“It’s not because you’re emotional over Duff’s dancing and singing.”
“Well, maybe I’m a little emotional about that—but it’s not pride or envy, I’ll tell you that.”
As Moose threw his head back and laughed until he was red in the bearded face, she felt sad. He had always been the loud noise with the soft heart, and she was worried about this marriage for him: Such a good guy, and Deandra was not the right match from everything Anne had heard down at the station.
When the limo made a turn, Danny leaned across the aisle to Moose. “I thought we were going to the Local?”
“Change of venue.” The groom grinned. “Don’t tell Deandra.”
“So where are we going?”
“Shhhhh. It’s our little secret.”
New Brunswick was a city on the ocean about forty-five minutes down the coast from Boston. With a population of around a million, it was an also-ran in a lot of ways compared to Beantown, but it had enough density to support a business district, a state university, and a level-one trauma center that culled patients from Cape Cod.
It also had the Stripper Strip, as it was known.
Back at the turn of the century, New Brunie had been defined by its manufacturing, all manner of wares and textiles being produced around its bay and shipped off or sent by rail across the nation. The boon didn’t last. Over time, as that sector of the economy had gone overseas, the warehouses and plants had tried to transition into other uses, but most had ended up abandoned.
Some businesses had come in to the void, however.
And not all of them were places Anne would go with a bunch of drunken men. On a night when questionable choices were part of tradition.
As the limo came to a stop at a light, Anne wondered whether she could make a break for it. Probably not. She’d have to climb over at least four of them to get to the door—
And now they were hanging a Louie and heading down to the bay.
The Stripper Strip was on the far edge of the warehouse district, a lineup of some ten or fifteen “gentlemen’s clubs” that were interspersed between tattoo parlors, rooming houses, and a blood donation clinic. She’d been down it countless times, although not as a patron: The 499 firehouse was only six blocks to the west, and was the response unit for the entire area.
She knew each of the places by heart and she prayed it wasn’t—
Moose stood up out of the sunroof again. “Cat’s Meow, here we come!”
Oh, dear God.
* * *
Danny was ready to kill Moose. The guy had sworn up and down that the Local was hosting the party—in other words, nothing inappropriate would be going down. No strippers, no sloppy drinking, just a bunch of hardies hanging out and telling stories and toasting Moose.
This re-routing had taken them directly into naked territory.
Danny didn’t judge strippers or sex workers, but he’d never been into that scene. Even when he’d been an idiot in college with more hormones than brains, he’d always preferred to find enthusiastic partners rather than remunerated reluctants, because the objectification had never been something he was comfortable with.
Yeah, he’d gotten shit for it from his fraternity brothers, but he didn’t care.
Add Anne on top of all that? Yeah, he was riding a whole lot of fuck-this on Moose’s bright idea.
Ten minutes later, the limo pulled up to the Cat’s Meow, a blacked-out tri-decker of iniquity, and Moose was all about it, throwing the door open and falling onto the sidewalk. He caught himself before he face-planted, and Danny had to be impressed by that physical control.
Jack leaned around Anne. “I can’t go in there, Dannyboy. SWAT raided the place last week.”
Mick spoke up, too. “No way we can hit it as members of SWAT.”
“Yeah,” Danny said. “I’m not going in, either.”
A chorus of hollering made them all look out of the door. A pack of some twenty guys came rushing at Moose, and Danny recognized them as fraternity brothers.
Deshaun and Ty shuffled out of the limo. “We’re Ubering. You want to share?”
“Yup.” Jack followed them. “This has shitshow written all over it. And as much as I love the guy, I’m not losing my credentials over Moose’s last hurrah.”
Emilio and Duff also no-go’d.
Danny glanced at Anne. “Hey, you want to walk back to the four-nine-nine with me? I was supposed to bring Moose’s truck home anyway.”
That was kind of BS. But he wanted to spend time with her outside of work and he’d engineer that anyway he could.
Call him Mr. Smooth.
“Okay.” She put her beer aside and clapped her hands on her legs. “I could use some fresh air.”
And now the night was looking up, he thought as he emerged and offered her a hand. She shook her head and exited herself—and that made him smile. He always felt like he was chasing her, even when she was right in front of him.
“Where are you guys going?” Moose demanded. “Wait, you’re coming in, right?”
“Uber’s on the way,” Deshaun said. “Got us a minivan.”
“What?” Moose came back over, his arms stretched out, those open containers in both hands technically a violation of the law. “You guys are my best friends! My roommates! What the fuck!”
In the background, that group of frat boys was funneling into the strip club, ready to tear it up, and as Jack and everybody else who was bailing looked at Danny, it was clear he was going to have to lay down the hammer.
“We’re out, Moose.” As the guy started to argue, Danny shook his head. “Illegal prostitution, buddy. None of us are going in there.”
“Come on, man. Don’t bring the drama.”
“This place gets raided while we’re in there, Jack and Mick are fucked because they’re on SWAT. And the rest of us don’t need the headache. I can just see the headline now—‘Firefighters and Search and Rescue sergeant arrested along with local fraternity alums at strip club.’ ”
“You guys are my crew.”
Danny stared at the hurt on the guy’s face and felt like shit. But not enough to roll the dice on an arrest.
“We’ll all be there for the stuff that counts.” Danny clapped a hand on the guy’s thick neck. “You do your thing, but listen. Don’t get caught, okay?”
Moose rolled his eyes. “She’s out with her girls. She won’t know nothin’. ”
Danny took the beers, spun the guy around, and gave him a shove toward the club’s black door. “Use a condom if you slip up. You don’t want to get to clapping on your wedding night.”
As Moose jumped forward and grabbed one of their frat brothers around the waist, Danny turned to Anne.
“Where we going?” Duff asked.
Danny narrowed his eyes. “She and I are getting Moose’s truck.”
“You want to walk with us?” Anne said.
I will Conan the Barbarian you with my bare hands, Danny telegraphed to his buddy.
“Ah . . .” Duff looked at Deshaun. “Mind if I squeeze in with you guys?”
“No problem,” their engineer said. “We’re going to Timeout.”
“I’ma head there with them.” Duff thumbed over his shoulder. “You know, with them.”
Danny nodded. “Have a great night. Come on, Anne.”
“Bye, you guys,” she said.
The men waved at her and studiously avoided looking at him. But whatever. He was in a weird mood, and he didn’t care who noticed.
His head was a mess for no good reason. Looked like Anne wasn’t the only one who needed fresh air.
As Anne fell into stride with Danny, she put her hands in her parka and liked the cold air on her face. She had long legs, so it wasn’t hard to keep up with him. In fact, they mirrored each other’s footfalls exactly.
So she skipped a step to make sure they were not in sync.
Thinking back to that moment in the tuxedo shop, when things had gotten waaaaay, way, way too real, she reminded herself that it was important not to do anything she couldn’t live with later. They worked together, for godsakes, and even though she’d never had a reason to check the regulations, she was pretty sure that there was a no-fraternization rule for firefighters. If not within the whole department, then certainly within a given firehouse—