I marched down the hallway toward the swinging double doors that led out into the main part of the night club, pausing inches from the doors to consider my mission — track down a wayward male stripper. Seriously. My cousin Tara had begged me to "please-please-please" find the exotic dancer who was supposed to be the highlight of tonight's entertainment. Modern bachelorette parties, Tara had assured me, must include a striptease. And our entertainment was late.
She'd neglected to mention my maid of honor duties involved corralling the star of the show.
Just call me Calli Douglas, stripper wrangler.
Behind me, the cheering and laughter of female voices sifted down the hallway. The bridal party had gathered inside a private back room of the club, Dance Ardor, for a wild girls' night before the wedding tomorrow. The room's closed door couldn't fully contain the raucous sounds of revelry.
I glanced back, sighed, and pushed through the doors, out into the club. Thumping bass beats vibrated through the floor and my body. Strobe lights in shades of violet, indigo, and scarlet crisscrossed the cavernous space, once a warehouse but now an underground club. Their beams stroked across the dance floor and out onto the high tables arrayed around the floor atop a raised platform.
A draft chilled the bare skin of my back, shoulders, and arms. The neckline of my emerald green halter dress plunged low enough to expose the entire inner slopes of my breasts. The dress hugged my hips, flaring out partway down my thighs but stopping well above my knees. Tara had insisted on buying me a new dress for tonight, as well as the matching strappy heels I wore.
Rubbing my arms, I wondered how to find the man I sought. Maybe I should've run through the club yelling "here, stripper-stripper-stripper."
I discarded that plan and headed down the semi-circular platform that surrounded the dance floor, passing table after table occupied by laughing groups and cuddling couples. On the floor, more couples writhed and thrust their hips, arms raised above their heads or hanging loose at their sides in displays of wanton abandon. One woman had plastered her body to her slender partner, who clasped her buttocks to keep their hips locked together.
This wasn't my kind of scene. I would've rather stayed home in the woods of far northern Michigan, playing with my two six-month-old puppies. But I wouldn't miss Tara's wedding, no matter how much I disliked parties.
Scanning the club, I hunted for a man who looked like a stripper. Trouble was, every male in here could've qualified — the women too. My dress, the sexiest I'd ever worn, seemed downright dowdy next to the barely there attire of every other female in the place. I halted, raising onto tiptoes to get a better view of the opposite side of the club. All the men over there had partners, whom they were kissing or fondling amid the shadows, while the strobes swept over them in a dizzying blur of colors.
Swerving my gaze away, I started off again.
And slammed into a hard body.
With a yelp, I flung my hands up. They landed on a massive chest sheathed in a cobalt blue shirt. The sight of tanned skin revealed by two open buttons riveted my attention. Muscles flexed under my fingers as the stranger laid his warm palms over my hands.
"Well now," the stranger drawled, his voice deep and husky, "I've been looking for a bonnie lass, but I didn't expect to literally run into one."
His accent. It was… Scottish? I stumbled backward, out of his grasp, and blinked rapidly. He wore a kilt fashioned from a blue and green tartan laced with orange lines. His shirt clung to his muscled torso and the short sleeves hugged his impressive biceps. Honey-brown leather boots, stylishly scuffed, covered his large feet.
I swung my gaze to his face and my heart stuttered. Eyes the color of sapphires watched me, glittering in the pulsing lights. His gaze traveled the length of me, his gaze narrowing and then widening as he took in my dress and everything it exposed. My strappy heels boosted my height by a few inches, but I still had to tilt my head back to meet the Scotsman's eyes.
He brushed a lock of hair away from my face. "Your dress brings out the green of your eyes. But this lighting can't do justice to your beautiful red hair."
My voice had abandoned me at the sight of him and those muscle-bound legs revealed below the kilt. Too bad the kilt concealed his thighs, because I would've bet the entirety of my meager savings they were thick and strong too.
But who wore a kilt in a night club? He had to be the stripper. But why was the entertainment hitting on me? Maybe this was part of the show. I'd never met a stripper before, so I had no idea.
I couldn't tear my gaze away from the view of his powerful legs, all sinew and sun-kissed, golden skin dusted with fine brown hairs a shade darker than the chestnut hair that curled around his ears. The wavy locks, longish but not too long, glistened in the strobing lights. My fingers twitched, anxious to dive into those locks and discover their silky softness. And God created man for woman to lick.
Oh. Dear. Lord. I was turning into a sex-crazed bridesmaid, just like the rest of them.
He angled his head to study my face. "You're the one I've been looking for, I think."
I smoothed my dress, cleared my throat, and lifted my chin. Had to, in order to meet his gaze. The man was enormous.
"Are you looking for the party?" I asked.
His lips slid into a wicked grin. "Aye."
No idea what that meant, but it sounded like assent. I bit my lip, eying his kilt. Tara had mentioned wanting a "hot fireman," but she'd let her ditzy friend Sienna arrange the entertainment. Sienna must've gotten the order wrong.
"You're not a firefighter," I said.
His forehead crinkled in the most disarming way. "I didn't realize American women are so specific about what they want."
"As long as you look good without your clothes, you'll do."
Chestnut eyebrows shot up over his blue eyes. "You're direct, aren't you? Yes, I've been told I look quite good naked."
"Naked?" I glanced down at his kilt. "Please tell me you're wearing a G-string under that thing. That's the protocol, isn't it?"
"A G-string protocol?" He laughed, shaking his head. "You're adorable, but I'm beginning to think you're off your head."
"Are you calling me crazy?" When he opened his mouth to answer, I raised a hand palm out to silence him. "Never mind. Come with me."
I turned away, crooking a finger to beckon him to follow.
"Ah, lass," the Scot all but purred, "I'll follow ye anywhere, even if ye are a bampot."
"Whatever, just hurry up." I headed for the doorway to the club's inner sanctum, Scot in tow. I swore I could feel his gaze on my back, appraising me with sultry interest. My stomach fluttered again, as if it had grown wings and desperately wanted to fly to my new friend. Latch on. Take a nibble. I glanced back at him, pushed by an irresistible urge. Those lustrous eyes zeroed in on mine and my mouth went dry. What is wrong with me?
He smiled, slow and sensual. "After the party, may I buy you a drink?"
"I don't drink. Not morally opposed or anything, but I've never tasted an alcoholic beverage I liked."
"Water is a drink, you know." He peered down the hallway past me. "Where are we headed?"
"The party, of course." I scrunched my eyebrows, wondering why he asked. Didn't the agency tell him what he was in for tonight? Well, they might've omitted the part about a gaggle of lustful, liquored-up women. Realizing he'd slowed his pace, falling a few paces behind, I waved for him to pick up the pace. "Come on, they're waiting."
"It's a party." I tried not to sound sarcastic, but really. Was he gorgeous but utterly dense or what? "Just come along, will you?"
"Aye." He strode up alongside me as we pushed through the swinging door. His hand drifted up to my arm and skated over my skin, forging a tempting trail up to my bare shoulder. "I'm yours to command."
"Um…" I stumbled to a halt, helpless to look away from him. My breaths had grown labored again. I couldn't think, my senses overpowered by the scent of his dark, spicy cologne. Sex in a bottle, that stuff was. I lifted my face to stare into his shimmering, curious eyes. His fingers caressed my shoulder with a feather-light touch as he leaned in ever so slightly, his lips curved up at the corners, his eyes searing into mine. All the pertinent parts of my body tightened, ached, or tingled. No, it wasn't the cologne. He was sex incarnate.
I cleared my throat, shaking off his hand. "Where were you, anyway? I've been looking everywhere."
His brows rose as his lips parted. "Have ye, then?"
"Yes." I seized his arm — my breath caught at the feel of his warm, pliant flesh and the hard muscles beneath it — and tugged. "Get a move on."
His confusion melted into a bright smile, as if he were a teenager given the keys to the adult book store. "Lead on, lass. Lead on."
I hauled him straight to the private room where the bridal party waited. At the door, I released his arm and hesitated, my hand on the knob. "I hope they're not too disappointed you aren't a firefighter."
"Is it really that important to every American woman?"
"Never mind." I couldn't resist taking one last peek — okay, a long and lingering look — at him.
Shoving the thought away, because that always worked with unbidden thoughts, I flung the door open and gestured for him to enter. Feminine whoops exploded out of the room.
"He's here!" someone hollered, and the whoops began anew.
The Scotsman drew back, his eyes widening. I slapped a hand on his back and gave him a little push. He stumbled inside, caught himself, and straightened. The whooping mutated into cheers and cat calls. The Scotsman halted two steps inside the room.
I took a step across the threshold, and from my sidelong vantage, I glimpsed his shocked expression. I tracked his line of sight to the spectacle that had stopped him. Across the room, one of the ladies had just stabbed a paper penis onto the cartoonish image of a naked man. The first round of Pin the Junk on the Hunk had commenced.
The bridesmaid whipped off her blindfold and her attention snapped to the solitary man in the room.
"Wooo!" she hollered, pumping her fists in the air. "Time to get the party started!"
A throng of champagne-addled women surged toward the stripper, whose face went ashen.
"Take it off, baby," Sienna said, her black hair flailing as she jumped up and down. "Show us what you got."
The Scotsman staggered backward, smack into me. My heels tripped me up, sending me tumbling to the floor outside the doorway.
"Shit!" The expletive burst out of me at the same instant the kilted dancer hustled out of the room backward, tripped over my legs, and hopped sideways to avoid crushing me. He threw a hand out to brace himself on the wall, preventing his own fall.
Inside the room, someone shrieked. Tara rushed to the doorway, eyes wide, face blanched. "Calli, are you okay? What happened?"
Pushing up onto my elbows, I blew my hair out of my face. "The exotic dancer trampled me."
The Scotsman stared at me, his jaw dropping.
My elfin cousin offered me a hand. I grasped it, letting her lever me up off the floor. The second my right foot contacted the linoleum, pain scorched through my ankle. I hissed and grabbed the door jamb for support, frowning at the man in plaid. "What's wrong with you? A stripper ought to be used to being pawed by salivating women."
Tara aimed a chastising look at him and slipped an arm around my waist. Her head barely reached my shoulder. "Yeah. What's your damage, Kilt Boy?"
His palm still flat on the wall, Kilt Boy gaped at us.
"I'm getting a refund," Tara said. "I don't want a nutso stripper, even if he is wicked hot."
"Refund for what?" The Scot asked. He looked first at Tara, then at me, with utter confusion. "Did you call me — You women are cracked. Ahmno a stripper."