The Tycoon's Stowaway(7)

By: Stefanie London



Sighing, she straightened her shoulders. Don’t be such a snob. You know the arts industry includes all types. They’re probably not criminals at all.

But the feeling of dismay grew stronger with each step she took towards the entrance. She hitched her bag higher on her shoulder and fought back the wave of negativity. She had to take this job. Her ex had finally sold the apartment—meaning she had to find a new place to live—and this job included on-site accommodation. It would leave her days free to pursue more auditions, and it was money that she desperately needed right now.

One of the men hanging out at the front of the bar leered at her as she hurried past, and Chantal wished she’d thrown on a pair of tracksuit pants over her dancing shorts. The sun was setting in the distance but the air was still heavy and warm. She ignored the wolf-whistling and continued on, head held high, into the bar.

The stench of cheap alcohol hit her first, forcing her stomach to dip and dive. A stage sat in the middle of a room and three men in all-black outfits fiddled with the sound equipment. Chantal looked around, surveying the sorry sight that was to be her home for the next month. The soles of her sneakers sucked with each step along the tattered, faded carpet—as if years of grime had left behind an adhesive layer. Though smoking had long been banned inside bars, a faint whiff of stale cigarette smoke still hung in the air. A small boot-sized hole had broken the plaster of one wall and a cracked light flickered overhead.

Delightful.

She approached the bar, mustering a smile as she tried to catch the attention of the older man drying wineglasses and hanging them in a rack above his head. ‘Excuse me, I’m here—’

‘Dancers go upstairs,’ he said, without even looking up from his work.

‘Thanks,’ she muttered, turning on her heel and making her way towards the stairs at the end of the bar.

Upstairs can’t possibly be any worse than downstairs. Perhaps the downstairs was for bands only? Maybe the dancers’ section would be a little more… hygienic?

Chantal trod up the last few steps, trying her utmost to be positive. But upstairs wasn’t any better.

‘Oh, crap.’

The stage in the middle of the room sported a large silver pole. The stage itself was round with seats encircling it; a faded red curtain hung at the back, parted only where the dancers would enter and exit from. It was a bloody strip club!

‘Chantal?’

A voice caught her attention. She contemplated lying for a second, but the recognition on the guy’s face told her he knew exactly who she was.

‘Hi.’

‘I’ve got your room key, but I don’t have time to show you where it is now.’ He looked her up and down, the heavy lines at the corners of his eyes crinkling slightly. ‘Just head out back and get ready with the other girls.’

‘Uh… I think there’s been some kind of mistake. I’m not a stripper.’

‘Sure you’re not, darlin’,’ he said with a raspy chuckle. ‘I get it—you’re an artist. Most of the girls say they’re paying their way through university, but whatever floats your boat.’

‘I’m serious. I don’t take my clothes off.’ She shook her head, fighting the rising pressure in her chest.

‘And we’re not technically a strip club. Think of it more as… burlesque.’ He thrust the room key into her hand. ‘You’ll fit right in.’

Chantal bit down on her lip. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as bad as she thought.

But, no matter how hard she tried to convince herself, her gut pleaded with her to leave.

‘I really don’t think this is going to work,’ she said, holding the key out to him.

‘You really should have thought of that before sending back our contract with your signature on it.’ His eyes hardened, thin lips pressing into a harsh line. ‘But I can have our lawyer settle this, if you still think this isn’t going to work.’

The thinly veiled threat made Chantal’s heartbeat kick up a notch. There was no way she could afford a lawyer if they decided to take her to court. How could she have made such a colossal mistake?

Her head pounded, signalling a migraine that would no doubt materialise at some point. What kind of club had a lawyer on call, anyway? The dangerous kind… the kind that has enough work for a lawyer.

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