Stripped, p.16
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Stripped, p.16

         Part #1 of Stripped series by Jasinda Wilder
Download  in MP3 audio
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
Dawson wraps his arms around me, and I sink into him, absorb his scent, the feel of his skin against my cheek. I’m losing myself in him, bit by bit.

  I push away. “I need to go home,” I say, wiping tears from my eyes. “I can’t deal with all this. ”

  “Grey—”

  “I’m not running from you, Dawson. I just…I’m overwhelmed. ” I am running, though, and he knows it.

  “Okay. Fine. Whatever. ” Dawson rubs at his jaw with his knuckles. “Greg brought the Rover back for you. It’s in the driveway. In fact, hold on. ”

  He disappears, and I sit on the bed and sip at the now lukewarm coffee. He comes back after a few minutes with a piece of paper, a pen, and my purse.

  “What’s that?” I ask.

  “Do you have any cash?” he asks, apropos of nothing.

  “Um, yeah. Why?” I reach for my purse and dig out a roll of bills.

  “Give me a five. ” I hand him a $5 bill, and he turns the piece of paper around to face me. It’s the title to the Range Rover. “Sign here, and date it. ” He points at a line.

  “Dawson—”

  “Just do it. Please. ” He’s not looking at me.

  I sigh. “I’m not taking your car. It’s worth, like, $140,000. ”

  “Grey, money means nothing to me. It never has. You want the Bugatti? I’ll give you the Bugatti. Fuck it. I can buy another one. ”

  “I don’t want any of your cars. I don’t want your charity. ”

  He throws the pen and title on the bed next to me. “Goddamn it, Grey. It’s not f**king charity. ”

  “You don’t have to swear at me. ”

  He slumps, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, I just…God, Grey. Just sign the title. Take the car. Do it for me. ” I stare at him, and then I cave. I sign the title where he pointed, date it. “Thank you. Take it to the DMV on Monday. I’ll add you to my insurance policy. ”

  “Dawson, you’re not adding—”

  “Have you won any of these arguments yet?” He looks at me with a quirked eyebrow. I shake my head and sigh, then fold the title and put it in my purse and start to leave the bedroom. I feel Dawson’s hand close around my wrist. “I don’t want you to go. ”

  “I’m just going home for a little bit. I need a shower. I need clothes. I have to do homework. ”

  “But you’re not going to work. ” This is not a request, judging by his tone of voice.

  “I have to. ”

  “No. You. Don’t. ”

  “I have tuition due. I have—”

  “How much would you have made this weekend? Tonight and Sunday night? On average. ”

  “You’re not gonna try—”

  He glares at me, speaking over me. “How…much?”

  “A thousand, maybe?”

  Dawson whirls in place, stalks to his closet, and opens a safe built into the wall. He pulls out an envelope and counts out some bills, returns the envelope, and closes the safe. His expression is grim and hard. “Here. Five thousand dollars. Take the week off. ”

  “You can’t buy me off, Dawson. ” I’m both touched and insulted.

  “Fuck, you’re stubborn,” he growls. “I’m not buying you off. I’m giving you a chance to have some time off. ”

  “If I take time off, I’ll never go back. ”

  “Good. ”

  “No! Not good! You can’t be my sugar daddy, Dawson. I’m a stripper, not a whore. ”

  “And I don’t want you to be either! I’m not asking you to do anything for the money, goddamn it!” He’s shouting, and I cringe away. He winces at my obvious fear and immediately quiets. “I’m sorry. God, I’m sorry. You’re just making me so crazy. I’m not…I get how you would think that. I do. But. . . it’s a gift. The Rover is a gift. You won’t be with me, and that’s okay. Or no, it’s not. It f**king sucks. But at least let me help you. It’s not much, but it’ll make me feel better. ”

  “Feel better? About what?”

  “You don’t get it? Really? You don’t see how I’m feeling? What you’re doing to me? How hard this is for me?” I don’t answer, and he tosses the sheaf of $100 bills on the bed beside me. He stands over me, staring into the middle distance. “Just go, then. Take it, don’t take it. What the f**k ever. ” He moves past me, around the bed, and shoves open the door to his balcony.

  I watch him stand with his hands on the ornate stone railing, staring out over Los Angeles. His posture reflects conflict, defeat, coiled anger. His shoulders are slumped, his head hanging low, his breathing slow and even. He looks like he’s trying to crush the railing into stone dust by sheer brute force. He looks capable of it.

  I want to say something, to comfort him, but I can’t. I have no answers for myself, let alone him. I stand slowly, and then stop and stare at the thick pile of money, and I consider. In the end, I can’t take it. I want to. I want to not have to work, to not have to take my clothes off. But I can’t take anything else from Dawson. It makes me even more his, and I’m already losing myself in him, losing track of who I was and who I am and where that stops and he begins.

  Page 45

 

  I get home, and I shower and put on clean clothes. I fumble my way through an essay on the use of lighting in Schindler’s List. It’s a poor essay, as my thoughts are scattered at best. Finally, I give up and close the cheap, refurbished laptop. I should have taken the money. I’m honestly terrified of going back to the club now. I’ll jump at every shadow, see a ra**st in every customer. The horror of what I experienced was drowned and buried by the raw intensity that is Dawson, but now that I’m alone, it’s rushing back.

  I put on a movie and try to watch it, try to distract myself, but even stupidly brilliant comedy like Black Sheep can’t keep my thoughts away from the hiss of that awful voice, the cruel steel of hands stripping me, crushing the air from my lungs. Panic becomes hysteria, which in turn becomes hyperventilation. I duck my head between my knees and try to focus on long, deep breaths. I’m on the floor, sweating, shaking and sobbing.

  Lizzie finds me like this. “You okay, Grey?”

  As questions go, it’s kind of stupid. I mean, I’m clearly not okay. But this is Lizzie, and she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

  But her presence forces a layer of calm over my panic, and I’m able to work my way back up onto the couch, wiping at my face and sniffling. “Yeah. I’m fine. ”

  She frowns briefly, then notices the movie playing on the TV, the medium-sized flat-screen Lizzie got for Christmas last year. “Oh, cool. I love this movie. Chris Farley is hysterical. ” She plops down next to me, oblivious.

  We watch the rest of the movie in awkward silence. Well, awkward for me. Lizzie spends most of it watching while texting. I should be getting ready for work right now. But yet, I’m not. I’ve never been late, never missed a day, never called in sick, even when I had the flu. When the movie is over, Lizzie half-heartedly works on some kind of science homework, and I finish my essay. Lizzie doesn’t notice that I’m not going to work. I feel like Timothy is going to burst through my door any moment and demand to know where I am. Or someone from the university is going to knock on my door and demand that I go back to Georgia.

  Nighttime slowly rolls around, and I’m a mess. I’m jumpy, hungry, confused. I miss Dawson. I’m worried I’ve alienated him forever. I’m worried he’ll never give up on me and something will happen that I won’t be able to undo.

  Eventually, I go to bed earlier than I have ever before in my teen and adult life. I lie in bed, dressed in a long USC T-shirt and underwear, and fail to sleep. I fail, because I think of Dawson. I don’t think of his anguished eyes when I refused his help, or his angry pose on the balcony. I don’t think of his rage-fueled driving. I don’t think of his nearly naked form as he changed into a pair of shorts.

  I think of his hands, roaming my body. I think of his fingers inside me, creating pleasure I didn’t even know existed. Under th
e cover of my thin blanket, I slide my own hand down between my thighs, under my underwear, and I touch myself. For the first time in my life, I touch myself to find pleasure.

  But my touch is cold and lifeless, compared to the memory of his hot, strong hands on me, and in me. I give up and try to remember how it felt.

  I dream of Dawson when I finally fall asleep. The dreams take me to places that make me sweat in my sleep. I wake up throbbing between my thighs and panting, with an image of a totally naked Dawson crawling across a bed toward me.

  Shadows obscure the parts of him I’ve never seen, but in the dream, in the waking memory, I can all too well imagine his lips on my breast and his hands on my hips.

  However wrong, the dream leaves me desperately wanting it to be real.

  Chapter 12

  “What?” My voice is more than a little hysterical. Several students in the Office of Financial Services waiting room lift their heads from their phones and notebooks to stare at me in curiosity. “What do you mean, it’s been paid?”

  The woman on the other side of the counter stares at me like I might be a little slow. “I mean…your balance has been paid. ” She taps at her keyboard, then looks back at me. “In fact, tuition as well as room and board have been paid. You have a zero balance. An escrow account has been established as well, it looks like. ” She’s a small woman in her mid-thirties, pretty in a frizzy, harried kind of way.

  “A what?”

  She frowns at me. “An escrow account. It means there is money available, ear-marked and arranged for auto-debit, for the remainder of your degree. For dorm costs and your food plan as well, it looks like. I didn’t know you could do such a thing, honestly. ” She gives me a tiny, tight smile. “Someone likes you, Miss Amundsen. ”

  “I don’t…I don’t understand. ”

  “It’s very simple, really. Someone has paid for the rest of your education. ”

  “I’m sorry if I’m coming across as stupid, I just—I don’t understand who would—who could—” I cut myself off, because I do know. I close my eyes slowly and try not to either cry or explode. “Thank you. ” I whisper the words and turn on my heel to leave the office. Once out, I just sit in the Rover.

  The leather is cool under my legs, and cold air blasts my face. It’s hot as anything outside, but the Rover gets icy in moments. The Rover has satellite radio, and I’m addicted to it. Musically, I’ve come to like everything, even hip-hop and pop, but my southern roots come through in my love for country music. “More than Miles” by Brantley Gilbert starts to play. This song, god, it’s tones from home, my home as it once was. I have a memory of riding in the front seat of Mom’s BMW, windows down and the wind tangling our hair as Tim McGraw blasts from the speakers. Mom loved Tim. Dad didn’t approve, since it wasn’t, like, Steve Green or Michael W. Smith or Steven Curtis Chapman, but it was always our secret, on the way home from dance class or during errands around town.

  The song ends, and a female DJ comes on, chatters momentarily, and then breaks my heart. “Goin’ way back for this one, y’all. This is the ever-delicious Tim McGraw with ‘Don’t Take the Girl. ’”

  Mom’s favorite song. I bawl uncontrollably, and I let myself miss her, really miss her, for the first time in months.

  When I’m done crying, I have to do something, or I’ll fall apart.

  If I still have a job after being a no-call no-show Saturday and yesterday, my shift will start in about twenty minutes. If I don’t go, Dawson has won. He’s paid off my tuition, room, and food plan, basically leaving me with no reason to work.

  Page 46

 

  I never said I wasn’t stubborn.

  I don’t stop to think about it. I just point the expensive SUV toward Exotic Nights, and I marvel at how quickly I’ve come to feel comfortable in this vehicle. When I pull into the parking lot, however, I can’t believe my eyes. There are no cars in the parking lot. Sure on a Monday afternoon there aren’t many people, just Timothy and few of the diehard regulars, but there’s usually someone. The lot is empty. I park the Rover and go to the front door, and my heart stops.

  There’s a piece of printer paper taped to the inside of the door, with a short and simple message printed on it in a huge font.

  CLOSED PERMANENTLY. FUTURE HOME OF BOB’S BOOZE CAVE.

  Is this a joke?

  I pull at the door handle, but it just rattles, locked. I go around to the side, to the door that leads to the backstage area and the dressing rooms. It’s locked, too, but that’s not surprising, as it’s always locked from the outside.

  The club has been sold? What? I stand in the parking lot, baking in the late afternoon heat, sweat trickling down between my shoulder blades, my head spinning. How could it have been sold to a liquor store? It may not have been a thriving franchise like Deja Vu, or an upscale place like Skin or Spearmint Rhino, but it still turned a pretty profit. We served crappy booze to down-on-their-luck middle- and lower-class working men. But…a liquor store? Bob’s Booze Cave? Really?

  My head is about to explode.

  Then…the penny drops.

  No.

  No.

  Hell, no.

  He did not.

  I spin on my heel and storm back to the car. I sink into the leather seat of the Rover…what I’ve actually begun thinking of as my Rover…and try to decide if I’m going to scream, cry, laugh, or all three.

  He did it. I know he’s behind this. He has money to burn, and he said himself that money means nothing to him. But would he drop—I don’t even know how much…several million dollars?—just to make sure I don’t go back to stripping?

  He just might.

  In fact…I know he would.

  I race the Rover through the streets of L. A. toward Beverly Hills at a speed and recklessness that would have made Dawson proud. In thirty minutes I’m at the gate of his neighborhood, and the guard just waves me through. How does he know me? Does he know this car? Did Dawson tell all the guards who I am? I resist the urge to squeal the tires down the wide street to his house. It’s a neighborhood after all. I pull into driveway at a sedate pace and park under the arch. His Bugatti is backed into the only open garage bay. A battered red pickup truck sits in the driveway, a massive beast of a machine with fat, knobby black tires and lifted spring-things making the mammoth truck even taller. Dirt coats the truck, and I hear the engine popping as I make my way past it. It doesn’t seem like Dawson, this absurdly masculine truck, but then again, it does. I pound on the front door with my fist, clutching my purse strap at my shoulder with my other hand. I’m shaking all over, even after a half-hour drive to calm me down.

  Dawson answers the door wrapped in a too-small white towel, his hair wet and plastered to his head, drops of water running down his sculpted chest. He has a toothbrush in his mouth and a dab of foamy toothpaste on his chin. He pushes the door open and holds it, and I move in past him. He smells delicious, like something citrus layered over shampoo and deodorant.

  My hand moves of its own accord, reaching up to wipe away the toothpaste from his chin with my thumb. I’m standing close to him, and I feel the heat billowing off him.

  I’ve momentarily forgotten why I’m angry at him.

  He’s got the toothbrush clamped between his molars on the right side of his mouth, and he’s leaning against the door. His towel looks dangerously close to falling off, but he grabs it with one hand, pulling the toothbrush from his mouth with the other. “I was wondering if I’d get a visit from you. ” His voice is cool and amused, but his eyes are stormy and overcast-gray, the color of pensive tumult and boiling emotion.

  “You…you…” I can’t get words out.

  He’s as naked as a man can get without being actually nude, and it’s awfully distracting, because I have visions running through my head of licking the drops of water from his chest. I physically stop myself from actually doing it by grabbing the doorframe.

&n
bsp; “I was in the shower,” he finishes for me. “And you look sweaty enough that you could use one yourself. ” He leans over me and sniffs. “But you smell good. You’d smell even better if that was my sweat smeared on your skin. ” His voice buzzes in my ear, intimate and suggestive.

  What devilish new game is this? What is he doing to me? I’m trapped in place. He’s letting the towel slip, just slightly. I can see the V of his groin muscles, and now a shadow of black hairs closely trimmed. He’s going to let it go, right here in his foyer. He’s trying to distract me from being angry at him. It’s definitely working.

  I turn around and put my face to the door. “Damn it, Dawson—”

  “Did you just swear? I wasn’t sure you ever swore. ” His voice is at my ear, so close.

  Why can’t he just leave me alone? And why don’t I really want him to?

  “You paid off my tuition. ”

  “And your room and board. Don’t forget that. ”

  “And the club?” I whisper. Another tendency of mine when I’m dealing with Dawson.

  “Oh, that?” He sounds pleased with himself. I don’t dare look to see his matching smug expression. I can imagine it well enough. “My buddy Avi was in the market for a new property, so I made that slimy f**king worm Tim an offer he couldn’t refuse. ” He says this last part in a passable Marlon Brando impression, but I’m so shocked and angry that even his Godfather quote doesn’t impress me.

  “Tim? Timothy van Dutton?”

  “Yeah, that little cocksucker. He didn’t want to sell, but everybody’s got a price. Turns out your buddy Tim’s price was two million. ” He says this casually.

  I can’t help wondering what Candy and the others are going to do, now that the club is gone.

  “You spent two million dollars to close down the club, just so I wouldn’t work there anymore?” I steal a glance at Dawson, which is a mistake, because he’s loosely holding the towel around his waist, teasing me with glimpses of what lies beneath.

  He just shrugs. “Yep. It was a filthy shithole anyway, and Tim was an oily cockroach. You can’t honestly say you’re mad about this, can you?”

  Page 47

 

  I pace away from him, struggling for breath and for words. “You…but—my tuition and all that. It had to have been—”

  “Not even fifty grand. ” He makes a dismissive gesture. “Chump change. But it’s not about the money. It’s about you. ”

  Fifty grand. Chump change. My head spins. “I don’t get—”

  He stops me with a hand on my arm and gently pulls my back against his chest. He’s wet still, and my shirt sticks to his chest. “It’s simple, Grey. I’m a spoiled brat. I’ve always gotten what I want. Always. And I want you all to myself. I don’t want you working there anymore, and I knew you’d fight me on it, so I took the fight away from you. I don’t care how much it costs, I have to have you all to myself. ”

  “That’s cheating. ”

  “Where’s the rulebook for this? What’s that saying? ‘All’s fair in love and war’?”

 
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
  • 11 756
  • 0
Add comment

Add comment