Chapter 1

 

KEENAN DAY looked up at the pink neon sign above the door, so bright it seared his eyes.

Mane Event.

There was a lion wearing a pink jock strap.

A lion wearing a jock. Keenan’s night had officially gone to hell.

He glared at the woman standing next to him. “You’ve got to be kidding me, Sarah.”

“Nope.” His darling sister wore a shit-eating grin along with her teal satin dress and killer heels that could take a man’s eyes out. The color didn’t match the jock strap in Keenan’s opinion.

“It’s a strip club,” he pointed out.

“I know that.” Of course she knew that. She’d just forgotten to tell him. What was she thinking?

“A strip club full of naked women isn’t my idea of a good night out.”

If anything, her smile grew more vicious. “It’ll be full of women, Keenan, but they won’t be the ones taking their clothes off.”

His jaw dropped, and he stared at her in horror. “You’re not getting me in there.”

“I thought you liked naked men.” Her expression was way, way too innocent.

“I do. But the women scare the shit out of me.”

She rolled her eyes. “Keenan, you’ve got three sisters, a mom, and a batshit great-auntie.”

“As I said, women scare the shit out of me.” He started to back away, but Sarah grabbed him by the upper arm.

“Oh no, mister. You come back here.” If Sarah’s grip got any tighter, she was going to leave bruises, and she pointed at the door. “Just get in there.”

The viselike grip around his bicep didn’t lessen. She wasn’t going to let him run. “When you said you wanted to go out for the night, I thought you meant a club or a bar,” Keenan whined.

“It is a club. You’re not a kid, Keenan. You can handle a couple of men shaking their asses. It’s Mane Event’s opening night. My friend Rhonda got the tickets, and there’s a whole group of us going.” She didn’t sound remotely apologetic.

Keenan saw his chance to escape. “If there’s a group of you, you don’t need me then.”

“Sarah!”

He turned to see three women clad in bright-colored dresses and in high heels waving their arms frantically in their direction. Oh no, there was Rhonda! He had no chance of running away now.

Sarah grinned at him in vicious triumph. “Here they are.”

“I hate you,” he muttered as the women rushed toward them, using their heels as lethal weapons. Pedestrians scattered like a parting of the waves. No one was stupid enough to stand in their way. Keenan braced for impact.

“I know, brother mine. There, there.” Sarah patted him on the cheek.

She was totally unrepentant. Keenan got it. He’d ducked out of his great-aunt’s eightieth birthday party, claiming he had to work and leaving Sarah to handle twenty octogenarians. This was payback, and there was nothing he could do about it. Fine. A couple of hours in a room full of screaming women, watching men gyrate around a pole. He liked men. He loved naked men. It wouldn’t be a hardship to watch the show, and as soon as it was over, he’d head for his local bar to recover his nerves. He could make it a good session as he didn’t have to work until the late shift tomorrow.

Sarah’s friends reached them. Keenan knew them all by face if not name. At twenty-eight, he was ten years younger than his sister and had grown up with her friends. Some of them treated him like he was seven years old. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and when he was working, he had a reputation for being intimidating. Where his sister and her friends were concerned, Keenan was still that skinny kid they’d been forced to babysit.

“Keenan, you’ve grown so big.” Rhonda grabbed his shoulders and air-kissed his cheeks. She was a tall black woman, almost as tall as his six feet, with huge eyes and a wicked smile that lit up the room. Keenan loved her. Tonight she wore a tight red dress. If he were straight, he would have been transfixed by the way it displayed her ample assets.

“You only saw me last month. I can’t have gotten bigger since then.” He hugged her warmly and then greeted the other two, who wore equally eye-popping dresses. Yeah, he was pissed off with his sister but he liked her friends. The lipstick over his mouth and cheeks? Not so much. Neither was he keen on Rhonda grabbing his chin and using a wet wipe on his face to remove the lipstick. He felt as though he were three years old.

“Sarah said you were coming tonight,” Rhonda said as she scrubbed away. “Do you know what you’re letting yourself in for?”

Keenan was damn sure he wasn’t coming tonight, and no, he didn’t have a clue. “It was a total surprise,” he said through gritted teeth. “Rhonda, leave me some skin.”

“Uh-huh,” Rhonda drawled, and there was a wealth of meaning in those two words. “Still, you like guys.”

He did like guys. He also preferred to be the one stripping them, but that was a conversation he wasn’t going to have with Rhonda.

As he wasn’t allowed to escape back to sanity, Keenan followed them into the club. Sarah was behind him, her beady eyes boring into his back. He swore the doormen gave him pitying looks as he handed over his ticket.

“You could run now,” a black-clad guy with a shiny bald head murmured, and the other one snickered.

“No, he can’t,” Sarah said as she gave Keenan a shove.

Keenan threw the doormen a water-closing-over-his-head look, but they just laughed and turned to the group of women chattering noisily behind them. Traitors.

Inside the club the noise was deafening as music pounded out its beat and a flock of women chattered loudly. Keenan’s party was led to an empty table near the back, much to his relief. He did notice he wasn’t the only man in the room. A few guys, dotted here and there, sat with wide eyes and the same rabbit-in-headlights expression Keenan probably wore.

The women sat down and sighed with relief as they took the pressure off their feet in those killer heels. Keenan squeezed between Sarah and Rhonda.

“I need a drink,” Rhonda said. “It’s been a long day.” Rhonda was an assistant district attorney who worked hard and played even harder.

“I’ll go to the bar,” he said to Sarah.

“What?” She cupped her hand to her ear.

“I’ll go to the bar,” he yelled, and this time she nodded.

The women gave him their orders and started chatting to each other. They could get table service, but it gave him something to do and a chance to escape for a few minutes. As he crossed the room, a woman stood in his path, swaying in time to the music. From her unfocused eyes, she’d already sampled the contents of the bar. He tried to step around her, but she stopped him with one red-taloned hand on his chest.

“You’re wearing too many clothes.” She hiccupped brandy fumes and tried to focus on his face, but her eyes kept sweeping downward.

Keenan held his breath against the fumes. Did she think he was… oh hell, no. “Lady, you’ve got the wrong end of the lion.”

She wasn’t listening. “You’re supposed to wear the aprons and nothing else.” She giggled.

He was bewildered. What was she talking about? Salvation happened in the form of Rhonda, who stepped between him and the woman. “He’s mine, sister. Hands off.”

The woman blinked and glanced between them. Keenan edged closer to Rhonda. “High-five for hooking that one!” She gave Rhonda a clumsy high-five and weaved away, probably in search of other prey.

Keenan kissed Rhonda on the cheek. “I love you.”

Rhonda winked at him. “She’s got one thing right. You’d look dead cute in one of those aprons.” She pointed over to a guy wearing nothing but a short apron and heavy boots as he made his way through the crowds with a tray of drinks.

Keenan winked back at her. “Yeah, I would.” And it would never happen in a million years… unless the right guy asked nicely.

She flashed a smile at him. “You just stick close to me tonight, pet. I’ll keep you safe.”

They both knew she lied. Rhonda would eat him alive. Keenan dropped another kiss on her cheek and inhaled her floral perfume. Then he went off to the bar, hoping no one else mistook him for an employee.

Keenan survived the short journey with only a couple of pinches to his ass. The blond-haired, blue-eyed bartender blinked at him over the heads of the women.

“You sure you’re in the right place?” the bartender asked, as Keenan finally shuffled to the front.

“No,” Keenan yelled over the roar of the crowd. “Whiskey is the only thing that will make tonight better.”

The bartender took his order and gave him the “sympathetic but clearly thought he was whipped” look he’d received from the doormen. He was swift and efficient, and Keenan tried not to wince at the cost of the drinks, even with the reduced price for opening night. Sarah was going to owe him for this.

He managed to squeeze in between Rhonda and Sarah just as the lights dimmed and the thump of drums started. The women took their cocktails, and he knocked back his double whiskey as a cowboy strutted to the front of the circular stage. Keenan had gotten two rounds of drinks, so he reached for his other whiskey, ignoring Sarah’s disapproving expression.

Rhonda leaned into him. “Lionman’s gonna rock your world, baby.”

Keenan really doubted it, but he smiled at her. “Oh yeah?”

“This is his farewell performance.”

“This is the opening night.” Keenan was confused.

She pointed at the stage. “He’s going to be the manager, not a performer. But he’s really good. I’ve been a fan since he started. Hope you like them red.”

“Red?” Was the stripper sunburned or something?

Rhonda didn’t hear the question. The noise was deafening as the women at his table, along with the rest of the audience, went wild for the Lionman—on their feet, shouting and screaming, arms in the air. Keenan moved his feet out of range of those heels. Popular guy, obviously. The dude had bright red hair and a smile that could have lit up the stage by itself. He took off his hat, shook his head, and the bright hair settled around his head like a lion’s mane. Oh right! Red. Keenan finally caught on. He preferred his guys with dark hair, but Lionman was very striking.

The guy had talent—Keenan had to give him that—and he could work his audience into a frenzy as he lost his clothing, one ass-shaking piece at a time. They were screaming and yelling and encouraging Lionman with language Keenan hadn’t heard since he was in high school. When Sarah let out a piercing yell, Keenan shook his head and clapped his hand to his ear. If she did that again, his eardrum was in danger of exploding.

Finally Lionman was done strutting his stuff, and Rhonda and Sarah collapsed into the chairs beside him, flapping their hands in front of their faces in a vain attempt to cool down.

“It’s my turn to get drinks,” Rhonda said as she waved over a pretty young guy in an apron.

Keenan saw his chance and pleaded the need for fresh air before the next guy came on. By this time Sarah had lost interest in tormenting her brother and let him go without complaint. He escaped out the door with a sigh of relief and breathed in the cool night air. His head throbbed from the loud music, and he leaned up against the wall, desperately wishing that he still smoked. Keenan had quit the day his grandmother got diagnosed with lung cancer, and he promised her on her death bed that he’d never smoke again. He’d kept that promise.

“You okay, man?”

The low drawl made Keenan open his eyes. The sight that greeted him made the last hour worthwhile. A solidly-built guy, maybe in his late thirties, faced him. He wore tight jeans that cupped his ass and a shirt made of a thin material that stretched across his pecs, leaving an interesting curl of hair peeking out of the vee of the shirt. His hair was close-cut, and his stubble made Keenan want to rub his cheek against it to feel the burn. He was shorter than Keenan, but only by an inch, so Keenan wouldn’t need to bend his head much if they kissed.

The frown that gathered between the guy’s thick dark brows made Keenan realize he was fixated on the guy’s lips and hadn’t answered his question.

“I’m all right,” Keenan said hastily. “Just tired.”

The man looked up at the building behind him. “You’ve just come out of there?” His lips twitched, and it wasn’t hard to guess what he was thinking.

“I’m not a stripper,” Keenan said hastily. “My sister’s in there with her friends.”

“And she dragged you along?” Now the man wasn’t bothering to conceal his amusement. “What did you do to upset her?”

“You’ve got a sister?”

“Three sisters,” the man corrected, “and they’re just as devious. Thankfully two of them are back home in Wyoming, so I only have one to deal with here.”

“You’re a lucky man,” Keenan assured him. “I thought you weren’t native.”

“What gave it away?” the man drawled.

Keenan laughed. “I’ve got three sisters too. This one hasn’t forgiven me for leaving her to deal with the old ladies at our aunt’s eightieth birthday party.”

The man winced. “Dude, you’re gonna be paying for that for a while.”

“She’s brought me to a strip club full of screaming women. I’m damn sure I’ve paid my dues.”

“She could have brought you to a club full of women strippers.”

Keenan was about to answer when he realized what the guy had said. Huh. Was he that obvious? Well, no, he wasn’t. Then he realized his silence was enough of an answer. His sister wasn’t the only one who was devious. He gave the guy a long, cool look.

“You’re observant.”

The guy shrugged. “Sometimes.” He held out his hand. “I’m Nathan Gordon. Nate.”

“Keenan Day.”

Nate wrinkled his brow as though something bothered him, but it cleared just as quickly. “Good to meet you, Keenan.”

His hand was warm and firm. He held on to Keenan’s for longer than was strictly necessary, and Keenan felt its loss when Nate let go. He was about to ask Nate if he’d like to go for a drink when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He ignored it, but it buzzed again. “Dammit, I’m sorry.”

“Your sister?” Nate asked as Keenan dug out his phone.

Sarah’s face smiled from the screen. It was an innocent smile and totally fake. Keenan had been meaning for a long time to change that photo to something more appropriate, like the Wicked Witch of the West. “Yeah. I can’t ignore her. She’ll never stop calling me.” He answered the phone with a brisk, “Yup?”

The screams and cheers hurt his ear. He held the phone away, but he heard Sarah’s voice rising above the noise.

“Keenan? Keenan? Are you there?”

The temptation to deny all knowledge of anyone called Keenan was overwhelming and futile. His sister would hunt him down until the day he died. She was vicious like that.

“I’m here.”

“Where the heck are you?”

“Outside, getting fresh air.” And talking to a hot guy who was smirking at him because he knew his sister was reaming him out.

“The next act is on soon.”

Keenan sighed. “Okay. I’ll be back in five. There’d better be a drink waiting for me.”

He was acutely conscious of the flicker of disappointment across Nate’s face as he heard Keenan’s words. But his sister came first, no matter how devious she’d been getting him here in the first place.

“Okay, hurry up.”

She disconnected the call, and he was left smiling apologetically at Nate. “I’m sorry. I’ve got to go back in or she’ll hunt me down and use my skin as her next coat.”

“That would be a real shame,” Nate drawled, his regretful grin enough to make Keenan curse silently. “I can think of better things to do with your skin.”

His heated look was enough to make Keenan hot all over. He wanted nothing more than to take Nate somewhere quiet and dark, and…. Keenan stopped there. No point imagining what he couldn’t have tonight.

“Well, see you around,” Keenan said when the silence stretched between them.

“I hope so, Keenan Day. I really hope so.”

Keenan did too, although they hadn’t exchanged phone numbers or addresses, so it seemed unlikely. He was about to ask for Nate’s number when his phone started again. “I’m coming. I’m coming,” he snapped into the phone and disconnected it without waiting for Sarah’s response.

“Maybe another time,” Nate said over his shoulder as he walked away.

From the tightness in Keenan’s pants, another time couldn’t come soon enough. But now he had a sister to deal with and more naked men to watch.

“Silver linings, Keenan, silver linings.” Although the silver lining would have been ending the evening with Nate’s cock in his ass. He watched Nate walk out of sight. The man had a sexy roll of his hips that made Keenan get harder still. He’d happily watch Nate Gordon strip.

Keenan huffed and turned back to the club. He needed more whiskey to get through the night. A lot more whiskey.