There once was a place the women of Austin, Texas could mix fantasy with flesh and experience erotic temptations for the price of admission and a handful of dollars. Iron Rods. The strip club is now in disrepair though and Bennett Truitt, estranged son of the club’s aging and half-crazy owner, wants to replace the landmark with condos. He hires feisty Tatum Reynolds to manage the club, sure she will fail, but not before he has a chance to sample her skills in bed.
After another rejection letter, Tatum realizes she’ll never be a professional dancer on or off Broadway. Down on her luck, she’s determined to make the run-down club successful no matter what, or who, it takes. She never expected her new boss to be so enticing they’re breaking doors down to get to each other, get their clothes off, taste each delectable inch.
A Romantica® erotic romance from Ellora’s Cave
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Watered-down drinks were the last straw. The wild concoction of emotions brewing within her bubbled over. The time for calm had passed. She needed action. Something to release the rage and hurt trapped inside. She’d had enough of being stomped on by life, and by God she would not sit still while this seedy little club stepped on her as well.
Tatum picked up both drinks and marched to the bar, fury feeding her temper. Something in her day was going to go right, and having a decent drink to dull her pain wasn’t too much to ask for. So what if Conan the bartender looked as though he could snap her in half. If he so much as blinked the wrong way, she’d jump over the counter and make him wish he’d never poured a drink in his life.
The bartender had his broad back to her and appeared deep in conversation at the end of the bar with another man she hadn’t noticed before. How she could have overlooked the stranger was a mystery.
The man looked up and made eye contact with Tatum. Out of nowhere, fire popped and sizzled through her, scorching senses that had been dulled by the oppressiveness of the club. For a mesmerizing moment, she stared at the stranger, unable to look anywhere else.
Black hair groomed to perfection, a handsome face with an honest-to-God square jaw and wearing the kind of slick suit and tie she’d only seen in magazine ads, he looked like a modern-day aristocrat. Some big shot who was completely out of place in a dive like Iron Rods.
Why such a good-looking man was here to do anything beyond strip she didn’t know and didn’t give a flip, she reminded herself. Tonight she was on a mission to forget her troubles and find some kind of satisfaction. If the stranger couldn’t help her in either regard, then he was little more than eye candy.
She plunked down the cocktail glasses. A harsh thud sounded as they hit the wood counter. The bartender glanced over his shoulder. His face still appeared impassive, though his eyebrows now arched a bit higher on his forehead.
“Yes?” he asked.
Tatum steeled her resolve and straightened her spine, hoping all six feet of her looked formidable to a man who probably crushed boulders with his bare hands. “If these drinks have a shot of pure vodka in them, then I’m the governor of Texas.”
The bartender said something to the stranger then turned around and made his way to where Tatum stood. Her skin grew cold as she noticed the hint of a grin pull at the corners of his lips. How could a person look more intimidating with a smile on his face?
“You saying I watered down your drinks?”
Though the music in the club was loud enough to vibrate through the floor and up her calves, she easily heard his deep bass voice. A tremor of fright added to the quaking in her legs. Scared or not, she’d started this and she wouldn’t stop until she had two cocktails to her liking.
“I’m saying there’s no more alcohol in these glasses than there is in the Colorado River down the street.” Allowing the full impact of her feelings to give her strength, she took a step closer and pressed her stomach onto the padded vinyl that trimmed the bar. “My friend spent a lot of money for these drinks and I aim to make sure we get what we paid for. So how about you taking that unopened bottle of vodka there on the back shelf and trying one more time?”
The large bartender’s nose flared and the muscles in his thick neck and arms flexed. Before he had a chance to say a word, the man at the end of the bar spoke.
“It’s okay, T. Do as the lady asks.”
The big man shot her a look that could have frozen hell. “Fine. As the lady likes.” Without breaking his glare, he roughly grabbed two glasses and dropped them on the counter before reaching for the vodka.
And just like that, the polished stranger in the fancy suit single-handedly shut down her attempt at blowing the steam she’d built up.
In a perverse way, Tatum didn’t feel appeased. She might have gotten her way, but pumped-up energy still surged in her system. If only she could punch a wall or kick over a chair. She needed to do something, anything, to relieve her bottled-up tension and lock down the pheromones that unexpectedly decided to show up to the party.
The good-looking man wasn’t making her struggle to calm down any easier. Over the stacks of papers littering the end of the bar, he stared at her, and not in a pleasing way. He appeared amused, almost smug, as though she had just provided his evening’s entertainment.
She pushed her attraction aside and allowed her irritation to hitch a half notch.
“Are you the manager here?” she asked, making her way down to the end of the bar.
He punched the end of the pen he held and tossed it onto an open file. “I guess you can say I am. Is there a problem?”
His tone sounded a little too bored for her liking. He might not be hard to look at, but he had pompous ass written all over him. “As a matter of fact there is. Have you taken a good look at this place lately? It’s a dump. The lighting sucks, the dancers aren’t good-looking and couldn’t dance to save their souls, and the bartender is serving lousy drinks.”
He tilted his head. “You don’t say.”
His prissy, holier-than-thou attitude provided just the spark she needed to stay ignited. “Yes, I do say. You should be ashamed of yourself and this place. It’s the worst club in Austin.”
“And yet you’re here.”
“I—” Tatum started, but faltered in the wake of his unexpected retort. She blinked several times, too flustered to speak. Weren’t managers supposed to be nice to their customers? Even rich, snobby managers?
The stranger stood and Tatum’s gaze continued up until her head tilted back. Powerfully built, he not only stood several inches taller than her, he dominated the space around her. Though he might not be as humongous as the bartender, he radiated a fierce but intelligent intensity that commanded her attention. Here was a man used to getting what he wanted.
“You think someone else can do better?” he asked.
Her mouth watered as she watched the play of muscles behind his snug shirtsleeves and listened to the deep voice that poured over her like warm molasses. Good Lord, the man was virile.
Not permitting herself to be influenced by intimidation or lust, she raised her chin and said the first thing that came to her mind. “I think a drunk monkey could do better.”
“You looking for a job?”
Her mouth fell open at his audacity. She might be fast on the uptake, but he was faster and better.
Perturbed, Tatum planted her fists on her hips. “You calling me a drunk monkey?”