This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
The Spice of Life Jennifer L. Jennings
Copyright © 2013 Jennifer L. Jennings This is a work of Fiction. All names, places, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination, or used fictitiously. This novel is dedicated to ladies
everywhere; step out of your comfort zone and try something new.
Vanessa Roth tingled inside, a rare sensation for the thirty-nine year old president of Roth Creative Group. She and her team had just landed the biggest account of their careers. Blue Moon Dairy, their new client, was currently the second most popular frozen yogurt chain in New England. She intended to help make them number one. Vanessa leaned back in her leather office chair and gazed out the window. The view of downtown Hanover from her third story perch was a constant reminder of why she loved New Hampshire in the fall. The huge oak trees lining the park were ablaze with crimson and gold. The cell phone on her desk vibrated. It was her husband James, likely calling to remind her about dinner with his parents. She let it go to voicemail and glanced at the framed photo on her desk, a
honeymoon snapshot taken eight years ago in Bermuda. James had fancied himself an author since day one, but his work contributed little to paying the bills. There were now three books in his first series; something about aliens or vampires. She hadn’t bothered to read any of them. “Vanessa, they’re waiting.” Corey Burns stood in the doorway, reminding her the staff was assembled in the meeting room to hear the big news. “Thanks. I’m on my way. Could you please call James and tell him I won’t be able to make dinner with his parents tonight? He’ll understand.” It wasn’t the first time she’d asked him to bail her out of a personal commitment. The look on his face conveyed his disapproval. “Are you sure? Didn’t you cancel on him a few weeks ago?” “It’s only dinner,” she said, slightly
perturbed by the reprimand. He was her assistant, not her father. Corey was a competent employee, even had a cute ass. He was almost too good looking and always impeccably dressed. As long as he did his job, he could look like Homer Simpson for all she cared. “Do you have the contract ready?” Corey asked. “I'll drop it off at the lawyer’s office on my way home.” He was always thinking ahead. She handed him the manila envelope. “Thanks. Tell Wendy I’ll pick it up tomorrow after she looks it over.” “Will do.” He slipped the envelope into his bag, gave her a quick salute, and left the office. Vanessa basked in the moment, her heart swelling with pride. She'd finally made the big time. This new account would nearly double the company’s cash flow.
Letting out a satisfied sigh, she stood up, smoothed out her business suit, and made her way to the meeting. She never flaunted her femininity, garnering respect from her male peers. Short skirts, high heels, and plunging neck lines were fine if you were the star of your own prime-time drama series, but in the real world, a business woman had to dress sensibly if she wanted to be taken seriously. *** The late October evening was unseasonably warm. Vanessa rolled down the windows of her Lexus, breathing in the night air as she took the long way home. She replayed the meeting in her mind. The team had responded with great surprise as she'd made the announcement— generous bonuses for everyone plus a week off with pay. In a celebratory mood, she slowed
and pulled up to a gourmet wine shop. Perhaps James would be more inclined to forgive her for missing dinner with his parents if he were sipping his favorite Cabernet. The digital dash read nine o’clock as she pulled into the garage. Once inside the house, she set her briefcase down on the granite counter and walked through the kitchen, wine bottle in hand. James was nowhere in sight. “I have some wonderful news. Care to join me for a glass of wine?” Her voice echoed through the expansive house. No reply. Maybe he'd retired early. She checked the study then continued upstairs to the master bedroom. He wasn’t there. The house was so silent she could hear the wind chimes on the back deck. She made her way downstairs, walked
through the main living area, and spotted James's silhouette beyond the glass doors leading out to the deck. “Look what I've got, your favorite.” She held the bottle in front of him. He barely glanced at it. His gaze drifted to the dimly lit landscape in the back yard, a glass of amber liquid in his hand. “I see you've already started with the Scotch. Look, I’m sorry about tonight.” James took a sip from his glass as if he hadn’t heard a thing. He was a master of the silent treatment. She had always marveled at how he could go for days without muttering a single word to her. However, his tight expression this evening suggested there was a deeper issue at hand. “How are your parents?” It was a rhetorical question, the answer always the same. Her in-laws often voiced their sentiments about how they wished their son would
give up his dream of becoming a bestselling author. In their eyes, if he didn’t grace the New York Times bestsellers list he wasn’t really an author, therefore wasting his time. James turned his head and looked at her. “Congratulations, Vanessa. You missed your own surprise birthday dinner tonight.” “What? My birthday isn't until next week,” Vanessa said, thinking that if it was truly her birthday dinner, she'd rather not have had his parents there at all. James shook his head and sighed. “We need to talk.” She braced for another lecture. James constantly complained about the excessive hours she'd spent at the office. Her excuse —one that he could never refute—was always valid in her mind. It was her financial contribution that enabled him to
“Look . James?” “I can’t live like this.” he said. “Why don’t we discuss this in the morning.” “I’m filing for divorce in the morning.” “Do what.” Vanessa took a deep breath and slowly released it. “Oh. I said I’m sorry about dinner---” “I can’t do this anymore. brown hair. “We agreed a long time ago that we wouldn’t use the D word to intimidate each other. I’m leaving tonight.” She covered her mouth a bit too late to mask the sarcastic chuckle.” Her amusement turned to irritation.. really?” “My things are already packed and in the trunk.” “What happened to us. Maybe he was drunk. You must really be pissed at me.. running a hand through his silver streaked. “I can’t continue on this way. to our relationship?” James looked down at the .stay at home and write.
When was the last time you took a full day off?” “You didn’t complain when I bought you that Volvo last year. so I did. the company. Now that I’m running a lucrative business. it was you who said I needed to refocus my energy. Remember?” “I didn’t think we'd give up so easily. Besides. “How did we become strangers? What happened to our dreams of a family? We have five bedrooms in this damned house.” “So easily? We went through hell after my surgery.” “It’s too late. the money. . Vanessa.” He downed the rest of his Scotch. but no kids. your damned reputation. you act as if I’ve done something terrible.glass in his hand and shook his head again.” “We tried. What do you expect from me?” “You've become obsessed.
Someone who actually communicates with me. The real issue is you. And I don’t give a shit that you don’t like my parents.“Too late for what?” “I’ve fallen in love with someone else. forcing herself to stay calm. The woman I married was fun-loving and made time for our relationship. “This … this kind of tactic is beneath you. but our marriage is over.” “Is this about your writing?” she asked. It’s not about my books. His brown eyes glistened. It’s been over for a while. “I told you I’d read your books when---” “Spare me the bullshit.” Vanessa struggled to speak as her mind reeled. “I know your ego won’t allow you to fully comprehend this. You’ve changed. I can’t even remember .” He turned his head to face her straight on. James.
“I should have just left a damned note on the kitchen table.” Tears stung her eyes as reality set in. . power-hungry bitch. “How long have you been having an affair?” She turned away to compose herself. You’ve turned into a cold.” James got to his feet with no hesitation.the last time we kissed.” *** Ten minutes after James’s departure. materialistic. “Well. what are you waiting for? Why bother having this conversation if you’ve already made up your mind? Just go. There wasn't a chance in hell she'd give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
Vanessa let her mind drift back to a quiet summer evening over three years ago. She wouldn't allow herself to cry. Meanwhile. she could wrap up the new business deal then take some time off. James had come home to announce he’d found a publisher for his first novel. Maybe she and James would go to Bermuda again for a few days. He'd taken her out to celebrate with dinner and dancing. Maybe he was having a mid-life crisis. then surprised her in bed with hours of lovemaking. He was almost forty-five. James would come to his senses in a few days. It would only deplete the precious energy needed to get through this.Vanessa hadn’t moved from where she sat. She’d make more of an effort to be supportive of his career. after all. What if he didn’t come back? James wasn’t the irrational type. The bubble .
She had no friends. As a result. Karen—became ill a few years prior that Anna had discovered an innate gift to . She could really use a friend right now. But who’d be available at ten o’clock at night? Then the realization hit her. Anna was mature and responsible. Her niece was the only family member she'd kept in touch with. At least none that she had talked to in the past year or so.burst a week later when the publisher reneged on the deal. he suffered a huge blow to his ego. It was when her mother—Vanessa’s older sister. Maybe James was jealous due to his own lack of success. At twenty years old. There was always Anna. James eventually found another publisher after a year and twenty rejection letters. Vanessa removed her cell phone from her coat pocket and stared at it. working through her final year of nursing school.
And though Karen ultimately passed. The worst part of all— she never saw it coming. and made her way toward the bedroom.comfort and heal others. One of the best days of her life had now ended in complete disaster. She refused to call her niece this evening to vent about her marital problems. her legacy lived on with Anna’s decision to dedicate her life to the medical field. the lingering scent of James’s cologne hit her like a punch in the gut. Chapter 2 . placed the overpriced bottle of wine on the kitchen counter. Anna had her own hectic life with school and a new boyfriend. She walked back inside the house. Vanessa put her phone back in her pocket. Upon entering.
and getting pulled over for an expired inspection sticker. “Sorry I’m late. Had it not been for the construction on Route 1. . placing her coffee on the desk. He immediately sensed something was off. the long line at Starbucks.Corey Burns was running late. With a cup of coffee in each hand. even if they were valid. He knew from experience his boss Vanessa Roth never tolerated excuses.” he said. he entered the lobby at 9:15 and made his way to his boss’s office to find her sitting behind her desk. he would have been right on schedule.
or even acknowledging his presence. Corey. to do anything. After another agonizing few seconds he finally said. Vanessa continued to stare out the window. to grunt. “Vanessa?” She turned her head as if waking from a dream.” she said. waiting for her to speak. Corey stood at the end of her desk. “Thanks.Without saying a word. so she didn't seem that upset. studying her for a minute while she fiddled with the lid on the Starbucks cup. but you really don't have to bring me coffee every day. He was already formulating a defense strategy in his mind—which would probably involve begging for mercy. Oh shit. her voice nearly a whisper. . She was pissed about something. “Oh … hi. Was it the way she avoided eye-contact. Okay.” Corey took a step back. but there was definitely something different about her this morning.
” she said. maybe I should take one. He doesn’t know yet. I assume James will be joining you. Perhaps there was an ulterior motive for Bermuda—a business trip disguised as a vacation. evading his question. “I’ve been thinking. too. right?” “I’m sure it is.the slightly disheveled auburn hair. “I’m on it. “It’s a surprise.” Corey wondered why the trip was so last minute.” He returned to his reception desk and . or the fact that she was wearing the same suit from yesterday? “Is everything okay?” he asked. Would you mind doing some research on flights to Bermuda? It's nice there this time of year. He must be thrilled.” “When will you leave?” “As soon as you can book the flight. “Since the rest of the staff is on vacation.” Vanessa hesitated.
perhaps he could work his way up to become her creative director. Which reminded him. At thirty-seven years old. and made his way to her door. Must be nice. he planned to show it to Vanessa. maybe now would be a good time to talk to his boss about his ideas. Once his portfolio was complete.searched the website he often used to book travel arrangements. Half an hour later. He had taken the job as her assistant in order to get his foot in the door. Corey had always wanted to go to Bermuda but could never afford it. and preferably on a day he wasn't running late. If she was impressed. . he didn't have much to show for it. Damn. printed out the itinerary. he'd completed the reservations for the trip. He was just waiting for the right time to bring it up and show her what he was capable of. The meager salary he received was barely enough to cover his rent and car payment.
Before his hand clasped the doorknob. “I booked your flight. “Bermuda is out.Vanessa would be impressed with the price. Corey wasn’t sure what to do.” “But … what happened?” He noticed a picture frame face down on the floor with pieces of broken glass surrounding it. He'd never seen her so out of sorts.” “Cancel the trip. wiping her eyes. you okay in there?” “I'm fine. “Vanessa.” she said. . What do you need?” He opened the door and she turned away. a loud crashing emanated from her office.
” she said. He was being unreasonable. He .*** Vanessa’s heart hammered in her chest. “Probably something I ate last night. still adamant that their marriage was over. You don’t decide to leave a marriage after eight years without some kind of warning. She now regretted calling him with the Bermuda offer. I’ll be fine. “Are you sure you're okay?” She waved him away. She could tell by the concerned look on Corey’s face he knew she’d been crying. “In fact. Enjoy your vacation. Go on home now. too.” Vanessa's pulse was still racing from the phone conversation she'd just had with her husband James. He'd declined. “Why don't you take the rest of the day off. take next week off.” Corey hesitated as he studied her.
. Maybe she'd go on vacation anyway. Vanessa took a deep breath and forced herself to concentrate on work. A little relaxation in the sun might do wonders. She had a business appointment with her lawyer at nine. then come home and beg forgiveness. Let him have fun with his floozy for a few weeks. What about the woman he'd supposedly fallen in love with? Who was she? He'd refused to say anything about her. with or without James. He’d eventually get tired of her. Screw James. Maybe come back refreshed and ready to deal with life again.owed her a second chance.
The petite.” She gestured to a chair next to her desk. Blonde curls framed her slender jawline. It was just her and a part-time secretary. crossed her legs.” Vanessa lowered herself into the chair. “I’ve looked over the contract and everything looks good. blonde lawyer greeted Vanessa with a warm smile and a firm handshake. “How nice. I’m leaving town for a few days and I wanted to secure the deal before I left. and tilted her head.” Wendy wore a flattering tweed dress suit that accentuated her slim figure. “Good to see you.*** Wendy Wiener had a small law practice. . I was hoping you’d say that. “Perfect. She took a seat next to Vanessa.
or maybe the Caribbean. “Anyway. “And hows your husband?” “Oh.Going somewhere exotic. we separated about six months ago. James is—well.” “I’m sorry.” “With your husband?” Vanessa paused as she considered telling her the truth about James.” Vanessa stalled as she tried to remember Wendy’s husband’s name. Besides.” Wendy nodded as if she understood it might be a touchy topic. but why bother? They weren’t really close friends. She'd mentioned him once in passing.” Vanessa felt a connection to the blonde beauty sitting across from . I’m flying solo on this trip. he’s got other stuff to do. “No. but his name escaped her. I hope?” “Bermuda. the last thing she wanted was pity.
Maybe they could go out for drinks at some point to commiserate.” she said.” She waved the comment away. “I’m leaving business law. “It was a mutual decision.” “What news?” Wendy gave her a glowing smile.” “Seems like you’re handling it well. “There’s no need to be sorry. revealing the most adorable dimples.her. but what about your practice and all your clients?” . Have you heard of them?” “I read an article about them in the New Yorker a few weeks ago. “Anyway. Going to work as a part-time consultant for a non-profit organization called Equal Justice. since you’re here in person. I’d like to tell you the good news. the smile returning to her face. Seems like a good cause. though Wendy’s face showed no sign of grief.
With this new position I'll have more time to enjoy life. I really am.” “You could specialize in bankruptcy. other attorneys in this area already got the jump on that one. “You’re giving up everything you’ve worked so hard for.” “Believe it or not.“To tell you the truth I work too much. There's quite a demand for that these days. Non-profits don't pay well. here. I've been looking for a way to make a difference in the lives of those who can't afford representation.” Vanessa took the card and stuffed it in her purse.” “I've been recommending a friend of mine to all my clients.” . But you're leaving me high and dry. “I think you’ll like him just fine.” She handed Vanessa a card from her desk. Wendy. This was meant to be.” “I'm happy for you. But that's okay.
but she couldn’t fathom making that kind of adjustment.” “Thank you. huh?” Wendy smiled and arched her eyebrows. What’s his name again? He’s a doll. You think he’s cute. I won’t necessarily have to eat Ramen noodles every night for dinner. Corey?” “Yeah. “Don’t you?” “I never really noticed. I have some money put away.” Vanessa admired her sense of humor. “I’ll certainly miss seeing your cute assistant.” Wendy sighed contentedly as they both stood up and shook hands. Did you find him through a temp agency?” “He answered an advertisement I put in The Globe.“That’s the same reaction I get from most people.” . “It’s quite selfless of you.” “Who.
But I have a few friends who might be.” Vanessa blurted out. “You don’t know for sure?” “If you’re really that curious I can give you his number.“How can you not notice? Those long. blonde curls bouncing. Does he have a girlfriend?” “I don't know. too. “Why? Are you interested?” Wendy shrugged the comment off with a smile. “I’m just being . Wendy blinked a few times.” “Come on. What do you know about him?” Vanessa felt her cheeks flush and let out a tentative laugh. I just adore the little suite vests he wears. dark eyelashes. “Heavens no.” “I think he’s gay.” Wendy sighed and shook her head. He … doesn’t really talk about personal stuff.
“Just send me the bill. the deal with Blue . You know. Wendy.silly.” Embarrassment set in when Vanessa realized Wendy was simply trying to be friendly. Vanessa stood up and reached her hand out. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” Wendy asked.” Vanessa grasped the folder and tucked it under her arm. girl stuff. wasn't it? Unfortunately.” Later that afternoon. She turned back around to see her picking up a folder from her desk. an awkward tension had already made its way between them. Thanks. “I guess I should head back to my office. I wish you the best of luck with everything. “Ahh yes … the contract. Talking about cute boys was an integral part of female relations.” The women shook hands and Vanessa turned to leave.
Even the thought of a shopping spree and dinner at her favorite Italian restaurant failed to cheer her up. trading wealth for public service? She needed to call James and try to talk some sense into him. Vanessa had acted childishly— hanging up on him when he refused to accept her offering---and regretted that now. Their earlier conversation about Bermuda still stung.Moon Dairy had been finalized. Vanessa feared he might be screening his calls and didn't leave a message. . yet Vanessa felt no joy as she drove home to an empty house. James’s words from the night before kept replaying in her mind. She pulled into her driveway and placed the call. When his outgoing voice message came on. Had she really become obsessed with money and success? Should she become more like Wendy Wiener.
and maybe even get a massage or two.m. The last time she remembered sleeping in … she couldn’t remember the last time. No. she was better off staying put. she could relax on the beach. Wouldn't he? Chapter 3 Vanessa couldn’t believe her eyes—the time on her alarm clock read Saturday.Should she still go to Bermuda by herself? What was the point? Sure. James would be back home soon. Years? . enjoy a few cocktails. 9:45 a. Her budget would certainly allow for some indulgences.
Maybe the wine the night before had something to do with it. Find a hobby. No calls from James. It had been years since she’d gone to the gym or taken part in any outdoor recreation other than walking to the local Starbucks. No calls from anyone. A bad case of cottonmouth was making her nauseous. and checked her cell phone. She dragged herself out of bed. Apparently. It was a miracle she'd maintained her slender physique well into her thirties. slipped into a fleece robe. work-related . What the heck was she planning to do for a whole week by herself? What she really needed was something to restore the equilibrium in her life. A dull ache had taken up residence in her skull. She needed aspirin and a tall glass of water. Preferably one that involved physical activity.
stress burned a lot of calories. time. She'd heard people talking about group exercise classes. probably covered in cobwebs. and above all else. opened her . James had always loved a French accent. She put on a pot of coffee. Though graceless and rhythmically challenged she could learn a few steps without looking like a complete fool. She'd played in the high school band for a short period of time. focus. she could choose a cerebral hobby like chess. better yet. or learning a language. How hard could it be? Or. Did she really have the desire? She thought about her old Yamaha acoustic guitar. It might win her a few points with him. learning a new language took dedication. but that was a lifetime ago. But. It was in a case somewhere in her attic.
Vanessa decided it was probably just a solicitor and remained on the couch. So. I’m thrilled. but---” “Hi. Relief consumed her as she made her way to the front door just as it was opening. It was only when she heard the sound of keys jingling in the lock that she jumped up. But it wasn’t James walking in with suitcases in tow.laptop. James had decided to come back home. “Anna? What are you doing here?” Vanessa couldn’t hide her confusion. and was about to get cozy on the couch when she heard a knock on the front door. “I mean.” . Aunty. Hardly dressed for visitors. Maybe he fought with his floozy and decided his marriage wasn’t so bad after all. Sorry I didn’t call to let you know I was stopping by. but I figured you'd be at the office.
” . “There's coffee in the pot.” Anna backed up a few steps to take a good look at her aunt. giving her niece's arm a playful squeeze.Vanessa ushered her niece into the house and gave her a warm hug.” “Help yourself. Want some?” “I could use a cup. Vanessa changed the subject. “I decided to take a few days off.” “You? Take time off? Seriously. “Where’s James?” At the mention of his name. Vanessa laughed. I need to go change. what did you do with my aunt?” Anna made an exaggerated gesture of looking around the house. Vanessa felt a lump in her throat. remembering she’d given her a spare set of house keys just in case she needed to escape from her roommates. “He’s out.
” Vanessa said. Vanessa walked up behind her and combed her fingers through the thick brown waves that cascaded down her niece's back. And though she was a bit on the chunky side it didn't seem to deter the boys from chasing her. “Did you buy some new . Anna was beautiful without anyone’s interference and it irked her to think anyone would want to mess with that. Last month she was a blonde. you like it?” She turned around to face her aunt. Vanessa came back into the kitchen to find Anna sitting at the counter with a mug in her hand. “Eddie said this color brings out the green in my eyes.A few minutes later. a red-head. secretly peeved that the new boyfriend wanted to change her appearance at all.” “I like it. The month before. “You've dyed your hair again?” “Yeah. The fair skin she'd inherited from her mother was flawless.
He said it makes me look voluptuous. “I know what you're thinking.” “Oh? What promise?” “That I would teach you to be a confident.” “Yeah.” Vanessa feigned a shocked expression. “You did. “Who said you were allowed to have sex?” Anna’s laughter echoed throughout the kitchen. Eddie helped pick it out. You’ll be happy to know there’s still a few left. Vanessa said.clothes? That's a cute outfit. independent woman.” Anna said with one of her famous eye rolls. I still have that box of condoms you bought me last year.” “Oh please.” . Feeling nostalgic. And yes.” Another strike against Eddie. Eddie is not controlling. I'm always the one who initiates sex. “I made your mom a promise.
” “Good point. As she handed it to her aunt.” Vanessa felt that familiar pang of sadness that materialized whenever the conversation turned to her older sister Karen. no longer around to watch her daughter mature. okay? I .“Did you ever talk so candidly with your mom about sex?” “Of course not. Anna reached into her purse and withdrew an envelope. don’t you wanna find out why I came over this morning?” “But of course. either.” “Just try to keep an open mind. A little early this time around.” Vanessa said. “I guess if you were my daughter I wouldn’t want to hear about the intimate details of your love life. rubbing her hands together in anticipation.” “I'm always flattered that you remember. “Happy Birthday. Anyway. she said.
a bright red feather headdress. I just feel blessed that my only niece has taken time out of her busy schedule to get her aunty a gift.” She took the card out of the envelope. this looks like fun. a sequined dress. I thought you might be getting tired of the same old. wondering what she'd missed. “You’re taking me to a live show? Honey. “Sassy. Learn . boring gifts. complete with fishnet stockings. There was a photo of a woman dressed like an old-time cabaret dancer.decided to go out on a limb this year. and red boa to match. my dear.” “Your gifts are never boring. “Look closer.” Vanessa squinted down at the glossy card in her hand. She cleared her throat and started to read out loud. Classy. Which theater are they performing at?” Anna chuckled while shaking her head. and Brassy: Burlesque for beginners.
it’s going to be a blast. but---” “Before you say no just think about it.” “From Miss Busty Betty? This is a joke. “Doesn’t it look like fun?” “But … what is this?” “It's kind of like dance lessons. We’ll do it together. Vanessa looked up at her niece. trying to control her laughter. Burlesque is making a huge comeback. I signed both of us up.” Confused. really.” Anna covered her mouth with her hands. “Honey. you are so thoughtful. “I don't get it. It's not like we'll be stripping nude or anything.the Art of the striptease from Miss Busty Betty. Women of all ages and sizes .” Vanessa shook her head. My girlfriend Michelle did it with her cousin last year and said it was the coolest thing. right?” “Come on.
Get in touch with your crazy.” “But that’s just it. sexy side. she looks like she can't even breathe in that dress. keep reading. She began speaking in a low.” “I’m telling you right now. and performing for an audience. I will not be caught dead wearing what this woman is wearing. Gloves and boas will be provided.” With a heavy sigh. along with music selection. Come on.” Anna’s voice grew more excited. the art of costuming. sultry voice. “Over the four week course. You need to let loose a little.are doing this to express their inner diva. You’ll see how cool this is. “It’s so out of your comfort zone. I mean. students will learn classic Burlesque moves and techniques. Vanessa looked down at the card again and continued.” Vanessa shook her head and handed the card back to her niece. “Don’t you have a girlfriend . just to humor her niece.
a part of you wants to break free from constantly dealing with the serious side of life. somewhere deep down inside your soul. placed the card on the fridge with a magnet then moved towards her aunt with cautious steps. how did you know about that?” . I hope you can get your money back.” “Well.” Anna got up.” “You’re kidding. right? I think. All I’m asking is that you consider it.who’ll do this with you?” “That's not the point.” Anna’s lower lip protruded. Haven’t you ever wanted to do something a little daring and foolish?” “Not really. If you want Uncle James to come back. “Come on. “And think about this. “Wait a minute.” Vanessa gulped. you’re gonna have to do something drastic to get his attention.
but I'm fine. Did he think I’d be helpless without him? What right does he have to call you. to make sure you’re okay. Shed your pride and feel your emotions.” “It’s not my pride.“Why didn’t you call me? I had to hear it from the little weasel himself.” “What? He … he called you?” “Yesterday. Really. “I’m so sorry.” “How can you be fine? This is devastating news. Anna. I just didn’t want to bother you with this.” “I appreciate your concern. He wants me to keep an eye on you. of course I’m okay. anyway?” Anna stepped closer and wrapped her arms around Vanessa. He told me everything.” “Bother me?” Anna backed up to look into her eyes while reaching out to clasp her hands. .” “Well.
He rambled on about how you two had grown apart because you worked too much.” “What did James say to you? Please don’t tell me he was afraid I’d do something stupid. “Are you on his side?” . At least he was honest about the affair. “Well. isn’t he just the virtuous one.” Vanessa stood back and placed a hand on her hip.” “He thought you’d need someone to talk to. “When?” “After I had things figured out.” “That’s what I’m here for.” Anna inclined her head.“I was going to tell you at some point.” “Well. Did he also mention he’s been having an affair?” Anna lowered her eyes and nodded. did he explain himself?” “I could tell he was embarrassed. To help you figure things out.
He won't talk to me.” “A trip to Bermuda isn’t going to fix it. He said he’s been trying to tell you for months how unhappy he was. I never cared for it. but the way I see it. too? Did he also . you're both equally to blame. “Would you rather I blow sunshine up your ass?” Vanessa cleaned out the filter in the coffee maker. Anna followed.” “He mentioned that.“Absolutely not. You’ve been too busy to notice. She didn't want Anna to see the hurt in her eyes.” “I’ve tried making amends.” Vanessa turned away and walked toward the opposite counter. “Your mother always used that expression. she’d tell you to get off your high horse and start paying attention to the important stuff before it’s too late.” “If she were standing here now.
and I don't think he resents you for it.” Anna took a sip from her mug then placed it on the counter. too. ” “That isn't your fault. avoiding eye-contact. It's about the fact that you’ve completely lost yourself on the . because I can't change the fact that I'm unable to bear children.happen to mention the name of the woman he's staying with?” “He sort of side-stepped that question when I asked.” “Does he blame me for that.” “Did he say anything else?” “Well … he did mention something that was a little encouraging. “He talked about the fact that he's too old to start over.” “What did he mean by that?” “I asked him if he left you for this other woman because he wanted to start a new family? He said he was too old to become a dad now.
He's not going to laugh at you. But I think your wrong.way to becoming a successful business woman.” Anna raised both palms up in front of her in defense. the idea came to me after I talked to him. He still cares about you.” “Look.” “No. He doesn't know.” “I suppose you told him about this Burlesque thing. “I won't apologize for working my ass off to get where I am.” Vanessa couldn't believe the words spoken by her niece. That's why we need to prove to him that you're still that funny. “I heard something in James's voice yesterday.” “Impressed by what? Me prancing around a stage like a deranged circus slut?” . I'll bet he had himself a good laugh over that one. carefree girl he met years ago. He'll be impressed.
Would I let you make a fool of yourself?” Vanessa gave a little shrug. so I'll need to know soon. The class starts next Tuesday. “You are such a bad liar. Was it out of . “I haven't actually agreed to it yet.” Minutes after Anna left.” “Fine. give me a little credit. Eddie and I are going to a movie.“C'mon. Take a day or two and think it over. but I've got things to do around the house. Vanessa was still confused as to why James had decided to call her niece.” Anna shook her head and sighed. Want to join us?” “Thanks for asking.” Anna placed her mug in the sink and gave her aunt a peck on the cheek. “I have to run.
she'd only had a bachelor's degree in marketing and advertising.guilt? Or was he having second thoughts about leaving? She couldn't stand not knowing what his motives were. hiring the right people. She was never free of doubt. But it took every ounce of courage and belief in herself to pull it off. This time his voice mailbox was full. With minimal experience. unlike a business venture. but refused to succumb to it. she took a leap of faith. She couldn't allow it to happen. She couldn't leave a message even if she . When Vanessa had started her company four years prior. The failure of a marriage. and a little luck to build her firm. All the old insecurities came rushing back. She called James's cell phone again. It took years of hard work. is a failure on the most personal level. This thing with James was different.
and made herself presentable. and let her hair fall loose around her shoulders instead of the usual sophisticated french twist. There was one place she could probably find James today. Chapter 4 It was almost noon by the time Vanessa Roth had cleaned the kitchen.wanted to. The temperature outside was near seventy degrees. Birch Street Bistro was located in the historic seaport . She dressed in jeans and a light sweater. taken a shower.
As she approached the downtown area.district of Hanover. streamers. Orange and yellow balloons. She walked passed craft booths selling hideous dried flower arrangements. though Vanessa suspected he spent more time people watching than writing. hand-knitted scarves. white tents. It was then she realized what day it was. The 10th Annual Harvest Fair had begun. Traffic was at a standstill. It was a place he'd go for inspiration. She pulled her car into a side street parking spot and walked toward the center square. the smell of fried dough and french fries wafted out of the grungy little trailers. it became apparent there was some kind of festival in the works. and thousands of people. and . She could picture him sitting at one of the outdoor tables with his coffee. As she made her way through the crowd toward the cafe.
none of which distracted her from her mission. to no avail. She and James could have been one of these families enjoying the festivities. He didn't seem the least bit sorry for the inconvenience as he scampered away. nearly out of breath from dodging the masses. . dumping half of his ice-cream cone on the sleeve of her sweater. plowing her way through the hordes with determination. She searched every nook and cranny of the place.blown-glass jewelry. Vanessa continued on. Every table was occupied. She shook the ice cream off her sweater. She finally made it to the entrance of the cafe. Serves him right. Would it be too much to ask for a little walking space? She almost yelled at a kid who accidentally bumped into her. had her womb been healthy enough. all the while trying to swallow the bitterness she felt. both inside and out.
Just the thought of the two of them together made her feel like a complete fool. She spent the remainder of the day driving around town then went to the beach and parked. She let the wind make a complete mess of her hair as she sat on a rock and stared out to sea. She'd never known such isolation. How could James do this to her after all the years she'd supporting him financially? By the time Vanessa pulled into her driveway it was almost dark. And he was probably with that woman. miles from this zoo. Dog walkers and shell collectors were her only companions on an otherwise deserted beach. She had to get the hell out of there. quiet lunch elsewhere.He was probably having a nice. She stayed in her car and gazed out the window at her neighbor’s house. The Norton's were a young couple she'd only met once at their .
The scene tugged on Vanessa’s heart strings as the names she and James had chosen for their own daughter came flooding back. A daughter they would never have. All the pain from five years past . Vanessa decided to focus on her career and never look back— until now.annual Christmas party. but the final news that Vanessa had developed endometriosis ended the dream. Spending time around them would have been too painful. suggesting the room belonged to the little girl. The first two miscarriages were devastating. They seemed like a nice normal couple and might have become wonderful friends had it not been for the fact that they had a beautiful daughter who was almost three. Bright pink wallpaper glowed like a carnival. After a year of mourning. The light was on in one of the upstairs rooms.
Frankie pointed her chopstick to an unopened container.resurfaced as Vanessa pounded the steering wheel with both fists—again and again until the tears started flowing down her cheeks. He entered to find his roommate Frankie and her boyfriend Adam sitting at the small dining room table. “You're back just in time. white take-out boxes before them.” . Have a seat and grab some chow. Chapter 5 The first thing Corey noticed as he ascended the stairs to his apartment was the smell of Chinese food.
” “See?” Frankie said to Adam.” Corey replied.” “Rough day at the office?” Adam taunted while spearing a chunk of chicken with the pointed end of his chopstick. let alone working there. I’d never be caught dead wearing those clothes. “I've been tweaking my portfolio.” “Give me a break. “Thanks. “That place is for queers. Unlike you're sorry ass. “Frankie mentioned you were supposed to start this week?” Adam’s laugh permeated the small kitchen.” Adam retorted. “No work today.” . but I’ll pass. “Why can't you be more like him? Corey here actually has ambition.Corey made a face. “Don't you remember all the job interviews I've been going to?” “What happened to Banana Republic?” Corey asked.
” Adam took a huge slug of beer. part-time job where he has to kiss ass to get paid minimum wage. right?” “Whatever. “You should try to get a piece . He turned to Frankie and glared.” Corey said. come on.” Corey waited until he heard Adam’s footsteps going down the stairway. “Are you actually serious about this guy? You know you can do better.” she teased.” Frankie sat with her arms folded over her chest. “I’m going down the street for some smokes. Be back in a few. wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. “It’s a paycheck. “But it’s okay for me to kiss ass?” “I thought you liked your boss’s ass. revealing the large snake tattoo around her bicep. He just doesn’t want to settle for some crappy.“I like their clothing. and stood up. right?” “Oh.
He could tolerate his potty-mouthed roommate because she was a good soul.” “Don't change the subject. and neglected to flush.” Corey let out an exasperated sigh.of that. Corey had disliked Adam from the minute the guy waltzed into their apartment. but her boyfriend was a different story. Meanwhile. I have to work to pay the bills. Is that fair?” Frankie shrugged.” “Why do you always fall for losers?” . Adam gets to hang out and play video games all day while you support him. proceeded to take a huge dump in the toilet. “Maybe. “What am I supposed to do? He has nowhere else to go. “Do you love him?” Frankie shrugged as she looked away. And he can’t go back to live with his dickhead dad.
“You can’t move out. facial piercings —but he'd seen through the facade. He'd always had a soft spot in his heart for Frankie. She was like the younger sister he'd never had. “What would I do without you?” Corey softened when he saw the panic in her eyes. Charming.“Okay. so he's not Mr.” “And that's what I'm getting at. It was all part of her defense to keep people at . “Because he's always here.” she pleaded. Most people judged her for the way she looked —jet black hair. tattoos.” Frankie shook her head so hard her nose ring almost came loose. “If he doesn’t start contributing to the bills.” “How do you know?” She gaped at him.” Corey said. but at least he doesn't cheat on me. I might have to find another place to live.
” “Okay. I resent the fact he’s living here. he knew Adam had finally returned. I need to be able to come home and relax. “I’ll talk to him.” he said. Through the paper thin walls of the apartment. thinking his little talk with Frankie hadn't done much good. Corey lay on his bed with his laptop. but this is crazy. You can never talk sense to a woman in love. The faint scent of cigarette smoke almost made him gag. “Okay. “But something needs to change. .arms length. “Hey. thanks.” After a quick shower. I don’t like giving ultimatums. eating our food.” Frankie held up a firm hand. and leaving his junk all over---” “I get it. Aren’t you gonna eat something?” “Maybe later. giving her a weary smile as he got up and made his way to his bedroom.” he said.
He looked up from his laptop and waited. He's a total loser. I get it.” “Like I said. whatever.” . he jumped out of bed and scrambled to the kitchen “Frankie? What happened?” “That asshole. “What did he do?” “I told him he should take that job at Banana Republic. When he heard the slamming door.” She ran over to the window and looked down. If he doesn't kill himself first. He got totally defensive about it and stormed off like a pussy. “And he's actually getting in his truck to drive after four beers. Corey heard an explosion of profanity and shrieking coming from the kitchen.A few minutes later. I could could kill him.” Corey didn't want to sound like a broken record so he refrained from saying more. “Yeah.” she shouted.
” His tone was curt. He threw the leftovers in the trash and piled the dishes in the sink. “What can I . but polite.” Corey felt his cell phone vibrating in his pocket. Why would she be calling him at eight o'clock at night on a Saturday? He hesitated. He almost didn’t answer.D. I told him not to come back till he gets his shit together. Vanessa. indicated it was his boss Vanessa. The caller I. “You know he’s coming back tonight. wondering if there was something important he’d forgotten to do at the office the day before.“What are you gonna do?” “I don’t know… let him sulk for a while.” Corey started cleaning up the kitchen—the Chinese food was starting to stink. “Good evening.” “Good for you. He was pretty pissed. don’t you?” “Doubt it.
. “Okay. Corey. “What do you need.” He disconnected the call before she had a chance to thank him. exactly. Vanessa?” “See you at my house in half an hour? You know the address. “I need to meet with you. I’ll be there as soon as I can. This was serious.” He waited for a more elaborate response knowing her nature was to get right to the point. his boss might not be open to the promotion he was planning to ask for.do for you?” “Hi.” “Tonight?” “It’s … important. Tonight.” Not sure how to respond. If he declined. Corey rubbed the side of his head.” There was something in her voice. “Is something wrong?” he prodded.
“I can’t believe you’re actually going.” Corey looked back and smiled.Apparently. I hate how she takes advantage of you. “I hear Banana Republic has an opening. drawing out the last word.” . “What do you think?” “How dare she call you into work on a Saturday night? What could be so damn important? What if you were on a hot date?” “Apparently she knows me better than that. Frankie had heard his brief conversation.” Frankie made a tight face when she saw Corey reach for his jacket. “What would you have me do?” “Tell her to screw off.” “And when she fires me?” Frankie gave a slight shrug. “Was that her?” She asked.
wrapped in a large cashmere scarf. She breathed deep. They’d sip wine for hours on the deck while making plans to build a jungle gym for their future children. nursing her third glass of red wine. The scent of a wood fire hung in the air. James was never particularly good with power tools. It reminded her of the early days with James. so they’d agreed to hire a contractor to build the .Chapter 6 Vanessa waited on the back deck. letting the smoky aroma fill her lungs.
Snapping her fingers wasn’t going to bring James back. playing children an inaccessible and distant reverie. But not knowing where he was staying or who he was with—she could barely stand it. . she wouldn’t be sitting alone. The quiet solitude served only to amplify her feelings of isolation. “I'm over here on the deck. Maybe nothing would. If she’d taken more time over the past few years to nurture what few friends she’d had. The backyard seemed eerily empty this evening--the shattered dreams of laughing.” she called out.playground. She turned her head to see him standing by the fence. “Vanessa?” The sound of Corey’s voice caused her to jump.
I’m all ears. but it was too late to back out now. most likely due to the alcohol. “I’m fine. “Can I get you a glass of wine?” He remained upright. It was time to get down to business.” Vanessa motioned to one of the chairs next to her. “Corey. The expression on his face—a mixture of frustration and confusion—made her regret the decision to ask him over. I have a special assignment for you. “No thanks.” “Assignment?” He leaned back against the railing.Dry leaves crunched under the weight of his steps as he approached. “It’s a personal .” Vanessa stalled as she considered how ridiculous her plan might sound to him. “Okay. “Come.” Vanessa sensed his impatience.” “How about a beer?” He shook his head. Her brain wasn’t functioning properly. Have a seat.
she decided to go ahead and blurt it out. Vanessa laughed. “Well … I need to hire you to spy on my husband.” He waited.” *** Corey waited for her words to sink in. but could you hear me out before you say no?” Was she crazy? Drunk? How many glasses of wine had she put away? “What do you need me to do?” . “You want me to spy on your husband? Why?” “I know it sounds absurd. At the risk of sounding desperate and foolish.favor.
but felt a pang of sympathy when he noticed her lower lip trembling. If you can get me the name and address of this woman.” Half excited. I’m prepared to make it worth your while. Corey said.” “But I trust you. I’m sorry about your marriage. but you should hire a private investigator to do this. really. I don't even . I’ll give you two thousand dollars.She hesitated then lowered her eyes. I’ve been giving this some serious thought. “I don’t know. “Two grand?” “And I want pictures.” Corey wasn’t shocked at the news. “Look. “I want to know where he's staying. and who he's staying with. I’m hardly qualified.” She knew how to get his attention. “Oh really?” “Yes. yet equally suspicious.” Corey blinked.
let’s go inside.” She pushed up from the lounge chair and waved a hand. “Come on. It’s getting too cold out here. Vanessa invited him to have a seat at the bar then poured some wine. back perfectly erect with long fingers delicately wrapped around the stem of her wine glass. Dressed casually in a grey sweater and jeans. She sat down next to him. try it. She was attractive in a subdued sort of way. realizing there was no point in declining. by the way.” Once inside. there was still that air of sophistication about her.have a decent camera. motioning for him to follow her. “It’s a 2007. “You have a nice house.” “The quality of the pictures is not a big concern. Vanessa seemed pleased he was enjoying the wine.” he said.” He took a sip and nodded with appreciation. .” “Thanks.
” “You think I’m gay?” “Well. “Must be the wine talking. pointing to her glass. “I hope I didn’t drag you away from something. She’s a good person with extremely bad taste in men. his neck made a popping sound.“I really appreciate you coming over tonight. either way. her name is Frankie. My roommate just had a blowout with her boyfriend so I was glad to get away.” she said. “Excuse me?” “I’m sorry.” “You have a female roommate?” “Yeah.” The blood rushed from his face as he .” “It’s okay. you are.” she said.” “What kind of men do you have a taste for?” Corey whipped his head around so fast. aren’t you? It's no big deal.
so why the sudden interest? He cleared his throat and said. not judging. “I meant it as a compliment. But she was also drunk. It wasn’t every day he could talk so candidly with his boss. “It's complicated. This was not a conversation he should be having with his boss. passionate … these days it’s practically in vogue to be of that persuasion.” Vanessa studied him for a moment as if she were looking through a microscope.tried to compose himself. stylish. Not once had his sexual preference seemed important.” she said with a hint of a smile. . fit.” Corey couldn’t help but laugh this time. She was humoring him. artistic. “I'm not sure what is has to do with the matter at hand. He decided to let his guard down a little and play along. Isn’t it a well-known fact that gay men have a lot going for them? Well groomed.” “I didn’t mean to offend you.
I'm glad we're having this talk. I feel like I should know more about you.” Should he take this opportunity to tell her his plans? What if she wasn't . then continued. Now. “No. “But this is good. Heck. “I’d like to know more about you.” “Are you currently in a relationship?” she asked. so it was easier not to date anyone. Tell me more about yourself. Is there a particular reason you’re asking?” She poured herself another glass of wine. I'm open minded. I've seen you almost every day for two months and I had no idea. “Let's just say.“How so?” How could he explain? He'd known at a young age that he possessed a physical attraction to both genders. living in the grey area was a confusing place to be.” She bit her lip.
which brings me back to the real reason you're here. Vanessa hadn't taken him seriously. Are you going to help me out with spying on James?” Just as he'd expected. being my personal assistant isn’t your lifelong goal?” Was she kidding? “It’s fine for now. I want to be the creative director of an ad agency like yours and I'd really like an opportunity to prove what I can do. and he could really use it to help pay off some credit cards. well. Self absorbed as always.receptive? He swallowed the lump in his throat and decided to go for it. “Okay. “How am I supposed to . It became painfully obvious she had her own agenda this evening. But eventually---” “I should have known you’d have loftier ambitions.” Vanessa stared at him blankly. “So. But she was offering him a large sum of money.
but he never showed up.track him down if you don’t know where he’s staying?” “Does this mean you’ll do it?” He shrugged noncommittally. “Well. He's a writer.” “Wow. I know what you must be thinking. . too. “Look. I made a list of other places he hangs out. I went there yesterday to talk to him. I know that wasn’t fair and I know you didn’t approve. you know?” Corey remained silent. All those times I had you call James to cancel dinners or make excuses for me. but his eyes narrowed. I guess you were pretty sure I'd do this for you. huh?” She paused to take another sip as her shoulders dropped. he goes to Birch Street Bistro for lunch most days and he brings his laptop with him. I just pray it’s not too late.
it might ruin any chance for reconciliation.” Corey could understand why her husband was finally running for the hills.” “Why can't you just tell him that?” “I’ve tried. “But if I do nothing.” “Well. Why was he trying to talk her out of it when he desperately needed the money. He won’t answer my calls.” “Tell me.“What?” she asked. “Never mind.” Corey stopped himself. “Has he mentioned divorce?” . Her control issues were enough to drive anyone crazy. “he might get the idea that I don’t care. maybe you should give the guy some space. If he finds out what we're doing. You can’t treat this like a business transaction. I want to prove to him that I’m willing to fight for this marriage.” Vanessa countered.
He just wouldn’t tell me her name. Did he really want to get involved? Was the two grand worth the hassle? “Look.” Corey rubbed his eyes and sighed. He already told me he’s been having an affair. or where she lives. “But if he finds out what you’re up to it’ll only prove that you don’t trust him. or was he serious?” “At first I thought he was being dramatic.” “It’s not about trust. as I said before.” “So that means you won't help me?” Corey already knew he’d say yes.” The scenario didn’t sound too promising. I don’t know.She nodded. maybe you need to chill out for a while. “Do you think it was an empty threat. Now. but . He might come back all on his own when he’s ready.” “Oh.
accentuating the white trim around the windows and mantel. “Okay. Turning his attention back to the kitchen. He’s a creature of habit. From the kitchen counter. Just like her office. The walls were a rich burgundy color. Plus. he could see into the main living area. good idea. The fireplace looked as if it had never been used. the house was immaculate and sparsely decorated. why try to talk sense with her? She'd just find someone else to do it. when do you want me to start?” “Tomorrow.” When Vanessa disappeared to get the photo. Go to the bistro around lunch time. Would it help if I gave you a recent photo of him?” “Yeah. he noticed the stainless steel Sub- . Bet you anything he'll be there. her furnishings tasteful and obviously expensive.he’d wanted to understand her situation better. Corey took the opportunity to glance around the house again.
Are you going to take Burlesque lessons?” Vanessa gave him a strange look. I guess she thought I'd get a good laugh over it.” She handed him the photo of James and quickly snatched the card from .Zero fridge that could have housed an elephant. sorry. My birthday is next week. It was my niece's idea of a joke gift. “Anyway. He pushed his stool back and walked over to scrutinize a glossy card that caught his eye on the refrigerator door. At first he didn't know what to make of it. “Oh. “Of course not. eyeing the card in his hand. Why would Vanessa have this? “What are you doing?” Vanessa asked. I was just curious. but he decided to keep it to himself.” The thought of her wearing pasties brought a smile to his face.
It'll be fun for you. and I'd also appreciate your discretion where James is concerned. .his hand.” “You don't want another glass of wine?” Corey hesitated.” Vanessa showed him to the front door.” “Why? It would be rude to throw a gift away. Of course. You should do it. “Well. “Don't be ridiculous.” She sputtered a laugh. “I appreciate you coming over.” “Do what?” “The Burlesque thing. I should get going. or was she just being polite? He didn't know how to read her and it irritated him.” “Right. Was her offer genuine.” Corey shrugged it off. Why should he care one way or the other. “I suppose this can go in the trash now. but I have to drive. “Thanks.
“Got it.Nobody needs to know what we're up to. and he wouldn't have lasted a . the economy sucked.” Chapter 7 Frankie checked her cell phone again. The asshole hadn't called to apologize. jobs were hard to find.” Corey zipped up his jacket. right?” “Yep. An hour had passed since their blow-out. He knew how she felt about that shit. Sure. She still couldn't believe he'd driven off after drinking several beers. Maybe he really was a loser.m. It was 8:30 p.
She really admired Corey. That wasn't good. She barely worked thirty hours waiting tables at the diner. Maybe he'd be more relaxed if he got laid once in a while. But if he could at least get off his ass and do something. At least they weren't abusive. She remembered feasting on stale pizza in front of the tube with her brother Seth most nights while the folks partied into the wee hours. She blamed her parents for her lack of direction. Just good old fashioned boozers. Then she thought about her roommate Corey who worked full time and still managed to find the energy to do laundry.day at Banana Republic. Happy drunks until they perished in a car crash . Mom and Dad got shit-faced every weekend while she was growing up. He motivated her to do something more with her life. yet she was exhausted most of the time. He was becoming more uptight. though.
Dumb-ass. Frankie checked her phone again. She needed to forget about him starting now. She had to be at work by 6:00 a. . Her legs wouldn't stop twitching as she lay in bed. already.m. And she'd preach to anyone who'd even think about drinking and driving. put on pajamas. And no more peeking out the window to see if his truck might miraculously appear. Enough worrying about Adam.almost ten years ago. and brushed her teeth with every intention of getting to bed early. She'd made a promise to herself back then to stay sober. the day after high school graduation. realizing the only thing that would calm her down was a smoke. She dried her hair. She sat up. but Adam had taken the last pack with him when he left.
Maybe just one shot would calm her nerves. just happy that Adam was still alive. Without thinking. but for now she'd let her anger go. she'd make him pay dearly. Two bottles of Bud and half a bottle of Jack stared back at her from the bottom shelf. she closed the fridge and ran to the door. She couldn't act so pleased to see him. But when she got to the door. The apartment seemed eerily quiet as she dawdled back to the kitchen and opened the fridge. Sure. she paused with her hand on the knob.She sent a text to Corey. Adams booze. . until she hooked up with Adam. That's when she heard the knock. asking if he'd stop to get some smokes on his way home from his boss's house. Frankie had quit for almost a year. but not tonight. She'd quit again soon.
She had texted him less than thirty minutes ago asking if he'd pick up a pack of cigarettes on his way home. what the hell---” *** At 9:45 p.Wipe the stupid grin off your face Frankie and act pissed. which didn't make sense at all. but something was wrong.m. His roommate's red Honda was gone. Why was he was wearing a ski mask? “Adam. but knew how she was when she didn't . She opened the door wide. He'd never condoned her nasty habit. She couldn't see his face at all. eager to see his glowering face. Corey parked in his designated spot across the street from his apartment building.
He needed sleep. But as he looked around the apartment it became clear that something was very wrong. And then he remembered the card on her fridge and smiled to himself. Maybe Frankie got bombed and took her . It had been a strange evening. Vanessa Roth. CEO of Roth Creative Group. Frankie?” he muttered as he pushed the door wide.have them. “What the heck. The place was trashed. He still wasn't sure what to make of his boss's offer to spy on her husband. Her nervous chatter would keep him up all night. Corey jogged up the three flights to his apartment. He was about to insert his key in the lock when he noticed the door slightly ajar. dressed up as a Burlesque dancer—priceless. His roommate was obviously in a big hurry when she'd left.
even in a state of panic. A low pitiful moan. She'd never drink and drive. “Is that you?” No response. She would have called him. his feet glued to the floor.frustrations out on the furniture before she left. Corey grabbed an umbrella from the . “Frankie?” he called out. He was about to take another step when something caught his eye. Then he heard a sound coming from the bathroom. But that didn't make sense either. like a lame goat. Was that blood? Maybe Frankie had an accident and drove herself to the hospital in a hurry. It would explain why the door was open. But that couldn't be. Someone was there. Before him on the beige carpet was a red spatter about five inches in diameter.
sweetheart. She was barely breathing. Her pajamas were torn to shreds. with ugly blotches covering her arms and legs. An ambulance is on the way. “Oh my God.” he whispered. He dialed 911. Frankie?” His hands trembled as he retrieved the cell phone from his pocket. “Frankie?” he called again and waited. He fought the tears back as he tried to remain strong for her. almost dropping it. leaning over her. He made his way toward the bathroom.coat rack and held it like a javelin as he approached the bathroom door with measured steps. But he wasn't even remotely prepared for what he saw. still clutching his makeshift weapon. Someone had used her for a punching bag. . “Frankie. Her face was already red and swollen. “I'm right here.
You're gonna be okay. His heart was pounding. Corey sat in the chair next to Frankie's bed. But now he wasn't so sure.” Chapter 8 Sunday. looking around the small hospital room. He couldn't stand to see her this way. and his fists clenched with a rage he'd never felt before. and had to turn his attention elsewhere for a few minutes. How could anyone have done this to her? When he'd found her slumped on the bathroom floor the previous night.m. his initial thoughts were that her injuries were due to another fight with Adam. 10:15 a. .
honey. I opened the door and he was wearing a ski mask. She seemed confused.“Corey?” The sound of her groggy voice startled him as he turned his head. “Hey.” She blinked a few times and slowly brought her hand up to her jaw. You're awake. squeezing her . cracked lips. gently placed his hand on her forehead.” She licked her dry. You two had a fight last night. “Where's Adam?” “I don't know.” “Adam was wearing a ski mask?” Frankie turned her head. remember?” “I thought he was coming back to apologize. Frankie peered up at him. “What the fuck happened to me?” He leaned over her. “I was hoping you'd be able to answer that one for me. and smiled.
I … I can't remember much after I got punched in the face. Don't go yet. “Why is my ass so sore? It feels like I got .” “I'm not leaving. “No. Should he tell her the extent of her injuries. He would never hit me. Once the pain meds wore off. Do you want some water?” She nodded and he helped her sit up. “Wait. but they want to keep you for one more day. Corey couldn't imagine what she must be feeling.” She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. or wait until the doctor came in? “The doctor said you're going to be fine.eyes shut. It couldn't have been him. Can I get you anything? Do you want me to get the nurse?” He started to get up but she grabbed his arm. she'd probably come to realize how bad she was beaten.
Will you agree to it so we can catch the animal who did this to you?” “Why did I just open the door like that? Man.stuck with a hot poker. “That's awesome.” “When I found you on the bathroom floor you were---” He bit his lip and turned away.” she said. Do you remember anything else about him. pressing her fist . unable to say the words. I'm such an idiot.” He squeezed her hand and said. The cops say most victims know their attacker. “The bastard raped me. that was so stupid. not masking her sarcasm.” She shook her head.” “You mentioned that the guy was wearing a ski mask. “They'll want to swab for DNA. “I'm so sorry. too?” Corey turned back to face her and nodded.
” “I hope he crashes and dies.. but it's pretty trashed..The cops have an APB out on your vehicle. “Did he steal anything from the apartment?” “Not that I could tell. I .” “The cops questioned our neighbors.” “He has my keys. didn't get a good look at him. Like I said. too. he slammed me before I could do anything. He must have taken your keys because I couldn't find them in the apartment.” She closed her eyes and sighed.” Frankie eased her head back down onto the pillow. Apparently no one saw anything.into her temple.” “He stole your car.” “Figures. maybe I should leave and let you . I'll get the place cleaned up before you come home. “Look.” “I'll have the landlord replace the locks. He could come back. “Not really.
rest. You saved my life.” “Everything's going to be okay.” “Don't you worry about me. I'm sure the . “I have a few errands to run. I'll tell the nurse you're awake. you know. he needed that two grand more than ever. It was almost noon. “Where are you going?” she asked. there was still a chance he could get Vanessa the information she was looking for concerning her husband. If he hurried. “You're my hero. I'll come back around dinner time and help you eat some of this delicious hospital food.” “Don't tell me your boss has you working Sundays now. And in light of Frankie's condition. looking at his watch. He pushed himself up from the chair.” She opened her eyes and offered a smile while clasping his hand.” he said. I need you to focus on getting better.
hospital staff with treat you well. Her Sunday was slipping away.” she said. “I don't think the doctor is going to allow you to smoke here. and she . Is there anything I can bring when I come back?” “Hell yeah. I'll smoke in the bathroom. feeling sorry for herself.” Chapter 9 Vanessa Roth was tired of moping around the house.” “Then I'll pretend I'm back in high school. “Did you happen to get those smokes for me last night?” Corey folded his arms over his chest.
She'd played rhythm guitar in a band called The Domino Effect. As she slid the boxes out of the way.hadn't accomplished a thing. It was wedged behind a stack of boxes. the contents of which were a mystery. She found a newspaper clipping about the talent show she'd participated in as a senior in high school. so she decided to go up into the attic to find her old guitar. she folded back the flap of one of them and peeked inside. She discovered a collection of old photographs and yearbooks from high school. She picked up and leafed through a stack of snapshots and became officially sidetracked. Vanessa barely recognized herself in the photo and cringed at the outfit. She took . They'd won first place covering a song by Pat Benatar. Gotta love that eighties style: permed hair and parachute pants. The musty scent of mildewing paper made her sinuses itch.
better hair. She couldn't remember a happier time in her life.solace in the fact that the rest of the band looked just as bad. She'd taught herself to play guitar by learning simple chords and had progressed from there. She wondered what became of her old friends. But those days were long gone. Vanessa had been painfully average in academics and sports so she'd honed in on her creative side. And thankfully. Music had always moved her. She was a different person now with different goals and plenty of money in the bank. Was she happy with this new life? Did success bring the satisfaction she'd hoped for? Did any of that success matter if she didn't have James? She let herself become distracted with . It wasn't long after that the band had come together.
Why had she held on to these items for so long? She closed the box and shoved them away. Right before she had the miscarriage.the other boxes. But the most priceless of the collection was a set of Bill Clinton oven mitts. like the hand-painted Santa figurine that also played music. she couldn't help but think back to that moment nine years ago. James showed up as a . She had attended a Halloween party hosted by a mutual friend and had dressed as a cowgirl. Holding it in her hand. She then spotted a hideous framed photograph of she and James taken on the night they first met. The next box was filled with wedding presents they'd never had a use for. Or the Praise Jesus night lamp. Vanessa had been saving these items just in case a white elephant party happened to come up. One of them contained baby clothes purchased in haste when Vanessa was only three months pregnant.
escorting her to The Phantom of the Opera in Boston. Two weeks later he kept his promise. Vanessa felt deflated as she tossed the . he'd offered to take her to a quiet diner down the street where they talked for hours over stale coffee and glazed donuts. attentive. A year after that they were married and already trying to get pregnant.zombie. Six months later. His face lit up when he talked about books and theater. That very night she'd known he was the guy for her. followed by dinner and drinks. After a few glasses of rum punch. something she'd never done before. James was intelligent. He'd offered to take her to a Broadway show. they'd moved in together. and laughed easily. Vanessa smiled as she remembered how neither of them really wanted to be at that party.
picked up the guitar case. It was already getting close to dinner. She strummed a C chord. Now. Where did James keep all those take-out menu's? She searched several drawers and found a whole stack. Why was she wasting her precious time feeling nostalgic over distant memories of James? She should be looking toward the future. she took the guitar out and checked the strings. She dusted herself off . and wasn't sure whether or not James would be part of it. Greek. With twenty minutes to wait. and went back downstairs. if only she could remember some songs. . Chinese. she tightened the strings and after a few minutes the tuning was perfect. One by one.frame back into the box and sealed it up. it sounded awful. Italian? A Greek salad would hit the spot. She called and placed an order for delivery.
I didn't hear the phone.The doorbell rang and Vanessa raised her head.” “I have the information you wanted. It was Corey. not at all. “Already?” “James was at the Bistro today. He bought some . She placed the guitar on the couch and peered out the side window.” “I called and left a message. Vanessa held her breath as she opened the door to let him in. I wasn't expecting you. You didn't get it?” “Maybe you called while I was up in the attic.” “Is this a bad time?” “No.” he said. He left there around one-fifteen and I followed him to a flower shop. It had been less than five minutes since she'd ordered the food. Deep wrinkles creased his forehead. “What a surprise.
The image showed James standing in front of a woman with curly blonde hair.roses then drove to a house across town. Vanessa couldn't move.” Corey said.” “And her name?” He nodded. I guess I owe you some . I got a few shots with my cell phone.” She looked up and tried to focus on Corey's face. Did she really want to see a photo of this woman? “You have her address?” “Yes. He grabbed her arm.” Corey held out the device. “This must be hard for you. I'm fine. “I'm sorry. A woman met him at the door. “Are you going to be okay?” “Yes.” Vanessa's heart dropped. but she felt dizzy. “Why don't you just look at the photo.
“I guess she's your ex-lawyer now. She was way too . just found out.” Vanessa tried to compose herself as she smoothed out the non-existent wrinkles in her sweater.money. but all she wanted was for Corey to leave. “About her and James?” “Did I have any idea that my lawyer was fucking my husband? Nope. She's a liar and a thief.” “What do you mean?” “She gave me some story the other day about going off to join some non-profit group. She even referred me to some other attorney. “It all makes sense now why she dropped me as a client. I should have sensed something was going on with her. He lowered his eyes.” Vanessa regretted her sarcastic outburst.” “Did you have any idea?” he asked.
“Hmm. she was my attorney for the business. Technically. but she had a few checks tucked in a drawer. “Here you go. handing him the check. “I guess I'll write you a check.” She liked his thought process. This will really help Frankie. She could hardly read her own handwriting. Maybe. “Thanks.” “Who?” . When she returned to the sitting room.” she said.” “Isn't there a law against it? Maybe you could get her disbarred. Her accountant usually took care of the bills.friendly that day. her vision blurry from the tears building in her eyes.” Vanessa handed his phone back and made her way to her home office.” “What now?” he asked. just in case. Corey was massaging his forehead.
” “Does she have any family in the area who can help out?” “I think her brother Seth lives in Montana now. He's quite unreliable according to Frankie.” “Thanks.” Vanessa was sorry to hear about his friend.” . but he hasn't called back. remember?” “Oh. “If there's anything I can do to help. Won't be able to go back to work for a week or so.“My roommate. or maybe Vermont. but it was all she could do to deal with her own mounting despair. but decided to tell her. Is she in trouble?” Corey hesitated at first. He moves around a lot. I called him this morning. Right. She's pretty banged up. I owe you one. I'm headed back to the hospital now. “She was attacked last night in our apartment. I told her I'd get back as soon as I could.
“By the way. “Anyway. It would be so much easier to hate her if .“I see. sure.” he said. “when you get a minute can you e-mail me that photo on your cell.” Less than a minute later. and nearly choked as she forced it down. she closed the door and sat at the kitchen table staring at the salad. She took one bite of the feta cheese. the delivery car for Spartan Deli pulled up. tried to swallow. This wasn't going to work. After paying for the food. heading for the door. You paid for it.” Vanessa didn't know what else to say as her lower lip twitched.” “Um.” she said. The image of James with Wendy Wiener was hard enough to digest. I guess I'll see you at the office next week. She wrapped the meal up and threw it in the fridge.
The letter she planned to write would certainly get the job done. conniving. but Wendy was an intelligent girl. However.she were some ditz. backstabbing. Chapter 10 Corey Burns dreaded going back to the apartment. the . The blood boiled in Vanessa's veins as her thoughts revolved around one thing: revenge. there were better words to describe that woman. When he walked through the door and saw the wreckage. immoral. As he had suspected. his chest tightened.
fingerprint dust left a nasty blackish residue on the furniture and carpets. Not once in the two years he'd lived there had there been any crime. The authorities handling the case were stymied. But his heart plummeted when he walked into the bathroom and saw the dried blood smeared on the tile floor. his mind couldn't comprehend that someone could do such a thing. The apartment building was obviously lacking proper security. They had nothing more than theories. the predominant one being that . When he'd first seen Frankie on the floor. either. This wasn't the nicest neighborhood in Hanover. The memories of that night all came rushing back. but it wasn't a slum. A chill ran up his spine as he considered the ramifications of a rapist being on the loose.
an exboyfriend. Corey needed a shower and a shave.Frankie knew her attacker. Her left eye was black . But Corey knew better. leaning over a tray of what appeared to be meatloaf and mashed. perhaps. it was almost six. “How are you feeling?” he asked. she would have beat the shit out of him before he had any chance to rape her. and the other to their landlord requesting the locks be changed. Frankie was sitting up in the bed. trying to sound chipper. There were two calls he needed to make: one to Merry Maids Cleaning Service. but didn't want to disturb the crime scene in case the cops needed to come back. By the time he got back to the hospital. If Frankie had an ex-boyfriend stalking her. He filled his backpack with toiletries and headed out.
Frankie looked up and set down her fork.and blue. the DNA collector—I've barely had a chance to take a piss. That fucker could be in Mexico by then. Did they happen to get a match on the DNA?” “Are you kidding? They said it could take a few days for the results to come back. the other side of her face red and swollen.” “So I take it they haven't found your car. either. the rape counselor. Want some?” “You enjoy it. Have you talked to the doctor?” “I've been talking to a lot of people since you left. This stuff ain't so bad. “I'm okay.” “Like I give a shit about that piece of .” “Busy girl. a police officer. The doctor.
” . I have some good news. Or better yet.” “Are you planning to go on a date later tonight?” “No. It just itches if I don't shave for a day. “I do?” Frankie burst out laughing. “that reminds me. too. I hope he drives the thing right into a tree.” Corey rubbed the stubble on his chin.junk.” Corey stiffened.” Frankie said. You're like the poster boy for Irish Spring. do you think the hospital staff would mind if I took a shower in your bathroom?” “Go ahead. drives it off a bridge.” “Anyway. “I need to shave. You stink pretty bad. You couldn't stink even if you tried. It's worth way less than the deductible on my insurance. “Hell no.” “Hey.
Corey. extremely hot. Eric is available and looking.” he said. And did I happen to mention. “You're trying to fix me up with the nurse? That's the good news?” “Hello? You need to get some action and I'm serving it to you on a silver hospital tray. slumping into the nearby chair. He just came on shift an hour ago and should be back in to check on me soon. but no thanks.” “Stop being such a cock tease.” “Yeah. don't tell me. Wait till you see him. His name is Eric.” . “I need some good news.” “And how would you know he's single? Wait. so?” “He's perfect for you.” Corey closed his eyes and sighed.” “I appreciate the thought. What is it?” “I have a male nurse.“Finally.
“Fine. It's much more fun and rewarding. You know gay men are drawn to me. but the truth was grim.” “Anyway. okay?” Frankie smiled. you can introduce us. he didn't need that distraction.” There was no point in arguing the notion. He was tickled that his friend cared so much about his sexual needs. I'd rather spend my time helping you get laid. bringing her hand up to lightly touch her . so just put your bow and arrow away. cupid. But then you have to stay out of it.” “Why? It does me no good to lay here wallowing in self pity. knowing Frankie like he did. However.“Of course we hit it off immediately. she'd never give up. You need to focus on yourself right now. His sexual appetite had been non-existent. I'm not interested. Besides. but then winced.
“Now let me finish dinner. Stinky.” Chapter 11 Vanessa Roth spent most of her Sunday . Go take that shower.” “Don't take too long.face. “Ouch.” “Thanks. Mr. “Eric will be bringing my desert pretty soon. Don't make me smile. too.” She picked up her fork and dug into the meatloaf.” Frankie said. It hurts. I'll be out in a few minutes. I'm sure he won't mind bringing an extra treat for you.
or answer to the board of ethics and risk disbarment. she'd leave the letter with the secretary. Once it was printed. she read it several more times before folding it into an envelope. If not. Vanessa might get a chance to see the wench bag face to face. she was exhausted and hungry. Blackmail for dummies.evening finishing the letter to the cheating bitch who used to be her lawyer. Who knew planning revenge could take so much energy. At least she was giving Wendy a choice: voluntarily end the relationship with James. Wendy Wiener was about to feel the wrath of her fury. along with a copy of the photo taken from Corey's cell phone. She would deliver the letter to Wendy Wiener's office first thing in the morning. By seven-thirty. The Greek salad wilting in her fridge .
A large crowd of rowdy football fans were glued to a wide screen T.seemed insufficient nourishment after the night she'd had. fat cheeseburger and a pitcher of sangria—now that was the perfect remedy to soothe a wounded soul. her niece arrived. She had just the place in mind as she dialed Anna's number. A big.V. looking . With all the ruckus. at the far end of the bar. Vanessa decided to grab a booth in the less noisy dining area to wait for Anna. Minutes later. *** Big Joe's Bar and Grille was busy for a Sunday evening. hoping she'd be available to meet for a late dinner.
Medium rare. “What? Can't I ask my favorite niece to dinner without some kind of ulterior motive?” She laughed. Have you ordered already? “Yeah. I ordered your favorite. wool peacoat.” . Veggie burger with swiss cheese.” “Very funny. so spit it out. “Uh oh. “I know you don't want to bother me with your problems.” “I know the woman James is sleeping with. is something is on your mind? What's up?” Vanessa gave her an innocent look. What happened today?” “Promise you won't be upset with me?” Anna tilted her head to the side. She slid into the booth across from Vanessa. “Sorry I'm late. Aunty. So.as cute as ever in a red. but that's what I'm here for.
unless of course. is it?” Anna said. She won't get away with this. “What she really broke was your heart.” “Yeah well. “No way.” Anna leaned back with arms crossed over her chest.” “Yes. but it'll make me feel . too.” “Is it really worth it? Do you think getting her in trouble will bring James back?” “I don't know. “Did you hire a private eye?” “It doesn't matter.” Anna's eyes grew wide. she comes to her senses.” “What are you planning?” “To report her. way. She broke the law. I've set the wheels in motion. that.“Who is she?” “My lawyer.” “But that's not really the point here. I have proof.
” “What are you getting at here?” “Maybe you should consider a few things before you stir up a shit storm with this lawyer. because once you start this war the casualties incurred may not be worth it. do you love him? Is he your soul mate? Would you die for him?” Vanessa laughed. “That's a little dramatic.” “Maybe at first. “Are you suggesting I let this go?” “Let me ask you this.” Vanessa slumped down in her seat feeling utterly defeated. Do you really love James?” “What a silly question.” “Seriously.” Vanessa sighed. but not in the long run.” “It's about being brutally honest with yourself. “How the hell did .better.
Is that .” “You know.” Vanessa laughed. In fact. “What do you plan to do with your week off?” “I'm playing the guitar again. She told me you never seemed to care about all that girly stuff. she said you never dated much. young lady? I feel like I'm being scolded by a person twice my age. What kind of songs are you learning?” Vanessa shrugged.” “It's just common sense.” Her face lit up.” “So.” “She did? I never knew she cared. “A rare commodity these days. “Older stuff you wouldn't be familiar with.” “I know. “Good for you.you become so insightful. mom used to tell me stories of your band days back in high school.” Anna tapped her pink lacquered fingernails on the table. She was too busy pretending to be Madonna.
” “Those are kind words.” . James appreciated my other qualities.true?” “Boys always noticed Karen. Either that. Like I said. but he was the first serious one. I think after the miscarriages my priorities changed. He loved that I didn't spend hours fussing with my hair before a date. You're beautiful.” “But your not a plain Jane.” “Was uncle James your first true love?” “I had other boyfriends.” “So what happened to you guys over the years? Why did you lose interest in him?” “It's not that I lost interest. He didn't seem to care that I was a plain Jane. and he couldn't let go of the original dream we'd created. or he resented me for being more successful than he was. Aunty. but you don't have to say that.
Aunty. “Yes. Don't try to avoid this one. “Only twenty.The waitress arrived with their order. huh? Could have fooled me. “Did you forget? I can't drink that sangria.” Vanessa poured herself a drink. but when the check finally arrived. “Wow. When the waitress disappeared. Have you been giving some thought to your birthday gift?” Vanessa made a mock gesture of looking at her watch. “So. Anna smiled across the table. a ginger ale for me. “Can I get you ladies anything else?” she asked.” Anna said. I'm only twenty. I need an answer tonight.” “Ha ha. Will you take the burlesque lessons with me or not?” . It's getting late. Anna asked the question Vanessa had hoped to avoid. look at the time. please.” Little was said as they ate.
I just had a bad dream. How are you . She blinked a few times then saw his face hovering over her like that of a concerned father. took a gulp of air. and called out.” Chapter 12 Frankie opened her eyes. She couldn't do that. but all of them would involve lying to her niece. I'll do it. I give up. “Corey?” Her voice sounded gargled. “There you are.” he said. Anna. Where the hell am I?” “You're in the hospital.There were so many excuses Vanessa could have come up with. “Okay. “Corey?” “I'm right here.
” “What?” She licked her dry lips. “Really? Did you get any sleep at all?” “A little. I called the cleaning people. Anyway. She rubbed her eyes then looked up again.” “What kind of meds did they give me last night? Knocked me out. “Morning? What time is it?” “Almost eight on Monday. .” “Good one. That was some good shit. “Why are you here so early?” “I spent the night in that recliner. the apartment is still trashed.” Frankie lifted her head slightly to look.” “Percocet.” “So why'd you spend the night here?” “Because I love sleeping on stiff recliners?” She cracked a smile.feeling this morning?” he asked. “You like sleeping on stiff anything.
The only thing she recalled was the black face mask. was I naked when you found me?” “Why do you ask?” “I don't know. My ass is . There were bits and pieces coming together.” She shook her head. Just curious. but it was still a jumbled mess in her mind. “So. It would help if you could remember any details about him. the place is pretty bad.” “God. Have they caught him yet?” “They're working on it.They can't get there for another three or four days.” “No biggie. I can clean when I go home today. I still can't believe this happened. it must have been quite a sight.” “You're in no condition to do any such thing. I don't even want to touch it. Plus. I mean.
“Well. I am getting tired of all the pampering. I hope it didn't freak you out too much.” Before Frankie had a chance to respond. . “For the record.” “Good. On a different note. A few seconds later. “That's why I love you. you're ass is the perfect size. man. “I won't respond to that.” She tried to smile but it still hurt. You lie to me with such flair that I almost believe you. along with her ass. Corey left the room. I can see the nurse is getting ready to come in.” Corey laughed and squeezed her leg. I'm heading down to the cafeteria for some coffee. In that case. but she was getting antsy. do you think you're ready to leave the hospital today?” Her head was still very sore. It's not like I'm dying over here.” Corey shook his head.pretty massive these days.
” “Dear God. wearing his sexy blue scrubs. to tell you the truth. And you?” “Long night.” “So.” “Trust me. “Everyone's attracted to you. what do you think of my friend Corey?” Eric bit his lower lip. he doesn't seem all that interested. “How's my girl doing today?” “Peachy.” .Eric waltzed in.” Frankie said. I have a few more hours to go on this shift.” “Maybe he's just not attracted to me.” he said. trying not to smile. “He seems nice. “Good morning.” Eric wrapped the blood pressure blanket over her arm and proceeded to pump the little doodad.” “Well. You need to make the first move. anything but nice. “Are you sure he's into guys?” “He's shy.
She was putting on a good face now. but he had to figure out what to do about Frankie. Sure.Eric's cheeks turned pink as he diverted his attention to the monitor. It felt strange to be lounging around a hospital cafeteria on a Monday morning. “I've been told my ass is perfect. but it would also help if she could remember something . “Look at that. but sooner or later she'd have to deal with reality.” “That's good. ignorance was bliss.” she said. Would her memory return once they were back in the apartment? It was a double-edged sword.” *** Corey sipped his coffee. You're blood pressure is almost perfect. too.
Vanessa. it had been the easiest two grand he'd made in his life. His thoughts wandered and ended up on his boss. and disorderly conduct. Or was it? What was she planning to do with the picture he took on his cell phone? Would he be dragged through a messy divorce as a witness? On the plus side. In fact. he'd even enjoyed the challenge. How was she handling the situation with the lawyer screwing her husband? Oh well. . big-time. her brother had been in and out of jail the past ten years for various petty crimes: shoplifting. Time to focus. But what he hadn't enjoyed was the look on Vanessa's face when she saw the image on his phone. it was none of his business. He called Frankie's brother Seth again.about her attacker. That sucked. According to Frankie. drugs.
Corey Burns.He abused drugs and alcohol. Corey then called Frankie's best friend Tina who also worked at the diner. Seth had called her exactly three times. kids screaming in the background. Each phone call was to ask for money. could never hold down a job. In the two years since he'd known Frankie.” . this time stressing the urgency. each from different dead-beat fathers. She was a young mother of two little brats. at the very least. His sister needed him. but she seemed like a sweet kid who did the best she could. Corey figured her brother owed her a visit. and was prone to depression. He left another message. She answered on the second ring. “Tina? This is Frankie's roommate. And each time she'd sent him whatever she could afford.
Corey stalled for a few seconds then said. and the sound of screaming kids became muffled.“Oh. What's up?” “Look. “She was attacked last night in the apartment. something has happened.” “Holy shit. okay. Do you know of anyone who's been . In the meantime I thought I'd try to figure out if her attacker was someone she knew.” There were a few rustling sounds. but she's gonna be fine. Do you have a minute to talk?” “Uh. “Is Frankie okay?” she asked. Did they catch the guy?” “Not yet. She's in the hospital now. She doesn't remember much.” “What? Oh my God. hi. Only that the guy was wearing a ski mask. We're waiting to get the DNA results back. What happened? Was she raped?” “Unfortunately. a door closed.
I think it's like Mendez. His name is Carlos. He kinda has a crush on Frankie. Tina. I'll keep you posted. there's this dishwasher. or something Mexican like that. I mean. she won't get much sleep.” “What's his last name?” “Uh. Is there a chance she might be able to bunk with you for a few nights?” “Oh yeah. thanks.” “Wait a sec. but I have a feeling she might freak out once I get her back to the apartment.” “Okay. I mean. Look. sure. she's getting out of the hospital later today. I don't think he's the type that would hurt anyone. but he's not a creep. The guy who attacked her .” “Thanks.obsessed with Frankie? Maybe someone from the diner?” “Not really. but she's welcome to crash here anytime.
why would he be so stupid as to take her car?” “Shit. he retrieved a card from his wallet and dialed the number of Detective Dan Slater. right? They should be able to catch the fucker if he's driving her car.. did he steal anything from the apartment?” “Yeah..” When Corey ended the call.” “Let's hope so. her keys and her car. The cops must be looking for him. man. If he intended to rape her. Chapter 13 . but we're not sure why. thinking he might want to question that dishwasher.. Carlos Mendez.
“What is burlesque?” she asked the class. Thus. The headmistress. arms stretched out as if she were about to orchestrate a symphony. .” Vanessa slumped in her chair. Miss Busty Betty—who was a spitting image of the Betty Boop caricature—stood in front of them wearing an obnoxious outfit. “Burlesque in the early 1800's actually started as a comedy act where the performers would mock famous politicians of the day. convinced the whole thing was just an excuse to dress like whores. The women sitting around Vanessa actually seemed enthusiastic about the whole silly affair. the striptease was born. It wasn't until the turn of the century that burlesque became more about the female form.It was night one of burlesque lessons.
The thought brought a smile to her face. “Fine. “But I'm starting to regret it. The women seated around her were an eclectic mix.” Anna whispered. stylish. Aunty. face forward.” Vanessa obeyed. Young. sitting up straight.“Jeez. frumpy.” Miss Busty Betty would have made a great prostitute in her younger years. yet they all seemed engrossed in what the . poking her arm. old. “Pay attention. Vanessa wondered what would happen if she marched up there and plucked one of her fake eye-lashes off.” Anna brought her index finger to her lips. like a reticent Catholic school student. Thirties. “Could you at least try to act interested?” “I'm here.” “Shhh. or maybe forties. aren't I?” Vanessa hissed back. It was hard to tell how old she really was with all that makeup on.
“What?” “You're starting to embarrass me. She turned to look at her. there are various stages of undress. drama. She felt the eyes of her niece boring a hole on the side of her face. but Vanessa remained apathetic. but I encourage my students to be open-minded. confidence.” she said under her breath.headmistress was ranting about.” There was giggling and whispering. You can. . fake. “a hint of naughtiness. body language.” Busty Betty effected the most annoying.” she paused for effect. Burlesque is about elegance. “Most of you are probably wondering if you will be expected to strip nude? The answer is no. and. Depending on your comfort level. of course. high-pitched voice. choose more modest outfits. Who were these women? Why were they here? “Now.
I'm relaxing. and say a few things about why you were interested in taking this class. “Before we start our first lesson today. okay. “This could be fun if you'd just relax.“Embarrass you?” Anna rolled her eyes. “Oh.” the headmistress continued in her theatrical tone. I wanted to take this class so I could feel . “I'd like to take a few minutes and have each of you stand up. I'm twenty-three. sweetheart. My name is Grace.” Busty Betty pointed to the young woman seated to the far left and all heads turned in that direction. hi. Okay? Let's start with you.” “Okay. Please try. and I'm a hair-stylist.” Vanessa shook her arms out. The girl seemed instantly nervous by the deer in the headlights look she produced. just to prove she was making an effort. introduce yourselves. um.
everyone.” Everyone clapped. My name is Andrea. Burlesque teaches all of us to embrace our individualism. I consider myself to be a decent dancer and got a part in a broadway show a few years .more confident about my body.” Vanessa felt the bile rise in the back of her throat. too. “Hello. and I'm a bartender at a nightclub. but I also dabble in theater. He encouraged me to do this. I've always been overweight. Every woman is beautiful in their own unique way. Vanessa sighed. What was this? Burlesque Anonymous? Miss Busty Betty nodded. but I just wish I could feel that way. My husband thinks I'm sexy. “You've come to the right place. Was she really going to be forced to swallow this bullshit? The next person stood up. I'm twenty nine.
So glad to have you. When she sat down. “I'm Abbey.ago. it's time for me to start living my life. explore her inner diva.” Andrea was obviously the attentioncraving starlet of the bunch with her tightfitting black dress. “Wonderful. Burlesque: a form of therapy dressed up in glitter. I think Burlesque will help me discover myself again. I've spent the last twentyfive years raising kids. or learn the art of removing long velvet gloves. next?” A woman with a short. She wanted to run out of there. This was all a big waste of time . She didn't want to find herself. Okay. so I thought.” Vanessa closed her eyes. the headmistress seemed very impressed. I'll be fifty in a few months and just became a grandmother. Andrea. spiked hairdo stood up and smiled.
I go to university where I am studying to become a pediatrician. young Asian girl who was thick around the waist and wore red-rimmed glasses.and energy. I was always the odd foreign girl in school.” Vanessa was astonished at the young woman's maturity. I'm hoping this will give me some confidence. I've never been happy with my body and I want to change that. I've never been good at anything except for my studies. The next person to stand was Anna. last to be picked for any sports. “My name is Anna and I'm . who gently squeezed Vanessa's shoulder as she stood up. and my parents adopted me from Korea when I was six. The next woman was a short. “My name is Lilly. I'm twenty-one years old. And studying to become a doctor? What was she doing here? Certainly there were other outlets that would better suit her.
My aunt stepped in and paid my tuition. A friend of mine took this course and she said it was a lifechanging experience so I decided to give my aunt a birthday gift she'd never forget. “You must be so proud to have such a darling niece.” Vanessa felt Anna's hand on her knee. but she was frozen in place by the emotion of what her niece had just said in front of the group. I don't know what I'd do without her.” Anna turned toward her aunt and smiled. . My mom died a few years ago and I couldn't afford to go to college.” the Headmistress said. She even pays my rent so I don't have to work fulltime. eyes filled with tears as she took her seat. looking at Vanessa expectantly. Vanessa knew it was her turn to stand. Please tell us about yourself. “Well. Honestly. Her heart overflowed with affection.twenty years old.
prompting her. But I try not to question my niece's wisdom. She took her seat and thought. but what the heck. It took a lot of convincing to get me here tonight because this is really not my thing. . She slowly stood up and looked around. as if the crowd could see into her soul. Vanessa hadn't planned on saying much more than her name. I'll be forty years old tomorrow. but after Anna's little speech there was no way she could back out. My name is Vanessa. Up until a minute ago. so it looks like you're stuck with me. She had never before felt so exposed. all eyes upon her. this wouldn't be so bad after all. maybe. She cleared her throat and pasted a smile on her face. just maybe.” The room erupted in applause. “Hello. she still wasn't sure she could go through with this ridiculous hoopla. She seems to know what's best for me.
” Anna said from the passenger seat as Vanessa drove them home from their first Burlesque class. alright.” “No kidding. “When you walk onto the stage you're setting a precedent.” .” “The walk is very important. and sexuality or else you just look like a dweeb in high heels.” Anna explained. That sounds like me.” “Yep. confidence.” “That's all you have to say?” “The only thing we learned tonight was how to walk.*** “That was a blast. “It was interesting. “What did you think? Honestly.” Vanessa shrugged. What's the big deal?” “It's the basis for everything. It needs to be full of finesse to exude attitude. I've been walking my whole life.
At least not all the time.” “And what makes you think I'd want to wear used clothing?” “What's the big deal? They have cool retro dresses. Can you honestly picture me doing that?” Anna giggled. You are not a dweeb. sequins. we need to go shopping. Next weeks class will be more intensive. “Look. “Stop talking about yourself like that. Which reminds me.Anna slapped her arm. Betty mentioned going to a few thrifts store in town. She buys old prom dresses and embellishes them with rhinestones. You just need a little vision.” “I'm quite sure there are online stores . costume jewelry. it's going to take time to feel comfortable with it. and feathers. shoes. you name it.” “Busty Betty said I should practice moving my hips in front of a full length mirror everyday until I get the hang of it.
“Fine. right?” Vanessa nodded. You can't.that sell burlesque costumes. I can afford it.” “Buying a dress on the internet is boring. You shouldn't have to spend anything. Lets go tomorrow.” Vanessa exhaled. but this is my gift to you. End of story. too. I'll be happy to buy one for you.” “Thank you. I have classes in the morning. So when can we go shopping? You have this week off. but I'll be done by three.” “What about Eddie? Won't he be miffed that you're spending too much time with your old aunt?” . but I refuse to buy used shoes. “Great. hush. That's just nasty. Half the fun is in trying them on together.” “Oh.” “Deal. You've done so much for me.
I treasure all the cards you make for me. You heard those women tonight. Burlesque is not only a cool experience. Anna?” “Like I said. They are just as special as anything you could buy. this is my opportunity to do something for you that we will never forget. lasting effect on our lives.” “I know. but there was a common thread: empowerment.” . or going bungee jumping. He knows how important this is to me.“He can manage.” “And why is this so important to you. like traveling. but it could have a profound. We all want to feel empowered in some way. Each one of them had a personal reason for being there. but life is about having experiences.” “You could have made me a card.
You're a successful business woman.“Empowered?” “Look I get it. “When have I ever broken a promise to you?” “Never.” “So you're making a promise. right?” Vanessa pulled into her nieces driveway.” “And there will be no excuses for backing out.” “I've already committed to doing this. you have plenty of money. and you think you're above it all.” “So why are you so worried?” “Because I know this is going to be a challenge for you. put the car in park. right?” “That's what I just said. so you don't have to sell the idea to me anymore. and turned her head to look at Anna. But you lack balance.” “I think I can handle a few burlesque .
so maybe you can be in the back row where no one can see you. except we won't be wearing a cap and gown.classes.” “Busty Betty never mentioned that. It's kind of like a graduation.” . “But it's not like there's a huge audience.” “It's not the classes I'm so worried about. If she'd known about the performance she never would have agreed to go to the first class.” “Sure. something like that.” “The final what?” “The performance we do at the end of the course. It's the final performance. When was she planning to tell us?” “It's not a big deal. right? Just friends and family of the students like your dance recitals when you were five. We dance as a group.” Vanessa felt her heart racing.
But you just couldn't be too careful these days. The neighborhood seemed secure enough. surrounded by well-kept houses with nice cars in the driveways. Let's go shopping soon. “Thanks for the ride. love you.” “Okay. thinking about Corey's roommate put things in perspective.” “Love you. too.” Anna gave her a peck on the cheek. that's it I think. Was it the twinkle in her eye or the crooked smile? “Is there anything else you've neglected to tell me?” “No. If . Aunty. Maybe she was too over protective—certainly Anna was old enough to take care of herself. However.” Vanessa sat in the car and waited until her niece had safely entered the front door of her apartment building.There was something in Anna's expression she couldn't quite read.
” Frankie said.” Corey opened the door. “Tomorrow you'll have to fend for yourself.” Corey said. she would kill the son of a bitch. Chapter 14 “I'm warning you. “Don't be too nice to me. Slowly.anything like that ever happened to her niece. I'm not an invalid. I could get used to this. “Are you ready?” “Do I have a choice?” . helping her trudge up the steps to their apartment.” “I can manage.” “Don't worry. you know.
“I'll be fine.As they walked into the apartment. “I'm sorry you have to see the place like this. her face turned white. He heard the sound of drawers opening and closing. Besides. Corey noticed the way she glanced around.” “You're not going to stay here. Stay with me at Tina's. are you?” Frankie asked.” “I don't think so.” “Like hell you will. . eyes narrowed as if expecting the attacker to still be there. When she looked down and saw the blood stain. I'm glad Tina agreed to let you stay with her for a few days. Go grab some clothes so we can get out of here.” Frankie rolled her eyes and made a beeline for her bedroom while Corey stayed in the living room. she doesn't have the room.
Her eyes grew wide in fear as if she'd just remembered something dreadful. “I guess I'm ready.” “By the way. Why would he feel the need to destroy the place? Frankie came out of her room with a large duffel bag hanging from her shoulder. but then she froze. scrambled .” she said.Hopefully the crime technicians got some fingerprints or DNA in all this mess.” Corey waved his hand around at the mess. But as Corey glanced around. “You have any clue why he tore up the place?” “Beats the shit out of me. “Let's go. “Holy fuck. he couldn't imagine why the attacker needed to dump every book and DVD off the bookshelf like there was some kind of safe hidden behind it.” “What?” She dropped the duffel bag.” she said.
I was hiding it in this hollowed out book. “I'm not gonna like this. looked down.” Corey had a sinking feeling in his chest.” “Would you mind telling me what's going on?” She covered her face with her hands and mumbled.” Corey closed his eyes and shook his .” “Look for what?” Corey pleaded.over to the pile of books on the floor. “It's gone. and seized a hardcover book of Moby Dick. I figured who the hell reads Moby Dick? No one would possibly look in there. am I?” “Tina asked me to hold on to some stuff for her. She opened the cover. “I can't believe it. and moaned. “I'm such an idiot. “The fucking drugs.” “What's gone?” She threw the book on the floor.
Said she was afraid her kids would find it. I totally forgot all about it tilll now. For God's sake. the guy raped you.” Frankie started pacing the room.” “Why did you have it?” “She asked if I'd hold on to it for her about six months ago. “My ass hasn't . Get his name. she must have told someone you had it. so I said okay.” “You have to call her right now.” “Well. ” “Yeah.head as things started to make sense. “Maybe she owed him money.” she said. That means she probably knows the guy who came here.” “How can you forget about the fact that you were hiding cocaine? Why didn't you tell me?” “I didn't want you to worry about it. “What kind of drugs?” “Just a small baggie of coke.
“The only thing Tina's concerned about is Tina.” “Come on.” Corey shook his head. right?” “I'm sure she never thought this would happen.” Corey couldn't believe his ears.” Corey said.forgotten.” “She should come forward and tell the police who the guy is.” “Well maybe she doesn't know him. I had no clue she was referring to something specific. “It's obvious.” .” “She probably feels awful. “When I talked to her this morning she asked if anything had been stolen from the apartment. How else would he know you had drugs stashed in a Herman Melville book?” Frankie dropped onto the sofa and buried her face in a pillow. “You're kidding.
she was trying to get clean for her kids. . and give him Tina's phone number. “She's not like that. If she was really trying to get clean she'd have flushed the stuff down the toilet. The only thing he cared about was making sure Frankie was safe.” “What kind of person asks a friend to hide drugs for her?” “Like I said. or he could contact the detective at the police station. He wanted nothing more to do with the whole fiasco. He could call Tina back and waste a bunch of time listening to her crap.” “Do you have any idea how much that shit costs?” Corey had to make a decision fast.” “I'm not buying it. explain the situation.Frankie lifted her head and threw the pillow across the room.
it was only for a few days. Especially since he'd done her such a big favor recently. Hell. okay?” *** Vanessa couldn't believe she'd just agreed to let her assistant and his roommate stay at her house. so why not? With five empty bedrooms and four bathrooms it would hardly be an .” “I know of a place we might both be able to stay for a few days.“I'm not taking you to Tina's.” “But she's my only real friend other than you.” “We can't afford to go to a motel.” “It's not a motel. Corey had sounded desperate. Just trust me. and she couldn't turn him down.
It had been at least two years since James's buddy from college and his new Asian wife stayed with them for Thanksgiving. She smoothed out the bed sheets in the more feminine bedroom and thought back to the last time she'd had house guests. Corey and his . Vanessa remembered counting the minutes until they left. A glance at the clock indicated there was no time to second guess her decision. The friend was obnoxious and socially inept which explained the mail-order bride. But extenuating circumstances made this situation entirely different. Although … she had never met his roommate before.imposition. She had to make sure two of the bedrooms had fresh towels and linens.
roommate needed her. “We brought our own towels and sheets.” .” Corey said. black jeans. Maybe this was a mistake after all. At ten past eight she heard the knock on the door. Daughter of Elvira was the first thing that came to mind. There they were. straight and long. “Please. Black sweatshirt. come on in. She'd get the details later. We don't want to put you out in any way. and black combat boots. The roommate was not what she'd expected. As Corey made the introductions the girl looked at the ground. Vanessa tried not to focus on the bruises and swollen jaw. Nose ring. each with a backpack slung over their shoulders. Raven black hair. I just finished making up the bedrooms.” “You didn't need to make a fuss.
” he said to Vanessa as they stood in the hallway. Corey must have sensed the tension.” Frankie shut the bedroom door without even uttering a simple thank you. After a quick tour of the house. He was making excuses for his roommate's behavior. I hope you'll be comfortable here. “I think she's still in shock. Vanessa was left feeling a little bewildered by this girl. “I understand. his expression bleak. . “I don't think she likes me.” Vanessa said. I'll show you around then you can make yourselves at home. Frankie immediately announced she needed to lie down.” he said. Vanessa.” “We really appreciate this. but didn't seem in any hurry to explain what had happened. “Sure.“Nonsense.” Vanessa said.
a sparsely decorated space with a double bed.” “Were you able to reach her brother?” “Nope. but once she does. she's loyal till the bitter end. dumping his backpack on the bed.“It takes her a while to warm up to people. nightstand. “Well. since it was originally to be the nursery.” Vanessa showed him to his room. “I have some wine and snacks if you're hungry.” “Thanks. The room had remained empty for years until Vanessa got so depressed she hired her interior decorator to furnish the room in anyway she saw fit.” . and a floor lamp. “Maybe I'll join you in a few. Corey would be the first person to sleep in this room.” she said.” he said.
“You don't have to say it. I should have been nicer to Vanessa. It seemed like a waste. “I know. She thinks I'm white trash.” Frankie said when the door opened. but in this case he was thankful he knew someone who had the extra space.” “She's your boss. She wouldn't do this for just anyone. but she's opening her home to us.” .*** Corey wondered why rich people had such big houses. And I saw the way she looked at me.” Frankie said.” “And you proved her right by having an attitude. “It's just weird. He left his backpack on the bed and walked down the hall to knock on Frankie's door.” “It's obvious you don't want to be here.
so cut me some slack. “Shut up.” . Let's just say she gave me a bonus. the money will come in handy since you'll probably have to take a week or more off from work.” “When did this happen?” “While you were in the hospital.” Frankie cocked her head and gave him a scowl.“Whatever. What are you talking about?” “I did some extra work for Vanessa. no money.” “Just be thankful we're not in one of those motels you have to rent by the hour. Anyway. and I just found out my best friend ratted me out. I've got you covered for the next month or so. My life completely sucks right now.” “What am I supposed to do now? Hang out here all week with my thumb up my ass? I have no car.” “Don't worry about money.
her shoulder length auburn hair pulled back in a pony tail.” she said. “All I ask is that you be on your best behavior here. and buried her head in his chest. She could afford nice jewelry but never seemed to bother with it. She looked relaxed in her faded jeans and fleece sweatshirt.Frankie slowly walked over to him.” “Yes. but you're . He quietly shut her door then descended the stairs to find Vanessa sitting at the kitchen counter. “Feel free to raid the refrigerator. except for the wedding ring that was still on her hand. threw her arms around his waist. Daddy. “There isn't much. Curtail the foul language and try to pick up after yourself.” Corey left Frankie alone to rest.
” Corey took a seat while she poured him a glass. “Not bad.welcome to whatever you find.” she said. and then took another. That one goes for a hundred bucks a bottle. “I'm not worthy.” Her tone was playful.” Vanessa laughed. I'd drink fermented grape juice if you had it. Have a preference?” “Not really. holding her .” “I could really use a glass of wine. “That bad. huh?” “You have no idea. took a healthy sip. “You mean not bad for a fifty dollar bottle? If it's not to your liking I could aways crack open the Duckhorn. I have plenty of that.” Her eyebrows shot up. Corey really appreciated her relaxed sense of humor after the day he'd had.” he teased. “Well. He thanked her. And if that doesn't cut it we could try the Justin.” “Tell you what.
I'll drink to whatever floats your boat. if you don't mind me asking. between the ages of forty and sixty years old.” “And what are we celebrating?” “I'm forty years old today. have been dumped by their husbands for a much younger woman. Vanessa's expression turned serious. Do you suppose it has anything to do with saggy breasts?” “I don't know. Happy birthday. “That's a first. I've never been married. Let's drink to saggy breasts. “Did you know that seven out of ten married women. what have you decided to do about James and . “I propose we get sloshed tonight.” She gave him a sly smile.wine glass up to make a toast. “So.” He lifted his glass to clink hers.” “Smart answer. I looked it up.” Corey almost choked. We don't have to go into the office for the rest of the week.
” “How so?” “Remember the card you saw on my refrigerator the other night?” He nodded. I've decided to let it go. How could he forget? “Tonight was the first class. Much wiser than most people my age. “You think that's .the lawyer?” “After much consideration.” “I'm just surprised. too. And manipulative.” “You're niece? Isn't she pretty young to be giving advice about such things?” “She's very intelligent. trying not to smile.” “My niece Anna gave me a good talking to.” “Let it go?” “You almost seem disappointed. She made a face.” “You actually went?” he asked.
“Sorry. “How long is the course?” he asked. Miss Busty Betty. The only thing it's going to change is my wardrobe.” The vision of his boss dressed up in provocative clothing was hard to imagine. And we have a performance on the last weekend. I'm thinking I'll be sick that week. “Six weeks. I'm only doing it for Anna. She's quite a character.” “So. it's official? You're going through with it?” “Against my better judgement.” He covered his mouth and coughed. it's just … I can't believe it. Anyway. You should see the outfits I'll have to wear.funny.” .” “You should have seen the headmistress. She seems to think it will change my life. yes. She was always so reserved.
“A performance? You mean in front of a real audience?” “I'm telling you right now. It was hard to guess what she was thinking. Best you forget I said anything about it. or some crap like that. “I can't believe I just told you.” “Sure. Whatever you say.” She regarded him with skepticism.” Vanessa took a sip of wine then tapped her fingers on the counter. if you mention this to anyone at work I'm going to fire you. Just because James left me doesn't mean I suffer from low selfesteem. it won't be from me. She put on a good front. but there was a sadness behind .” “I think it'll be good for you.” “If they hear about it.” “Why? Don't tell me it's because it'll help me feel better about myself.
” Corey remained silent. “What other reasons?” She hesitated. Maybe it's none of my business.” He took a sip of wine and waited a few seconds before asking. so I guess you have a right to ask.” “I dragged you into this. “Because he really wants a child.” “Why do you think he did this to you?” “Why? A good question. I do miss him. If he waited long . I can’t give that to him. “Am I that transparent?” “Sorry. And maybe for other reasons. She looked up and sighed. “Do you miss him?” he asked. I suspect it's because he resents me for being more successful than him. The answer is yes. indeed.her eyes that seemed to contradict what she'd just said.
“Endometriosis destroyed most of my reproductive organs so a full hysterectomy was the only solution. My sister Karen stayed with us after the surgery. “I’m sorry.” “Does your sister live close by?” “She died over two years ago. I had no idea.” She kept her chin up. but he was too busy grieving on his own. She was a saint during my recovery. but Corey sensed this must have weighed heavily on her heart. ” Corey didn’t know what to say. “We'd discussed adoption.” “It was.” .enough she'd probably offer an explanation when she was ready. “I can't imagine how difficult that was for both of you. so he reached over and touched her hand. James wanted to help. but never moved forward with it.” she said point blank. It didn't take long.
How could he have not known this? “If you don’t mind me asking. I haven't talked to either of them in years. We've always been close.” Vanessa poured more wine into Corey's glass. Karen was a free spirit.” . what happened?” “Cancer. I lived with my mom until she got remarried then went to live with my dad.” Corey drew in a breath and let it out slowly. “Tell me about your family. Was she married?” “No. Her daughter is Anna. He kicked me out of the house when I was eighteen. the one who got me the burlesque lessons. “Mom and Dad got divorced when I was three. I’m sorry. but since Karen died. Again. we've grown even tighter.” “You never mentioned that. That's where Anna gets her sense of adventure.
I'm not really sure what my type . being that you're going out of your way to help her like this. She's like the little sister I never had. The nightmares of that day still haunted him. “Brothers or sisters?” “Nope. “No.” “I think it's sweet.“Why did he kick you out?” Corey hadn't told many people the true story of why dear old dad had disowned him over fifteen years ago.” Vanessa nodded and seemed to understand it was a story he'd rather not get into. Actually. It's probably why I'm so protective of Frankie. though. I initially thought you two might be an item. I always wanted to be a big brother. she's not my type. “It was just a big misunderstanding.” He chuckled. It had been one of the most shameful experiences of his life.
is.” “As if life wasn't confusing enough.” A long silence ensued then Vanessa said. Do you have a preference?” “Depends on the person.” he said. I guess.” . I'm aware of that. “Thank you for the wine. right?” “I'll drink to that. “I just figured you were mostly into guys. It's hard to imagine being attracted to both.” “Oh.” By the time Corey finished his wine he could tell Vanessa was getting sleepy. “Yeah. I've dated my share of women. “And she's female. “I guess I'll head to bed.” He immediately regretted the statement.” Vanessa reminded him.
I'd like to prepare dinner for the three of us tomorrow night. Really.” Corey teased. I'll be heading out for the day tomorrow.” “If you don't mind. Anna has this crazy idea that we'll find some amazing burlesque outfits at the local thrift stores.“Any time. It'll be nice to have a decent meal at home.” “I can't thank you enough for letting us stay here. I'm a horrible cook. Anyway. but I'm skeptical.” “I didn't say I was any good. It's the least I can do. She's so excited. I'll take you up on it.” “Stay as long as you want. Chapter 15 . either.” “Nice of you to offer. you and Frankie will have the place to yourselves.
searching for one that was still intact. There were three text messages and several voice messages from Tina on her . She found her cigarettes smashed all to hell inside of her backpack. What the hell was she doing in Vanessa Roth's house. It was almost six in the morning. lit up. anyway? She didn't want to be here. and took several long pulls. It helped to ease the anxiety of what had to be done. She opened the window. and the house was quiet.Frankie sat in bed staring at her cell phone. She frantically tore the pack open and dumped them onto her bed.
After three rings. I've been calling you like crazy. gone?” . Frankie.” “It's gone. “Oh my God. Frankie's hand felt weak as she dialed the number. Why would a cop be calling me.” Tina said. She wanted to call her friend back to let her know she was okay.” “I got a call from some police officer guy. the familiar voice answered. But mostly to find out if Tina had really betrayed her.” “What? What are you saying?” “I'm saying it's gone. “What took you so long?” “Sorry. well. We think that's why he was there to begin with. Frankie?” “Uh. the guy who broke in stole the cocaine you asked me to hold.phone. I just needed time to think. He left a message for me to call him back.
I had no idea he would hurt you.“That's what I'm saying. Look.” “Did not. It's not my fault. The guy threatened me. I never wanted to get you involved in the first place. He said he'd hurt my kids if I didn't tell him where the shit was. Tina? You were the only person I told about Moby Dick.” “Stop lying to me. So you told him the coke was at my place?” “I didn't tell him shit.” “You got me involved over six months . but you have to believe me.” There was silence on the other end and the harsh reality started to sink in.” “Liar. “Holy shit. Corey was right. How would this guy have know where I kept it. You must have. “Fine.” There was a long silence before Tina said.
He was gonna hurt my kids. I would have gladly given it to him.” “I never thought he'd come back to hound me.ago when you asked me to hold on to it for you. He's my dealer. I had no idea he was going to hurt you. I should have known better.” “Well. no. I had no choice. he did. “Hell. Tina? Don't tell me he's an old boyfriend of yours?” Frankie could no longer refrain from screaming into the phone. Instead.” “Who.” “You could have called me. He came back looking for some money I owed him. Or used to be. He hit me then fucking raped me.” .” “He said it was better if it looked like a robbery. he beat the shit out of me and trashed the apartment.
I thought you needed help and it's the only reason I agreed to it. They'll take my kids away from me. Tina?” “Yes.” .” “I'll deny everything to the cops.” “How could you have done this to me? I trusted you.Silence. I'll tell them it's your coke. I'll screw you. I heard you. Please. Tina. “Please don't tell the police it was my coke. “Did you hear me. “Who are you to tell me how to live my life? You're just as fucked up as me.” Tina started bawling.” “I'm not even close. The least you can do is tell me his name.” “Fuck you. You screw me. I can't lose my kids. Frankie. You need help.” “How could you put me in this position? You've got problems.” Tina screamed.
” She threw her cell phone across the room. “You were right.” A hand touched her back. didn't you?” His voice was calm. He didn't bother to wait for an invitation. The guy who raped me was her drug dealer. wide-eyed.“I've already been screwed. How was she going to tell him? “I want to shoot myself. I'm starting to get used to it. Within seconds someone was knocking on her door. It's out of your hands .” He squeezed her hand. He burst into the room. “Frankie? You okay?” It was Corey. “You talked to Tina. Frankie sat up to face him.” Frankie said. wiping her eyes. “What's going on?” She rolled over in bed and covered her head with a pillow. But look at it this way. “I'm sorry. “In fact. It smashed into the wall and shattered.
but she's beyond help at this point. Either way. I'll help you figure it out. You tried to help her. Tina works there.” Easier said than done. get his name.” “Eloquently put. too. which immediately made her think . I've already called the diner and told them you'd need some time off.now. They're not expecting you back until next week. Tina will have to pay the consequences when it all comes to light. Jobs were hard to find.” “A back-stabbing bitch is what she is.” “I don't think I can go back there. Maybe it's time you get a new job. The police will question her. You've been talking about leaving for months. remember?” “Don't worry about it. and find this guy. Take some time to heal.” “So what do I do now? “You hang out here for a few days.
Did he have any clue of what was going on? She'd been toying with the idea of calling him. And now her phone was destroyed. Give her a chance. well. it seems like there's a side to her that's generous. He probably decided never to call her again after the blowout. but couldn't bring herself to do it.of Adam. She doesn't know you at all. I don't have anything in common with Vanessa the Great.” “How many times have you told me she's a self-absorbed control-freak who only cares about the bottom line?” “Okay. “So what am I supposed to do until then? I don't even want to go downstairs. too.” “Whatever.” “You barely know her. Can't you see this is a big deal that she's letting us stay here? She's only known me for a few months.” .
The cleaning people will get to the apartment soon. In the meantime. By the way. He was right. and maybe put some video camera's in the parking lot. But things will change. “Sorry I'm being such a pain in the ass.“Look.” Chapter 16 . no more opening doors for strangers. It's kinda easy to be pissed at the world right now. I want the landlord to change the locks. She should be thankful they had a place to stay.” Frankie nodded because she was too exhausted to argue anymore. we're only here for a few days.” “I know. Mark my words.
” Anna said.“Try this on. Vanessa took a few deep breaths. if you could call it that.” “Exactly. handing Vanessa a green satin dress with large frilly ruffles.” “I'll be waiting right here.” “Are you kidding?” Vanessa said.” Once inside the fitting room. doing her best to ignore the fact people had worn them before. and traipsed to the fitting room.” Vanessa let out a frustrated moan. “I'm sure I'll look quite fetching in this thing. “I think this will fit you. “The hem line will barely cover my ass. That's why it's perfect. . She was tired of trying on used dresses. I want to see it. It was more like a small closet with a ratty old curtain for a door. grabbed the dress.
She opened the curtain and did a half-hearted pirouette for her niece. But.” Anna rushed over and fluffed the ruffles. Something a little less poofy.The cramped space was making her feel claustrophobic. “Look at you. What do you think?” “I look like the Jolly Green Giant. let alone squeeze into a dress meant for a sixteen year old. We can sew on a few strands of sequins and maybe add a few feathers on the bust. the better.” .” “The more color. much to her shock—and chagrin—the damned dress fit her. “So pretty.” “Stop it. A few alterations will make it perfect.” “Why can't we find me a sleek. You look amazing. black number. She barely had room to remove her own clothing. We can tone it down with some black gloves and tights.
and two department stores. After almost five hours. along with several gaudy accessories. cream-colored. “I'm meeting Eddie for dinner in a little while. three different thrift stores. and a feather boa to match. Her niece had already purchased two dresses. . she had little to show for it. and even scored a pair of red sequined pumps that would have made Judy Garland jealous. *** By the time four o'clock rolled around.“Whatever you say.” Vanessa just wanted to be done. black lace thigh-highs. so I have to get going. Vanessa was the proud owner of a complete ensemble composed of a tacky green ruffle dress. Pure insanity.” Anna said. elbow-length gloves.
but his roommate was raped and beaten by a burglar the other night.” “Since when?” “Last night. I'm a little shocked. Vanessa realized she hadn't told her niece about her new house guests. “He works for me.” “Corey? Who's that?” With all the frenetic shopping. It's a long story. I mean. That's really nice of you. Corey has something planned for dinner tonight. “Would you like to join us?” “No thanks. but just for a few days.trying to balance her shopping bags. “Staying with you?” “Yes. They don't feel safe at their apartment.” “Wow. so they're staying with me for a few days.” Anna's face remained blank at first. after the burlesque class.” “Don't act so surprised. I do nice things .
” “How well do you even know these people?” “Corey has been working for me for a few months. He's a good guy.” “This could be a good thing for you.” “She's just the opposite of her. right? A little distraction from being alone in that big house all by yourself.” “Sure. I trust him. Of course.once in a while. She seems to have a chip on her shoulder. Taylor Swift?” “Yeah.” *** .” “Really? What's she like?” “You know the singer. I get the feeling she doesn't care for me. though. I don't know about his roommate.
Vanessa dropped her niece off and hurried home to the meal she'd been looking forward to all day. “Show me what you got.” “Hope you're hungry. “Smells wonderful. “I think I made enough shrimp scampi to last a week. “I really appreciate this.” she said. For a moment she really thought it was James with the wooden spoon in his hand.” .” He looked down at the bags in her hands. “Did you have fun with your niece today?” “I'm not sure fun is the right word.” Corey wiped his hands on a dishtowel and approached her. the scent of garlic and butter welcoming her home.” he said. She smiled as soon as she entered the house. The image of Corey at the stove brought back memories of James. but I was able to find a few things. snapping back to reality.
When will it be done?” “A few minutes.” “Good.” “That's too bad. Where's Frankie?” “Still in her bedroom. “I don't think so. waiting. She could hear sounds coming from inside. I don't think she'll be joining us for dinner. “She should eat something. passing Frankie's room on the way. She's not having a great day.” “Why not?” “It's embarrassing.” she said. I'll put these things away and be down in five. “Maybe later.” He placed a hand on his hip.” “I think she just needs time alone.” she said. A soft . She pressed her ear to the door and listened.” Vanessa climbed the stairs and headed to the master bedroom. “I'm too distracted by the smell of that food.Vanessa laughed.
It had never been opened. dumped the bags onto her bed then glanced in the mirror to check her face. The only make-up she had was a kit her sister had given her for Christmas many years ago. She continued down the hall. and pale skin. bags under the eyes. She was the quintessential girly-girl: lot's of make- . right before a dance. The day had taken quite a toll. She glanced at the framed picture of Karen on her vanity desk. the reflection revealing flat hair. She could empathize with that feeling. Crying was something that should be done in private. It was taken in high school. A little color would brighten her face and make her look more youthful. Maybe it was time to start wearing make-up. emanated from within. like a small child who had lost their favorite blanket.whimpering sound. She almost knocked on the door but stopped herself.
more comfortable in polo shirts and baggy jeans. probably a cheap bottle she'd never tried before. forcing her back to the present. Her stomach growled. She noticed—as she sat back to take it all in—his forehead glistened with moisture when he finally took his seat.” He returned the pan to the stove then poured them each a glass. jewelry. The enticing scent of Corey's meal could no longer be denied. he had two place settings arranged and had uncorked a bottle of wine. “You've been working hard on this . spooning the shrimp scampi onto the plates. “It's all set. “Would you like some wine?” “Sounds great.” he said. When she returned to the kitchen. Vanessa was the opposite. and frilly dresses. She didn't recognize the label.up.
meal. It's probably not what you're used to. The only part of the meal I was ever responsible for was getting the wine. I'm sure. Vanessa felt a little guilty after the fact. Corey shook his head as if he could .” “James liked to cook. “It's nice to have proper equipment to work with. Then again.” He smiled. You name it. “I'm not too picky.” “It's fine. But it was highly recommended at Trader Joe's.” she said.” That was a lie.” Corey's cheeks flushed. “Thank you.” she said. You have a great set-up. he had the time to do it. He was quite good. he tried it. waving a limp hand.” “Oh.” “What was his specialty?” “Whatever the feature recipe was in that month's Gourmet Magazine. “About the wine.
“I thought James was a writer. She chewed slowly. right. I think fiction is a .” she said in her defense. you must have read them. Not my cup of tea. savoring the rich flavors. His third book just came out and it hasn't received much recognition. “So. “Look. “Yeah. “I know that sounds awful.read her thoughts.” Corey said.” “He is. but I just don't understand the point.” “Is he any good?” “I'm not sure. right?” “Not exactly.” “Well. but his novels haven't been doing well. I know you better than that.” Vanessa swirled her fork around the angel hair pasta and took a bite.” “What genre does he write in?” “It's science fiction.” Corey lowered his head and continued eating.
what I'm saying is perhaps you should have taken his career more seriously.” she .” “What career? He barely made ten thousand dollars in royalties last year. “Why should I even bother at this point? James is shacking up with my lawyer. “I'm sorry.” “No. Why couldn't she stop being so damned bitter. This was not the way she had envisioned the evening playing out.” Corey shrugged. Are you telling me that you think he'd still be here if I had read his books? That's ridiculous. That didn't even cover his monthly car payments. Vanessa slumped in her chair. keeping his eyes on his plate.waste of time.” “But it's important to James.” Vanessa set her fork down and leaned back in the chair.
I appreciate your perspective. well. I'm sure it won't take long for her to write up the divorce papers.” “Would you take him back at this point. given the opportunity?” “I don't know. I said it. what's really going on .said. So. It's just . “Have you talked to James recently?” “Not for five days.” “Do you?” She detected a sense of sarcasm in his voice and it surprised her. but who's counting.” A slight smile creased the corners of Corey's mouth.. There. Good luck trying to get alimony. And now that he's bonking my lawyer.. I have a hard time hearing the truth. He made it clear that we're done. “Of course I do. I don't want to think about that right now. “There was no need for me to be so … combative.
you haven't told me everything. “Frankie thought she was doing her best friend Tina a favor.” “Betrayed by her best friend?” Vanessa shook her head in disgust. He looked up and shook his head.” “You're saying her friend told the guy where it was?” “Exactly. She has battled a drug problem for years. “You really want to know?” Vanessa nodded. Why are you two really here?” Corey avoided eye contact as he swallowed his last bite. “I take it they .with your roommate?” “What do you mean?” “What I mean is. Tina's afraid she'll lose her kids. She had asked Frankie to hold on to some drugs for her. And now. It's pretty messed up. The guy who broke in and raped her knew about the stash and where it was.
What do you expect?” “Have you told anyone you're staying here?” “No.” “The guy must not be too bright. But the good news is. It wasn't a great car to begin with. weapons charges.haven't found the guy yet?” “No. He was involved in a long list of drug related crimes including assault. they have a DNA match. They found Frankie's car in Newton.” “Good.” “He's a coke head. but now it's a carcass. but I talked to the detective handling the case earlier today. The guy's name is Adrian Cooper. Is Frankie still in contact with . grand theft auto. He's been wanted for months for skipping out on bail. you name it. Massachusetts. and they have reason to believe he's still in the area.
” “If I know Frankie. She was living with me for a few months. how is it you two became roommates?” Corey smiled. “I hope it stays that way. Marcy Dunbar. I was enamored with her for a while.” Vanessa took another sip of wine. I had a girlfriend. I was gone for a few hours. It was nothing too serious. Then one night.her friend?” “Not anymore. I knew she was wild and loved to party.” .” “Oh?” “Couple years ago. She wasn't alone. Marcy was in the bedroom. “You probably wouldn't believe the story if I told you. We were planning to have some friends over later that night to watch the Super Bowl.” “So. I was out getting some groceries. it will. When I got back.” “Hmm.
But by the expression on his face. his pants still around his ankles.” Vanessa tried not to laugh at the visual. closed the door. I just gave them a dirty look. Seth. but not as much as you might think. It was just a matter of time until something like that happened.” “What did you say?” “I kindly invited him to leave. she figured the memory was more amusing than painful. “It was this guy. He made . “What the hell did you do?” “I was a bit shocked. and put the groceries away. He actually came up to me and apologized.” “God no. It must have been a horrible moment for Corey.” Corey laughed. I could tell he was as high as a kite.“Don't tell me it was Frankie. I knew Darcy was a bit of a nympho. Said he had no idea the chick he'd just met at the bar had a boyfriend. When Seth came out of the bedroom. He seemed pretty surprised to see me.
Frankie is just that cool. He would have definitely crashed if he had tried to drive. Can you believe he actually called his sister to come pick him up?” “His sister?” “Yeah. She'd made him promise to call her when he was too messed up to . He had problems with substance abuse. She explained it wasn't her brother's fault.” “The sister must have been a pretty cool chick to come pick up her wasted brother at some strangers house right after he got done banging someone else's girlfriend?” “Yep. “She got there five minutes later. “Frankie was the sister?” Corey laughed.a call on his cell phone. this guy was tripping on something. I'm telling you.” Vanessa gasped. and was so embarrassed for her brother.
“Wow.” “So what happened next?” “Well. I asked her if she knew of anyone looking for a place to live as I now had an immediate vacancy. This intriguing.” “And the rest is history. black-haired girl had my attention.” Vanessa suddenly had a little more respect for Frankie. Frankie said she was interested.” Chapter 17 .” “So was I. There was something about her.drive.” “Don't tell me. the situation could hardly have been more bizarre.” Vanessa shook her head. Frankie took hold of her brother's arm as I made a joke. “I'm speechless. I knew it from the moment I saw her.
Frankie could barely face another day. Even the frilly lace curtains were annoying. If it weren't for Corey. . who cared enough to bring her her meals and deal with her emotional tantrums. It was day seven of staying at Vanessa's place. but her heart was bleeding out. complete with shabby chic furniture and creamy white carpeting. She'd been staring at them for hours. Frankie felt like a prisoner in a Pottery Barn commercial. plotting evil ways to destroy them. she might just have ended it all. Her cuts and bruises were healing just fine.
And even if she could leave. Where was her brother? Why had Tina stabbed her in the back? And what about Adam? Where the hell was he? Nobody knew where she was staying. no one except the manager at the diner had bothered to call her. And she had nobody—other than Corey—who gave a shit. According to Corey's last update. White trash girl gets beat up by a coke head. Corey was her only connection to the outside world. And even though Corey had replaced her broken phone. Boo . She was relying on him for everything now. and part-time rapist. the asshole who'd raped her was still out there. drug dealer. It was obvious the cops didn't consider this crime a high priority. Pathetic.There seemed to be no escape. At least they knew his name now: Adrian Cooper. where the hell would she go? She had nothing.
take a long soak in the bathtub then get your laptop out and start looking for a new job.” “Whoopee. I suggest you eat breakfast. “I wanted to check on you before I left for the office.” He was dressed for work in dark Khaki pants and a button-down shirt. Must be Monday.frickin' hoo.” . she wasn't even sure what day of the week it was. “You'll have the house to yourself today. How long had it been since she'd showered? Brushed her teeth? The past week had been such a blur. “Come on in. Apparently they had better things to do. placing a plate of toast and a banana on the nightstand.” he said. Frankie sniffed her arm pit and recoiled in disgust. A knock on the door startled her even though she knew it was Corey.
She'd been so wrapped up in her own misery.Corey gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder. And I'm not saying you should forgive and forget. but life goes on. she hadn't bothered to ask what was going on in his life. but he was right.” “So now you're my shrink?” “I'm just saying.” “For what? Being a basket case?” “I'm proud of you for allowing yourself to grieve. Plus. You're ready.” It was a hard pill to swallow. And I know today is the day. “I'm proud of you. you know. It's been a week. “So. I really can't stand seeing you like this anymore. It was time to get a grip.” Frankie folded her arms across her chest. “Is this some kind of reverse psychology bullshit? Ready for what?” “Ready to start living again. “how do you .” she said.
“Look. See you tonight.think work will go today?” “What do you mean?” “You and Vanessa. Anyway.” He .” “She laughs way too loud at your jokes.” “Not that funny. I gotta go.” “What can I say? I'm a funny guy.” “When are you going to ask for that promotion?” “It's not the right time. We talk. You've been getting cozy with her. right? Will it be awkward at the office now?” “What do you mean cozy? We have dinner together. I can tell something's going on. Are you afraid she'll turn you down?” Corey sighed and looked at his watch. I wouldn't call that cozy.” “Don't be a pussy.” “It's nothing.
the week off had been restful. eventually hiring more staff as the firm grew. and hers alone. *** Vanessa was the first to arrive at the office. She'd hired him for his artistic vision and together they'd grown the business. Her marriage was in the dumps. A short. but this was her domain. Larry Pine. Larry had been with Vanessa since the early days when all they'd had was one client and plenty of chutzpah. ready to start the day. She had to admit. balding man with a face for radio.kissed her forehead and left. the creative director. but her place of business was where she belonged. Larry was in charge of all . was second to show up.
creative matters. She barely looked up from her laptop when he poked his head into her office. her relationship with Larry had always remained professional. “I hate that city.” he said. either. spending most of his time on the computer or brainstorming with the production artists. I don't really like my brother that much. networking. Come to think of it. Vanessa handled accounts. Her concern was that getting too close to co-workers would .” she said. scratching his chin. and served as the liaison for the agency. “Hey Larry. Vanessa had never developed close friendships with her employees. You?” “Did stuff around the house. “Visited my brother in Manhattan for a few days. how was your week off?” she asked. After eight years of working side by side.
“I read your husbands new book this week. “Yeah.” Larry leaned against her doorframe as if he were holding it up. It's pretty good.” “Anyway.” Larry looked bored. “Guess I'll get to work. I told him the same thing. “Hey. I was hoping Markus and Salena would get back together by the end so they could save the planet from the Hectoplats. I have to say. It felt like . Although.” Vanessa smiled and nodded as if she knew what the hell he was talking about. okay?” “I figured you would.” “When the others arrive. I'll round 'em up when everyone gets here. I'd like to have a meeting to discuss some ideas. It had been over a week since she'd last talked to James.serve to undermine her authority. by the way.” Vanessa leaned back in her chair and stared at her desk.
She blinked a few times as she set eyes on him. intellectual conversation during and after the meal. fondly recalling their dinner together the night before.” He stood there as if he wasn't sure what to say or do next. It had been the first time in almost ten years that she'd played for anyone. “So.an eternity. “Good morning.” Corey walked in and placed a cup of coffee on her desk. He'd even talked her into strumming a song on her guitar. Vanessa.” “It's no problem. “Thank you. She looked up at him and smiled. She'd enjoyed their relaxed. She performed her best rendition of Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash. I noticed you left pretty early this . But thanks to her niece and her house guests there had been plenty of distractions to keep her from going insane.
” “Sure. “I e-mailed you a list of addresses. *** It was just another day at work. Right. Sorry. I'm on it.” “Anyway. “or people will get the wrong idea. yeah. Corey felt stupid for thinking anything would be . The new promotional materials need to be sent out today. feeling a little guilty for the formality. “Oh. “Better not say things like that around here.” she whispered.” he said.” He promptly turned around to leave.” she said.” Corey's face turned pink as he looked away. Her chest felt a little tight as she watched him walk out of her office.morning.
The fact that he'd spent the last week living in her house didn't automatically make them compadres. Vanessa was still his boss. though.different. At six o'clock sharp Corey had finished . However. spirited woman he could easily relate to. due to Vanessa's cool demeanor at the office. and she wouldn't let him forget it. He had discovered a side of her he never knew existed. no questions asked. Too bad. he now knew where he stood. He'd nearly fallen onto the floor as she busted out her guitar and played a Johnny Cash song. Why should he complain at all? She had welcomed him and his capricious roommate into her home. It could have been the wine. Underneath her cavalier facade was a warm. compassionate. That was a big deal and he'd always be grateful. but he liked to think maybe she was starting to let her guard down around him.
” she called out.his tasks for the day. She was meeting with a prospective client in her office. with the exception of Vanessa. “I guess so. and headed out. “Are you heading back to the house?” she asked. He packed up his stuff. taking a step closer to him. “Hey. “Aren't you afraid someone will find out?” “Look. This is all new territory for me. Why?” “I thought we could have dinner again.” Corey narrowed his eyes. “I'm sorry I responded that way. Vanessa was running down the hall toward him. wait up. grabbed his coat.” she said. The rest of the crew had already gone home. Corey backed away from the elevator. I've always made it a point to keep my professional . He was about to press the button for the elevator when he heard footsteps.
” Chapter 18 After spending most of the day holed up . She won't be able to resist. She might actually grace us with her presence tonight.” “I hope so.” Corey cracked a smile. I'll make it up to you.” “Good.” “I guess I can understand that. I haven't seen her since day one.” “You don't have to do that. “Frankie has a thing for pizza.life and my personal life separate. I don't quite know how to mix the two.” “I want to. Why don't I just order us pizza tonight.
a cashier for an adult book store. Tina. and—wait for it—a part time telemarketer for a vacuum company.in the bedroom searching for jobs. The manager was a pervert. Anything would be better than going back to the diner. Frankie had found three bleak possibilities: a housekeeping position for a motel. He'd given Frankie the worst hours after she'd refused to suck his dick one night. however. she noticed a plain white envelope slide under her door. anyway. How could she ever look Tina in the eyes again? That bitch. Her stomach growled and she realized the only thing she'd eaten all day was toast and a banana. As Frankie closed the laptop. she caught a whiff of her favorite food. had the best schedule out of anyone who worked there. A few seconds later. She stared at it for a moment before .
she almost felt . For a second. Frankie didn't know what to think. As she descended the stairs. You are cordially invited to join us in the kitchen for pizza. Vanessa and Corey were setting out paper plates and napkins. Sincerely. but it made her smile.picking it up. the wonderful smell made her weak in the knees. Vanessa This Vanessa woman was a trip. while chatting and laughing. Inside the envelope was a handwritten note: Dear Frankie. Look forward to seeing you.
“People like me?” “Yeah.like she was interrupting.” “I didn't think people like you actually liked pizza.” Vanessa seemed shocked at the comment. “Hey gorgeous. “Glad you could make it. Rich people like you. acting cool. “I figured you might need some help with that pizza. Caviar and crumpets?” Frankie immediately regretted the smartassed remark. Frankie.” “How kind of you.” She shrugged. I'm going to take a quick shower.” “And what do rich people eat?” “I don't know.” Vanessa offered her a plate. “Hello. “Help yourself. I'll be back in a few minutes. “Why don't you two dig in.” They seemed surprised to see her.” she said. “Got the invitation.” Corey said.” he said. It was meant to be a joke. .
but it looks like we got mushroom instead.” . right? It's the texture.” “You don't like mushrooms?” “I know it's weird. “You do?” “Yeah.but came off sounding bitter and rude. Much to her relief. Caviar is too salty. Great. He loves them. “Nah.” Vanessa looked up.” Frankie snorted a laugh. “Well. reluctantly placing a slice on her plate. And crumpets? They're too … British. I ordered pepperoni. they're disgusting. what kind of pie you got there?” Vanessa lifted the lid and scowled.” “I hate mushrooms.” Frankie cracked a smile.” Vanessa said. “Don't say that to Corey. Vanessa laughed it off. “I'm the only person I know who hates mushrooms.” “I know. “So. They remind me of big boogers.
He made his way back toward the kitchen. but stopped short and remained out of sight when he heard his name mentioned in their conversation. right?” “Guess so. I guess we'll just have to pick them off. The fact that Frankie had chosen to join them for dinner was a good sign. as there was always the potential for disaster whenever she opened her mouth. “There's been something different about . He hoped she'd be on her best behavior.” *** Corey showered then took his time getting dressed in order to give Frankie and Vanessa an opportunity to bond.“Well.
pointing to a mound of discarded mushrooms. you two.” Frankie stood up and rubbed her belly. “I'm full. not so much. I can't remember the last time he put that stuff on. “Or maybe he's trying to impress someone. Us.” Vanessa said.” Frankie said to Vanessa.” Corey made his entry. More for me.” Vanessa said.” Frankie said. “How so?” “Well … he's been wearing cologne the past few days. keen on thwarting this particular line of discussion. Frankie smirked. “Gross. Any pizza left for me?” “Plenty. “I hear you like those. “Ew.” “Bonus.” “Maybe he discovered a new scent he likes.” “Glad you think so. I think I'll go back upstairs and . “Hey.him this week.” Corey piled a mound onto a slice.
” “But you only had two slices.” “Are you sure? From what you've said. That really hit the spot. “Frankie is her own person. I think maybe we hit it off. I talked to my landlord. though Vanessa didn't seem bothered. “Don't you want another?” “No.” Frankie grabbed a bottle of water and disappeared. By the way.lie down.” “I'm glad. thanks. Corey thought about apologizing for his roommate.” “I like her. it sounds like that girl Tina could cause more problems. He finally installed the new locks on our apartment doors so we're good to move back in.” Vanessa said.” Vanessa said. “She's got spunk. Most people don't get her.” “When are you heading back?” “Tomorrow. She doesn't know where I .
“Privacy? I barely see either of you. Why don't you stay another week? Better safe than sorry.” “I'll make you a deal.” He didn't want to sound too eager. He didn't want things to become weird and possibly ruin his career plans. it was a unique opportunity to gain her trust on a personal level.“ . “If you cook dinner every night we'll call it even. then I insist on paying rent.” she said. Don't you think it might be safer if you two stayed here a while longer?” “That's very generous.” Vanessa waved the comment away. but he liked the idea.live. but I'm sure you'd like your privacy back.” Corey pretended to think it over. But on the flip side. Vanessa. “If we stay. One more week. “Okay.
“What was all that talk about me wearing cologne?” “What?” “I heard you talking to Vanessa. “I have a bone to pick with you.” Frankie feigned innocence. Corey knocked then eased his way into Frankie's room and shut the door behind him. “A bone? Oh. girl. You told her I've been wearing cologne lately.*** After dinner.” He ignored her attempt at humor.” He forced himself to take a deep breath . you naughty boy. Why would you do that?” “You little eavesdropper.
remember?” “What else was I going to talk about other than hating mushrooms. . If the people at the office find out Vanessa and I are spending time together she'll freak out and I'll be out of a job.” “Do you have a thing for her?” “Of course not. okay?” Frankie made a motion of zipping her mouth shut. “What are you trying to do? She's my boss. do me a favor and keep your opinions to yourself.” She narrowed her eyes. So just zip it. “You're such a liar. locking it. and throwing away the key. If she suspects I have a thing for her it could ruin our professional relationship.” “Look.” “You can't be putting ideas in her head like that. You're the only thing she and I have in common.and simmer down.
“It sucks that you're right.“By the way.” “In the meantime.” “Very funny. maybe you can show Vanessa some of your other talents.” “What other talents?” Frankie held up two fingers and stuck her tongue between them at the joint. How many times do we .” Corey said. so---” “You want to stay here. “You're a nasty little pig.” “I have an idea.” Frankie crossed her arms and sighed. You'd miss me too much. don't you?” “That's not the point. Corey swatted her hand away but couldn't help from laughing.” “Soon. “she has invited us to stay another week. Listen. when are you going to show Vanessa your portfolio? She'll never know how talented you are if you don't. I'll go home. and you two can stay here and play house.
right. only to have a hankering for some pussy the next. We'll see about that. You can pine for the pork sword on one day. I'm perfectly fine with celibacy.” Frankie roared with laughter.” “Come on. Take the old one-eye to the optometrist.” “Let's leave my doctor out of this. How long has it been since you gave someone the hot beef injection?” “The what?” “You know.” “I don't want to think about it.” Chapter 19 . It's quite a good deal if you think about it. Whether you realize it or not. you have the best of both worlds.” “Yeah. A little horizontal refreshment.need to go over this? I'm not getting involved. “You are so lame.
albeit amusing roommate. Vanessa would never have imagined it. staying at her house. and his uncouth. thinking about the pizza dinner the night before. leaving little time to make her three o'clock appointment with a replacement attorney. A week ago. Her business lunch meeting had stretched well into the afternoon. a pretty-boy with his perfect hair and neatly pressed clothing. Corey.Vanessa was out of the office for the majority of the day on Tuesday. She smiled as she drove home around six. Corey had been able to rearrange her schedule. Thankfully. The dichotomy between the pair of them was amazing: Corey. .
” . Said it was important.” “Is everything okay?” “I don't know. She had just enough time to get her things together for her second burlesque class. “Hey. okay?” “That's fine. One of my nursing instructors wants to speak with me. I'll see you there. She cut the engine and grabbed her purse just as her cell phone rang. I was calling to tell you I'll meet you there. Are you getting ready to head out?” “Yes. Good luck. It's probably nothing. I'll grab my stuff and be by to pick you up shortly. who didn't seem to care what she looked like.” “Actually. Aunty.and Frankie. honey. Vanessa pulled into the garage and checked her watch. It was Anna. I just got home from work.
” “What class?” Frankie asked. Corey gave her a look.” “Shut up. “I've got to meet Anna at class in half an hour. walking through the kitchen without stopping. or so I'm told.” “That's because Vanessa asked me not to. “Anyway.” he interjected. “Go ahead and have dinner without me.Vanessa entered the house to find Corey and Frankie sitting at the kitchen counter. It's a birthday present I'll never forget.” Vanessa headed up the stairs.” Vanessa said. “Didn't Corey tell you? I'm taking a burlesque class with my niece.” The green ruffle dress hanging in the . That's way cool. I can't believe Corey didn't say anything. “Gotta grab my stuff and head out.
Bag in hand. She stuffed it into her gym bag along with the other props Anna had purchased for her during last week's shopping spree: fishnet stockings. *** Vanessa waited for Anna in the front lobby of the dance studio. setting it free from its satin coat hanger. there was no time to play show and tell with her house guests. bypassed the kitchen. she slipped back downstairs. Growing . and exited through the front door.closet looked out of place adjacent to all the conservative business suits. Vanessa gave it a yank. long velvet gloves. and the shiny red pumps with the razor-sharp pointy heels.
” She followed Busty Betty down the hall and couldn't help but gawk. mid-thigh skirt and a sparkly silver tank top. . right?” “Yes. black. fine. “Okay. Vanessa heard the clippetty-clop echo of heels across the floor.” “Why don't you join us in the dance hall so we can get started? We're discussing some very important aspects of performance tonight. she sent her a text at five past seven: Where are you? A minute later.” What could be so important? It's not like they were developing a cure for cancer. She should be arriving any second now.” Busty Betty said in her fake cutesy voice. “There you are. Her outfit consisted of a swishy.impatient. “You must be waiting for your niece.
How could she walk so effortlessly in those four inch heels? Vanessa barely recognized the other women as she entered the hall. Busty Betty pointed toward a door on the far end of the dance hall.” Vanessa made a beeline for the door. avoiding eye-contact with the other ladies. but how could anyone avert their eyes from this spectacle? She chuckled at the instructor's confident swagger. The green ruffled dress in her bag suddenly seemed clownish by comparison. “You can change in there. Once inside.Vanessa didn't make a habit of checking out other women's bodies. Each was dressed as if they were auditioning for the Moulin Rouge. Her impulse was to throw it into the nearest trash can and set it ablaze. hips swaying to and fro in a hypnotizing cadence. This was not . she closed the door and dropped her bag on a chair.
To her horror. She looked like Glinda. stepped into the pumps. rubbing both palms up and down her face in a frantic motion. dug the stockings out of the bag. there was no hiding the embarrassing granny underwear. what other choice did she have now? She quickly disrobed. As skeptical as she was about the green monstrosity. Oh God. Good Witch of the East. Vanessa cringed. and looked in the mirror.going to be pretty. Vanessa had neglected to include sexy underwear in her ensemble. rolled the long gloves up her arms. the dress was too short. She squeezed into the dress. To make matters worse. Where was Anna? Maybe she could stop somewhere and pick up new undies. and slipped them on. ratty hip-huggers with diagonal orange and ivory stripes. She . Those she wore were old. taking care to prevent snags.
I was just gonna call you. and you need to get to class. I'll tell you about it later.” “It's involved. I need a big favor.” “What? Are you kidding me?” “I just had a meeting with my instructor.” Anna ended the call. I gotta go. Aunty. leaving Vanessa to stare at the phone in her hand. . but I'm not going to make it tonight. He had some very interesting news. I forgot to bring decent underwear.fished her phone out of the bag and placed a call. Please don't be mad.” “Look.” “Tell me now. Could you stop and pick some up for me?” “Underwear?” “If you could see the ones I have on you'd understand the urgency.” “I'm so sorry. Don't you skip out. “Hey. Love you.
” “Maybe I should just sit tonight's class . “I'm not so sure I should come out looking like this. “Oh dear.” “You wouldn't happen to have an extra pair of Victoria's Secret panties lying around.” she said. would you?” Betty covered her mouth with both hands when Vanessa lifted her dress. stuffing her work clothes into the bag. I forgot some things at home. “Uh. “Well.A knock on the door jolted her upright.” “Tonight is not a dress rehearsal.” she said. I'm sure it will be fine.” Vanessa fumbled around. her ruby red lips curling into a smile.” Vanessa opened the door and Betty's eyes washed over her. “that's quite an outfit. “How are you doing in there? Need some help?” It was Busty Betty. “Whatever you have.
The others are waiting. This whole thing was going to be a disaster. She was not ready. “I guess.” “That's too bad.” “I'm going to judge me. By the way. What was her name? The girl regarded her kindly and smiled. . You'll just have to show her what we'll be learning in class this evening.” “Just relax. Vanessa. No one is here to judge you. my niece isn't coming tonight.” “Nonsense. “Okay. right?” The girl had remembered her name.” Vanessa gave a reluctant nod.out. “Hi. We need to get started. Vanessa.” Vanessa joined the other women and stood next to the young Korean girl who wanted to be a pediatrician. Ready?” No. You're fine.
hoping her name would magically appear in her head. “Lilly. The room fell silent. Your legs look amazing.” the girl said.” “No worries. I'd like to start the lesson tonight by talking about stage names. I'm terrible with names. “Ah.which made things awkward. Thanks for reminding me. Sorry. yes. pointing to her own chest.” Was she joking? Vanessa didn't detect any sarcasm. “Yes. “Nice dress. that's right. Feel free to incorporate a part of your own . Your stage name will serve to define the character you want to be.” Vanessa nodded and smiled.” Lily said. “Good evening. ladies. “Really?” The headmistress sauntered to the front of the class and raised her arms in the air to get everyone's attention.
Busty Betty returned to the front of the . we're going to learn a few simple. Experiment with different cultures.” The music started.'” She thrust her shoulders back and emphasized her ample endowment. Burlesque is not meant to be too serious. sultry attitude. Let your creative juices go wild. “Or you can establish a whole new persona. an old tune from the forties that Vanessa recognized. Any questions?” The group stirred with excitement as the headmistress sauntered over to the sound equipment. “Last week we practiced how to walk with a confident.name then add an attribute. yet very effective moves that every burlesque dancer needs to know. It could be derived from a wild animal. or maybe an exotic polynesian princess. Tonight. but keep in mind you always want to maintain an air of mystery and playfulness. such as I did with 'Busty Betty.
class and faced toward the mirror. he audience will fail to find it tantalizing. Vanessa decided she'd better . pull back on the middle finger. We start by biting the tip of the pinkie and pulling with our teeth. and stick your tail feathers out in a flirtatious manner.” Vanessa stood there like a statue. opera gloves on. Slowly … teasingly … and then we take the other hand. watching her fellow classmates as they tried to mimic Busty Betty's moves. and slowly remove the glove. I will show you how to do the glove peel. “Since we all have our long. Keep in mind that your body will need to be moving to the music. or arch your back. Sway your hips. What was so sexy about removing a glove with your teeth? The others seemed to be taking it quite seriously. which took up the whole length of the room. If you just stand there.
ladies. “You can do it slow or fast depending on the music or the mood of your character. It was time to focus. Lets put the gloves back on and I'll show you another move. Competitive by nature. Her movements felt stiff and ungraceful.get with the program. “Another quintessential move is called 'the quiver. . And repeat. Bite … pull … arch the back … peel the glove off.” Vanessa felt she was lagging behind. or risk looking even more idiotic doing nothing at all. and not be so self critical. “You look amazing. she didn't intend to let the others show her up.'” Busty Betty demonstrated by shaking her breasts from side to side. right? Busty Betty smiled. It wasn't as easy as it looked. Now. She tried to copy the others. This was supposed to be fun. If only she could relax.
Maybe she was starting to get the hang of it. and do the shimmy. except when she opened her eyes and glanced in the mirror. back and forth. Looking sexy. The rest will follow. Not necessarily the impression she was going for. This wasn't so hard. in little jerky movements. It's easiest if you focus on moving your shoulders like this. ladies. “Very nice. alternating back and forth. See how the hips naturally make the wiggle motion? Just focus on the knees and the rest will .Try it with me. She closed her eyes and tried to become one with the music. Now. Keep your feet slightly apart and bend the left knee then the right. she looked like someone having an epileptic seizure.” Vanessa started with small movements at first. lets focus on the hips. and gradually increased speed once her shoulders got used to the motion.
“Nice hip action. who still couldn't quite coordinate the alternating knee technique.follow.' This little . ladies. Was she bending her knees too much? The rest of the girls seemed to catch on quickly. Vanessa could have used a little more time perfecting the last one. It was everything but natural to Vanessa. “The last move we'll learn tonight is the infamous 'bump and grind. but apparently she was in the minority. Her hip motion was not fluid. I'm so impressed with your abilities. moving around doing figureeights and adding arm extensions like it was the most natural thing in the world. Is everyone ready for the next move?” The students clapped and cheered.” Vanessa bent her knees as instructed. but failed to capture the desired effect.
but Vanessa remained on the floor.number has crude connotations. Vanessa watched their reflections in the mirror and couldn't help but think they'd all done this before. The ladies dispersed. her fluid dance delivered with precision and pizzazz. Her flared skirt swooshed across her toned thighs in rhythmic cadence. peering into the mirror. Who was this person staring back at her . Busty Betty announced a five minute break.” Busty Betty demonstrated again. but it's a harmless hip movement to the beat of the music. She would perform the bump and grind with flair by the end of class … if she didn't collapse first. taking cues from the headmistress. consisting of a circular rotation. The ladies all joined in. but Vanessa wan't going down without a fight. Frustration persisted. By the end of the second song.
” “Then please enlighten me. “You need to be patient with yourself. This doesn't come easy for everyone.” “Everyone says burlesque is supposed to make you feel confident and sexy. “That's not what I see. “Does it look like everything's okay?” Busty Betty gave her a reassuring smile. all I see is a buffoon.” . who had conveniently blown her off at the last minute.with the ugly dress? How did she wind up here? And what was the purpose of learning these demeaning dance moves? It was humiliating. “Is everything okay?” A little laugh escaped. This was supposed to be bonding time with her niece. “Vanessa?” Busty Betty was standing beside her now. When I watch myself in the mirror.” Betty shook her head with furrowed eyebrows.
Just let your body and mind surrender to the music. You have to stop trying so hard and just let go. Trust me. You have to open up and shed all your inhibitions. You are unique. hoping the headmistress hadn't heard. Don't worry about what anyone else is doing. so how do I do that?” “First of all. This may sound counter-intuitive.“I see someone who wants to control her true sensual self. but it's not about technique. . stop thinking. You have to believe you're sexy. everything else will fall into place. If you let the joyous. It doesn't matter that you're not the best dancer.” “Okay.” she muttered under her breath. It's more about freedom and attitude. frisky side of you come out.” “Easy for you to say.
Only Busty Betty remained. and made her way out. slammed the door shut. “I figured you'd . busy shutting things down. “I was going to check on you in the dressing room.” she said. and tried to undo the side zipper on the dress. She grabbed the material on either side of the zipper and pulled as hard as she could. She high-tailed it to the dressing room. “Come on. She let it fall to the floor like road kill. of course. By the time she changed back into her business suit. The fabric tore and the whole side of the dress split in two. Vanessa tried to walk past her unnoticed. a twinkle in her eye. nearly everyone had gone.By the end of class. but after three or four tries. Vanessa couldn't wait to get out of her hideous outfit. she just didn't care. Busty Betty looked up. It was stuck. you little shit!” She fiddled and fumbled with it.
Most students. “This was all my niece's idea. If .” Busty Betty smiled. I can tell you don't really want to be here. even if they're uncomfortable at first. though.” “Yeah. but I have to be honest.” Vanessa jerked her head back in surprise. I don't care if you're the worst dancer in the world.” Vanessa let go a long breath. I almost gave in. still want to get something out of the process. selfdefeating attitude will bring the morale of the whole class down.eventually win the battle with that dress. I fed it to the trash can. This is supposed to be about camaraderie and inspiration. Right where it belongs. I'm doing it for her. “Why do you say that?” “I've been teaching this stuff for years. it was close.” “And I think that's sweet. “You know. but a negative. I get the feeling you resent the whole idea.
But I made a promise to my niece and I don't intend to break it. Is that something we can work out?” Busty Betty smiled.” . do you really want to?” Vanessa wanted to be pissed. than maybe it really isn't for you. “I think that could be arranged.” Was Busty Betty asking her to leave the class? “Are you saying you don't think I'll be able to learn this stuff?” “I have no doubt you can learn it. Maybe I need some one-on-one lessons in between our classes. There must be a way I can make this right. “Look. I'll admit this is a far cry from anything I'd ever choose to do on my own. But deep down she knew Busty Betty had a point. The question is.you have some other vision of what this is supposed to be. her perfect white teeth like pearls against her crimson lips.
” What in the world was she talking about. it's good depending on how you look at it. The girl who was supposed to do it backed out.Five minutes later. Vanessa spotted Anna's red Jetta parked next to her Lexus. starting this weekend. “Well. I'm sorry I missed class tonight.” “I was just offered an internship in Boston for six weeks. I had to make a quick decision.” “An internship? Where?” .” “Is everything okay? What's the good news?” Anna's bit her lower lip and gave a timid grin. “Okay. “I wanted to see you. “Anna? What are you doing here?” Her niece came around the car to meet her. spit it out.
And who knows. Aunty. Oh. “And the fact that you got picked … I'm so proud. You've already done the first . “I feel awful. We can do this some other time. I figured it wouldn't happen.” Anna backed up a step and shook her head. maybe they'll hire me in the future.” “That's great news. “But you know what this means. right?” Vanessa realized what she was saying.” Vanessa drew her niece into her arms and held her. If it all goes well.” Anna shook her head. but never heard back. it's going to be an amazing experience for me.“In the ER at Brigham and Women's Hospital. I applied for it months ago.” “You're education is more important. “You won't be able to continue with our burlesque lessons. “But you can't stop now.” Anna let out a sigh.
It wouldn't be . “What am I doing?” “You're doing that 'I'll-agree-with-youbut-you'll-feel-guilty-about-it' thing.” Vanessa folded her arms over her chest and stared at her niece.” Anna looked down at her feet. I want you to continue.” Anna lifted her head and her eyebrows shot up. In fact. Please tell me you will.” “The whole point of doing this was to do it together.two classes. Why should I expect you to keep your promise to me when I'm the one who has to back out. I get it. Why would I continue without you?” “Because you need this. what the heck was I thinking? This isn't for you. “I know what your doing. “You're right. I ruined my dress.” “I certainly don't.” “Look. The zipper got stuck and I tore it. I mean.
fair. “You know. And Anna would never hold it against her. However. I'll continue on with these burlesque lessons on one condition.” Vanessa said. “Are you kidding? I wouldn't miss it for the world. she'd already arranged for private lessons with Busty Betty.” Chapter 20 .” “You have to come back for the final performance.” Anna blinked. “I'll make a deal with you. “Anything.” The look of jubilation on Anna's face said it all.” Vanessa realized this was the perfect opportunity to quit. I'm going to need your help with my hair and make-up.
The butterflies fluttered in his stomach as he waited for his boss to arrive. keeping things professional. Corey tried to focus on presenting his portfolio.m. gazing at his portfolio. She'd left the house this morning before he'd even gone downstairs for breakfast. .Corey Burns sat at his desk. He'd missed her company while she was at her burlesque class the night before. now he was ready to show it to Vanessa. Would she be impressed enough to offer him a permanent position in her creative department? It was 8:45 a. and went straight to her bedroom after a short chat. The mock ads and artwork had taken months to perfect. She hadn't come home until ninethirty.
” It wasn't a common occurrence for Larry to stop and chit-chat. He often took it upon himself to do research.There were things he could do while he waited. what's that?” Larry asked. Corey. Larry Pine. something apparently caught his eye. however. “Morning. Today. walking with his usual lopsided gait. walked into the reception room carrying a large laptop bag.” he said. or to contact potential clients. “How's it going?” “Not bad. It wasn't like he had to be given strict orders every hour of the day. but he'd always been polite when passing through the front lobby where Corey's desk was located. . creative director and all around weird guy. when Vanessa was busy. “Hey.
that's my portfolio. and began flipping pages. Or . the thought of showing his work to Vanessa scared the shit out of him. Why would Larry take a sudden interest? “Uh. sure. Suddenly. I guess so.” “Are you a photographer or something? “Mostly artistic web design. Maybe it needed to be tweaked further.” he said then hobbled off to his office.pointing. Corey held his breath as Larry reached the final page. “Not bad. “Oh. It was hardly the feedback he was hoping for. Maybe he wasn't ready yet. It was as if he were skimming through an outdated magazine.” Larry leaned over. his face showing no sign of what he might be thinking. opened the top flap.” “Really? Mind if I take a look?” Corey hesitated.
The Pleasure Dome smelled like mildew mixed with body odor.completely redone. Good thing she'd left early. It took two different bus routes just to get downtown then about ten blocks hoofing it. Then in a matter of seconds … poof. Not that she was all that stoked to be applying for a position with an adult toy store chain. probably trolling for nudie magazines or plastic . *** Frankie barely made it in time for her interview. She brought a hand up to cover her nose as she looked around. She spied two male customers wandering the aisles. He'd been so sure that he was ready just five minutes ago.
” She spun around and got the hell out of there. older guy with a Slim Jim hanging out of his mouth gawked at her from behind the cash register. Instead of getting on the bus. You the girl I talked to on the phone?” Frankie froze. He gave her a lopsided. autumn air made her feel better. Frankie checked her watch: 4:35. nope. yellow-toothed grin. A few deep breaths of the crisp. The place gave her the creeps. *** . Definitely wasn't me. “Is Pete here?” she asked. A greasy.vaginas. “That's me. maybe Corey could pick her up on his way back from work. “Uh. She'd rather live on the streets and beg for food than work for another pervert.
” “I have an interview tomorrow for a telemarketing position. Can't you just picture it? 'Hello. I've got you covered for a while.” “Yeah. Smith? Would you like to buy a worthless vacuum? It really . We both know I don't have the best people skills in the world.” Corey gave her a sideward glance. Like I said. “It didn't.” “Sorry I asked.“How did the job interview go?” Corey asked as she climbed in his car. Maybe I deserve to work in an adult toy store giving demonstrations on how to use the Big Black Monster. right. I barely graduated high school. “Be patient.” “The what?” “Seriously? It's the biggest dildo ever made? You really need to get out more. Just hold out until the right opportunity comes along. Mrs.
but I doubt she knows anyone who would want to hire me. our creative director.” “Why would she help me?” “Why wouldn't she? She knows a lot of people. she wasn't really in the office much today. if you catch my drift. right?” “I suppose. so I didn't get a chance to show it to her.” “Doesn't hurt to ask. Well.” “And?” “And he didn't seem all that impressed.sucks. what did Vanessa say about your portfolio?” “Well.” “In other words. alright?” .” “No. you chickened out. glanced at it. By the way. Larry.” “She's cool and all. sort of.'” “Why don't we ask Vanessa if she knows of anyone looking for help.
He'd set the world on fire once he realized just how talented he was. And I need time to rethink some of my portfolio. Chapter 21 . actually. watching the buildings go by. anyways? Sounds like a dick to me. Show it to Vanessa after dinner tonight.” “He's brilliant.“Well. He was smart. If only she could be more like Corey.” Corey shook his head. and creative. gorgeous.” Frankie leaned back and sighed. who the fuck is he. “I want to keep our business matters at the office.” “Well. who cares.
put their feet up. sharing a good laugh every now and then. music. their living arrangement was working out fine. or whatever struck their fancy. she'd almost be sad to see them go. Corey had proven to be quite capable in the kitchen. and discuss world affairs. . They'd take their wine glasses into the living room. Corey had texted about dinner: he was making a pot roast. if only with cleaning up after the fact. She'd pick up a bottle of cabernet to compliment it. Even Frankie had helped out.Vanessa stopped at her favorite wine shop on her way home from the office. There had been the stimulating conversations with Corey. in fact. The vision of another home-cooked meal made her smile. All in all. Sometimes they'd just watch television. So good. It was so easy to be with him.
taking it all in. though she knew precisely which bottle she wanted and where to find it. No pressures. There was no hurry. She closed her eyes for a second. And he was smart enough to keep business matters at the office. She meandered back to her car. who always complained about this or that? There were no expectations with Corey. She . walking past small boutiques and cafe's.Why couldn't it have been like that with James. She purchased three bottles and a wedge of aged cheddar then left the shop. each one a small piece of art. why would there be? They had a mutual understanding. Vanessa wandered the aisles of wine racks. She took her time perusing the different labels. The pungent scent of various cheeses and olives permeated the space. Dinner wouldn't be ready until seven. But then again.
” She walked up to the ivory dress that initially caught her eye. so why not? The shop was empty.” “Okay. Just looking. Should she go in and try it on? Her latest fashion faux pas was lying in the bottom of a dumpster somewhere. “Would you like to try that on?” a voice called out. Vanessa turned to find an older woman standing across the room. allowing Vanessa to view multiple racks of clothing and accessories without distraction.” “Just so you know. no thanks. She needed a replacement for class. “Uh. It was a stretchy material.peered inside a thrift shop and spied a cute little ivory dress with gorgeous fringe. She loved the bottom hem with . thanks. everything in the store is twenty percent off today.
As she was about to walk around the car something caught her eye in a store window. She opened the passenger side door and heaved the bags in. Vanessa glanced at her watch then balanced the bags in one arm as she took the car keys out of her coat pocket. she'd have something decent to wear to the burlesque gig. She walked closer to get a better look. not quite sure what to make of it. Finally. Vanessa checked the tag. She handed the woman some cash and left with a new treasure. She blinked a few times. so what. Staring her in the face was the image of her husband James. Size four. The bookstore had a display in the front window with a little spotlight shining down. And just in time for her private lesson tomorrow night with Busty Betty. And only ten dollars? If it didn't fit. A small poster .its silky fringe dangling down.
the damned thing was selling. In fact. and according to this. His first two books had never sold enough copies to warrant it. A mix of emotions bombarded her: .m. October 31 at 10:00 a. his publisher almost reneged on the third book. or at least not that she could recall. the sales were so bad.announced an upcoming book signing for his latest work: Please join us for a book signing with bestselling local author James Roth Saturday. But here it was. Book signing? Best selling author? Since when? James had never done a signing before.
“Ever since I've had this kitchen to work with. making . *** Corey removed the piping hot casserole dish from the oven and placed it on a trivet to let it cool. and marched straight to the cashier. delicious air billowed up. She went inside. “Since when did you become such a good cook?” Frankie asked. A warm gush of moist. sitting at the counter with a can of Coke.bewilderment and curiosity intertwined with guilt. lifting the casserole cover to peek inside.” he said. grabbed a hardcover copy.
his mouth water. “Set some plates and silverware out on the table. Corey gave her a warm smile.” “Very funny. “Uh.” Corey said as he pointed to the dishwasher. bags dangling from her arm.” “Had to get more wine. “I think it's ready.” Owing to her stiff tone. now? Do me a favor.” Frankie slid her stool back to get up. so I picked up a few other things. would you please?” “Jeesh.” “When is Vanessa gonna be here? I'm starving.” The mechanical hum of the garage door opener followed. “Vanessa has you trained pretty well.” Vanessa entered. I should start calling you manservant. Corey sensed . “You've been shopping.
your timing is impeccable. “Well. Dinner is served. it's obvious she doesn't want to discuss it. placing the bottle on the counter.” she said.” She gathered her bags and walked away without another word. “That will go nicely with the pot roast. “What the hell is her problem?” “I don't know.” “Really?” She reached into one of her shopping bags. Frankie leaned toward him. He was afraid to ask. avoiding eyecontact.” he said.” “Actually. “but whatever it is. pulled out a bottle of red wine. and handed it to him. I'm not very hungry at this point.she was agitated. When she was out of sight. “why don't you and Frankie go ahead and eat.” “Maybe you should go up there and see .
Everyone plays games. “You don't understand women very well.if she's okay.” “Come on.” Frankie shook her head. he'd pretend to go whack himself off in the bathroom.” “Hey.” “Gross. do you?” Corey smirked. Thanks for putting that vision in my head.” “Seriously. Turned me on every time. Go ask her what's wrong. “What are you talking about?” “Don't be such a bonehead. She says what she means.” “I think she'd rather be alone.” “All I'm saying is that Vanessa doesn't play games.” Frankie snapped. .” “She's not the type who needs coddling. If there was a night I didn't feel like having sex. Even Adam. Everyone plays games. “I resent that.
” “Speaking of Adam. don't care. Nope. “What about your brother?” “Um.Even if they're just sex games. huh?” “Nope. The loser hadn't bothered to call even once.” “What about Tina?” She rolled her eyes.” “So he still has no idea what happened to you?” “Nope.” “Think of it this way. Leave the losers behind and move forward?” “Does that mean I should leave myself . let me think. “Please. Now you can start over with a clean slate. Not since the night he left.” “Is she still working at the diner?” “Don't know.” Corey had to bite his tongue. Frankie seemed hurt. you still haven't heard from him. Like I'd ever talk to her again.
” Frankie broke down and laughed. you picked me to be your roommate. Chapter 22 Larry Pine stood in the doorway of Vanessa Roth's office. peering in with his beady eyes. Larry?” . You're smart in a lot of ways. “Not true. for one.behind. because I'm the biggest loser of them all?” Corey smiled.” “Oh yeah? How so?” “Well. “Vanessa?” “Hmm?” “Got a minute?” “What do you need.
“He does whatever needs to be done. taking his time looking at the artwork on her walls. or the design aspect of what we do here?” “No. Have you seen it?” .He waltzed in. “I saw his portfolio yesterday. “Why do you ask?” “Has he expressed any interest in getting involved with graphic arts.” She didn't have time for this. Are those new?” What did he care? Get to the point. “Nope. What's up?” “Just wondering where your assistant is today?” “Corey? He's out running errands. Why?” Larry sat down in front of Vanessa's desk. he hasn't. “Nice prints. Why?” “I was just curious as to what kind of work he does for you?” Vanessa shrugged.
I'd love a few weeks to try him out and see what he's got. We could certainly use some help with the new accounts.“No.” “But he doesn't have any experience that I'm aware of. It'll save me from having to break any bad habits he might have developed. Suddenly you think he's ready for you and Joe?” “Like I said. You know. “And who's gonna take up the slack if I . see how he does.” Larry shrugged. It would be good to get some fresh eyes on our latest projects. “All the better. He mentioned it a while back. the kid has got potential. I haven't had the opportunity to look at it.” “I don't get it. You saw his portfolio.” She crossed her arms over her chest.” “Well. I was thinking maybe he could work with me and Joe for a few weeks.
And he's got plenty to do. This was the last thing she needed to concern herself with right now. but mostly because of the shame she'd felt for waiting so long to read it. technically. “Okay.” Larry threw his hands in the air and began walking away.” “I didn't. Forget I ever mentioned it.” As he left her office. How dare he try to take Corey from her? Not that he would be going away. She'd finished it around four in the morning with tears in her eyes. .release him to you two?” “Do you really need a full time assistant? Corey looks bored out of his mind half the time if you ask me. Fine. Vanessa felt the heat rising in her cheeks. due in part to the novel's bittersweet ending. but the dynamic would change completely. tired and cranky from staying up all night reading James's book.
while Corey and Frankie were moving back to their apartment. tonight was her first private lesson with Busty Betty.When she finally tried to sleep. all she could do was lie there thinking. but wouldn't explain what it was about. but what else would she do tonight? Anna would be packing to leave for Boston. And to top it off. It had crossed her mind to cancel. Larry Pine requested a meeting tomorrow morning at nine. Everyone was leaving all at once. *** Corey was completely baffled. Larry hadn't seemed too .
One thing was certain: Seth had to be gone by the time Vanessa returned. Once inside. brown eyes full of amusement. Seth looked up. Frankie had called an hour prior and informed him her brother Seth had returned to town.interested in his work. A smile creased his lips. As he pulled up to Vanessa's house. Seth?” It was his way of announcing his arrival. he noticed a beat-up van with Vermont license plates parked in the driveway. He was here. . Corey heard the siblings chatting in the kitchen. “How long have you lived in Vermont. so there must be something else going on. He needed to assess the situation with Seth to find out if he was clean and what his plans were. It was probably a good thing Vanessa had her burlesque class tonight.
” “She owns an advertising agency. Frankie placed a hand on her brothers back. “That's right. “I had no idea you guys moved into a mansion.” Seth chimed in. I gave him directions to get here. I was so pumped when he called to say he was at the apartment. I was in rehab. His hair was actually combed and his clothes appeared to be clean. Maybe he really was trying to get his life together. he didn't show it.” Corey took a good hard look at Seth. He did seem better now than a year ago. I came as soon as I could. huh? What kind of job does she have? Shit. she's gotta be raking in the dough. buddy. man.“Hey. ” . “Yeah. How's it hangin'?” “Did you get my messages over the past two weeks?” If Seth had picked up on the sarcasm. So this is your boss's pad.
So you guys must be tight. Corey smiled and said.” Maybe it was a good thing for Frankie to have her brother around.” Frankie made a pouty face.” Ignoring the remark.“That's cool. You wanna hang out tomorrow? Maybe go catch a flick?” . “In my van. Seth?” “Oh. “It must be freezing at night. “Where will you be staying?” Corey asked. Seth gave his sister a peck on the cheek. Ain't so bad. Or I might just stay around a while.” Corey was relieved there wasn't talk of him staying at the apartment. Maybe a few days. “That's what blankets are for. I don't know. I got a bed set up back there. “How long will you be in town.” Seth shrugged. “I'm headed back into town to see a buddy.
but I'm not gonna hold my breath.” Frankie giggled.” . Seth strutted to the door and waved as he left. buddy. as much as I resent your brother.” “Marcy Dunbar. if it wasn't for him we would never have met. “See ya round.” “Later. “So.” “You know.” Corey said. turning to face Frankie. “he looks good. “I don't know.“Sure. “I'll never forget that day. don't care. What was the name of your slutty girlfriend? I forget.” Corey fist bumped him.” “Whatever became of her?” “Don't know. You think he's really going to clean up his act this time?” She looked up at the ceiling as if pondering the question.” Seth held his closed fist out to Corey.
Chapter 23 Vanessa Roth stood in the middle of the dance floor. “What are you doing?” Vanessa asked.” “I'm just not used to having another . Busty Betty slipped in behind her and placed her hands on Vanessa's hips as if she were about to lift her in the air. Busty Betty chuckled. feeling awkward due to the close proximity. “Don't worry. I'm not getting frisky. It fit perfectly. It was a shock to see the ten dollar thrift store dress on her body. staring at herself in the mirror.
The human body should be appreciated. “Well that's part of your problem. It's not because I want to have sex with her.” “Why does it make you so uncomfortable?” “Because I'm not a lesbian.” Busty Betty removed her hands. you need to let go of any preconceived notions. I'm not gay either. but I can still look at another woman's body and feel aroused. “To truly embrace what burlesque is all about. It's because I appreciate her beauty. just like I appreciate your beauty.” Vanessa stifled a laugh.” “Excuse me?” She spun Vanessa around so they were facing each other.woman's hands on my body. “You think I'm beautiful?” “For some reason you have this hang up with not being able to see your own .
” Busty Betty shook her head. “Okay. Vanessa? To see. It's perfectly healthy to get away from our normal. Like any great actress. It gives you the perfect excuse to do things you wouldn't normally do. responsible. you must take on the role of someone else. let's pretend for a second that you are not you. and experience things they don't have access to in their everyday lives. Or to be someone you might never have the chance to be. tedious lives for a little while.” “But why would I want to do that?” “Why do people travel. That's the beauty of burlesque.beauty. And when I wear skimpy things like this it makes me feel cheap. taste.” . You practically cringe when you look at yourself in the mirror? Why is that?” “I guess I don't consider myself a sexy person.
Be right back. You're starting to get it. well. A few seconds later. She closed her eyes and heard the clicking of Busty Betty's shoes on the dance floor as she walked away. “Okay.” “Yeah. “Hallelujah. I want you to close your eyes and take some deep breaths. the music . easier said than done. from my serious. controlling self.” Vanessa took a deep breath in and let it out slowly.“So your saying I need to take a vacation from myself. I'm going to put on some music.” “Trust me and keep an open mind.” “Good. Keep your head out of the equation and you'll be amazed at what takes place.” Busty Betty looked up with her arms outstretched.” Vanessa obeyed. Or rather. These lessons are more about feeling than they are about thinking.
smiling.” The music was intoxicating. “Don't worry. The slow rhythm of the music was soothing and Vanessa allowed herself to relax.” Vanessa had never tried doing anything with her eyes closed before. “What if I trip?” “I won't let that happen. “Now. We're not at all concerned about technique here.” Vanessa closed her eyes again. All we want right now is to feel the music. I won't molest you. let alone dance. . I want you to simply sway back and forth. She was beginning to like this woman. Then she felt Betty's hands on her shoulders. bluesy tune with a heavy bass line and sultry saxophone. Her eyes popped open. Vanessa began to lose herself in the melody. a slow.began.” Busty Betty said. “Keep them closed.
“How did that feel?” She blinked a few times. Stop thinking about how it looks ad feel the music in your bones. Now relax your neck and sink deeper into your stance. Something had changed. Breathe.” The sound of Busty Betty's voice was soothing now. so confident in her abilities. How could you not admire that? “Nice job. I want you to close your eyes again. Vanessa opened her eyes and saw Busty Betty's face inches from her own. The high-pitched. “Now. I think. “Good. fake voice and annoying giggles were gone. Bend your knees a little and let your hips move.” Busty Betty took a few steps back and clasped her hands together.Busty Betty was so sure of herself. letting the light seep in gradually. but this time . As the song ended.
Why do you feel the need to deprive yourself of physical pleasures?” Vanessa bit her lip as she thought about . It's nothing to be ashamed of.” “By dirty.” “Why is it any different?” “Because touching myself the way you want me to feels so dirty. right? We are sexual beings. you mean sexual.I want you to put your hands on your chest like this. don't you? In the shower.” Vanessa gasped. getting dressed. “I want you to understand that it's okay to feel and appreciate your own body.” She delicately cupped her own breasts. “You want me to touch myself?” “You touch yourself all the time. But that's different. putting on lotion?” “Well. yes. Acknowledge the gifts you possess as a woman.
I'm asking that you let the audience know how comfortable you are with your body. under her breasts. similar to the first. Busty Betty moved her hips to the beat. Touching yourself in this way is an integral part of that.” she said.” Busty Betty smiled. too. . and continuing up until her delicate hands where straight up over her head. I just don't do it in front of other people. Vanessa mimicked her. but still felt uncomfortable about touching her own breasts. “I'm not asking you to whip out a vibrator on stage. I'm not a complete prude. moving to the music until her arms were high over her head. I know how to pleasure myself. If you believe you're sexy. “Just follow my lead. She had no simple answer.” Another song began to play. sliding her hands up the sides of her hips.that one. “Look. they'll believe it. That you're not afraid to flaunt what you have.
“Very nice,” she said. “Keep repeating the same moves until you are comfortable with them. Remember. Don't think. Just feel.” Vanessa closed her eyes again, surrendering her body to the rhythm. Eventually her head started to move on its own volition, rotating side to side while her hands caressed the contours of her body. She forced every negative thought from her mind and focused. This was all that mattered right here and now. When the music stopped, Vanessa opened her eyes. “That's it,” Busty Betty said, snapping her fingers. “I think you've got it now.” Chapter 24
Larry Pine had an odd grin on his face. “Well, Corey, how would you feel about joining our creative department to see what you can do? Prove yourself, and you'll likely be offered a permanent position.” Corey could have kissed him. “Are you serious?” “I am.” Corey shook Larry's hand and decided he rather liked the goofy guy. “I don't know what to say. I didn't think you cared much for my portfolio.” “I'm not saying you don't have a lot to learn, but I see potential in your work.” What about Vanessa? Does she … she must know, right?” “I spoke with her yesterday. She resisted at first, but yes, she's on board
with the idea. She'll find another receptionist.” “Well, I wasn't really her receptionist.” “Whatever. She'll find a replacement. You must understand we won't be able to offer you more money until you prove yourself in this new position.” Corey grinned. “Yes, that's fine.” “Good. You'll start tomorrow.”
Corey left Larry's office and returned to his desk. This should have been the highlight of his adult life, but something felt wrong. He could see Vanessa in her office, talking on the phone. The moment she ended the call, he approached her door and knocked. “Come in.”
“Got a minute?” “Sure. What's up?” “I just finished talking with Larry.” “Yes. So, congratulations.” “Well, thank you, but are you really okay with all of this? I mean, he wants me to start tomorrow. I don't want to put you in a bind.” “It's not a problem. I have a few people in mind to fill the void.” “This is a huge opportunity for me. Thank you so much. I wish there was someway I could show my appreciation.” “Actually, I do have a little something in mind.” Corey noted her mischievous smile. “Anything.” *** “This is delicious,” Vanessa said after
sampling Corey's grilled salmon. “How do you keep the fish so moist?” “It's pretty simple,” he said. “I don't overcook it.” He'd agreed to make dinner for her and Frankie as a thank you for his promotion, and derived pleasure in knowing she was impressed with the meal. “So,” Vanessa said, “You guys are back in your apartment. How is that going?” “The place looks great,” Corey said, “and the landlord put a new surveillance system in place.” “Yeah, and I got some pepper spray,” Frankie added. “Pity the fool who tries to screw with me again.” “Good call,” Vanessa said. “You both must be looking forward to a return to normalcy. Sleeping in your own beds, and all that.” Corey detected a wistfulness in her
tone. Did she miss their company? “We really appreciate your hospitality over the past few weeks. It was very generous of you to come to our rescue. ” “I know,” she said with a straight face. She let go a laugh and added, “You're more than welcome.” The trio remained silent for a few moments when Frankie asked, “How are the burlesque classes going? Have you taken your clothes off yet?” “No, but I learned how to touch myself.” Corey inadvertently coughed a mouthful of food out in his lap, eliciting raucous laughter from the girls. “That's awesome!” Frankie exclaimed, bouncing up and down in her chair. She held up her palm in front of Vanessa, who gave it a slap. Vanessa offered Corey an apologetic look then changed the subject in order to
allow him to regain his composure.“So, Frankie, how goes the job search?” “Not so hot. I'm tired of waiting tables, but there isn't much else out there for someone like me.” Vanessa rested her chin on her fist. “What other things are you good at?” Frankie shrugged. “Not much I guess. All I've ever done is wait tables except for that one gig I had a few years ago.” Corey immediately realized what she was referring to, and hoped she'd keep her mouth shut about it. Vanessa leaned in. “What was it?” “I was a phone sex operator.” “Really?” she said. “Does that pay well?” “It did, but I just couldn't handle it after a while. There are some kinky freaks out there, let me tell you. There was this one guy that wanted me to---”
“Anyway,” Corey interjected, “I have good news, Frankie. I got a promotion at work.” Frankie slapped his arm. “Dude, that is so cool.” “I just found out today.” He glanced at Vanessa.“I still feel bad about leaving you without an assistant, though.” Vanessa smiled. “I'll find someone. Maybe not as good as you, but don't worry about that.” “Larry might decide I'm not right once I start working with them. Then I'll really be screwed.” “I don't think he would have suggested this move if he wasn't relatively sure of your talents. Larry may be a bit odd, but he's a very competent creative director.” Corey was elated, but didn't want to let on. “Thank you, Vanessa. I really mean it.”
“Well,” she said, turning to Frankie, “would you be interested in a part-time position working for me? I'm sure Corey wouldn't mind showing you the ropes.” Frankie's jaw dropped. “You … you're kidding, right?.” “Yeah,” Corey chimed in. “You are kidding, right?” “I'm dead serious,” Vanessa said, calm as can be. “I've gotten to know you fairly well over the past few weeks. You're brighter than you give yourself credit for. I know you've had some tough breaks, but you have a certain fight in you. I admire that. ” Frankie stared straight at Vanessa as if in a trance. Her open lips quivered, but nothing came out of her mouth. Corey had never seen her speechless. Vanessa smiled. “I'll take that as a yes.” Chapter 25
Vanessa felt confident about her decision to hire Frankie as a part-time assistant. Corey had been nice enough to take her shopping for some new outfits, and she wore them well. The goth look was displaced by a more reserved, sophisticated wardrobe. After three days, Frankie had proved herself to Vanessa. She was quick and eager to learn as she adapted to this new environment. There were tweaks that needed to be made, of course: curtailing the foul language, cutting down on the cigarette breaks, and remembering to screen calls more effectively. But she was
“Vanessa. “Come in. A knock on her door startled Vanessa. “The kid will likely be our competition someday. Maybe her experience as a sex operator was a good thing. He doesn't have an appointment. often coming up with solid ideas that impressed. Corey had gone above and beyond. someone named Jim Taylor is here to see you.” . working with Larry while showing Frankie the ropes during breaks. lunch hour. her hair pulled back and fastened in a bun. plain silver stud earrings completed the look. and after work. According to Larry.” Larry had said to Vanessa in private. She feared he might be right.surprisingly organized and engaging on the phone.” Frankie was dressed in a wool blazer with slim black slacks. Meanwhile. Corey brimmed with enthusiasm for pending creative projects. The nose ring was gone.
Jim Taylor.“Did he give a reason for his visit?” “Said he was interested in our services. “Sorry to barge in on you like this. “Ms. . wondering what company he worked for.” “Wait. “Okay. He immediately thrust a large manilla envelope into her outstretched hand. charmed by the man's demeanor. She held her hand out to take his. “Are you Vanessa Roth?” Vanessa smiled. He offered his hand. carrying a briefcase. Send him in.” she shouted. a handsome gentleman in his fifties waltzed in. I have a few minutes.” Seconds later. you've been served. “What the hell is this?” He turned and walked out the door.” he said. Roth.” Vanessa checked her watch then nodded.
” *** Vanessa's focus was lacking the rest of the day. Frankie poked her head in. He was just delivering divorce papers. “Hey. What was his deal?” “Oh. She had Frankie reschedule her appointments so she could go home and sulk in privacy. . a queasiness overtaking her. This could only be one thing. She tore the package open and emptied the papers out onto her desk. nothing important.Vanessa fell back into her chair and closed her eyes. that guy didn't stay very long.
I'm so sorry. but I still can't believe it.” Anna said when Vanessa called. And he still won't return my calls. He doesn't want anything. As soon as I sign the papers it's over. Anna would want to know that James had made it official: he was going through with the divorce. You'd never be able to trust him again so what's the use?” “I know. She debated whether or not to call her niece. There was no escaping reality. Everything seems to have happened so fast.The house felt particularly empty when she got there. Just wants to keep his car. Hah! He's a bestselling author. Aunty. She was alone. right? I guess he can . “Oh. I feel as though I had no opportunity to work things out. “But you know what? Maybe you're better off.
Did you like it?” “Yes.afford to buy his own house now.” “Wow. You said he doesn't want anything in the divorce?” “Correct.” “And what about his books?” “I saw his new one at the bookstore.” Anna said.” “Will you be going?” Vanessa hesitated. I cried at the end. It's kind of sweet. Go ahead.” “Hold on. And that's not all. “Back up a little.” “No kidding.” “Apparently. he just can't wait to start a new life with Wendy the wench bag. I bought it and read the whole thing in one night.” “That's unbelievable.” “Really?” . He's got a book signing event this weekend.” “It's not pathetic. “Of course not. call me pathetic.
” “How so?” “Because now I know he must really love her.” “Tell me about it. The fact that he's not trying only makes it worse.” “I'm surprised you're handling it so well.” Anna was silent for a few seconds. just like that?” “What else can I do? What's the point in trying to contest it? If he doesn't want to be with me. He could probably get it if he pushed. It's futile.” . I'm a little angry with him right now. I'm not going to force the issue.“Why? You think I should?” “I don't know.” “I know.” “This sucks. I'm impressed he's not looking for alimony. but at the same time. “So you're going to sign the papers and hand them over.
” “I wish I could be there for you. Let's do that when you return from Boston.” Chapter 26 . In person. honey. I'd bring over two pints of cookie dough ice-cream. “That sounds wonderful.” Vanessa smiled through her tears. and we'd eat right out of the containers and watch reruns of Sex and the City.” “What about those people staying at the house?” “They went back.“Who says I'm handling it well? I'm just handling it.
It felt strange to be back in the apartment though there was no trace of what had gone down. tiles sparkling and a clean lemon scent in the air. The fact remained that Adrian Cooper was still out there. and watch his face burn. Frankie smiled as she lifted the lid on . She almost hoped the asshole would return so she could rip his ski-mask off.Frankie had been so busy with her new job. The books and DVD's had been returned to the bookshelf. point the dispenser at his eyes. she hadn't thought much about the night she'd been attacked. she didn't feel completely safe and carried pepper spray just in case. The thought somehow helped her sleep at night. The bathroom was pristine.
the crock pot. “Pretty good. . “You made this?” “Yeah.” “You? At the bakery? That's a first. And I picked up a fresh loaf of bread from the bakery. “You're back late.” “And I picked up some chocolates at that fancy gourmet place next door. Corey arrived home around seventhirty. She'd spent a full hour preparing a meal and wanted this night to be special. Larry?” Frankie asked. “Beef stew? “I know it's one of your favorites. How are things going with your new buddy.” Corey stepped back to look at her.” Corey tossed his briefcase on the couch then walked into the kitchen and lifted the cover of the crock.” Corey's eyes grew wide.
“ Frankie said. “Do you have a fever?” “And look. I'd probably be selling my body on the streets for pennies on the dollar. pointing to the small bouquet of flowers on the table. You know. “Flowers? Are you serious? What's going on?” “I just wanted to do something nice. Corey laughed.” She shrugged. “I've never had a decent paying job before. Soft pinks. I still can't believe you lent me the money to buy another car. And you introduced me to . okay?” Corey placed a hand over her forehead. yellows and lavenders mingled with fern and ivy.“What has gotten into you? I thought you said those over-priced joints rip people off. Without you. taking care of me and all. It's my way of saying thank you for everything you've done over the past few weeks.
” “How is he doing? Still living out of his van?” “He's been staying with friends and trying to find work.” .Vanessa.” Corey wrapped his arm around her shoulder and kissed her temple. Thanks to you. “Well. but he sounded pretty good when we talked a few hours ago. I see you have three place settings out. thank you.” “Do you think he's staying off the sauce?” “You know how it goes.” “Sounds like he's planning on sticking around?” “You know him. It's day by day with him. Sometimes his plans change direction like piss in the wind. Who else is joining us?” “Seth should be here any minute. I have a job I actually like.
with the hope he'd stay on track and become more responsible. “Hmm. Her brother was a half hour late for dinner. Or maybe he stopped somewhere to pick up dessert. But each minute that ticked by told her he was never going to change. “Why don't you call him?” She wanted to give her brother the benefit of the doubt. I'm not going to call him.” .*** At eight o'clock Frankie checked her phone. She let out a sigh. “Maybe he lost track of time. trying to remain calm. I wonder if he forgot.” Corey was staring at the pot on the table. No calls or texts. “How long do you want to wait?” Frankie fidgeted with the napkin on her plate. “Nope.” Corey furrowed his brow. Let's eat.
One night Seth had used a new hiding place. “Did you drink this. When she was six and he was nine they used to play a game called “Hide Daddy's Beer Bottle. it had taken Frankie almost twenty minutes to find it. There was always plenty of beer on hand. “It was . after Corey had gone to bed. mainly because he'd never miss one lousy bottle. This time the bottle was empty.” came the reply. mostly as a joke.Later that evening. Her mind drifted back to their childhood. Even their father thought it was amusing. Sethy?” she'd asked. She was restless and unable to stop thinking about her brother. “No. Frankie stood out on the balcony with her cigarette. not me.” It often went on for hours.
the Phantom Shitter. And the time he'd killed a mouse and put it in their mother's bed. Like the time he'd set fire to a tree in the backyard. the nefarious ghost happened to like beer a lot. One afternoon. The Phantom Shitter didn't exist— and her brother was a raging alcoholic. As it turned out. because every time they played their favorite game. her parents sat her down at the kitchen table and informed her Seth was . when Frankie was eleven. the bottles would always be empty when Frankie found them. and she'd pictured the phantom as the mischievous friend who consequently took the blame whenever Sethy messed up.” At that tender age Frankie had believed everything her older brother said. It wasn't until Frankie entered grade school that she'd finally discovered the truth.
” her mother replied. “He's very sick.” If only she'd been less gullible she could have told their parents about Seth's problem. There would be no message from Seth. tears in her eyes. Frankie stubbed her cigarette out on the railing and went back inside.going away for a while to get help with his disease. “Is he sick?” she remembered asking.” “How did that happen?” “He drank a whole bottle of vodka and some bottles of beer. she didn't give a . She didn't bother to look at her phone again. And even if there was. He's lucky to be alive.” “What's wrong with him?” “He almost died from alcohol poisoning. Maybe they could have done something sooner. “Yes.
but as the morning turned to afternoon. His new love interest would be hovering over him like a vulture.phantom shit. Showing up at James's book signing was surely a bad idea. She began to second-guess her actions. she grabbed the book on her nightstand and headed out. All these people? Here to see James? . Vanessa stood just outside the shop as crowd formed. She was done. Chapter 27 Vanessa planned to spend the day relearning some songs on her guitar.
He looked handsome in his black. barely able to see the table. Her palms were moist. Vanessa froze. her mouth dry. “What are you doing here?” “I want you to sign my book. “Vanessa?” he whispered.The bookstore was buzzing with chatter as she entered. peering down at his familiar face. Three people to go. She got in line. talking to one of his fans. And there sat a smiling James. a sound strangely foreign: she hadn't heard it in years.” . She swallowed hard and took another step forward. vneck sweater. The line slowly progressed to the point where she could see the neatly piled stacks of hardcover books. She could hear James's laughter now. The book tucked under her arm felt like a lead brick. Before she knew it she was standing before him.
” “I'm sorry I never read your books before now. or what?” James opened the cover and hesitated. a white envelope tucked inside the jacket. “I read the whole thing in one night. “I'm sorry. “Did you even read it?” Vanessa nodded. “I don't understand.” James hesitated then scribbled his .” He licked his lips and ran a hand through his hair.” he said. “What did you think?” “I think I'm a fool. I really enjoyed it. me.” James's nostrils flared as he took in a deep breath. “Now are you going to sign my book. “I signed the papers.He looked around as if expecting a hidden camera. “Yeah well. Congratulations. It's done. too. “What's this?” he asked.” He squinted.” Her smile was genuine.
“Thank you for reading it.signature on the inside cover and handed it back to Vanessa. *** At six-thirty. “I did it.” “It was about time. the line behind her was getting longer. Corey received a voice message from Vanessa asking him to call her.” she said when she answered his call. “Did what?” He hadn't spoken with her on a personal level since they'd had dinner . right?” Vanessa cradled the book in her arms and stepped to the side. James seemed lost for words so she slipped away and headed for the exit. Her anxious tone told him something was wrong.
” she said. but if you don't have other plans I'd really like you to join me for dinner or drinks.” “Of course.” Corey spoke without thinking. “It's Halloween.” he said. “I already have plans to meet up with some old friends at Club Soda. They barely saw each other now that he was working with Larry. “I'm really sorry. “You're welcome to join us.together three days prior. I should have assumed you'd be busy. but it feels like waking from a bad dream. I know it's short notice. “I signed the divorce papers. It's final. It's a costume-theme tonight.” He missed their dinners together.” “Are you alone?” “That's kind of why I'm calling.” .” “How do you feel about it?” “I thought I'd be fine. I need something stronger than wine tonight.
Maybe your friends wouldn't appreciate someone new invading your little group. My friends Joanne and Pat are diehards. You might find it a little … barbaric. So. those two wouldn't object. Do you have a costume?” “I'm sure I can throw something together.” “Huh?” “Never mind.” “Like Travolta in Saturday Night . Is it downtown?” “Yes.” “Hmm. “Trust me.“Are you sure?” “Well yeah. What are you going as?” “A disco king. do you want to go?” “Are you sure it's not an imposition?” “Not at all. I have to warn you. it's not for the faint of heart.” Corey had to laugh. Vanessa. but have you ever been to Club Soda?” “I haven't.
” When Vanessa opened the door to let him in a little over an hour later. It's lime green. You've certainly piqued my curiosity.” Vanessa laughed. “I love your ensemble. . I'd better go get ready.” He stepped inside and gave her a once over. and black boots. black jeans. “Do you have the tight polyester bell-bottoms to go with it?” “Of course.” “Well. she looked him up and down then whistled.Fever?” “Pretty much. Wait till you see it. I found the best polyester shirt at Goodwill. a baggy turtleneck sweater.” “Pick you up at eight. “Is that what you're wearing?” “Why? What's wrong?” She wore a black witches hat.
“Perfect for business meetings. They may not even let us in the door with what you're wearing.” “Should I change?” “Do you have any short skirts? High heels? You could go as a sexy witch. practically dressed witch?” “Trust me.” Corey followed her to the bedroom. and upon further inspection noticed that everything hanging in her closet was useless. this place is dressy.“Well. you'll overheat like crazy in those clothes.” Vanessa stuck her lower lip out in an attempted pout. “Mind if I take a look inside your closet?” “Be my guest.” “Why do I have to be a sexy witch? How about an intelligent. first off. Is this all you . Not so much for Club Soda.
” “Cute?” “It looks like a ballerina costume. “This is cute.” Corey pulled a dress from the closet and held it up against her.” “Okay. what else you got in here?” Corey continued sifting through the hangers and pulled out something akin to a cowgirl's outfit. but we can make it work. There's no way I'm wearing this thing out in public. but I don't think any of them will fit me at this point.have?” “There are some old costumes way in the back. . It was ivory with a feather fringe around the waist. “Are you crazy?” Corey put it back and found a long. “What about this?” Vanessa's eyebrows shot up.” “This is for my burlesque class.
” “Good.” Vanessa looked on as Corey snipped away at some of the layers.” “Hmm. “Mind if I hack this baby up a bit?” “I guess if he really wanted his Harry Potter costume he would have taken it. I'll need a pair of scissors. “Slip . It's a cloak.” Corey pulled it out and draped it over the side of the bed.” “If you can dig that out I think this is going to work.” When she returned. Corey said. stretchy number. so hack away. not a dress.black. “What about this?” “What about what? That's James's Harry Potter outfit. “Got a belt?” he asked. “Maybe something bright?” “I think I have a red leather belt that went with a suit I got rid of years ago.” “What's your plan?” “I'm going to give this ugly piece of fabric a new lease on life.
this over your head. “Wow. “Are you sure it's not going to look like I'm wearing a garbage bag?” “Have a little faith.” A few minutes later. he didn't know whether to laugh or be turned on.” She looked down at herself. when Vanessa came out of the bedroom. let me help you. Now … if we twist this around. and cinch the belt a little more I think we'll have it.” “Hold on a sec.” Corey took her by the shoulders and spun her around to face the mirror. Here. layer the right over the left. “This is ridiculous. and let me see how it looks.” Vanessa cocked her head. Lift up your arms. The Harry Potter cloak was magically . I'll give you a minute to change. cinch up the sides with the belt.
” Chapter 28 The deep bass of the techno music thumped straight through Vanessa Roth's brain. That actually looks pretty good. “Oh my gosh. Should I wear them?” “Absolutely. the red belt giving it just the right splash of color.transformed into a very chic dress. Club . giving her an instant headache. “How'd you do that?” “Design is design.” she said. smoothing down the front of the makeshift dress.” “I have a pair of red pumps my niece got me for burlesque class.
wearing a cherry red dress .” “Okay.” he said. The range of costumes was astounding. The woman was dropdead gorgeous. She could barely breathe. “I may never find you again. and all dressed provocatively. “Don't get separated from me. Vanessa became overwhelmed. from a life-sized cactus to a giant dildo. a maze to which there seemed to be no end. Corey turned to take her arm and pointed at a couple sitting next to the bar.Soda was packed with sweaty bodies. The disco lights flashed maniacally through the otherwise pitch black dance zone.” Together they navigated the horde. She was grateful Corey had convinced her to change her outfit. Corey took her hand and squeezed. giving her a tug closer to him. most of them young. Do you see your friends?” “They're probably on the dance floor.
poking her with his index finger. “Those are your friends?” “Come on. say hello to my friend. but please call . “Pleased to meet you.” “Behave. I've missed you. “Very exciting to meet you. you scoundrel. Vanessa.” “Joanne.” As Corey approached. “She's not used to this kind of crowd.” Corey warned. reaching a hand out to touch her shoulder. planting a big.” she said.and devil horns. Her long red fingernails looked like daggers. the girl jumped up and threw her arms around him. Vanessa.” The man next to her leaned over to kiss Vanessa on the cheek. Go easy. wet kiss right on his lips.” “Well hello. Joanne. I'll introduce you. He was wearing a cop uniform. The guy looked a bit like Antonio Banderas. only younger and hotter. “Corey.” he said. “I'm Patrick.
pulling her in uncomfortably close. Joanne reached out and clasped Vanessa's hand.” she said. “We work together.” Corey said something to the the bartender that Vanessa couldn't hear. thinking how ridiculous it seemed to have to do so. “I was starting to get worried.” . They were staring at her while their lips moved. I need to get some drinks. what's your pleasure?” Vanessa's heart was beating so fast she couldn't think. “How do you know Corey?” she screamed. Anything would be fine. “Now that we all know each other. “I don't care. Vanessa. She was too distracted by the couple she'd just been introduced to.” she shouted back.” Corey said.me Pat. “Nice.” “Great.
hope you like Cosmos. “Corey hasn't dated anyone in a long time. actually Corey and I are just friends. Joanne was pulling her through the crowd toward the lady's room. “Here.” The woman seemed puzzled.Vanessa shook her head.” . a drink in each hand.” She disappeared inside a stall. “I hope you're taking care of him. “Really?” “We're not together. “That'll probably change after tonight. no.” What the hell was this woman talking about. Vanessa shook her head and returned to the bar just as Corey turned around.” Joanne tilted her head and smiled wickedly. She couldn't hear a thing over the thunderous beat. “No. Before she could react.” Joanne blurted out as soon as they'd entered the crowded space.
Why had she agreed to come here? She was way out of her element. And certainly never told them she was his boss. “Are you okay?” Corey asked with a concerned look on his face.“That's fine. It was easier to focus on her drink than to try and communicate. He'd obviously never mentioned her to them.” She took a sip and looked away. Corey paid attention to his friends for a few minutes. let me get you something else. one song morphing into another. The music never stopped. “Do you not like your drink? Here.” “No. but before she knew it her drink was empty. And Corey's friends were a bit presumptuous. the Antonio Banderas look alike . Thanks. her gaze now on the dance floor. it's delicious. Now what? Pat.” She took a few more sips. Really. She was perfectly fine with that.
“Hey. She really didn't want to dance. but Pat found a small clearing and turned to face her. Vanessa tensed up. pulling her even closer.” he said.” . “I'm … I'm just not much of a dancer. His nose was practically touching hers as he grabbed her hips. and waved.was first to notice. I'll apologize now for stepping on your feet. smiled. It was hard to tell where the dance floor began or ended. Before she knew what hit her she'd been whisked out onto the dance floor. Especially not with this man in front of his wife. “Shall I order you another?” he yelled. girlfriend … whoever. relax. She could smell the alcohol on his breath. He stood up. She simply shook her head no. Vanessa looked to Corey for help.
” Her impish smile widened as she blinked her long lashes at him. “You're right. *** Corey felt the slender fingertips slip inside his shirt. His hips gyrated against hers. remember?” “Oh come on. Is it Pat you're worried .“I don't mind. Joanne?” She spoke directly into his ear in order for him to hear. That was a long time ago. “What are you doing. and she prayed to God Joanne couldn't see them. And I told you it would be the first and last time. How dare he be so bold with her only ten feet away.” She felt one of his hands on her ass. “Something I haven't done in a long time. Vanessa had to turn her face to the side or they'd be kissing.
“People change their minds.about? He enjoyed you just as much as I did. Her smile faded. “We've already talked about this.” Corey shrugged and took a sip of his . It left him feeling confused.” Corey had tried to forget about the “menage a trois” that had taken place over three years ago. He now realized they would never stop pushing.” he reminded her. “So. but Corey knew she wouldn't be deterred so easily. both then and now. Which is why he'd stayed away for so long. The two swingers had tried many times since then to persuade him to give it another go. “Tell me about your friend.” Corey shook his head and removed her hand from his chest.” she said. She loved a challenge.
” Joanne extended a finger toward the dance floor. “She seems pretty comfortable with Pat. Pat's hands were all over her.” “Not like us? You say it like we're circus freaks. “sometimes it's the ones you least expect who are the most fun in bed. so don't ask. Corey.” Joanne said. If anyone can talk her into having some fun.” She blinked as if she were offended.” “Well looky there.” . you know it's him. “You know. “She's not like us. if that's what you mean. Joanne. When he finally got a glimpse he couldn't believe his eyes.” “All I'm saying is she's not interested.martini.” “Forget it.” Corey stood on his toes and peered over the crowd to see them. smugly. “Maybe you shouldn't speak for her.
“Sorry. She just needed to get out.” she said.” She placed her drink on the bar and disappeared into the crowd. heading in their general direction. please?” Corey shot her a stern look. What was he thinking? Vanessa didn't belong here. He knew where she was headed.” “So what are you? Her keeper?” Corey failed to give her the satisfaction of a reply.” “Suit yourself. “Why did you bring her here then?” “She's going through a divorce. thanks. “Want to go dance?” “No. The place was nothing more than a meat market selling over-priced drinks. . He set his martini glass down and entered the crowd. Vanessa wouldn't stand a chance with both of them breathing down her neck. Shit.“Would you drop it.
Pat laughed like it was all a big joke. Vanessa and I were just leaving. The bewildered look on her face said it all. You decided to join us. Vanessa was sandwiched in between Pat and Joanna.” Corey wrapped his finger around her bicep and pulled her away from the clutches of his so-called friends. He grabbed Pat's hand. are you ready to go?” His tone was firm. “She doesn't look like she's ready to go. “Vanessa.When he reached them. “There you are. The one that was working it's way to Vanessa's inner thigh. She had a strange look on her face. obviously overwhelmed by the insanity that surrounded her. “See you .” Pat gave him a look like he was stealing his favorite toy.” “Actually. okay.” Corey leaned forward. “Uh.
“I used to frequent a similar club back in college. Vanessa looked across the table and the lime polyester shirt.” he said once they got settled.” *** Vanessa breathed a sigh of relief when Corey took her to a much quieter place a few blocks away. They found a spot at the bar and he ordered another martini for her and a ginger ale. “I don't know what I was thinking taking you to a place like that. I was hoping they'd .guys later. His hair was slicked back with sweat. Why'd you want to leave so soon?” “It's Pat and Joanna. making his blue eyes seem more intense.
forming the question in her mind. “Or something. So why was she feeling so turned on? “So.” “Are they swingers or something?” Corey laughed.mellowed out over the years. “You don't want to know about that. but no such luck.” Vanessa felt something flutter deep in her stomach.” “So. “What?” “You. Joanna and Pat? The three of you had sex together at some point. “Yup.” “Yes I do. I'm sorry for their behavior. you and them?” Corey blinked innocently.” Vanessa tapped her fingers on the table. cheeks flush. “Were they trying to get me … or us … to do that with them?” He looked away. I take it?” He looked away again and shook his head.” . She'd never done anything like that before and wasn't sure she ever could.
you don't have to be graphic. It's more socially acceptable.” “It was torture. “Well.” “Well. It's different for guys.” “I see what you mean.” “And you hated every minute of it. Women have it easy that way. “It was their idea.” “I have no problem believing that.” Corey leaned back and let out a sigh. What can I say? They had their way with me. They invited me to their place.” “It happened a few years ago.” “It's not that simple. I guess that's a side benefit of being a bi-sexual.“Why?” “Why not?” “I wouldn't think you'd care to know the details. and ripped off my clothes.” “Have you ever been with a woman?” .” Vanessa chuckled. got me drunk.
I saw my sister Karen kiss another girl. about twelve or thirteen. but I've been propositioned a few times. I wasn't supposed to see it. . A girl from college made a few passes at me.” “Really?” He set his drink down and leaned in with interest. It was a horrible thing to say.he asked.” “It's an awkward situation.” He almost knocked his glass over.” “When I was younger.” “It wasn't a big deal. eyebrows raised. “You didn't. “No.” “I know it's gross. “What did you say?” “I told her I was having my period and ran away as fast as I could.” Corey tried to hide his smile behind cupped hands. She said she would love to … um … you know … go down on me. “Do tell.
There were all kinds of different pictures.When I asked her about it later. girls with girls. “I had been experimenting a bit as a . Girls with guys. But who knows. I did find some magazines under her bed when I was looking for one of my sweaters. As far as I know she never did anything like that again. bracing herself. and looked around the place. “Remember I told you that my dad kicked me out when I was eighteen?” Vanessa drew in a quick breath.” “Oh?” He chewed on his lower lip for a few seconds. Said she did it on a dare. “Yeah?” Corey leaned in closer.” “She wasn't gay?” “Nope. she acted like it was no big thing.” “I had something similar happen to me. licked his lips.
” “What did he say?” “He thought I was lying to him. I guess so.” “Yep. So I was not only his gay son. but I also got turned on when I saw pictures of naked guys. That I wasn't sure about my orientation. you know? I liked girls.” “Oh no.” “What did you say?” “I told him the truth.” “So he would rather have had you admit to being gay? That would have been better?” “In his warped mind. but I was his chicken-shit. My dad found one of my guy-on-guy magazines. he saw that as weakness. which was bad enough. And the fact that I couldn't own up to it … well. gay . He demanded an explanation. I still wasn't sure exactly what I was.teenager. In his mind it was proof I was gay.
“Holy shit.” Corey guzzled the remainder of his beverage. but he told me to leave. grabbing Corey's leg. so he must have .” she said. He didn't want to hear anything else I had to say.son. “What the hell is James doing here?” Corey put the car in park and turned to face her. We haven't spoken since. “I take it he wasn't invited?” “He's not in his car. she noticed the Volvo in the driveway.” Vanessa tried to swallow but her mouth was too dry.” “Bastard. *** When Corey and Vanessa pulled into her driveway a little after midnight. She wanted to reach out and touch his face. “What happened then?” “I tried to talk to him.
Why would James have any reason to be here? She'd already signed and delivered the divorce papers. but thank you.used his keys to get in the house.” Vanessa opened the car door to get out. She closed the door behind her and .” “Want me to go in with you. “I'll be fine.” “You never changed the locks?” “No. “Maybe he stopped by to get the rest of his stuff?” “At midnight? I don't think so. I had fun.” “Me.” Vanessa's hand trembled as she entered the house. just to make sure everything's okay?” Vanessa could see the concern in Corey's eyes. too.” Corey paused then said. “And thanks for taking me out tonight.
I was starting to get worried. “I was just out with friends. He looked up and offered a weak smile.” he said. Vanessa. What's going on?” “Really? Since when do you go out with friends?” Why did he care? His line of questioning was starting to irk her. arms folded in front of him. “What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be with Wendy at this time of night?” His shoulders dropped. as if he he'd been waiting there for hours.” “Worried?” She took a few steps toward him. holding up both hands. “Hey. “How did you find out about Wendy?” “It doesn't matter.made her way toward the kitchen. James?” “Look. What's this all about. . James was sitting at the counter. a little tipsy from the three martinis.
” he said. it is a big deal.” She inched away. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed you until I saw you today. but didn't move a muscle. Just the opposite.” . and held out his hand. breaking the bond he was trying to create. “What ever possessed you to read my work after all this time?” The sincerity in his eyes relaxed her just a bit. “What are you doing?” He moved in close and placed his hand on her shoulder. “So you came here just to thank me for reading your book? You could have called. walked around the counter to join her on the other side. “I was a pleasant surprise to see you at the book signing.” “I wanted to see you.” “Yes.“I didn't come here to fight. “No big deal.” James rose. She looked at it.
“What does that even mean? Did you guys break up already?” “After seeing you today I guess I started acting weird.“You miss me. “So where is Wendy tonight? Does she know you're here?” James lowered his head. James.” “Kind of?” Vanessa let go an involuntary laugh. irritation being the dominant force. There's something different about you. cut the crap. I can't explain it. I told her you were at the book signing and that you'd signed the divorce papers. but I wasn't.” “So she kicked you out?” . I guess she expected me to be happy about it. I'm a little confused right now.” Vanessa's mind reeled as a mix of emotions ran through her.” “Seriously. She called me out on it. Come on. “I … kind of moved out.
okay? Is that what you're waiting to hear? I screwed up. “What makes you .” “I screwed up. Can we please put the past behind us and move forward?” Vanessa turned away.” The liquid courage she'd consumed emboldened her. “Us? There is no more us.” “So you expect me to give you another chance after all the hurtful things you've said? After you shacked-up with my lawyer? I signed divorce papers. I'm starting to think maybe I should have tried harder with us.“Look. for crying out loud. Your words and actions have made that perfectly clear. I'm here to talk about us. James. been more patient. I don't want to talk about her. This was the last thing she'd expected.” She massaged her temples. “That's why I'm here. especially at this hour.
She couldn't move if she wanted to. “See? We still have it. She tried to move away. You wouldn't have read my book if you didn't.” He spun her around.” she said. Tell me the real reason you're here. took her face in his hands. and kissed her. “Relax.” Her instinct told her there was more to the story. James pulled away and smiled. with so many questions swimming around in her head. . Why don't you just spill it?” She felt his hands on her shoulders as he pressed his body against her back. Vanessa.” “Don't tell me to relax. his lips pressed hard into hers. “I can't trust you anymore. but his hold on her was firm.” She became dizzy.think I want that?” “I know you still care. Vanessa. “Something else is going on. her voice barely a whisper.
He took her hand and led her upstairs. Nope. She sat up and felt the heat from the sun's early morning rays on her back as . There were no words. She moved her head slightly to the right and saw the back of his head on the pillow.Nothing made sense. James must have taken her silence as a green light. Chapter 29 Vanessa opened her eyes and wondered if it had been just a dream. Not a dream.
“Good morning.” *** It was awkward sitting across the table from her ex-husband. Where are you off to in such a hurry?” James inquired. She had many questions and few answers. “Um. . a huge smile on his face. “Great. That's when she realized she was naked.they came through the window. How could she have slept with him last night after all the shit that had gone down. Had she really slept with James? She rose and slipped a fleece robe over her shoulders. Damn it.” she said. I was going to make coffee. But there was still a chill in the air. I'll make us some breakfast.
” . Next thing I knew.” She wasn't about to take no for an answer. we were sharing a hot chocolate and brownie at the cafe. She struck up a conversation about something in my cart. James sighed as if he'd been holding his breath waiting for the question to come up. So how did it happen?” He set his fork down and took a sip of coffee.” Vanessa swallowed hard. “I don't really want to talk about it right now if that's okay. “I have a right to know. After stalling a bit longer he finally said. “That story sounds a little too convenient to me.“How did you happen to meet Wendy?” she asked while picking at a sausage and cheese omelet.” “Are you kidding me?” “I was in the checkout line and she was behind me. “At the grocery store.
“How long had you been seeing her before you moved out of our house?” “About a month.” “And when did you find out she was my lawyer?” “The third time we got together. Vanessa.He shrugged. It's not like lightning struck and we found ourselves in bed together.” He hung his head then added. “And the bullshit story she told me about quitting her practice to join the nonprofit? Her idea or yours?” . She put two and two together when I told her my last name. “I was lonely. We were having lunch. “Apparently that's how these things happen.” “You had already developed feelings for each other?” He nodded.” Vanessa wasn't sure she wanted any more details.
She has changed her life for you. “You're playing with people's hearts here.“It wasn't a story. clearly surprised at her outburst. her appetite gone. “Did she do that in order for the two of you to spend more time together?” “That's what she said.” “You must have made promises to her. Have you given serious thought to the fact your actions carry consequences?” James coughed.” “She must really love you if she was willing to do that. She really did quit her practice. “This is a big deal you know?” Vanessa snapped. James. you dumb ass.” Vanessa pushed her plate away.” He shrugged. Do you understand what she gave . “Do you really care if Wendy suffers a broken heart.
“Come on.” James let out an exasperated sigh. “This isn't right.” “Like what?” Vanessa considered telling him about the burlesque lessons. You don't .up?” “I never asked her to do that. James. This has been the big problem all along.” “Things will get back to normal. Things I wouldn't normally do. You can't take that back. And since you left I've been doing things.” “You have a lot of nerve.” “What does that mean?” “You're a cheat. Vanessa. talk to me. There is no going back. You'll see.” Vanessa buried her face in her hands. “Never mind. It's done. It would be satisfying to see his shocked expression.
“What do you need to think about?” “Everything.” *** Vanessa got into her Lexus and drove off.” she said.” Vanessa got up. but she didn't want to listen to music or the news. but eventually found herself on Interstate 95 heading north. . collected the dirty plates from the table. “I need some time to think. leaving James behind at the house. and deposited them in the sink.communicate. She had no idea where she was going. The Lexus had come equipped with the best stereo system money could by. The quiet interior helped clear her cluttered mind.
“Just pass me already.Vanessa checked her rear view mirror. keeping the same distance behind her. They slowed.” Vanessa said to herself. Finally. The blue car followed close behind. She immediately . “For crying out loud. The blue Kia pulled up next to her and parked. She lifted her foot off the gas and slowed to fifty miles an hour. Vanessa walked around the car to see who the driver was. “What the hell is this?” Vanessa took a right off the exit then pulled into a Dunkin Donuts parking lot. She'd been driving for roughly fifteen minutes and the same blue KIA had been on her ass for miles. out of sheer frustration.” Vanessa slowed to forty-five miles an hour. she pulled off at the next exit. hoping the person would pass. The vehicle remained.
her tear-stained cable-knit sweater displacing the sleek.” Wendy's eyes were red and puffy.” “Please. I mean. “Why are you following me?” “We need to talk. I never meant for things to happen this way.recognized the familiar face and blonde curls. I came close to . no less. a sheepish look on her face. Just hear me out. really.” “Why should I Wendy. “The way I see it we have nothing to talk about.” “How did you think getting involved with a married man would turn out? And a clients husband. Vanessa. “I thought you'd never stop.” “I'm so sorry. sophisticated lawyer facade.” Vanessa glared at her. “Wendy?” She opened the car door and climbed out.
I doubt you'd have allowed him to spend the night if he had.reporting you to the board of ethics. “You followed me for almost an hour to tell me you're having James's baby? Aren't you thoughtful.” Vanessa closed her eyes. Just leave me alone.” “I can't. I didn't think you'd take him back after all that has . “Did James tell you I'm pregnant?” The words stopped Vanessa in her tracks.” “I never meant to hurt you. I had a feeling he'd go back to your house.” Vanessa shook her head and turned to walk back to her car. “What?” “I didn't think so. I told him yesterday and he freaked out.” “I thought you needed to know. She didn't know whether to laugh or cry as bile rose in her throat. You need to know the truth.” “Stop. She took a few breaths then opened her eyes.
” “Don't worry.” Vanessa failed to hear Wendy's reply as she got in her Lexus and slammed the door shut. Everything was blurry as she started the engine and tore out of the parking lot. “I'll send James back. He looked up and smiled. You two belong together.” Vanessa said. *** Vanessa returned to find James preparing another pot of coffee. opening her car door.happened. “I was just going to call you to see if you could pick up some more cream. Wendy.” .
” “How can you say that?” “Apparently Wendy really loves you. In fact. You're getting what you've always wanted. “It's okay. Vanessa.” “We both know you can't have it with me. “I never thought this would happen.” she said. You'll have it with Wendy and everything will be fine. I … I'm so sorry. it makes perfect sense. “I get it now. yet filled with agonizing guilt.James's smile quickly faded when he saw her face. apparently unsure how to respond. When Wendy told you she was pregnant yesterday you must have been overjoyed.” “Don't be sorry. “When were you going to tell me?” she said.” James closed his eyes. right?” “I wanted it with you. . James just stared at her.
” Tears formed in James's eyes.” “I've never felt more certain about anything in my whole life. Go back to Wendy.” Frankie had spent most of the morning trying to learn a new computer program . “Do you even know what you're saying? I think you're in shock. Don't you get it? This was all meant to be. I think you should go now.” Chapter 30 “This program sucks balls.And she'll probably appreciate you more than I did.
” Frankie looked up from the computer screen at Vanessa's face. “What was that?” Vanessa asked.without much luck. Her eyes weren't puffy anymore. leaning over the back of Frankie's chair. Just ask Corey. you look nice.” Frankie replied.” “It's the best software out there for keeping track of appointments. I swear he and Larry are joined at the hip these days.” Vanessa's eyebrows shot up. He used the same program.” “I'd ask Corey if I ever saw him. “What are you trying to say? I don't usually look nice?” Her lighthearted tone set Frankie at ease. “It's not that. “Tell me again why I have to use it. Was that lipstick she was wearing? “Hey. You just seemed . “I mean this program is very frustrating.
” Vanessa said.” “I'm fine. But by all means go. but Vanessa would always shrug it off. Vanessa seemed pretty good at keeping a stiff upper lip.” Vanessa said. Larry.” Frankie knew better. I'm buying. but something was going on. and Corey were hunched over the drawing table looking all serious. “I think he's busy. Frankie had tried to get her to talk about whatever it was that was bothering her.bummed out the past few days. “But thank you.” “That's okay. too. “And I'm busy.” “We could ask Corey to come along?” Frankie glanced over at Larry's office. if you need a break. why don't we go out for coffee break.” She felt lucky to . I'll stay here and try to figure this program out. Joe. “Hey. Couldn't hurt to try again.” “You don't have to buy me coffee.
D. and stubborn. Seemed like Corey was doing most of the work for him these days. Someone had to be in control. There was a slight pause then she heard his voice. She knew he was just happy to be doing what he loved. was a major dweeb. She answered it anyway. But she owned the company. The caller I. She started a tutorial when she heard her cell phone ring. all full of himself. Corey didn't seem to mind.” . she was demanding. sis. determined to master the stupid thing by lunchtime. the creative director. Sure. Larry.have such a cool boss. said it was a private number. finicky. She hated the way he marched around the place like he was King Shit. Vanessa had her bitchy moments. yet she knew Larry was taking full credit for all the great ideas. “Hey. Frankie focused her attention on the computer again.
Can you bail me out. She hadn't heard from her brother since he'd stood her up for dinner last week.” “What kind of bad luck?” “Nothing major. “Are you okay?” “I kinda had some bad luck. I got in a fight. I need your help.Frankie almost dropped the phone.” . The prick was bothering this girl so I had to teach him some manners. Remember Jeff?” Frankie closed her eyes and gritted her teeth.” “Were you at a bar?” “Yeah … I mean … I was hanging with my buddy. like he had a mouthful of marshmallows or something. Jeff. “How much is bail?” “Eight hundreds bucks.” His voice didn't sound right. “Seth? Where are hell are you?” “I'm at the police station.
okay? Is that what you wanted to hear?” The sarcasm in her brother's voice as he lied to her was like a knife slicing through her heart. “You've been drinking again. I had shit to do.“I don't have that kind of money hanging around. I haven't been drinking. “You know what. Seth? This is .” “Yeah. I need you. What the hell happened?” “You know how it is.” “What do you mean shit to do?” Frankie realized she was starting to shout. a hooker?” “Look.” “No. well. What do you think I am. She lowered her voice and cupped her mouth over the cell phone. I'm really in a bind here. haven't you?” “You gonna come bail me out or not?” “Answer the question. I needed you to be at my apartment last week for dinner.
“Why should I bail him out? He'll never change.” Frankie twirled the angel hair around her fork. I feel like I never see you anymore. You've done enough for him.” she said. not anymore. setting a plate of pasta in front of Frankie. Let him stew. “You shouldn't feel bad.” *** “I can't believe you're letting your poor old brother rot in jail. “But I guess I kinda feel bad just the same.” “I know.” Corey pointed a finger at her. It's so strange. “Thanks for making dinner.your problem. You figure it out.” Corey teased. not mine. Now that we work together. Things are hectic with this new .
“What are you smiling about?” Frankie asked.deadline. She'd also handled his crazy swinger friends without a hitch. nothing. He looked up. you guys went to a Halloween party or something. don't you?” “Sure. he's Larry.” “Not to change the subject. but have you noticed that Vanessa has been acting funny the past few days?” Corey shrugged and looked down at his plate. Vanessa looked amazing. Joe is kind of clueless.” “You love it. “I haven't really talked to her since Saturday. He'd noticed all right. We're trying to keep up.” “Yeah.” . right? She didn't mention anything to you?” Corey couldn't stop thinking about that night. And Vanessa keeps bringing in new accounts. Although. “What? Oh. and Larry is … well.
We talked about some of our life experiences. It was a bad idea.” “What did you guys do on Saturday night?” “Went out for drinks to Club Soda.” Frankie slapped the edge of the table.” Corey said.” “That's a good place to start.” “We didn't talk about she and I having sex.“Didn't you hear my question?” “I'm sorry. Then what?” . We didn't stay very long. “Club Soda? You took her there?” “I know. intentionally leaving out the part about his swinger friends.” “What? And you're just telling me about this now? You've been holding out. “We ended up going to a quiet place where we could actually talk.” “What did you two talk about?” “Sex.
” Frankie looked at him like he was stoned. mouth agape. We left an hour later and I dropped her off at her house. “No way. “You just dropped her off? She didn't invite you in for a night cap? Or at least a blow job?” Corey ignored her remarks and cut to the chase. She said she had no idea what he wanted or why he was there.“Nothing.” “She didn't. but .” “It was after midnight. “Her husband's car was in the driveway.” “What do you mean?” Corey didn't really want to admit that he'd driven around Vanessa's neighborhood several times that night.” She leaned back in her chair. I hope she kicked him the hell out.” “Well.
I already had them. “You should call her tonight?” “Why?” “Seriously? To find out if she's back together with him.” Frankie set down her fork. “When are you gonna grow some balls?” “Last I checked. What about that lawyer he was screwing?” “Who knows.” “I really don't know what we are.” “No.there was no point in lying to Frankie.” “I thought you guys were friends. “I drove past her house an hour later. You need to get some man-sized . for that matter. His car was still there. You have teeny-weenie baby balls.” “That douche bag.” Frankie cocked her head and glared at him.” “It's none of my business. or yours.
” Chapter 31 Vanessa Roth took a spot in the back row as her classmates assembled. excuses. With her short.” “Look. She's at her burlesque class.” “Excuses.gonads. she resembled a goth version of Tinker bell. “Tonight we're going to learn a group . It's Tuesday. dark hair and heavy black eyeliner. “Good evening.” Miss Busty Betty assumed her usual position in front of the class. I couldn't call her tonight even if I wanted to. ladies. She wore a green and pink tutu with a pink satin bustier.
This is a choreographed routine. and staggered so I can see everyone. the hot grandmother. Let's start by forming two lines. However. Abbey. was positioned front and center. the chubby hairdresser. two in back.routine. Good thing she'd snagged the back row early on. I want each one of you to bring your own unique character and style to the number. Left front was Grace. the aspiring pediatrician from Korea. And in the back row with her was Lilly. It was no surprise that bartender Andrea. and right front. three in front. the most confident one of them all. This is the number we'll perform for our live audience. apparently pleased to have . Lilly gave Vanessa a subtle thumbs up.” This was the one Vanessa had been dreading: the final performance routine. Maybe no one in the audience would be able to see her.
so don't get overwhelmed. stop. remember. shake the hips. Rotate your hips then with the left leg. “That's perfect. and give the breasts a little . At the halfway point of the song the back row will move up to the front. walk forward five steps. She explained the moves as she performed them. It's all part of the choreography so it will be a smooth transition. bring it down slowly while caressing the bosom then down to the hips. and vice versa. Everyone ready?” Vanessa groaned. As I show you the routine.scored a spot in the back row. these are all steps and moves we've covered. ladies. too. Busty Betty squirmed with delight. turn. You look wonderful. So much for picking the back row. Busty Betty started the music then quickly took her spot in front of the group. “Extend your right arm high over the head.
And Vanessa had done them all in her private lesson.” Individually. Vanessa completely lost track. the next completely turned in the opposite direction. it became very apparent that everyone was moving to a different rhythm. But as the dance progressed. “Nice job. the movements were no problem. distracted by the chaos.” Vanessa covered her mouth to stop . ladies.wiggle. Busty Betty turned around to face the class. Basic burlesque for beginners stuff. smiling like a proud mother hen. By the end of the song everyone was scrambling to catch up. One girl was doing the shimmy while another was tripping over her boa.
why not go with an alcohol theme.” Busty Betty started the song over.” .” she said with a mischievous grin. Who was she kidding? It was atrocious.” Busty Betty announced as she grabbed her notebook.” *** By the end of class the dance number was starting to shape up. let's start with you. Good thing they still had another week. I'm getting programs printed for the final show. but before you leave I want to write down your stage names. At least they were all moving to the same beat. “I know everyone is exhausted. “That's it for tonight.” “Well. Andrea. “Let's do it again.herself from laughing. I'm going with Fuzzy Navel. “I thought since I'm a bartender. “Practice makes perfect.
My name will be. Andrea. as everyone roared with laughter. I was thinking I'd go with a fairytale theme like a naughty princess. giggling. “We're never too old to act out our fantasies. Love it. . but I've always fantasized about being a dominatrix. “My favorite color is red. Cherry Pop.” “Brilliant!” Betty exclaimed then pointed her pen at Abbey.” Busty Betty said. so I thought to go with a double entendre and call myself.” “Perfect. “How about you?” “I'm a little embarrassed. How about you. so I chose Sleeping Booty.“That's a great one. Vanessa. dear?” Lily smiled.” “I love it!” Busty Betty said. “How about you. Grace?” “Well.” She turned to Lilly. Whip Lash.
Ginger Spice.” . With that gorgeous auburn hair. Any suggestions?” Busty Betty tapped the pen on her lower lip when her smile broadened.” she said. she didn't dare mention the name Lady Godiva. Vanessa tilted her head. Busty Betty might suggest she ride naked across the stage on a fake horse. “Hmm. After hearing all the clever names everyone had picked. “I happen to have the perfect name for you.what about you?” Vanessa felt like crawling into a hole. “I haven't decided on a name. looking around at the women whose eyes were fixated on her. yet. why don't we call you Ginger Spice?” Cheers of approval came from the others. “Sorry. I like it. letting the name sink in.
had gone out for drinks after the last few classes. “If you've had such a rough day. thanks anyway. Come with us. The girls. but this was the first time she'd been invited. aka Fuzzy Navel. “I've had a rough day. as if she didn't believe her. Andrea.*** After class. The Blues Lounge at the end of the street makes a killer margarita.” Vanessa said. right?” . including Busty Betty. trying to come up with an excuse. Maybe next week. “Oh.” Andrea narrowed her eyes. “We're all going out for a drink.” Vanessa knew about this ritual. all the more reason to have a cocktail. stopped Vanessa at the door. I think I'll call it a night.
Maybe it would be nice to get to know these women a little better. staring out the window. hoping the pounding in her chest would . Despite the good time she'd shared with the girls. or denial could change the fact that Wendy and James were having a baby.” *** Vanessa sat behind the wheel of her car. sleeping pills. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to have that second spicy margarita. She started the engine and immediately became overwhelmed with dread.Vanessa couldn't argue. no amount of alcohol. “Okay. She'd never intended to stay that long. but the company of her fellow burlesque classmates had proven to be very entertaining. maybe just one drink. She felt queasy and began to take deep breaths.
mortified by what she'd just done. and tilted her head back. she grabbed her cell phone and was about to dial information for a cab when it occurred to her there was a better idea. She immediately pulled over to the curb. “Oh shit. The thought of it all was so distracting that she realized a second too late she'd just driven right through a red light. . She scrolled through her contact list to find the number. If Anna knew the truth. At the moment she was only sure of one thing: she shouldn't be driving. shut the engine down. She hadn't even told her niece.” Vanessa spun her head both ways. eyes filled with tears. Maybe she should just swallow her pride and share the news about Wendy and James.subside. With a sigh. that meant it was really happening.
She appreciated his honesty about his past and his sexuality. *** . cooking those fabulous meals. And she was more than a little fascinated by his lifestyle. Vanessa missed his attention. she'd already dialed his number. But there was more to it than that. He was complicated. Before she realized what she was doing.Ever since Corey had moved to Larry's department. She'd realized it Saturday night. but so easy to talk to. She found herself thinking about him more and more each day. She'd certainly enjoyed Corey living under her roof. He was a talented artist and a great addition to their creative team. But on a selfish level. she hadn't seen much of him.
sitting in the passenger seat of Corey's car. but he didn't seem the least bit put-out by it. “Uh … we talked. Especially Frankie. I'll never hear the end of it. “Please don't tell anyone I was driving drunk. “I'm glad you called.” Corey took her hand.“Thanks for coming. It had been a little awkward asking him to pick her up.” “You are? Why is that?” “We haven't had a chance to talk since Saturday. “I'm sorry you .” “There's not much to say. I didn't mean to pry.” Corey smiled. She chickened out.” Vanessa said. So it's officially over. We decided … I decided it was best to go our separate ways.” “Sorry. How did things go with James after I dropped you off?” Vanessa shrugged. tempted to share the news about the pregnancy. actually.
She could invite him in. her throat constricted with the gravity of it all. So he's going to stay with the lawyer?” Vanessa simply nodded. She paused.” Vanessa bit her lower lip to keep from smiling then said.” “Do you want some company? Until you feel sleepy. Sleep is a rare thing for me these days. I owe you. it was almost nine. “Come on in. “I don't know. His eyes sparkled in the faint glow of the dashboard lights. wondering how to respond. When they pulled into her driveway. that is.” .have to go through all this. Corey. She grabbed her bag of burlesque accessories and opened the car door.” “Are you going right to bed?” he asked. but would it come off as desperate? “Thank you for the ride.
“I can open a bottle of wine for you. I don't know. “Is that your latest burlesque outfit?” He nodded his head toward the bag on the stool. you need to get over it. It all seems kind of silly. Why?” “I'd like to see it.“Something to drink?” she asked. “Uh huh. dropping her bag on a chair in the kitchen.” “Good idea.” “No thanks on the wine.” Vanessa laughed nervously then took a sip of water. so you might as well embrace it.” she said. right?” . “Show and tell?” “Sure.” “Well. but some water would be nice. why not? “Because.” “Excuse me?” “You're doing burlesque.
“You're missing the point. isn't it?” “That's absurd. so why get all excited?” Corey shook his head.” Vanessa laughed at his dare.“What's there to embrace? It's just an act. it's late and I'm drunk.” “I don't feel the need to prove anything to you. A bunch of women being silly.” “I'm serious. I'm not going to judge you if you show me your costume.” “Is it?” Corey crossed his arms over his chest. “Then prove it.” “Is that how you really feel about it?” “It's not like I'm going to quit my day job to become a burlesque dancer.” her mocking tone conveying a hint of amusement. That's what you're really afraid of. come on. Prove to me you're not afraid. . And the costumes are rather ridiculous. “Oh.
a visual feast for the eyes.” Vanessa tried to ignore the request and took another sip of water.” “You need to feel comfortable wearing this outfit in front of people.” Vanessa snatched them away. “Okay. glitter. satin. but when she noticed his anxious eyes staring back at her she nearly choked. “See? This is the stuff I have to wear. You want to be prepared for the big show. right?” . and lacy things tumbled out. Sequins. “I like these. Happy now?” Corey lifted a small red.” She stomped over to the bag and proceeded to dump the contents onto the counter.He just stood there and waited. okay. “You're not serious. silky garment with his index finger. fine. arms crossed and eyebrows arched high on his forehead. “Go put this stuff on.
“No. no.” Corey's eyes lit up.” Vanessa stood there. one by one.“You want me to dress up and dance for you? You're out of your mind. right.” “Why not? You can practice your routine and I'll give you pointers. no. laughing nervously. all the better. . but if you're willing to dance. What do you know about burlesque?” “Not much. as if he were saying a silent goodbye to each of them. anyway. “Never mind. I knew you'd never do it. “I was just asking you to model your ensemble.” “And I know a bad idea when I hear one.” Cory shrugged.” “Pointers? Yeah.” Vanessa shook her head. hands on hips. a male perspective. You know. and with a frown returned the glittery items to the bag. No freakin' way. but I know what's sexy.
” She grabbed the lot and marched toward the stairs.” Chapter 32 Corey reclined on the couch. “Tell you what. I'd never do that. without thinking it through. “This is crazy. waiting patiently for Vanessa to come down the stairs clad in slinky satin and lacy garments. “Maybe I could use a critique. The way he regarded each item with subtle fascination made her a little hot.” she said. legs stretched out. Her bag of tricks had been an undeniable aphrodisiac.watching him. but so help me God if you laugh at me---” “Come on. .
The soft. Vanessa nervous? That was fresh. clingy material of the ivory . His breathing began to quicken as he heard footsteps padding down the stairs. The trepidation in her eyes made his manhood swell.He smiled to himself. Where the hell was she? He fidgeted. Her arms were wrapped around her breasts in a guarded fashion.” “Really?” She let her arms fall to her sides and took a few steps closer. getting as comfortable as he could for what was coming. He felt his breath slip away as his eyes washed over her. unable to remember the last time a woman had affected him in such a way. Was Vanessa really going to dance for him? The first thing he noticed was her face as she walked in the room. “Wow.
The epitome of sexy. The black fishnet stockings rose high on her shapely thighs. Just like the woman before him. She sauntered through the room then turned so her back faced him. Music instantly filled the air. Velvet gloves hugged all the way up to her elbows as the ivory feather boa cascaded down to meet them. “It's like you're a completely different person. the short hemline swooshing gently as she walked. rhythmic motion. Damn. Her wavy hair was down.dress hugged the curves of her hips. by Marvin Gaye. Her hips began to move with slow. luminescent in the the dimly lit room. she smiled and walked toward the sound system. Her lips parted as if she were about to speak.” he said softly. Instead. Was he really seeing this? He'd . he loved this song. the beginning notes of Let's Get it On. set the dance in motion.
he loved how she moved to the sultry beat of the song. her sumptuous lips puckered . Corey couldn't take his eyes off her. stumbling slightly but making a great recovery. and walked toward him. He continued to watch. staring him down with intense focus. breathless. Did she have any idea what she was doing to him? The next move: she slid her leg back. Corey noticed her features. Her hands continued up to slide over the outside contour of her breasts.been almost certain she'd chicken out at the last minute. as she bent over. Clearly he'd misjudged her. wrapped her hands around her ankle then slowly caressed them up her leg. enticing and graceful without a trace of being trashy or artificial. Her movements were so seductive. did a little turn. eyes like laser beams. Man. finally caressing her neck. Her hips rotated in a tight circle.
slightly. The gloves went sailing through the air . He could feel her heat. She released her grip. He scooted back on the couch while trying to adjust his pants. But he could see her. He left it there. And the frilly red satin underwear she wore under that dress. Thankfully. Man. he was getting hard. she'd pivoted around again so she couldn't see him. She slid it across her neck then swung it over her head in a lasso style movement. She continued the dance with a glove removal technique that involved her teeth. She was playing this role like a pro. letting it soar across the room to land in Corey's lap. hoping it would hide his raging erection. He watched her hips gyrate as she took hold of each end of the feather boa. She moved closer until she was just a foot away. with a hint of a smile.
“That was … uh … very entertaining.” Corey offered. The song ended and Vanessa turned to face him. he wished he didn't find her so attractive. at which point Corey realized he needed to mentally talk his erection down. trying not to stammer. . Dear God. His job was more important than the blood rushing to his loins.like little velvet airplanes. reminding himself that Vanessa was his boss. The song was almost over.” “Good?” She moved closer to him. Her eyes searched his as her chest rose and fell. really good. “Entertaining?” Corey coughed into his fist. trying to sit up without drawing attention to the bulge in his lap. He fought the urge to reach out and touch her. “Yes. He took a few deep breaths. her skin was glistening.
” “Why?” she asked. “A nice touch.” One eyebrow shot up as she tilted her head. the fact you have a death grip on . “So. a sly smile on her lips. well I thought the little thingamajigee you did with the gloves was a nice touch. “What was good about it?” “Uh. “Something wrong?” He swallowed hard.taking slow steps as if approaching a tiger's cage.” she said. leaning over him to take the boa off his lap.” she said. “Maybe you should leave that there.” “Oh. “Any pointers?” He grabbed her wrist just as she was about to remove the accessory. “No particular reason. But was it sexy?” He just nodded. “What makes you think that?” “Uh.
I hope. He took her face in his hands. He wanted her more. Their lips met and he gently guided her onto the couch.my wrist?” He couldn't hold out any longer. He knew she wanted him.” . wrapping them around his hips. He felt her hands on him as he continued to explore her soft lips and tongue. More than he's ever wanted anyone. He pulled her closer and she didn't resist. breathing heavily. The kiss was electrifying. So why was he so hesitant to keep going? He pulled back and looked into her eyes. he could barely restrain himself. and pushing her pelvis into him. She spread her legs as he climbed on top of her. The heat from her body was so intense. “What are we doing?” She stared back. “We're about to have sex.
He drew in a quick breath. and moaned softly as her hand continued to stroke him. gently at first. but then her fingers wrapped around him with firm desire. It was one of the many reasons he admired her.He couldn't help but laugh at her candor. closed his eyes. are you sure?” “Why don't you see for yourself?” She unzipped his pants and touched him. She gasped. and then the soft skin at the base of her neck. No guessing games. and Corey knew there was no turning back. “The real question is. His hand trembled as he slipped the strap of her dress off her shoulder then slid it down over her breasts. leaning into him even more. “Are you sure?” he asked. He worked his way down until he was sucking on her nipple. . He kissed her ear.
the faint scent of his cologne still on her skin. She smiled as the early morning sunlight filtered in through the window. Corey Burns. She loved hair on a man's chest. lean muscular legs. His naked body was stretched out. Who knew? . The best sex of her life. strong arms. And what a body: long. taking up most of the queen size bed. watching Corey sleep. Clothing littered the floor.Chapter 33 Vanessa reclined in the lounge chair next to her bed. He had just the right amount. and a chiseled chest.
how could she be? Did it really matter? He'd been amazing in bed.But what did it mean? Was this just a one shot deal. And surprisingly enough. “How'd you sleep?” He lifted his head as if he wasn't sure .” she said. she'd certainly lose some credibility and respect. Vanessa snapped back to the present as Corey stirred. If he wasn't sure about his own sexual preference. or was she actually starting to fall for this guy? Who was she kidding? Getting involved with someone like him could only end in disaster. Did she really want to get involved with an employee? If word got around. “Good morning. she'd done things to him she'd only fantasized about before now. knowing just how to please her.
“You didn't.” “I really never expected---” “Never expected what? My dancing abilities. “All of the above. Well. or what came after the show?” He laughed. If you could bring me back to my car.where he was.” He sat up. unless you have other plans. but in light of last night's events. Stay in bed if you'd like. “Really?” “I mean. I assumed you liked my little performance.” “You don't have to get up on my account.” Corey raised his eyebrows. “Hey there. it's fairly early and we have a few hours until work.” . rubbing a hand over his stubble. His eyes settled on her and he smiled. “Did I happen to mention what a hot burlesque dancer you are?” His teasing tone made her laugh.” “Good answer. maybe we could stop for breakfast on the way to the office.
“If anyone from the office comes in. Vanessa leaned in and whispered. we'll say we're having a business meeting. *** They found an empty booth next to a window and sipped coffee while picking at a plate of scones and coffee cake. sounds great. and lime green. I mean.” He tilted his head as if he hadn't heard . good.” He nodded and ran a hand through his messy hair. I'll be ready to go in twenty minutes. no.“Uh. The bakery was decorated with turquoise. Feel free to take a shower. pink.” “Okay. The retro tones created a wonderfully nostalgic atmosphere.
I won't tell a . “Don't worry.” Corey turned his head to look at her. shoulders sagging. “Sorry.her correctly.” “It's highly unlikely that anyone will see us. but it's always good to have a plan. Damn it. Vanessa closed her eyes.” he said.” she said. but regretted the mention.” he said in a flat tone. “I said if someone from the office comes in and see's us together---” “Right. don't you agree?” “Sure. “I get it. lowering her voice even more. “it's our little secret. “I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page. She'd been trying to find a way to broach the subject. Vanessa.” Corey broke off a corner of a scone and popped it in his mouth then stared out the window as if he were pondering the meaning of life.
soul. “It's my treat.” “Why do you seem so annoyed?” He shook his head and looked away. I'm sorry.” “Do what?” “You're trying to control this situation. surprised by his attitude. Vanessa tossed the money back to his side of the table. Corey threw down a twenty then got up and put his jacket on. . “Please don't do that.” She leaned back. but people sense things. You won't even let me pay for breakfast. What more can I do?” “You're right. What if Larry found out? He might think I'm---” “I told you I wouldn't say anything.” Corey left the twenty where it lay and gave her a stern look. What did he expect? “It's not that I don't trust you.” When the bill came.
“You know.” She lowered her voice.” she blurted out.” “I guess I figured that with all your sexual exploits and experimentation.” “Wait. I thought it was assumed that last night was---” “What? I'd really like to hear your take on what last night was. “Honestly. not sure what to say. “All of a sudden you've got a bug up your ass.” “What's going on with me? I thought maybe we'd have a two-way conversation about last night. nothing more than a fun romp.” Vanessa blinked at him. looking around the bakery to make sure no one was being nosy.“Never mind. this would mean very little to you. I should go. not you dictating to me the way things should go.” “All my sexual exploits?” . Tell me what's going on with you.
Corey. If it's confusing for you. Guys. Gay. I don't know . “That's my point. straight. you need to have all the answers.” Corey closed his eyes and shook his head. I'm incapable of having a meaningful relationship? Is that what you're saying?” “You've said it yourself. threesomes---” “So you think.” Vanessa opened her mouth to speak. or whatever. but realized whatever she had to say would probably come out sounding arrogant. though she hated to admit he was right. The fact is. how the hell am I supposed to figure it out. He'd hit a nerve. girls. “Look. you don't know what you are. You need to have some neatly folded plan that fits nicely into your pocket. because I've experimented.“Yeah. Why do you need to figure everything out? Why can't you just let it unfold? I'll tell you why.
Chapter 34 Corey tried with all his might to concentrate. okay?” He turned and walked out before she had a chance to respond. I'm sorry. “Let's just forget last night ever happened. The company had been in business for thirty years and Sal was looking for a new image. yet Corey was .” He pinched the bridge of his nose like he had a splitting headache.what to say. although I'm not quite sure what I'm apologizing for. Larry had asked him to come up with some fresh ideas to promote their new client Sal Holloway and his used car dealership.
But the real kicker —and which stung the most—was the way she so obviously resented his past sexual proclivities. He clenched his fists. concerned only for her reputation. No wonder Larry had handed this one over to him. . He squeezed his eyes shut and massaged his temples. All that really mattered was the here and now. but because she wasn't emotionally available. Her priorities were skewed. She'd seemed so cavalier. the way he'd showered her with attention. What did it matter how many people he'd had intimate relations with? That was all in the past. And last night. not only because she was his boss. The heated conversation with Vanessa kept creeping in.finding it difficult to put a positive spin on what some considered to be a sleazy trade. how could she deny how amazing they were together? He should have known: Vanessa was off limits.
” “Come on.” “It's not Larry's fault I'm behind. or she's gonna have a cow. “I know you're busy today. “You know I've always got your back. but your timing sucks. I know you. if you didn't have to do Larry's job all the time. Obviously. but I screwed up this program.” she whispered. I need to fix it before Vanessa comes back. “Come in. maybe you'd have a few minutes to do other stuff … like breathe. and I haven't even started yet. “I need help.” Corey sighed.likely the reason her husband left.” “What's wrong? You seem real tense. “Well. I need to have these mock ads done by this afternoon.” “Nothing. What's going . He heard a knock on the door and could tell it was Frankie.” She opened the door and slipped inside. she hadn't learned her lesson.” Frankie squeezed his shoulder.
I can't talk about this right now. Frankie.on? I know you didn't come home last night. something must really be wrong for you to snub me this way.” Corey didn't say anything. trying to downplay it. Please. but I really need to sort this one out on my own.” “C'mon. “Wow. but he casually glanced in the direction of Vanessa's office.” “Look. Did you have a session with one of your old fuck buddies back---” “Keep your voice down. it's nothing like that.” Corey shook his head. don't leave me hanging.” Frankie took a few steps back. not thinking Frankie would notice the subtle move.” “Then what? Come on. . No one can hear us. Who is the asshole that broke your heart? Just tell me who it is. “No. I'm sorry.
” “Did she explode when you made her cum last night?” “Okay. Vanessa will go ballistic.” Frankie paced the room. She rushed over and pinched both his cheeks. .She slapped his arm. If someone here catches wind of this. How was it. that's it. “We can't talk about this here. “I never said that. “I'm so happy for you. And you can't say a word to anyone.” Corey left the promotional stuff on the table. her Doc Martin's squeaking the whole time. I'm outta here.” he said. annoyed. Nothing ever got past her. wild?” “Frankie. you don't understand how serious this is. “Did you two have sex?” “Lower your voice. got it?” Frankie seemed oblivious to the mini lecture.” “You didn't have to. “You were with Vanessa last night?” Damn it.
especially with Frankie. and walked out. He needed some fresh air.” she said. It wasn't the fact he felt uncomfortable talking about his encounters with her. I'll be back in . pushed the elevator button. “Uh. “Where are you off to in such a hurry?” Corey stopped breathing for a second. “Hi. but this one was different. and waited as his heart hammered in his chest.grabbed his jacket. *** Corey jogged down the hall. I need to take a break. there stood Vanessa. leaving Frankie speechless. When the elevator opened. away from his nagging roommate. Sharing their secret was off limits. Corey had made Vanessa a promise.
Maybe you need to take a few days off and simmer down. or else---” “Or else what?” Corey could barely mask the hurt in his voice. “You'll fire me?” . looked up and down the hall then leaned in close. “About this morning. “Didn't want what to happen?” “This awkward thing going on between us.” “A few days off?” “And when you come back. “I didn't want this to happen. “I don't even know what that means.” she whispered.” He moved an inch closer and glared into her eyes.five. Why can't we be like before?” “What if I don't want to?” The confused expression on her face turned serious.” She pulled him to the side. You're acting like a child. your attitude better have improved.
immediately lighting a cigarette.” “Here.” Vanessa's jaw dropped as Corey turned and headed for the stairs. . She couldn't believe Corey had quit. she was starting to get worried. I'll save you the hassle. Chapter 35 Frankie kicked off her shoes and walked out onto the balcony. I quit. He hadn't returned any of her messages. What a shit day it had been. And she had no idea where he was. It was eight-thirty.“I didn't say that.
Frankie had looked at Vanessa as if worms were crawling out her ears when she told her Corey had left. Her stomach growled. “You should ask him. Vanessa had just shrugged her shoulders and said. or heat up a can of beans. but she had some . It was her life to live. no one else's. She'd normally make herself a peanut butter sandwich.” She looked up and noticed how bright the stars were in the dark sky. what were they thinking? Were they proud of their daughter? Proud of her efforts to make peace with all the crap life had dealt her? Did they understand her decision to show her derelict brother tough love? And if not. It really didn't matter either way. Were her parents up there somewhere. what would they have her do? She stubbed out her cigarette on the railing and walked back inside. When she asked why. looking down at her right now? If they were.
miss?” the waiter asked. “Do you know what you'd like. pulled-pork sandwich with gobs of barbecue sauce and a side order of french fries. She grabbed her purse and car keys. “I'll have the number one with extra . Todays Special: Buy any sandwich. What she craved was a juicy. *** Mack Attack Barbecue was bustling. Frankie managed to find a single seat at the counter and grabbed the menu in front of her.money in her pocket. get a free beer on draft.
There was no room to let them hang down.” Frankie set her elbows on the counter. and french fries. “Adam?” He was wearing the employee garb.sauce. Out of curiosity. “Don't tell me you're gonna drink that.” Frankie looked up. When the waiter returned. not beer.” The smell of beer made her want to puke. just to get a whiff. he slid a glass mug in front of her then disappeared before Frankie had a chance to remind him she'd asked for soda. When she saw his face behind the counter. yellow t-shirt and cap with the Mack . can I get a Sprite?” “Sure thing. the voice too familiar. “Ugh. she almost knocked the beer over with her trembling hand. Instead of the beer. The guys sitting on either side of her looked as if they ate here every day. she slid the mug closer.
accidentally spilling the entire beer onto the counter. “I didn't know you worked here. “How'd you know I worked here?” he asked. . “How are you? I was gonna give you a call. Frankie got a few odd looks from the other customers. grabbed a towel. He jumped back.” she said. Since when?” “A few weeks ago. Frankie gulped. and started cleaning it up.Attack logo. Most of it splashed all over Adam. “Sure you were. tapping her fingers on the counter. “You drink beer now? I'm disappointed.” he said.” She had all but forgotten Adam.” “Oh.” she said. as she flipped him off. but she didn't care. All she saw was red.” “Fuck you.
raped.” “What do you care? Why would you care if I drank a whole case of beer? You didn't give a shit that I was beaten. but didn't let go. “What the hell are you talking about? .” He softened his grip. You can go screw yourself. someone grabbed her from behind. and left for dead. Frankie.” She spun around. Stop. “That's not what it looked like to me.“How dare you?” She pointed a rigid finger at Adam. “Hold on. Just as her foot hit the sidewalk. laughing. and I'm not about to start.” He finished wiping the counter. “Get your hands off me. “How dare you talk to me like that? I haven't had a drop of alcohol since I was eighteen years old.” She grabbed her belongings and headed for the exit.
you jerk?” “You told me not to call until I got my shit together. I was honestly going to call you as soon as I moved into my new apartment next week.” she said. She shoved him off.” Adam took a step closer and tried to hug her. I've got this job now. are you serious? When?” She took a few steps back and shot him a vicious look. Frankie.” “You're full of shit. but wasn't very . Well. turning away.” “I had no idea. “The night you left. as you can see. I was not going to drink that beer. Why didn't you call me or something?” “Why didn't you call me.Beaten and raped? Frankie. “And just for your information.” “You mean the night you kicked me out because I didn't have a job?” “Whatever. I'm trying.
“Because I miss you. now.” “So tell me what happened. too.” “Why?” He laughed. Who hurt you? I swear.” “Really?” “I got a new job. huh?” “Tina? Did he say where she went?” “Nope. I stopped by the diner a few weeks ago. “What are you doing?” “I'm trying to give you a hug.” “You suck.convincing. you little bitch. Just said something about her going away for a while.” “I figured. Actually.” Frankie wondered what that meant. Frankie. Tina doesn't work there any more either. The manager told me you quit. I'll hunt him down and rip his---” “I'm fine. but I do. I'm not sure why. I'm happier than I've ever been. but .
“Wanna come over and see my new place sometime?” “Maybe. “So.” “We'll see.” He raised an eyebrow.” Adam said. as she lay in bed.” Chapter 36 Vanessa had placed calls to Corey several times over the course of the day. “Or I could take you out for dinner instead. Anywhere. Finally.it didn't really matter anymore. she . I'll let you know. shuffling his feet. at 9:15. except Mack Attack.
Larry had approached her. Larry has been pissed at me all day. “Corey. it's Vanessa. Earlier that day. Please don't let last night get in the way of your career. Let's get together so we can discuss the new offer I have for you. Straight to voicemail. annoyed with herself. I'm scared out of my mind. Will you please call me back? I'm really sorry for the way I acted this morning. and assured him Corey would be back. Why had she been so formal? What she'd really meant to say was I have feelings for you. looking for answers. she wasn't so sure. .” Vanessa ended the call. Corey had seemed pretty resolute as he stormed off. She left yet another message. In reality. Please don't quit.decided to call one last time. Where was Corey? She'd given him some bullshit story about personal issues and needing time off.
That was significant. “I always have time for you. Vanessa glanced at the clock: 9:23 p.” she said in her usual pleasant tone. Her niece answered the call with a chipper hello. the reality of James and Wendy starting a new family together stung less already. my dear Anna. but so what? He'd enabled her to forget about James for a few hours. “Hello. Which reminded her. she still hadn't told Anna the news.” “Please.” she said with an exaggerated inflection. catching her off guard. I hope it's not too late to be calling?” “It's never too late for you.She now realized that to insinuate he was some kind of sexual deviant was cold and heartless. She didn't fully understand his way of life.m.” . She dialed Anna's number. fully expecting to leave a message. “I hope I'm not interrupting something.
I can't wait.” “Most definitely. Tuesday is our last class before the big performance. you're still coming. I guess. You should have seen us learning the choreography. It was amazing.” “I'm so happy you decided to do this. Sounds like it's really going to benefit you. What else is going on? Have you talked to James since his book signing?” . How is the internship going?” “It's quite different from the laid-back tempo of sitting in a classroom. what's going on with you? How are the burlesque classes going?” “Okay. By the way. I got to watch a surgeon perform a triple-bypass today.“You're sweet. So. Anna. You would have laughed your ass off. right?” “Absolutely. but the experience is absolutely awesome.
didn't he?” A pause. How long have you known?” “He called Sunday and told me everything. We. He . trying to temper her frustration. umm … anyway.” “What do you mean.” “How dare he?” Vanessa groaned. Aunty. sort of?” She stalled for a few seconds then cleared her throat. He called because he knows you don't like to burden people with your problems. “Yes. “He came to the house and wanted to talk. “James called you again. I suppose he told you that he's having a baby with Wendy. we decided it was best to go our separate ways.“Sort of.” “Are you sure you're not leaving anything out?” The realization suddenly hit Vanessa. “So. He still loves you.
“Well.” . Anna. yeah. I guess so.” “What does that even mean? What are you saying?” “If your uncle is still going to be in your life.” Vanessa felt the blood rushing to her head and the room started to spin. It's a package deal. if that's the way you feel. And I hate that he's hurt you like this.” “Are you saying you still want a relationship with him after what he has done?” “Well.” “I understand your feelings.” “What gives him the right? You are my niece. too. then … then that's it. I don't want him calling you any more. I mean. that means Wendy and the baby.knew you'd never say anything to me about it. but remember he'll always be my uncle.
Maybe you can even buy her burlesque lessons for her birthday. How sweet. You know how much I love you.” “I'm sorry. Anna.” “But why?” “He's been the closest thing to a dad I've ever had. Go on and be a happy little family together.“I understand that. You and James have already talked behind my back. and so does he. You and Wendy can become best buddies. “It's late.” Vanessa blinked away the tears stinging her eyes.” “Aunty? I can't believe you're saying this.” “Well that's just great. I need to get . but do you have any idea how much this hurts?” “You're being paranoid.” “It's only because I care about you. right?” “I don't think so.
She didn't have the energy. Promise?” “Yeah. but I'm not in the right frame of mind to do that. okay?” “Then please call me tomorrow.” “Sorry. sure. Please don't go to bed upset. Goodnight. Chapter 37 .” It would not be a good night. but that was a long story.” “Is something else bothering you?” Vanessa considered telling her about Corey. I'll talk to you later. “I just need to go to bed.some sleep.” “We need to talk this out.
” Frankie said. my quitting is probably for the best. “I already told you.” Corey leaned back into the sofa. I'll find something else.“I don't understand why you had to quit your job. barely listening to his roommate babble on. “I know you guys had sex.” “You don't have to admit to anything. “Whatever Vanessa said or did to piss you off isn't worth throwing away a new career.” Frankie leaned over him like a teacher scolding a student. “I have two interviews set up for Monday.” Corey said. I can tell because the two of you are acting like lovesick loons. I can't talk about this right now. trying hard to convince himself.” . the words had come out of his mouth in a knee-jerk reaction. He'd never intended to quit.” “Believe me. The conversation with Vanessa the day before left him feeling empty.
Corey? What did she do that was so awful?” “It's not what she did. Vanessa is keen on keeping her professional and personal relationships completely separate.“But you'll have to start at the bottom. waiting.” Frankie paced the length of the room. She'll probably fire me now. Corey set his mug down and sighed. arms folded over her chest.” “How can you be sure?” “This is between me and her.” “I don't care.” he said.” Frankie stared at him.” “What happened. “The only reason Vanessa hired me is because of you. “I need to do this. “I .” “She won't do that. Besides. It's what she implied. and Vanessa won't give you a good reference.
You the man.” “Well. “I won't deny there's some feelings involved.” He shook his head. I made her cum three times that night. She had the audacity to assume our night together meant nothing. but I'm not stupid enough to fall in love with my boss. Give me a break. just because I've experimented with sex. If they found out she had sex with the 'bisexual freak' people might think less of her.” Frankie said. You're falling in love with her. she's not your boss anymore.was under the impression she understood me. It's pretty simple.” “I completely get it now. I don't tell that story to many people.” “Whoa. “Really?” “Yep.” “She got all concerned someone from the office would find out. I even shared the story about my dad. That's not nothing. is .
They're about to put him in charge of the kitchen because the head guy is leaving soon. “Don't be a smart-ass.” Corey sensed Frankie getting ready to leave then noticed she was wearing makeup and a flattering cotton blouse.” “Hey.” “With who?” “Adam. You're seeing that loser again?” Frankie gave him a stern look. I call them like I sees them. “He's got a job now. “Where are you off to so early on a Saturday morning?” “I've got a breakfast date. He's a cook at Mack Attack Barbecue.she?” Corey let go a bitter laugh.” Corey tried to control his skepticism. “Did he call you?” .” “You're kidding me.
Anyway. Moves in next week. grabbed her purse.” “We're just having breakfast.” Corey wasn't convinced. “Does he have a place to live?” “He just found a place.” “What?” “You're the only person who has been . you seem happy these days.“We bumped into each other.” Frankie wrapped a scarf around her neck. he's doing great. you know. He really took my advise to heart and did something about it. It's not like I'm planning to jump his bones in the restaurant. She turned around with tears in her eyes and said. “I have to admit. “It's all because of you. Give me a break.” Corey laughed.” “Maybe you should give it some time. and headed for the door. just to make sure it's all gonna stick.
” Chapter 38 Vanessa had remained in bed all day Saturday. “in more ways than one.there for me through the good. You saved my life. Guilt and regret played a major role in the weekend's festivities. Pregnant . Corey still hadn't returned her calls. And then there was Wendy. Sunday was shaping up to be more of the same: crying. He was punishing her for being the controlling.” she said. and watching reruns of MASH. and all the shit in between. eating potato chips. arrogant person she was. Not that she blamed him. bad.
By mid-day her resolve had already withered. That was the proverbial icing atop the shit cake her life had become. Personally.Wendy. her life sucked. but at least she had her business. She dared anyone to try and take that away from her. The knock on her office door only added to her mounting frustration as piles of folders on her desk were jumbled . By Monday morning. The woman who stole her husband. she was more than ready to put the depressing weekend behind her and get back to the office with a new resolve to focus on the positive. Enough was enough.
” “Well.” Vanessa looked up. Larry won't even look at me.in one big mess. that's not true. it almost feels like we're at a wake. She tiptoed toward Vanessa's desk as if afraid to wake a sleeping monster. The guys are all walking around like zombies.” . “Why are you whispering?” “Was I? Sorry. The office is so quiet today. so he has an excuse.” Frankie opened the door and slipped inside. It's just that everyone is so serious today. “Come in.” Frankie whispered. “Thanks.” “It doesn't help that I look like death warmed over. “Got those reports you wanted. carefully placing them on the desk.” “Aww. he's just weird.
as if waiting for further information. “Okay.” Vanessa said.” Frankie shot back. I'd be terrible company. Vanessa sighed.” Vanessa checked her watch: 11:49. “The truth is. “Was there a question you had for me?” “Yeah.“How come you seem so bummed-out?” “I'm just preoccupied. “You're very persistent.” “I have too much going on. but thanks.” Frankie stood still. but it has to be a quick one. aren't you?” Vanessa rearranging some papers on her desk. Get some shit off your chest.” . I was kind of hoping I could take you out for lunch today. “We could go out for a quick dessert. fine.” “All the more reason to have lunch with me. I'm tired of hearing myself complain.
“So. “Sorry. Frankie and Vanessa found a booth and a waiter immediately provided them with water and a basket of hot bread.” Vanessa said. why don't I?” Vanessa softened. clasping her fingers together in an attempt to remain calm. They ordered two chef salads.Papa Luigi's was an Italian eatery whose specialty was quality. It was located one block from the office. “What's up?” Frankie smiled innocently.” Vanessa's ears perked up. “Jeesh. “Really? How is he?” . I'm just a little pent-up. Get right to the point. homemade lunches served in five minutes.” “Corey would kill me if he knew what I was about to say.
sort of.” Vanessa's heart dropped.” “And I want to see him happy. but I have to try. that's fine. I'm asking you if you love him.“He's fine.” “I know. too. He has a couple job interviews today that sounded promising. Believe it or not. I'm here because Corey is my best friend in the world. If you don't want to share it with me. “Oh.” “Do you love him?” She hesitated for a second.” “Go ahead and tell him he has a job if .” “I'm going to ask you for the truth about one thing. Well.” “But that's not what I wanted to talk about. “Is this about him wanting his job back?” “What? No.” “Yeah. ”Okay. me.” Vanessa nodded and held her breath.
” Frankie said.” “Never mind.” “The answer is far more complicated than you can imagine.” . right?” “I know that.” “Wow. don't you?” Vanessa waved the comment away. more irritated than amused.he wants it.” Frankie said. “You really do love him. It's water under the bridge.” she said. And you just confirmed it. specifically. We can forget the whole silly argument. eyes wide. if you love him?” “Why should I give you a specific answer? Even if I knew. right?” “He didn't tell me anything. leaning back. “but I asked you. I figured it out on my own. “What did he say to you? He told you about us. “I already know the answer. You know sex is not synonymous with love. arms crossed over her chest.” “Well that's great.
Before long she found herself having a good time. . They ate in silence. Thankfully. Chapter 39 Vanessa attended Tuesday night's final burlesque class with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. Love is love.“That doesn't make any sense to me.” “Love doesn't make any sense to me. too.” The waiter placed their salads on the table. the giddy excitement of her fellow classmates was contagious.
The first order of business---the one Vanessa dreaded most---was the introduction of pasties. Voila! The adhesive is very strong and holds well for a few hours. Take the pastie and press it firmly in place. long red tassels hanging from the center of each one like dangling bulls-eyes. With no concern for modesty. Vanessa tried not to appear .” She applied the other pastie in the same manner. inspecting the red. glittery nipple pads. “Make sure your skin is completely dry then apply two small strips of bonding tape to the left and right of the nipple. Each classmate bared their breasts and got down to the business of applying their pasties. Miss Busty Betty handed each student a pair. directly over the areola. Busty Betty simply whipped out a breast and began showing the class how to apply them. Vanessa held them up in front of her.
I'd like everyone to line up in front of the mirrors and I'll show you how it's done. her breasts weren't that bad. Busty Betty squealed with delight. “Okay. this will take some practice. They weren't as perky as those of a teenager. Vanessa stood mesmerized as her little whirling plumes of crimson spun around and . really.uncomfortable when she finally slid the straps of her dress off and joined in. as if it were a perfectly normal thing to do. keep left arm down. Lift the right arm up. “Don't you ladies look fabulous!” Vanessa caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. and bounce aggressively while tightening your abdominal muscles. Compared to the others. Busty Betty would be considered fluent. None of the girls seemed affected in the least. but not bad for forty.” If tassel twirling were a language.
mostly because Vanessa was afraid the pasties might fly off. I have special costumes for each of you. Please try them on. but just one quick tug on the end of the ribbon. It looks like a short dress. Let's call it the climax of the performance. and poof.around. ladies. it's your turn to try. after several attempts she was starting to get the hang of it. “Okay. the whole dress comes off. This will happen toward the end of the song. If one person messed up the choreography it would make all of them .” The remainder of the evening was spent practicing the group dance. it had to be perfect. just like we rehearsed last week. Miss Busty Betty congratulated everyone for learning so quickly. However.” It was awkward at first. “All right. I chose this cute little number because it's easy to remove. ladies.
Drenched in sweat. Grace. got to her feet.look bad. her face . and resumed as if nothing had happened. with black eye-liner streaking down their faces. There were several other near-misses. and a wardrobe malfunction that resulted in torn pantyhose. “You should be very proud of yourselves. After repeating the number nearly a dozen times. The sound of her elbow hitting the floor had everyone holding their breath. but nothing catastrophic. somehow managed to trip on her feather boa. the ladies breathed a sigh of relief. a few stumbles. The pressure was on.” Busty Betty said. Finally. but Grace simply looked up with a smile. aka Sleeping Booty. it was remarkably better save a few minor missteps. number twelve was the charm.
A brazilian wax is the preferred method. not a comforting thought. a belly dancing trio. “I know you're all ready to call it a night. Any questions?” Andrea. You're welcome to do your own make-up and hair. “We'll meet at Club Jolie at four o'clock. Waxing. but there are several things we need to discuss before the show. but those can be pricey. aka Fuzzy Navel.beaming. Please make sure you all wax or shave the bikini area the day before the show. However I will have my friend Teresa come along to offer her services. if you know what I mean. “Next thing. We are the last to perform. There are five acts: two singers. an hour before the show starts. a comedian.” Betty continued. don't forget to the cut the tampon string. Also. raised her . You don't want anything dangling. if it's that time of the month. and then us.” Vanessa shuddered.
that sounds wonderful. but they will sell out soon if they haven't already. Additional tickets are twenty bucks a piece. aka Cherry Pop. raised her hand.hand. voicing their approval.” Busty Betty said.” Lilly. Give them to whoever you'd like. “How many tickets are we allotted to give to friends and family for the show?” “I'm glad you brought that up. The women clapped and laughed. each of you will be given four free tickets. “Tonight. before we leave.” “Yes. “Would it be okay to have my photographer friend come and take pictures? I'd love to get a group photo if everyone is willing. does everyone agree to that?” Busty Betty asked. Vanessa—not so keen on the idea—was .
please get there an hour before showtime.” “Who are you giving your tickets to?” Lily asked Vanessa as they walked out to their cars. so she decided to keep her mouth shut. as Vanessa was leaving with the group. and most importantly. Truth be told. She'd come this far.not willing to put a damper on the festive mood. the camaraderie. ladies. the costumes. do you want my tickets?” “What do you mean?” “I don't need them. “Now remember. Busty Betty passed out the tickets. They didn't give a hoot about her successes or failures in the real world. . spending time with these women had been uplifting. “Actually. Ten minutes later. Why not go out with a bang. The only thing that mattered in burlesque was the music.” Vanessa said. I'll see you all on Saturday.
You've come a long way. “Everyone here thought you would've quit long before now. Look at you now. .“Here. I know how difficult it's been since this is not you're thing.” Lily stopped and starred at her. “Everyone thought I'd quit?” “It doesn't matter anymore.” “Not my thing?” Lily placed a hand on her shoulder and leaned closer. “That's not true. but thank you. You're one of the best dancers out of all of us.” Lily cocked her head and gave a pout. “But you've worked so hard. “Are you sure?” “I'm not doing this to prove anything to anyone.” Vanessa shrugged like it was no big deal.” She tucked the tickets into Lily's coat pocket.” Vanessa was a bit taken aback.
The director was a charismatic woman in her sixties who immediately warmed to Corey's charms. but Janet McCormick was no Vanessa Roth. It has nothing to do with taking control of my life. . but about letting go. Somewhere along the way this whole experience has taught me a valuable lesson.“I started this because my niece gave it to me as a gift. I never imagined I'd actually enjoy it. He wasn't so keen on the idea of having another female boss.” Chapter 40 Corey left the office of Cormier Graphics with the feeling he'd get the job.
There was no way he could go back. Adam was being respectful: he hadn't set foot inside of their apartment since the night Frankie had kicked him out.On his way home. he sat on the couch eating dinner while watching the news. Corey stopped at the grocery store and bought himself a takeout dinner. even with the promise of a raise. six weeks prior. Vanessa. promotion. or whatever else. He'd sworn many times over the past week that he wouldn't give in. busy dining out with her old boyfriend instead. When he returned home. Luckily. having made it crystal clear what her priorities were. The bottom line: she'd never change. . especially the voice of his ex-boss. Frankie hadn't been around much in the evenings. He hoped the incessant chatter of the news anchors would drown out the voices in his head.
his eyelids grew heavy. settling in for a long evening alone. New Hampshire. where they found him in critical condition. Corey switched the channel to a local news station and stretched his legs out on the couch. After a few minutes.So why had he allowed himself to fall for her? He wished now that he'd never experienced the generous. the result of severe head trauma. Cooper is being treated at . An anonymous tip led detectives to his hideout in West Chester. He sat up. Fact was. He was about to drift off when he heard a name that hit him like a tsunami. “At 6:15 this evening. local authorities arrested Adrian Cooper. her controlling. wanted for a bevy of assault and drug charges dating back ten years. fun-loving side of her. sexy. rubbing his eyes as he focused on the broadcast. judgmental side dominated all the good.
Why?” “You're not going to believe this. what's up?” Frankie answered.Lafayette Hospital.” Corey scrambled to find his cell phone then dialed Frankie's number. He'll remain under police custody at the facility until well enough to stand trial.” . and guess what? They found him. “Hey. waiting for Adam to get off. babe. Did you get a call from the police department?” “Nope. where he was arraigned. Why?” “I was just watching the news. “Where are you?” “I'm sitting at the counter at Mack Attack. We'll have more on this story as it develops.
That's good. Are you in shock or something?” “No. waiting for more of a reaction. right? It's about time they found the scumbag.” Corey paused.” “Wha … well. I mean. “I thought you'd be ecstatic.” “Hmm. shaking his head. Frankie. The cops got an anonymous tip that he was hiding out in West Chester. They got him. Looks like someone bashed his head in. He's in a hospital. of course.” “Scumbag?” Corey said. Her silence persisted. “That's the best you can do for the guy who raped and beat you?” “I'm trying to clean up my act.“Found who?” “Adrian Cooper. they just said he had a severe head trauma. Vanessa . did they say exactly what happened to him?” “Not exactly. yes.
but your best friend gets treated to dicktard? Nice. this is an exception. right?” “Why would I go?” “Ugh. “So. but you're so fucking stubborn. anyway?” “Why don't you call her and find out?” “Never mind.” .” “The guy who rapes you gets scumbag. her burlesque show is this Saturday.” “Well.” “By the way.” Frankie groaned. I knew I shouldn't have asked.” “So much for the language. not wanting to go down the path.” “I mean it. I love the shit out of you.” “Yeah. that's good. how is Vanessa. Both of you are acting like children.” Corey paused. “Why do you have to be such a major dicktard. You're going. but he just couldn't help himself.has been helping me with that. Corey. well.
“The last thing you should be concerned about is my love life.” “Just tell Vanessa how you really feel. “I've had plenty of those. it won't kill you. Take it from me. Take a chance for once in your life. yet you act as if you could care less. You have enough to think about now that Adrian Cooper is in custody. What's the worst that can happen?” “A broken heart?” Frankie chuckled. She was right .” *** Corey went to bed right after his phone conversation with Frankie and contemplated her advice.
It was more . Keeping them at arms length was easier.about one thing. He'd never really taken a chance on real love. he'd gently break it off somehow. Her words stung. She obviously wasn't ready to take the leap either. Corey couldn't bring himself to call her back. with no emotional investment necessary. even if they accepted his way of life. Sex was sex. despite how genuine their night together had felt to him. If someone ever started to get attached. But what did it matter. Accepting and loving himself was the hardest part of all. And though she'd left him numerous messages on his voicemail. That night. He recalled the intense yearning in her eyes when she'd kissed him. Maybe that was why he was so scared to take that leap of faith with Vanessa.
he wanted to give her pleasure. but because he wanted to help heal her. as if he could heal her wounded soul.than a desperate. He truly cared. He sensed she needed him in a more profound way. sexual desire. It made him think of another song by the late. great Marvin Gaye: Sexual Healing. Not to enhance his own ego. hoping the distraction would prevent her from . And most surprising thing of all. Chapter 41 Vanessa worked long hours for the remainder of the week. He quietly hummed the tune until sleep took over.
dwelling on Corey. As Friday afternoon rolled around, she sat at her desk, cell phone in hand. It had been a week, yet she still checked her phone every hour for his call. She tossed the phone on her desk. Time to focus. There were other things to worry about, like the performance on Saturday. Just thinking about it made her palms sweat. She wiped her hands on her black slacks then buzzed Frankie on the intercom system. A few seconds later her new assistant poked her head in. “You rang?” Vanessa waved her in. “It's almost four. If you want to head out early today, that's fine.” Frankie sat on the edge of her desk. “So, are you pumped for the big show tomorrow night?”
Vanessa shrugged, pretending to organize the pens on her desk. “It's not a big deal. I'll be glad when it's over.” “What time should I get there for a good seat.” “Vanessa smiled. “Too bad, Frankie. Tickets are already sold out.” “Well, it's a good thing I bought mine last week then, huh?” Vanessa's expression changed instantly. “What? Tickets, as in plural?” “Yep.” Frankie smiled, a wicked gleam in her eye. “I'm bringing my boyfriend, Adam. He'll love it. If I'm lucky, he might even buy me burlesque lessons for Christmas.” “Good luck with that.” “Thanks, and good luck tomorrow night. Or should I say … break a leg?” “With the shoes I'll be wearing, I might.”
Frankie wagged a finger at her nose. “Don't say things like that. You'll jinx it.” “So,” Vanessa took a deep breath, then let it out, and asked the question she'd been dreading. “I'm sorry to put you in the middle of this, but has Corey found another job? Larry's been bugging me all week.” “Yeah, he's got a new job.” Frankie fiddled with a hangnail. Vanessa waited about five seconds. “Well? Are you going to tell me where?” Frankie's shoulders slumped, keeping her focus on the hangnail. “He's starting at Cormier Graphics this Monday.” Vanessa let go what was nearly a shout, as if a stingray had just pierced her heart. “No.” “I know it sucks balls,” Frankie said, exasperated. “But he has made up his mind. I swear he's just about as stubborn
as you are.” “What?” Frankie cupped her hands over her mouth. “I mean … I didn't mean to say that.” Vanessa exhaled. “You're right. I am stubborn.” “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be disrespectful.” Vanessa looked up and offered a weak smile. “You speak your mind. I'd rather have you say it to my face instead of behind my back.” Frankie felt it was time to leave. “Okay then, guess I'll see you tomorrow.” “Wait.” Vanessa realized that she hadn't bothered to ask Frankie how her personal life was going. “I've been meaning to ask if everything is okay with your life? You seem great, but I just wanted to let you know, if you ever need to talk, I'm here.
Sometimes I forget that life isn't just about me.” Her smile put Vanessa at ease. “Don't worry about me. Never been better.” *** The lavender colored envelope had no return address. In fact, there wasn't even a stamp either. Someone must have dropped it into her mailbox personally. It simply said Vanessa. The handwriting wasn't familiar. She couldn't tell if it had been written by a male or female. Was it from Anna? Or James? Or … no it couldn't have been from Corey. The letter sat on the counter, unopened, as Vanessa made herself a tuna sandwich. She stared at the envelope for another fifteen minutes while she ate, pondering
the mystery. She finally laughed out loud, breaking the silence of the empty house. How absurd. Just open the damned thing. Vanessa grabbed a knife, slipped it under the flap, and sliced it open with a fluid motion. With trembling fingers she carefully withdrew the cream colored stationary folded neatly inside. The handwriting was the same, printed with crisp black ink:
Dear Vanessa, First, I want to apologize from the depths of my heart for hurting you the way I did. I am not proud, nor do I feel
any ounce of victory over what has transpired. I've always admired and respected you, and continue to do so. But more than that, I want to thank you. You had reason and opportunity to drag my name and reputation through the mud. You didn't. I'm not sure why, but I'm forever grateful for that. And last, you did the most amazing, selfless thing of all. You set James free, without acrimony or contempt, so he could experience the life he's always wanted. To have the child he's always wanted. I know James is still in love with you, and probably always will be. I will never be able to displace the feelings he has for you, nor do I wish to. It might sound strange, but I'm okay with all of it. Since I'm laying my heart out on the line, I might as well go one step further
and reveal another reason for this letter. In due time, my sincere wish is that you and I can become friends. I would be honored to have you in our lives, a part of raising our child. I know James would want that. Although I understand it may not be something you desire, please take the time you need to consider it. Sincerely, Wendy Wiener The letter felt like it weighed a hundred pounds as she let it fall to the table. The crushing reality: it was really happening, but not in a way she'd envisioned. The heavy burning sensation in her chest subsided a little as she blinked away the tears. It was hard to imagine being friends
with the woman having James's baby. She imagined it had been difficult for Wendy to concede that James was still in love with her. Most women could never admit it, let alone accept the fact. Did James know about the letter? Had he encouraged it? Or was Anna pulling the strings? Of course. Anna had to be behind it. It should have been obvious the moment Vanessa read the first line. Anna and Wendy were already becoming chummy. She seized the paper and crumpled it into a ball. Did they really think she was that stupid? Damn them all. She didn't want or need their pity. Chapter 42
Corey tossed the phone down and stared at Frankie. “That was Detective Holloway. According to the DA, Adrian Cooper has confessed to the rape and assault. He'll stand trial next month once he has recovered from his injuries. He's looking at ten to fifteen years in prison. Maybe less if he ends up pleading guilty. But either way, with all the evidence, he's going away for quite some time.” “Ten to fifteen years?” Frankie said out loud, her tone strangely wistful. “Does that seem fair?” She folded her hands in her lap and remained calm. “No, it doesn't, but at least he's off the
hell yeah.” He leaned across the table and took her hand. Not because her clothing had changed from grunge to casual sophisticated. she now possessed a certain confidence that Corey had never seen before.” She shrugged. “I've made peace with .” That was odd. But Frankie was a different person these days. “You know. “Oh. Will you be up for that?” An old familiar fire lit up her eyes. I'll tell that judge I hope Adrian becomes someone's bitch in the slammer. She wasn't trembling like he'd expected. outraged that justice would not be served. and her rekindled romance with Adam. probably contributed to her new outlook on life. you'll probably be called to testify in front of the judge if it goes to trial. The new job. or because her language had become less offensive.streets. “You seem to be dealing with this extremely well. He'd expected her to fly off the handle.
it. The kind of people you don't want to know. He knows people. “Huh?” “There is. feeling slightly offended by her lack of trust.” Corey waited. “You might get really pissed if I tell you. “Frankie. isn't there?” Frankie removed her hand from Corey's and looked away. is there something you're not telling me?” Her eyelashes fluttered a few times. “It's me you're talking to.” There was something in her tone that made Corey shudder. “If anyone finds out it would be very bad.” “Come on.” “It was all Adam's idea.” Corey said. if you catch my drift. A disturbing thought entered his mind. Come to find out he knew a guy . He cocked his head and squinted at her.
” “Ha ha. I hated keeping it from you.” “It's okay. I bought him some new clothes just for the show.who knew a guy who knew where Adrian Cooper was hanging out.” “I see. “I have to go get Adam and bring him back here so we can get ready for the burlesque show. “Well.” “So Adam had someone beat the shit out of him?” “He said it's better that I don't know the details.” “I know. Corey.” Frankie let out a long breath.” She heaved herself up from the table. And it's the most romantic thing Adam has ever done for you. the only thing he owns are torn jeans and . but I couldn't be sure you wouldn't freak out. I feel better now.” “He did it for me. I swear.
But you don't really care.sweatshirts. It would be fun to have you go with us. “I'm busy anyway. “Too bad the show is sold out. do you?” Corey scoffed at the remark. She had just over three hours to prepare for what could be the most embarrassing night of .” “Since when have you become the fashion police?” Frankie rolled her eyes.” *** Vanessa peeled the banana and bit off a small chunk. chewing slowly as she meditated on the upcoming event.
or how to walk in high heels. the burlesque lessons had done more than teach her the proper way to remove satin gloves. without shame. charmingly naughty side. or the value of owning sexy lingerie. Dancing on a stage. after . after the show she could put away her dancing shoes and simply pretend it had never taken place.her life. Was she seriously going to do it? Of course. But that wouldn't happen. Could the new attributes peacefully coexist with some of the old habits she'd want to keep? They weren't all bad. frivolous. Though she didn't want to admit it. It was about learning to let go of her unhealthy tendencies. To relish. The side she never knew existed. Tits hanging out for all to see. the fun. To allow her inflated ego to be stripped down. her insecurities exposed.
She had rehearsed it in her mind hundreds of times since the last class. Vanessa visualized being on stage. It was about preparing for contingencies. seductive being who liked to have fun. convincing someone to buy her product or service was an easy challenge. The hours dragged on.all. in front of total strangers. The thought of it gave her hope. Vanessa had plenty of experience in the business world. intelligent business owner and a vivacious. just like she would rehearse business meetings with prospective clients. She said a . that was different. Just the thought made her lips curl inward and her scalp itch. Knowing what to do if a pastie fell off during a dance number in front of a gawking audience—well. doing the routine. To keep herself from going insane. Surely she could be both women: a respected.
The art deco . and hit the road.silent prayer and crossed herself. *** Club Jolie was a renovated music hall dating back to the 1930's. Without further ado. clipped the garment bag on the hook in the back seat. despite the fact she'd never once set foot inside a Catholic church. And she was ready to go when her cell phone chimed that familiar sound. she stuffed her bag into the trunk of her Lexus. She checked her bag a third time. making sure she had everything. an app that reminded her of appointments. 3:30pm. Not that she needed the reminder.
” Vanessa blinked a few times as she stood there. the center of attention amongst trendy boutiques and restaurants. made Vanessa smile. “I'm one of the performers. Is this where I enter?” The person turned around and smiled. you're first to arrive. wondering if she was too early. It was located on the square of a small commercial neighborhood.styling. “Oh. “Excuse me?” Vanessa called out to the person whose back was facing her. She grabbed her belongings and headed over. The parking lot was nearly empty. “Miss Busty Betty? Is that you?” The woman was dressed down in baggy . complete with vintage neon sign. staring. Please come on in. but from where she'd parked she could see that the back door to the theater was open. Vanessa.
but those blue eyes were as sparkly as ever. or something. and less cartoonish. There wasn't a stitch of makeup on her pale face. “Wow. I have to say.” That familiar smile appeared. “My real name is Beatrice O'Connor. Vanessa laughed as she shook her hand. I'm a carpenter by trade. She nodded and held out her hand as if they were meeting for the first time.” “Really? I mean.” “Believe it or not.jeans. It's like you lead a double life. I came here early to help set up some of the props. So this is the real you without all the glam. Busty . I'm impressed. I built most of them.” Her voice was deeper. Been doing it for years. and a Red Sox baseball cap. Nice to meet you. my day job requires me to dress down. a hooded sweatshirt.
“Come on. purchased a few days prior at one of the thrift stores Vanessa had recommended. “I know.Betty's was back.” Busty Betty ushered her inside. Isn't it fun?” Even without makeup.” Chapter 43 Frankie had discovered the perfect dress for the occasion. The others will be here soon. “I'm starting to see that it can be. revealing those perfect white teeth. It was . her face could light up a stage. Let me show you around.
To Frankie's delight. Maybe a little too much gel. her straight. but so what. dark hair swept to the side and tamed with styling gel. white shirt. it actually . A few swipes of mascara helped to bring out the color of her hazel eyes. “Are you sure you're not performing tonight?” Adam entered the bedroom.” a voice said.vintage. The hunter green fabric hugged her curves in all the right places. As she studied herself in the mirror. seemingly out of nowhere. looking dapper in khaki pants and a button-down. a little smile creased the corners of her mouth. She'd paid more for the faux pearl earrings than she had the dress. and she'd snagged it dirt cheap. And a touch of coral lipstick added just the right amount of color to her pale skin. “Look at you.
appeared as though it had been ironed at some point in the last decade.” “Thanks for doing this. Pretty nice. I know you'd probably rather be playing X-box or something. How often does a guy get this kind of opportunity?” Frankie made a gesture of scratching her chin. “You look pretty awesome.” Adam laughed.” “Are you kidding? I get a free pass to watch nearly naked women dance on a stage.” She turned around and reached up to fix his collar. On second thought.” “You got me there. yourself. huh?” “And you thought Banana Republic was for losers. “Where did you get this outfit?” “My girlfriend bought it for me. “Hmm. don't try to enjoy it too much. “I'll cover my eyes .
when the pair walked in. hovering over his laptop.” “Ah. “Look at you guys all dressed up for the prom.” Frankie said while slipping into her coat.” “You know. “Why are you guys leaving so early? The show doesn't start until five. Good point.” “It's general seating.” Corey was sitting at the kitchen table in sweatpants and a t-shirt. I'd be so pissed. “It's really too bad . okay?” “Deal.” she said. reaching for her car keys.during the dirty parts. ruining my view. I don't want to get stuck with some lame-assed seats way in the back.” “This'll be better than any prom I ever went to. I don't want some fat-headed guy sitting in front of me.
. directing his attention back to the computer. well.” Corey barely looked up as he waved good-bye.” he said.” She opened her purse and looked inside. tops. Frankie flipped the vanity mirror down to look at her make-up as soon as they were in the car.” “It's nice to dress up once in a while. Corey. “I'm busy.” “Cool.” “Alrighty then.you're not coming with us. “Got it on my cell phone. do you have the directions I printed out?” He flicked his shirt pocket. See you later.” “Yeah. “Since when do you care about what you look like?” Adam asked. “You're plenty gorgeous without all that on your face. Should take us twenty minutes. already mapped out. I already told you. “Hey Adam.
“Twice if it's nice. don't you?” Adam gave her a grin. Beatrice. The large space was filled with mirrors. why don't we put that concept to use in the bedroom one of these nights?” “Uh.” *** After a short tour of the old music hall. aka Busty Betty. giving him a wink. sure.You know what they say about variety.” she said. “Since you mentioned the variety thing. I'll try anything once.“That gives me an idea. “And what might that be?” she asked. escorted Vanessa to the dressing room.” Frankie turned to look at him. vanity .
” “You're such a talented dancer. and the audience is holding their breath just to see me dance on that stage. Sometimes you just have to stick with what your good at in order to pay the bills. but I'm a much better carpenter.stations. and racks of old costumes. a chance to step outside my everyday world and become a floozy for a few hours a . But it's fun just the same. “Isn't it great? I love this place. “Why don't you try out for Broadway?” “Nice of you to say. hon.” Vanessa said. It looked like it could have been a prop from a silent movie. But that's why I love teaching burlesque. It's an outlet for me. running a finger across one of the velvet chaise lounges. A pipe dream. I guess I'm a decent dancer. “This is amazing. I always pretend I'm the lead in A Chorus Line.” Vanessa said. I know.
week. “Excuse me while I go let them in.” Beatrice beamed with pride. just like she was taught. It's probably one of the other girls. Next came . “Every woman should try it. She continued until she was completely naked then reached into the bag and retrieved her red satin and lace thong. or someone who's performing in one of the other acts.” Busty Betty announced. She slid them up her thighs then applied the pasties one by one. She unbuttoned her blouse and let that fall to the floor. “Someone is at the other entrance.” “Thanks.” “I think it's absolutely wonderful. don't---?” A buzzing sound interrupted the conversation. Her cold hands trembled as she unzipped her jeans and slipped them down over her hips. okay?” “Thank you. and turned to leave.” Vanessa set her bag down on a bench. Just hang out here and make yourself at home.
” . Vanessa looked at herself in the mirror and her heart started pounding. “So. you really weren't going to call me?” Vanessa grabbed the nearest piece of clothing and tried to cover herself up. I can do this. “You didn't have to come. The dress with the quick-release ribbon completed the ensemble. “Anna?” Her niece's red face matched the color of her peacoat.the fishnet stockings and garter belt. “What the hell am I doing?” she whispered to herself. Busty Betty's words came back to her in that moment: Just one quick pull at the end of the ribbon. “Aunty?” Vanessa heard the voice and whipped her head around to find her niece standing in the doorway. the dress comes off. and poof.
“Why won't you look at me?” The pain in her voice caused Vanessa to squirm. I need to be completely focused or I'll screw up the dance. I promised you I'd be here for the performance. sounding as though she was on the verge of tears. or say. so here I am.” Vanessa hissed. to make you not even look me in the eye. She didn't want to be reminded—today of all days—that her one and only niece. had tried to deceive her. “Because I can't have you here.” Anna said.” “I won't go. Anna took a few more steps until she was only a few feet away. “Not until you tell me … what did I ever do to you? What did I do. finally looking up. . “That was a pathetic attempt.Anna took a few steps closer.” Vanessa couldn't look her in the eye. the apple of her eye.” “The letter. “Don't be like that.
reached into her purse. “I found it in my mailbox last night when I got home from work. I thought for sure you were behind it. Vanessa collapsed onto the bench. hands cupped over her face. I don't. and withdrew the crumpled paper.You should be ashamed of yourself. waiting for . What letter?” Vanessa closed her eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat.” Anna lifted her right hand. Who was the letter from?” “Wendy Wiener. “You really have no idea?” “No.” “She sent you a letter? What did it say?” Vanessa walked over to the bench. “I swear on my mother's grave I have no idea what you're talking about.” Anna took the letter and began reading it.” “Letter? What letter?” “Oh. please.
” Anna put her arm around her aunt. “I guess I can see how you might think I was involved. Maybe she's sincere.” Anna laughed.her to finish.” “I've never even talked to this Wendy woman. It doesn't make any sense. because I don't want to. which caused Vanessa to . “I completely understand if you want nothing to do with her. and I don't blame you a bit for being suspicious. otherwise?” “I don't know.” “It threw me for a loop. And it's confusing the hell out of me. but I'm afraid that maybe I like her. that's for sure.” “I know this might sound crazy. What would she have to gain. A few minutes later. It's probably a rare occasion that someone sends a letter like this to the ex-wife of their current lover. Anna sat down next to her.
” She reached into her purse and handed Vanessa a jewelry box. I'm the one who should be sorry. I have her whole collection.” “Yeah. I should have been more understanding. You remember how she loved jewelry. And then they cried. I am so sorry I hurt your feelings. “Aunty. but her taste was rather tacky. I almost forgot. It has . Anna. I loved my sister dearly. it was my mother's. but I'm embarrassed to say I never wear any of it. “What's this? You got me a gift?” “Actually. I have something for you.laugh.” They hugged for a long moment when Anna suddenly straightened up. “Oh my Gosh.” “No. I over-reacted.” “Don't feel bad. Well. but that's partly why I thought you should have this piece.
“Wow.” Vanessa nodded. this is incredible. a tear cascading down her cheek. .” The sound of footsteps echoed from down the hall. we can't disappoint her now. ivory and pearl choker necklace with gaudy rhinestones and an antique silver clasp. Thank you. Anna. “It's perfect.burlesque written all over it. “Well. Are you sure you want to give this to me?” “I know Mom would be tickled if you wore it today for good luck.” Vanessa opened the box to find a a stunning three-strand. I can picture her smiling down and cheering you on. can we? Will you do the honors?” Anna carefully draped the necklace around her aunt's neck and fastened the clasp. Vanessa wiped her eyes as she looked in the mirror.
I guess it's time.” “Then stop blubbering so I can put some make-up on your lovely face.Anna sighed. Chapter 44 Frankie took Adam by the arm as they made their way into the dimly lit auditorium. Old movie posters with photos of Clark Gable and Ingrid Bergman lined the walls.” “Yeah. The place was already crowded. “Sounds like the other dancers have arrived.” Vanessa nodded as she wiped the remaining tears from her cheek. and ragtime piano music filled the air like it was the 1930's. Frankie .
“How would you know what it was like in the old days?” Frankie had always felt a certain. pointing to the luxurious red velvet curtain hanging across the stage. Rarely—at least in the movies---did they take shit from men. “Hurry. unexplainable attraction to the starlets of that generation like Greta Garbo and Bette Davis. and come to admire them for their strong.” she said.” “Oh yeah?” Adam commented. “We need to get down . They taught Frankie the value of independence and confidence at an early age. pulling on the sleeve of Adam's shirt. “It's just like the old days. yet seductive personalities.” she said.squealed with delight as she took it all in. She'd watched all their old movies as a young girl. “This place rocks. which was considered bold in those days.
but I'm starting to worry you might be sweet on her. Sleeping Booty. a belly dancer.front and grab good seats.” Frankie removed her jacket and set it in the empty seat to her left.” “You like to fantasize about that. “Look at this.” “Relax. comedians. . I know you like your boss and all. Frankie opened the program. Whiplash. “Miss Busty Betty presents the graduating burlesque class of 2012—Fuzzy Navel. Cherry Pop. and Ginger Spice. don't you? Look. and get a load of this. or something. while Adam took the seat to her right. Haul ass before someone beats us. There's going to be singers. Frankie.” She pointed to the final production number. There are some empty seats in the front row.
How cool is that?” “Which one is your boss?” “Ha. he'd stood by his latest promise: no alcohol of any kind. “I told you I quit drinking. you know I have trust issues.” “I'm sorry. especially where her brother was concerned. But knowing all too well how the disease worked. I know. clearly offended. she realized the temptation . Stop being so paranoid. but when it comes to alcohol. are you?” Adam jerked his head back. “You're not going to sneak a beer. And so far. “Mind if I go grab a drink in the foyer? The show doesn't even start for another half-hour.” She knew she had to have a little faith in Adam.” “Believe me. I don't know. She never told me her stage name.” Frankie frowned.” Adam yawned.
“Did you buy an extra ticket so your coat could have the best seat in the house. pointing to her jacket.” He glared at her.” “I'm calling his bluff. “Are you high on something? He told you he wasn't coming. “And what makes you so sure he'll show up?” “Remember back at the apartment when he asked why we were leaving so early? He said the show doesn't start until five.” she said. what are you doing?” he asked. silly. “I'm saving that seat for Corey. “Hey. “Can you grab some Twizzlers for me if they have 'em?” “Sure.” “I don't get it.would always be there.” Adam chuckled. too?” “No.” Adam stood up to head out. . “Fine.” Frankie said.” “I know that's what he said.
” Adam teased. Her eyelids sparkled with smokey grey glitter. aren't you just Sherlock Holmes. it doesn't mean he's coming.” “Well. the . She glanced in the mirror and almost didn't recognize herself. crimped with finger wave curls just like the woman of the 30's era. “We'll see. “Just because he has a ticket.How would he know that if he didn't already have his own ticket? He probably bought it the same day they went on sale.” Frankie leaned back and crossed her legs. Her auburn hair was smooth and shiny.” *** Vanessa had spent the last thirty minutes having her hair and make-up done by her niece.
“A beauty mark?” Vanessa asked.” “I'll find you some. “How vogue.” “Then stop making yourself so nervous. “I hope all this make-up doesn't melt off my face before we go on stage. and lips the color of wet cherries.” Anna giggled. it's perfect. okay?” “Where would I go dressed like this? To the convenience store down the street?” .” Vanessa fanned herself with the feather boa. “You need to reserve your energy for the performance.” Anna said. Don't go anywhere. don't you think?” “Yes. Anna—just for kicks—drew a single dot above and to the left of her lips. “It's the perfect final touch.” “I need some water.eyeliner as black as coal.
she was still in full costume. the final act of the show.” Though she wasn't performing. feisty. Her stomach was filled with angry butterflies. She seemed eager to go out on stage and introduce her burlesque disciples for their number. Vanessa wished she could be so jovial. chatting and laughing like giddy teenagers. magically transformed back into the woman Vanessa had known from the beginning: a glamorous. she would surely throw up. If she didn't get some cold water soon. Like a proud mother. Miss Busty Betty burst into the room. girls. Vanessa watched her fellow dancers put the final touches on their make-up and costumes. trying not to laugh as she walked away.Anna covered her mouth. “Show starts in ten minutes. They all looked so excited. seductress with legs that could make one of the Rockettes jealous. she gathered her .
Each and every one of you will be a star tonight. and other positive reinforcements were in ample supply. so enjoy this moment. ladies. You know.” Words of encouragement bounced around the group like a pinball in an arcade game. You're prepared. “Okay. break-alegs.” “A what?” “A pussy check. Where did Anna go to get the water? Why wasn't she back? Andrea. I know it's hard to sit and wait. but try not to over-think it. “Hey Ginger Spice. But Vanessa was too uneasy to fully absorb any of it.” “I need a pussy check.students for one last pep talk. It's . can you do me a favor?” “Sure. poked Vanessa on the arm. aka Fuzzy Navel. to make sure everything looks okay down there. Pats on the back. this is it.
I'm good. “Yep. everything looks good to me.” Vanessa took a quick glance then looked away. The room was starting to spin. I'm going to go freshen up my make-up. Really.” “Okay. It's all nice and secure.a pretty common practice among burlesque performers. “Nope. Want me to check yours?” She held up her palm.” “Thanks. She felt her cheeks getting warm.” “Um. She could hear the . Ginger. “Like this.” Vanessa had to sit down.” “Nothing hanging out of the thong?” “Nope. how am I supposed to do that?” Andrea turned around and bent forward at the waist while flipping her dress up. Thanks again.
an odd expression on her face.” Vanessa grabbed the water and proceeded to guzzle half the bottle before Anna spoke a word. Aunty?” She dabbed the excess liquid from her mouth. Isn't that the guy who stayed at your house?” Vanessa dropped the water bottle. “What?” “A guy approached me a few minutes ago.announcer on stage. being careful not to smudge her lipstick. Said he was hoping to talk to you. She saw Anna walk in with her bottled water. “Yeah. Then the music began. “What? He … he's here?” Anna looked confused. “Um.” “What does he want?” .” “A guy? Who is it?” “His name is Corey. followed by applause from the audience. “There you are.
actually. He wants to see you. Is something . “Just outside that door.” Vanessa squeezed her eyes shut and brought her hands to her face. word for word. If it's possible I'd like to have a quick word with her. a friend of your aunt's.” “Hey. “He said. “Wait.” “No way.” Anna scolded. Be back in a minute. I'm Corey.” Anna rolled her eyes. I told him to wait there.” “Okay. “My exassistant.” Anna stopped her. How does he know who I am?” “He must have recognized you from the photos on my mantel. That's him? Your assistant? You never mentioned he was gorgeous. “Don't touch your face.” “Tell me what he said. 'Hi Anna.“I don't know.'” “Where is he now?” Anna pointed.
He looked amazing in his dark. didn't it? Did you sleep with him?” “Lower your voice.” Anna leaned in and whispered. wool slacks and black silk shirt. Corey. And judging by the way you're acting now.” . please. “Hi. even from behind. “You did sleep with him. She could see him standing there as she rounded the corner.” Vanessa took a few deep breaths as she walked toward he door. she was half convinced she was having a heart attack. didn't you? Why didn't you tell me?” “I'll answer your questions later. Her heart pounded so hard. but right now I need to go see what he wants.going on between you two?” “Why would you think that?” “He seemed nervous when he approached me. back facing her. something happened.
*** Corey spun around when he heard her voice. The sight of her literally took his breath away. “Vanessa?” “You wanted to see me?” she asked, her perfectly shaped eyebrows furrowed. “Oh, um, yeah,” he said, sounding like a bumbling fool. He lost all train of thought. The slinky outfit she wore brought back fond memories of the night they'd spent together. “I just wanted to tell you something.” “Yes?” Unable to peel his eyes off the dress, he couldn't help but grin. “Wow, you look exquisite.” “Exquisite?” She laughed, diverting her eyes. “Is that all you wanted to say?”
He took a step closer. “Uh, I hope you're not upset I came tonight. I've been doing a lot of thinking. I knew I'd regret if I blew this off.” “How did you get a ticket? I thought it was sold out.” “I purchased a ticket the day they went on sale.” “Oh.” “Frankie was kind enough to save me a seat. In the front row, no less.” “The front row?” Vanessa's face took on an anxious expression. “That's what I wanted to tell you. I didn't want to risk you getting flustered if you saw me sitting there.” “Hmm. We can't have me getting all flustered, now can we?” Corey couldn't tell if she was kidding or not. She remained poised, a hint of a smile on her face. Was she toying with him?
He cleared his throat, stalling, trying to think of something to say. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have assumed it would be a problem for you.” “Is that the only reason you wanted to talk to me?” she asked. Corey swallowed the lump in his throat. “I wanted to say I'm sorry, too. You know, for the way I walked out that day at the office. I feel terrible about it.” “Water under the bridge.” Corey let out a quick breath of relief. “Good. So, I was wondering what you're doing after the show?” “I'm going out to dinner with my niece.” “Of course. I just met her. She seems like a really sweet girl.” “She is, thanks for saying so. I want to spend as much time with her as I can. She's going back to Boston tomorrow.” “Sure. Maybe another time then.” He
turned to leave. “Corey?” His heart skipped a beat. “Yeah?” “I heard about your new job. Congratulations.” He studied her face for any sign of contempt. All he saw was sincerity in her smile. “Thank you,” he said. “I appreciate that.” He stuffed his hands into his trouser pockets. “Well, it sounds like the show is about to start. I'd better go take my seat.” Chapter 45
“We're on in five, ladies.” The sound of Busty Betty's voice jolted
Vanessa upright. From the dressing room they could hear the exotic, Arabian music playing as the belly dancing trio performed their number. The burlesque troupe was the next and final act. Anna nudged Vanessa to get up from her stool. “Come on, Aunty. This is it. Go on out there and show 'em your stuff.” “Anna, I don't think I can do this.” “What are you talking about? Of course you can. I'll be watching you from back here with Betty. We'll both be sending you positive thoughts.” Vanessa couldn't move. She couldn't breathe. The only thing she could hear was the blood swooshing through her veins. “I … I think I'm gonna faint.” Anna grabbed her arm and pulled her up to a standing position. “See, you're fine. Remember what Betty said; don't overthink it. Just go out there and do the dance.
You've got this.” “Easy for you to say. It's not your ass being flashed to the world.” Busty Betty snapped her fingers, signaling the ladies to get lined up. Anna leaned in close and kissed Vanessa on the cheek. “It's now or never, Aunty. What are you going to do?” The spotlights nearly blinded her as she found herself on stage. She didn't actually remember getting there, but now the music had taken over. She was doing the steps. Like an out-of-body experience, Vanessa had somehow detached her mind from her body and allowed instinct to take over.
*** Corey could barely believe his eyes, but there she was on stage performing to the song, Sex Bomb, by Tom Jones. All five women were dressed similarly, with glittery satin dresses, feather boas, and long velvet gloves. They strutted to the front of the stage in time with the music, all perfectly in sync, and each of them stunning in their own unique way. But he couldn't take his eyes off Vanessa. She was in the back, but as far as Corey was concerned, she was front and center. His eyes followed the subtle sway of her hips, the graceful movements of her arms, and the slightly awkward, tight expression on her face. Relax, Vanessa. Just try to enjoy this.
And then, as if she'd heard his thoughts, something in her face changed. The tight expression turned into a genuine, confident smile, her once rigid shoulders appearing less tense. She moved to the front of the line with the others and continued to execute her moves with precision. Her glove removal technique—the same one she'd performed for his private dance— was spot-on this time. The feather boa lasso trick, which involved swinging the end of it high in the air, bringing it down between the legs then sliding it back up in the most enticing way--Corey stole a quick glance at Frankie. She was grinning ear to ear. He squeezed her knee, but she didn't look away from the stage for a second, fully engrossed at the spectacle before her. Eyes back on the stage, he could barely contain his excitement as the dancers moved with increasing intensity. His focus
was still on Vanessa, who, in his opinion, continued to steal the show. That's my girl. You're killing it. Keep going. The women, still in line formation, gradually moved in a circle until their backs were facing the audience. They all bent at the knees while moving their hips in a hypnotic circular motion to the beat of the music. Then one by one, each turned to face the audience. Corey held his breath as the five women simultaneously began shedding their dresses, one shoulder at a time, until the slinky pieces of fabric fell to the stage floor. But what came next he could never have anticipated. Vanessa, completely naked, except for the red g-string and ... were those tassels hanging from her nipples? The audience went crazy as the women
bounced and jiggled, sending those red tassels spinning around and around. Corey found himself howling with the rest of the crowd as tears of pride stung the corners of his eyes. Everyone in the place stood up, clapping so loud he thought the roof would cave in. Whistling and shouting commenced as the song ended and the dancers gave their final bow. Frankie nearly blew out his eardrum with her wild screeching. As the dancers exited the stage, Vanessa caught his eye. She smiled and winked at him before disappearing behind the velvet curtain. Heart racing, Corey laughed to himself as the cheers and whistles continued to fill the auditorium. This was, by far, the most exciting moment of his entire life. Chapter 46
Vanessa Roth stood up from her desk and put on her coat, weary from a long day of appointments with new clients. Business was better than ever, and she considered having Frankie write up an ad to find some new graphic artists. A week had passed since the burlesque show, and she couldn't stop thinking about Corey. She'd wanted to see him after the performance to ask if he'd like to join her and Anna for dinner, but he'd already left by the time Vanessa had changed back into her “normal” clothes. It was probably just as well. Later that night at dinner, Anna had
asked about Corey, and Vanessa indulged her. It had felt strange talking to her niece about the sexual aspects, but Anna had pressed for every last detail. For the first time, Vanessa had finally told someone how she truly felt about her ex-assistant. It felt good to just let it out. Anna had encouraged her to call him and confess her feelings, but Vanessa simply laughed it off. “I need time alone. I shouldn't be with anyone right now. And besides, I'm sure he's busy with his new job.” Anna had conceded that it was, in fact, a practical decision to allow time to heal from the divorce. “But don't let Corey get away,” she'd said. “Don't wait too long.” Her niece's words still haunted her a week later. What right did Vanessa have
to expect that Corey would wait around? He was young, gorgeous, and talented. He'd meet someone else; someone without all the baggage. “Vanessa?” Frankie poked her head into the office. She looked up and smiled at her assistant. “Yes?” “I know you're getting ready to leave, but someone is here to see you. He doesn't have an appointment.” By the sly smile on Frankie's face, Vanessa knew who it was. Her heart jerked inside her chest. “Send him in.” Corey was dressed in a dark beige suit with a pale, blue tie. His hair was cropped close; a new hairstyle. He looked magnificent. “I hope this is okay,” he said, staring into her eyes. “Can you spare a minute? I have an important proposition for you.”
Vanessa couldn't help but laugh as she sat on the edge of her desk. “A proposition? For me?” His eyes sparkled as he gave her a halfsmile. “Well, as you know, I now work for Cormier Graphics. But, I'm not exclusive.” She paused to consider his words. “You mean, you work as an independent consultant?” “That's right. You see, I figured; why not be my own boss? That way I can have more control over my future. Makes sense, right?” She smiled at his choice of words. “Smart move.” “So now you see,” he continued, “I'd like to offer you my services. I have excellent references. But I must warn you; I don't come cheap.” Vanessa let out another nervous laugh.
“Uh. I really enjoyed the show last week.” Corey smiled and left the office.” Corey took a few steps closer. Six months later . I also wanted to say. mouth agape. “Give my assistant a call when you're ready to set up a meeting. but instead he reached into his coat pocket and handed her a card. “By the way. “I'm glad you were there. Finally.” She didn't know what to say under his intense glare. okay. You were simply … amazing.” Vanessa thought for a second that Corey might lean over to kiss her.“I know from personal experience. she muttered. you're worth every penny. leaving behind the wonderful scent of his cologne.” She took the card from him and stared at it.
” “Of course I did.Vanessa opened the front door to find Anna standing there. This is one the happiest moments of my life. cake. my dear. and beloved friends and .” Vanessa ushered her niece into the house and gave her a warm hug.” Vanessa took her by the arm and led her onto the back deck where everyone was waiting. “Thanks. You really didn't have to throw me a party. Or shall I start calling you Nurse Anna?” Anna blushed. I'm so proud of you. “You look so beautiful. “I'm so glad the guest of honor has finally arrived. Anna teared up when she saw the balloons. Aunty. spring outfit. dressed in a flattering.
and even Miss Busty Betty. A few of Anna's friends from nursing school were there. who wasn't looking nearly as busty today in her conservative attire. I need to make a toast.” Vanessa said. along with her boyfriend Eddie.---Frankie and Adam. “Go talk to your guests while I go get the champagne. As she was busy pouring each glass. I can't believe you did all of this for me. and was overjoyed with the turnout. “Aunty.” Vanessa slipped inside the kitchen to prepare a tray of champagne flutes.” “Go on. footsteps . arm outstretched.family gathered around to celebrate her nursing school graduation. Vanessa had been planning the party for weeks. her Uncle James and new wife Wendy---who was eight months pregnant and about to pop.
setting the bottle down on the counter.” he said.” she said.” he said. the only reason I buy you clothes is so I can watch you take them off. “And you look gorgeous in that dress. “Need some help with that?” Vanessa looked up.” Vanessa said.echoed across the tile floor. You're so good at it.” . and the money was rolling in. “You really don't need to keep buying me clothes. “I have enough already.” “Yes. “just like I knew you would. and placed a soft kiss directly on her lips. In six short months he'd made a name for himself in the advertising industry. don't you look nice.” The lavender dress was a gift from Corey. “Well. “but if you must know the truth. The light tan linen slacks and blue button down shirt enhanced the color of his tanned skin. I know.
“Don't get me going. Want to help me carry these glasses out?” *** By four o'clock the guests had left. remember. Vanessa and Corey looked around the kitchen at the piles of dirty dishes. “You wanted to do everything yourself. “Speaking of guests.Vanessa fanned herself with a paper napkin. I thought I heard Anna's voice while I was upstairs getting ready. Is she here?” “She's out on the deck visiting her adoring fans. “Why didn't I just hire a caterer?” Vanessa asked.” Corey laughed. We have company.” .
” “I'd be lying if I said it didn't sting.” She'd come to understand that everything with James and Wendy was meant to be. I mean. in her state. It must have been hard to see Wendy. “Not really. Just a little. Of course. but James would've been crushed if I hadn't invited them to Anna's graduation party. I'm happy for them. They'd established a 'no pressure' arrangement. you know. I guess it was a little weird to have them here. though. Did it have something to do with James and Wendy coming here?” Vanessa laughed. . spending time to Corey had eased the pain.” “I'm proud of you.“That's right. simply enjoying each other's company with dinners.” “Old habits die hard. but I can't remember why I thought that was a good idea.
And then there was the sex. Corey reached for her hand.” Corey smiled. and even out for dancing.' which turned into their own private joke.” “For what?” “For hiring you as my assistant in the first place. but I'm . “You are smart.movies. and kissed her palm. “What are you thinking about?” “I was just thinking about how smart I am. And Vanessa made peace with Corey's past. They avoided Club Soda. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that Vanessa had asked him to move back in to her place. They hadn't been able to take their hands off each other since. brought it to his lips. she'd call him her 'little sexual deviant. Little did I know I was actually hiring my future. But every now and then.
” “Why didn't you give it to her while she was here for the party?” “I completely forgot. Vanessa felt his warm lips on her neck and closed her eyes. Why do you have to be so competitive?” Corey laughed and pulled her close. do you know what time it is?” He checked his watch and his eyebrows shot up. we might not be together. If we don't leave soon. I promised Frankie she could borrow it for good luck.even smarter. But I have to run upstairs and grab something.” . Where are the tickets?” “In my purse. And that's when it hit her. “Oh my gosh.” “Oh really? How so?” “Because if I never quit. “You're right. We're both smart. we're gonna be late for the show.” “Okay.
Vanessa hoofed it up the stairs and rounded the corner to her bedroom. The End . all set to go. The jewelry box was sitting on her vanity. She opened the box and smiled as the pearls and rhinestones glistened through her misty eyes.
Jennifer L. Jennings The Sarah Woods Mystery Series An Appointment with Murder (Book 1) An Act of Deceit (Book 2) An Island of Illusions (Book 3) Other books by A special thanks to: .
Your feedback.H. To my partner Al Boudreau. expertise. . N. for the daily encouragement and advise. And last.Colleen Boudreau and Mark Cutter. To Blake Jennings. I never could have accomplished this feat. a shout out to the beautiful. You were the inspiration for this novel. (Corey). for providing all the sound equipment for the audio version. talented women of Lady Luck Burlesque of Portsmouth. Thanks for being patient with me. Without you. and support mean the world to me.