She reached up and hugged the older man. Since this wasn’t Grace, Josh let himself survey all that gorgeous skin, taking in her small waist, full hips and, once again, checking out the length of those sleek thighs. And he was plenty warm by the time he lifted his gaze to the woman’s face again.
Familiarity burned along his sternum and across his ribs.
“Holy…shit…” He stared, trying to convince himself he was mistaken. Her heavy makeup was messing with his mind—Josh had never seen Grace with more than a trace. But then she slid her hands down the older man’s arms, rested her fingers in his, and smiled. And that grin was something Josh would never mistake—right down to the right-sided dimple near her mouth.
His stomach jumped, skipped…and plummeted. Grace was working in a strip club. Wearing a barely there dress that showcased every asset, makeup that turned her from sweet to seductive, and laying her hands all over strange men.
He pushed to his feet, hands clenched, then rethought and sat back down. He had no rights to her. No say in her life. He’d given all that up when he’d walked away.
But he still cared. And she wouldn’t be here, doing this, unless something was wrong. He could still help, despite their past.
She continued talking with the older man. They turned toward the stage, leaning into each other, talking over the music, and the man slipped his arm around her waist, his hand settling low on Grace’s hip. The intimacy of the touch made Josh’s fingers curl into fists.
Stephie showed up with his drink. Josh didn’t even give her time to set it on the table. He took it straight from her hand and tipped it back, taking the whole thing in one swallow.
“Ooooh-kay,” Stephie said in a half laugh. “I assume that means you’d like another?”
The older man moved his hand up her back and kissed Grace on the temple before wandering off through the club. Grace made her way to a dancer straddling a customer’s hips near the stage. With a very friendly stroke of her hand over the man’s shoulder, Grace glided around behind the dancer, put her hands on the woman’s waist, her chin on her shoulder, and let her body follow the movement.
“What in the fuck…?” Josh murmured, unable to pull his gaze from the erotic sight.
Grace’s hands slid lower, gripped the woman’s hips, and urged them into a sexier roll. She spoke to the client as she thrust, easing the dancer’s hips into a more rhythmic thrust. He nodded, eyes big, mouth open like a drooling puppy, and Grace smiled, a sultry, seductive smile Josh had never seen before. The dancer dropped her head back to Grace’s shoulder, raised her arms to wrap them around Grace’s neck, and turned her face against the skin of Grace’s throat.
Patrons sitting nearby cheered their approval of the girl-on-girl action, and the heat simmering in Josh’s body rocketed through his groin and up his chest. He fought to search out the what, the how, the why of this, but his mind floated in distracting titillation.
“Here you go.” Stephie set Josh’s second drink down.
“Thanks. Keep ’em coming, will you?” he asked.
“Who are you?” Stephie asked. “Her new bodyguard or something?”
Josh’s gaze broke from the erotic sight of Grace getting it on with two others and focused on Stephie. “Why? Does she need one?”
“I personally think we all need one after what happened last week. But, no one’s springing for any service, so I guess we’re relying on our monkeys in suits.”
“Stephie!” Someone called from close by. “Need another drink over here, sweetness.”
She glanced at Josh again. “I’ll bring you another in a few.” Then she darted through the shadows to another table.
When Josh returned his gaze to the lap dance, Grace was gone, the original dancer still going at it with her customer.
He scanned the area and found Grace weaving through the club, greeting men, group by group, stopping to talk for a moment, then moving on. No lap dances. No running to get drinks. Josh couldn’t figure out the setup.
Josh downed the next drink in two swallows, but the first was already hitting his bloodstream, making him bolder, braver, and—he knew from experience—far more stupid. It also made him forget all about that nagging pull in his shoulder.
When the song changed and the women on stage transitioned once again, Grace watched closely, then scanned the club like an overseer, her gaze pausing on every girl as they worked the room. And Josh could only compare her behavior to a lion watching over her cubs.
He was trying to figure her out while fighting complex emotions he was sure colored his perspective when her gaze passed over him. Then her eyes jumped back and held on his face with a spark of shocked disbelief. A sizzle broke out across his ribs. No turning back now. She’d seen him. She knew he didn’t belong here. She knew this wasn’t a coincidence.