“I don’t know about you,” Dirk grumbled, “but I don’t know how much more of this I can take. I’ve been walking around with a hard-on for the past two hours.”
Ethan chuckled. When he’d seen Valentine Hart walk out in her tiny red lace panties and a bra that shoved up her breasts like a feast for a king, he’d had to fight damned hard to maintain his highly prized control. Damned hard. He almost smiled.
“You like that one, don’t you?” Dirk said. “Valentine. Gotta love the name.”
“Sounds like a stripper, and I don’t like her—I don’t even know her. She’s Samantha’s friend. Sam asked me to keep a special eye on her.”
Dirk laughed. “Well, you shouldn’t have much trouble doing that.”
Ethan flashed him a look. “Somewhere in your testosterone fogged brain you do recall there’s no mixing with the staff?”
Before Dirk could reply, one of the girls walked past wearing nothing but a silver thong and a strapless silver bra. She slid a sexy smile toward Dirk, and he groaned.
“Oh, yeah, I recall. I’m reminded every few minutes.”
The corner of Ethan’s mouth edged up. He could hardly blame his friend. He had never seen such an astonishing array of beautiful faces and drop-dead gorgeous bodies.
He looked up just then, caught a glimpse of Valentine in her cowboy costume, felt a jolt of lust so strong his body went rock solid and his nostrils flared. Long, honey-blond hair, full breasts temptingly displayed, nice high ass, and legs that went on forever.
Ethan clenched his jaw. Dammit. He was off women. And because she was a friend of Samantha’s, especially off that one. He wondered how the two women could possibly have anything in common, a homemaker like Sam and a lingerie model who flaunted herself half naked in front of a million men.
“We need to make a sweep,” he said, his voice a little gruff. “I’ll take the left wing, you take the right.”
Dirk nodded, and they moved off in opposite directions. An orchestra provided the music, country for this segment of the show. As a Shania Twain song began to play and the rehearsal continued, Ethan made a point of seeking out each of his men.
“Everything okay?” he asked Joe Posey, who was posted not far from the dressing rooms.
The black ex-cop just smiled, his eyes riveted on the beautiful ebony-skinned Amarika, standing to his left, talking to another girl. “My wife’s gonna get lucky when I get home tonight.”
Ethan bit back a groan. “At least you have a wife.”
Posey grinned. “She’s real pretty, too. And sexy. I won’t need to fantasize about one of these gals here.”
“That’s just cruel,” Ethan said.
Posey laughed. What? Big strappin’ fella like you? I imagine you got someone you could call.”
“I imagine.” But the more he thought about sleeping with some old flame, the less interested he was.
He thought of Valentine Hart and began to get hard. Damn. He hated when this happened, when his interest fixed on a particular female. It was exactly what had happened with Allison, and look how badly that had turned out.
Joe’s smile faded as he glanced around. “No sign of trouble. I’ll head downstairs, check the basement again.”
Ethan nodded. La Belle had its own men posted at each entrance, both inside and out. Ethan had spotted Beau Desmond a couple of times, along with his buddy, a blond guy named Bick Gallagher, who looked more like a surfer than a private cop. Fortunately, there was plenty to do so they rarely crossed paths.
Ethan’s men were mobile, moving quietly, keeping watch in and around the theater. All carried radios in case there was any sign of trouble, along with expandable batons. None carried firearms—though Ethan and Dirk would both be armed during the show tomorrow night.
Near the front entrance, Ethan spoke to Pete Hernandez, the short, muscular Latino, got the same answer he’d gotten from Posey.
“Not much going on. A couple of guys got past the outside guard. I saw them walk in. When the inside man tried to stop them, they got in his face. I was close enough to help.
We talked to them, calmed them down, suggested they come back tomorrow night if they wanted to see the show. They got the message loud and clear and left without any more hassle.”
“Nice work. The idea is to stop trouble before it can escalate into a serious problem. Better to use your head than your fists or that baton you’re carrying.”
Ethan figured Pete had passed his first test, hadn’t flown off the handle, had kept his cool and done his job.
“Keep your eyes open,” Ethan said as he walked away.
The rehearsal went smoothly, the fittings, the music, the staging and routines in all five segments. He’d been surprised to learn the Diamond Jubilee portion featured the girls in actual diamond necklaces worth hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars.
The jewelry, provided by David Klein Jewelers, an upscale national chain, would arrive in a Seattle Armored Transport vehicle, protected by four armed security guards.
“I don’t like surprises,” Ethan said when Carlyle told him.
“I especially don’t like surprises that involve that kind of money.”
“Sorry. I guess I should have mentioned it sooner. As far as we’re concerned, the jewelry’s just part of the costuming. It’s the Klein company’s problem to get the stuff in and out safely.”
“Something worth that much is an attractive nuisance. It poses a risk to everyone.”
“You’re right. Again, I apologize. We’ve been using the stuff in the show for the last couple of years without a hitch. I guess I got a little apathetic. The good news is, the jewelry won’t be worn today. It doesn’t arrive until just before the show tomorrow night.”
But diamonds worth millions added another layer of potential trouble for Ethan to worry about.
“I’ll make my men aware,” he said and took off to accomplish the task.
The day turned out to be shorter than he’d figured. By six o’clock on Friday afternoon the dress rehearsal was over. Carlyle wanted everyone to go home, take it easy, and get a good night’s sleep. He wanted the crew alert and the models rested and looking good for the big show tomorrow evening.
Ethan couldn’t imagine how twenty-nine gorgeous women could possibly look any better.
“We’ll celebrate when the show is over,” Carlyle promised the group of models clustered backstage at the end of the day. “You’ve all done a great job so far. Tomorrow night the world will see how beautiful you all are. And how sexy La Belle lingerie can make a woman look and feel.”
The group applauded and started breaking up. La Belle security was escorting the local models back to their homes, the others over to the Fairmont Olympic. Ethan waited until everyone on the stage crew had left the theater; then he and his men made a sweep to ensure no one was still inside after the doors were locked. They needed to make certain no one could hide and get to the women tomorrow night during the show.
Satisfied everything was in order, and leaving Beau Desmond and some of his men to do the final lockup, Ethan climbed into his Jeep and headed for his Belltown apartment.
He’d only driven a couple of blocks when his phone started ringing. He didn’t recognize the number as he hit the hands-free button.
“Ethan, hi, it’s Debbie Bryant.”
A woman he had dated a few times last year. “Hey, Deb. What’s up?” Debbie was the regional head of marketing for a big retail home decor company. She was based in Los Angeles but flew into Seattle every four months. Deb was smart, sexy, and interesting, and she had no expectations of anything more than a night out and a good time in bed.
“I’m only in town just today,” she said. “I thought maybe . . . if you weren’t busy . . . we might get together for a drink after work.”
He knew where a drink would lead, told himself to say yes. Maybe a night with Debbie would ease some of the sexual frustration he was feeling. “I appreciate the call, Deb. It’s great to hear from you. Unfortunately . . . I’m . . . on a job. Maybe we can get together next time.”
“Sure. Same goes if you’re in LA. You’ve got my number.
Take care, Ethan.”
“You, too, Deb.” Ethan hit the disconnect button. He couldn’t believe he’d turned down Deb’s offer. Maybe watching all those half-naked women had addled his brain.
Whatever it was, it looked like he was going home alone again tonight. Ethan reminded himself he was off women. He told himself staying celibate for a while was exactly what he needed.
Ethan clenched his jaw and called himself a fool.