“You damn whores will be the death of America!”
“Antibiotics won’t cleanse you of your filthy sin! Turn back now!”
I gripped Autumn’s arm as we pushed through the crowd of rowdy protesters. Their expressions twisted with anger, spitting insults and accusations as though we were defendants in a murder trial. They threateningly flanked us on either side, nearly blocking the entrance to the tall building. I let out a loud squeal as a hard cardboard corner from a protest sign sliced into my scalp. Autumn yanked at my wrist and pulled me through, practically shoving me into the revolving door.
When we finally emerged on the other side, I took a moment to collect myself. “What the hell… how do they know we’re here for that?”
Autumn smoothed her beautiful long, chestnut hair and glared back at the protesters. “Puritan vultures. If they’re so worried about saving people, why not go work in a soup kitchen or a food line or something?” She flicked her hair back, and rolled her eyes. “They probably saw the same open ad in the paper I did.”
“We do live in the Bible Belt after all, what do you expect?”
“Progressive attitudes towards human sexuality,” she replied with a shrug. I watched as a thought flashed across her face. To her credit, I know she counted to five before going through with it. She stormed back to the doors, her heels clicking against the tile floor. “You’re all a bunch of hypocrites, that’s what you are!” she shouted, waving her middle fingers.
“There must be a dozen other offices in this building…” I started to say as I turned towards the elevators. In stark, bold print was the name of the company. Kael Industries. I frowned, and voiced my hundredth protest. “I really don’t think this is a good idea.”
She grabbed my hand, and pulled me towards the reception. “Come on, they said to ask for Daniel.”
Twenty minutes later, I was still pleading to leave, although I wasn’t getting anywhere at all. “Autumn, please. I make you breakfast. I hold your hair back when you’re puking up your fifth Jägerbomb. I watch America’s Got Talent with you even though I hate it. I don’t ask for much, right?”
My best friend just chuckled and plucked a red satin robe from the wall. “Other than dibs on the first shower, no, you really don’t ask for much.”
“So please listen to me now. We can’t, we cannot go in there, especially if it means… this!” I whispered harshly so the hiring manager wouldn’t overhear. As desperately as I wanted to get out of there, dragging Autumn by her hair if I had to, I didn’t want to be the person to ruin her job interview. I needed to convince her this whole thing was a truly terrible idea.
Autumn rolled her eyes, and quickly pulled the curtain shut on the changing cubicle. “No one asked you to come, darling. I’m a big girl. I don’t need your protection.”
I checked over my shoulder before slowly inching towards the gap in the curtain. “Of course you do! You’re literally out of your mind right now. Just come back home with me, we’ll get you some shifts at Danny’s, it’ll all work out.”
For a few blissful moments of silence, I actually thought she might’ve been considering my offer. But all my hopes were dashed in a wave of red satin as she ripped the curtain open. Still wearing the black stilettos, she’d wrapped the robe tightly around her curvy frame, a mess of brown curls spilling over her shoulders.
“Is this the body of someone who should smell like onion rings and stale beer?” she asked with a twirl.
“It’s not your body I’m concerned about. It’s your brain,” I muttered, crossing my arms in frustration. “Working in a sex club is so absolutely insane. You have to see that, right?”
“Sweetie, it makes perfect sense. I’ll make so much more money working here than any other job I could get. I’ll have fun, meet some interesting people, and carry on with the life I was originally supposed to have. Right now, I have to pay rent and save up so I can move to New York as soon as possible. Am I gonna do that with two dollar tips?” I looked away, hating that I understood her argument. She dipped her head to catch my eye, and continued in a softer voice. “I’m glad you’re here, and I would love it if you did the walk through with me. I know how difficult all this can be for you. Just give it a chance.”
I quietly pouted even more, staring at the robe in my hands. “I don’t understand why I have to get changed. I’ll be practically naked in this.”
She let out a throaty laugh. “I think that’s kind of the idea. At least yours will come lower than your ass,” she added, tugging at the bottom of her robe.
“I think that’s the idea,” I quipped sarcastically.
“Are you ladies almost ready?” the assistant slash hiring manager called into the room. He sounded impatient, but in a good humored sort of way.
With a lump in my throat, I stared into Autumn’s dark eyes, feeling just as terrified of putting on that robe as I would have donning a skydiving suit. I nodded, almost without realizing it. “Okay.”
“We’re coming,” she called out lyrically as she shooed me into the changing room.
Skydiving, sex club, either way, it was a frightening jump into the unknown. Nothing could convince me that the risk was worth the reward.
* * *
“So, we have a very open and accepting work environment, just as you might expect,” Daniel, the assistant, continued. He waved his wrist in front of a panel beside the door. The light flashed green, and he pushed the door open to allow us to enter. “Now, this is the main area that leads to all the other portions of the club.”
As Autumn’s heels click-clacked along the floor in front of me, I couldn’t shake the out-of-body experience I was feeling. She and the hiring manager were speaking, but the words might as well have been in a strange foreign language. It felt like a hazy dream I was about to wake from, but never did. Not bad, not good, just so surreal that I couldn’t fully wrap my head around what was going on.
I had no idea where to put my eyes, and we weren’t even technically in the club yet, just the lounge leading up to the club. Nothing illicit was going on here at all, but the air was thick with sexual implication. My gaze drifted up as we turned a corner, and I immediately spotted an older couple on a plush sofa, both wearing robes. His hand was tucked between her knees as she toyed with his silver hair. She glanced up as we passed, just an idle look at a few people walking by, but my face instantly flushed deep with shame. I felt like I was either intruding on their privacy, or that they were somehow invading mine.
Ugh, get your shit together, woman! I chastised myself as we carried on. But lounging around a sex club in the middle of the day wearing nothing but a thin robe was not a place I thought I’d ever feel comfortable.
As Daniel was explaining something ridiculous like the company’s 401(k) matching policy, my gaze fell on one man in particular. He stood out, not just because he was the only person in the room fully clothed, but because he practically demanded your attention. He was deep in conversation with the bartender, the pair intensely pouring over a three-ring binder that was probably some type of inventory sheet.
I glanced at Autumn and couldn’t believe she hadn’t noticed him yet. She had a nose for hot men, a sixth sense that should’ve been screaming.
He was tall, dark hair swept back, his lean muscles filling out the tailored suit in all the right places. You have to understand one thing about me… I’m not, nor have I ever been, boy crazy. I can appreciate a good looking man as much as the next woman, but I’ve never lost my mind over one. But this guy? Even from a distance, I felt my heart beat a little faster.
He looked up and towards us, finished his conversation with the bartender, and slowly started to approach. Daniel noticed him and shifted slightly, inviting him into the small group.
“And this is Xander Kael, the co-owner of Club Allure,” Daniel said. “These two are interviewing for the open positions.”
I tried to protest, but the words caught in my throat. The devastatingly handsome Xander flashed a polite smile before touching Daniel on the shoulder. “Nice to meet you. I’m afraid I have to steal him away for one second.”
I thought I saw Daniel’s expression drop for a moment before he gave us a nod. “I’ll be right back.”
Autumn nudged me, pulling me from my daze. “You all right?” she asked with a smirk.
“Umm, yeah,” I replied, shaking my head. “I’m fine.” I tried desperately to pull my gaze away from Xander, moving my head until my eyes had no choice but to follow.
“He is kind of incredible, isn’t he? It’s like a freakin’ Greek god put on a suit and started walking around,” she said, not even trying to hide her admiration. I could tell she was mentally undressing him, imagining all the exciting trouble she could get into with her new boss.
“This place is some kind of incredible,” I replied, hoping to change the subject long enough to give my brain a break. “This was not at all what I was expecting.”
And it really wasn’t. Every feature was touched with a surprisingly thoughtful amount of class. I’d anticipated cheap and sleazy, not refined.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Daniel suddenly shouted. The few people mingling in the vast room turned to look as his voice echoed.
The two men squared off, and even fifteen feet away, I could see Xander’s jaw muscles working as he tried to keep his temper. He said something in a hushed voice which set Daniel off even further.
“This is utter bullshit, and you know it. With everything Rian does and you’re telling me…”
Xander grabbed him by the bicep, his thumb digging in hard. The strong-arm was counter to his quiet demeanor, his voice low despite Daniel’s repeated outbursts. Autumn and I exchanged looks, but like everyone else in the room, continued to shamelessly watch the scene unfold.
Daniel seemed to consider Xander’s words, paused, and tore the bracelet from his wrist. “Fuck this place. I quit,” he yelled. He stomped the bracelet with his heel before adding, “And you tell her to get over herself. She’s a butterface if I’ve ever seen one.”
He stormed past us without a second look, disappearing back through the door from which we’d just emerged. Xander kept his back to the room, and stared at the ceiling for a moment to collect himself before turning. He gave the small crowd a little embarrassed wave before returning to us.
“I’m sorry you had to see that,” he said as he peeled away his suit jacket. “I’d be happy to continue the interview if you’d still like to carry on.” He glanced back and forth between us as he spoke.
My throat had completely dried up, leaving Autumn to answer for the both of us. “I’d love to continue. I’m Autumn,” she said, extending her hand with a purr, stepping closer.
“Pleasure, and you are…” he led, meeting my eye.
“No one in particular,” I said quickly. Please don’t look at me. I feel like I’m going to melt when you look at me, I thought desperately.
He arched an eyebrow, the corner of his mouth quirking to match. “I very much doubt that…”
“Maisie,” I finally squeaked. And then the strangest thing happened as I shook his hand.
The very instant our skin touched, I was overwhelmed with a bizarre mix of sensations. Lightheaded, a little dizzy, but a deep throb pulsed between my legs. He pulled his hand away as if he’d felt it too. For a moment, his deep blue eyes pinned me to the spot questioningly. With a slight shake of the head, he refocused on Autumn.
“Great. Let’s grab a booth over here and we can talk.” Xander’s eyes rose to mine for a fraction of a second. It looked like he paused, on the verge of asking me a question before moving away.
He strode across the hall, his shoulder muscles shifting under the thin material of the tailored blue shirt. Autumn gave me a thumbs up when his back was turned. She also mouthed, “Holy shit,” with wide eyes before following behind.
Maybe I hadn’t eaten enough for breakfast or my nerves were shot, but I was left unsteady. After quickly asking the bartender where the restrooms were, I fled from the main area, desperate to get a handle on myself.
Like everything else in the club, the bathrooms were ultra modern. The automatic lights flickered on as I walked in. After a quick scan of the room, I was shocked to see that the toilet stalls were made of crystal clear glass, transparent in the brightly illuminated room. How are you supposed to pee with everyone watching? I thought in panicked horror. Ugh! Are they into that or something? After a quick glance around, I decided I’d have to chance it and go quickly. The odds of someone coming in were slim, and I was dying to go.
Everything about Kael Industries was throwing me for a loop, not least of which was its CEO. As I shut the door to the stall, the glass suddenly went opaque, almost frosted. A small gasp involuntarily escaped my lips as I ran my fingers over the smooth, cold surface.
“All right, that is pretty cool,” I muttered. So the company had a ton of money. It still didn’t make their line of work any better.
I was further impressed as the glass turned clear again when unlocked. I moved to the mirror to fix myself up, horrified to see a spot of blood staining my blonde hair from where the protest sign had cut me.
“Great, now I’m gonna bleed everywhere, too. Wonderful first impression, Maisie,” I grumbled as I dabbed a wet paper towel to the spot.
Even wearing the same style robe, I was no match for Autumn’s radiant beauty. Old makeup smudged under my eyes, my hair pulled up in a tangled mess at the top of my head, I looked more like someone who’d been interrupted during a nap than a sexy escort. The idea of me applying for the same job made me chuckle. But then, I was always happy with that dynamic. Autumn was the gorgeous one. I was witty, the one guys wanted to watch football with, not bang. With one last glance in the mirror, I wondered how Xander was going to gracefully reject my “application.”
By the time I returned to the main hall, Autumn and Xander had already finished. I hesitated mid-step, somewhat surprised to see them standing. Autumn seemed happy, so I assumed it had gone well. Relief washed over me at the thought that we’d at least be able to leave soon.
They both turned to see me come around the corner. “There you are,” Autumn grinned as she looped her arm around me. “Xander was just saying he wanted to have a word with you.”
“No, that’s okay.” I didn’t know if I wanted to be alone with him, a thought I tried to project directly into her skull.
Autumn laughed, almost thrusting me forward towards Xander. “He wants to talk to you about a job,” she whispered in my ear.
Oh, hell no. “Autumn, are you crazy? You know how I…”
“Could you at least listen to my offer?” Xander’s deep voice broke in.
I wanted to run, for so many reasons… yet I felt my legs following him over to the booth. I stood awkwardly as he took a seat on the left. After rifling through some paperwork, he looked up to find me still standing in place.
“Please… have a seat,” he gestured.
Tugging down on the hem of my robe and making sure it stayed put, I gingerly sat opposite. Hoping the table between us would give me enough distance, I tried to steady myself. I’m normally a very level-headed person. I know myself, know what I want in life, what I believe in, and what I think is a crock of shit. Yet Xander’s presence left me all sorts of off balance. And apparently that meant I wavered between painfully awkward and bitchy.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before speaking. “I’m not a stripper,” I blurted out.
His eyebrow moved a fraction of an inch but otherwise, his expression remained stoic. “Okay.”
“What I mean is, I don’t take my clothes off. I’m friends with Autumn, but we’re pretty much completely different people,” I babbled. “I don’t have sex.”
“I see.” Xander leaned back against the black leather seat. He worked a fountain pen between his fingers, lazily, seductively. I tried not to stare at his strong hands.
“I mean, I’m not against sex, per se, it’s just not…” I took a deep breath and let it out, knowing how ridiculous I sounded. I resisted the urge to wipe the nervous sweat from my brow. “I’m just saying… You’re probably a very busy man. I wouldn’t want to waste your time.” There, an appeal to his corporate side.
“While I appreciate your concern, I don’t believe I am wasting it.” He leaned forward again, his rolled sleeves tight against his muscular forearms. “Autumn asked if I might have any other work available, that you might be interested in a job. And as you just saw a few moments ago, there does happen to be a position open.”
I gritted my teeth, and thought of a dozen cruel ways I was going to get back at her for this. “I have a job.” I dropped my eyes to my lap, unable to continue looking into his.
“I’m offering you a better one,” he countered immediately.
“You don’t even know what I do.” Sexy or not, this guy was too aggressive. “Who the hell do you think…”
“I know you don’t earn a lot. You live with Autumn, and share a vehicle. You haven’t had your hair cut in at least six months, and your wardrobe is about four years old, and from Old Navy.” He said all this without judgment and every observation was dead on correct. I was too stunned to come up with a witty retort, so instead, I turned bitchy.
“We share a car because we care about the environment, I’m growing my hair out to donate to charity, and what the fuck do you know about my clothing? I’m wearing this,” I snapped, plucking the smooth lapel, “because of your weird, frigged up dress code policy.”
Xander studied me for a moment, and I fought the urge to wilt under his gaze. I think I saw a tiny curl to his lip before he looked away. “In any case, the man you unfortunately saw storming out of here earlier was my personal assistant. I can’t go into details, but there was some inappropriate conduct on his part involving one of my other staff members.”
I snorted, the inner bitch fully released now. “Given your business, it’s not surprising you found him sleeping with one of your girls. I’m sure he isn’t the first to have sampled. Probably abused his power over her, threatened her job.”
Xander shook his head. “That actually wasn’t the problem. We don’t have a policy against staff members… mingling, regardless of position in the company. As you say, given our business,” he said with a sparkle in his eye. My heart fluttered in my chest at the implication, but I held my ground. He tapped the pen on the table and continued. “No, what we won’t tolerate is any behavior that makes our employees feel vulnerable or unsafe.”
A lump formed in my throat as the pieces began slotting together. “He was stalking her.”
“Allegedly. In any case, I now have a position I need to fill immediately, and Autumn seemed to think you would be a good fit. She spoke very highly of you.” He tapped the pen on the table as his stoic gaze remained fixed on me.
“I’d be happy to triple whatever it is you’re making now,” he quickly countered.
There was something so strange about the way he spoke. To the ear, his tone remained level and steady, free from any inappropriate insinuation. But the subtext made me tingle. Maybe it was the words and phrases he chose or how intimidatingly attractive he was. Sitting near him made me feel… awake. Aware.
“Mr. Kael,” I started calmly. I needed to shut this whole thing down and get home before I made a complete ass out of myself. “I truly appreciate the offer, but I have to be blunt. I don’t agree with what you do or how you earn your money, so for that reason alone, you should accept that I won’t be a good fit.” I moved to stand, but he held up a hand. That single gesture froze me in place.
“But you support your friend’s desire to work with us?” he asked with a tilt of the head. I tried not to stare at the tendon in his neck, the sharp hairline of the stubble on his jaw.
“I support Autumn, no matter what she chooses to do. But if I’m being honest, I came here to make sure she wasn’t being taken advantage of.” Although my insides were shaking like a scared chihuahua, my voice was thankfully steady and calm.
“And you think I look like a man who takes advantage of women?” he retorted just as calmly.
I pressed my lips together for a moment, forcing myself to keep his gaze. Although his expression didn’t reveal it, I could tell he was enjoying this exchange. It was some sort of test, and despite knowing that, I still rose to the challenge.
“Well, I’ve just met you, haven’t I? But given that you don’t take no for an answer?” I pursed my lips and looked down my nose at him. “I’ve learned not to judge what a man is capable of based on looks,” I replied cryptically.
Xander openly grinned for the first time, revealing a perfect smile and one endearing dimple on the left side of his face. He crossed his arms over his broad chest, and slowly licked his bottom lip. I’m fairly certain if I’d been standing, my knees would’ve gone out from under me.
“Trust me, every person who participates in this club is enjoying and embracing a vital part of the human experience,” he said simply, his palms open like he wasn’t hiding a thing.
“What an eloquent description. I would say every person in this club is either debasing themselves for money or paying to jizz on, or in, someone they’d never have a chance of being with in the real world.” My cheeks flushed with both anger and a twinge of embarrassment. Was I seriously sitting in front of this strange man arguing about jizz?
“You don’t believe in consenting adults exploring their sexuality?”
I knew he was deliberately pushing my buttons now, and I had to make a conscious effort to ignore it. “Yes, unless the sexual act begins or ends with the transfer of money. That’s the last I’ll say on it,” I replied challengingly.
“I think you have the power dynamic switched all around in your head,” he said with a tsk. “In any case, the offer will remain on the table for forty-eight hours. After that, I’ll have to find someone else. I hope you understand.” He jotted something down on a business card he’d pulled from the inside of a folder, and handed it to me across the table.
I reached for it, shaking my head. “Really, I’m afraid nothing you…” My breath caught in my throat as our fingers again briefly touched. The connection was like crackling electric fire shooting through my veins. I don’t think I would’ve been able to finish that sentence if a gun was pressed to my head.
As a rule, I don’t trust people, particularly men. I have a thick catalog of supporting evidence gathered over time to prove why, but when our fingers brushed that last time… I really can’t explain it. It was like a lurking premonition, a gut feeling that I could trust Xander. Although he’d given me every reason not to, I instantly felt comfortable that he was telling me the truth.
Xander smiled again, and pulled away. “Call or text if you have any questions. I hope you’ll reconsider, Maisie.” He felt that too, he had to have.
He escorted me back to Autumn, and directed us back to the changing rooms. My ears were ringing, my mouth suddenly parched. I know I said goodbye to him, but I don’t remember when. Only after the doors shut behind us and we were in the parking lot behind the building did my brain begin to clear.
“Did you take it? Maisie… hello?” Autumn said with a shake to my shoulder.
“No, I… no.” I shook my head, and focused on her happy expression, suddenly remembering how pissed off I was with her. “I can’t believe you did that.”
“What? It wasn’t my idea. It’s not like I pimped you out or something. He asked if you were looking for work, I talked you up… what’s the big deal?”
“I don’t know. I just…”
We walked around the side of the building to the street. The protesters were still waiting at the entrance of the building, and like a swarm of bees, they were calm now. But the second they spotted us getting to our car, I was afraid they’d agitate again.
“And what about you?” I asked with a small smile. “You seem happy with yourself.”
“Trial shift, tomorrow night,” she gushed. “I pretty much have it in the bag. Oh, please take the job! How cool would it be if we worked together?” She hung on the side of the car as I opened the passenger door.
“We wouldn’t be working together,” I reminded her, gesturing to get inside quickly. “No way I’d be doing anything close to what you’re doing.”
“Even so, it’d be fun.” Autumn pulled her sunglasses on and grinned. “He wanted you. You’re crazy if you don’t take it. I know I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from giving a man like that what he wants.”
Autumn hit the nail right on the head. That was the problem. I didn’t trust myself either, and that’s exactly what scared me.
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