“Dagmar and Dieter make it work.”
That was true. The two of them were married, and to Rhea’s knowledge they’d never had so much as a hiccup in their relationship.
He took her hand in his and moved it to his lips so that he could nibble her palm. “Can we at least try?”
She smiled at him. What woman could say no to that look? “Okay.”
Ace returned her smile before he kissed her on the brow. But in the back of his mind, he couldn’t shake the sensation that something was going to go seriously wrong tomorrow.
Ace was in position, waiting with Dieter while Rhea dressed herself for the arrival of Bender. It had taken some doing to get the PussyCat Club to “hire” Rhea, but after a nice long talk with the German authorities, the owner decided it would be in her best interest to let Rhea do her job.
Now Rhea was in a locker room that the dominatrixes used to garb themselves in their work attire while Ace and Dieter were outside in the blood red hallway that led to all the “service” rooms.
“Are you all right, Krux?” Dieter asked as they stacked towels onto a cart so that to any passersby, they would look like two regular workers restocking the towels for the clients.
Dieter was a tall, extremely muscular, blond German native. He’d been recruited by Joe a little over a year ago and since then had been quite an asset to their team. Having been born and bred in Europe, Dieter knew every back hole and dive in six countries. Better still, he had questionable associates who often leaked vital information to them.
Ace could feel a tic working in his jaw. “No. I don’t like sending her in there alone with a psycho.”
“Relax. But I know what you mean. Dagmar never listens to me either. She is”—he paused as if searching for the foreign English word—“stubborn. Many times she goes when she should stay. But Rhea is more cautious. She knows what to do. I don’t think we have anything to worry over with that one.”
Yeah, but Ace really hated the thought of her tying Bender down. The beating part he could live with. It was the “other” unknown variables that had his stomach knotted.
“Excuse me?” an extremely well-built, leather-clad mistress said in German as she came into the hallway from a room three doors down. “What is it you two do? You need to be working at getting these towels to the room and not dawdling with idle chatter.”
“Ja, we’re working,” Dieter responded, knowing that Ace’s German was flawless, but accented enough to give him away as a foreigner.
“You,” the mistress said, indicating Dieter. “I need you standing by room five after Herr Bender leaves.”
Ace’s heart stopped beating.
“Why?” Dieter asked.
She sighed heavily. “He always leaves his woman a mess. We will need to get Bettie to our doctor as soon as he goes, and you look more than strong enough to carry her.”
“Pardon?” Ace asked as his sight turned dim.
“Ja, he is not a good man, but he pays us well.”
“But I thought he was the one who liked to be tied up,” Dieter said.
She laughed as if the very idea amused her. “Who told you such? Nein, he would never allow anyone else to tie him up.” She cracked the small riding crop in her hand at them. “Schnell, schnell. He will be here momentarily.”
Neither of them moved until after she’d entered a room on the left.
“We were fed bullshit,” Ace said from between clenched teeth.
He grabbed his cell phone from his pocket and buzzed Retter, who was in the building across the street with the recording equipment. “We have a problem, Retter. My informer lied. Bender doesn’t get beaten. He does the beating.”
Ace clenched the phone so hard his hand was shaking. “You heard me. What do we do?”
He could hear Joe in the background telling Retter what to do after Retter had filled him in on what was happening. “It’s too late to call this off without blowing our covers. Rhea will just have to go through it.”
Ace saw red. “Hell, no.”
He hung up while Retter started to yell at him.
“What did he say?” Dieter asked.
“Something I didn’t want to hear. I’m pulling Rhea out.”
“If Retter said—”
Ace cut Dieter’s words off with a staggering punch that rendered him unconscious. Ace grabbed the huge bear of a man and shoved him into the towel closet, covered him with towels, then shut and locked the door.
God help him, Dieter would beat the shit out him later.
But that was later.
Right now he had a damsel who was about to get seriously distressed.
Rhea was checking out her stockings in the mirror when the door to her dressing room opened. She frowned as she saw Ace.
By the look on his face, she could tell something was wrong. “What’s up?”
“I’m getting you out of here.”
“Bender is a psycho and he is going to beat you. Not the other way around.”
Rhea went pale at this disclosure. “What did Retter say?”
“I don’t give a shit what he said. Retter is an idiot and I’m not going to send you in there so that fat bastard can mangle you. This is my case and I’m—”
“This is my job, Ace. It’s what I do.”
Ace cursed in frustration. “Will no one listen to reason?”
Narrowing her gaze at him, she put her hands on her h*ps to let him know that she thought he was the one being unreasonable. “Ace, we have to nail this bastard. If he confesses—”
“And if the bitch lied about who gets beaten, doesn’t it stand to reason that she lied about the confession bit as well?”
“Maybe she didn’t. We have to get this guy off the street, and if this is the way, then this is the way.”
That didn’t make a bit of sense to him. “Fine, I’ll kill him and we—”
“We’re not assassins, Ace. We work by law and order.”
His fury roiled through him at that. “You don’t know Tee very well, do you? I hate to be the messenger, Rhea, but Tee is a cold-blooded killer.”
Rhea started for the door.
Unable to stand by and watch her be hurt, Ace ran for her. He grabbed her before she could stop him.
“What are you doing?”
He pulled the handcuffs out of his backpocket that he was supposed to reserve for Bender and slapped them over her wrists.
“Ace!” She tried to squirm out from his hold.
He took the scarf from her neck and used it to gag her. “I’m sorry, Rhea. I can’t let you do this. You’re right. Someone has to go in there. But by God, it won’t be you.”
Picking her up, he carried her to a locker and set her inside even while she fought against him.
Rhea was furious. Ace could see it plainly in her brown eyes as he shut the door and locked it. But it was better she be pissed than dead.
“All right, Krux,” he said to himself under his breath. “It’s time to do the nasty.”
Personally, he’d rather be dead, but what was a little dignity compared to Rhea’s life?
“Well, it worked for Tim Curry.” Ace surveyed himself with a critical eye. He definitely wouldn’t win a beauty pageant. With any luck, Bender might even be half-blind.
It was dark in the rooms…maybe Bender wouldn’t notice much.
“I am so fired,” he muttered. But it would be worth it.
Pulling his garter belt straight, he headed down the hallway to the room where Bender should be waiting.
Sure enough, the man was there. He had on a long, black PVC coat with buckles and straps that looked strangely close to a straitjacket. At least the man did have on a pair of glasses. Maybe he would be blind as a bat.
“Who are you?” Bender asked in German, curling his lip as he surveyed Ace with a disgusted look.
“Latex…Bettie.” Ace tried not to cringe at the latter as he kept his voice high and singsongy in an effort to mimic some kind of European accent while he spoke German. Hell, he hadn’t been born in Hollywood for nothing.
He would just remember that this was to save Rhea and all the other innocent victims Bender intended to prey upon.
Bender cocked his head. “You don’t look like Bettie Page.”
Ace put his hands on his h*ps and feigned indignation. “And you don’t look like Brad Pitt, but notice I’m not complaining.”
Bender gave him an arched glare. “You are uppity. I like that in a woman. Now show me your tits.”
“How about first we see yours?”
Before Bender could leave or call for help, Ace seized him, ripped his coat, and pulled it down on his arms so that he was bound and unable to move.
“Ah,” Ace said with a tsk in his faked accent. “You have not been working out, Herr Bender. What do you do that you are so weak in the arms?”
“See here, I—”
“Shh,” Ace said, cutting him off. “Bettie will take care of you, Schatz.” Provided “Bettie” didn’t toss her cookies in revulsion. “Tell her what you want done to you.”
Hopefully it involved a bullwhip and this guy’s ass on the floor.
Bender shouted furiously, “Let me go!”
“Nein, nein. You have paid for the hour of domination and an hour you will get. Now tell Bettie what she wants to hear.”
Rhea was ready to choke the life out of Ace by the time the door to her locker was opened.
She looked out to see Retter, who whistled low.
“Nice outfit, Rhea.”
She glared at him as he removed her gag.
“Where the hell is he?” she snapped.
“Up shit creek.”
“Good. Now give me the paddle so I can beat him with it.”
Retter laughed as he unlocked the cuffs.
Rhea rubbed her sore wrists as she continued to glare at Retter. At six-four, he was every bit as handsome as Ace, but nowhere near to dying as Ace was at the moment.
Just wait until she got her hands on him.
“He blew it, didn’t he?” she asked.
Retter set the cuffs aside. “Yes and no.”
“What do you mean yes and no?”
“I think your boyfriend has quite a future as a dominatrix.”
Rhea frowned, but Retter didn’t elaborate. Instead, he handed her his jacket, then led her out into the hallway where there were several German agents along with Joe and members of the CIA and Interpol.
“What’s going on here?” she asked Joe. “Where’s Ace?”
Her stomach clenched. “Custody? Whose? For what?”
“Ours,” Retter said. “For being the ugliest transvestite in the history of humanity. I swear, we ought to be allowed to kill Bender for sheer, blind stupidity alone.”
Rhea was even more confused. “What?”
“Ace went in as you, or rather as Latex Bettie,” Joe explained.
Her heart stopped beating at the thought of Ace trying to pose as a woman. Yeah, right! Ace would never pass as a female. He was far too masculine.
“Oh, no. Did Bender get away?”
“No,” Joe said. “We got him, along with a full confession.”
Rhea gaped. “How?”
Retter let out a deep, evil laugh. “Latex Bettie wields a mean whip. He had Bender spilling more guts than a kosher butcher.”
“So why is Ace in custody then?” Rhea asked.
“Mostly for pissing me off by not following orders,” Joe said in a surly tone. “He’s lucky I don’t let the German authorities keep him.”
Retter gave a crooked grin. “I can arrange that, if you want.”
“Don’t tempt me.”
“Can I see him?” Rhea asked.
“Trust me,” Retter said. “You don’t want to see him. Think Frank-N-Furter gone bad. Real bad.”
Why was it every time Retter spoke, he only confused her more. “Frank-N-Furter?”
“Rocky Horror Picture Show.” He shuddered.
“C’mon,” Joe said, leading her away from Retter. “I have Ace in a room down here.”
She followed Joe down the garish hallway to a small room where Dieter sat with a cold pack held to his jaw while Dagmar stroked his hair.
Dieter glared at them. “I’m going to kill him, Joe.”
“I know, Dieter, hang around and I might authorize it.”
“If you don’t,” Dagmar snapped, “I will. How dare he hit my Dieter. I want his tenticles cut off.”
Rhea had a bad feeling Dagmar meant testicles, but in the mood the Czech woman was in, Rhea wasn’t about to correct her.
Joe opened another door in the rear of the room, which led to one of the theme rooms. It was a garish red, gauzy place that looked even tackier under the bright fluorescent lights that were only turned on for cleaning.