Five Years Ago – Night Creature Forest
Blue liquid plus red power equaled black flames that spread quickly, burning everything it touched to ash, flammable or not.
Silny blew through her workshop like a hurricane. She upended tables, shattered every glass product within her reach, and shredded every book. None of it made her feel better.
Trent yelled, “Stop this, Silny!”
She ignored him as she threw a giant quartz globe at a cabinet full of bottled powders and liquids. The resulting rainbow of color helped the black flames spread faster and burn hotter.
Trent grabbed Silny’s wrists, forcing her to face him. She struggled against his hold, but he was stronger. Silny sometimes forgot that, even though she was taller.
He said in a low, soothing tone, “Enough, my love. This madness serves no purpose.”
“How am I to end the curse on myself when nothing around me gives me answers?”
“You will find a way.”
“My way resides in the mind of a female who exists in another reality, on another Gezane. I cannot cross the threshold of dimensions. I cannot.”
She stopped struggling. Hopeless tears tracked down her cheeks and she slumped into Trent. He closed his arms around her in a comforting embrace she returned.
Trent said, “Let the curse remain, Silny.”
“Never. I must know. I must.”
“The curse was placed on you for a reason. Only pain can result from breaking it.”
Silny jerked away and paced around the room. The black flames kept her from going far. In another few minutes, the whole room would be a giant fireball. She didn’t care. Let it burn. Nothing in the room had helped her.
Trent walked over to the one surviving glass jar of Silny’s tantrum—the proof she wasn’t incoherent in her rage. The white powder of restoration being unharmed meant she could still be reasoned with.
He opened the jar, scooped out a handful of powder, and then returned to Silny. Holding out the powder to her, he said softly, “If you wish the curse broken so badly, my love, you will find a way. I will not stop you. Know I won’t shield you either.”
Silny cupped her hands and held them in front of her. Trent let the powder sift through his fingers. He stepped into her, cupped the back of her head, and urged her to bend to him so his lips could brush hers.
The tiny kiss and Trent’s show of love and understanding calmed Silny like nothing else. She smiled at her husband then mouthed a thank you after he stepped back.
“Shall I send dinner to you or will you join me in the dining hall this night?”
“I will come down to dinner.”
“Thank you.” He kissed her lips once more. “I shall see you there.” He exited the workshop and closed the door after him.
Silny faced her mess. Black fire engulfed the entire room. Only the spot where she stood and the path to the door remained untouched.
She looked down at the white powder she held. With a sigh of resignation, she lifted her hands in front of her lips and blew. The white powder spread in the air, blanketing the room. Everything the white powder touched extinguished and started mending. The tables and cabinets righted themselves, broken glass melted together and reformed its original shape, and containers jumped onto their respective shelves with their contents following after to be stored once more.
The last thing to be fixed was the last thing Silny broke—the giant quartz globe. The seams fused as though it had never been shattered. The globe bounced into the air and hurtled across the room, planting itself directly in front of Silny.
She blinked at it, not knowing why it reacted this way when she hadn’t cast a spell beyond the restoration powder.
The globe glowed and showed a burnt-orange bhresya male. He spoke to someone outside the globe’s sight. Silny guessed the individual was much smaller than the male based on the angle of his gaze.
“Why are you showing me this?” She touched the globe and the glow intensified. The image inside changed to a human female. She danced on a stage before a large seated audience. Silny knew the girl.
“She is the one from my dreams, the one who eludes me. Why do you show me her?”
The image of the female became smaller and the image of the bhresya male appeared next to her with a silver cord stretched between them. The sight made Silny stumble and cover her mouth as she stared in shock. “It can’t be.”
She reached for the globe but stopped shy of touching it, not wanting to disrupt the spell with her turbulent emotions. Laughter passed her lips, low at first and then loud and triumphant. Her anguish had enacted a spell that found her solution.
“I have only to get this male to that female and then he will bring her here. She will give me what I need to break my curse.”
The image of the male expanded and filled the globe. As it did, the person to whom the male spoke came into view. It was another human female. She wore the crown of the bhresya queen. A red cord stretched between the two.
Silny screamed, “Why do you show me the solution only to take it away from me? I cannot—”
Her tirade ended when the globe showed a third male entering the conversation. Silny recognized Melchior, king of the bhresyas of Nexeu. She heard he had married a human female to solidify the peace between bhresyas and humans. A silver cord stretched from Melchior to his queen, but Melchior acted distant from her, which seemed to upset the female.
“Why does he deny the cord?” Silny whispered. “If he were to accept their relationship, then the red cord of love would entwine with the silver cord of fate. This other male would be left and I could approach him to retrieve his own true mate and thus break my curse.”
She stared at the three for a long while. No solution presented itself. So long as Melchior denied his true relationship with his queen, her love would remain with the other male.
Silny yelled, “Show me something useful!”
The globe bobbed and the picture changed to a human male. His right arm was in a sling. He spoke to another human male and a red bhresya male who had one missing horn. The first human male spoke in an angry manner, gesturing ever so often to his broken arm.
Silny stared at the exchange. Her ability to read their lips meant the lack of sound didn’t bother her. All three males wanted the bhresya queen dead. A thwarted desire because her guards accompanied her day and night, especially when she left the palace.
The broken-armed male wanted the queen to suffer, but the time required for the amount of pain he wished to inflict upon her was much more than the time it would take Melchior and his guards to track down the queen once she was taken.
An unladylike snort left Silny’s lips. “Is that your only worry?” She placed her finger against the globe above the forehead of the male. She whispered, “Come seek me in the Night Creature Forest, little displaced prince. I will help you, and you will help me.”
He would hear her words as a whispered suggestion most humans mistakenly called inspiration. As such, he would think he had conceived the plan. Silny only had to wait for him to come to her. She waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. The globe blanked, returning to its original purple color, before it floated away to return to its rightful place on a pedestal in the middle of the room.
Silny exited her workroom with a new spring in her step. She was the happiest she had been in decades, maybe centuries. At long last the curse would be at an end. Once all the players entered her game, she could set herself free.
* * * *
Present – Nexeu
Chigaru smiled at the sight of his king and queen. Melchior sat at his desk surrounded by his advisors, who awaited his judgments on matters of state. Serenity sat on Melchior’s lap. She had one of her breasts bared so she could feed Nilam, her and Melchior’s daughter and the heir to the Nexeu throne. Mother and father enjoyed the act of nourishing their first and only child.
The wholesome sight didn’t bring happiness to all who beheld it. Chigaru cast his gaze around the room. None would harm the royal family but Chigaru still perceived each person as a threat so long as they showed irritation about Nilam’s lunch arrangements.
Serenity insisted Melchior be a part of every feeding. She sought him out no matter where he was. If Melchior happened to be in the throne room surrounded by his advisors and nobles addressing matters of state, then Serenity fed her child there. She didn’t care if others found the sight of her breastfeeding scandalizing or her interruptions annoying. Melchior didn’t call a stop to it, which meant no one else could complain.
The nobles had to be happy it would end soon. Nilam was four and the feedings happened less and less. Serenity prolonged them. She didn’t want to give up the closeness she shared with her child and husband, but she knew Nilam’s dependency on her for nourishment had ended long ago.
Chigaru had suggested she have another child. The words had tasted bitter as they left his mouth, but he’d said them. Before Nilam, Chigaru had thought Serenity would be his. She had married Melchior to ensure the peace between bhresyas and humans, but her heart had belonged to Chigaru. He hadn’t minded the idea of being a lover. Royals were not expected to be faithful, especially in political marriages.
His assumption had been a mistake. Serenity loved her husband with her whole being. They were a true mated pair—two souls meant to be together. Serenity and Melchior’s marriage had started out rough but Serenity’s near assassination had opened Melchior’s eyes to his true feelings for his wife.
Once reunited, Melchior had declared Serenity a true bhresya queen. The announcement had had a mixed reception, as they all had known it would. Some still grumbled about having a human for a queen and a half-breed as heir to the throne and future regent, but no one acted on the emotions. None would so long as the Hell Hounds—personal royal guards to Serenity and Nilam—stood in the way.
Chigaru clutched at the air where his right arm should be. His motion made Erezion, a fellow Hell Hound, glance in his direction. The younger male had a question in his eyes that Chigaru silenced with a glare and a soft grunt. Erezion returned to scanning the room for potential threats, as he should be. Chigaru didn’t want the male fretting over him like so many others.
He had lost the arm the day Serenity was almost killed. Chigaru had been overpowered, severely beaten, and had his arm ripped off as he lay bound on the floor, helpless to aid his queen as their assailants beat her as well. For his failure, he should have been stripped of his title and cast out of the royal employ. Many called for such a punishment, but Serenity wouldn’t hear of it. Only Melchior’s agreement that Chigaru retain his position quieted all naysayers.
The loss of Chigaru’s arm hadn’t impeded his ability to act as captain of the Hell Hounds. A few of the royal guards, who now professed loyalty to Serenity and hoped to gain positions as Hell Hounds, thought Chigaru remained captain because he held Serenity’s favor. Those who had challenged him, found out otherwise.
He rested his hand on the hilt of the sword strapped sideways across his back at his waist. He hated the weapon. He hated all weapons. They slowed him down. Or they used to slow him down. Until the loss of his arm, he’d never had to use one. He had been deadly with his bare hands. But remaining leader of the Hell Hounds meant proving himself the strongest fighter. Thanks to the weapon on his back, he remained such.
“The room will come to order,” Melchior called.
Chigaru snapped out of his inner musings to focus on his duty. Serenity set Nilam on the ground before resituating her dress so it covered her. After leaning over to kiss Melchior’s cheek, she started to edge off his leg. Melchior pulled her back and whispered in her ear. Whatever he said set Serenity giggling as she played at getting away from the kisses he planted on her neck and shoulders.
Serenity said between her laughter, “Yes, my king. Yes. Enough.”
Melchior laid one last kiss against her lips and then released her. “I shall see you then, Serenity.”
“Me too,” Nilam said loudly, showing both her parents an annoyed expression. “See me, too, papa.” She balled her fists into her sides.
“Yes, my princess. I shall see you later, as well, though not in the way I plan to see your mother.” Melchior patted his daughter’s head.
“Is it mama and papa stuff?”
“Ew.” Nilam pushed his hand away. “Never mind.”
Melchior chuckled and forced another head pat on his daughter, ruffling her blue hair that matched his skin so well. He hooked one of his fingers around her short blue horns and used them to wiggle her head side to side.
“Papa, quit it. I don’t wanna shake my head.”
Though she protested, Nilam soon giggled like her mother. Only then did Melchior stop. He leaned forward and gave her loud kiss on her forehead. “I shall see you later, my princess.”
“Yes, my king.” Nilam curtsied, or tried to curtsy. She bent her knees and squatted a little before straightening. Considering she used to jump in place, thinking that was what a curtsy should be, it was an improvement.
Serenity smiled down at her daughter with a mother’s love, making her normal visage look more ethereal and beautiful. The sight caused Chigaru’s chest to ache. Serenity’s happiness was his happiness, but her expressions of love only extended to her daughter and husband now. Whatever love she had once felt for Chigaru had changed to the love shared between close family, not of lovers as he’d hoped it would remain.
He meant no disrespect to his king and knew Melchior had more right to Serenity’s love than Chigaru. That didn’t make the jealousy gnawing at Chigaru’s insides any less painful.
Serenity curtsied to Melchior and blew him a kiss before turning to leave the room. She ushered Nilam with a hand behind the girl’s head. Erezion met them halfway and escorted them across the room while Chigaru opened the door, made sure the hall was clear of any threat, and waited for them to exit.
Once Serenity was at his side, a little of his jealousy subsided. A quick glance at Melchior revealed the emotion had found a new home. The male glared at Chigaru in open hostility. The whole of the country treated Melchior and Chigaru’s cold war over Serenity’s affection as a favored topic.
One and all knew Chigaru loved his queen, though had never acted on it. They also knew that same love was the reason Melchior allowed Chigaru to retain his position as captain of the Hell Hounds. Chigaru would lay down his life for Serenity. All the Hell Hounds would. They all loved her that much. For Melchior to fault Chigaru for his love would mean faulting the other Hell Hounds as well, so they remained at a stalemate.
Chigaru closed the door to the audience chamber and Melchior’s anger. The male showed his insecurity when he acted like that. Chigaru would not touch Serenity until she asked it of him, and she would never ask.
Serenity said, “Shall we visit the Ladies of the Circle? They have new clothes for you, Nilam, since you are growing so quickly.”
The little girl sighed and rolled her dual-iris red and yellow eyes. Only descendants of the royal family had eyes of red and yellow. If not for her eyes, blue hair, and blue horns, many would wonder if Melchior had fathered Nilam because she looked human otherwise. She had Serenity’s brown skin and could be mistaken for a normal human if she wore a hooded cloak and kept her eyes to the ground.
The obvious dominance of human traits in a mixed child further served to anger those who didn’t want a half-breed on the throne. And it wasn’t a fluke. The three boys born to Theyn, another Hell Hound, and Alexa, Serenity’s head maid, showed the same traits—hair, horns, and eyes that resembled their father’s within a human body that resembled their mother’s.
Chigaru hadn’t needed the warning since he heard the three energetic boys stampeding toward them long before their father called out, but did Theyn the courtesy of looking in his direction.
The boys, a set of twins and their older brother, ran full tilt toward Chigaru and his party. The oldest boy, who brought up the rear, yelled, “We’re playing tag and I’m it.”
Nilam bounced in place, looking from her mother to the boys.
Serenity sighed but still nodded. “Go on then. You can be fitted later.”
Nilam beamed up at her mother before she took off running. The boys blew past them.
Theyn yelled, “Hold it.”
All three boys skidded to a halt and faced their father.
“Manners.” He gestured to Serenity.
She blinked and smiled sweetly at the boys.
The boys each bowed at the waist and said in loud unison, “Good day, your majesty.”
“Good day, Taysn, Ciro, and Dion.”
“Thank you,” Theyn said. “Go on then.” The boys resumed running and Theyn blew out a tired breath. He patted Erezion’s back and said, “You’re on princess duty. Have fun.”
Erezion appeared as though he would argue but heaved a sigh of his own before bowing to Serenity and running after the boys.
Serenity laughed. “That was mean, my joy.”
“That may be but I’m tired. The boys have been waiting for Nilam to come out this whole time. Alexa banned them from returning to the nursery until the sun goes down.”
“Mother always said children return in kind the same mischief we visited upon our own parents.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of. I terrorized my parents when I was around my boys’ ages. And there was only one of me. My parents waited three decades before attempting to have another child.”
Chigaru snorted, agreeing Theyn in childhood had to have been a handful since the adult hadn’t matured much. Theyn was the joker of the Hell Hounds. He had played with Serenity more than protected her when he joined her bhresya collection. Because of that, she had started calling him her joy. Only in the last few years before Serenity’s marriage to Melchior had Theyn taken an interest in learning how to fight so he could be a better guard.
And though Theyn loved Serenity, it was a familial love. His wife showed no signs of the jealousy that plagued Melchior. In fact, Alexa’s love for Serenity equaled her husband’s. She alone had followed Serenity to Nexeu, the kingdom of the bhresyas, when Serenity’s other maids had abandoned their posts. The two had become like sisters, raising their children together. The children only learned proper forms of address because it was expected.
The Hell Hounds, Alexa, and Serenity were friends first.
Theyn clasped his hands behind his back and glanced between Serenity and Chigaru. “What are we doing?”
“Staying within the palace walls. I have an appointment with my husband later this day.” A small amount of heat crept up Serenity’s cheeks as she imparted that news.
Chigaru had a good idea what the appointment entailed. Serenity had taken Chigaru’s advice concerning her wish to continue holding a baby in her arms. She and Melchior were trying for another child. They had been trying for some time. The palace mages were at a loss as to why Serenity wasn’t pregnant yet.
The failure to conceive had started to worry Serenity more in the last month since Alexa had announced her third pregnancy. Only Chigaru knew of Serenity’s feelings of unease. He alone shared her deepest confidence—another source of Melchior’s jealousy. Serenity came to Chigaru with her innermost thoughts. He was her confidant. She hid nothing from him. He alone laid claim to that intimacy and Melchior hated it.
Chigaru bent down and whispered in Serenity’s ear, “Sword practice.”
Serenity sighed. “If we must.”
“Must what?” Theyn asked.
Chigaru didn’t answer and wouldn’t answer. When he spoke, he did so to Serenity and in a voice loud enough for her alone to hear. On rare occasions, he spoke to Nym, his second in command. He captained the Hell Hounds in silence. They had all grown used to that and learned to interpret his quiet commands.
Serenity said, “Sword practice.”
Theyn made a sound of understanding. “You’ve gotten better.”
“Are you practicing how to lie, my joy?”
“No and you know I speak the truth. You can hold the sword and have learned to block. That is better than in the beginning when you could barely lift the sword.”
“I did better with dagger practice.” She blew out an annoyed breath. “I don’t know why I practice any of it. Melchior has already decreed I will never shed blood.”
Chigaru whispered, “You learn for defense, not to fight.”
“No, I learn to keep from being bored.” She glanced the way the children had run. “Nilam no longer needs me. It’s lonely again.”
Theyn said, “You could help Melchior.”
Serenity’s blush returned. “No. We distract each other. The advisors grew tired of our flirting during meetings and suggested we distance ourselves or else nothing would be accomplished. Given the evidence, we both agreed. True queen I am, but my place is not always at my husband’s side.”
Chigaru placed his hand on Serenity’s back and urged her toward the training fields. She hesitated for two breaths before walking. Chigaru didn’t mind. It allowed him to indulge in the feel of her gentle heat against his skin. When she started walking, he moved his hand away.
This torture couldn’t go on. He couldn’t continue lusting after another man’s wife, knowing the day he could have her would never come. Perhaps the time had come for him to find a female to distract him and possibly marry him. But where? And who? What female would marry a man whose heart belonged to another?
* * * *
Present – Florida
Kitty wouldn’t and shouldn’t bang her head against the table in front of her. She chanted that command to herself over and over. The temptation to try and knock herself out was high.
“Next,” Vincent called.
“Why?” Kitty grumbled under her breath.
She let her head fall back and wished for plagues, natural disasters, anything to keep from watching another woman embarrassing herself. How many bad dancers existed in Florida? And had they all come to audition? If so, could Kitty order her bullet now?
A bleached blonde made her way to center stage.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?” Vincent shuffled through his papers before the woman answered.
“Uh huh. What’s your real name?”
The girl frowned and huffed before she said, “Diana Mordane. But I want to be called Candy on stage.”
“Sure. Whatever. How about you dance for us before we start talking stage names?”
Kitty rested one elbow on the table and her chin on her hand as a way of preparing herself to not be blown away.
The lights dimmed to the same level they would be on a normal night while the DJ cued up a club mix with heavy bass. Diana gyrated as she stripped. Kitty couldn’t describe her level of boredom at the girl shaking her butt and snaking her body while moving in time to the music. A typical club bounce. The first mistake most women made was thinking strippers strutted to music while taking off their clothes. It wasn’t art, but there was a technique to it that got men to give up money.
Diana had no technique. In fact, Kitty would pay the woman to stop dancing. Kitty’s eyes got big when Diana flounced her way to left stage before she turned and ran at the pole. Kitty held her breath, knowing what the girl was doing and knowing how bad it could be if she messed up.
The worst happened.
Diana missed. She had tried to build up momentum so she could swing around the pole. Most amateurs had to do that since they didn’t yet know how to control the spin. She jumped at the pole, managed to touch it, but the speed of her approach jerked it out of her hands and she went flying. Her butt skipped along the stage in time to the music.
Kitty laughed. She didn’t pretend to hide it like the other girls sitting in on the audition. After the pain of the last three hours, Kitty deserved this laugh. Even Vincent laughed, though he covered his with coughing and throat clearing.
The music stopped and the lights brightened. Kitty didn’t stop laughing now that Diana could see her. In fact, when Kitty saw Diana’s red butt cheeks after the woman stood up, she laughed harder. Diana stomped around the stage, snatching up her clothes all while glaring at Kitty.
Diana snapped, “It’s not that damn funny.”
“Yes, it is.” Kitty pointed at the entrance to the club. “Did you see those plaques on your way in? All those pole dancing awards? Red here”—she gestured to the redhead sitting on her right—“has placed in the top three of every competition she’s ever entered. She trained all the women in this club. We have a reputation of being the best pole show in town, possibly the state. If you don’t know how to work the pole, you say that up front and we could set up training. That is, if your dancing didn’t suck so bad. Instead, you chose to embarrass yourself. I, in turn, chose to laugh at you.”
Vincent said, “Don’t call us. We won’t call you. Next!” He balled up her résumé and tossed it over his shoulder.
Diana cursed them out as she left the room.
Red leaned over to Kitty and said, “You know we should be on a reality show. We could call it Stripper Idol or something.”
“That’s a good idea, Red. Thanks.” Vincent scribbled out a quick note on the pad next to him. A huge grin split his mouth, making him look like a jack-o-lantern. “Put that on pay-per-view and it could be a gold mine.”
Kitty bounced the back of her hand off Red’s arm. “Big mouth.”
“The only one with a big mouth around here is you, Kitty-honey. Keep it up and you’re going to get yourself in trouble one day.”
“You got my back, Red, ’cause you wuv me.” Kitty rested her head on Red’s shoulder and stared up at the woman with big, batting eyes.
“Get off.” Red shrugged her shoulders to displace Kitty’s head.
Kitty sat up and looked at the stage when the next woman entered. Nervous energy oozed from the woman’s every pore. This was definitely her first time at the rodeo. Kitty gave the woman the once over—athletic body, large breasts that looked natural, and a nice round behind that her jeans couldn’t fully contain. Three pluses.
Vincent asked, “Name?”
“Rhedyn Brantley.” She looked down the line of people sitting in judgment of her and then back to Vincent. “I know this is an audition to show my skills, but does that include stripping as well?”
“Duh,” Vincent snapped.
Kitty asked, “This is your first time stripping, right?”
“Yes. I’m a dancer. I mean, I went to school for dance and was a pro cheerleader for a while before I got married.”
Vincent whistled under his breath. “Get out. What team?”
“That doesn’t matter,” Kitty said, glaring at the man. “Show us what you got, with your clothes on, and we’ll go from there.”
“Sure.” She looked behind her and then faced front again. “I heard what you said to that girl Diana, so I wanted to say upfront I have no experience pole dancing.”
Rhedyn smiled. It transformed her whole appearance. The woman was gorgeous. Perfect, white teeth sparkled in the bright lights. Kitty loved everything about this woman. If Rhedyn could dance, Kitty wanted her. The men would flock to this woman. That meant Kitty could step down. She prayed for skill.
The lights dimmed and the DJ cued up the same club beat from before. Rhedyn got into the rhythm and moved like there were already men waiting to tip her. Kitty had to applaud when Rhedyn managed to make her butt clap while wearing jeans. The woman had more than skill. She had talent.
When the music stopped and the lights came back up, Kitty and the others clapped. Vincent put his fingers in his mouth and whistled, which meant Rhedyn got the job. They just had to tell her.
Kitty opened her mouth to impart the good news when a man in a suit ran up to Vincent’s side and whispered in his ear. Vincent cursed under his breath and grumbled to himself before asking, “Really? She’s the best we’ve seen.”
The suited man said, “That’s what he said, man. You got a problem, take it up with him.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the VIP lounge.
Kitty looked at the second-floor, glass-enclosed room that acted as the VIP lounge when the owner wasn’t on site. Today he was there, choosing to help with the auditions as part of some hands-on initiative.
He had taken over the club a little over a year ago and fired half the staff. He’d then left the club to its own devises, abandoning those still working to overtime and double shifts while they searched for replacements. A search that had been slow going until a few weeks ago when the boss condescended to return and find out why the club wasn’t bringing in revenue like it should. Kitty had forgotten he was there since she hadn’t heard a peep out of him all day.
Vincent sighed then faced Rhedyn. “Sorry, sweetheart. I think you’re great. Even with your clothes on, I was ready to start giving you money.”
“Okay.” Rhedyn twisted her hands, her nervous energy returning.
“The boss says no. Since he owns the place, his word is law. Sorry.”
“I understand. Thanks anyway.” She started to walk away.
“Hold up,” Kitty snapped. “His word is law my ass. She is fantastic. She’s the best we’ve seen. I want her. Why the hell—”
A loud bang followed by the sound of cracking glass stopped Kitty’s tirade. She looked back at the VIP lounge again. The middle of the glass had splintered into tiny cubes. The bang must have been the sound of something hitting the glass. And it had to have hit hard because that was tempered glass meant to be bullet resistant.
Kitty growled before throwing herself onto her seat with her arms crossed over her chest.
Vincent said to Rhedyn, “Sorry again, sweetheart. Thanks for coming out. I’ll keep your résumé handy in case the boss changes his mind.”
Rhedyn nodded and left the building.
Kitty sat fuming for several breaths. This was unacceptable. More than that, she refused to let it stand. The man didn’t get to leave them high and dry for months on end and then come back to play lord and master when it suited him. She snatched up Rhedyn’s résumé.
“Leave it, Kitty.” Vincent tried to get the paper back but she whipped it out of his reach.
“Kiss my ass.” She glared at the VIP lounge. “Open the door. I’m coming up. And tell your goons to stand down.”
She stomped her way to the door of the VIP lounge and was actually surprised to find it open. The two men standing on either side of the door winked at her as she passed. One of them pulled the door shut behind her.
Before the boss could say anything, she yelled, “Ice, what the hell is your issue? We need her.” She waved the résumé to emphasize her point.
“I wanted that.” Ice plucked the résumé from her fingers and looked it over. “Thank you for bringing it up. Now good-bye.”
“Shove that bye up your ass. You’re going to tell me why we couldn’t hire her. I’m not leaving until you do.”
Ice glanced at her in a bored manner. “Leave through the door or the glass. Since I’ve already weakened the glass”—he waved his flushed knuckles at her—“going through it shouldn’t hurt much but the fall will. Your choice.”
“Try it.” She put her hands on her hips and looked down at him, waiting for him to touch her. At six foot two, Kitty didn’t intimidate easily. Ice was seven inches shorter than her and at least ten pounds lighter.
She knew him to be a badass, which had nothing to do with him being Asian, though it helped, and head of one of the strongest crime families in Florida. He’d made the original owner of the club disappear. She doubted the police would ever find the body, if one still existed. While all that should scare her, in her current mood, she dared him to start something.
“I like you, Kitty. It is rare for me to like anyone. That sentiment alone is why you are still breathing.”
Ice went to a large overstuffed chair in the center of the room and sat down. “She’s wrong for the club.”
He glanced at the résumé again. “What comes next is between her and me.”
“Let me get this straight. We can’t hire her because you’re about to take her to bed.”
“Something like that.”
“Well, shit. I’ll give you points for ethics, if nothing else. You still suck though, Ice. Why couldn’t you go after that other chick? The one who landed on her ass. She’s more the type I’ve been seeing you go with.”
“You’re not wrong. Rhedyn Brantley caught my attention.”
Kitty walked over and planted herself sideways on Ice’s lap. He sat back while resting a hand on her lower spine. Of all the employees, only Kitty braved being around Ice and treating him the way she did. Everyone else treaded on eggshells. He wore scary like cheap cologne and got off on the fear he caused. A sadist through and through, but that helped Kitty figure out where she stood with him.
So long as she didn’t show fear or question his authority too much, he would treat her normal…for him. The little power struggle of earlier was a reminder he didn’t scare her as much as the others. The day she backed down would be the day he would lose all respect for her, if he had any to begin with.
“Ice, I’m tired. You promised to bump me down to server once we hired three more girls. So far, the bottom of the barrel has auditioned. We are never going to find anyone if you keep picking them off for your to-be-fucked list.”
He flicked his finger against her back, hitting her in such a way that made her startle with a small intake of breath at the tingling sensation crawling up her spine. It hadn’t hurt but it was uncomfortable. Kitty had no doubt Ice had intimate knowledge of the human body and all the places to hit someone so it would cause the most pain. He’d given her a warning.
She snapped, “Well?”
Ice chuckled, similar to something one would hear from a young boy who liked to torture small animals. The sound made Kitty want to shiver. She quelled the urge since she got the feeling that would be construed as a sign of weakness. He said, “I definitely like you, Kitty.” He stood, dumping her off his lap, and stepped over her.
Kitty stared at him from the floor.
After folding Rhedyn’s résumé and stuffing it into his back pocket, he said, “I’ll put in a call to my contacts up north. They’ll send some girls our way. Girls with experience.” He glanced over his shoulder at her. “Happy?”
“Thank you.” She picked herself up off the floor. “How soon before I can be on server duty?”
“One month. You won’t be a full-time server. I still want you dancing. The six-foot pussy is one of the big draws of this club.”
“Fine. I want to pick the days though.”
“We’ll see.” Ice walked away, leaving the room and Kitty.
That was a small victory, at least. She would rather be a full-time server, but compromise wasn’t always a bad thing. If Ice let her pick her days to dance, she would consider it a win.
After four years on stage, Kitty wanted to keep her clothes on. The money was fantastic. She had even managed to save a chunk of it, but the fun had worn off. She used to love to dance for the sake of dancing. Taking her clothes off hadn’t bothered her. She loved working the pole and had enjoyed learning how. She couldn’t compete on Red’s level, but Kitty wasn’t that ambitious. Her lack of ambition was why she was stripping rather than strutting and fretting her hour upon the stage.
Kitty had been destined for greatness. The invitation to a prestigious dancing school was testament to her ability. But all Kitty had seen was the life her mother wanted but couldn’t have. She’d been living through Kitty and Kitty had gotten fed up and run away. Literally. She’d packed up her car and drove to Florida.
Waitressing tables paid nothing. Office work didn’t suit her. And her attitude made any job in retail or working with the public in a customer service capacity a big mistake. Kitty decided to try stripping as a whim and hadn’t thought she would get past the auditions. Vincent had snatched her up, seeing her potential and willing to train her.
He’d gotten her into Ice’s club. Vincent had heard of the switch in ownership and thought it might be a good opportunity for him to move up in the world. With Kitty as an incentive, since she’d gotten a good reputation by that point, Vincent managed to land the club manager position.
Though he was a hard-ass of a boss, he still thanked Kitty on the odd occasion for helping him get the job. To this day, Vincent still called her the best investment he’d ever made. Considering how much money the man had made playing the stock market, that was saying a lot.
Speak of the devil…Vincent poked his head in the lounge. “You didn’t come down after the boss left. Thought I would come up and make sure you were still breathing.”
“You’ve got big, hairy brass balls to be talking to him like that. He freaks me the hell out every time I see him.”
“He knows. Don’t you know if you run from a dog it’s going to chase you?”
Vincent laughed. “Yeah, you’re right. That don’t change that Ice is one scary SOB.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “We open in an hour. Get ready.”
Kitty saluted and then headed for the dressing room. On her way out the door, she heard Vincent grumbling about the cost of fixing the glass and having to close the VIP lounge for the night for safety reasons. She would work at bringing in extra money tonight since the broken glass was partly her fault.
Work. When had this job become work? It had started out as a party every night. She danced and flirted while taking her clothes off. She made more in a week than most in an entire month. On a good night, she pulled down nearly a thousand, if not a little more. On a slow night, she pulled four or five hundred. That was still better than any other job she could think of—any legal job anyway.
She entered the dressing room and started removing her street clothes so she could change into her first outfit of the evening. She would switch three or four more times depending on how her night went. A tired sigh almost made it past her lips, but she stopped it. She’d been awake for five hours and already she wanted to go home to bed. The feeling plagued her more and more.
She used to like her job. An odd feeling had started creeping over her the past few months. She felt restless and ill at ease without knowing why. Her first response was to run before bad got worse. If something didn’t change soon, she just might. The only thing keeping her here was her. Her bank account could take her anywhere in the big, wide world…except she didn’t know where she wanted to go.
“I need a man.”
Red laughed behind her. “What the hell for? To steal your money, knock you up and then knock you around?”
“Not all men are like that, Red.”
“All the men we’ll meet are. Hell, half of them are married. You’re smart, Kitty. Don’t screw that up by putting a man in the mix.”
“I know I’m right.” Red turned around and licked her lips as she slid her gaze down Kitty’s body. “Now a woman, on the other hand, might—”
“So very not interested, Red. What’s wrong? Did your girlfriend dump you?”
“Don’t even get me started on that thieving skank.”
“Okay. Leaving that one alone. I’m strictly dickly, otherwise I would jump you in a hot second.”
“You never know unless you try.”
“I need to make sure the DJ knows my song selection.” Kitty bolted for the door.
“Scaredy cat,” Red said in a sing-song.
Kitty replied in the same manner, “Damn straight.”
She headed for the DJ booth, throwing greetings at the other employees she passed. The men all gave her blue-sequined negligee with matching bra and panty set appreciative looks. At one time, Kitty had loved the reaction she got from the men. Now it annoyed her.
They all liked to look but never touched. Of course the company’s no-fraternization policy, which was now strictly enforced thanks to Ice, contributed to her problem but she blamed her height for remaining dateless. She was too tall.
Most men didn’t like tall women, and her type didn’t extend to men shorter than her. The few taller men she had met thought she was too tall. She hadn’t been laid in weeks. Maybe the source of her unease came from that. Could it be something so simplistic? If it was, fixing it wouldn’t be hard, and she wouldn’t have to run away to do it.
Get laid. She had a goal and she knew just the man to see the deed done. Her ex loved it when she called in favors. Thinking about how she would spend her morning made Kitty’s night look a lot better.
If her anxiety remained after some therapeutic sex, she would worry about it and the cause for it then.