It was mid-July in Las Vegas, and that meant I actually wanted to be at work. Kind of. The Diamond Club may have been one of the sleaziest strip joints in the city, but its air-conditioning was always on full-blast, unlike the ancient unit in the apartment I shared with my fellow stripper, Rosa. We’d been lucky to keep it down to ninety over the Fourth.
Now, as I walked through the club to get to the dressing room, however, I was starting to wonder if the air was even worth it. The heat outside was oppressive and even though it was cool inside, something about the heat made the men act behave even worse than usual. It didn’t help that some asshole had busted the hinges off of the back exit so that the only way we could keep the door shut was to chain it. That meant we had to come in and leave through the front, giving the men extra time to ogle, comment and try to cop a feel.
“Hey, there, pretty thing.” A guy with a thick drawl and a cowboy hat to match pushed himself off of his barstool and into my path.
“I have to get backstage.” I kept my voice professionally polite as I tried to sidestep around his massive bulk.
“Don’t be like that.” He grabbed my arm. “Why don’t you give me a private dance?” His dark eyes ran over me. “I’d love to see you take it all off.”
“I don’t do private dances.” I twisted my arm against his thumb, breaking his grip.
The cowboy grinned at me. “I know the owner. All the girls do private dances for me.”
I glared at him. “Not me.” I’d already compromised once by doing a party with Rosa and that had turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life.
The cowboy was laughing as I walked away, calling out that he’d talk to his buddy and I’d be bending over for him before the end of the night. I ignored him. If everyone who claimed to know the owner actually did, then no one would have to pay for anything.
I barely missed having a beer spilled on me as I tried to avoid a drunk with wandering hands, so by the time I finally made it backstage, I was in an even worse mood than I had been when I’d first arrived. The only saving grace was the air. No guy wanted to see a girl sweating on stage because it was too hot.
“The cowboy try to get you to give him a private dance?” Rosa grinned at me as I stripped off my tank top and shorts.
I made a disgusted sound. “Who is that douchebag anyway? I haven’t seen him before.”
I gave her a look.
“Seriously.” She laughed as she zipped up the rubber suit she used for her number. “The man’s name is Bobby Ray and he’s from Texas. He’s a cattleman who comes up every six months or so.”
“That’s an awful lot of information to get about some audience member who’s here maybe twice a year.” I buttoned up my too-tight white shirt.
Rosa didn’t even bat an eyelash. “He tips good during private shows.” She reached for the mask she wore during the opening number. “Better than those Philadelphia boys did.”
I scowled as I picked up my mask. I didn’t want to think about the bachelor party. That just made me think about Reed and how I’d thought, for a few shining hours, that I was going to be able to leave this place behind. Oh, he’d offered me a way out, but it was more Pretty Woman than Cinderella and I had too much self-respect to do that. Most people probably wouldn’t believe it since I took off my clothes to pay the bills, but there were lines I wouldn’t cross.
An annoying little voice in the back of my head brought up Brock and I quickly pushed it away. Brock was different. He asked me to move back to Philadelphia to be with him. He took me to a family dinner. He wanted to get to know me. Sure, we’d had sex and he’d bought me things, but I didn’t sleep with him because of that and he never acted like I had to. Despite what Anastascia said, Brock was the real deal. A sweet, handsome, charming man who liked me for me.
I glanced at my phone.
“Your boy toy ain’t called yet?” One of the other strippers, a tall brunette named Charlene, smirked at me.
“He called earlier,” I snapped. Charlene had overheard Rosa and I talking when I’d gotten back from Philadelphia a couple weeks ago and now all the girls knew about the rich boy in Philly who was trying to be my sugar daddy. It hadn’t done any good to tell them that things weren’t like that between Brock and me. They had their ideas firmly in their minds and nothing could change their minds. It didn’t help that Rosa didn’t believe Brock was doing anything but stringing me along.
“He said when he’s coming out?” Rosa asked.
I shook my head. Ever since I’d told him that I’d consider moving back to Philadelphia, I’d had the decision hanging over my head. It was bad enough being a poor stripper in Vegas. At least here, the only people I was around were others like me. In Philadelphia, with Brock, I’d be among the richest of the rich and I’d probably be scraping by waitressing and having to stay with Anastascia in Fishtown until I could afford a place of my own. Brock had told me last week that he was going to come out and try to convince me to come back. He’d said that since I’d spent time in his world, he was going to spend time in mine.
Rosa told me that was a typical thing that guys say to girls like us when they want to make sure we know our place. We were good enough to visit for a fuck, but it was always on the man’s timetable and we were just expected to sit around and wait, grateful that someone like them would show interest in someone like us. I’d told her a million times that Brock wasn’t like that, but she kept insisting that she knew his type.
Fortunately, I was saved from having to argue with her again because we heard the manager call for us to get into position for the opening number and it was all business after that. The only thing I liked about my job was that it was at least similar to real dancing. I could either think about other things and let the muscle memory carry me through the routine or, like today, lose myself in the music and forget where I was and what I was doing. Inside my head, I would be nowhere and everywhere.
I kept myself lost during my individual routine as well, barely registering the men groping my ass as they stuffed bills into my g-string. Even when the cowboy squeezed my breast, I didn’t do anything other than move further back on the stage so I was out of reach. Part of me wanted to wipe that smug smile off his face, but the rest of me just kept moving to the music and reminding myself to enjoy the cool air and think of the tips I was making.
I couldn’t allow myself the luxury of thinking about other things, other paths my life should have taken. No matter what Brock said, I knew he’d eventually get tired of me and I’d be back here. This was my life.