It was still an hour before opening, so the parking lot was pretty empty when we pulled up. As usual, we rode around back and parked, then went in through the back door. The dancers were busy getting dressed while Carly Joe and Mandy were doing inventory at the bar. Country plopped down on one of the corner sofas and whined like a two-year-old, “This place is dead.”
“What do you expect? It’s an hour before we open.”
“That’s my point,” he complained.
Shotgun stepped into the room as he told Country, “Don’t see why you’re bitching. Isn’t like you aren’t already here most nights.”
“Yeah, but this is different,” Country argued as he sat up straight on the sofa. “This is like waiting on some fucking bomb to drop that may never even come.”
“The point is, we’re here.” Shotgun crossed his arms, making his enormous biceps look even bigger. “We’re staying on high alert, and if someone tries shit, we’ll be ready.”
Knowing how Shotgun and Menace were tight, I asked, “I know it’s only been a couple of days, but has Menace found anything on the professor yet?”
“He’s following a lead as we speak,” Shotgun answered, sounding hopeful. “If his instincts are right, we should have more on the guy by the end of the night.”
“That’s good to hear.” I shouldn’t have been surprised. When it came to his computer-hacking skills, Menace was the best any of us had ever known. “Ready to see what this guy has to say.”
“You and me both.” After a couple of the girls came out of the dressing rooms, Shotgun let out a deep breath and said, “Guess it’s time to get to it. I’ll keep an eye out front. Rafe, you monitor the bar, and Country you cover the back.”
I gave him a nod, then made my way over to the bar. Like most nights, the place was packed, but thankfully, there were no major fiascos that needed to be tended to. I was able to just sit back and get lost in my own world of thoughts. It didn’t take long for my mind to drift to the cooler over at Crockett’s. Spending the better part of my night replacing a condenser on a worn-out cooler wasn’t something I was looking forward to, but at least there was an upside. I’d get another chance to see Marlowe, and maybe—just maybe—have an actual conversation with her. It seemed strange she’d been working at Crockett’s for over a year, and with Country always around, we’d never had a chance to really talk. I had a feeling I was wrong, but I wanted to believe it had something to do with my brother’s boisterous personality and nothing to do with me.
As soon as my shift was over at Stilettos, I met up with Badger and grabbed the new condenser, then headed over to Crockett’s. By the time I arrived, it was almost midnight, and there wasn’t a single car in the lot. I was worried Gladys and Marlowe might’ve gone for the night, but when I got to the door, I noticed the back lights were still on. I quickly knocked, and it wasn’t long before Marlowe stepped into view. She rushed to the door and unlocked it, then opened it and said, “Hey, come on in.”
As I stepped inside, I couldn’t help but notice the place was completely empty. I’d always thought they stayed open until midnight, so I asked, “You here alone?”
“Yeah.” Marlowe locked the door behind me. “Gladys wasn’t feeling well, so she closed early.”
“About eight, I guess.”
Surprised by her response, I asked, “And you waited around all this time?”
“I had some inventory to do, and I knew how important getting the cooler fixed was to Gladys.” She shrugged nonchalantly. “I figured it wouldn’t hurt to hang around a little while.”
“So, it’s just you and me?”
We both stood there for a moment, silently staring at one another like we had no idea what to do next. It wasn’t something that happened with me. I wasn’t one to hesitate. I’d always known what I wanted and went for it, but this was different. I’d never wanted someone who wasn’t into dudes, and it was throwing me off. It would’ve been different if Marlowe wasn’t looking at me like she had so many times before—like she was into me. Hell, I could practically feel the attraction radiating between us. Damn.
I gave her a quick smile as I said, “Well, I better get to it. I’m sure you’re ready to get out of here.”
“I’m in no rush.” I was surprised when she followed me behind the bar. I was expecting her to make herself scarce like she normally did, but instead, she pulled herself up on the counter and sat with her long legs dangling in front of me. “I’m kind of wired anyway.”