WHAT ABOUT US
By Sidney Halston
On Sale November 20th | Ballantine/Loveswept
I hate doing business in clubs. Especially one like Duality. I’m here to seal a deal, not indulge in whatever hedonistic illusion they’re selling. Until, through all the skin and sex on display, I see her. Helen Blackwood. The girl who once filled my youthful fantasies, whose name is now synonymous with pain. Her father’s lies destroyed my family, leaving me with nothing to lose. And yet I can’t deny my electric response to her touch . . . or my urge to protect her when I see the bruise on her face.
Growing up, life prepared me for society galas and powerful men, not minimum-wage jobs or drunk exes with anger issues. But I’m a survivor. So here I am, practically naked, serving drinks at a Miami nightclub. I don’t mind the stares. Apparently, Alex Archer does. After twelve years, we aren’t exactly friends, but money is something we both understand. Something he knows I need. I’ll be his personal assistant, even if it means working with the man I hate . . . and the man I still want.
Heading straight to the VIP lounge, I look around to see if I can spot her and when I don’t, I ask one of the bouncers about her. “There’s a woman who works here. Her name is Helen. Brown hair—”
“She’s upstairs tonight,” he says, cutting me off, and quickly turns his attention to the group of people behind me.
“Upstairs?” I say out loud but to no one in particular.
Confused, mostly because I know that’s the nude part of the club, I press the button to one of the four elevators and when it doesn’t come quickly enough, I look around for the stairs. Taking two steps at a time, I’m immediately hit by loud noise. I adjust my tie, which suddenly feels suffocating, and look around trying to get my bearings.
In the middle of the big room, there are two women hanging upside down completely naked as men and women whistle and dance to electronic dance music around the stage. Unlike other strip clubs, this is more of a nightclub with naked dancers in the background, as opposed to clubs where the naked dancers are the entertainment. Here, there are as many women as men in attendance, some oblivious to the strippers, while others stare.
There’s a lot of noise and people, and I don’t know how I’ll ever find Helen in the chaos.
As I glance around, I notice the other female employees, the ones who are not strippers. Some are in tiny shorts, others in thongs. There is absolutely no way that boarding-school-bred, socialite, conservatively raised Helen Blackwood is working here.
If I was confused when I first saw her at the club, now I’m in a hazy dream where nothing makes sense. Where men and women are barely clothed—some actually completely naked—where there are fire-breathing men on stilts, where the tempo of the music feels like it’s in sync with the heartbeats of the mostly inebriated crowd.
I walk around and I’m relieved that I don’t see her. I don’t know if I’m prepared for that. The bouncer must’ve misheard me, or perhaps he was speaking about another Helen.
I sit down at the bar and order a drink.
“What can I get you, hon?” a stunning redhead asks.
“Scotch. Double. Neat. Best you have.”
“Sure thing,” she says and gets to work.
“I’m looking for someone. An employee. Helen Blackwood,” I yell over the music.
“Not sure. There’s a Helen, but I think her last name’s James.” She shrugs and keeps working.
It’s hard to see what’s happening between the bodies pressed together, but I keep craning my head around the masses to see if I can find her in the crowd.
Moments later when I’m finally relaxing, relieved that she isn’t here, I feel an odd pin prickle in the back of my neck that makes me turn my head. A woman’s walking out of a storage room carrying a box against her chest and I only see the top of her head. But I know it’s her. It’s Helen.
She drops it down on the bar top and proceeds to take out bundles of red mixing straws.
She hasn’t seen me yet, although I’m only a few feet away from her. Last time I wasn’t able to fully take her in. I was too surprised. Now, I study her fully.
Her thick hair is up in a high ponytail and she has red lipstick and black makeup around her big, wide eyes. She blows a chunk of hair that has fallen out of the ponytail out of her face, but it falls right back over her right eye almost immediately. The bruise on her face is gone. She looks frazzled, but her face is fresh and youthful, as if the last twelve years didn’t age her. I’m sure I look older than my thirty-fiveyears of age.
Certainly, I feel much older. It’s been tough, carrying all this rage in my heart and working hours upon hours, nonstop, to build the empire I’ve built. Maybe if I’d had money just handed to me, like Helen, I’d look fresh and young too.
I almost forget that there are topless men and women all around me, except that the perky redhead with full tits, nipples peeking out of her mesh shirt, leans forward. “Get you another one?” She tips her head to my drink and I nod my head, affirmatively.
Then, in a blink of an eye, everything changes.
Helen closes the box and tucks it under the bar. Slowly she stands back and looks around and as if making a decision, she straightens her shoulders and exhales. That’s when my eyes drift down to what had been covered by the box.
I see red.
I also see the most gorgeous set of tits I’ve ever seen in my life.
And then I realize I’m not the only one who can see them.
I slam my drink on the bar, amber liquid swishing out of the glass and onto my hand, but I ignore it and take long, calculated steps toward Helen, not caring one fuck that I’m bumping and pushing people out of the way.
“What the hell is this?” I bark, pointing to her chest.
I undo the button on my suit jacket and quickly remove it. Her eyes are wide and her face is flushed, and she looks around the room with a mix of humiliation and anger. “Let’s go!” I snap my fingers and push my jacket against her chest. She still hasn’t said a single word. Her bow-shaped lips, colored bright red, form an O and her eyes blink rapidly. Her hands are suspended midair and she’s looking at me, confused.
A moment later there are two meatheads crowding me. “What is going on here?” One looks at me, then at Helen.
“I . . . uh . . .” she stammers.
“Helen. We’re leaving. Now.” I reach across the bar to pull her by the arm when suddenly my own arm is being bent awkwardly behind my back and I feel a burn from my rotator cuff.
“Listen, buddy,” warns one of the security assholes. “You can’t touch any of the staff. You either leave quietly or you leave in cuffs. Your call.”
USA Today bestselling author Sidney Halston lives her life by one simple rule: “Just do it.” And that’s exactly what she did. At the age of thirty, having never written anything other than a legal brief, she picked up a pen to pursue her dream of becoming an author. That first stroke sealed the deal, and she fell in love with writing. Halston lives in South Florida with her husband and children.
WHAT ABOUT US
Ballantine Group; Loveswept | On Sale: November 20th, 2018 | ISBN: 9781984800107 | Pages 208 | Price: $5.99