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«Loose And Easy», Tara Janzen

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Steele Street - #9, 2008

CHAPTER ONE

Johnny Ramos knew the sad-looking little hooker limping her way down Seventeenth Street in two-inch black patent-leather platform heels. Her п¬Ѓshnet hose were torn in the back, revealing the bottom curve of her ass under what could only be described as a supermicrominiskirt. Red lace and leather and having seen better days, the skirt was barely seven inches wide from top to bottom and matched her red lace gloves. The cheap white vinyl tote bag slung over her shoulder was almost as big as she was and looked like it had seen better days, too. The white Lycra T-shirt laminated to her upper body had more heart-shaped cutouts and pink sequins than material. He could see a red push-up bra doing its job under the shirt.

Esme Alexandria Alden, he thought, East High School ’s valedictorian the year he’d graduated. Geezus, how the mighty have fallen.

“Easy Alex” hooking in LoDo, Denver ’s lower downtown district; it was enough to boggle the mind. Nothing about what he was seeing made sense: that sweet little size-four ass in torn fishnet; the twisted-up pile of ratted and heavily sprayed blond hair he’d only ever seen in tight and tidy braids; the smartest girl he’d ever known turning tricks.

He slid his gaze over her again, from the shoes to the French twist falling out of its pins. At seventeen, he’d have given anything to get her hair loose and falling down. Those long blond braids of hers had driven him crazy. He’d wanted so badly to undo them. Hell, he’d wanted to undo everything on the girl, from her prim little button-down shirts to her carefully tied and spotlessly white tennis shoes, but there hadn’t been anything easy about “Easy Alex.” That had been the joke. She’d never had a date in high school, not one, not even the prom. He knew, because he’d been the guy she’d turned down.

She couldn’t possibly be a prostitute. No way in hell. Back then, she hadn’t known what the word “sex” meant. He’d gotten more off of her than any guy in East, and it had taken him years of pursuit and most of one hot summer night to even get to second base.

She’d been sweet. Yeah, he remembered. Sweet and scared, mostly of him, he’d guessed, and of herself, of her reaction to him. He’d been one of the city’s bad boys, and she’d had the lock on the title of Little Miss Goody Two-shoes.

He’d loved it, loved the challenge of it, but she’d been too good to let him get in her pants, which is where their party had ended that night, with him aching and her panting, and neither of them getting what they’d needed.

Fifty bucks said he could get whatever he wanted off her tonight. Hell, maybe it would only take twenty, but with her looking rode hard and put away wet all he wanted was the story, the explanation, the “What in the hell happened to you?”

Yeah, that’s what he wanted. No way should Esme Alden be limping down Seventeenth with her ass hanging out of ripped fishnet. After graduating from high school, she’d been slated for the University of Colorado on a scholarship, full ride.

She got to the corner at Wazee and started across the intersection, heading toward the Oxford Hotel. When she was partway to the other side, the Oxford ’s valet signaled her, and Johnny swore under his breath.

“Geezus.”

She’d been called in to service some guy staying at the hotel, and he had to wonder, really: How many doormen and parking valets in Denver had her name in their little black books?

He hated to say it, but he would have thought any girl working the Oxford would look a little classier than what Esme had pulled off tonight.

None of his business, he told himself, not for any good reason on God’s green earth, and yet he stepped off the curb from in front of the Blue Iguana Lounge, where he’d been having a beer, and crossed Seventeenth. He wasn’t following her. He was just checking things out, doing recon, getting the lay of the land, and he’d been thinking about heading this way anyway, and maybe stopping by an art gallery next door to the Oxford, the Toussi Gallery.

He’d gotten home from his last tour of duty, this one in Afghanistan, two weeks ago, and was still waiting to be reassigned to General Grant’s command, specifically into Special Defense Force, SDF, an elite group of operatives based in Denver and deployed out of the Pentagon. Until his official orders came through, he was on leave, on his own, hanging out in his hometown and looking to stay out of trouble.

Or not.


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