The six-foot-high, bachelor party cake was wheeled out of the backroom of the Laramie, Texas, saloon to the raucous accompaniment of "The Stripper."
Baum, baum, baum the brass blared with rowdy familiarity as the blood pressure of every man in the room-including Jackson McCabe's-rose in anticipation. Bah-bah-bah-baum…
"Oh, Lord, you boys have done it now," sixty-three-year-old Doc McCabe said, rolling his eyes as perspiration broke out on his neck.
"When your mother finds out about this she's gonna tan your hides."
"Not to worry, Dad," Shane-the wildest of the four McCabe boys-drawled. "We didn't hire the stripper. Isabel, over at the bakery, did."
"Even worse!" Doc scowled at his four strapping sons. "Isabel and her daughter are friends of ours, you know."
Jackson had heard about Isabel Buchanon's daughter, even though they'd never met. Isabel might be the nicest newcomer to grace Laramie in years but Lacey was as pushy as could be. He wanted no part of her. Jackson leaned back against the bar and grinned at his dad over the rim of his beer mug. "Relax and enjoy yourself, Dad. We certainly plan to." He and his three brothers guffawed and elbowed each other as another drum roll sounded, sexy as all get-out.
Doc shook his head in silent remonstration and did his best to quash an amused smile as he kept his eyes on the cake. Slowly the lid opened. Bah-bah-bah. Dah-dah-dah-dah. A snazzy white Stetson emerged, followed by the face of an angel framed by a wealth of glossy honey-blond hair.
Jackson took another sip of beer to soothe the sudden dryness of his throat as he cataloged the features of the evening's highly paid entertainment: slender shoulders encased in a fringed cowgirl dress that in no way detracted from her high round breasts and slender waist; curvaceous hips that shimmed in time to the music; and legs... Man alive. Jackson sighed wistfully and shook his head. Heaven's above. Legs that would put a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader's to shame.
Dah-bump! Dah-bump! While his pulse raced, and lower still, heat pooled with erotic accuracy, the stripper lifted one leg out of the cake and stepped over onto the bar. Dancing across the top, she stopped at the center, as "The Stripper" music cranked up for another chorus. Tossing her head, she pranced back and forth, doing the meanest bump-and-grind Jackson had ever seen. But instead of stopping in front of Jackson's dad, removing his Stetson and exchanging it for hers, as had been requested by Jackson and his brothers, she leaned down, took off Jackson's Stetson, tossed it into the crowd and put her hat on Jackson's head.
Aw, heck, Jackson swore silently to himself, frustrated not to be able to respond the way he'd like to. "You've got the wrong guy," Jackson mouthed to the gyrating stripper over the raucous pounding of the bawdy music.
Not missing a single beat, and looking all the more pleased with herself-and him-she mouthed right back, "I don't think so."
Jackson grasped her shoulders, doing his level best to ignore the delicious, womanly scent of her, and brought her close enough to shout in her ear, "The party's for my dad."
Smiling mysteriously, she drew back and announced loudly enough for everyone to hear. "But this, cowboy, is for you."
Then, with excruciating slowness, she unbuttoned the front of her dress, still gyrating to the sexy music all the while. Jackson's mouth went even dryer. Before he could stop her, she popped it open. To hoots and whistles she let the fringed leather dress fall to her feet. Her curves spilling over the top of a gold lame bikini, she put her hands on his shoulders and her mouth next to his ear. "Help me down, cowboy," she said.
Figuring, What the hell, it was too late to stop her now, Jackson slid his hands around her waist, and did as she had asked. As soon as her boots touched the floor, he let her go.
She grabbed her dress in one hand and headed for his dad.
"Congratulations on your retirement." She spoke in John McCabe's ear and stood on tiptoe to kiss his creased, suntanned cheek. "And good luck on the renewal of your wedding vows with Lilah, coming up next month."
"Thanks, honey." To Jackson's amazement, his dad hugged the stripper and returned her kiss, just as affectionately, on the cheek.
Did the two of them know each other? Jackson wondered as he set his empty beer mug on the bar. Or was this just good-ol' Texas hospitality at work?
With the music still rolling, the stripper swiveled back to Jackson and turned the full impact of her long-lashed green eyes on him. She clamped a silky hand around his wrist and said in a deep sultry voice that had his engine revving even more, "Now it's your turn, cowboy."
Jackson grinned at the promise in her low, sexy voice, beginning to see that the good-natured prank was on him after all. "For what?" he drawled, both intrigued and amused.
"You'll see." With a broad wink, she headed for the backroom, Jackson in tow. "See you later, fellas," she called flirtatiously over her shoulder.
Hoots and catcalls abounded as Jackson let himself be led into the saloon's backroom. The door shut behind him. The music on the intercom went from
"The Stripper" to Garth Brooks's "Friends In Low Places." An apt selection, Jackson thought as he regarded the beautiful stripper whose soft, feminine hand was still manacled silkily about his wrist.
"Now what?" he asked, wondering where all this was going.
Reluctantly she let go of him, then gestured gracefully toward the old-fashioned, wooden swivel chair behind the desk. "Why don't you sit down and we'll see."
Jackson appreciated a pretty woman as much as the next guy, but when it came to the women he got involved with, physically or otherwise, he had standards. Impossibly high ones, as his friends, family and colleagues were quick to tease. Jackson tore his eyes from her luscious body and did his best to let her down gently.
"The joke's over." He gauged her expression. "Or is it?" he asked carefully, noting she didn't seem about to give up despite his dismissal.
She batted her eyes at him flirtatiously and smoothed a hand provocatively down the front of his shirt causing his heart to pound all the more.
"You aren't afraid of me, are you?"
Jackson felt himself tense even as he disabused her of that notion promptly. "Course not." He regarded her gruffly, doing his best to ignore the provocative floral notes of her perfume. It wasn't likely his father, one of the most respected doctors in central Texas, would hire an actual hooker--even at a stag party. Would he? No, Jackson told himself firmly, this had to be someone from the singing telegram agency they'd asked Isabel to contact, who had merely been paid again by someone else to turn the tables on him. From the looks of things, Jackson noted with mounting frustration, she wasn't about to leave until she had carried out the joke to the end. And they were probably about there already, he thought.
She curved her bow-shaped lips into a sultry smile. "Then sit."
Figuring the sooner he cooperated, the sooner the joke would be over-at least his part in it-Jackson dropped lazily into the chair.
"Ever play cowboys and cowgirls as a kid?" she asked, still batting her long lashes at him.
Jackson eyed the coiled length of rope she picked up from the credenza behind the desk. "Not like this," he replied.
But he supposed he could play along, at least for a few more minutes. He didn't want to hurt her feelings. And it was clear she was trying awfully hard to entice him.
"Then you're in for a treat."
That was debatable, Jackson thought, his patience for all the tomfoolery beginning to wear thin as she playfully took his wrists and forced them behind the chair. As swiftly as a cowpuncher readying a calf for branding, she'd looped them together, wrapped the rope around his midsection and secured the rest of him to the chair. "You know, if you're planning to rob the place-or me," he drawled, stretching his long legs out in front of him lazily, "I think I should warn you, the sheriff is right out there."
"I don't want to steal anything from you, Jackson." She slipped on her dress and quickly buttoned up the front.
Jackson lamented the change in scenery. She'd looked damn good just wearing a bikini and boots. He flexed his broad shoulders restlessly against the hard, wooden back of the chair. "Then what do you want?"
Suddenly, her manner became a lot more direct.
Disturbingly so. "Your cooperation."
"Cooperation." Jackson repeated her words warily, sensing some kind of scam coming on. "In what?" he demanded roughly.
Lacey plucked her hat off his head and put it back on her head. She hoisted herself up on the edge of the desk and smiled at him bluntly. "The proposal I have to make."
He narrowed his eyes. Now he knew he'd been had. "Who the hell are you?" he demanded hotly.
With the tip of an index finger, she tipped her hat farther back on her head. "Lacey Buchanon, cowboy. Dr. Lacey Buchanon to you."