Iron Rods: 1 (Strip Club)

Iron Rods

Brenna
Zinn

 

Strip Club, Book 1

 

The women of Austin, Texas, could
mix fantasy with flesh at Iron Rods but the strip club is now in disrepair.
Bennett Truitt, estranged son of the club’s aging and half-crazy owner, wants
to replace the landmark with condos. He hires feisty Tatum to manage the club,
sure she will fail, but not before he has a chance to sample her skills in bed.

After another rejection letter,
Tatum realizes she’ll never be a professional dancer on or off Broadway. Down
on her luck, she’s determined to make the run-down club successful no matter
what, or who, it takes. She never expected her new boss to be so enticing
they’re breaking doors down to get to each other, get their clothes off, taste
each delectable inch.

 

A Romantica®
contemporary erotic romance
from
Ellora’s Cave

 

Iron Rods
Brenna Zinn

 

Chapter One

 

His father did not
do
normal.

At least not that Bennett had ever seen. Lyle Truitt was
eccentric and ornery, and his shoulder-length hair and handlebar mustache made
him look like a character from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West rodeo troupe. Granted,
Bennett hadn’t spent much of his thirty years around his father. His mother
moved back to New York when he was five, taking Bennett with her. But the
summers he and his father had spent together were enough to confirm what
Bennett knew deep down in his gut. Lyle Truitt was half crazy and about as
strange a creature as any New Yorker might see in a Dr. Seuss book.

In other words, his father was a Texan. Worse over, a Texan
from Austin.

As far as the sixty-two-year-old was concerned,
normal
equated to average and any yahoo with half an ounce of sense could be average.
How often had Bennett heard from his father’s lips that
average men don’t
end up in history books
?

More times than he cared to remember. That’s how many.

Bennett shook his head and raised his sleepy eyes to heaven
as he drove down the narrow dirt road to his father’s ranch.

Oh yes. More times than he cared to remember.

Lyle’s aversion to average could be noted in nearly
everything he touched, even his home. From a distance the Royal Flush Ranch
looked much like any other large spread in the area. Nestled deep in the Texas
Hill Country not far from Austin, the five thousand acres of pristine rolling
hills boasted the same ancient live oaks and meandering dry creek beds as did
others of its size. Even the metal windmills and water tanks could be seen on
any typical Texas homestead.

But among the cattle grazing in the pasture stood three
dozen large-as-life ceramic longhorns painted with various scenes of Texas on
their sides and heads. And rather than typical stone construction, his father’s
two-story ranch-style home had been built from old beer bottles and concrete.
When the sun hit the layer upon layer of glass at just the right angle, the
rooms inside the house glowed amber and green. Atop the outlandish structure
several solar panels glistened like black jewels against the gray roof tiles.

His father, the ranch and the whole damn Austin area defied
convention. How anyone managed to operate a successful business in this madness
was beyond Bennett’s understanding, but somehow Lyle did. And Bennett had been
foolish enough to leave a good job and the sanity of New York to help his
father run the Truitt Holdings Company.

Foolish or proud? Probably a good dose of both. Either way,
for better or worse, he was in Texas now. The opportunity to prove his worth to
the cantankerous old man had finally arrived.

Bennett pulled his sports car alongside the garage of the
odd house. After killing the quiet purr of the engine, he mentally prepared for
a confrontation with Lyle. Not an easy thing to do considering his tired brain
ached for sleep after poring over ledgers and bank statements the entire night.

He momentarily closed his eyes, releasing a weary sigh. The
news he brought would not be well-received, and his recommendation to resolve
the issue would undoubtedly make his demanding father see stars. But now was
the time for change. If Lyle truly wanted to retire and transition the company
over to Bennett’s care, he’d have to listen to reason and eventually let go of
the reins. When he did, Bennett would be ready with plans to make the company
twenty-five percent more profitable within the first four years. He’d would
take the successful company his father created and build it into a nationwide
empire.

Maybe then the gruff old man would sit up and take more
notice of his only son.

Despite it being spring and so early in the morning that
dawn was just beginning to break, Bennett met a wall of heat and humidity as he
stepped out of the car and left its welcome air-conditioning. Then a strong
smell of cow manure assaulted his senses. By pure reflex his nose wrinkled
against the obnoxious odor. Why would anyone prefer the scent of shit over the
glorious aromas of cooking food and fresh-cut flowers found on city streets?
Even exhaust fumes smelled better than this foul stench. Would he ever get used
to living in Texas?

Loud grinding noises of the garage door lifting broke the
early morning silence. Lyle, dressed in a skintight cycling jersey and even
tighter cycling shorts, strolled out, his road bike and helmet in tow.

Lyle frowned as he took in Bennett, making his long curled
mustache dip low. “Either someone’s dead or in jail because it’s too damned
early on a Friday morning for a social call.”

Bennett trained his gaze on his father’s intense blue eyes,
doing his best to avoid glancing down at the ridiculous bulge in Lyle’s riding
shorts. Why couldn’t he put on underwear like a normal person? He had to own at
least one pair.

Bennett automatically slid his hands into his pants pockets,
seeking the familiar shape and texture of his Susan B. Anthony dollar, and then
twirled the coin between his fingers. “It’s Iron Rods. I thought you’d want to
hear the club’s news, all of the news, as soon as possible.”

“Too bad for a phone call, huh?”

“Pretty bad,” Bennett warned. “You may want to go inside and
sit down.”

His father shook his head, making the silver in his hair
glint in the morning sun. “I’m a long way from needing to be babied. I’ll take
whatever you have to say right here. Lay it on me.”

No way to gently broach the topic other than telling things
exactly the way they stood. If Lyle wanted to discuss business in the middle of
his driveway, so be it.

“Your friend Cotton has gone missing. Iron Rod’s bartender,
a man by the name of ‘T’, called last night to say Cotton hadn’t been around
the club in almost a week and there’s a pile of invoices that need to be taken
care of. I know you prefer to handle Iron Rod’s business yourself, but I looked
into the bank records and the club’s liquor receipts for the last few years.
There’s some irregularities we need to address.”

Bennett paused to take in Lyle’s reaction as well as let the
information sink in. Iron Rods was his father’s baby. Unfortunately, this baby,
which Lyle claimed he loved, had been severely overlooked and neglected for
some time.

Some things never changed.

“Although liquor purchases have steadily decreased,” Bennett
continued, “the bank deposits look much smaller than they should be.”

He carefully weighed each word of his next few statements.
Lyle needed to understand the gravity of the situation. “It appears someone has
been skimming money from the club and has been for a while. I’m unable to reach
Cotton and no one seems to know where he might be. I can’t help but think he’s
skipped town with money from the club.”

Bennett sank his heels in the ground, anticipating the
worst. Lyle’s temper was legendary, and for good reason. He’d seen his
irritable father literally wrestle a steer to the ground because the dumb
animal broke through a fence and had eaten every one of Anne’s beloved
bluebonnets from the front yard. Lyle had zero patience and a tenuous hold on
his self-control. Inside his pocket, Bennett’s fingers tightened around the old
coin. The accusation of Cotton stealing money might just be a match to set off
the old man’s fireworks.

“Well, that’s a bunch of bull hockey.” Lyle’s lazy drawl
pulled at each word. “Cotton’s one of my best friends and has been managing
Iron Rods for over thirty years. He’d sooner take a bullet to the chest than
swindle me. I’d trust Cotton with my life.” He stared off into the distance for
several moments then heaved a deep sigh. “You’ve only been in Austin two months
and you don’t know how things are done here yet. Believe me, there has to be
another explanation.”

The muscles in Bennett’s shoulders tightened beneath his
tailored cotton shirt, though he did his best to maintain a nonchalant outward
appearance. His father having more faith in some redneck buddy over his own college-educated
son was hardly a surprise. Why listen to a man with an MBA from Harvard and
seven years experience as a financial analyst when he could trust a former male
stripper with the IQ of a Brahma bull?

“Lyle, I’ve had someone parked outside his apartment since
seven last night. He didn’t answer his door and didn’t come home.” Bennett
noted a hint of exasperation in his voice and mentally checked himself. He
wasn’t in New York anymore. His lack of patience and desire to move on things
quickly wouldn’t get him anywhere with his father. It never had. Best to appear
calm and indifferent as the old man had always done.

“I’ve checked every hospital in between Dallas, Houston and
San Antonio, as well as morgues and jails,” he said, more satisfied with his tone.
“He’s in none of those places. If Cotton’s in Texas, he’s where no one can find
him.”

“How do you know he’s not in his apartment? If he’s been
gone so long, maybe he had a heart attack or hit his head in the shower. For
all we know he’s gone on a bender and is passed out on the floor. Wouldn’t be
the first time. Knowing Cotton, it won’t be his last.”

Bennett resisted the urge to rub his hand over his face. His
hard-to-please father knowingly let a drunk manage one of his clubs? Good God.
He knew the Truitt Holdings Company needed help, but clearly it was in worse
shape than he imagined. Their payroll probably brimmed with ex-cons, addicts
and illiterates. Though the club Cotton managed was only a trashy strip club
for women that would hopefully be bulldozed to the ground soon, business was
business. What other kinds of craziness and mismanagement would he find once he
had time to closely look at each company within the holdings?

“We can rule out anything that might have happened in his
apartment. My man talked to Cotton’s landlord. She hadn’t seen him lately
either, so she used her key to check in on him. He wasn’t there. If Cotton has
been out of his mind drunk this week, he’s doing it very discreetly, which
gives him a little more credit than he probably deserves.”

Lyle’s bushy eyebrows rose high on his forehead. “So, how do
you really feel about my friends, son? Not good enough for a city slicker like
yourself, I imagine.”

Oh no. Here we go.

“You listen to me, Bennett. Just because the folks I know
and do business with didn’t grow up in Manhattan with a silver spoon shoved in
their mouths doesn’t mean they ain’t good people. You would do well to remember
I got my start as a stripper at Iron Rods too, like Cotton. That club was the
first business I ever owned. The same place I earned enough money to send you
to those fancy schools in New York.”

The same fancy school where I regularly had my ass handed
to me because one kid overheard his gossiping mother talk about my father the
stripper, and then shared that juicy tidbit of information to the rest of the
school. Should I thank you now or later?

“And if you plan on making a name for yourself in Austin,”
Lyle added with a low drawl, his cheeks stained a vibrant pink, “you had better
get off your damned high horse and soon. You might be a big-shot expert in
finance, but people around here won’t tolerate you looking down your nose at
them.”

Disciplining his features, Bennett leaned back against his
car as if he didn’t have a care in the world. If the old man’s intention was to
get a rise out of him or to needle out some sort of an apology, he’d have to
wait for a cold day in hell before getting either. Bennett was too exhausted
and too used to Lyle’s tirades to let a minor tongue lashing like this motivate
him to do anything but feign disinterest.

“In the meantime,” Bennett said, changing the subject, “we
have three problems to resolve. We need to find Cotton, we need someone to
manage Iron Rods until Cotton’s situation is worked out, and we need to figure
out why Iron Rods isn’t banking what it should be, let alone how to make it
profitable again.”

“And we have to do all this today at the butt crack of dawn?
As you can see,” Lyle said, nodding to his bike, “I’m fixin’ to go on a ride.”

Bennett shrugged. “The club is open tonight and it doesn’t
look like we have a manager. You tell me.”

Lyle’s frown turned into a scowl. “Here. Hold this.” He
pushed his road bike and helmet to Bennett, then fished out his cell phone from
the back pocket of his bright-red cycling jersey. “If Cotton’s alive, he’ll
take my call. I guaran-damned-tee it.” With a thin hand showing more age spots
than flesh-colored skin, he pressed a few buttons, waited a moment and started
talking. “Cotton! Where the hell are you?”

Bennett stared in disbelief. What power did the old man
possess to always make things go his way?

“Mexico? Yes, I know where that is. Why are you there? Why
didn’t you tell me you were leaving?” Lyle offered Bennett a toothy grin, no
doubt implying he could manage situations as easily as a genius figuring out a
third-grade math problem. “Oh. Well damn, Cotton. I’m real sorry to hear that.
You should have told me. I would have paid to get you the best help there is.
What? You what?” Lyle’s smile instantly vanished. His once-beaming face
suddenly morphed to a study of incredulity. “Damn it, Cotton. I would have
given you anything. All you needed to do was ask. Uh huh. How much?” The old
man’s shoulders fell. He sucked in a breath of air and slowly released it. “No.
No. Consider it your retirement.”

Satisfaction, warm and intoxicating, flowed through Bennett
like a good Scotch. He didn’t need to hear any more of the one-sided
conversation to know he’d been right. The priceless expression on his father’s
face said it all. Cotton had flown the coop, taking Iron Rods’ money with him.
Exactly how much money had been stolen remained to be seen. Whatever amount
Cotton quoted his father would need to be double-checked, but the answer would
be easy enough to confirm after a day or two of thorough research—Bennett’s
specialty.

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