The house lights dimmed as the spotlight formed a circle of illumination on the stage. A cloaked figure entered from stage left. He lifted his head, but a white domino mask disguised his face.
Erin O’Reilly, who’d just walked in to join her father near the bar, sank onto a stool and twisted in her seat to watch the show. “Who is that?”
Her father patted a paunch formed by too many beers and not enough crunches and belched. “It’s the new kid, Liam. Tonight’s his first performance.”
Erin didn’t visit Lucky’s too often, but she’d seen the male review a couple of times. Most of the guys didn’t approach her. As the daughter of Padraig “Lucky” O’Reilly, she was considered hands off. Judging from the well-oiled, well-toned bodies of the dancers, it was quite unfortunate. She wouldn’t mind a few of the guys having their hands on her.
Like the guy on stage now.
He tossed back the blood-red hood of his cloak. Only the barest of dark stubble lined his skull. Erin shivered and clenched her thighs. She was a sucker for a shaved head.
His body was engulfed by the cloak, but he was tall and appeared well formed. Pulsating Latin music poured from the speakers as he sauntered toward the pole in the center of the stage. Erin held her breath and waited to see what he’d do.
He didn’t touch the pole as she’d expected. Instead he passed it and headed down the middle of the stage, which extended well into the crowd. At the end of the runway, he paused and seemed to survey the audience as if looking for someone.
The ladies, even some of the men, in the audience seemed to hold a collective breath as he turned his head slowly left and right. He went back to his left, toward the bar, and lifted a hand. He pointed a finger at Erin and then crooked it.
Lucky guffawed and slapped his meaty thigh. “I’ll be damned. The new kid certainly has balls.”
Erin gave her father a dismissive snort and then shook her head at the dancer on the stage. She mouthed “No” and crossed her arms over her chest. No way was she going to be dragged onto stage to perform for the man-hungry audience.
Liam assumed a military stance and again crooked his finger. Geez, what would it take for him to get the hint? She lifted the shot of tequila her father had ordered for her, tossed it back, and then slammed the glass onto the counter. “No way in hell,” she mouthed again.
The audience went wild as their gazes swung back and forth between her and the dancer. Erin hated being the center of attention, but as chants of “Do it” filled the bar, she had to laugh.
She nudged her father. “You didn’t have anything to do with this, did you?”
“Who me?” Lucky affected his most innocent expression as his lips twitched. “Of course not.”
Erin’s eyes narrowed. She wouldn’t put it past her father to have arranged this entire skit. He was all about money and entertainment. If he thought it would draw a crowd, he most certainly would embarrass his youngest daughter in public.
Obviously tired of her continued refusal, Liam vaulted from the stage and strode through the sea of heavily made-up women straight for her. Erin panicked. It was one thing to be beckoned from the stage. It was quite another to be fetched.
“Lucky, do something!” She clutched her father’s arm as if he would save her.
“For the last time, Erin, my name is Dad.” He snorted and reached for his beer. “You kids have no respect for your dear old pa.”
The dancer reached her. He came to a stop before her and swept into an elegant bow. “My lady, please join me on stage.”
His voice was silky smooth, like melted caramel. As he straightened, she was captured by his gaze. His eyes were wonderfully blue, a deep sapphire heightened by the whiteness of his mask.
Lucky pried her hand from his upper arm. “Go with Liam. It’ll be good for business.”
Erin shot him a baleful glare. “Seriously? Anything for a dollar, huh?”
“Don’t be like that, baby girl.” Her father shooed her. “Go. It’ll be fun.”
She lifted an eyebrow. “I’ve got an idea. How about you go on stage with him, and I’ll just sit here and watch.”
Amusement flitted through Liam’s eyes as he glanced at Lucky. “Not a good idea. He hung up his thong years ago.”
Erin grimaced and held up her hand. “Ugh, a mental image I don’t need.”
Lucky straightened and pulled back his shoulders. “I’ll have you know I dampened more panties back in my days as a dancer than these young bucks can dream of.”
Erin pretended to gag. “TMI, for sure.”
“How do you think I caught your mom?”
Erin put her hands over her ears and slid off the stool. “For the love of Christ! I’d rather be on stage.”
Liam gave her a slow smile and reached for her. Erin put her hand in his and allowed him to tow her back toward the stage. She muttered under her breath as he brought her into the spotlight.
What in the hell was she doing?
What in the hell was he doing?
When he’d applied for a stripper job, Liam McNamara never expected he would be performing in front of Erin O’Reilly on his first night. The gorgeous redhead grew up in his neighborhood. She and her sister had lived with their mother in a brownstone across the street from his building. The O’Reilly girls had gone to a proper Catholic school, while Liam attended the local public school. In college, he’d finally crossed Erin’s path. They’d had a couple of the same classes and hung out at a bar on weekends. They became friends, even though he’d wanted more. One night, he’d finally gotten up the nerve to ask her to dance.
Erin had taken one look at his lanky form and two left feet and laughed.
“When you learn how to dance, come ask me again.”
He couldn’t blame her really. To look at him back then, no one would’ve suspected he’d trained as a dancer for most of his life. His favorite had been hip-hop, but his mother had forced him to attend ballet classes. As a teenager, he’d learned some slick dance moves from the older kids in the neighborhood. The untrained street dancers taught him more than his professionally trained instructors could ever hope to.
He’d given up the dancing dream after graduating college and took a proper job in public relations. Yet he hadn’t been able to stop dancing. He needed the outlet, a chance to exhibit his hidden passion. So, when he’d seen the ad for a performer at Lucky’s, he jumped at the chance. Not only would he be working for the father of his dream girl, but he’d earn some spare cash. It seemed a win-win situation … that was until Erin had walked in the door.
Liam had expected to have a couple performances under his belt before Erin came to the bar. He’d learned from some of the other dancers she showed up every now and again to check on her father, but she seldom stayed more than a couple of minutes.
So he had approximately one-hundred-and-twenty seconds to make an impression. He’d vaulted from the stage and finally convinced her to follow him. Now she stood before him, primly dressed in a pair of jeans and a green sweater. Her vibrant hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She was the quintessential girl next door … if the girl next door came with an ex-stripper for a father and a pair of lush breasts that tempted him to drop to his knees before her and bury his face in them.
Erin crossed her arms and gave him a look that clearly said Get on with it. He lifted his hand to cue the music, and the deejay quickly cut to the song he’d chosen for his performance. When Doves Cry by Prince was one of his favorites. It was a sexy song with a great beat.
Erin continued to eye him as the intro started. He pushed back the sides of his cape, revealing the bare chest beneath, and did a slow pirouette before her. Her eyes widened as he rushed up and pressed her against the stripper pole.
“Relax,” he whispered as he ground his hips against her. He lifted her hands and held them over her head. His body continued to move in time with the music, a sexy sway that normally drove his partners wild. He’d practiced his moves at his favorite dance club and women usually fell all over themselves to dance with him.
He should’ve known Erin would be a challenge. She remained stiff as a board and showed no reaction to his provocative dance.
“Leave your arms up,” he instructed and moved away from her. He turned to face the audience. He rolled his hips and smiled as the catcalls began. Now this was the reaction he was used to.
His feet began to move in a complicated pattern he’d created a few weeks before. He’d practiced in front of the mirror until he’d committed the steps to memory. Dancing was the easy part. Removing his clothes as he did so was where the complications ensued.
He untied the string to his cape and allowed it to fall from his shoulders. The audience went wild. His black pants were rip-away. He’d bought them online at the suggestion of Devlin, another dancer he’d met a few days before, and he hoped the Velcro ripped like it was supposed to. Gathering his courage, he grabbed the sides of the pants and pulled them away from his body. Cheers from the crowd assured him he’d done just fine.
He still wore his domino mask and a black g-string. He turned to head back to Erin. The sight of his bare buttocks should be enough to satisfy his audience. It was time to amp up the sex factor of his performance.
Erin’s hands gripped the pole above her head. Her breasts pushed against the soft wool of her sweater. She looked eminently fuckable poised against the pole. His dick jerked to attention. Only by extreme force of will was he able to keep it from becoming a raging hard-on. Maybe he should’ve jerked off first as some of the guys had suggested.
It was too late now.
He reached around Erin and grasped the pole near her back. He lifted his leg and wrapped it around her hip. He leaned backward and gave a saucy wink to the audience before straightening and thrusting his hips against his partner. He gripped the pole and gave an exaggerated mimicry of the sex act. The crowd whooped and hollered for more.
The exuberance of the audience filled Liam with energy. He wanted this performance to be memorable. He wanted to make Lucky proud. But most of all he wanted to prove to Erin he wasn’t the geeky kid she remembered from college. He was a man now, one who’d come into his own and was determined to show his talent.
He lowered his leg and turned around. He backed up to Erin and reached up to take her hands. “Touch me,” he commanded.
Her fingers trembled within his grasp. “The customers aren’t supposed to touch the dancers.”
“You’re not a customer, Erin. Just do it.”
He heard her gasp, and he silently cursed. He hadn’t meant to let her name slip. He put her hands on his chest, and she took the hint. Her fingers trailed up and down his oiled torso. He prayed for the strength to keep the blood from pooling in his cock. It seemed to have a mind of its own as it gave another twitch.
He spun around and grabbed her ponytail with one hand. He pulled her head back, exposing her pale throat and the anxious fluttering of her pulse beneath the delicate skin. He nipped her and ran his tongue along the side of her neck.
The song drew to a close. He lifted his head and gazed at Erin.
She returned his gaze. Curiosity burned within the green depths of her eyes. “Who are you?”
He couldn’t help the cocky grin that crossed his face. “It doesn’t matter.”
Her eyes narrowed. Before he could stop her, she reached up and snatched the mask from his face. In the split second before the spotlight turned off, he saw shocked recognition on her face.
Erin went to find her father.
As soon as the stage went dark, Liam had disappeared. Last she’d seen, he’d gone up the stairs to one of the private rooms. Figures, she snorted to herself. Just when she’d found a dancer she wouldn’t mind sharing a room with, someone beat her to the punch.
Lucky was still at the bar. Molly, who’d been talking to him, scurried away when she caught sight of Erin.
Erin rolled her eyes and slapped her father on the arm. “Are you still chasing after that poor woman?”
Lucky did his best to look innocent. “What makes you think she doesn’t chase me? I’ll have you know your old Da is still quite the catch.”
“Sure you are.” Erin slapped her hand on the counter and caught the attention of the bartender. “Another tequila, please.”
While she waited for her drink, her father watched her with a considering gleam in his eye. She turned her head and lifted an eyebrow. “What?”
Lucky gave her a wide smile. “Did you enjoy the dance?”
Erin tossed back the tequila the bartender handed her. She grimaced at the fiery burn in her throat. “What the hell are you doing hiring Mac?”
Her father appeared confused. “Mac?”
“Yes, Mac.” Erin waved her hand in a big arc. “You know, the boy I liked in college.”
“Oohhh,” Lucky drew out the word and scratched his head. “I thought his name was Liam.”
“It is. Liam McNamara. Everyone called him Mac.”
Her father laughed so hard his belly jiggled. “This just beats all. My daughter has a crush on one of my dancers.”
Erin glared at him. “I do not.”
Lucky imitated her by lifting his own pale red eyebrow. “Yes, you most certainly do. Baby girl, you know I have a rule. The dancers can’t date my daughters.”
Erin opened her mouth to make a retort, but the words never left her throat. A male body insinuated itself between her and Lucky. “I’ll make it simple then. I quit.”
Erin stared at the back of Liam’s head as she leaned in close to him. He smelled heavenly, all manly musk mixed with the scent of the oil on his body. “What the hell are you doing?”
Liam tossed her a look over his shoulder. “I think it’s pretty damned obvious. You wanna get out of here?”
Erin had known him for years, but the Mac she’d once known had never been so forceful. Her veins throbbed in response. She stood on her tiptoes to look over his shoulder at her father. “Goodnight, Lucky.”
Liam took her hand and led her away. They left Lucky muttering to himself about the lack of respect in today’s generation.
Giggling, Erin clung to Liam’s hand. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone stand up to my dad before. Well, other than me of course.”
Liam held open the door for her to exit into the cool night air. They stepped onto the sidewalk, and he turned toward her. “Stripping wasn’t really for me.”
The glow of a streetlight illuminated his face. Erin stared at him, reveling in the strong features and the promise of boyish good lucks that had finally been fulfilled. She nervously wet her lips with her tongue. “That’s a shame. You were pretty good at it. Where did you learn how to dance anyway?”
A smile played about his lips. “It’s a secret.”
She leaned in close and whispered, “I promise not to tell anyone.”
“Is that so?” He bent his head, and his question whispered across her lips.
“Yes,” she barely breathed the word.
Liam kissed her. She couldn’t imagine a more perfectly perfect kiss. They’d lost contact after college, but when he touched her it was like coming home. They’d always seemed to bump into each other at different points in their life. How could they not share this one soul-stirring kiss?
Erin pulled back first. She stared into eyes that had darkened to indigo. “Come home with me.”
She wanted to take back the words as soon as she’d said them. She wasn’t like her father, a horn dog who would bed anything with a pulse. But something about this moment just felt right.
Liam looked down at her. “Are you sure?”
She grabbed fate with both hands and nodded. “I’m sure.”
Erin flipped on the switch and flooded her tiny apartment with light.
Liam followed her into the living room and glanced at the view of the New York skyline from her window. “Nice.”
She smiled and tossed her keys onto the coffee table. “It’s not much, but it’s all I can afford on a teacher’s salary.”
“It’s a great apartment. I wish mine was this nice.”
Erin stood in the center of the room. He could sense she was nervous. Hell, he was too. It wasn’t every night he went home with his dream girl. He recalled the feel of her lush curves pressed against his body during the performance. His dick hardened immediately. He had to have her.
Erin’s gaze traveled south. She focused on the crotch of his jeans. Her eyes widened the tiniest bit before she lifted her gaze back to his face. “So, what do you want to do?”
He stepped closer and reached for her. “I thought maybe we could finish what we started years ago.”
She wrapped her arms around him and angled her head for a kiss. “I had the biggest crush on you back then.”
He stroked her cheek and leaned down to kiss her. He pulled away, satisfied by the flush staining her pale skin. “You were all I thought about.”
Her brows drew together in a fierce frown. “Why didn’t we act on it then? Why did we wait four years?”
Liam shrugged. “I guess I was too shy to make a move.”
Her frown faded into a smile. “And I was too stubborn to admit I wanted you.”
His heart melted at the look on her face. “Forget about the past. We can start new.”
She pressed against him. “As long as we don’t start slow. I’ve waited a long time to have you in my bed.”
Liam grabbed the hem of her sweater and tugged it over her head. She wore a pale green bra underneath. He flicked a nipple, and it puckered the lace. “I don’t want to wait anymore.”
“Good.” Erin took his hand and led him to her bedroom. She kicked the door closed behind them and removed her shoes before she turned to face him.
He drew in a shocked breath as she unfastened her jeans and slid them past her hips. She reached behind to unhook her bra and tossed it aside. Wearing nothing but a cream-colored thong, she approached him. “You have too many clothes on.”
He reacted instantly. Grabbing the hem of his T-shirt, he pulled it off and dropped it to the floor. She unfastened his jeans and helped him shuck them as he toed off his shoes and socks.
Erin pulled back to study his tight black boxer briefs. Humor lit her eyes as she lifted her gaze to his. “Quite a wardrobe change there.”
He shrugged. “G-strings aren’t really my thing.” He toyed with the elastic band of her thong. “Your underwear, on the other hand, is quite intriguing.”
She gave him a slow, sexy smile and towed him toward the bed. She let go of him and turned to crawl onto the four-poster. He had a great view of her ass as she slithered across the mattress and shoved aside the blankets.
He tumbled in after her and scrambled to cover her body with his. They kissed, the passionate embrace born of long-suppressed desire. He ripped his lips from hers and trailed kisses along her neck and down to her breasts. “You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to do this.”
She arched into his caress. “I think I have an idea.”
Liam did as he’d dreamed and took her nipple into his mouth. He laved it with his tongue and delighted in the sounds she made. The tiny whimpers and soft sighs spurred him to action.
He moved a hand between her thighs and toyed with her. She was damp as his fingers plucked her clit and then slid between the slicks folds of her pussy.
Erin parted her thighs and panted. “Condom?”
He hated to leave her, but he had to find his jeans and pull the condom out of his wallet. He hurried back to the bed, shoving down his boxers as he went. He ripped open the package and rolled the latex down the length of his arousal.
Erin got to her knees and reached for him. They tumbled to the bed in a tangle of limbs. Somehow she managed to climb astride him. Liam’s cock nearly burst at the hot look she gave as she brushed her lower body against his erection.
“Now,” she instructed as she grasped hold of his cock and placed it at the entrance to her body.
Liam groaned and arched his hips. She ground down and took him inside to the hilt. She immediately set up a fast rhythm, her hips rolling and grinding down upon his erection. He grasped her hips and tried to slow her down. “You’re going too fast.”
She reared over him and shook her head. “No, it’s perfect. We’ll go slow next time. I promise.”
Hope blossomed at the mention of a next time. He held on, grit his teeth, and prayed he could last longer than her. Several torturous moments later, Erin changed the angle of her movements. Her breath panted past her lips, and he knew it was time. Liam’s hips surged upwards, seeking more of her, as he plunged and retreated.
Finally Erin collapsed upon his chest. Tremors racked her body as he sought his own release. With a growl of completion, Liam poured himself into the condom. His body relaxed and dropped back onto the mattress. He wrapped his arms across Erin’s back and let out a sigh of contentment.
Her breath tickled his chest as she spoke. “You never did tell me where you learned to dance.”
He chuckled and smoothed his palms down to her buttocks. “I actually learned when I was a child. I took dance for years.”
She straightened and gave him an astonished look. “No shit?”
He lifted a hand and touched her cheek. “I was embarrassed. Not many of my friends took ballet.”
Her eyes softened. “Oh, Mac. You could’ve told me.”
He pulled her down for a kiss. “And ruin the surprise? No, thank you.”
She kissed him back as she moved to lie next to him. He gathered her into his arms. “So, how did I do?”
She raised her head and gave him a considering look, one that reminded him of Lucky when he’d first auditioned for him. “Not bad. Not bad at all. I may need a repeat performance.”
He laughed and shook his head. “I quit, remember?”
She gave him a mischievous look. “I can install a pole in here.”
His cock stirred to life again. “But only if you use it with me.”
Her green eyes darkened with desire and something more, something vaguely resembling love. “Then you have a deal.”