I glare down at my lap.
After the stage lights go dark and I’m untied from the chair, I can’t get off the stage quickly enough. I make a beeline for my happy place, also known as the bar.
The guys surround me, backslapping and laughing like chimpanzees at the zoo. “That was awesome!”
“I’m rethinking this whole marriage thing. If it gets me a f**king show like that, I just might do it.”
“I’ll take those seconds any day. . . . Wasn’t anything sloppy about that brunette!”
A thousand frazzled thoughts race through my head at once, but I put up a solid front.
“It was great.” Talk quickly turns to joining the poker game in the back room. As the others make their way over, Matthew turns back to me, where I’m still sitting at the bar.
“You okay, man?”
I lick my dry lips. “Yeah, I’m good. Just going to finish my drink.”
He nods understandingly and leaves me on my own. Have to admit, I’m a little bit shaky. What was that hard-on all about? Did it happen because the woman grinding on me looked so much like Kate? And most important, do I have to tell Kate about it?
I go from looking at my drink to swallowing it in .5 seconds. There’s no way I’m telling Kate.
Don’t look at me like that. Whoever said honesty was the best policy never lived with a frigging chick. Sometimes, it’s best to keep your mouth shut. Certain things women don’t want to know—things, like this, that will accomplish nothing but upsetting them.
I’m comfortable with my decision . . . until someone taps me on the shoulder.
I turn around to find a pair of big, beautiful brown eyes smiling at me. If my c**k had an elbow, he’d nudge me with it.
She’s changed since the stage show. Or, should I say, covered up. She’s wearing a red, lace, knee-length nightie, with matching high heels. It’s actually pretty conservative for a place like this. Close up, I note that her skin is creamy white and clear—with almost no makeup. Her hair is still down, straight and shiny, and soft looking.
She greets me with a cheery “Hi.”
“Are you having fun tonight?”
I motion to the bartender for another. “Sure, it’s . . . super.”
Lily sits—uninvited—on the stool next to mine. “I’m glad. I wanted to make sure you enjoyed the show, because I’m new here. I only started a few weeks ago.”
The revelation surprises me. “Never would’ve guessed. You’re a natural.”
Her smile gets wider. “Wow, you’re so sweet.” Her voice drops to a whisper, as if she were about to spill top-secret information. “But I’m not really a stripper, you know.”
I look around the room. Then I look her up and down. “Is it some elaborate game of make-believe?”
She laughs. “I’m a student, actually. This is my last year at the University of Nevada.”
I remark drily, “A student stripping her way through college? How very stereotypical of you.”
She rolls her eyes. Not unlike the way Kate does frequently. “I waitressed at Hooters for a year. But with the economy the way it is, they had cutbacks. And I got let go last month.”
“I always thought tits and ass were recession-proof.”
She shrugs and sips her drink. “Didn’t we all.”
I toy with the napkin on the bar, feeling Lily’s eyes appraising me. “What?”
“You just . . . you’re nothing like the other grooms I’ve seen in this place. They acted like I was their last meal before the execution. But you’re different. It’s nice.”
Although she seems sincere, I’m suspicious of the nice-girl-just-trying-to-get-by act. Strippers get na**d for money—that’s the job. They get more money if the customers like them—if the stripper can make them feel they’re special. Different. “I don’t do this for just any guy,” they say, and—bam—before the loser knows it, his whole paycheck is down the drain.
Or up the crotch, in this case.
Lily puts her hand on my leg, and she starts to rub—moving higher and higher. “How about we go in the back for a private dance? I’ll even do you for free. It’ll be my pleasure.”
What’d I tell you? Can I call them, or can I call them?
I stop her wandering hand with my own. “I can’t.”
She leans toward me and tries again. “Sure you can.”
But I hold my ground. “I could. But I won’t.”
She stops, finally getting the point. Looking a little confused, she asks, “Do you have one of those crazy, controlling fiancées? The kind that makes you promise no lap dances, even at your bachelor party?”
I shake my head. “Not at all. I don’t think she’d be pissed. But . . . I think she’d be hurt.”
That’s what no one tells you about being in love. Sure it’s grand and amazing and feels f**king fantastic. But there’s stress too. Obligation. Responsibility. The knowledge that someone else’s happiness—someone who means so much to you—can be made or destroyed by the choices you make. By the things you do.
Or in my case, the things you don’t.
“I’ve done that before—made a bad call. Hurt her. And I’m determined not to ever do it again.”