Thursday, January 7, 2016

Candy & Kink: First Three Chapters FREE!

In hopes of piquing your interest, I have decided to give you the first few chapters of my book Candy & Kink for FREE. If afterwards you may want to read more, please go clickity-click at Amazon. If you do read it and enjoy it, please leave a review. I love reviews. I love feedback. I plan on doing the same with my first novel Ripped & Twisted for you as well later this week. Hopefully, Enjoy!!

Thank you! xoxo JLE

Chapter 1

“Britt? Hey, Britt?”
I call for the bartender. When she doesn’t answer me, I raise my head from my arms that are crossed on the sticky wooden bar. In my Jameson haze, I think I hear those sounds definitely equated with sex. Turning my head to the back of the bar, sure enough, I see Britt sprawled on her back over the edge of the lacquered wood top, legs flopped on top of someone’s shoulders. I say someone because there is no identifying the person whose head is buried between her legs. Then, I do see a pair of burley hands wrap around her thighs, so I do assume it is a guy…this time.
“Christ, Britt,” I mumble and make half of an attempt to address Britt and let her know of my intentions. “Hey, Britt, I’m getting a Jamie, okay?... k,” my voice trails off with each word. I lift myself onto the stool and belly flop on top of the bar reaching for the bottle of amber liquid in the green bottle just behind the ledge. I slide back down onto my seat and pour a liberal amount, hell, I pour the liquid to the top of my rock glass. I take a sip and feel that lovely burn down the back of my throat all the way descending to my stomach. I turn to my other side and notice Z sitting at the other end of the bar, seemingly oblivious to the show so far as well.
“Z, care for a refill? I hear it’s on the house tonight.”
I lift the bottle and tip it side to side when he raises his head. He seems to just notice Britt’s partner making for a late night snack and shakes his head at them and smirks. Then he turns to me and puts the book he’s been reading down.
Z is an imposing man with a full, yet well groomed, black beard. Just slight tinges of gray are beginning to make themselves known amongst his facial hairs. He combs back his equally dark hair in a style reminiscent of days gone by. Silver streaks the hair only at his temples on his head. One arm is decorated in colorful ink. Even though the white v-neck tee he wears is loose, you cannot mistake the strong build beneath. Though I would be petrified to bump into this wall of a man on the street, he is one of the nicest people that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
“Sure, sweets, fill her up,” he slides his empty glass toward me.
I pick up my almost full glass and carry the bottle down toward him. At this point, I just climb over the bar to grab some ice for our drinks, and wiggle back over after depositing the chilly cubes into their new home. After all, Britt and her partner are blocking the swing top opening usually used for easy access behind the bar. Z is laughing at me as I plop back down to the customer’s side. I sit two stools away from Z and pour to the top of his glass. We clink glasses and each sip simultaneously. I lean back over the bar and retrieve my secret stash that Britt keeps there for just for me. I plunk the plastic bag full of colorful confections on the slick top, and open them, tilting the opening toward Z.
He shakes his head declining this offer, “You and those damn jelly beans.”
I lift a pink one in front of me and look at it a second before asking, “Sometimes, I think they’re better than sex, ya know?”
“Sounds to me like you’ve been having the wrong kind of sex then, my girl,” Z retorts.
“I haven’t been having any sex,” I mutter. I do not even look at him, but continue studying the little candied bean. Out of the blue an odd thought crosses my mind, “Hey, you think these would taste good in whiskey? You know infusing a bottle, like they do the honey whiskey?” I glance back over at Z.
He scrunches up his face, “I don’t doubt that you’ll try it. I swear you have the worst sweet tooth of anyone I have ever known.”
I stick my tongue out at him, and I pick up the book from the bar top that he had just put down. The black cover has wear, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.
“Just a little light reading for the night, Z?” I raise a brow and give him a grin.
“Don’t mock me. You’re the one who recommended it.”
I nod, raise my glass and take another sip.
“What do you think?” I ask.
“Well, sweets, kind of makes me understand those vegetarian people a little more.”
“Oh, you’re still early on,” I laugh.
“What? It gets worse?” he actually looks a little concerned.
“Let’s just say that the working conditions and the state of affairs in a turn of the century slaughter house are daisies and butterflies compared to what else happens as the book goes on.”
“Christ, Claudette, you are one morbid girl. You tell me Dracula is your favorite book of all time; you suggest all of these zombie, horror or really depressing books for me to read. I bet you were one of those kids that dressed all in black and listened to The Cure and Bauhaus while you hung out in the cemetery, huh?”
I arch my brow and stare at Z.
“Forget it. I am not calling you that other name. Claudette is your God-given name, and God damn it, that’s what I’m calling you.”
I shake my head and cannot restrain the smile growing. I decide to prod Z a little.
“Well, Z, one day you will tell me your God-given name too. And, yes, I was.” I angle my head and in a hushed voice continue, “Still do too.”
“Why in the hell would you still hang out in the cemetery?”
I shrug, “Quiet, peaceful, pretty,” I look back up and stare him straight in the eye, “sexy.”
He belly laughs, “Shit, Claudette, you sure are one of a kind.”
I arch my brow at him again.
He arches his brow back, “I. Am. Not. Calling. You. That. Name.”
I turn from him with a smirk on my face and drink while staring into the mirror behind the bar. The smirk fades. The mirror is cloudy, like looking into a reflection through a thick mist. I wonder if bars purposefully do not clean the mirrors so that patrons do not have to get a clear sight of themselves. I mean, would we be sitting here drinking ourselves into an oblivion if we really wanted to see our true self to begin with?
“So, how is work anyway?” Z gently breaks into my thoughts.
“Same as always, Z.”
Just then, our attention is completely focused on Britt as she screams her proclamation of obvious pleasure. The perpetrator of orgasm finally rises and is revealed.
“He is fiiine,” I mumble as I catch sight of a hunk who is very reminiscent of Tyson Beckford.
“Close your mouth, Claudette. You’re gawking,” Z warns me good-naturedly.
“Well, crap Z, they’re the ones putting on the show. Besides, he’s pretty,” I grin to Z and slug back the rest of my glass.
He shakes his head at me.
“You women and your damn pretty men…There’s no reason that you can’t have a pretty guy, or boyfriend, or any guy at all, Claudette, but do you really want a guy that just did that?”
“I’m not saying I want him, Z. I’m just admiring the view. I did my fair share of that, well…not that.” I tilt my head to the couple who recently finished their public performance minutes earlier. “Crap you know what I mean, the jumping from one guy to the next…besides, no man wants a relationship with a stripper. If they do, it’s not for very long, and maybe I kind of want more than a fling these days. Maybe,” I grab the bottle and refill my glass and his.
“It shouldn’t matter,” he rebuffs. “You’re a good girl, pretty, smart. I’d date you sweets,” he winks and chuckles.
“Z, you’re old enough to be my father,” I poke his arm with one finger.
“Am not! I’m only forty for Christ’s sake. You know the old saying, age is only a number, Claudette? Anyway, if you think the only reason you’re not getting serious guys is because of your job, why don’t you go to school or change your career? All you do is complain about it anyway, the guys, the hustle…You’re young enough to make a change. For Christ’s sake, you’re only twenty-nine. I’ve told you time and again that I’ll even give you a job, my girl.”
I rub my temples, “Not this again.” I turn to face his dark, caramel brown, twinkling eyes, “See, not only are you old enough to be my father, but you act like one too. Besides, what would I do in a garage?” I snort.
 I poke him in the arm again. It seems I enjoy poking him as I get more inebriated, just like his favorite phrase becomes ‘for Christ’s sake. Moreover, Z normally has a two, three drink max limit on nightcaps. It’s funny to see him get tipsy. I hiccup.
“Dunno… Maybe I should; I’m getting too old to be an exotic dancer too.” I throw up the air quotes. “Soon, I’ll be getting booed off the stage anyway. I may have to take you up on that offer,” I giggle thinking about the ridiculousness of it all.
“Oh for…” I chime in simultaneously with him “Christ’s sake!”
I begin to laugh uncontrollably, and Z joins in for a chuckle too.
“No, Claudette, you still look like a baby. Nobody is going to boo you offstage, my girl. You’re beautiful,” I think he turns serious for only a slight moment, as his hand brushes mine that is on the bottle of Jameson. Instead he quickly jerks the bottle away, and then he adds in, “even if you are a pain in the ass sometimes.”
“Okay, Mr. Funnypants, so, why don’t you have a girl?”
“Well, Dette, I have a certain girl…um, I mean type of girl in my head. I’m just waiting for her…”
I cut him off, “Probably, a pretty girl, like one of these pinups on your arm,” I poke at, then trail my finger along the vibrant and stunning, perfectly posed, barely covered depictions of female bodies on his arm, surrounded by equally exquisite roses complimenting the beautiful scene.
“Yeah, she’s pretty. I don’t deny enjoying a pleasing picture, Dette.”
“See? I’m not the only one. Maybe I should forget the fairy tale and just go back to being a little more like Britt…free, in it just for fun, no worries, just orgasm after glorious orgasm,” it comes out in titters. I poke him in the arm one more time. “I guess it’s better than waiting for Mister Non-existent. You know,” I get slightly wistful, “tall, handsome, a gentleman, spontaneous, reads, can actually have a conversation, attentive, a little rough around the edges, but polite, funny, adventurous, wants to have sex all the time, with a little romantic side,” I sigh and shake my head, “Shit, enough talk about me, my ass, my dancing, the dream man who can’t keep his hands off of me,” I giggle once more.
“That’s one hell of a list, Dette,” he sighs out.
“Yeah, maybe so…” I slap the top of the bar. “Well, Z, I think I’m going to go shower off the slut cake from my face and maybe go have breakfast. Come with?”
“Naw, I think I’m going to make sure this plays out okay with Britt and Mr. Munches over there. Don’t want to leave her alone, yet.”
I give his shoulder a squeeze and go to retrieve my clutch from where I was seated earlier. “Well, just text me if you change your mind. I’ll be at our usual place in a bit.” I walk toward the door, and Z rises and opens it for me. The orange glow of sunrise makes me squint. Obviously, I was ignorant of the hours wasting through the night that I’ve once again spent tucked away in The Hideaway…perfect name for the place.
“You okay?” Z asks as he places a hand on my waist to make sure that I’m steady.
“Yeah, I can make it the four feet to the front door.” He is really a good man, a gentleman, a dying breed for sure. “Thanks, Z. I’ll see you later.” Z continues to stand in the doorway and keeps an eye on me, but I am not kidding either. I turn to the left, step four feet from the bar’s entrance and unlock the next heavy black door embedded in the brick. The staircase is dark and narrow, the runs and risers painted black. There are two apartments above The Hideaway. I live on the second floor right above the bar. To tell the truth, I have no clue who lives above me. They are gone during the day, probably like normal people, and obviously, I’m gone all through the nights. I think it works out perfectly for both of us.
I make it to the second landing and unlock my purple door. On this second landing, there is my apartment. Directly to the right of my door is the laundry room, a prominent and desired feature of a building with just two living quarters. However, the bar below also has access and uses the laundry room for their bar linens. Because of this, the laundry room has two washers and two dryers, at no cost to us, plus some racks and shelving. It is the size of a small bedroom, probably the reason why my place lacks one.
I step into my cocoon of comfort, and I hear the familiar meow. My faithful companion all dressed in his black tux of fur, white at his chest and paws.
“Hey, Poe,” I reach down and graze my hand along his black coat. “Are you hungry, my dapper man?”
My platform heels click along the distressed oak flooring as I walk the few steps into my tiny efficiency kitchen. Opening a cabinet door, I grab a gourmet can of kitty food. Poe immediately jumps on the counter as the lid cracks open and pounds his head into my hand.
“What? Can’t even wait for a proper bowl? That’s no way for a gentleman to behave.” I try to lift my arm higher as I go to grab a crockery from a shelf, but Poe continues his barrage, but now against my ribs.
“What the hell,” I surrender and drop the can on the counter, “as dapper as you look, you are no gentleman. Oh well, the actual Poe was an alcoholic poetic fop. Why do I think he had manners when after his favored obsession? Binge, my love, binge,” I declare in an overly dramatic voice.
I leave Poe to his meal, pour myself a huge glass of water, and continue into the open space which serves as both my living area and my bedroom. There is a huge, fire engine red, velveteen couch against the east wall of exposed brick peeking through decades of worn and disintegrated plaster. It is a pullout, but I rarely take the effort to use it. A black coffee table is placed directly in front of it. Against the west wall is a plush, deep purple chaise lounge. I have four soft pillows in black and red propped against the brick on top of the seat of the chaise. Both of these pieces of furniture have served me well as places to crash.
I do love the cherry wood armoire which sits near my chaise. It’s antique, monstrously large and was in the place when I moved in.  Well, actually, the place came furnished. All of my clothing is housed within this beauty of a wardrobe. On the wall separating the kitchen from this space, there is a grouping of shelves which houses all of my beloved books and a small deck for my music player.
The southern part of my apartment faces the street below. I love the two sets of French doors that open onto the cozy balcony that is railed with black wrought iron, my own private oasis. I throw those open now and fall into one of my two cushioned metal chairs there. Lower Decatur Street is just beginning to come alive this morning as those making their way home from the twenty-four hour bars stumble to their domiciles, and those other responsible folks are off to their reputable places of employment.
I love this outer part of the Quarter area. The streets are not as flocked with tourists, and best of all, they do not hold the prominent stench of stale urine and vomit. Those aromas are mainly kept to Bourbon Street and the closer surrounding streets.
The aroma of coffee floats on the air and fills my nose. This is one of my favorite smells. I enjoy it for a few moments and decide that I should get up and take a bath and go around the corner to Maxine’s for my own morning jolt.
Though my bathroom is not huge, it boasts another favorite perk of my abode, a beautiful cream claw-foot tub. There is nothing like a luxurious bubble bath to help remove the body glitter and caked on makeup from my glamorous job. In case you didn’t notice, that was said with a note of sarcasm.
While the water is flowing, I strip down and glance in the mirror on the back of the bathroom door. Unfortunately, this mirror is clean and throws my reflection back in full clarity. Many comment that I resemble one of those silent film actresses from the twenties with my black angular bobbed hair and heart shaped face.
Thick fake lashes and black eyeliner frame my light, sage green eyes. My lids are a little droopy from my nightly treks to The Hideaway. My red lips are still painted to perfection thanks to these fourteen hour brands of lipstick. My skin is porcelain white, however, this morning a few splotches of pink fleck my cheeks and black smudges that are not makeup induced shadow my eyes. Even still, I have a somewhat pretty appearance. I’ll admit it.
At five foot three, I’m not tall, but not too short. The hour glass figure works, even though I only possess B-cups. The customers don’t seem to mind, a handful or mouthful right? I take a deep breath and peel off my lashes.
And though my appearance is unclouded here, I still don’t know who or what I truly am beneath. I have been dancing for so long that I know nothing else and only identify with the performing, the glitter, the stigma, the stereotype, the money. I have been doing it since I was old enough to get into a bar. Even if I did quit, I was serious when I said that I had no clue what I would do with myself. Pondering it for too long jumbles my feelings on the subject even more.
Am I proud of what I do? It’s hard to say. I certainly don’t mind being an exhibitionist. I have no guilt over seducing from the stage scarcely covered.  I do not, however, enjoy the constant ‘offers’ and ‘requests’ for more than what my job technically entails. During those incidences, I feel sleazy and sordid. That is when I feel repulsed by myself, less than valuable to anyone, just merchandise to be bartered over.
Then again, there’s no one around for me to worry about disappointing, or for that matter, being filled with pride by me either. What can I say? It’s simply easier to continue baring it all, have some drinks with bar friends, a few laughs, and afterwards, slip into my cocoon to withdraw until the cycle begins again. Thankfully, this arrangement keeps me tired and just social enough to not feel completely deprived of closer bonds. No, that’s not true. From time to time, I do muse of romantic interludes and rendezvous, the fairy tale even…but only from time to time.
I’m not ashamed that this way of life has allowed me to be independent. I’ve never depended on anyone, and have always been able to afford what I have desired. So, in a weird way, yeah, I’m proud of that aspect.
I stare a second longer into the mirror. That reflection, well, it is the honest truth. It could be that all I actually am is a step above the illustrious ladies of the night, and completely blank on the inside, void of self, just existing day to day, but not living. I’m not even sure I would know how.
I turn off the water and step into the citrus scented bubbles. I sink down into pure heaven. This is the daily ceremony that makes me feel purified after my nights in the murky, grimy darkness of my existence.

Chapter 2

An hour later, I am seated at a table next to the glass store-front of Maxine’s. I have always enjoyed people watching. Sometimes, I make up stories in my head about the people I see. Maybe it is because I do not get to truly know many people. Sure, I come in contact with a hundred or more people a week at my job, but that is all so forced and phony.
Let’s face it, these men, and sometimes women, are not spending money to get to know me, nor me them. No, they want a fantasy. They want to feel wanted, sexually desired. I provide that glimmer of chance in their little illusion. I choose to think of it as theater. Perhaps, this is my way of somewhat rationalizing my occupation. I actually do love the dancing, the selling myself for lap dances and fending off the creepers that think they’ll get more, not so much. The money, however, helps me justify it all.
Derek, one of the waiters, approaches my table. Derek with his spike-y pink hair, black smudge-lined eyes and stretched ears is a fixture here.
 “Morning, Candy. You’re looking smashing, as always, love.” He turns his head side to side looking about the shop, “What’s this, no Z this morning?”
In my 50’s style black cotton halter dress with a huge skirt and wedged sandals, I opt for just black cat eyes and my signature red lipstick. This would be my “simple” day look.
“Thank you, Derek, and no, when I left he was making sure one of Britt’s escapades didn’t take a wrong turn.”
He rolls his eyes, “That girl.” He sighs before asking, “Usual? Boyfriend or no?”
I contemplate his query. I shouldn’t, but I really do want it. “Thank you, Derek. Boyfriend, please,” I shine my prettiest smile.
Boyfriend, in case you were wondering, refers to my main man, Jameson. Jamie will be joining me for breakfast via my cup of coffee and cream. Should I be indulging after I have finally sobered up? Probably not, but there are days that I enjoy the unceasing buzz. It’s not like I have important matters to ponder or a job that requires intellectual rationale. Keeping my mind a little muddled prevents me from becoming preoccupied with my lack of self, or having to deal with those pesky feelings. Besides, aside from Poe, Jamie is the other stable man in my life.
 And Derek? Well, unfortunately, he bats for his own team, a little disheartening as he treats me like a person regardless of my profession, but then again, he isn’t after anything my body can give to him.
“Have anything exciting planned for today, Candy?”
In case you didn’t notice it before, you now know my stage name.
“Um, maybe the bookstore, maybe day drinking outside somewhere or on my balcony. Is that exciting?”
“God no!” He gives an exaggerated gasp and continues, “Woman, when are you ever going to give me juicy stories? I want dirt. I want the sleaze. I want the decadent.”
 “I’ve got nothing, Derek. You have to rely on Britt for that. I’m sorry that I’m so boring.”
“The way you look, there can never be anything boring about you. I think you hold out on me, Candy, I really do, but then again, a real lady never kisses and tells, does she?” He taps the wooden table top with his ink pen, turns, and wanders off to the kitchen.
I continue my window surveillance while waiting. That’s when I see him. As he approaches closer, my body tingles. He’s gorgeous, tall, lean, and those eyes. His eyes are piercing though I can’t tell the color. When he is only feet away, our eyes lock through the glass. It is only for the briefest of moments as he walks pass, but I am drawn to him and continue to follow him with my gaze. I just cannot look away.
“He’s gorgeous, isn’t he?”
“What?” I turn to see Derek standing next to me with a steaming mug also ogling the stranger through the glass.
“Elliot, he’s gorgeous, right?”
I shrug and accept the cup trying to remain cool. Derek takes a seat in the chair across from me.
“Oh don’t even try to act like he’s not OR like you weren’t staring, Candy.” Derek sighs, “He looks kind of like, who’s that guy? You know, the one that played in the angst-y teen TV show back in the 90’s. Oh! Oh! And he’s been in some movies, um, that really depressing one, Requiem For a Dream, aaaannnd, oh yeah, he just got an award for that Dallas Buyer’s Club?! He’s got that band? Joshua? Jacob?”
It clicks in my head of who Derek is trying to think of, “You mean, Jared Leto?”
“YES! Doesn’t he look like him?”
“Yeah, I guess,” I answer and shrug nonchalantly, but Derek has hit the nail on the head. This Elliot guy does resemble him, except he has dirty blonde hair. But even Leto had the shaggy style once that fell across his forehead and over one eye, and the blonde color too.
“I can’t believe you haven’t met him yet.”
“Why would I have ever met him?”
“Oh my God, Candy, he lives in the apartment above you!”
My stomach drops, and I bite my lip. Holy crap, this guy is my neighbor?
I try to remain unaffected, “Well, you know my schedule. I’m never home anyway.”
Derek rests his chin on top of his hands and looks off in thought, “I still haven’t figured out which way he goes, but I don’t think it’s my direction since he hasn’t succumbed to my charms.” He turns and faces me and waggles his brows, “Well, Candy Cane, that would leave him open for you, hun.”
I sip my coffee before shaking my head. “Have you forgotten what I do for a living?”
Derek waves a hand in the air, “Seriously, who cares about that?”
“Straight men care about that Derek. Who wants to date a stripper?”
Derek rises and shakes his head. “You are insane, Candy. Besides, who said anything about dating?” His brows dance in unison again, “I’ll be back in a few with your food.”
After I finish my breakfast, I stroll around to the tiny used bookstore tucked away in one of the alleyways. I finger all of the worn paperbacks, not sure what I’m really in the mood for. Then I see Salem’s Lot. I remember seeing the movie when I was small, and it scared the hell out of me, so much so that I have not watched it since. Feeling dangerous, I decide to get the book and see if it is as scary as the parts of the movie that I remember. It’s weird, but I enjoy being frightened. Maybe it’s the residual Goth in me. I was not lying when I told Z that I was one of those girls. I do revel in the ghoulish and morbid.
Books have always been a staple for me. They are my escape. Reading allows me to get out of my head for a short while and into someone else’s. I love that I can plant myself into a story and just lose myself. Daydream vacations from reality. It just so happens that I like realms of the dark and macabre to visit. Besides, though I do relish the thought of romance and happy endings, I prefer to steer clear of it in my reading. There’s no reason to remind myself of the unattainable on a constant basis. My head does it enough without even having to enter the book world of romance.
I decide to behave and skip the bar that is adjacent to the bookstore. Instead, I just walk back home with plans to lounge and read, and hopefully, nap before my shift tonight.
This is exactly what I do.

Chapter 3

At two a.m., The Police’s Every Breath You Take is pulsing through the dark club. For some reason, the strip clubs around here love to stick to retro music. I stand on a glossy black round stage, pole in the center, light refracting a rainbow of skipping dots on my gyrating body from the mirrored disco ball above. When I am up here, I tend to zone out in a sense. I do not focus on anyone out there. I let whatever song is on talk to my body, and I sway and move to the lyrics and beat of the music.
I hold the pole in one hand while slowly sauntering in a circle, my free hand expertly unclasping my sparkling black rhinestone bra. I tilt forward allowing the straps to fall forward. One arm gracefully up and out, slipping to hold the cups in place as the other arm follows the same motions. Both hands then slide the glittering fabric down my stomach revealing all to those in the room. With a quick flick, I toss the bra toward the back of the stage so that I can retrieve it on my way out. My hands reach behind my head, gliding up above my hair to stretch and display the perfect pert pair that these guys want to get their hands on.
Now bare except for the matching thong and my six inch black pumps, I do the obligatory stroll around the stage so that hands can feel and claw all in the guise of stuffing bills into the garter on my thigh. I have become an expert at looking down, yet never making direct eye contact. My peripheral vision is stellar.
As the song ends, I sensually strut to leave stage. It is then, that I think I see him, blonde hair across the room in the shadows. I must have had a cocktail too many, though, because as I do a double take, he’s gone. I repossess my bra from the stage floor and head to the dressing rooms, just as Warrant’s Cherry Pie blares from the speakers. Seriously…
Bambi’s crayon red curls bounce while she is sitting on Cherry’s lap. Besides tongue wrestling, both have fingers leisurely rubbing each other’s stripped snatch. I watch a few seconds, entranced. It is hot; there is no denying it. You would think that after years of seeing displays like this, almost nightly, that I would be oblivious to it. Nope, somehow, it always catches me off-guard, and I always, always watch for a bit. I mean, they are right there in the middle of the dressing room. However, I haven’t ever jumped at a chance to take part when offered. I can’t explain why not either.
“Jesus girls, can’t you wait until you get out of here?” 
They part only long enough to smile slyly in my direction and then continue on. It seems no matter where I go, I cannot escape people getting off lately. Well, at least someone is.
I throw my costumes from the night into my tiny cubby against the wall, and get dressed so that I can head to The Hideaway. Garbed in a black tight pencil skirt, fitted white tank, and high-heeled black Mary-Jane’s, I walk the six blocks through the drunken stragglers to my own watering hole.
The big black door is propped open when I arrive. Britt is behind the bar, her reddish blonde dreads all piled up on top of her head. Her blue eyes twinkle just like her rhinestone Monroe piercing. Across the pert nose of her café au lait skin, brown freckles are sprinkled. The girl is adorable and infectiously happy. She and Z constantly brighten my nights with their positive outlooks, quirky stories, and high spirits. I really have no clue how people can be that happy, yet they are, and they never cease to make me laugh. They both are bright spots in my life.
“Hey Candy, I’ll set you up. Sorry about last night, but I couldn’t resist.”
“I could tell,” I chuckle. “Do you even know his name?”
She giggles and shrugs.
“Only you, Britt,” I chuckle again. “He was smokin’.”
Britt gets a dreamy look on her face, “Yeah, he was damn good man candy. I kind of hope he wants to drop back in sometime.”
“You say that about every one of them,” I laugh more.
“Well, they’ve all been good!” she squeal giggles.
I shake my head at her and place my clutch on the bar top grabbing a few dollars from inside. I need music that is not from the stagnant catalog of every strip club around. The jukebox is my friend right now. I feed it the few dollars and stand picking out songs from Tool, 30 Seconds to Mars, Five Finger Death Punch, and Volbeat. I can play this type of music with ease because this is one of the few dives that keeps the level sane, more like background music. If we do choose to talk, we don’t have to scream at each other to be heard above ungodly loud tunes.
As Lola Montez begins, I lean against the jukebox and relax a little. The upbeat tune alleviating some of the tension from my night. Plus, the song makes me smile because I see myself as Lola Montez, showing my skin, full of sin, miners throwing their gold…Get it Lola! I laugh inwardly when the lyrics
Oh Lola I'm sure that the love would have been
The key to all your pain, the key to all your pain

come on. See, even in songs about strippers, there is no love or love is nothing but trouble. Maybe romance is dead for us. Perhaps I should just switch teams…or go back to quick flings with no attachments. I wasn’t exactly sad when I was doing that. Since when did I decided that I wanted more anyway?
I stare at the ceiling. I feel so at home in this dingy little hole in the wall. Remember how I told you about the dirty mirrors? Those are not the only things that have not seen a cleaning in many years. The black painted walls are littered with old Halloween decorations and string lights that have at least an inch of dust accumulated. The lighting is dark because the regular bulbs are much the same. There are two threadbare sofas against the wall facing the bar. A few video poker machines line the wall next to the jukebox. Then, there’s the darkened corner with a ratty plaid loveseat. I cannot tell you the things I have seen in the shadows there.
I don’t even turn around when Britt calls, “Got you set up Candy!” I just drown myself in the song with my eyes closed for a few seconds more, allowing some pleasure to enter my music loving soul remembering a time when I only danced for fun and not for profit. When I do open my eyes and turn to head to my stool, I stumble. It’s him, Elliot. He is sitting in the spot normally occupied by Z staring straight at me. His gaze is intense, almost lustful. Yes, that’s what it is. I know that look well. I see it every night that I work. I shake off the slight tremble that flows through my stomach and walk casually to my seat. Once I am seated, his scrutiny is unwavering. I can feel the flush rising across my chest. I tilt my head toward him and arch a brow.
Hell, he is staring. I decide to do the same. Close up his eyes are gray with hints of light blue, the color of a fading wool to a light denim. Though his hair is blonde, it is darker near the roots and progressively lighter the longer it gets. His brows and lashes are a very light brown, as is the light stubble across his jawline. While I study his features, his eyes never budge. I wonder how to end this match that we have begun. I fold first turning to pick up my whiskey on the rocks and speak. “So, are you going to speak or just burn a hole through me?”
 “Maybe, I just like looking at you,” he responds, his voice low and smooth.
“Well, that’s honest, I guess,” I mutter back slightly stumped.
“Surely, you’re used to having people stare at you, Candy.”
At that, my head pops up, and I place my glass back on the bar top. He knows my stage name, so I assume he knows my “respectable” vocation. I slowly twist my whole body on my stool so that I am facing him. I don’t know why it angers me, but it does.
Trying to remain calm and not inflect a facetious tone, I retort, “Not so much when I’m off the clock and dollars aren’t being shoved at me.” What a prick…
I stand, pick up my beverage and clutch, and go to sit on one of the sofas near the rear by the darkened area. Encounters such as this are just one reason that I am not always the happiest in my path of life. I lean my head back against the wall and close my eyes. This is the first time my safe haven to unwind has been infiltrated by one of the clients though.
The cushion slopes away from me, an indication of a body’s weight descending next to me. I exhale a breath. It doesn’t matter how good looking he is; I’m becoming annoyed. I do not bother to open my eyes or acknowledge his presence.
“Listen, that isn’t at all what I meant.”
I place one hand on the arm of the sofa to help me rise in my tight skirt and tall shoes. My bum is barely off of the cushion when he gently grabs the wrist of my hand that is holding my ice cold tumbler.
“Wait, Candy, just hear me out.”
I take my seat once again without sparing a glance his way. He may be beautiful, but he has already spiked my ire. I stare straight ahead holding a blank visage as he speaks. His grasp does not leave my wrist, so with my free hand, I retrieve my drink from the hostage one. I’m going to need it if I have to listen to the spiel I’m sure is coming.
“I just meant that, well, you’re beautiful so you must be used to people staring at you.”
I hurumph and turn my head even further away.
“Look, I know that sounds… lame, but it’s true.” He releases my wrist. “I’ve seen you, watched you. Okay, that sounded stalker-ish, but what I mean is that I can’t help but see you and watch you. You live directly below me. You’re right there, walking everywhere, on the balcony, at the cafes...Once I figured out that you lived alone, I decided to finally approach you. Obviously, I haven’t been too impressive.” His voice seems, I don’t know, sincere maybe?
Hesitantly, I face him again. I whisper sternly, “No, you haven’t.”
He smiles, and his smile is radiant.
“Look, I won’t bullshit you, Candy. I know who you are, what you do. I’ve been to that club, probably more times than I should have gone. I couldn’t believe you were actually the girl downstairs, or single. I would be lying to say that I don’t want you, but, you also intrigue me.”
“Well, Elliot, that sounds just like every line every man who wanted to lay a stripper has told me.” And it is in some form or another. He laughs, and my expression does not falter.
“So, Candy, you know who I am too,” he cocks a brow and leers as though that gives him some leverage in the situation.
I don’t even realize that I let his name slip. I do not want to, but I give a slight grin.
“Do not read anything into that. Believe me, I was not asking about you. The first time that I have ever laid eyes on you was at the coffee shop yesterday. Derek told me who you were without any coercion whatsoever,” I supply still grinning.
He does not look completely convinced of my explanation.
“You know, Candy, this is the first time that I’ve ever seen you smile, like really smile, not one of those forced ones. I like it.”
His finger brushes from the bottom of my jaw down my neck. I tense as heat rises along the path his touch has just travelled. Although, I enjoy the sensation a little too much, I tilt slightly away. I know that no matter what these men say, I am still only a stripper in their heads which is equivalent to a whore to many of them. I’ve always kept my guard up, been able to just enjoy and let them go in the past, but he’s gorgeous…My imagination begins to form images of him touching…stroking…Fun fling? I thought I wanted more now. Do I really? Or do I just want sex?
Time to make my exit.
“Well, Elliot, it was sort of nice to formally meet you, but I think it’s time for me to go.” I rise from the tattered couch to make my retreat, and Elliot does the same.
“Okay, Candy, but just know, we will be seeing a lot of each other. I’m going to make sure of it.” He takes my hand, raising it to brush his lips lightly across my knuckles.
My head is giving me mixed signals because the gesture is somehow sweet, even though I am convinced that he is spewing lines that he thinks I would want to hear. I slowly retract my fingers and walk to tab out with Britt with many hours to spare from my usual departure time. I open my clutch, and Britt says, “No, hun, he took care of it,” jerking her head toward Elliot.
I turn back toward him. God, he is a handsome specimen, indeed. I only just now notice his clothing of a fitted black v-neck shirt as he stands with his hands in his pockets of his black slacks. I nod in thanks. He returns the nod with a curve of his lips. I head to the open door confounded. As I turn to the left toward the apartment entrance door, I notice Elliot has followed. However, he stops and leans on the jam of the open doorway of The Hideaway.
“Just making sure you make it home ok.”
I cannot help the chuckle that escapes as I shake my head, unlocking the door. That’s normally Z’s job after all. As I slip through the opening, I yield and quickly glance over my shoulder, “Night, Elliot.”

“Good night, Candy,” his gray eyes twinkle mischievously in the moonlight. 

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