Cord and Spike entered the bar and despite their attire, they didn't attract more than passing glances. Except for a blonde disco dancer who sidled up to Cord and looked into his face intently.
"Oooh I just love men in hard hats," she drawled, placing her hand on his chest, "Buy me a drink and we can discuss…where you can um, hammer some nails?"
As far as lines went, he supposed he'd heard worse but it had been years since he hung out at clubs fishing for women and using lines like that himself. Like when he did his military stint and hit the local haunts. This time he extricated himself because after all, he had moved past all that ages ago. He used more sophisticated scripts these days.
"Maybe…later…I'm meeting someone."
She scowled at him and moved on to a man with dark hair and dressed completely in white down to his shoes.
Cord and Spike continued through the crowded room and then Cord looked up, seeing a woman ahead of him, who just looked sexy as hell…and more than a little familiar. He thought back quickly wondering where he had seen this vision from before. The dress sculpted to her thighs, ending a couple inches above her knees, a dressy shirt sheathing her upper body, and on her feet, a pair of heels. Her face framed by a halo of mahogany hair, which accentuated her face and the nicest pair of lips that he'd seen in a while. Had he met that mouth before, he couldn't remember. His body tensed up at the sight in front of him.
"Where are you going," Spike asked.
Cord just knew that he had to check out that woman ahead of him. Maybe she'd been a client…someone on the social circuit…an ex-girlfriend? Then her head looked up and a familiar pair of hazel eyes met his and froze. His heart felt like it had fallen into his gut, his legs turning to jelly.
"I think that's…Cassidy…"
Across the room, Cassidy looked up and saw the construction worker looking over at her and she took in his most impressive build, his rugged race framed by hair that she could imagine running her fingers through as she molded her body with his…she definitely had put her breakup with Randy where it belonged, behind her.
And then she looked again…and it hit her.
She shook her head in disbelief. It couldn't be, her friend was back in the office probably kicking back in his Jacuzzi with a woman after a hard day's work at the office. He just couldn't be this mouthwatering specimen of male virility in front of her. She swallowed, her mouth suddenly feeling dry.
Oh my god. She was lusting over her friend, the one she had kept at arm's length the entire time she knew him because she didn't want to flow the most important relationship in her life over a casual fling. The only kind of relationships that Cord seemed to enjoy…in between a more meaningful but always short-lived engagement or two. Now that assessment wasn't completely fair because after all, she hadn't done any better in that category.
Now she walked towards him. He more than met her halfway in the middle of the club. She looked at him, puzzled. As puzzled as Cord felt right now along with a host of other feelings and sensations.
" Cassidy what the hell…"
She broke in, not caring for his line of questioning.
"Cord, what are you doing here," she said, folding her arms, "and it better not be checking up on us."
"No it's not," he said, "I'm here with Spike…detective with the LAPD and there's some illegal activity going on here."
"I know," she said, "His partner Carlotta's downstairs. We kind of crashed a floating craps game…"
He grabbed both of her arms.
" Cassidy what the hell are you thinking of doing here," he said, "Throwing yourself in a dangerous situation?"
She flashed him an irritated look that bordered on anger.
"I'm doing okay Cord…we are…so back off okay?"
Spike approached the two of them and Cord turned to face them.
" Cassidy just told me that she and Sanchez are playing craps with some folks."
Spike nodded and became all business.
"So what's going on," he said, "How many people in this game?"
Cassidy breathed in relief. That sounded so much better than Cord's overprotective attitude which left her feeling now like he had no faith in her judgment.
"Four, maybe five," she said, "They're all using aliases I think. Carlotta and Krystal are down in some room in the basement with them."
"We'd better go check this out," Cord said.
Cassidy put her hand up.
"There are some bouncers you'll have to get past and it won't be easy," she said.
"We can handle it Cassidy," Cord said, "In the meantime, you stay right here…"
She folded her arms.
"Like hell I will Cord," she said.
When he heard her call him that which she rarely did, he knew that he had struck her ire but he didn't care about anything but that she remain safely out of this volatile situation. Looking at the two men, Cassidy calmed down a bit.
"Besides, if I don't' return, they'll know something's up," she continued.
Spike looked at Cord.
"She's right," he said, "She's going to have to go back down there now before they really miss her."
Cord didn't like that at all but he remained silent…for now. She looked at the two men again.
"You need to know something else," she started.
Both men looked up at her expectedly.
"There's one of your cops in there already posing as one of the players," she said.
"How do you know," Spike asked.
She looked a bit embarrassed.
"I used to go out with him," she said, "His name's Randy."
Cord's brows rose in recognition.
"That detective who walked out on you and broke your heart if I recall."
Oh yes, he did remember, Cassidy thought, after all he had done his part as her best friend and had taken her out to a week's worth of dinners at L.A.'s different hot spots to get her mind off of him. Just like she had done for him in the past when she helped him pick up the pieces of his heart and get his mind off of them for a while.
"Is he on our side," Spike wondered, "I've heard he's tops in his division but if he's not..."
"He's very devoted to his career," she said, "Talked about it all the time."
Cord noticed Cassidy checking him out, with a barely concealed grin on her face. But in all fairness, he hadn't been able to take his eyes off her.
"What's the matter," he asked.
She looked all innocent.
"Oh…nothing," she said, "Except to say you carry that look quite well Cord…"
He smiled back at her.
"You look…very nice…"
She rolled her eyes.
"Oh Cord, I look like a party girl," she said, "Eye candy for some man's arm and I know it."
He disagreed, thinking that only a fool would look at the woman in front of him that way. But now he looked at her and saw something different…
"You're not going back down there alone," he said.
Her brow rose.
"Oh and who's coming with me?"
"Oh no, you're not," she said, "I don't need you babysitting me at the craps party."
"I'm not going to be doing that Cassidy," he countered, "but you need some help and Spike's going to be close by."
Spike didn't like the sound of that much but he realized that it was possible that one or more of the craps players might recognize him from a prior bust. Not a problem for Carlotta because she stuck to hooker details when working Vice.
Cassidy looked at both men and relented.
"Okay, but let me handle this with the bouncers," she said, as she wrapped her arm around Cord's waist where it rested easily enough.
Spike headed back to the bar where he sat on a stool while Cord and Cassidy walked to where the bouncers stood.
"Hi guys," she said, "Guess what I picked up at the bar."
One of the bouncers folded his arms.
"He can't go in."
Cassidy tilted her head and smiled.
"But he's so cute and I don't want another woman to poach my new guy," she said, taking one of her hands and caressing Cord's chest. He forced an easy grin on his face that didn't come all that easily. Cassidy looked at him, hoping her actions weren't making him too uncomfortable. After all, this understanding had been between them…but this was work after all. After the bad guys were busted, things would go back to their status quo.
But Cord understood all right what she was doing because his hand moved to the back of her head and he stroked her teased up hairdo. She felt a tingle rush through her but caught it, focusing on the task at hand.
"Please…if some other chick runs off with him, I'll just never get over it…"
The bouncer looked stern but then weakened and opened the door.
"Okay, go downstairs and the guys can decide whether he stays or not."
She smiled her gratitude and her arm still around Cord, she led him down the stairs towards the game room.
Cord walked into the room with Cassidy and saw everyone's eyes focus on him.
"Hi…I heard you've got a game going and I've got a wad of cash…and a few nice cars…"
They looked doubtfully at the construction worker in front of them.
"You look like you could barely pay the cover charge here," Animal said.
Cord looked over at the man who had Carlotta sitting on his lap and he'd be damned if Cassidy would be treated that way. And then he saw Randy wearing a shaggy hairdo and a beard and he knew that he recognized him.
"Who's he," Animal asked.
Cassidy bit her lip, looking at them.
"He's my…manager," she said, "He handles my affairs."
Cord almost coughed at her matter of fact style of relating that information about him and so quickly. But then again the woman had always been able to think on her feet, the more difficult the situation the better.
"I'm her sugar daddy," Cord continued, ignoring Cassidy 's now sharp look, "I don't think she'd have me otherwise unless I showered her with a ton of cash to prove I love her."
She shot him a pithy glance and then smiled to cover it. His statement provoked so many different thoughts inside her; she could barely contain them all. But now wasn't the time when she could just chew him out later.
"Yes…he's definitely right about that."
He sat down and patted the chair right next to him.
"Now come here doll face and let's get this game started," he said.
Oh she was so going to make him pay for that. At least he didn't tell her to sit on his lap like a toy dog that he could stroke while keeping his mind on the activity on the table in front of him. Seriously, she would knock him flat on his butt if he pulled that, best friend or not. Then again, the thought was fleeting of her on his lap and…exploring the tool belt he wore as part of his costume. She reached for her Scotch which mercifully was within arm's reach and took a sip sighing as it burned her throat.
"I'm Ryder by the way," Cord said, "I just got off a contract job and picked up my paycheck…which has been itching in my pocket ever since. I see you've met…Ginger."
Cassidy put down her glass and nodded.
"So you going to drop some cash on the girl or not," Randy asked from across the table, "She sounds like she has expensive tastes."
"I beg your pardon," Cord said, his voice edging towards danger.
Randy held up his hands.
"Look it's none of your business, but she turned me down flat, left and came back with you," he said, "I figured it was because you had a bigger wallet."
"Definitely a bigger…something," Carlotta said breezily and Cassidy nearly knocked over her Scotch.
She wondered if she were going to spend the rest of the undercover operation listening to the two men in her life compare caliber sizes because if that were the case, she hoped the police would break up this little party sooner than later and cart them both off too. Cord just looked at Randy like he wanted to take him outside and teach him a lesson.
Animal wanted to keep the action and the money flowing.
"She's a nice enough dame but I'm here to make some quick cash," he said, "I've got a plane to catch in the morning."
"Back to Vegas," Carlotta ventured, stroking his face with her fingers, "but baby doll, we just met and you're going off and leaving town on me?"
"I'm not from here," Animal explained, "I own a club out in the Vegas Strip. I've got acts to hire and a payroll to keep up."
Not the least of which were hired hit men and a loan shark or two, Carlotta mused.
Cord tossed out some cash on the table. A roll of Benjamin Franklins and the other players knew he was serious.
"But honey, you can't spend that much money on this silly game," Cassidy said, "You promised to take me to the French Riviera after we were done here on that sleek old sexy airplane of yours, the one with all that extra thrust."
Cord smiled, to cover the flush in his cheeks. Either Cassidy had gotten into her role very well or the Scotch was beginning to talk. He patted her hand.
"Now don't you worry sweet thing," he said, "I've got that all taken care of and there's plenty more of this where it came from."
"Are you going to back up that wad with some numbers or not?"
Cord refocused on the game and called his numbers before tossing the dice. Lady luck shown down kindly on him and he won that round. He started to collect his winnings but Cassidy got to them first, grabbing several bills and making a big show out of tucking them into what appeared to be a bustier beneath her blouse. Cord's eyes nearly popped out of his head. Who was this woman anyway? Not the one he had known all these years. She saw his shocked expression and winked.
"I'm saving this for later…in case you go broke."
Not much chance of that because Cord had played plenty of Craps when they had spent time at Vegas while on business trips.
Krystal turned to Oscar who had been flirting with her all evening and asked him to put some cash down. He protested but she just pulled some cash out of his shirt pocket and plunked it down on the table.
"Roll me a snake eyes," she said, totally in the spirit of things.
Cord couldn't believe that was his reliable secretary who usually wore sensible business clothes sitting in front of him whispering into a man's ear and trying to get him to part with his cash. When she first came to work for him, she had been a naïve farm girl fresh off the bus and working for a temp agency. Maybe this whole situation was just one bizarre dream that he would wake up from in a cold sweat.
Then he looked over at Cassidy reapplying lip stick to her mouth and thought…maybe not so cold. She just put her makeup away and smiled at him.
"You know this is kind of fun," she said, "It would be even more fun if we cleaned them out for everything they had before we left them…handsome and took our game elsewhere."
He almost said her name right then and she must have sensed it because he felt her place her hand on his jean-clad thigh. He closed his eyes, before recovering quickly thanks to experience to know that she simply had been warning him.
"Cass…I mean Sugar baby that sounds really promising…"
She just looked at him, thinking that if he had nearly blown their cover then they might both find themselves on the wrong end of the serious fire power that these unsavory players must be packing beneath their seventies garb and their easygoing sense of fun. But a part of her idly wondered what would happen…if they left the game while still in character…and heat flushed through her as she thought about them together…and alone.
She really needed to take some of that Scotch and splash her face with it. That might shock her to her senses.
Enough so to return her to the present, the one where they all had to play their parts to bring the bad guys in while the LAPD monitored the situation a distance away.
"I need something more to drink," she said and Cord refilled her glass at the table.
Cord continued his string of good luck at the Craps table which of course aroused suspicion among some of the other players…not doing so well. He knew that mobsters hated parting with cash and that if he weren't careful, he might end this evening in the L.A. harbor wearing cement flippers. Time to end this streak of luck…and then he looked at Cassidy sitting there, her eyes focused on the game. Golden loops flashed from her earlobes as she idly flipped her hair back and he sucked in his breath. She seemed so much at ease in her role, much more than he thought her academic background would allow her to be. But then he never really had seen this side of her.
"Damn honey, I just lost a bundle," he said, looking at her and hoping the other players bought it.
She looked at him, her eyes sympathetic.
"I know baby but it happens to the best of us," she said, "Here let me make it better for you."
His posture straightened and the other men looked up.
"Yeah let's see her make it better," Animal said, and Cord saw a flash of skepticism in his eyes.
Damn, he wondered if the wily gangster who ran operations in five different states saw through this charade and knew what he and the others were doing. He had to play along until he knew for sure whether that was the case or not. And that meant…but she read his mind.
And then her face moved closer to him, the waft of her cologne reaching him and her lips brushed against him tentatively at first like a whisper awaiting his response. And before his mind caught up, he did that as he Carlottapened their kiss, which grew hungrier, hotter and for just a second…he forgot they weren't alone in the room.
So did she as it turned out as she ran her fingers through his hair and kissed him harder. Heat flashed through his body as he responded, amazed how good it felt. How intoxicating the taste.
She finally broke away and stroked her lipstick off of his mouth with her fingers, sending rush of feelings through his body. What had he just done and what the hell had happened? Was still happening, as if her lips hadn't left him.
Cassidy coolly adjusted her clothing including her bustier and when she flashed a look at the players, she could see they had bought it. Except for Randy who just shot her a surly look but then again, he had his chance with her and had blown it…all because in a heated moment she had mistaken him for someone else. A lapse she really couldn't believe had happened now after that kiss. The two men were after all, nothing alike.
She looked over at Cord but he had pulled another wad out of his wallet and prepared to lose it.
Carlotta sat watching Animal lose more and more money which didn't do much for his attitude. In fact, during the last round, he had slammed his fist on the table like a petulant child. It was approaching time to bring this little get together to an end. Not that Animal wasn't a hot looking guy in his own way but truth be told when he had been stroking her face with his bejeweled fingers, she had instead been thinking of someone else…and oh Jesus, it had been…Spike.
Not her partner…oh no…she couldn't be… she blushed at the thought and that's something she rarely did, so good was she at keeping her cool whether it was as an experienced police officer even in the heat of danger or a woman who kept firm control over her personal relationships including with men. And Spike…oh he was just all wrong for her.
"What you thinking about sugar," Animal said, stroking her hair and she remembered she still sat on his lap being treated as his personal pet. She began to extricate himself from his embrace. He didn't like that one bit.
"Where you going now," he said, "I can't let you go unless you ask nicely."
She put her hand on his wrist and forced him to release her.
"How's that for nicely," she said, getting out of his lap.
His face snarled in anger and he reached for her but she deftly slipped away to a safer place. She shot Randy a look and he nodded quickly. She reached into her bra and pulled out a gun and aimed it at the people at the table. Cassidy looked across and saw that Randy had done the same thing.
"Police freeze," both of them commanded, frozen in their stances.
Animal and the others looked between the two in total confusion and dismay. But Cord knew that in a matter of seconds, they would come up with some response, most likely a violent one. He reached for his own gun, hidden in a leg holster.
"Wait, how did they get these guns in here," Animal said, looking towards the bouncer, Grunt.
That's when he discovered that Grunt also was a police officer. Cassidy never would have picked him out of a crowd, as seamlessly as the bouncer had fit in the background. Suddenly Animal roared and pushed the table up towards Cord and Cassidy and reached down to get his own firearm joined by Oscar so now a group of men stood in the basement, pointing guns at each other. Cassidy guessed that the craps game had officially ended in a draw and now the life and death battle had begun.
She reached for Krystal and instructed her to head towards the refreshment table and hide behind it in case the shots started flying.
"Put down your weapons," Carlotta ordered, "Nice and Easy. We are LAPD officers and you're under arrest for operating an illegal gambling operation for starters."
The other men didn't budge. Cord had drawn his own weapon and found that Cassidy had reached into that bustier of hers and pulled out a switchblade.
"What's that," he asked.
She flicked it open.
"Hey you think I can fit a gun in there," she said, "There's not much room as it is."
No, Cord imagined, probably not…then he saw movement out of the corner of his eyes and saw Oscar aim his gun to shoot.
Bang. Gun flew out of his hand and clattered on the floor where Krystal hobbled over and got it near where she hid. Cassidy saw that Carlotta had shot Oscar's gun right out of his hand. That was enough for Oscar to want to head on our of there but Cassidy blocked him and he fell on the floor where she tackled him.
"Hey watch it with that blade bitch," he sputtered.
"You call me that again and I'll do every woman in this world a favor and…"
But he had already closed his mouth. Animal looked over at him and shook his head.
"Never was good in a tough situation," he muttered and he aimed his gun at Randy but Cord moved quickly knocking the weapon out of his hand and then hitting him with his fist, knocking him over the toppled table. Dice had already gone flying but now they truly scattered across the floor past Krystal.
Snake eyes, she thought wistfully, pocketing them as her souvenir of this crazy girl's night out that had truly been a blast.
Suddenly, the doors flew open as Cord had Animal pinned on the ground and Carlotta had gone over to hoist up Oscar from where Cassidy had kept him from leaving. Officers led by Spike stormed the basement and began rounding up the craps players who weren't in the mood to flee at this point.
Carlotta happily slapped the handcuffs on Animal herself. He flinched as they encased his wrists but leered at her.
"Hey baby doll if you'd told me you were into this kind of thing…"
She smiled at him as she began moving him up the steps.
"Shut up," she said, before reading him his rights.
The police rounded up all the criminals including the manager of the bar who had been receiving regular payments to keep his mouth closed about the illegal gambling and packed them all in the paddy wagon, taking them to the station for booking. Spike and Carlotta watched them satisfied and then they really looked at each other for the first time that night.
"Sanchez, you look…"
"Like a hooker," she said, "Story of my life."
He shook his head.
"No you look like you handled yourself as well as you usually do," he said, "This bust's going to have you as its primary officer."
She thought about that. Yeah, she would love to get credit for busting a lot of bad guys and she had put the work in but…did she really want to be in charge of all the hours spent pencil whipping and filling out paperwork?
"I'll tell you what Spike," she said, "Let's give it to Randy. I have a feeling he's the one who deserves it."
He nodded, satisfied.
"Spike…don't take this the wrong way but I never pictured you as a cowboy," Carlotta admitted.
"Me neither," Spike agreed, "I didn't even like westerns growing up."
The two of them stood alone in the parking lot, the cowboy and the party girl, at a loss of what to do.
"So where should we go now," Carlotta said, "back to the station?"
Spike thought about it.
"Why don't we go check out that Jazz band downtown," he said, "We're both off duty now and we'll save the city from blowing its budget on overtime."
She smiled up at her partner and friend.
"I'd actually like that," she said, "Let's go do it."
"Only the first round and then it's on me…"
Cassidy sat on the sofa waiting while Cord made them both drinks. A Scotch for him but a glass of Danny's guava juice for her. She had enough liquor to last her for a while. Krystal had headed on home after giving her police statement and with a phone number from one of the Vice guys to do coffee sometime. Cassidy and Cord had headed back to the office where they had showered and changed to more comfortable clothing. Cord had watched her come back up the stairs wearing a comfortable grey sweat suit and for a brief second...missed that bustier but he was more than ready to shed the construction costume and the persona that had gone with it.
He looked at Cassidy now, her hair still damp and her face devoid of makeup, looking pensive as she sipped her juice and much more…herself.
"So what's on tomorrow," she asked him.
Cord picked up on her cue that she wanted things to return to normal almost as if tonight hadn't happened.
"I've got some new clients for us to add on," he said, "and you know Zach's going to be starting as our new associate."
Cassidy tried to hide her distaste but Cord picked it up anyway.
"What's it with him and you," he said, "it's like there's tension between you."
She paused then shook her head.
"Oh nothing," she said, "But I need tomorrow morning to go look at some real estate. You know I'm looking to buy some property."
Yes, he knew that, she had been looking for an enclave of her own away from the city to retreat to, at the end of the week. Work had been so frantic lately, so time-consuming that at times, he had second thoughts about selling his beloved ranch.
More silence fell between them as they sat there close together physically but further apart in other ways. Cord thought about the woman he had met tonight, the side of his best friend who had been a stranger to him, but who had riled him up in ways he still hadn't recovered from. Where were these feelings coming from?
He knew what would come next and he waited.
"About tonight," she said, haltingly, "That kiss…you know why we did it, don't you?"
"As part of the charade we were pulling at that craps table," he said, "to fool those gangsters."
She smiled, that he understood what she had been getting at.
"It didn't mean anything, we had to do it so they wouldn't get suspicious," she continued.
Okay, Cord bought into that but even though the kiss started out with that purpose; things had quickly shifted at least on his end. But what about her, did she feel anything while she had kissed him?
" Cassidy I understand that," he said, "But I'm not going to sit here and pretend that a part of me…didn't enjoy it."
She looked up at him startled, and he saw wariness cloud her eyes.
"Cord…I don't think…"
"I know," he said, "I didn't either but all I'm going to tell you now are two things I do know, that I wasn't sorry that it happened and that I enjoyed it…and you."
Her stomach tied itself in knots. Damn, this wasn't going very well.
"I'm not going to do anything to risk our friendship," she said.
"I know that and I would never do that either," he said, "And no matter what happens, I will always be your best friend and that won't ever change...but tonight something just did."
She looked away from him and he worried that he lost her.
"I'm telling you all this because I'm not going to lie about it."
She nodded, but she seemed uncertain. And that's when he knew that she struggled with her feelings, that what had happened between them had shifted something within her. But what he needed now was to give her space to process that until she was ready for what he had to give her. He got up to leave.
"Well I'd better head on home," he said, "it's been a long day and we've got those cases starting tomorrow."
She looked at him a moment and then nodded, getting up and taking both of their empty glasses to the sink in the wet bar.
"I've got some decisions to make myself as well."
His brow furrowed at that statement and what he felt behind it but he let it go. He started to leave but she caught him first, in an embrace and he felt the tension within her ease and smelled the lilac scent of her shampoo. When they broke, he rested his hands on her shoulders and looked at her.
"I'll see you tomorrow, okay," he said, "It will be a brand new day and those new cases could take our agency in a whole new direction."
And possibly them in other ways as well, he added silently.
She nodded and he left her. After hearing the elevator sound its arrival, she turned to gather her own things. As she left the suite, she made a mental note to herself that she would call the realtor tomorrow to tell her which land she wanted to buy.
Now how Cord would feel about that when he found about it and…her plans, would be another story altogether.