I cheated on my boyfriend. Before you go thinking what a dirty ho I am, let me just tell you, he deserved it.
I mean, I dated a guy for four years, throughout my entire high school career, and I thought I knew him. But then I started to notice the looks in the halls, the smirks from the girls who were supposed to be my friends. And the other guys? They started murmuring the word ice whenever I walked by.
Turns out my boyfriend of the year was really the moron of the century.
The whispers in the hall, the rumors floating around? He started it all. He’s the one who told everyone that I wouldn’t put out, that I was nothing but a tease. He tried to make a mockery out of me.
That’s right. I said he tried.
A person can only make a mockery out of someone if they allow it.
I wasn’t about to allow it.
So I cheated on him.
Shot his “she’s a tease” rumor all to hell. That’s the thing about a rumor… it can turn on you in three seconds flat. And so he became the guy who didn’t know how to satisfy a woman; he became the one who didn’t know how to close the deal.
Was it true?
I didn’t actually have sex with the other guy. I haven’t actually had sex with anyone. But a hundred bucks and a six-pack of beer is all it took for the football team captain to say he slept with me.
He got to be the guy who closed the deal, and I got to graduate without the label of being a tease.
So it was pretty ironic that three years later I was pretty much labeling myself with the exact name I tried to get away from.
Except this time I was going to get paid.
I never really thought I would be the kind of girl who would do something just for money. But then I started thinking about that, about what kind of girl would do things for money. You know the conclusion I came to? A girl who liked to eat. A girl who liked to make rent on her apartment. A girl who would never admit, not in a million years, that her mother was right.
I repeated those things over and over in my head as I climbed out of my used Toyota Corolla and stood staring at the entrance to the place I was supposed to be interviewing for a job.
I never thought life would bring me here. I never thought I would’ve picked up the phone and called this place to see if there were openings. When the person on the other end of the line told me that yes, there were openings and asked me to come in for an interview, I was shocked when I heard myself agree.
But like I said, I liked to eat.
“Just go in. Check it out. If it turns out to be really awful, you can leave,” I muttered to myself as I headed through the parking lot, which was surprisingly well lit. The outside wasn’t as seedy as I thought it was going to be either. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all. Of course, that thought wasn’t exactly comforting. Part of me hoped the place was skeevy. Part of me thought that the minute I stepped out of my car, I would be so offended with what I saw that I would drive away toward a safer… more clothing required kind of future.
But I wasn’t offended.
And it appeared I was going to go inside.
Before reaching for the door, I stopped and looked up at the giant sign standing tall in the parking lot. It sported a large top hat with a pink bowtie around its center. The hat was tipped on its side and a pair of very long, shapely legs were coming out of the bottom.
The Mad Hatter was a “gentleman’s club.”
AKA: a strip joint.
And I was here to interview to be their newest stripper.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. I tore my gaze away from the sign and put my hand on the door. As I did, it swung open and a huge wall of a man stepped outside. He had skin the color of midnight, with arms the size of my thighs. His head was completely bald and he wore a black T-shirt that looked like it was going to burst at the seams because it was stretched so thinly across his massive chest.
Automatically I took a step back.
He smiled and it almost ruined the intimidating effect he had over me. Almost.
“Sugar, I think you’re in the wrong place,” he drawled, a thick southern accent lacing his tone.
Did he just call me sugar?
“I’m here for an interview,” I said, lifting my chin.
He grinned, flashing very white teeth. “Well, you definitely have a look that will drive ‘em crazy.”
I looked down at my cotton floral sundress with little cap sleeves. Was he being a smartass? I hadn’t exactly known what to wear to a job interview where the job required getting naked.
“You gonna let me in or what?” I said, crossing my arms over my chest and glaring at him.
He threw back his head and laughed. Then he stuck out his humungous hand. “My name’s Tyrese. You can call me Ty. I’m the bouncer here at the club.”
I slid my hand into his. “Harlow.”
“Miss Harlow,” he drawled, pulling the door open wide, motioning for me to enter. “Welcome to the Mad Hatter.”
* * *
The place was actually pretty nice. For a strip club. Excuse me, for a Gentleman’s Club, as was so proudly displayed on a sign beside the bar. The bar ran along the entire back of the establishment, with large mirrors against the wall where the alcohol sat on glass shelves and bartenders worked behind a chest-high wooden bar with many armless black leather stools slid up to it for seating. Every seat at the bar was taken except for the very last two on the end.
I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. I was a little out of my element.
Okay, a lot out of my element.
Of course the first rule when trying to blend in is not to stick out. So I spun away from the bar, catching a quick glimpse of myself in the mirrors behind the bar as I turned, and suppressed the urge to shudder. Or laugh.
Ty was right. I did look lost.
The first thing I did was stop staring at myself in the mirror and turn, facing outward into the club. My eyes narrowed a bit, hoping to erase that doe-eyed innocent look and replace it with a more flinty, edgy expression.
I had no idea what flinty meant. But it sounded like I should look that way.
However, when my brain actually processed what I was facing—what I was seeing—and I forgot to be flinty.
The club was the shape of a giant square, with the bar making up one of the sides. In front of the bar, the floor was filled with round tables of various sizes. Some fit two people, some five. All of them had long pastel-pink table cloths that draped to the floor. Around the bottom of each tablecloth was a black ribbon with a giant black bow.
The chairs were all black leather and in the center of each table was a black top hat with what looked like beverage menus sticking out of the top.