Kylie sighed as she waited at the table for the rest of the women to join her. Donna had called saying that she would finish up with the last medical cases of the day before being able to head there for the first round of margaritas.
Lace had to stay at police headquarters until later in the evening to finish up a case that she and her partner Rich had been working on for weeks. Kylie bristled at the news because of course; she had been going with Rich for over three months. The rest of the Crew had just learned about it and of course they had congratulated her for finally landing a guy and the round of drinks had been on Lace.
The ballsy sergeant hadn't been all that enthused at first because despite her engagement with federal agent Kurt, she had the hots for her partner. Donna just shook her head at her long-time friend and had told her to get with the program, and that was that Kylie who supposedly was her friend had found a guy who made her toes curl and Lace as her friend should be overjoyed, not cranky jealous.
Kylie had arrived first having just finishing a report she got stuck writing since Max and Ethan had told her they didn't trust anyone else to get it right. She had told them both to hell with that and had picked up her purse, gotten into her car and continued onward to the restaurant.
On her way, Gemma, a prosecutor had called her on her cell and told her to save a table and to just chill out already about Lace harping on her happiness with Rich. If Rich's police partner couldn't keep her feelings for Rich under control despite having the most gorgeous guy in the FBI getting set to marry her, then she needed to go see a shrink.
The bored looking waitress came to their table and Kylie ordered another drink, figuring that she needed to be good and sauced before Lace arrived if she came armed for bear to go another round about Rich.
"I'll take another margarita with extra tequila," Kylie said, "and tell my friends when they get here that I'm starting on dinner without them."
Just then Donna came waltzing through the door, dressed in some comfortable clothes which was all she wanted touching her skin after spending a day working at the public health clinic running an immunization unit on top of the rest of her caseload.
"What you want to drink," Kylie asked her friend.
Donna just dropped into her seat.
"I can't drink anything hard core until I'm good and ready."
Kylie nodded, thinking that sounded good enough. There would be enough time for Donna to change her mind.
"I'll take a ginger ale with a slice of lime," she told the waitress.
The waitress looked at her as if not believing it but jotted it down and scurried off to the kitchen, passing Gemma by as the prosecutor headed towards her friends' table. She had a svelte looking woman with shoulder length wavy brown hair with her.
"Who's that, I think I know her…" Kylie asked, while idly eating some tortilla chips.
"That's just J.D," she said, "We were in some of the same classes while we both went to college and law school only she never finished."
Kylie looked her over and raised her brows.
"Hi J.D. I saw you at the office earlier. You still look like a lawyer," she said, "but nice to meet you again anyway."
J.D. chuckled at them.
"Gemma's right," she said, "You are a lively crowd."
"Our fourth's not even here yet," Kylie said, "Wait until you meet her."
J.D. sat down next to Gemma in the booth and ordered a Scotch on the rocks.
"Are you from here," Kylie asked.
J.D. shook her head.
"I'm here on business and I just got a job offer from an old friend," she said, "and I ran into Gemma in the courthouse."
"She kicked my ass at an evidentiary hearing and she just clerked for some three piece suit."
"I'm getting paid good money to do that," she said, "And I'm visiting a good friend of mine."
Donna grabbed some chips before anyone else had the chance.
"How long are you in town?"
J.D. looked at her Scotch.
"Until tomorrow afternoon," she said, "then it's back to the grind."
The three women looked at each other.
"Then we got to go out and have us some fun," Kylie declared.
Gemma looked doubtful.
"I've got a big trial tomorrow."
Kylie flicked a chip at her.
Gemma folded her arms.
"Okay, what do you think we should do then?"
Kylie gave it some serious thought. She really wanted them to paint the bay area town red but how could they do that…in a brand new way?
"Let's go take her to see the dancing," she said.
Donna and Gemma looked at each other. J.D. thought she saw some flush in the prosecutor's cheeks but she couldn't be absolutely sure.
"Dancing," J.D. said, nodding, "I love to do that to unwind."
Kylie burst out laughing.
"I don't mean we do the dancing…."
Gemma rolled her eyes.
"She means that we watch them dance."
J.D. understood or so she thought.
"I really don't know…"
Kylie smiled widely.
"Oh come on," she cajoled, "Let's finish up this round and head on over to the Blue Room."
J.D.'s brow rose at the name.
"The Blue Room," she said, "Sounds like…"
Gemma broke in.
"It's called exotic dancing," she explained, "but it's really a bunch of men…"
"Hot looking men," Kylie broke in.
"Okay whatever," Gemma said, "but they prance around in costumes and then take them off."
J.D.'s eyes widened.
Kylie eyed her carefully.
"J.D., do you have a boyfriend?"
She just looked at them.
"Well…no not at the moment."
"Okay then what's the problem," she said, "Because I do have one and he doesn't care as long as I behave myself."
"And I have a husband and I never behave myself…"
Gemma looked at them as if they were crazy.
"What about Lace?"
Kylie rolled her eyes.
"Oh she's too busy tonight to hang out with us," she said, "but just in case we'll leave her a note."
The four of them finished their drinks and they took off in their cars for the Blue Room after J.D. had received directions. She had checked her cell phone and had two messages from Ethan back in L.A. but didn't answer them. If he thought she would change her mind to work with him, he was just crazy. And she would probably see him tomorrow and would have to give him her decision then. But tonight, she was footloose and fancy-free.
Ethan drove through traffic that inched down one of the main thoroughfares before halting again. He looked out the window and saw that both directions on the street were packed with vehicles and he couldn't figure out where all of them were heading. All he had wanted to do was to find one woman in a city of hundreds of thousands of people. He had just left his place where he had spent all of about an hour deciding what to try next. He had a full caseload of clients waiting his that he'd just dropped the ball on. But…he had to get this done first. He had to find her and persuade her to listen to reason. After all, she was an almost trained attorney and surely, she had the ability to do that quite well.
Talk her out of leaving L.A. and getting her to take the position. Tell her how much he needed her working with him at the firm. That he needed someone with her acumen and skills to move the company into the next level.
But she hadn't appeared happy the last time they had spoke, not long after he broke it off with Pearl his girlfriend at the time…at the altar. He had been all gussied up in a tux and set to walk down that aisle with her waiting at the end of it, dressed up in white and he had to push himself into taking those steps towards her and his new life. But somehow, he had battled to even do that before Pearl herself had broken off the engagement with him just like Lucinda had before her. She had cited the fact that his dangerous work intruded in their personal life and with a crazed psychopath on the loose disrupting the ceremony, he couldn't really argue against her logic.
And when he thought about it, after the shock and dismay of the broken engagement receded, he had been relieved that the wedding had never taken place. Oh how guilty he had felt about that until he realized that it never would have worked between them. He needed a woman who would be much more understanding about the reality that investigation was one of his greatest passions and to not view his vocation in life as an intrusive mistress. Not to mention that she had to be gorgeous, intelligent, able to hold her own against him and be funnier than hell. None of the women he dated scored very highly in all of these categories and he didn't know who did. His entire office staff had joked about his bad luck and said that maybe he should sign him up for a round on some crazy reality show called Bachelor but he nipped that idea to the bud quickly. No, old Ethan would find his true love on his own…in due time. In the meanwhile, he had work to do, investigations to complete and beautiful socialites to take to charity benefits and other social galas.
But the last part didn't satisfy him for as long as he might have thought. He wasn't quite the young buck he used to be but all his parts still worked. It's just that he wanted much more from women than he had been satisfied with in the past while out sowing his oats around the globe.
Max had watched him with these personal struggles and had just shaken his head at amusement with them, poking fun at him on more than one night at their favorite restaurant. But underneath his smile, Ethan had bristled a bit. He had also looked around him and noticed that J.D. had made herself scarce again after he had made his job proposal.
Max had been sipping his juice after returning from a vigorous run.
Ethan scratched his head.
"I can see that," he said, "Out where?"
"Didn't say. She's got a life of her own you know and it's not here."
That had been true enough, Ethan knew but that would be about to change if he had anything to day about it. He usually got what he wanted in the business world. He would get his way with her to bring her on board which would make their business all the more formidable to its competition.
But no problem seriously, once he looked at her and plead his case, she would certainly weaken. After all, they had been close friends nearly their entire lives, that would definitely work in his favor.
Suddenly, however he heard a disturbing noise and his car began to list on one side. Damn rental, he should have shipped up one of his sports cars but remembered that hadn't seemed practical at the time. He reluctantly navigated his way out of the gridlock and tried to find a place to pull over.
J.D. drove her car into the parking lot of the Blue Room and saw that the other three women had arrived.
"I texted Lace on where she could find us," Kylie said as they walked towards the crew.
A bouncer greeted them with a grim expression.
"Hey Bo, drop us a smile," Kylie said, patting his hefty shoulder, "We're here to liven up things a bit."
He did what she wanted and then checked out her friends.
"Party of four," he said, "Your regular table waits…"
The other women looked at her.
"Regular table," Gemma asked.
Kylie didn't even look embarrassed but amusement showed in her eyes.
"I come here…sometimes after a really hard work day," she said, "Oh come off of your high horses, we all think about the same thing when we're stressed."
"I think about food," Donna said, "not semi-naked men…not most of the time anyway."
J.D. entered with the others and checked the place out. Far from being seedy, the décor appeared quite stylish if a bit retro and the waiters that carried drinks around appeared well…mostly dressed. One of them looked their way and brought a tray of martinis over to them. They all grabbed one and Kylie plopped the olive off the toothpick into her mouth.
"Oh, I love this," she said, "Come on, let's sit down and check them out!"
"This is exploitation," she said, "at least that's what you would be saying if they were women."
"If it's good enough for us," she said, "It's more than good enough for them."
Some men stood on a stage and were surrounded by women with what looked like dollar bills in their hand. Gemma watched them in distaste.
"Just look at what they're doing."
Donna cast an analytical eye.
"Looks like everyone's having a good time."
J.D. knew from experience that there was a lot of exploitation in this business as well as others and that women were ripe to be mistreated, a lesson she learned when she'd been growing up.
"There's one coming this way," Kylie reported.
She reached into her wallet. Gemma rolled her eyes and Kylie looked at her, laughing.
"Girl, you need to take a chill pill," she said, "Are you like this around your boyfriends?"
"Of course not," she said, "Not that I have one at the moment."
"I can see why."
"I need to spend time by myself."
Kylie just folded her arms.
"That's what you've been saying for months now," she said, "You need to live a little."
"I'm doing just fine…"
J.D. watched the banter and she knew that Kylie genuinely cared for her. From what she'd heard about Kylie from Ethan, she felt very loyal to those she cared about and god help anyone who crossed any of her friends.
Kylie poked J.D.
"Hey, why are you off looking lost when these hot men are in our midst, here to make us happy?"
J.D. looked up at the male stripper who had well, removed all of his construction style clothing down to his rather skimpy underclothes. He flexed his pectorals and flashed them all a grin as the women around them began reaching for their wallets.
But J.D. didn't really see him at all. She saw someone else.
Ethan looked at his watch as he waited for the triple A man to come change the tire on his car. He could have deftly handled the task himself…if the car had a spare which it did not. So he had to sit on his hands when he needed to be out finding J.D. while he awaited assistance. He had called the friend that J.D. had been staying with to ask where she might be and the woman had told her that J.D. had planned to spend the evening with the prosecutor who had gone up against her during her court hearing that day.
That narrowed it down a bit but not a whole lot because after all, L.A. looked like a huge city, on the ground. But Ethan knew his investigative skills and determination to find her would bear fruit probably before the night ended.
Suddenly, he looked up and saw a blue car with a siren light attached to it pull up behind him. He didn't know if that were good news or bad but the woman with the long brunette hair who got out of the car didn't appear hostile. She appeared to be sizing him up as she approached, wearing slacks and a print blouse and of course, a badge.
"My car broke down," Ethan said, "Tire's flat and I don't have a spare."
She just nodded.
"That's a tough break," she said, "It'll take hours to get help for it. Lots of cars broke down on the bridges tonight."
Ethan didn't really like the sound of that. He wanted to get going quickly so he could continue his search.
"I can't stay here then," he said, "I've been looking for someone."
She flashed her eyes at him.
He shook his head.
"No my best friend," he said, "She came up here on a job proposal that I offered and we didn't part on the best of terms so…"
The officer folded her arms.
"You wanted to check up on her to find out why she didn't accept it."
"I need to talk to her," he said, "I don't want her to leave town due to some misunderstanding."
"Why is it that the men always think that it's the woman who doesn't understand correctly?"
He looked up at her.
"What did you say?"
Then she realized she had said her thoughts out loud.
"Nothing," she said, all business again, "I can give you a lift somewhere if you'd like and call in for your car to be towed back to wherever."
"That would be great," he said, "as for the ride, I'm not sure where I'm heading."
"I'm off-duty until tomorrow," she said, "So I could drive you around to a couple places but I do have a situation I have to check out at one of our crews."
She smiled for the first time.
"I'm Lt. Lace Maxwell with LAPD."
"Ethan, private investigator. I live here."
"Okay get in the car and we'll get going," she said, "I've been invited by my friends to join them at a club but the club has been a source of police complaints for quite a while. Not surprising considering its nature."
She turned to face him.
"It's a crew with exotic dancers," she explained, "Male dancers."
His brows rose.
"I imagine that your vice squad might be checking in from time to time."
"Them and Narcotics," she said, "We busted some dealers in the back room just last month."
"Haven't you thought of shutting the place down?"
"There's a whole process with that," she said, "and as soon as the owner got wind of it, he had some of the more…loyal customers sign petitions and send them straight to City Hall."
Ethan nodded, understanding or so he thought.
"Anyway, my friends are right in the middle of it," Lace said, "but it's their choice of entertainment not mine."
"Why did they go tonight?"
"Oh Kylie got transferred to writing feel-good features and she needed to blow off some steam," Lace said, "Donna and Gemma are just along for the ride and Gemma brought the lawyer who went up against her in court this morning…makes for a lively evening out."
Ethan didn't doubt that especially knowing Kylie and maybe J.D. had told her something about where she'd been going. They didn't know each other well but the two had gotten along. He supposed he had some time to ride with Lace while thinking of the different places he could look for J.D. He wondered idly what kind of friends Lace had while they drove to the crew.
J.D. took her second round of drinks as the other women gathered around one of the male dancers who smiled at them.
"Anyone want to dance," he drawled.
He had been the one dressed up like a cowboy complete with hat, boots and lariat. One who reminded her a little of…never mind.
"What about you," he said, looking at her.
She stared up at him.
"I don't think so," she said, "I've had a long day and wouldn't be much fun."
"All the better," he said, reaching his hand down.
"Oh go on," Kylie said, "It will be fun."
J.D. wasn't so sure of that but she thought back to that last conversation she had about her social life. and felt emboldened so she let him take her hand and pull her up on the stage. Then the dancing began and she had to say, it felt nice to have a man pay attention to her. One who hadn't felt threatened by her or didn't cheat on her. All of her men appeared to fall into those two categories these days and she had begun to feel burned out by the whole dating scene. He grabbed her waist and pulled her closer as the music slowed down. She closed her eyes against his shoulder and just went with it.
Ethan and Lace pulled up at the Blue Room and Lace pointed out some familiar looking cars.
"They're here," she said, "We'll just walk inside."
A man dressed in faded jeans and a tank shirt walked up to them.
"The bouncer," Ethan asked.
"No, one of the vice detectives," Lace said, "What's up Vic?"
He looked Ethan over and shrugged.
"There's some dancing going on inside there with some rowdy women," he said, "I believe you know them and they've got some sexy brunette spitfire with them."
Lace shook her head.
"Anything happening besides that?"
"Narcotics shut down some drug dealing in the corner lot," he said, "and there's been some underage patronage."
Lace took a deep breath.
"Is Rich around?"
"He's working the bar," he said, "but you won't be able to see through his disguise."
"I know my own partner…"
Ethan and Lace walked away from Vic and headed into the joint.