Chapter One

Andrea

I was a victim of fertility drugs.

No, they didn’t give me eight babies or turn me psychotic. In fact, I’d never even taken them, since I was only twenty-five and husbandless…and boyfriendless…and mostly dateless.

I became a victim of reproductive technology over twenty-five years ago, when my mother took fertility drugs, “blessing” me with my twin brother and life-long albatross Kenny. So, as my car hummed unsuspectingly toward Las Vegas, I thought about Kenny and the inequities of life.

As the eldest child—by about two minutes--I’d always lived carefully, moving in a straight line toward my practical goal of becoming an accountant. My brother, on the other hand, had done every stupid thing in the book, zigzagging his way through life as a ne’er-do-well party boy.

And where did that leave us?

I’d been laid off, having no seniority. With little professional experience since college and a bad economy, my severance pay had run out before I could find other work.

And Kenny? He’d somehow managed to talk investors into backing one of his wacko business schemes and was now making money hand-over-fist at his outer space themed strip club in Vegas.

Personally, I found the whole idea of owning, or even working in such an establishment disgusting. But I had student loans and rent to pay…and a brother begging me to come work in his office with him, apparently still completely oblivious to how much he annoyed me. Or he just didn’t care. Despite all kinds of weird habits and general geekiness, Kenny was the legend-in-his-own-mind type.

I lost track of how long I’d been on the road from Minneapolis, napping at the occasional rest stop because I didn’t have enough money for a hotel and was too embarrassed to admit it.

So on Sunday afternoon, I was beyond exhausted when my GPS told me I’d reached the right address. I looked up at the sign as I pulled into the parking lot, realizing I’d never bothered to ask Kenny what the name of his topless bar was.

Star Whores: A Gentlemen’s Club.

Oh shit. It was worse than I’d imagined. Knowing Kenny, he got a major kick out of the sleazy name, and was fully aware of the ridiculousness of having the words “whores” and “gentlemen” in such close proximity. He could be an ass, but he was no dummy.

I turned away and sighed, then looked back at the sign again. How was I ever going to list this on my resume?

My cell rang.

“Hello?”

“Andy? Where are you?” It was Kenny. He was the only one who called me “Andy,” instead of “Andrea.”

“I’m at Star Whores,” I said disdainfully. “Are you here?”

“No…uh…there’s been a snafu.”

Uh-oh. I knew that tone. What had he done this time?

“Tiffany and I went out to Lake Mead, and I was trying to prove to these guys we met that I could water ski on one ski—“

“But you can’t water ski on two skis, Kenny,” I replied as my heart fell into my stomach. Kenny was constantly trying to show off his non-existent athleticism, especially in front of women. I’d always been afraid his overconfidence would kill him one day and now…

I imagined him paralyzed from the neck down. I held my breath, waiting for the bad news.

“So, I had a little accident and Tiffany tried to drive me back to Vegas to the hospital, but she got lost and I ended up in Bullhead City instead.”

“Okay, where is it? I’ll be there as fast as I can. Should I call mom and dad? Can I talk to the doctor?”

“Whoa! Hold on. It’s no biggy. I just broke my leg.”

Whew, thank goodness.

“In a whole bunch of places.”

“How many places?”

“I don’t know. I lost count when the doctor was pointing them out, but they’re all below the knee. And it’s my left leg, so I can probably drive while the cast is on.”

“Okay, tell me where you are,” I said.

“Don’t worry about coming down here. Tiffany’s with me.” I heard giggling in the background and wondered how old Tiffany was. “I need you to do something more important.”

“What’s more important than your broken leg?”

“I need you to keep an eye on things at the club.”

Was he nuts? “I don’t know anything about running a strip club. What about your partners?”

“They’re silent partners. Don’t want to be publicly associated with it.”

I covered my tired eyes with my hand. “Gee, I wonder why?”

“Look, Andy. I have a good manager. They all know their jobs. I just need you to make sure all the money comes through you personally, and you write down who gives it to you and what they say it’s for. That way, they’ll know I have someone watching them, and I can check everything later and make sure nobody was skimming too much.”

“Can’t you find employees who are a little more trustworthy?”

“It’s a strip club in Vegas, Andy,” he said as if I was being dense. “Besides, it’s not that different than what you’d be doing anyway. You’ll still be keeping up with the money, it just won’t come through me first…and it’s only for a couple of days.”

“Shit.” What could I say? He was my brother. My family. My only source of income. “Kenneth Pearson, you’d better get back here as fast as you can!”

Kenny laughed. “You sound like mom.” Great. “Anyway, thanks! You’re my all-time favorite sister!” Of course, I was his only sister, but that never made any difference to him if he got what he wanted. “I had the back room fixed up for you to stay in until we can find you an apartment. Oh, it’s also a safe room, in case you ever need one.”

“A ‘safe room’? Like in that Jody Foster movie?” I asked. “Are you expecting trouble?”

“No. Most of the clientele are harmless Trekky types and techno geeks. That’s the beauty of it. They have good jobs and money to spend, so they’re not looking for trouble, but it is a stri—”

“Strip club in Vegas. I know. Just get back here, Kenny.”

“Sure thing.”

As I pressed “end” on my phone, I was torn between being thoroughly disgusted with my brother’s career choice and kind of proud that he actually seemed to care about something, for once.

Funny, I always thought I’d end up supporting him.

* * * * *

 

Rick

“What are you doing here, Webb?” Folsum asked when I entered the squad room. “You’re supposed to be on leave.”

“You know why I’m here,” I said. “I need an update.”

Folsum let out a long breath. The captain had instructed him and the rest of my fellow homicide detectives to keep me out of the loop on this one. “C’mon Rick, you know—” he began.

“Put yourself in my shoes,” I interrupted, knowing it would do the trick.

“God damn it!” Folsum grabbed the file off his desk and looked inside. “They think it was the Ivanov brothers.”

“Have they questioned them?”

“Can’t find them. There’s reason to believe they’ve left L.A. We’re trying to locate Byron Ivanov’s girlfriend, Anastasya Petrova, but she’s in Vegas and the Vegas P.D. just had two of their own offed, so we may not be high priority.” He handed me the file. I scanned through the information on the Ivanovs and the girlfriend.

“Let us take care of this,” Folsum tried again. “You should be at the hospital with Danny.”

“Yeah, I’ve been at the hospital for the last week and Danny’s still in a coma. You know what that means.”

“Not always.”

“Hm,” I grunted as I turned to go, hoping against hope he was right this time. “I’ve got to go out of town for a few days.”

“I’ll call you if Danny wakes up.”

“Yeah. Sure.” As I got into my car and drove home to pick up a few things, I tried to keep my head on straight, but my thoughts kept shifting back to Danny.

When a homicide detective gets enough experience under his belt, he’s assigned a younger partner who needs to learn the ropes. That’s how I got Danny.

We’d only been partners for two years, but working long hours under that kind of pressure makes a couple of years seem like a lifetime of knowing someone.

I remembered the first day we met. I was only thirty at the time, but Danny still seemed like a snot-nosed kid to me. Full of crazy energy and dirty jokes I’d heard a million times before. I wondered how in the world I was going to make a good detective out of him. And how in the world I was going to stand being in the same car with him every day.

But Danny surprised me. Turned out there were a lot of smarts under all that goofy. Sure, he drove me fucking crazy sometimes, but at some point, he’d turned into the younger brother I’d never had.

And now he was lying there dying—or a vegetable for life—and I didn’t know why. All I knew was he’d been off duty, gone to a gas station and was found shot in the parking lot on the side of the building. Probably in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I really didn’t care why, though. I only cared who, and my one lead was dancing in some strip club in Vegas.

* * * * *

Andrea

Well, I had to admit, Kenny had done okay this time. I snuggled down into the bujillion thread count sheets and decided maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad after all. This “safe room” was nicer than my apartment back in Minneapolis, with a living area, kitchenette, bathroom and a wall full of TV screens, although that seemed like overkill.

It was Sunday night—the one night of the week Star Whores was closed. A security guard named Carl had seen me to my fortress.

I’d thought I was exhausted, but now that I was in bed, I couldn’t make my brain stop working. Kenny was injured, this place was apparently a pretty big deal, and I was more or less in charge for the next couple of days.

After an hour of tossing and turning, I decided the only thing to do was focus on my favorite fantasy and pleasure myself to sleep.

For some reason, my favorite fantasy involved me and a cop, even though I was sure that in real life, cops were a bunch of bonehead adrenaline junkies. But in my fantasies, I preferred the TV and movie versions.

And in those fantasies, I lived in a penthouse and wore the sexy clothes of a woman who was comfortable with her voluptuous body, something I couldn’t manage to be in real life.

My penthouse doorbell rang. I answered it in a short satin robe and high-heeled fluffy house shoes. My blonde hair fell loose and silky below my shoulders, instead of being pulled up in its usual “claw.”

The tall, broad-shouldered man at the door gave me the once over and smiled as though he liked what he saw. I smiled coquettishly—another thing I’d never do in real life.

“Sorry to bother you ma’am, but I’m from the vice squad and we’ve heard you’ve done something very bad.”

Although I tried sometimes, I could never pinpoint the “very bad” thing I’d done in my fantasy, not that it mattered.

“Really, officer? Me?” I asked pseudo-innocently. “I’m an upstanding citizen. You can frisk me, if you like.”

I took a few steps away from him and “assumed the position,” hands on the wall, legs spread.

“That’s ‘detective’,” he said. He came close behind me and skimmed my shoulders, then ran his hands down my back.

The heat of his palms burned through the thin satin of my robe. When he reached my ass, he squeezed with both hands.

“Oh!” I exclaimed.

His hands slid up my sides and over my ribs, stopping at my breasts. “Better check these carefully,” he said. “You could be hiding all kinds of contraband in that cleavage.” He squeezed both my breasts, then ran his thumbs over my nipples.

Although I usually hated for anyone to comment on my breasts—the result of developing way too early and being teased mercilessly for years—it was somehow okay when my fantasy cop did it.

“Oh, Detective…” I moaned. My robe fell open and he pressed his hands down my naked stomach to my thighs. I watched as he slid one finger into G-string…