“I’d offer you something stronger, but given your age ...” He laughed when her eyes regarded his skeptically. “What’s your name?”

“Alexis.” Sarah Hinkle.

He raised his eyebrows at her answer, speaking in an unhurried manner. “Blake hasn’t learned me yet. Once he does, he will realize that I prefer companions of the unpaid variety. That being said, I’m sure you are expected to stay up here for a certain period of time. How about we spend that time talking? Are you hungry?

Gay. The man was g*y. She almost laughed as the realization hit her, a burst of relief pouring through her insecure body. She fought to hide the reaction, straightening out of her ridiculous pose and nodding gratefully at him. “A little. Some food would be nice.”

Her answer pleased him and he stood, grabbing a room service menu off of the side table and passing it to her. “Great. Look that over. I was going to head out for dinner, but I’ll eat here with you. You can head downstairs after that.”

He moved to the bar, pouring himself a drink and returned with the phone, pressing an extension and holding it to his ear, shooting her an inquisitive glance. She quickly skimmed the menu, picking out the least expensive item. “Chicken ceasar salad, dressing on the side. And a Diet Coke, please.”

He placed the order, stacking two appetizers, a few side items, and two desserts onto it before ending the call. They sat there, in silence, and she braced herself for whatever was next.

“So ... Alexis. What’s your real name?” His legs slightly spread, he leaned back in the chair, head relaxed against the headrest, his position as unobtrusive as humanly possible, yet ridiculously tempting as it stretched his pelvis and flat stomach before her, like a clothed buffet just waiting to be devoured.

She hesitated, eyes fighting to stay on his face and then, much to her surprise, her mouth opened, and the truth spilled out.

Fifty minutes later, a white fluffy robe surrounded her—the garment retrieved from a closet and thrust at her by a disgruntled Brad. “Put this on,” he had ordered. “Otherwise you’ll ruin your dress, and I’ll fail miserably at trying to avoid staring at your body.” She had smiled slightly, working her way into the robe. She had been wrong. Gay didn’t occupy a single corner of this man’s universe. She didn’t know why he wouldn’t touch her, didn’t know how—when sexuality reeked from every bone in his body—he managed to converse, laugh, and question her without taking it to the bedroom. She had tried, three times during the meal, to move the evening in that direction, but had been met only with polite resistance. She still knew nothing of the man, of his intentions, history, or relationship status, but he now knew almost everything about her. From her awkward beginnings, to her move to Vegas, to the first few weeks of this new, lucrative job.

He had disapproved, his brows knitting together in concern. “There are plenty of other jobs on the Strip. Waitress, bartend. Anything but this.”

He didn’t understand. Didn’t realize that her sights were set on far more than sweaty encounters with faceless men. She didn’t want to slave away for pennies and live in a tiny shithole apartment in North Las Vegas. She wanted the glitz and the glam of the Strip, and to experience it on the arm of a wealthy man. She wanted the easy lifestyle, the limos and the clothes, the stack of credit cards, sparkle of diamonds, confidence of a kept woman. This was her way to get there. With every hotel door that opened, she had one more chance. Maybe this was her chance, he was her Richard Gere, and this was her Pretty Woman tale.

“Sexuality is my talent. You wouldn’t understand, but this is my best plan.” She looked down as she said the words, realizing, too late, that she had scarfed down an easy two thousand calories, inexcusable in her line of work.

“So strip. At least then you have security and guidelines. This work is too dangerous, you have very little control.”

He hadn’t understood, and the look he shot her at their parting was one of disappointment and worry. And his handsome face, towering over her in the foyer of that luxurious suite, imprinted on her mind for the next three weeks, came to her in the dead of night, when the day was over and she slipped under cheap sheets, ready to sleep away the day’s memories. She had left her number, scribbled with a girlish script on a pad of hotel paper. And nightly, she had prayed for a call. But the phone never rang, and as the days passed, the memory faded, until his face no longer came to her when her eyes closed at night.

♦♦♦

Six years later, and she was still checking her phone for his damn call. The irony was not lost on her, and she slammed the locker door shut with more vigor than was necessary. She used to think it was fated, her leaving the escort game to go into stripping, her journey ending at this club, Saffire’s gold-encrusted elegance that would later become the property of Brad De Luca. Now, with the club ownership change, it seemed like a cruel joke from whoever was upstairs, life a jerky puppeteer game that had contorted her directly into the hands of Miss Virtuous. She envisioned the young brunette deftly manipulating the puppeteer handles, and her face twisted in anger.

Chapter 23

We pulled up to Saffire, the door opened by a muscular bouncer with a welcoming smile. “Ma’am.” He nodded, extending his hand and helping me from the car. Brad appeared and shook his hand, his appearance causing the man’s grin to widen exponentially.

“Mr. D. Good to see you, sir. Janine is inside, should I radio her?”

“No, we’ll find her. Good to see you, John.” He clapped the man on the back, and we made our way through the doors, stepping into the dark club.

Janine found us, striding up with quick efficiency before we even passed through the lobby. She gave Brad a warm hug and turned to me with a smile, extending a hand and shaking mine with a firm grip.

“Brad’s told me a lot about you. Welcome. Would you like a tour?”

I nodded, glancing at Brad, who softly placed a hand on my back, assuring me of his presence. Then we moved, Janine starting a steady dialogue that wouldn’t pause for forty-five minutes.

♥♥♥

Alexis watched them move, a tight group of three, the girl’s assets displayed in a dress that screamed expensive. She was softer than Alexis, her chest still natural, a delicate look to her frame. But she had the ass, and that had always been Brad’s weakness. She watched with narrowed eyes as the threesome stepped through the backstage doors, disappearing from view. A rough hand on her back had her looking down, into the needy eyes of the businessman she straddled. Smiling down, she ground against his crotch, her need for approval stronger now, more than ever.

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