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By LOGAN BELLE
APHRODISIA BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Logan Belle
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDuring the entire cab ride he kept telling her, it's a surprise.
"I don't like surprises," Mallory said, following him into the dark, barely marked building off of Bowery.
"It's your birthday! What's a birthday without a surprise?" He winked at her, and she couldn't resist smiling back. That was the thing about Alec: no matter how much he aggravated her, she loved him too much to stay angry.
And why should she be in a bad mood? They'd finally moved in together after three years of dating long distance while she finished law school. She had a good job at a midsize firm. And yes, it was her birthday—the big twenty-five—and Alec was taking her out for a night on the town, in her new city, just the two of them.
Except ... the dark location did not seem to be a romantic restaurant.
A woman with a clipboard greeted them inside the door. She had a butterfly tattoo on her neck and a perfect face. Behind her, a blue velvet curtain prevented Mallory from seeing into the room.
"Alec Martin and Mallory Dale. We're on the list," Alec said, taking Mallory's hand.
Once inside, Mallory saw that the venue was a bar of some sort, with a seating area and a stage and ... dwarves. Two that she counted. And a topless woman wearing a garter belt, black-seamed stockings, and red patent leather stilettos. And a man dressed for a rodeo carrying a bullwhip.
"What the hell is this?" Mallory asked.
"It's the Blue Angel. A burlesque club," Alec said, smiling like he'd just presented her with a diamond.
Burlesque—the topic of the article Alec was writing for Gruff, the pop culture magazine he worked for. And his latest excuse for constantly ogling other women.
"We're spending my birthday doing research for your article?"
He steered her to the table closest to the stage. The room was packed, but the table had a reserved card on it. Now she knew the evening was a Gruff magazine gig. The owner of Gruff was a rich kid named Billy Barton. Alec had met Billy thanks to the long tentacles of the Penn alumni network. And unlike Alec and most of their friends, who had only been in New York a few years, Billy could open any door, pull any string, and reserve any table.
"No," Alec said. "We're doing something fun and interesting on your birthday that I happen to be writing about but that I know you will enjoy. Wait here—I'm going to get our drinks."
And he was off to the bar before she could protest.
She wished she had worn something different. Her long, houndstooth Ann Taylor skirt suddenly seemed overly prim. There was a lot of leg showing in the room—bare legs, garter-belted legs, legs in fishnets and heels. At least she was wearing a simple black turtleneck, so the overall effect wasn't too dressed.
In the corner at the far end of the room, two women were laughing and talking to the guy in the Western getup. The one in the faux leopard coat was the first person Mallory had noticed in the room. How could she not? Aside from being model gorgeous, she had an ultra-stylized look, with dramatically pale skin, full red lips, and straight black hair cut in a fabulous, razor-sharp bob. As if sensing Mallory's stare, the woman turned and looked at her with sharp blue eyes. Startled, Mallory quickly looked away. But when she glanced back, the woman was still watching her, as if expecting that her gaze would return. Their eyes locked, and Mallory's stomach did the oddest little flip.
"Hey," Alec said, sitting next to her and sliding over a bottle of Stella Artois. "You're not mad, are you?"
Mallory accepted the beer, trying to resist the urge to look back at the beautiful dark-haired woman. "What? Oh, I don't know. A little. Come on, Alec. Admit it—you're just killing two birds with one stone: you want to do research, but it's my birthday and we're going out so this is what you chose to do. It has nothing to do with how I'd actually want to celebrate."
She hated the way she sounded, but she was worried. It wasn't just about her birthday—it was about them. She didn't want to admit it, but their relationship hadn't felt right since she'd moved to Manhattan six months ago. Alec was consumed with the cutthroat world of New York media. She was working crazy hours at the law firm and studying to retake the bar exam. And lately, he kept bringing up the idea of their hooking up with another girl—of having a three-way. At first when he brought it up, she had thought he was just being provocative. But she finally realized he was completely serious. She didn't quite know what to make of this, so she mentally filed it under Things I Can't Deal With Right Now.
And it wasn't that she was appalled at the thought of being with a woman; she'd had minor girl crushes when she was younger. There was that one girl at overnight camp, Carly Klein. She wore tube socks pulled up to her knees even in ninety-degree heat, and she spiked a volleyball like she was going for the gold medal. She'd even had a sex dream about that girl and felt guilty about it for weeks. But this wasn't overnight camp, and she didn't have girl crushes anymore. She was an adult, and she was allegedly in an adult relationship.
Alec put his hand over hers, but before he could tell her how wrong she was or whatever he was going to say, Lady Gaga's "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich" pulsed through the room, the lights dimmed, and the thick, blue curtain on the stage slowly parted.
Rodeo Guy stepped into the spotlight, and the crowd erupted in hoots and applause.
"Ladies ... and those annoying creatures you felt compelled to bring with you tonight," said Rodeo Guy, "Welcome to the Blue Angel!"
He cracked his whip, and Mallory jumped in her seat.
More hollering. Despite herself, Mallory felt a slight rush. The energy in the room reminded her of being at a rock concert. She didn't want to give Alec the satisfaction of smiling—because no matter what he said, this night was just about his story—but for the first time since stepping inside the club, she was just a little excited to see what would happen.
But her history with these types of places made her less than optimistic. She had gone to a strip club in Philadelphia sophomore year of college and again, reluctantly, when she first moved to New York. She'd hated both experiences. The girls seemed miserable, and she felt like a perv for looking at them, even though there was little else to do. And giving them money had made her feel exposed. Both times, her friends had just had a laugh and told her to lighten up. But she'd minored in women's studies, for God's sake. She couldn't just walk in the club and check her mind at the door.
She dreaded that feeling of not knowing where to look or what to do with her hands, of feeling both sorry for the girl and embarrassed for just being in the room.
And so when the first girl came on stage, Mallory was nervous. But the crowd was raucous and exuberant, and she was aware of being the only one in the club not making some sort of noise. Alec, especially, was yelling, clapping. He looked over at her only briefly, and winked.
Mallory turned back to the stage. The song "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" played, and the stage lights bathed the dancer in fuchsia. She was blond, and she wore a surprising amount of clothes: thigh-high, pink patent leather boots with a platform heel, a white corset, long white gloves, and in both hands, gigantic fans made out of pink and white feathers. She waved the fans around so that sometimes they concealed her face and most of her body. Other times, she just covered her body and looked at the audience with a sly smile. When the hooting and hollering reached a peak, she tossed the fans aside, stood with her feet squarely apart, and slowly tugged off one glove. The crowd roared as if she'd just flashed her bare breasts. Did women get completely naked in these shows? Mallory didn't know what to expect.
Little by little, the blonde pealed away her costume—first the gloves, then the boots, and then she turned her back to the audience and eased down the zipper of her corset so slowly, Mallory was shocked to realize she could not wait for the woman to get it off. And when she finally shook herself free and turned to face the audience with her hands over her breasts, Mallory found she was holding her breath.
The blonde moved her hands away, striking a pose like Madonna in her "Vogue" video. Her breasts were small, pert, and perfectly shaped, the nipples covered in red sequined flowers. When she danced around in her pasties and red thong, Mallory was simultaneously relieved and disappointed—the performer was probably not going to get totally nude, after all.
The crowd was in a frenzy, and Mallory joined in, whistling and clapping. The woman responded to the crowd, seeming to feed off of the excitement, gyrating close to the edge of the stage, where she slowly bent over, flashing her ass to the crowd, playfully squeezing both cheeks.
Once again, the cheers escalated, though Mallory did not think a higher decibel level was humanly possible.
The rodeo guy returned to the stage.
"One more round, everyone, for Poppy LaRue," he said, though he didn't have to ask. The room was still wild.
"What do you think?" Alec asked, squeezing her leg.
"It's ... I like it," Mallory said.
"I knew you would." He leaned over and kissed her cheek.
As the rodeo guy launched into a brief monologue, surprisingly clever, full of sly political commentary and pop culture references, Billy Barton slipped into the seat next to Alec. He wore a lavender shirt and purple suspenders. He was handsome and rich, so he could get away with dressing like Scott Disick on Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
"Did I miss anything?" he asked, a little too loudly.
"I don't know. What do you think, Mal? Did he miss anything?"
She rolled her eyes.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please give it up for the gorgeous, the glamorous, the dangerous ... Bette Noir."
The regulars in the crowd chanted the dancer's first name. The curtain remained down, but Marilyn Manson's "I Put a Spell on You" began to play. As the low, pounding, eerie first beats filled the room, the curtain slid back to reveal two wooden chairs and a small table with a crystal ball. In one chair, a woman was crouched, a towering black witch hat obscuring her face.
She rose slowly, her figure shrouded in a long, black dress. She swayed and looked directly at the audience, moody and defiant; Mallory saw that it was her—the stunning, leopard-coat woman.
Mallory knew the song well—had heard it long ago in a David Lynch film and loved it. It had been years since she'd heard it, but it had an unforgettable early crescendo and when it reached that initial peak, the dancer pulled off her black dress to reveal her perfect body in only a bullet bra, black lace panties, black seamed stockings, garter belt, and six-inch patent leather stilettos. In one hand, she held a shiny black wand. This time, when she looked at the audience, she focused on Mallory.
And then—and at first Mallory thought she was imagining this—she pointed her wand at Mallory and gestured for her to come on stage.
Mallory looked away, pretended not to see. But the crowd was cheering her on, and Mr. Rodeo appeared to assist her. Damn Billy Barton and his front row seats! She looked back at Alec, but he was laughing and waving her on.
The exact mechanics of how she got on stage were details she would never quite grasp. But somehow she found herself seated in one of the wooden chairs, in front of the crystal ball, with Bette Noir dancing around her. And then Bette sat in the chair opposite her, back to Mallory, and gestured for her to undo her bra.
Hands shaking, Mallory somehow managed the metal clasp. Her fingertips brushed the woman's pale skin, as remarkably soft as it was fair. And when Bette turned to face her, bare breasted, Mallory felt she was an audience of one. She did not hear the crowd or the music. She did not know if she even heard Bette speaking to her—but it felt like she was. And Bette was telling her to remove her sweater. The only reason she did it was because she couldn't be responsible for ruining this gorgeous spectacle. She hesitated for maybe twenty seconds, and then, with a rush of adrenaline, Mallory slowly pulled off her sweater.
Bette did not smile, did not even bat her fake eyelashes. She calmly took the turtleneck from Mallory, walked to the edge of the stage, and tossed it to the seat Mallory had vacated. The crowd was roaring—yes, she heard it now, like a television set that had become unmuted. Mallory, now wearing only her Anne Taylor skirt and white Victoria's Secret bra, felt her heart pounding. She wondered how much longer she would have to be on stage, but at the same time didn't want to leave. It was like she was hyper-alive—everything felt louder, brighter, and bigger than life off the stage. It was dizzying, and to ground herself she looked out at the audience to find Alec. She could see that his gaze was riveted on her, only her. She took a deep breath and kept still as Bette worked the stage around her, wearing only a bejeweled thong and impossibly high heels and still holding the wand and dancing—all the while dancing, moving in the most deliberate and perfectly choreographed way.
And then the curtain came down.
Poppy LaRue peeked at the crowd from behind the curtain. She could not believe Bette had pulled that brunette onto the stage. Her nerves had barely settled after her own act—it was flat-out sadistic that Agnes had made her open the show on her second performance ever. She thought about telling Agnes just that, but Agnes was too busy reaming Bette for pulling one of the audience on stage.
"What are you thinking? This is not a circus!" Agnes fumed in her thick Polish accent. Agnieszka Wieczorek, former Warsaw ballerina turned proprietress of the Blue Angel, did not take kindly to broken rules.
"Of course it is," Bette said, calmly lighting a cigarette. "Why else do you think these people come here?" Bette walked past her without another word, into the dressing room. She closed the door with a sharp slam.
Who else but Bette Noir could get away with that?
"I need to get my shoes out of there," Poppy said. Agnes mumbled something in her native tongue, and waved vaguely in the direction of the closed door with disgust.
Poppy waited until she was out of sight, then rapped lightly on the dressing room door.
"Fuck off," Bette said.
"It's Poppy." She took Bette's silence as an invitation to enter. When she'd started at the Blue Angel six months ago, she would never have followed Bette Noir into a room if she was in a snit. But she'd finally gotten close enough to feel comfortable; she only hoped she could get a lot closer. She'd never been with a woman before, but she knew Bette only liked girls, and, if that's what it took to get Bette to take her under her wing and show her the ropes, she had no problem with it.
"I don't think Agnes's really mad at you," Poppy said. She paused in front of the mirror and couldn't help admiring herself. She'd recently cut her white-blond hair into a chin-length bob, much like Bette's black one. They were both fair-skinned and blue-eyed, although Poppy was a few inches taller. She'd always liked being five nine, but ever since meeting Bette she wished she were a bit shorter. Everything about Bette seemed more perfect, more right for burlesque, more special. Regardless of the height difference, with the black/ blond bob thing going on, Poppy liked to think they were like photo negatives of each other. More and more, she imagined what it would be like to be in bed with Bette, her lovelier twin.
"I don't really care," Bette said, looking up from her iPhone, fixing Poppy with her unnerving cat-eyed glare. "I'm not working here to make a hundred and fifty dollars a night for the rest of my life. Do you know who that was at that table?"
"The girl you pulled on stage? No—is she an actress?"
"Not her! The guy in the stupid suspenders."
Poppy was the one who felt stupid. Was he an actor? She'd barely even noticed him. She decided it was best to say nothing. She knew Bette was going to tell her, regardless.
"It was Billy Barton," Bette said. When Poppy still showed no sign of recognition, Bette sighed in exasperation. "The owner of Gruff magazine. You know Gruff, right? They have that annual 'Hot' issue. I think it was Megan Fox on the cover last year."
"Oh, yeah—sure. I read it all the time," Poppy lied.
"Well, the publisher was here—tonight! That's a big deal, Poppy. If the magazine writes about the club, we could get some industry people in here. Not just these horny NYU kids."
Excerpted from Blue Angel by LOGAN BELLE Copyright © 2011 by Logan Belle. Excerpted by permission of APHRODISIA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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