The crowd chanted, “Do it!” and he grinned, licked the salt off my stomach, snatched the shot glass, and slammed back the tequila. Then he dove into my cleavage after the lime, taking a little longer than I thought he really needed and making my nipples harden in the process, before pulling back with the green rind sticking out of his mouth.
Men were high-fiving each other all over the place.
Cam reached over and discreetly tugged my corset together, and then I stood. My eyes locked on a man standing at the edge of the bar against a wall… completely shrouded in shadow.
He was staring at me.
I could feel it.
A shiver worked its way up my spine.
On impulse, I grabbed the fedora off Cam’s head and spun it onto mine, tipping it over my face and halting in position. The music cut off. The spotlight went out.
Money flooded the top of the bar.
It was over.
Thank Baby Jesus the routine was over.
And I wasn’t naked!
Cam reached for me, lifting me off the bar and sitting me on the side where he was, effectively putting a barrier between me and all the strange, grabby hands. “I so owe you for this,” I told him as he helped me gather the money off the bar.
“Are you kidding me?” he whispered in my ear. “That was my pleasure.”
Ty appeared at the end of the bar to escort me backstage and I was beyond thankful. As we made our way through the crowd, I got an eerie feeling and I looked over my shoulder toward where I saw the man standing in the shadows.
He was gone.
* * *
Roxie was already on stage doing her routine when I made my way to my dressing table. A couple of the girls congratulated me on the dance as I walked by, and I smiled and thanked them when all I really wanted was a moment of quiet.
My cell phone was ringing on top of my dressing table when I approached. It was my mother. Again. Concerned that something was wrong, I answered.
“Mom?” I said, moving toward the back of the room where the community clothes and wigs were. “Is everything okay?”
“Harlow? Where are you? What’s all that noise?”
“I got another job, waiting tables. That’s the music in the background.” Okay, it wasn’t a total lie. I did wait tables… in tiny outfits and in between my dances.
“Another job? Are you having money problems, honey?”
She would go straight to that.
“No, Mom, everything is fine.” That wasn’t a total lie either. I didn’t need money. I just scraped a whole bucketful off the bar. “Is there something wrong?”
“I just called — tell — that—” I pressed a finger to my ear to block out some of the noise.
“I can’t hear you. You’re breaking up,” I said.
“— tell you — came—”
I pulled the phone away from my ear. One bar. Practically no reception.
“Mom, are you and Daddy okay?”
“Yes—” I heard her say.
“I’m going to have to call you back in the morning. My reception is really bad in here.”
“Wh— Harlow?” And then she was gone. The call dropped.
“Stupid cell phones,” I muttered. At least I knew that she and my dad were okay. Everything else could wait ‘til morning.
Hopefully she would have forgotten about my new job by then and would forget to ask for the details. My mom loved details.
I forgot completely about the phone call after that because I got so busy waiting tables. The crowd finally began to clear at two a.m. and Adam told me I could go. The only dance I did was the one on the bar.
I wasn’t complaining.
I counted out my tips and smiled. Another eight hundred-dollar night. I cashed out all the singles at the bar and then went in the back to exchange the boy shorts and corset for my white T-shirt dress. I used a cleansing wipe to clean off most of the makeup from my face, but I let down my hair.
I was literally exhausted.
The Motrin I took wore off hours ago. My head was pounding and the goose egg on the back of my head hurt.
I just wanted my bed and quiet.
Cam was leaning against the wall by the bathrooms when I exited backstage. He had replaced the black bowtie with a snug white T-shirt and his black leather jacket dangled from his hand.
He pushed off the wall when he saw me, prowling closer, and used his body to push mine back against the door I just exited through.
“You drove me crazy tonight,” he murmured, ducking his head and taking my lips hostage. He could kidnap me anytime.
“Those little shorts,” he murmured between kisses, “have got to be the sexiest thing”—more kisses—“I have ever seen.” More kisses.
I giggled. “Glad you liked them.”
He pulled back and swiped the pad of his thumb across my lower lip. “How are you feeling, babe?”
“I’ve been better.”
He held out the jacket and I slipped my arms into it and he tucked it around me. The sleeves fell well past my hands and I smiled. “C’mon. Let’s go.”
“Adam said you could leave too?”
“He knows I’m your ride.”
I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally stepped outside on the pavement. “That place was loud,” I muttered as we walked toward the Mustang.
We didn’t say anything on the short ride to my apartment. When we got there, Cam reached into the back and pulled out a dark-colored backpack.
“What’s that for?” I asked curiously.
“I’m staying here tonight.”
“You are?” I said, surprised.
“Someone has to wake you up every couple hours.”
I groaned. “I’m fine. I’ve been awake forever.”
He shook his head. “The doctor said—”
“Fine. You want to stay, stay.” I was way too tired to argue.
I watched as he put the ragtop up and locked the doors to the car, and then we both trudged upstairs and into my dark apartment.
I turned on a lamp by the couch and told Cam to make himself at home and then grabbed my PJs and shut myself in the bathroom.
I washed off the rest of my makeup, brushed my teeth, and used some faucet water to swallow another Motrin. Grabbing up my T-shirt dress and undergarments, I switched off the bathroom light and padded into my bedroom, wearing my boxers and tank top.
Cam wasn’t in the living room as I crossed through, and I briefly wondered if he was in the kitchen.