Stripping off his clothes in a room full of women was not Ridge Pedersen’s idea of a good time. But how could he refuse when the gigs paid a good portion of his med school bills?
Exiting the elevator, he patted the tiny bag of coins in the pocket of his sleep pants. As he strode toward the apartment building’s laundry, a sour alcohol scent emanated from the basket balanced against his hip. He wrinkled his nose.
Over the last month, riotous bachelorette parties had crammed his summer weekends. Women mauled him, grabbed him, “forgot” to tip him—and sometimes puked on him. Thankfully, the latter hadn’t occurred at tonight’s job, although several women had slugged back oversized drinks comprised of vodka, various liqueurs, and cream. More than once, the petite future bride had offered Ridge a sip from her sticky cup, splashing his cop costume.
Shaking his head at the memory, he shouldered into the laundry room and jerked to a stop. Beside the bulletin board, a curvy brunette shook her booty in a short, purple nightie that did wonders to her thighs. As she danced with her back to him, she curled a messy wave of brown hair behind her ear. A skinny electronics cord dangled from her earlobe, most likely attached to a miniscule music player tucked...somewhere interesting, he hoped.
Wow, she almost made up for tonight’s annoyances.
Her singing sucked.
The door slammed shut as Ridge walked past Claire Merriweather’s jiggling butt and set his basket on the first washing machine in the row. Claire had hired him for tonight’s party. However, the reserved tones of her voice mail requesting his services in no way matched her enthusiastic bouncing on spiky sandals. Purple panties peeked from the hem of her lingerie as she danced, and countless straps crisscrossed her spine. Swinging a plastic cup, she cannibalized an upbeat song about kissing girls.
“I copped a feel—hiccup!” she belted in a sharp soprano. “La, la, la, his—hic—nightstick!”
Ridge recognized the side of her head, although not her daring outfit. During his performance in a fourth-floor apartment of the building, she’d remained within his vantage point in the hostess’s kitchen, prepping snacks and mixing drinks. She’d worn totally different clothes then. A conservative blouse and jeans that had nicely hugged her round behind.
How had the girl who’d avoided his gaze while paying him at the door transformed into this out-of-tune sex kitten?
Her glass swung again. The creamy concoction sloshed onto the scuffed linoleum beside a humming dryer.
Ridge’s mouth quirked. Naturally. The booze.
“Hello,” he called.
Her eyes fluttered half-open. Poking her tiny earphone, she bastardized the song again.
“Hello!” Ridge walked toward her, banging the washers. Her gaze riveted to the bulletin board.
He frowned. Didn’t she realize her vulnerable position? A woman alone in the unlocked laundry donned in lacy nightwear placed herself in unnecessary danger. Any loser—not him—could waltz in and see her.
Take advantage of her.
She licked an ad on the flyer-infested bulletin board.
Narrowing his gaze, Ridge stopped directly behind her. She tongued the ad a second time. His ad. For his stripping business.
Nine of the original thirteen detachable paper strips inscribed with his cell phone number hung from the glossy eight-by-ten. Butchering the pop song, Claire Merriweather tore off every last slip. Giggling, she stuffed them into her top.
Ridge rolled his eyes. In the color photo adorning the flyer, he wore the navy policeman costume she’d specified for the party. Stainless steel handcuffs dangled from his thick black belt while he gripped a strategically positioned nightstick. The intentional visual had netted him a generous profit as one of two part-time summer jobs. Under other circumstances, Claire’s thievery might flatter him. But registration for second-year med school occurred in a week.
Nobody messed with his tuition money.
He stepped within an inch of her. “Excuse me?” Voice hard, he tapped her shoulder.
Shrieking, she jumped. Her drink winged out of the cup, drenching the flyer. One of her ear buds popped out, the white cord swaying.
Ridge, you idiot. What on earth was he thinking, scaring the pants off her?
“Sorry.” Grasping her shoulders, he turned her around. “I hit the washers to catch your attention—”
“It’s you!” Green eyes wide, she thumped the empty cup onto the droning dryer. “My cop-a-feel!” She threw her arms around his neck. Her full breasts crushed the loose T-shirt covering his chest, and the sweet aroma of Irish Cream drifted from her lips.
Ridge pushed her away and held her there. Not that he didn’t appreciate her enthusiasm. In fact, certain parts of his body appreciated it too much.
“You were at the party tonight,” he reminded her in case her neurons had misfired. “You hired me for your friend, Tanya. I danced with her. In Alicia Maxwell’s apartment. Remember?”
A loopy grin plastered Claire Merriweather’s face. “I wouldn’t exactly say I hired you for Tanya.” The papers advertising his cell number fluttered in her top. The purple nightie—babydolls, that was it—had wide shoulder straps and lacy stuff that nipped at her waist and flared at her hips. He liked the tiny white bows along the hem. He liked the large bow centered on her cleavage even better. But…
Up close, on a wildness scale of one to ten, Claire’s outfit rated a three. The neckline didn’t plunge, and the skirt concealed her butt—when she wasn’t bouncing around. The papers jutting from her top and the dangling music cord lent her the appearance of a disorganized cat burglar on a midnight heist.
“Oh yeah, you hired me for Tanya,” Ridge stated. “She’s the bride.”
Claire’s dimples flashed. “You look like Demi Moore’s ex.”
Ridge squinted. “Bruce Willis?”
“No, silly. The young one. Don’t you—hic—twit?”
“What? Oh, you mean tweet.”
“Uh-huh. Twit.” She lifted a finger, and his grip on her slackened. “Soshul networking. Ash-hic has an account.” She nodded sagely. “You should sign up. You’d get a ton more calls.”
Ridge grunted. “If you hadn’t destroyed my ad, I’d get calls the conventional way.”
Her eyebrows wiggled. “You pack quite a package, Ridge.” Her gaze traveled to his pajama pants, which he wore commando.
His jaw firmed. May lightning strike me dead. Now. I’ll donate my body to science.
Two weeks ago, when Claire had hired him over the phone, her voice had sounded professional. Sensible. They’d discussed his rates and arrival time at Alicia Maxwell’s apartment, the duration and heat level of his performance. He had no problem flirting and stripping to a leather G-string, but drew the line at mimicking sex with the guest of honor.
In tonight’s case, Tanya, Claire’s friend.
He released her shoulders. Her hands whipped under his T-shirt. Jesus! Her palms skated over his pecs and abs. His pajama pants ran the risk of tenting in an energetic salute.
“Make love with me,” she murmured.
“Stop.” Grabbing her wrists, Ridge flipped her hands back out. “Claire. I don’t know what you think I’m advertising—” other than the party dances “—but I will not sleep with you.”
“Aw.” She pouted. “Not even if I tip you?”
“Especially not then.”
She blinked. “What’s wrong with me?”
“I don’t pick up drunk women.” Actually, between the med school grind and grabbing whatever work fit his busy schedule, he hadn’t gotten laid in longer than he cared to consider.
“I’m not drunk,” Claire enunciated very clearly. Her bleary eyes signified otherwise.
“It doesn’t matter.” Ridge released her wrists.
“You won’t take me home?” She wobbled on her sandals. “No one ever takes me home. No one says I’m beautiful. Everybody thinks I’m fat. No one loves me. Everyone loves Tanya. Everyone loves Lacey. Some people even love Alicia. But I’m unlovable!”
“You’re not unlovable. And you’re definitely not fat.” Why did women think all men wanted to date human pogo sticks?
“If I were five-seven and had great boobs, then would you have sex with me?”
Ridge trained his gaze on her face. “You do have great boobs.” From what he’d noticed moments ago.
“You’re not looking at them. You’re not feeling them.” Flinging her arms in the air, she launched herself at him. “Catch!”
Instinctively, Ridge’s hands shot up. Her rack landed in his palms. Oops.
“There.” Her loopy smile returned. “Now tell me they aren’t great.”
“I never said they weren’t great.” Damn, they felt amazing. Spilling over his fingers. Firm yet soft. Perfection.
Don’t look down.
He looked down. His thumb edged the center bow, his fingers pressing the paper strips lining her bare skin above the modest neckline.
Look back up, Pederson. Don’t you dare squeeze these babies. Not even once.
She slumped against him. Ridge stumbled back a step as her temple knocked his chin and her head sagged onto his shoulder. Her arms flopped at his sides.
“Claire?” He glanced at her face.
Her mouth had slackened with sleep, her eyes sealed shut.
She’d passed out with her hot knockers filling his hands. What the hell did he do now?
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