I hurried backstage, where I waited for my music to cue, Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” classic rock with a good beat. I skipped onstage and went through the choreography I’d invented. As usual, I tried to focus on the dance, and when I had to strut close to the edge of the stage in order to gather tips, I avoided eye contact. Except…there was that man again, and I couldn’t keep from checking him out.
He still sat with that other guy, Pace, and at first glance it seemed they were deep in discussion. But when I shot another look, Wyatt was staring back at me. Yeah, he gave some serious attention to my body—the school tie and white blouse were long gone by then—but after one brief scan, his gaze moved to my face and stayed there. For the few seconds I looked back at him, our eyes locked. The blaring music and noisy chatter faded, and it was as if we were alone in the room, me and this stranger. It was a weird, almost chilling feeling, but after I broke the connection and resumed my bump and grind, I wanted it back.
A few minutes later, my song was finished. I gathered the fallen pieces of my costume, like little soldiers left behind on a battlefield, and left the stage. I quickly dressed in my own clothes, slipped on my boots and my jacket with the fur-trimmed hood, and said good-bye to my friends.
In the parking lot, I got behind the wheel of my old Ford Escort and said a prayer before turning the key. The battery grumbled but turned over. I carefully fed the little beast some gas and then, just as I put her in gear, she died. I cursed her out but knew what to do. After popping the hood, I leaned over the engine.
“Car trouble?” The deep voice coming from behind me nearly made me jump out of my boots.
I spun around and there he was, far taller than he’d seemed sitting down. He towered over me in his long black coat, a figure like Lucifer himself with jet-black hair and piercing eyes. His face was all planes and angles, harsh as if it were hewn from stone.
“N-no. I got it. There’s a little trick a guy taught me.” I swallowed. “But, actually, I could use an extra pair of hands. Could you start her up while I jiggle the thingie?”
Something nearly like a smile flashed across his wide mouth, even though his lips never curved. “The thingie?”
“I forget what it’s called. I just know how to do it.”
Wyatt dipped his head. “All right.” He could hardly wedge his large body into my car, the seat was pulled so far up. But he managed to get a foot on the gas pedal and turn the starter.
I held the wing-nut thingie, and the wagon fired up.
“A little more gas,” I called out, and Wyatt revved the engine until she…well, my car never purred, but she did sound less like she was gargling phlegm.
“Thanks.” I slammed the hood shut, faced my helper through the windshield, and recalled that he knew exactly what my tits looked like. For that matter, he’d seen pretty much all of my body except my crotch. My flesh sizzled in every cell as I realized his intimate knowledge of most of my anatomy. I wished I could erase those images from his mind—or else show him more. Bad, bad girl for having that kind of craving, but I couldn’t deny the truth about what I wanted.
Wyatt unfolded himself from the cramped front seat. Then he held the door for me. His heat and the sheer energy of his body radiated into me as I passed him. I’d shut down the part of myself that got turned on by guys long ago. I had no time or space in my life for desire. The only time my libido emerged was onstage when I danced alone. Though many men saw me nude on a regular basis, I hadn’t been physical with one in years. Not since before Travis was born, and my boy was nearly four years old. Now my banked physical needs roared to life, reminding me I was a young, healthy woman of twenty-one.
“Thanks again.” I offered a smile as I tipped my head to look way up into his face.
The stone mask hardly cracked, but the embers in his eyes flared. “Your name is Selena?”
“My stage name.” I never offered my real one at the strip club, though many of the local guys knew me. Using a stage name felt as if it protected my true self.
Wyatt nodded, and a single lock of black hair fell across his forehead. Beautiful dark hair that looked so soft and thick, I wanted to plunge my fingers through it.
“Selena, do you ever…” He paused and bit his lips. Was it possible this commanding, reserved man was nervous? “Do you ever hire your services outside the club?”
“Like dance at bachelor parties? Sure. I don’t have a card, but I can give you my cell number.” Actually, I hadn’t done much of that sort of work, but with the Escort acting up more frequently, it was only a matter of time before I’d need a better winter beater on these winding mountain roads.
“No. I mean…” He stared at the ground as he made his request. “Private engagements with customers?”
Oh. That. He wouldn’t be the first or the last man to ask me for a “date,” but his request disappointed me. I opened my mouth to refuse. Screwing for money was definitely way beyond my line in the sand.
“I’ll pay you two hundred dollars.” He threw out the number as casually as tossing a pair of socks on the floor. It meant nothing to him. He might pay as much for a good meal and a bottle of wine. He wore the arrogant air of a man who had too much money for his own good.
My only power was my ability to refuse the offer. And yet, the word no stuck in my throat. Two hundred dollars would be so useful right now. Ernie paid us girls pretty well for dancing, far better than I could earn at a minimum-wage job, but it was never quite enough. I always struggled to keep up with the bills. Little surprises like illness or car trouble threw my careful budgeting into chaos.
“Maybe.” The word slipped out before I could stop it. What the hell? I was in a dream, listening to myself practically agree to something I would never seriously consider.