The dark room, lit by pink and blue neon strips of light around the bar, the edges of the ceiling, and over the dance floor gave the second-rate nightclub an eerie glow. The music—if you could call it that—pounded out a heavy beat, but it appeared the dancers did not mind the lack of quality. Most appeared drunk, high, or just out to get laid.
Blinking to keep the room in focus, while hoping his eardrums would not burst, Nick Stone sat at the bar, his back to the corner so he had a perfect view of the whole space. Lifting his glass to his lips, he tossed back the watered-down drink, signaling to the bartender to send another one his way to keep up appearances. Fuckin’ hell…this sucks.
So far, the only people he had tagged were the two other agents moving through the crowd. Janice, with the rockin’ body—and very married—was dressed to kill and on the arm of the other agent, Tom, looking every bit the couple out for a fun night. And here I am, sitting in the corner, nursing my drink.
As his gaze roamed the crowded club’s inhabitants, he began to categorize the patrons. There were the women, trying too hard—wearing either heavy make-up, overly tight clothes, or working their plastic surgery—but with a desperation in their mannerisms. High-pitched giggles. Hands on the man buying them a drink. Opting for a coy expression.
Then there were the older men, standing tall as a woman walked by. Checking out the ones they thought they had a chance with. A few with a white ring of skin around their finger where a wedding band would have been—before they ditched it as they entered the club.
And the young men, certain they had all the answers to the world’s problems and on the hunt for an easy lay. As much as Nick gritted his teeth at their actions, he knew they would have no problem finding what they were looking for—a no strings attached night’s pleasure…or just a quick fuck against the back wall.
Sure, there were some that appeared to be there to have a fun time with friends but, on the whole, Nick was harsh in his jaded judgements having spent years with the FBI. He loved investigating, but the latest director was appointed for political reasons only and had managed to create an atmosphere where the right hand had no idea what the left hand was doing. Missions were failing. Appropriations of funds were not going to the most needed sections. And the idea that they were all working for the same end goal had eroded. The only reason he was here tonight was to assist a team, shorthanded since one of the agents went on paternity leave.
Terrorists…something on the evening news for people to get jacked-up when something happened, but who had no clue of the thousands of man-hours of investigations to combat the threat living right among them. And with the money the drug cartels were filtering through to terrorists—
Nick’s sardonic musings came to a complete halt as his gaze settled on a woman sitting at the other end of the bar. Golden-blonde hair, naturally falling down her back in waves and pouty, ruby lips wrapped around a straw as she sucked a fruity drink. Her red dress fit her curves and, while it was hard to see how tall she was from where he was sitting, he could imagine her legs going for miles.
The whole package captured his attention, but what held his gaze was her eyes. Summer-sky blue. They were clear. Sharp. And definitely taking in the scene. He did not get the feeling that she was on the prowl—more like…studying? It looked as though she was studying the scene laid out before her. He watched her fiddle with her cell phone before she took a few selfies at the bar. Shaking his head, he wondered if she was waiting on someone or stood up by someone, although he could not imagine what fool would stand her up.
Knowing he needed to be watching the crowd for a possible meeting of one of the cartel members with the terrorist that the team had their eye on, he forced his gaze back over the people crowding the dance floor. Rubbing his hand over his face, he wondered how they could stand the loud music. God, when did I get so old—
Janice approached the bar, standing next to him as Tom paid their tab. Speaking cautiously, she said, “We’re leaving. It appears our suspects are not making the contact tonight.”
As he lifted his drink to his lips, he nodded slightly, saying, “I’ll follow shortly.” Watching them walk out using his peripheral vision, he kept his attention on the crowd. The energy flowing from the dance floor left him more tired than when he arrived, the past few sleepless nights making staying awake for a late night stakeout even more difficult. Unfortunately he knew when he left the club his mind would probably continue to work over his cases and sleep would be elusive once more. A sudden movement to his right startled him and he jerked his eyes over as someone began to speak.
“Hi! I’ve been watching you and I swear, you look like you’d rather be anywhere else but here. Well, maybe not anywhere…I mean, it would have to be somewhere much quieter and maybe brighter. Not too bright…just maybe less neon-ish. Although, neon-ish can be really nice, depending on the colors. If it’s red and green, well, that seems more fitting for a department store at Christmas. Pink and purple are great, but kind of feminine…don’t know how much guys like dancing with baby-doll colors flashing all around. But pink and dark blue gives off a great vibe and since the name of this place is Neon, I guess you just have to go with it, if you’re into that sort of thing which, by the way, you seriously look like you could give a rat’s ass about the vibe of this place.”
Nick blinked slowly—twice—but the loquacious apparition was still standing next to him. Giving a mental shake, he recognized the gorgeous blonde from the other side of the bar but, for the life of him, he had not noticed when she approached.
His eyes dropped to her fuck-me heels, up her long, tanned legs, to the way the red dress hugged her hips. Dragging his gaze continually upward, he viewed the tantalizing tops of her breasts peeking out from the dress’ scooped neck. Just a hint of cleavage…not enough to give away the whole package, but enough to make a man want to drop at her feet to slowly peel the dress from her body, revealing the treasure beneath. His gaze finally landed on her face, the blue eyes mesmerizing as they stared back at him. Her red lips were curved in a wide smile as she placed her hand on her hip before throwing her head back in laughter.
“Good grief, mister,” she said. “You gonna just stare or ask me to have a seat?”
Startled out of his revery, he stood quickly and offered her a hand up onto a barstool. Even in her heels, her eyes only came to the level of his mouth, surprising him. She had seemed taller while throwing sass his way. The whiff of something fruity—lemony—wafted by as her hair moved over her shoulder. The delicate scent, so understated, was in contrast to the effervescent woman and he leaned in slightly to inhale once more, before sitting back on his stool.
“Uh…can I buy you a drink?” he offered, uncertain what to say. Not one to hang out in bars, he assumed an offer of a drink was acceptable protocol.
“Nah, but thanks anyway,” she said, her eyes still pinned on him. Shrugging, she added, “I can tell this is not your thing.”
Waving her hand around, she explained, “You know…being here…in a club. Anyway, it’s not really my thing either.” Leaning forward, she whispered, “I’m here for research. I know I could probably get the same info from a Google search or watching a video on YouTube, but this gives me such a feel for the place. Not that I haven’t been in clubs before, but that was back in college when I was like most students—young and stupid!” Laughing again, she placed her hand on his arm and leaned in close. “But I’ve been watching you. And you’ve been watching the crowd, just like me.”
Bristling, he refuted, “I don’t know what you mean. I’m just here having a drink.”
Lifting one eyebrow, she tapped her fingernail on the back of his hand. “Uh huh. Yeah, right.” Suddenly, both eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Oh, wait, you probably think I’m going to blow your cover or something.” Leaning in again, she said, “Don’t worry about that. You look much more natural sitting here with a woman than you did by yourself pretending to drink.”
Nick stared at the beauty, uncertain if she were sincerely smart or a talkative goof or both. Clearing his throat, he repeated, “I appreciate your company, but I’m afraid you have me pegged wrong.”
“Hmmm, I wonder,” she smiled. “Well, anyway, it’s nice to have someone to talk to besides the bartender. Who, by the way, seems to be shooting glares at me since I moved from his section.” Laughing again, she said, “He never had a chance, poor guy.” Turning her full attention back on him, she said, “Like I said, I haven’t been in a club in ages, so this is research for me.”
Unable to keep up with her conversation bouncing from topic to topic, he simply asked, “Research?”
“I’m a writer.” Scrunching her nose, she corrected, “Well, a part-time writer. It’s really hard to break into making serious money as a full-time writer, but I’m working on it.”
She stared at him a moment, the corner of her mouth quirking up. “Yeah, you know…I sit down at a computer and type words onto paper that all come together to make a story?” she replied with a glint in her eyes. “But are you just going to parrot what I say? If so, that’s a boring conversation.”
Her silky hair swayed, capturing his gaze, as her laughter filled his ears once more. He opened his mouth to tell her he knew what a writer was, but she did not give him a chance.
“But, alas, I still write on the side while working in a bookstore. A bookstore that keeps me busy.” She threw her hands to the side and expounded, “Well, bookstore, coffee shop, and writing extravaganza!” Her expression suddenly serious, she leaned in closer again, her eyes pinned on him, “But let’s talk about you. Catching any bad guys tonight?”
Feeling the heat of a blush rising to his cheeks, Nick grimaced. “Miss, I’m afraid your imagination has run wild. I’m simply here to enjoy my drink.” Feeling like he was melting under her stare, he continued, “But since my drink is almost finished, I’ll bid you goodnight.”
A brilliant smile erupted on her face as her eyes landed on his mostly-full glass. “Finished? If you say so but, please, don’t leave on my account.” She twirled around on her barstool and stared out over the crowd. “What I was looking for tonight was the chance to see people interact, pick-up lines, dancing, even the way people dressed. To quote my dear Agatha Christie, ‘Curious things, habits. People themselves never knew they had them.’ I love Agatha, don’t you?” she asked, her smile wide.
Nick blinked again, unable to produce an instinctive response to her question but, before he could ponder her rapid-fire train of thought further, she continued.
“Now, take that woman over there. Hot body, but the faint lines around her eyes tell me she has a bit of age on her and, yet, her boobs are really sitting up high. So, boob job. Unless, of course, she’s got a really amazing bra but, I gotta tell you, I’ve never seen any bra that could hold up ta-tas that size, that high!” Throwing her hands up, she quickly continued, “Hey, no judgement here. Just an observation. And that man over there at the edge of the dance floor? He sucks his stomach in every time a woman walks by.” Giggling, she added, “That’s like doing an ab-crunch every minute or so. He’s gonna be sore tomorrow!”
Nick turned his attention back to the enigmatic woman, torn between wanting to keep staring at her beauty and shutting her up with a kiss. Whoa…no kissing strange women you meet at a cheap nightclub…no matter how kissable those lush, ruby lips are.
“And see the tall, redhead on the dance floor…the one in the itty-bitty dress that is halfway up her ass due to that guy behind her grinding his crotch against her? Well, she’s not into him. You can tell because her ass may be getting down and dirty with the dude behind her, but her eyes are on that blond, beachy-looking guy over to the side.” Taking another sip of her drink, she turned her eyes back toward Nick. “That’s why I knew this wasn’t your typical scene,” she added. “There’s a bit of desperation here, don’t you think?”
It did not matter that her assessment of the club was exactly the same as his. He kept silent, tossing back the rest of his drink.
“But, then, there are those here just out to have fun, I suppose. I’ve got friends who go to nightclubs all the time.” Leaning over, she wrinkled her nose as she added, “But I just can’t get into the dancing. I’m not very coordinated but, then again, dancing nowadays just seems to be for girls to shake their ass around a lot and guys to get their crotch rubbed on.” Offering a slight shrug, she said, “I’ve been to some nice ones, but still they’re just not my favorite place to be. I’d rather curl up with a good book.”
“So why pick this place? Can’t you do your research at a nicer club?” he asked, thinking that one with more security would be preferable.
“But my story is about a couple that meets under unusual circumstances in a cheap night-club. So, I needed to come here. Of course, I did some research on clubs in the area first. I wouldn’t dare go to one in a bad side of town. I’m all about research, but I’m not stupid. And I didn’t want one that was too close to the university, filled with frat boys looking for a quick fuck up against a wall or ugh, in a bathroom.” Pinning her eyes on him again, she said, “Now, that’s something I just can’t see doing. Do you know how many germs are in the typical public bathroom? And to just drop your panties and have your bare ass on a sink? Nope, not me! I have to pee a lot, but I try to hold it when in a place where dubious activities have been going on.” She flashed her grin at him and added, “You men can just use a urinal, but us girls have to think about what we’re sitting on.” Laughing, she amended, “Or hovering over.”
Nick was nowhere close to drunk after only having two watered-down drinks, but his brain struggled to keep up with the verbal barrage coming from her mouth. He was a man of few words— carefully thought out words— and he knew it. His friends knew it. Hell, even his co-workers knew it. But, as maddening as she was, there was something endearing about her.