I drive my crap car to Miss Black’s. She invites me into the back and pulls out the measuring tape. I strip to my lacy undergarments and she takes it in, approves, and then measures me and writes it down. I slip the dress back on, careful not to mess up my hair and zip the dress up.
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“There’s one thing that you have to do to keep this job and that is to portray the confidence that our girls have. Since it’s your first time, I know how you must be feeling, but all the same, you can’t let it affect your performance. Because, that’s what this is—a performance. The client wants an innocent young girl and you will fulfill that role. He doesn’t want to hear your life story or why you entered this line of business. You are forbidden to discuss weighty matters or your personal life. Do you understand?”
I nod. It’s not like I’m planning on spilling my guts to him and I can pull off inexperienced young girl, since I am one. “How am I supposed to be innocent and confident? I didn’t think those things went together.”
“Well, here they do. A tease is confident and younger women that flaunt their bodies usually have no idea what they’re in for. You’re to be that woman, confident and craving sex. Use your body the way you normally would to pick up a guy, but be more overt with it. Mr. Ferro will tailor the experience to be what he wants. When you get to that point, just follow his lead.”
I nod again. It sounds easy, but I still feel my nerves swirling in my stomach. Miss Black asks me to follow her into her office. She rounds her desk and pulls out a gold bracelet from her top drawer. It has a little black stone in the center of the chain. She hands it to me. “Wear this at all times. It lets us know you are where you are supposed to be. If something goes horribly wrong, smash the stone. A security signal will be sent and help will arrive, but do not crush it unless it’s life or death.”
I take it and put it on my wrist. It’s a little too big. “Has anyone ever had to use it?”
She shakes her head. “No, the threat is clear enough. Our clients know you have it and what will happen if one of our girls is harmed in any way. It’s not pretty. The threat alone makes them behave.”
I nod and stare at the black bead, wondering how it works. There must be something inside the stone, GPS and a transmitter of some sort.
After a few more words of instruction, I head downstairs where a car is waiting for me. My heart pounds against my ribs as I slip into the back seat of the limo. We pull into traffic. I feel like I can’t breathe.
Calm down. It’s only Sean. You can do this. My little pep talks falls flat. I’m afraid. I can’t shake the feeling, so I try to ignore it. I look out the window for a while, but that makes me nervous too. I know where we are, I know where we are going. We’ll be there any minute.
I decide to check my make-up. As I reach into my purse, the golden bracelet slips off my wrist. It’s too loose. I look at it and know that I need to keep it on. Glancing at my ankle, I bend over arc fasten it around my leg. It fits better there. When I sit up, the car slows and I see the hotel. It’s one oi the swank privately owned hotels in the affluent section of the city.
The car pulls in front and stops. My chest feels like it’s going to explode. I don’t breathe, I don’t blink. The driver opens my door. I lift my foot and step out onto the pavement. Eyes fall on me, taking in my regal appearance. I wonder if they know why I’m here, and immediately dispel that thought. If they knew why I was here, there would be cops and there are none.
I step from the car and walk confidently toward the door. The doorman pulls it open for me, and I step inside. Miss Black told me to be confident, to move like I belong here, but my jaw drops slightly when I step inside. Opulence drips from every surface in this building. I try to ignore it, but I can’t My eyes drift from the gold gilding, to the large chandelier with sparkling crystals hanging in the center of the room.
I continue to walk. I’m to head to the restaurant on the second floor. I remember everything and when I reach the podium where the garson stands, my voice is steady. I am meeting someone. I tell him the name, and am led through the restaurant. The lights are low. The walls are decorated with rich fabrics and candelabras that match the large crystal fixture downstairs.
As I follow the man, I’m acutely aware of everything. Several sets of eyes lift and take in my figure before returning to their companions as I pass. I feel my heel strike the floor and the jolt through my body somehow makes me more confident. The tremble in my hands lessens and I hold my shoulders back. A soft smile lines my lips.
I think I’ll be able to do this. I think I’ll be able to pull it off. I feel perfect. I feel confident.
But then I see Sean. He’s sitting in a darkened corner with his dark hair covering those blue eyes. He doesn’t look up as I approach. His hand clutches a drink like it’s a lifeline. The vibrant young man I met is gone. I can only see the shattered remnants.
The waiter stops in front of the table. I step out from behind him and move toward Sean. I lift my hand and press my finger to the monogram in the center of his plate. This is confirmation of who I am, so that there are no mistakes. Miss Black said it’s our personal signal.
Sean doesn’t look at me. The waiter pulls out my seat. I turn and slip silently into it and am handed a menu. I watch Sean the entire time. He won’t look at me. Every piece of me wants to comfort him. Something is horribly wrong. I can tell.
We sit in silence until I think he’ll never look up. Then, his dark head tilts back and those sapphire eyes lift and meet my gaze. Confusion flashes across his face at first, but it’s quickly quashed by anger.
“What is this?” Sean growls at me, his voice low enough to not attract attention.
Fear wraps its icy fingers around my heart and squeezes. I no longer know what I want. I though Sean would be happy to see me, but he isn’t. I don’t want to leave him looking so betrayed, but I don’t think I want to stay either.
“Hi,” I manage, which is severely lacking.
“I repeat, what is this? Some kind of joke?” Anger surges in his voice.
“No,” I say softly. “A coincidence.”
Sean watches me, trying to sense the lie that he thinks I’m telling, but I’m not. “I’m sure,” he says sarcastically. Shaking his head, Sean looks at me with venom in his eyes, “I thought Black wanted my business, but this is unacceptable. Go back to your boss and tell her the deal is off. I’ll find what I need elsewhere. I don’t condone her actions or being followed. I won’t be manipulated.” Sean stands abruptly. I know he’s angry. He’s going to leave. He’s going to chew out Miss Black.
“Wait,” I say, standing with him. I reach for his hand and hold onto his wrist. My voice sounds
strained and quivers as I speak. “Please, don’t tell her. She doesn’t know. Sean, I know what it looks like, but please believe me.”
His cold gaze cuts to my hold on his arm. I release him and take a small breath. “Why should I?” “Because you’re a good man and I need you to.”
He stares at me for a moment and then sits back down in his chair. I return to my seat. He works his jaw as he considers me. “Explain, and don’t lie to me.”
I feel like I’m on trial. I want him to stay. I need him to stay. He’s my last lifeline. Without him, without this job, I’m lost. My eyes dart away from his. “I’m not supposed to talk about me, but since I’ve already done something I wasn’t supposed to—”
“Just tell me.” Sean folds his arms over his chest. The waiter tries to come over to take our order, but the look on Sean’s face scares him away.
I wring my hands in my lap under the table. Nervously, I say, “I need this job. When I saw your profile, I wanted.” I stumble trying to explain myself. “I thought it’d be nice that we’d already met. I haven’t done this before, obviously, and—”
“I have trouble believing that,” he snaps.
“Believe whatever you want, but facts are facts and you would have figured it out if I didn’t screw everything up. Miss.” I bite my tongue to keep from saying Miss Black’s name, “she doesn’t know that I met you before, that I kissed you before.” I stare into his eyes remembering that kiss, remembering the softness and desire. “She doesn’t know, but I wanted to know you more, and I needed this. This encounter may not matter much to you, but it means everything to me.” Before I realize it, my hands are on top of the table. I’m clutching them so tightly that my knuckles turn white. Sean’s gaze lowers to my hands and lifts to my face, “Why?”
I can’t answer. My mouth fills with sand and I can barely swallow. All’s I can manage is, “Please.” I’m begging him It dawns on me that this is what happened and I can’t look at him. I release the death grip on my hands when he doesn’t answer. Sean seems apathetic, leaning back in his chair as if he’s dismissing me.
I take my purse in my hand, and heart pounding say, “I’m sorry. I won’t trouble you again.”
I stand and walk away from the table. Sean doesn’t call my name. He doesn’t stand and follow me out. He doesn’t give me a second chance.
The limo isn’t here yet. I’m on my own. My heart shatters as I realize what this means. Miss Blac] won’t give me another chance, and I don’t want one. I try to keep the tears from spilling as I take the walk of shame across the room Stopping in front of the elevator, I press the button. I wait and take a shaky breath. When the doors open, an older couple slips out. They avert their eyes as is the custom when a stranger encounters a crying woman. I look at the floor as I step inside.
I lift my hand and press ONE. The doors start to slip shut. But just before they close, the doo bangs against something dark that juts between them, a suited arm The doors reopen and Sean is standing there. His blue eyes are filled with questions. He steps into the elevator with me. The doors slip shut. When we start to move, he pulls the STOP and the elevator darkens.