Authors: Tiffany Snow
“Not unemployed,” I corrected her. “I’ve been working at this club at night. A strip club.”
Alisha’s eyes bulged. “You’ve been stripping?” she squeaked.
I laughed. “No, no. I bartend there. Though the owner was giving me crap about needing another dancer tonight.”
“It’s a thousand bucks a night.” I watched her eyebrows climb.
“That’s a lot of money,” she said. I agreed.
We reached no conclusion about what I should do, but I felt better talking about things with someone. We both stared at the nearly empty brownie pan, the chocolate wrappers littering my kitchen table, and the drained bottle of champagne.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” I said with a groan.
We both laughed. “So what are you doing tonight?” I asked. “Anything?”
“Well…” she replied, drawing out the word. “You know I’m very tied into my tradition of watching
Out of Africa
and getting drunk on cheap wine…”
I nodded. Alisha was nuts about Robert Redford.
Out of Africa
was the “most romantic movie ever made,” in her opinion. I didn’t see what was so romantic about the hero dying in the end, but whatever.
“But this year I’m setting that glorious tradition aside because… I have a date.”
I grinned. “Really? That’s great! Who’s the guy?”
“I met him in the library,” she said. Alisha worked as a librarian at Purdue. “His name is Lewis and he’s premed.”
“Oooh, a doctor,” I breathed in exaggerated awe, then giggled. “Daddy will be so proud.”
Alisha blushed at my teasing. Her father was a wealthy man who indulged Alisha’s desire to make it on her own, though he didn’t keep it a secret that he wanted to see her marry someone who could take care of her.
“Anyway,” she said, brushing off my comment with a wave of her hand, “he’s picking me up at eight for dinner.”
“Is this a first date?” I asked, and she nodded. “Wow. Valentine’s Day for a first date? He must really like you.”
Alisha grinned. “I hope so. We’ve been talking a lot in the library…”
“They frown on that, you know,” I interrupted.
She shot me a mock dirty look before continuing. “And he’s really sweet. We have a lot in common. He’s been calling and we talk on the phone for hours. So tonight’s our first official date.”
“Well, I hope you have a great time,” I said sincerely. “What are you wearing?”
We spent the next several minutes discussing clothing options before I looked at the clock and realized I should get ready for work.
“Thanks again for the brownies,” I said as Alisha headed out the door. “And be sure to let me know how your date goes!” I watched her cross the hall back into her own apartment before I closed the door.
I felt a little better, but anger and bitterness, combined with despair, still formed a hard knot in my stomach. Kade’s words about my ineffectiveness at my job burned like acid, and I didn’t know if it was because I thought he believed them, or if I did.
I was ready to walk out the door when my cell rang. Checking the caller ID, I saw it was Blane. I almost didn’t answer, then relented.
“Kat, it’s me.”
The flatness of my voice seemed to give him pause. “Kade said he stopped by—” he began.
“To fire me for you,” I interrupted. “Yes, I’m aware.”
Silence. “He said that guy, Chance, was at your apartment again.”
My temper flared. “Leave Chance out of this.”
“Kat, tell me what’s going on,” he cajoled. “I can help. Otherwise, Chance could get arrested, caught in the cross fire…”
“Are you threatening me?” I asked in disbelief.
“Of course not,” he retorted. “I’m just telling you the truth.”
“Chance is my friend,” I bit out. “And I’d damn sure appreciate it if he didn’t get ‘caught in the cross fire,’ as you so eloquently put it.”
“What kind of friend?” Blane asked coolly. “I’ve seen your file. The last boyfriend you had before moving to Indy was a guy named Travis.”
“I’ve known Chance for years,” I corrected him, concealing my surprise that he knew about my brief time with Travis. “And what file are you talking about? The one Kade has on me?”
Blane ignored my questions. Big surprise. “Your friend is mixed up with some bad people.” He was angry, but I didn’t really care.
“I know who he works for,” I retorted. “He told me.”
“Kat, listen to me—”
“I’m done listening to you right now,” I interrupted. “I told you how much it meant to me that Kade had given me this job, how it felt like I was moving in a direction, instead
of being buffeted around by events as they happen. Now that’s gone.”
He was silent.
“You know,” I said more quietly. “It seems every time I open up to you, you find a way to turn it against me, to try to manipulate me or get others to do so. It must run in the family.” The last part just slipped out as my thoughts returned to the senator and his ultimatum.
“What are you talking about, ‘it runs in the family’?” Blane was instantly alert, and I knew what I’d said hadn’t slipped by him.
“Nothing. Listen, we’re going to have to continue this later. I have to go.”
“Where are you going?”
“We’ve been through this before, Blane,” I said coldly. “When I get fired from a job, I still have to eat and pay rent. I’m going to work.”
I ended the call. I despised when people hung up on me, so I usually never did it. In this case, though, I decided an exception could be made.
As I pulled up to the club, I remembered that Blane had taken my gun last night and hadn’t returned it. It would have been nice to know the weapon was in my purse, within reach.
Mike had apparently decided to decorate, or more likely, had someone do it for him, as the place was filled with gaudy red streamers and balloons. Looking closely however, I saw that the streamers weren’t regular streamers, but cutouts of a woman’s body from the side view, repeated over and over in endless drapes of paper across the ceiling.
Nice. Class all the way.
“Mike said for you to get dressed backstage,” Jack told me when I saw him.
He shrugged. “I’m just the messenger.”
Irritated, I went in search of Mike, finding him in the stockroom unloading a case of bourbon.
“I’m not dancing tonight,” I said by way of greeting.
He glanced over his shoulder and I stiffened my spine.
“Then you’re fired.” He turned away again.
Twice in one day. That had to be a record or something.
“You really want to fire your only other bartender, tonight of all nights?” Mike paused in stacking the bottles, so I continued. “Your customers aren’t going to be real happy when it takes thirty minutes to get a drink. They might get so pissed they leave and head down the street to another strip joint.”
“Fine,” he barked. “You don’t have to dance, but get your ass in the dressing room and have the girls pick something for you to wear. I don’t need a fuckin’ nun to be shillin’ booze in my bar.”
Inwardly, I grinned, but I wasn’t stupid enough to push my luck, so I beat a hasty retreat.
Inside the dressing room were only Penny and Holly, who were busy doing their hair and makeup.
“Hi,” I greeted them. “Mike sent me to you for another outfit tonight.”
Holly chuckled when I made a face. “Sweetie, it’s not all bad,” she said, putting the cap back on her lipstick. “You’ve got assets. Use them to your advantage. Men are fools for a nice set of boobs.”
She got up and rummaged through a drawer, pulling out a red half corset. “Let’s try this.”
I looked dubious but took it from her.
“And you don’t want to wear a skirt—the men will get handsy—so try these jeans.”
She handed me a pile of dark-blue denim. I went behind the screen in the corner to change. The jeans were so tight they fit like a second skin, and rode so low on my hips that if I bent over, I’d be imitating a plumber.
I needed help with the corset. It cinched my ribs and pushed my breasts up to display an impressive amount of cleavage. It showed even more than the outfit Romeo had made us wear back at The Drop at Christmas, but altogether I was wearing more fabric than I had feared.
Penny pulled my hair back in a messy ponytail and outlined my eyes in dark-blue liner. Lipstick that matched the red of the corset and sky-high red stilettos, which I had no idea how I’d be able to work in all night, completed my “makeover.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day to me,” I mumbled, catching sight of myself in a mirror.
It seemed my life at holidays now had a theme—first Britney Spears’s Naughty Catholic Schoolgirl for Halloween, then a Santa Slut, now Cleavage Cupid. What was next? A Lusty Leprechaun? Would I be wearing emerald lipstick and green clover pasties for Saint Patrick’s Day?
I thanked the girls and headed back up front, passing Mike on the way. He grunted at me, which I guess meant I passed inspection.
Jack’s eyes locked on my cleavage and he didn’t look away until I snapped my fingers in front of his face.
“Hey,” I said sharply. “Stare somewhere else.”
“Bitch,” he muttered, still stealing glances at my chest.
“Pervert,” I hissed back. I really didn’t like him.
Mike hadn’t been kidding about how busy we’d be. The club soon grew packed with men, nearly shoulder-to-shoulder. My ears rang from some of the language and explicit propositions hurled my way—I’d never been called so many suggestively sexual slurs in all my life—but I stayed behind the bar and smiled, pocketing the money the same assholes laid down.
Chance had his hands full with the huge crowd, and he looked none too happy to see me. I ignored him and went about my work.
Shortly before midnight, a harried-looking Mike approached me.
“Hey, you,” he said. I don’t think he’d bothered learning my name. “I need two bottles of Hennessy in the Champagne Room, pronto.”
“Got it,” I replied.
After loading the bottles on a tray, I headed to the Champagne Room, the strip club’s version of a VIP room. I’d only ever passed the door, never been inside. The door was painted black and nearly hidden behind a red velvet curtain. Deciding to forgo knocking, I walked right in.
If Kade had not taken me to that club in Denver, I would have been wholly unprepared for the scene that met my eyes.
The room was dark with shadows. Only small pools of red light emanated from obscure sources. Perhaps a dozen women in various states of undress littered the room. Men sat in several of the armchairs scattered around a small
stage, where Lucy was dancing. The other women were either being fondled by the men, or engaged in various sexual acts being done by and/or to them.
I had stopped for a moment, still too shocked to move, when one of the girls caught my attention.
Appearing to be in her late teens, she was straddling a man in a chair, his mouth at her breasts, and looking at me over his head. Her eyes were strangely unfocused, her mouth slightly slack, and with a start I realized that she had the look of someone high or drugged.
Sickened, I made myself move, walking between the couples and chairs to the small bar in the far corner. My hands shook as I carefully set down the bottles of cognac.
“Pour me a glass, sugar.”
I nearly knocked over one of the bottles. Turning, I saw it was Matt Summers.
Panic flared for a moment—I was afraid he would recognize me. Maybe it was the dark, or maybe it was his level of intoxication, but either way, there was no spark of recognition in his gaze, which was currently fastened to my breasts.
I silently handed a snifter of alcohol to him, but as I turned away, I was brought up short by his hand in the back waistband of my jeans. Jerking me back into him, I felt the press of his erection against the small of my back.
“Not so fast, sugar,” he hissed in my ear. “Take off the bra. Let’s have some fun.”
Bile rose in my throat and I had to tamp down the panic that threatened.
“I’m not on the menu,” I replied evenly.
“Well, you should be, with tits like that.”
I would never understand men’s fascination with breasts. At times it was useful to be well-endowed. Other times, like now, it was downright inconvenient. I tried to pull away, but his hand was still firmly lodged in my jeans.
“They real?” Matt asked.
When he started groping up my stomach to feel whether or not said endowments were “real,” I decided I’d had enough.
I grabbed his groping hand, bent it downward, and pushed sharply back on his wrist. When he yelped, instinctively jerking his hand away, I raised my foot and brought the heel of my stiletto down sharply on his instep. As he grunted in pain and moved aside, I sent my fist into his groin.
Matt was doubled over when I spun around and grabbed his ear, pinching and yanking it hard between my fingers.
“You listen to me, you piece of shit,” I hissed, bending so my mouth was inches from his ear. “You ever touch me again, I’ll make sure your dick, tiny as it is, is rendered useless for the rest of your miserable life. You got that?”
I shoved him away and beat a hasty retreat to the door, not daring to breathe until I was back out in the hall. Heading to the bathroom, I took a moment to get myself back under control. My heart was beating wildly inside my chest, and my palms were damp. Slumping against the bathroom stall, I breathed.
In. Out. Repeat.
Deciding I was through with the stupid corset, I went back to the dressing room to put on a real shirt. But when I opened the door, the room wasn’t empty.
A small boy sat curled on the tattered sofa in the corner. He looked up from the action figures in his hand when I stepped inside.
Nonplussed, we stared at each other for a moment. He couldn’t have been more than five or six, his small frame belying the knowledge in his eyes. I had no idea who he was or how he’d even gotten in here. This was certainly no place for a child. Hell, it wasn’t even a place for me.
“Hi,” I said, easing onto the sofa next to him.
“Hi,” he replied softly, his gaze dropping shyly back to the action figures. One was Batman, the other I couldn’t identify.