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"HOW DO MY NIPPLES LOOK?" Sugar Jones craned her head around to check in the trifold mirror, her long blond extensions getting in the way.
Bridget Weiss brushed them aside. "Just a sec, I'll tell you when I'm done in the back." She finished pinning the silver bra band around Sugar's perfectly tanned, perfectly toned rib cage. A rib cage that carried a brand-new set of G-cup breasts, courtesy of a pricey suburban plastic surgeon and paid for by the slack-jawed patrons at Frisky's Gentlemen's Club, not a club that any real gentleman would belong to.
Sugar shifted from one foot to the other and circled the carpeted pedestal, her butt cheeks flexing in the costume's matching silver thong. Bridget bet she could bounce a quarter off those buns. The exotic dancer frowned at her reflection. "I don't think the doc got them quite even."
Bridget stared at the silver-spandex-clad breasts, as dispassionate as a pastry chef making sure her cake was frosted evenly. Sure enough, the left nipple was maybe a half inch higher than the right. At least they weren't off-center, like some other clients of hers. One girl had gone to a cheaper doc and wound up with a pair so asymmetrical, Bridget had found herself tilting her head in a futile attempt to see them as a balanced set.
But padding or a good pasty hid a multitude of sins. Even before starting fashion-design school here in Chicago last fall, Bridget had learned all the bra-design tricks in the book, plus a few more. "Let me pin up the left strap just a smidge."
She quickly made the alteration and Sugar smiled. "Much better. Now that I'm healed from my surgery, I'm going to be a feature dancerfinally a Frisky's Kitten!" Shebounced up and down in her excitement.
Bridget backed away, not wanting to get biffed in the face by Sugar's frighteningly firm breasts. "A Frisky's Kitten, huh? That's quite impressive." She sincerely meant it. The stripperrather, exotic dancerbusiness was as cutthroat a business as any of the high-pressure Chicago law firms or commodities trading partnerships that supplied most of Frisky's patrons.
Adam popped to mind, and just as firmly, Bridget tried to pop him out again. No such luck. She pursed her lips in aggravation. Adam Hale could do what he wanted, and if he wanted to lose a few brain cells and a lot of cash in Frisky's after a long day trading pork belly futures at the Mercantile Exchange, it was his business.
"Impressive and lucrative." Sugar closed one blue eye in a big wink. "According to the projections in my business plan, my implants will pay for themselves within eight to ten weeks."
"Business plan? Like spreadsheets and things?" What did Sugar do, calculate how many lap dances per night she needed to average? Bridget's business plan consisted of scraping together enough money to pay the large rent on her small apartment and grocery bill. Whoever thought you couldn't buy groceries for ten bucks a week just wasn't eating enough ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches.
"Spreadsheets, trend forecasts in the adult entertainment industry, the whole nine yards. I wrote my plan as a final project for my marketing class. I got an A-plus on it, too."
Bridget nodded. She couldn't imagine Sugar getting anything less.
"And my accountant thinks I might be able to write my implants off as a deduction on my tax return."
Wow, she needed a business plan and Sugar's accountant, as well. She had a hard time getting up the nerve to deduct basic things like fabric and thread. And heavy-duty silver spandex was not cheap. "Okay, I can have the bra ready for you the day after tomorrow. And I'll keep the pattern for your new measurements on file so you can call and order new bras whenever you need them."
"Great! I go through a ton of bras. Sometimes the customers grab them and won't give them back, or they land in a puddle of beer," Sugar complained. She unclipped the band and slung the bra to Bridget with practiced ease. "Oops! Thought I was at the club for a second."
Bridget didn't bat an eye as she folded the bra and set it next to her industrial sewing machine. Three months ago, the sight of another woman's breasts had made her blush hard enough to make her dizzy. Now even the extremely large pair a foot away from her face was simply another day at the office.
Sugar was shimmying out of the silver thong and into her civilian underwear, a plain black thong and ugly white cotton bra. She caught Bridget's surprised expression. "You know, I'm happy with my implants and all, but it's almost impossible to find sexy bras this size with good support. The straps are cutting into my shoulders and my back aches by day's end." Her glossy lips pouted.
"Tell me about it. That was how I got into designing lingerie." Bridget rolled her shoulders, stiff after bending over her sewing machine before Sugar's arrival. "I never found anything that fit me."
"I was wondering." Sugar gave her an appraising look. "No offense, but you don't seem like someone with a background in adult entertainment."
"No offense taken." Bridget wasn't the type to inspire men to stuff money in her garter. With her light brown hair and pale skin freckled from too many summers hauling hay on the family dairy farm in Wisconsin, men were more likely to dismiss her as the younger-sister type. Like Adam.
"So no implants for you? And you must be at least a D-cup."
"Double-D actually and all natural, for better or worse." It had mostly been worse.
"Lucky! Do you know how much dough these set me back?" Sugar plucked at the plain white cotton bra.
Dough that she would make in less than three months of part-time work. Suddenly, Bridget was sick of ramen noodles and discount-store shampoo. She wasn't going to take off her clothes for money, but she could make more of an effort to build her business. "A great bra is essential for supporting large breasts or else they start to sag."
"Sag?" A look of horror crossed Sugar's face.
"No one told me implants sag."
"Ah, but what about the skin holding them up?" Bridget nodded significantly. Especially skin that was already stressed by tanning booths and sprays.
Sugar put a protective hand over her bosom. "I never thought of that."
"Tell you what. I'll make you a nice, supportive, everyday bra and matching thong on spec. Your money back if it's not the most comfortable bra you've had. And you can keep the thong." She couldn't exactly resell a used thong.
Sugar paused from pulling on her white V-necked T-shirt. "A risk-free offer." She grinned. "I like it."
"Good." Bridget smiled. "What color would you like?"
"Ivory lace. And cut lower in the front so I can wear my plunging-neckline shirts."
"No problem." Bridget made a note on Sugar's client file. "So, I'll see you Friday at four when you come for the silver bra."
"Great." Sugar pulled on a pair of painted-on pencil-leg jeans and white ankle socks. She sighed as she tied her running shoes. "Stupid plantar fasciitis. My podiatrist says I'll need foot surgery unless I save my high heels for the stage. And dates, of course."
"No, those wouldn't work on a date," Bridget agreed. Not that she'd been on any in quite a while.
"Unless you were going to the Cubs' game."
"True." Sugar got a speculative look on her face.
"Or maybe I could choreograph a routine around my sneakers. An unbuttoned baseball jersey with a bra and thong underneath."
"With a team logo over each breast and one in the front of the thong," she suggested, half-jokingly. Although she could buy patches and appliqué them onto matching bras and thongs. Would the major-league franchises sue her if they found out? Probably nobody cared. Professional athletes were always going to strip clubs and they'd get a kick out of it.
"Brilliant! The baseball season openers are in a couple weeks, and I could wear a football jersey during the fall."
"Go Bears!" Bridget made a cheering motion. She was a Green Bay Packers fan herself, something she didn't advertise living only a few miles away from Soldier Field, the ancestral home of Chicago's favorite gridiron underdogs.
Sugar picked up her duffel bag. "Go money! That's what I cheer for. Speaking of " She handed Bridget several bills. "Always get cash up front, that's my advice."
Bridget wrote a receipt and handed her the carbon duplicate. "To make your accountant happy."
"And I want to keep her happy. She used to dance at the Love Shack to pay for her CPA classes, so she knows the business inside and out. See you Friday." Sugar breezed out of Bridget's apartment and waved as she disappeared down the two flights of stairs to the quiet street.
Bridget returned to her working area. She'd only been able to afford a one-bedroom apartment, so she'd turned her entire living room into her design studio and sewing room.
The room's corner was curtained off into a changing area. Most of her clients didn't bother to use it, not being the shy types. Her large drafting table faced the window to get the maximum light for her design sketches and pattern cutting. The trifold mirror and carpeted pedestal for fitting appointments were next to the huge sewing table with her machine on it.
Her sewing table was actually the old Ping-Pong table from her family's basement. It was big and sturdy enough to hold heavy projects like beaded wedding dresses, but had been a pain in the butt to move, needing Dad, her two brothers, Colin and Dane, and Adam to haul it into her third-story walk-up.
Adam had acted funny the whole time she was moving in, only talking to her when he needed to know where to set a box. It had been so awkward that she'd pulled Colin aside to ask him what the problem was. As usual, Col was clueless except to offer that Adam's girlfriend had made plans and wasn't happy that Adam had already agreed to help Bridget move.
A dutiful obligation. And that was just why she'd moved away from Wisconsin, from being Bob and Helen Weiss's baby girl and Colin and Dane's kid sister. She brushed some scraps of silver material and bits of underwire into her palm and threw them away.
She peered down her neckline as she bent over the wastebasket and saw a boring white bra. She also distinctly recalled pulling on discount-store cotton briefs that morning. Why didn't she take her own advice and wear something nicer? She'd left her family to go to fashion-design school in the big bad city exactly so she could create pretty, comfortable lingerie for women who were difficult to fit, large or small.
Bridget grabbed her sketchpad and markers. Sugar wasn't the only one who was going to get a sexy lace bra and matching thong. And whatever lucky man eventually got to see Bridget in lingerie wouldn't be thinking of her as somebody's little sister.