Home > Love the Way You Lie (Stripped #1)

Love the Way You Lie (Stripped #1)
Author: Skye Warren

Chapter One



I used to think there were things I’d never do. Never take my clothes off for money. Never sell my body. Never fuck a stranger just to survive. I’d never sink that low.

I’d rather die.

But it’s hard to die, to lie down and let it happen. Not to fight. Not to reach toward the surface for air when you’re drowning. It’s almost impossible. I’m proof of that. I’m a living example of how low a person would go, if they have to. If they’re desperate enough.

If they’re staring at the black barrel of a gun, counting their breaths.

I hold my breath as I sweep red across my lips, stark against powder-pale skin. My eyes are already finished with heavy gold liner and shimmery shadow. A stranger blinks at me from the mirror, her eyes wide. She doesn’t look sad. Or lonely. She doesn’t look terrified, so the makeup’s done its job.

On a Wednesday night, the changing room is empty. Even half-priced appetizers can’t keep the club full in the middle of the week. No one would dance tonight unless they had to. That’s why I’m here. Because I have to be. Like Candy, who’s onstage. And Lola, working the floor. We’re doing what we have to do. We’re counting our breaths.

I stand and shake out my wings, making sure they’re still in place, attached to my bra. It only has to last until I strip it off. The song out there is getting louder and faster, and I know it’ll be over soon. My turn next. Lucky me.

And I am lucky. I know exactly what the alternative is.

I smooth my panties into place, making sure they’re covering the important parts. For now. Panties is a generous term for the scrap of fabric designed to tear apart when I tug.

I turn—and freeze. My breath leaves me in a whoosh. Blue is standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame. His thick arms bulge, stretching his T-shirt, tattoos covering the skin I can see. He’s ex-military, but whatever sense of honor he might have had is long gone. He’s still got discipline though. And power and force. He’s the club’s own mercenary.

How long has he been watching me?

I ignore the chill that slides down my spine. I ignore him as I walk toward the door. Maybe he’ll move and let me pass. Maybe he won’t harass me. And maybe pigs will fly. He grabs my arm.

Which is just as well. It’s not like I could have gotten past him without shoving him or something. I’m a lot of things, but I’m not suicidal. So I stand there with his hand on my arm, feeling creepy-crawly tingles all up and down my skin. I don’t look him in the eye. I don’t like seeing the darkness there. Instead I stare past him, into the dark hallway.

“Not even going to say hi?” He smells like smoke and sweat and alcohol. At only eight o’clock in the evening.

I keep my voice steady. “Hi.”

“That didn’t sound very friendly. You got a problem with me? Did I offend you in some way?”

Jesus, I don’t need this. The song’s almost over. If I miss my cue… I shiver. I can’t miss my cue. The hallway behind him is empty. Not that anyone would help if they saw. Ivan is the owner of the strip club, along with a cadre of other illegal shit in the city. He’s gone most of the time, so even though Blue is just a bouncer, he gets free reign. At least he does a decent job of protecting us girls.

Even if he is an asshole.

“I don’t have a problem with you,” I say.

He pulls me closer until my body is almost flush with his—and still I won’t look him in the eye. He doesn’t pay for that. No one does. They pay to touch me, to hurt me. To fuck me. They don’t pay me to look them in the eye, so I don’t.

His mouth is close enough to my ear that I can feel the whiskers when he speaks. “Then why don’t you prove it. Show me how friendly you can be.”

Gross. “I’m up next.”

His hold tightens, and I can already picture the bruises. When I’m at home, in the shower, I’ll wash off the stench of this place, the shame, but I won’t be able to wash off the dark shape of his fingers where they press into my skin. He’s imprinting himself on me, becoming part of me, and bile rises in my throat.

“I’m up next,” I repeat in a whisper.

Even Blue doesn’t want to anger the powers that be. I look up in time to see regret flicker in his eyes. He lets me go. “Later, Honey.”

I flinch even though that’s my name. Not my real name, but it’s what they call me here.

It’s who I am here.

When he steps aside, I hurry down the dark hallway. I’m almost more agile in heels than I am barefoot, from all the practice. There are lights on either side of the hallway, track lighting to make the walk feel glamorous or maybe to make sure we don’t trip in our stilettos. It feels out of place in the strip club, lighting up what is better dark, dusty corners and ambient shame. It reminds me of a landing strip—not in stripper terminology, but a real airstrip for airplanes with lights on either side to guide me. At any moment I could take off. At any moment, I could be free.

I have to believe that. It’s the only way to keep going.

And then I’m backstage, waiting. Trapped. The opposite of free.

I stand behind the curtains. Twenty years ago this area would be filled with stagehands and costume designers and performers waiting for their cue. But now there’s just me, shivering in the draft from the air-conditioning as the final strains of music fade away.

Candy slips back, skin shining with sweat and glitter, smelling of booze and cherries. She’s the prettiest girl here, except for the track marks on her arms. Except for the black eyes she has too often, ones she skillfully covers with makeup.

The opening notes of my song start playing.

“Depressing,” she tells me as she straightens the straps of my bra.

She’s never been a fan of my song selection. Apparently, blues is a downer.

“It has a good beat,” I say even though she’s right. Of course she is. She definitely earns the most of anyone here, and Lola earns more than me too. But if I can’t dance classical, I’ll at least pick something I want to hear.

She laughs. “A good beat? You still think this is about dancing.”

I shake my head, but I’m smiling. She has that effect on people, with her slutty schoolgirl outfit and pigtails. With her bubblegum-pop songs that she strips to. Branding, she calls it.

“What’s it about then?”

“About fucking, of course.” Then she’s gone down the hallway, heading toward the dressing room.

My smile falters as I stare after her. What’s more depressing than fucking?

I manage to push through the curtain only one beat after my cue. Not that anyone here would notice. Like she said, it’s about fucking. About being naked and for sale. Not about dancing. So I drop one foot in front of the other, making my hips pop with each step. A black satin bra. Panties made of black ribbon. It’s dark and sexy—and obvious. That’s fine with me. I’d rather be forgettable. I wish I could forget.

In the first moments onstage, I’m always blinded.

The bright lights, the smoke. The wall of sound that feels almost tangible, as if it’s trying to keep me out, push me back, protect me from what’s going to happen next. I’m used to the dancing and the catcalls and the reaching, grabbing hands—as much as I can be. But I’m never quite used to this moment, being blinded, feeling small.

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