or something, but Bridget didn’t really believe it. And if it was, oh well. In reality, all clubs and bars catered to sex in one way or another. It was why half the single people went out on the weekend.
It was why she used to go out on the weekend.
“Come on, get the sourpuss look off your face,” Shell said. “You need something fun and new. You need to de-stress.”
“And hopefully getting laid,” Shell added with a wicked grin.
Bridget’s laugh sent puffs of small white clouds into the air. “That’s so not going to fix my problems.”
“True, but they will definitely take your mind off them.”
She did need some good old-fashioned stress relief, though. As much as she loved her job and really wanted to go cry in the corner at the thought of finding something else, it wasn’t covering her bills—namely the student loans—that were taking a huge chunk out of her monthly income. She’d come to loathe when her phone rang, and it was an eight hundred number.
Sallie Mae was a freaking vulture.
She sighed as she glanced back at the building. That was a gang sign. “So how did you score an invite to this place?”
“It’s really not that exciting,” Shell said, frowning at the card she held.
“All right,” Bridget said, squaring her shoulders as she turned to her friend. The shorter girl was shivering in her skintight black mini and Bridget smiled. Sometimes having extra padding had its benefits. Early October air was chilly, but her knees weren’t knocking. “If this place is lame or if anyone tries to pry out my eyeball, we’re leaving pronto.”
Shell nodded solemnly. “Deal.”
Their heels echoed off the cracked pavement as they hurried toward what appeared to be the front entrance. Once they got within seeing distance of the tiny square window in the door, it swung open, revealing a pro wrestler–sized man in a black T-shirt.
“Card,” he barked.
Shell stepped forward, holding the card out. The bouncer took it, scanned it over quickly, and then asked for IDs, which he scanned and handed back. When he held the door wider, it appeared they’d passed the popularity and age test.
Then again, both of them were pushing twenty-seven and could no longer be confused with underage drinkers anymore. Sigh. Growing old sucked sometimes.
The entrance to the club was a narrow hallway with track lighting. The walls were black. The ceiling was black. The door up ahead was black. Bridget’s soul was dying a little at the lack of color and splash.
When they arrived at the second door, it too opened, showing another big dude in…a black T-shirt. Bridget was starting to detect a theme here. Shell gave a little squeal as she slid past the second bouncer, giving him a long look, which was returned threefold.
Bridget’s first glance around the main floor of the club was impressive. Whoever had designed this place had done well. Nothing inside gave an indication that this used to be a warehouse.
Lighting was dim, but not the shady kind of lighting that everyone looked good in at three a.m. A girl sometimes just couldn’t catch a break. Several large tables surrounded a raised dance floor that would be treacherous as hell getting up and down from while drunk, but it was packed with bodies. Large, long couches lined walls painted in blood red. A spiral staircase led to the second floor but there, bouncers were blocking the top landing.
From what Bridget could see, there looked to be private alcoves up there. She bet there were a whole lot of shenanigans going on in those shadowy cubbyholes.
Behind the staircase was a sprawling bar run by eight bartenders. Never in her life had she seen so many bartenders actually working at once. Four men. Four women. All of them dressed in black, mixing drinks and chatting with the patrons.
The place was busy but not overly packed like most of the clubs in the city. And instead of stale cigarette smoke, beer, and body odor, there was a clove-like scent in the air.
This place was definitely not bad.
Shell spun toward her, clutching her black clutch in her hand. “Tonight is going to be a night you never forget. Mark my words.”
Another shot made its way from Chad Gamble’s hand to his mouth. The bite of alcohol watered his eyes, but like any family with a real good alcoholic circling around, it would take an entire keg of this shit to get him drunk.
And by the looks of those at the club tonight, getting drunk instead of laid was looking more and more like the outcome. Not one female had caught his attention. Sure, plenty of beautiful women had approached him and his friend Tony.
But Chad wasn’t interested.
And Tony was more caught up in giving Chad shit than anything else. “Man, you’ve got to calm this crap down. You keep ending up in the papers, the Club’s gonna come down on you like a ton of bricks.”
Chad groaned as he leaned forward, motioning at Bartender Jim. He wasn’t sure if that was his real name or not, but hell, he’d been calling the man that for about two years now and never been corrected.
“Another?” Bartender Jim asked.
Chad glanced at Tony and sighed. “Make it two shots.”
The bartender chuckled as he reached down, grabbing a bottle of Grey Goose. “I have to side with Tony on this. Signing a contract with the Yankees makes you a traitor to half the world.”
Chad rolled his eyes. “Or it makes me smart and incredibly career oriented?”
“It makes your agent a greedy bastard,” Tony replied, thrumming his fingers off the top of the bar. “You and I both know the Nationals are paying you enough.”
Bartender Jim snorted.
The Nationals were paying him more than enough—enough that by the time retirement age came around, he’d be more than set. Hell, he had more money now than he even knew what to do with, but at thirty, he had another six years left in his pitching arm, maybe more. Right now he was still in his prime. He had it all—God-given skill with a wicked fastball and precise aim; experience with the game; and, as his agent put it, a face that actually drew women to baseball games.
But the money and the contract offers rolling in weren’t the problem with the Nationals.
Chad was—or his “hard partying lifestyle” or whatever the gossip column had called it. According to the Post, Chad had a different woman every night and while that sounded damn fun, it was far from the truth. Unfortunately, he had enough relationships that whatever was written about him was believed by the masses. His reputation was as well known as his pitching arm.
But when fans were more concerned with whom he was screwing instead of how the team was playing, it was bad news.
The Nationals wanted to keep him on, which was what Chad wanted, too. He loved this town—the team and coaches. His life was here—his brothers and the Daniels family, who had been like parents to him. Leaving the city meant saying good-bye to them, but the team demanded that he “settle down.”
Settle the fuck down, like he was some kind of wild college kid. Settle down? Sure, he’d settle what he’d been told was a rather fine ass in this barstool.
Chad took the shot, slamming the glass back down. “I’m not going anywhere, Tony. You know that.”
“Good to hear.” Tony paused. “But what if the Nationals don’t re-sign you?”
“They’ll re-sign me.”
Tony shook his head. “You better hope they don’t get wind of what went down in that hotel room on Wednesday night.”
Chad laughed. “Man, you were with me Wednesday night and you know damn well nothing went down in that hotel room.”
His friend snickered. “And who’s going to believe that if those three ladies say differently? And yeah, I know calling them ‘ladies’ is stretching it, but with your reputation, the Club will believe anything. You just need to keep a low profile.”
“A low profile?” Chad snorted. “Maybe you didn’t understand me. They don’t want me to keep a low profile. They want me to settle down.”
“Hell,” Tony muttered. “Well, it’s not like they’re asking you to get married.”
Chad shot him a look. “Actually, I’m pretty sure they want me to find ‘a nice girl’ and ‘stay out of clubs’ and—”
“Clubs like this one?” Tony chuckled.
“Exactly,” he said. “I need to revamp my whole image, whatever the hell my image is.”
Tony shrugged. “You’re a player, Chad. Stop being a player.”
Chad opened his mouth. Well, he really couldn’t argue against that statement. Settling down was not in the Gamble brothers’ vocab. His brother Chase didn’t count anymore. Traitor. Chad loved his soon-to-be sister-in-law Maddie and she was great for Chase, but Chad and their other brother, Chandler, were not going to find themselves shackled to any female anytime soon.
“If you say ‘don’t hate the player, hate the game,’ I’m going to knock you out of your seat,” Tony warned.
He laughed. “You need to screw or something. Get some of that angst out of your ass. Even if I decide to go with another team, I’m not breaking up with you.”
Tony flipped him off as his dark eyes scanned the floor behind them. His friend leaned back suddenly, lips pursing. “Ah, I’ve never seen these two before. Interesting…”
Chad twisted at the waist, searching down to find what had caught Tony’s interest. Must be something pretty damn good because his friend was as bored with the night’s offerings as he was.