The last thing Tess wanted to do was be at a strip club on a Saturday night, but here she was. But at least she was doing it for love. She led her best friend, Maya, and the two other women into Club Bang-Cock, a strip club with the hottest hung studs in Atlanta. Or at least that’s what the flyer said. Normally Tess would be all about “hot and hung studs,” especially since this outing had been her idea as part of Maya’s bachelorette party. But she’d been unexpectedly called into work earlier that afternoon to resolve a bullshit situation and now was well on her way to a shitty mood.
“Damn! This place is hot!” One of the other women, Lisa, shimmied to the music as the hostess showed them to their table.
Tam, who Maya and Tess had also known since high school and who was visiting from Miami for the wedding, watched everything with a very pleased smile. Dressed in a bright yellow, full-body unitard that showed off her buttery brown skin and thin but curvaceous body, she attracted her fair share of admiring glances.
“These guys are hot!” Maya said, looking around the club at the bow-tied waiters and disco balls glittering above their heads. Already halfway drunk and with her “bride-to-be” tiara on, she was ready to party. “How did you all even find this place?”
“Groupon, girl!” Lisa said with a laugh, tossing her long hair along the bare line of her shoulders.
She was the Groupon queen. Half the new shit she got into—in-door rock climbing, hot yoga, full body waxes—was because she’d seen them on Groupon and was willing to try them at a bargain. Lisa was the wild one among them.
Tess smiled her thanks as the hostess sat them near the stage and slid menus in front of them with a friendly smile of her own.
“Alex will be the one taking care of you ladies tonight.” The hostess smiled again. “Have a great time tonight.” Then she left them to start that good time.
Tess looked around. Club Bang-Cock was loud, and big. At 8 o’ clock on a Saturday night, the place was filled wall to wall with women and a few stray men. The alcohol looked plentiful, the laughter loud, and handsome men wove through the crowded room carrying trays and ready to serve anyone who asked.
They’d been shown to their table during a break in the show. The stage lights were bright and the muscular MC on-stage, bare-chested and wearing leather pants that looked like they’d been poured on, was saying something about the upcoming act.
If the dancers looked anything like him, Tess knew Maya would be happy to watch them all night even if they couldn’t dance worth a damn. She exchanged a smile with Maya and her best friend giggled, adjusting the tiara on top of her short coils.
“This was the best idea!” she said.
“What can I get you ladies for the evening?” A man appeared at their table with a small notepad already in hand.
The table took a collective gulp of breath. Their waiter was mouthwatering, smiling big enough that between his body, surprisingly elegant in black slacks and a white button-up shirt, and his perfectly white teeth, he was already guaranteed a big tip. And he was tall, standing over their table in a way that made Tess feel sheltered instead of loomed over. A strange enough feeling to get from a stranger.
Lisa leaned forward first. “Anything you got, I’ll take.” She grinned at him, flashing her cleavage and her own brilliant smile.
That usually guaranteed her at least a second look, but their waiter, probably used to women and men throwing themselves at him before even knowing his name, only smiled back in practiced flirtation and flipped open his notepad.
“The Raging Orgasm is our special of the night,” he said with a wink he distributed evenly around the table.
The entire table laughed. Even Tess, the group cynic, had to smile at that. He was doing his job very well.
Without even asking him what was in the drink, Lisa said, “We’ll all have one.”
“Perfect. Four raging orgasms coming up.” Then he was gone.
Tam, more practical than Lisa, made a noise of dismay. “You don’t even know how much those drinks cost!” She was an artist, not exactly a starving one but still, she kept a sharp eye on her money.
“Don’t worry about it, honey,” Lisa said. “It’s taken care of.”
She and Tess had already talked beforehand about costs for the bachelorette party and how to make sure Maya had a good time. The price of a Raging Orgasm was nowhere on the list of things they needed to worry about.
“Ladies!” On stage, the MC was introducing the next act. “Fresh from your fantasies, throw your panties in the air for Black Magic Johnson!”
If there was ever a time to use the term, “the crowd went wild,” this was it. All around the club and closest to the stage, the women rose to their feet to cheer and shout, a thunderstorm of sound that followed the retreat of the MC from the stage then rising impossibly louder to a full roar when Often by The Weeknd started to play.
“Oooh.” Lisa sat up in her chair, her eyes trained on the stage. “This is going to be good.”
Tess barely paid attention when their waiter—Alex was his name, she vaguely reminded herself—came by with their drinks and disappeared again. She’d seen Magic Mike and Chocolate City in preparation for their night out but was still surprised when the spotlight seemed to explode on the stage and show a shirtless man in black. Muscled. Glistening. Dark jeans low enough on his hips to show off that hot triangle of muscle at his hips. The size of his dick was impressive under the denim. And his dance moves, fluid and aggressive that went perfectly with the bass-heavy song, made it seem like he was mentally fucking every woman in the room.
At the end of it, Tess was more than a little impressed. So impressed that her sour mood was disappearing as fast as the Raging Orgasms in their glasses.
“Damn!” Maya fanned herself with the spread of dollar bills Lisa had given her.
Her bare shoulders glowing with sweat, Tam leaned toward the stage with a dazed look. Apparently, they’d both been too stunned by Black Magic Johnson to run up to the stage with the money they’d gotten out to tip the dancers.
“Totally worth it, right?” Tess asked with a laugh. The night was getting better by the minute.
“Hell, yes!” Maya giggled and raised the rest of her Raging Orgasm high. “To the best bridesmaids and maid of honor a girl could ask for.”
Tessa was finally beginning to relax. She raised her own glass. Then almost dropped it. The Raging Orgasm was heavy as hell. In a glass about as big as Tess’s head, rainbow colored, and decorated with damn near half a pineapple, the drink was sweet enough to make her open her mouth again for another sip. But it wasn’t strong enough to mean their only drink of the night.
Their waiter definitely knew what he was doing. He came back again when the MC was doing his thing on stage, spreading around an effective blend of professional flirtation and masculine solicitousness Tess had never experienced before.
“We’re great, gorgeous,” Lisa assured him after he’d brought the round of appetizers and shots she ordered for everyone.
“Good.” He winked at the table at large. “I’ll be gone for a few minutes but will be right back in about ten minutes. If you need anything, Trevor—” he gestured toward the waiter serving a nearby table. “—will get you anything you need.”
“We’ll wait all night for only you,” Lisa said with a cooing smile, making Tessa roll her eyes.
She loved her friend but sometimes she was too damn much. The poor boy must feel like he was on the menu too. And he was a boy, Tess thought, barely legal. And she was being generous because you had to be at least twenty-one to serve alcoholic drinks.
When he left to go tend to whatever it was he had to do, Tess poked Lisa. “Stop making that boy feel like a piece of meat.”
“Did you notice where he works?” Lisa curved a mocking eyebrow at Tess. “This is Club Bang-Cock, honey.” The way she emphasized “cock” was especially dirty.
“Chill, y’all.” Maya drank another mouth full of her Raging Orgasm and pointedly turned her chair toward the stage. But she was smiling. “I’m sure there’s enough of him to go around.”
Tam laughed. Tess and Lisa’s disagreements were always funnier to those around them, no matter how big or small. And that was because, at the heart of it, the two women were so alike that they often rubbed each other raw.
If, like Lisa, Tess didn’t have anyone to take care of and made more than her middle management salary, she’d probably live in a downtown condo and travel all the time too. As it was, she had a very different life. A different set of responsibilities.
Even as Tess thought it, she knew it wasn’t true. She was too much of a coward to leave Georgia or her sister for something different, something that could be better than the stifling sameness of the town where she was born. Even when Maya had suggested a place they could go together time and time again. She didn’t want to leave her sister, she was scared Tracy wouldn’t survive without her.
“Ladies, you’ve waited long enough!” The MC boomed from the stage. “One of our newest and most popular dancers.” He paused, one hand near his hip, fingers spread near the thick shape of his dick in the leather pants. “Are you ready?!” The noise of the crowd rose to a nearly deafening level, and he laughed, jolly as a centerfold Santa Claus. “Since you are ready, welcome to the stage…Jack Hammer!”
The house lights abruptly dimmed. Then flared to life again, just as Ludacris’ What’s Your Fantasy started to play.
“Oh my God!” Lisa jumped from her chair, her teeth flashing in a wide grin. “It’s our waiter!”
Tess turned from smiling at Lisa’s infectious enthusiasm, and damn near swallowed her tongue. On the stage, the flirtatious but professional boy who’d been serving them Raging Orgasms all night moved like a snake in the brilliant spotlight. Tess blinked at the sight of his tight and toned body, oiled to show off his defined pecs and rock hard abs. Blue jeans and high top sneakers completed the outfit that was giving Lisa fits. Letting loose a loud wolf whistle, Lisa ran up to the stage with a wad of dollar bills clenched in a waving fist.
With the hard driving beat, the boy was moving his hips in fluid strokes that dried Tess’ mouth. At the same time, she wiped the corner of her mouth, convinced she was drooling. On stage, his sweet and gorgeous face was all shadowed planes and angles, the lights making him look both older and more mysterious than when he was serving them drinks and flirting with them like crazy.
“I think I’m about to pass out.” Maya clenched her fist around the stack of dollar bills. “That boy is fire…”
Maya wasn’t joking. Tess was feeling a little bit of the heat herself, her earlier bad mood officially gone.
“Go up there and put that money in his G-string.” Tam nudged Maya with a naughty smile. “Damn! If you don’t, I will.”
Alex dropped down to the floor of the stage and began doing what might as well be sex push-ups. His muscular arms straining as he pushed himself up off the hard floor and rolled back down with his hips. Hips that worked sinuously as if he had a woman beneath him. He looked up with each hip thrust, meeting the gaze of every woman staring at him, his body moving sinuously to the fast and dirty song.
A flurry of bills rained on the stage all around Alex and just didn’t stop. He rose to his feet and ripped away the jeans.
The crowd screamed, and Tess damn near lost her breath. The black G-string barely covered him.
Maya shrieked and grabbed Tam, dragging her up to the stage where Lisa was throwing all her money at Alex. From where she was sitting, Tess saw Lisa yelling something in Maya’s ear, probably encouraging her to climb up on stage and molest the boy. But Maya only laughed like a loon and threw her money at Alex as he rolled his hips at the crowd a few feet away, the snake barely contained in his G-string threatening to hypnotize them all.
Maya, Lisa, and Tam were still standing at the edge of the stage when the last thumping beats of the song faded away. Tess felt stuck to her chair. The tops of her thighs felt wet and sticky, proof that she was just as affected as the rest of the women in the club.
Oh. My. God.
“Give it up for Jack Hammer!” The MC stood back while a slim-hipped young man walked across the stage with a bucket, collecting all the money on stage. “If you want to see Jack Hammer come up here again, make some noise.”
The tide of mostly feminine voices rose up, deafening and certain. “Jack!” They chanted. “Hammer!” And over and over again until they sounded like a mob threatening to grab Alex from wherever he had disappeared off to and force him to strip for them again.
The MC’s laughter rolled through the large room. “Since you all ask so nicely, I’m sure we can arrange something for you later on tonight.”
But Tess was pretty sure Alex wasn’t coming back to the stage any time soon. He had a few tables of thirsty women to serve.
Lisa dropped down into her chair with a breathless laugh, eyes flickering around the room, most likely looking for Alex. All the cash she’d taken up to the stage with her was gone. “Damn, if I’d known what was under that waiter’s uniform, I’d have tried harder to get into his pants.”
“You are not ditching us to score with some random stripper you just met, Lisa.” Tam cut her eyes at their friend.
Lisa grinned. “There’s always tomorrow.”
“Leave that boy alone,” Tess said with a shake of her head, although she wasn’t one to talk.
“Don’t pretend you wouldn’t jump him too!” Lisa threw a wadded up napkin at Tess, and the other women laughed.
By the time Alex came back, they’d all finished their Raging Orgasms and were ready for more. He appeared at their table with his notebook, once again wearing the white button-up shirt, black bow-tie, and black slacks. Although his performance was a good twenty minutes before, he was slightly breathless and a gleam of baby oil showed above the collar of his shirt.
Lisa pounced right away. “Alex, you’ve been keeping secrets from us.”
“Secrets keep a relationship interesting.” He flashed his flirtatious smile at them. “Another round of drinks, ladies?”
Tess watched him in admiration—definitely not sexual interest. He was giving them no more or no less than they paid for: attention but nothing focused too long on just one woman. Professional. Personal. Efficient. How did he manage it with so many women begging for his attention all night? A piece of paper flashed in her peripheral vision and she dropped her eyes to the table just in time to catch Lisa slipping him her phone number.
Tess was not jealous. Absolutely not.
She looked away from their exchange when her phone vibrated in her purse. Who was trying to call her right now? Everyone knew she was at Maya’s bachelorette party and wouldn’t be free until Sunday morning. After a few seconds, the buzz in her purse died down, only to start again. She frowned. Was it an emergency? She reached into her bag. Her sister’s face glowed from the screen of her cell. A spike of worry pulled her out of her chair and she tapped Maya on the arm.
“I’ll be right back,” she told Maya.
“I don’t know…family stuff maybe.” She accepted the call and put it to her ear, already making her way through the crowd and to the front door of the club.
“What’s going on, Tracy?” She raised her voice above the noise.
“Thank God I reached you!” Her younger sister just about shouted at her through the phone.
Tess tightened her grip on the cell phone as she made her way out the door, showing the club’s plastic bracelet on her wrist to the host then the bouncer with a vague smile. Despite the lateness of the hour, a decent sized crowd was still in line waiting to get in, their excited voices threaded with laughter and the sound of the hard-driving music pouring from inside the club. Tess passed the long line of women and turned the corner to find someplace a little quieter. She ended up at the side of the building between the club’s painted brick wall and a high wooden fence. Metal patio furniture, two round tables and eight chairs in a random configuration, slumped under the low lights glowing from the low roof of the building. Tess didn’t bother to sit down.
“Everton just walked out with all my money,” Tracy said. “I need some until next week.”
But Tracy didn’t need Tess’ money. They both knew it. At this point in their lives, with Tess being thirty-four and Tracy twenty-four, these cries for help were more habit than anything else. After their parents died nearly eight years before, Tracy became used to relying on Tess and Tess got used to being relied on. Now though, Tracy had a decent job and could pay the mortgage Tess helped her to get as well as keep supporting the never-ending string of bums who came into her life and her bed. But Tracy was from the school of “why spend mine when I can spend yours,” even when it came to Tess.
“This couldn’t wait until tomorrow?” Tess gritted her teeth.
“I want to catch you before you spend it all. I know it’s Maya’s bachelorette party.”
Tess stared at the phone in shock. “You don’t get to tell me what to do with my own money, Tracy,” she said when she could find her voice again.
“That’s not what I mean.”
But it was. Tess felt the old anger building up. The same one that made her resentful of her little sister who never had to take care of anything in her life and who just transferred her problems to Tess after their parents died. She felt like screaming, but quietly hung up instead.
One day she had to stop this dance with her sister. One day.
The tendrils of responsibility for her sister had been growing stronger and more intrusive, choking off her life since their parents died. In the semi-dark alley, she felt those tendrils tighten even more. They strangled a shout out of her. The sound ricocheted off the dark brick, echoing in the alley thick with the smell of old smoke, stagnant water, and the faint bitterness of past complaints. Pain slammed into Tess’ hand and she abruptly realized she’d smacked the wall hard, a sting vibrating into her hand and up her arm to settle like an aborted war cry in her chest.
But this wasn’t something she did. Hitting inanimate objects out of frustration. Except, of course, when she did. Tess drew in a deep breath and straightened, tugged down the hem of her blouse and wiped all traces of emotion from her face.
“Don’t do that.” A shape uncoiled from the shadows closest to the building and she jumped. “Don’t put on that mask.” The low voice rumbled over her, and a man stepped fully from the shadows.
He walked closer to her, looking even taller than when he’d served her and her friends at the table. “My name is actually Elijah,” he said.
So close to her, he was a solemn figure in the black and white. Not the super-sexy “Jack Hammer” and not even flirtatious Alex. Simply undeniably attractive and male. The planes of his square-jawed and full-lipped face were even more distractingly handsome away from the chaos of the club.
“You shouldn’t have to pretend to be something you’re not,” he continued. “Not out here by yourself, or with your friends.”
“You mean I shouldn’t have to pretend like you do?” Her surprised embarrassment put the rude words on her tongue.
“That’s part of my job,” he said with a flash of Alex’s grin. Then the grin fell away, leaving his face in somber lines once again. “The mask you put on doesn’t make the pain inside any easier to bear. Sometimes, it makes things more difficult.”
Tess frowned and backed away even as his words struck a chord inside her. She was used to being the one in charge, being the one everyone turned to, even the men she slept with. Living up to everyone’s expectations was exhausting, especially at times when she wanted to just rest her head on the nearest surface and close her eyes. But this man, Elijah or Alex or whoever was a stranger. She had no reason to listen to him and no reason to trust what he said.
Tess drew another breath and straightened lapels of her blazer, preparing to dismiss him.
“Don’t you have to go back to?”
A brief look of amusement touched his face. “I had to take a break.”
“A smoke break?” With his ridiculously fit body, he didn’t seem the type to smoke.
“A reality break.” He tossed a gaze toward the club with a quirk of his lips. “We all need them every once in a while.”
Tess noticed now the tension in his shoulders and the rigid line of his back. Like he was dealing with some pain and turmoil of his own. She had the urge, sudden and strong, to ask him what was wrong, to touch the hard line of his back in comfort.
The noise from the club seemed suddenly far away, swept aside by the strange intimacy that had sprung between them in the alley smelling of smoke and desperation, and a little like sex.
Tess jerked with awareness. She was in a dark alley with a strange man. Alone. Charming or not. Attractive or not. She didn’t want to give him the wrong idea, especially her friends had basically been propositioning him all night.
“Listen, thanks for your…whatever.” She took toward the front entrance. “I’ll see you inside.”
Elijah settled a thoughtful look on her. “I hope you find a solution to whatever’s troubling you.” He made a vague gesture to the phone she still held in her hand.
Tess gave him an unsteady nod and got out of there as fast as she could with her dignity intact. When she made it back inside to the table, the party had continued on without her. Maya, Lisa, and Tam were all dancing near the stage while a nearly naked man, chest hair and happy trail included, did a bump and grind within inches of their faces.
Relieved she hadn’t ruined their good time by taking her sister’s call, Tess tossed back half her drink, wincing when the chunk of pineapple in the glass rolled down and bumped her nose.
She put the glass down and was about to join her friends when a hand touched her elbow.
“Can I get you anything else?” Elijah…Alex was back at work.
Concern tipped the corners of his mouth, but there was something else there too. Tess spent too long trying to figure out what it was instead of answering his question. She shook her head when whatever it was still eluded her.
“You got it.” Then he was gone. Back to being efficient Alex.
The girls came back to the table just as the pineapple juice arrived. Maya dropped into her chair with a breathless laugh while Lisa and Tam tossed a pile of dollar bills in the middle of the table.
“This is money well spent,” Lisa said with a giggle and Tam answering laugh said she more than agreed with her.
“Everything cool, Tess?” Maya despite the drunkest of them all, spared her a worried look. She slid a hand across the table, the more tactile of the two of them, and squeezed Tess’ limp hand.
Tess tried for an unconcerned smile. “Yes. Completely. That was just Tracy on the phone. You know how that goes.”
As if they’d rehearsed it, her three friends rolled their eyes.
“That girl needs to stop calling on you when things get even a little tough,” Tam muttered.
“Fixing all her problems only adds more problems for you, Tess,” Lisa added her part. “If there was an award for shittiest sister of the year, Tracy would win it every time.”
Maya was only sober enough to add: “Amen!
“Let’s not talk about Tracy. Everything is good, I told you. We’re here to have fun and celebrate Maya and that’s what we’re going to do.” Tess raised her glass of pineapple juice that Alex had fixed to look like a cocktail. “Right?”
Lisa didn’t hesitate. “Right!” She grabbed her own drink, frowned when she saw it was nearly empty. Before she could open her mouth to complain, Alex was there with another round of drinks.
“Ladies.” He served his killer grin along with the drinks all around the table, prompting even Tam, who never had to try and attract any man, to make sex eyes at him. “Do you ladies need anything else?” he asked.
“Only you for the rest of my life.” Lisa blew him a kiss then started laughing halfway through it.
Alex only smiled and winked. “I’m not sure you could handle me.”
Lisa growled and half draped herself across the table, nearly upsetting all their drinks. “Challenge accepted!”
He left before any of them could see what her accepting his so called challenge looked like.
“That boy is sex on two legs.” Lisa sighed after taking a long swallow of her drink. “The things I could make him do…”
“I think he’s just doing his job, Lisa,” Tam said, although she gave Alex’s disappearing figure a heated glance. She had some sort of sugar daddy arrangement down in Miami but everyone knew she was just biding her time with him until something better came along. Or until she got bored.
“I wonder if I can make Max dress up every once in a while,” Maya wondered out loud about her construction worker fiancé. “Our waiter makes those slacks look good.” Maya drew out the last word like she was tasting it on her tongue.
“Our waiter’s name is Alex,” Tess said, smiling through her censure, but her best friend wasn’t having it.
“We are at a strip club, Tess,” Maya said. “Lighten up. The boy knows he’s nothing but eye candy to us. There’s no need for any of us to remember his name.”
Which was probably why he gave them a fake one, Tess thought.
“Fine. I know you love your anonymous boy toys,” Tess said, although Maya was as monogamous and relationship-oriented as they came.
It was the right thing to say because Maya grinned again and tossed the smooth length of her hair over one shoulder. She grabbed some dollar bills from the table. “You know I do,” she said, shimmying to her feet and heading toward the stage where another act was about to start.
Tess made a show of rifling through her bag in search of singles while urging the other girls to join Maya. But she knew exactly where she’d put her dollar bills. She just needed time to breathe.
With each passing second, she was getting more tense, but she needed to relax so Maya could have a good time. This wasn’t about Tess and her family’s bullshit, this wasn’t even about her hurt feelings and the fact that she still couldn’t believe Maya was leaving Atlanta without her after all these years. It wasn’t that at all.
A few tables away, Alex was giving some other women what they’d paid for with the cover charge to get into the club. Charming and helpful, guessing what they wanted before they voiced it, keeping out of the way of their grabby hands while still sweet-talking them into spending more money. He must have sensed her looking at him because he looked up then, the dark oasis of his eyes easily capturing Tess’s gaze and making her swallow hard. She remembered the intimacy between them in the alley, the unsmiling certainty of him that was impressive given his age. She squirmed under the press of her sudden and unwanted attraction, pressing her thighs together under the table when his gaze dipped down. She didn’t know whether it was to her mouth or her breasts. Either one was ridiculous.
Tess looked away, grabbed her dollar bills and practically ran to the edge of the stage where Maya and the girls were enjoying an eyeful of the stripper’s gyrating dick. She joined them, emptying her mind of everything but the manic feeling that this was one of the last few times she’d get to see Maya. That thought obliterated everything else.
Five acts and nearly a hundred dollars later, Maya and the other girls were done. Giggling like teenagers, most of their tip money gone, they were white girl wasted and hitting on Alex to the point of sexual harassment. That was Tess’s cue to get them out of the club and back home.
An Uber took them home to Maya’s relatively big house in Grant Park and Tess wrangled them into the king-sized bed in the guest room reserved for when they all slept over. Another tradition that was going to hell once Maya left.
It didn’t take them long to settle down. Ignoring their questions about why she wasn’t getting ready for bed with them, Tess put glasses of water and aspirin capsules on both bedside tables, turned on James Blake’s second album that they all liked to fall asleep to, and left the house.
She didn’t lie to herself about where she was going when she grabbed another Uber. Club Bang-Cock was still crowded when she got back, the lines non-existent since it would close in less than an hour.
Tess approached the hostess station, cautiously smiling at the thick-hipped girl with the lipstick that was still flawless at the end of the night.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Can you tell me if Alex is done for the night?”
The girl looked her up and down, a smile of pity on her face. “I’m afraid we don’t divulge any information about our servers or dancers.” She obviously dismissed Tess as one of the thirsty women whose tame wet dreams featured the boys of the club and who wanted to make those dreams a reality.
In a way, Tess was glad it was hard to get to Elijah, that meant strange women didn’t have unrestricted access to him. But she wasn’t like them, she just wanted… What exactly? She couldn’t exactly tell the hostess that Elijah had been the only one who wanted to see the real her in…forever. That, like her mother had before she died and took the last of Tess’s childhood with her, he had looked at her and seen behind the careful mask she had constructed over the last eight years.
Tess shook her head, trying for her her least embarrassed smile. “Never mind. Thanks, though.”
The hostess nodded back and went back to the ledger she’d been looking at before Tess walked up. Now what? Since the last thing she wanted to do was go home to her empty studio apartment in Little 5 Points, she fought through the crowd to wander back into the club where a dancer was finishing up his routine onstage to rousing applause of the audience. It wasn’t Alex.
But she watched one of the servers disappear into an “employee only” area curtained off from the rest of the club, dipping beyond the curtain as he walked backward, balancing a tray of empty glasses on an upraised hand.
“Excuse me.” She interrupted another server before he could disappear past the same privacy curtain. “I’m looking for Elijah…ah Alex. Can you tell me where to find him?”
The man, bulkier than Alex and with a cleft chin, looked her up and down, a lecherous smile firmly in place. “Are you sure I can’t interest you in a substitution? Elijah may look like one of us, but he won’t give you what you’re looking for. But I’ll ready and willing, though.” His smile widened to show all his teeth.
Behind her, the club noises rose and fell, sounds of laughter, wolf whistles, the MC who spun lively fantasies for the people in the crowd before bringing the dancers on the stage. The dancers themselves, all gorgeous men with strong bodies, compelling faces, and swivel in their hips to start a thousand personal sexual revolutions. This was the background to her want for Elijah. Tess opened her mouth to tell this one “never mind” too.
Another server came from behind the curtain on the other side that must have had a clear “entrance and exit” sign.
“See you all later,” he called behind him and brushed past Tess. Then he turned, a frown on his face.
“I thought you left.” He’d changed into jeans and a Martin Luther King, Jr. T-shirt. He had a backpack over his shoulder and looked more like a student than a stripper. Oh my God. He seemed so young. He smiled then, a private thing meant for Tess alone.
She couldn’t help the smile that took over her mouth in return. “I came back.”
The server who had propositioned her looked between her and Elijah then shrugged and continued his way past the curtain and into the kitchen. Elijah looked briefly at him then touched Tess’s elbow. “We’re about to close so there won’t be much for you to see here.” He transferred his backpack to his other shoulder and touched a hand to the small of Tess’s back. “I’ll walk you out to your car.”
“Okay.” What else could she say?
She didn’t want to go home. But she didn’t quite know what she wanted to do either. He intrigued her in a way that was all escape and fantasy, but she also knew that wasn’t the way to look at a life and blood man. His profession wasn’t his job, and it sure as hell wasn’t his job to provide a fantasy for her.
The noise in the club was too loud for him to say anything to her that she would hear, so Tess only nodded again when Elijah guided her through the crowd and out a side door that took them back out to the alley where they’d talked earlier. Their footsteps tapped quietly in sync, her in her sandals, Elijah in dark Nikes, the night shadowy and intimate around them.
Shit. What was she doing here lusting after a boy that probably didn’t even shave yet? But she slipped her eyes over him and her gaze clung to the faint five o’ clock shadow, his arms dusted with hair, the thick knob of his Adam’s Apple, the width of his shoulders under the T-shirt. Okay. He definitely shaved. And despite what Lisa had said earlier, he had to be at least twenty-one. Other than that, Tess had no idea. She backed around to her original thought.
Jesus, what am I doing here with this boy?
She was so busy contemplating his age that she didn’t realize they were almost at the parking lot. The night pressed in on her, hot and sweet. Tessa’s skin tingled from where her hand brushed Elijah’s as they walked and she tried not to shiver and sigh like a love-struck teenager. But she could no more control her reaction than she could change the composition of the stars.
“So…why did you come back?” he asked as they approached one of the last huddles of cars left in the parking lot.
“I’m not really sure.” True, she hadn’t been able to forget about his words in the alley, so sure, so mature for a boy who, away from the stage lights, and in simple jeans and a T-shirt, now looked like he should be asking a girl out to senior prom. But her attraction to him was also undeniable. The combination of the strength and beauty of his body, the unexpected wisdom in his eyes, the way he takes to her. And strangely, very strangely the thought that she could allow herself to be weak with him. Plus, she desperately wanted the distraction.
His smile flickered on. “Are you being honest with me?”
“The real question is, am I being honest with myself?” Tess made a derisive sound.
He seemed to take her answer in stride, nodding slowly in time with their footsteps. Near the largest group of cars, he looked around. “Which one is your car?”
Oh, shit. She must have really left all her brain cells back in the club. “None of them. I didn’t drive.” Tess refused to be embarrassed. She shrugged. “Uber got me here.”
“Do you want me to…to drive you home?”
Was that what she’d come all this way for? Another shiver made Tess clench her back teeth and she looked up at him, trying to act like the more responsible one, but the shivery feeling in her stomach wouldn’t let her go. To ground herself, she reached for the strap of her purse and realized that she’d grabbed the sides of his T-shirt instead, already committed to a course of action her body knew but her mind was just catching up with, she stretched up, leaned in.
His mouth was a firm curve under hers. A shocked gasp against the press of her mouth. The shivery feeling in her belly rippled through her body, down to her toes, up to her lips until she sparked with arousal and desire, for him. An impulse. But he wasn’t returning the kiss. She drew back.
Elijah’s lips had fallen open shock, a parted wet curve, he stared at her with eyes widened to the point of wonder, staring at Tess like he’d never seen her before. Embarrassment flushed her red hot.
Shit. She pulled back and he still didn’t say anything, just stared at her with his oasis eyes.
Tess backed away. “I’m sorry.” The shivery feeling fled for the hills leaving her cold and awash in humiliation. “That was stupid of me.” God, he must think she was some sort of desperate cougar. “Shit!”
He reached out to her but she kept moving back, gripping her purse for real this time and quickly scanning the parking lot to see if anyone saw her shame. Another desperate woman trying to sleep with a stripper before going back to her boring life. Oh God…
“No—It’s not that,” Elijah said, a hand still held out, fingers opening and closing in the air. He looked confused. Surprised. But the look seemed to be turned inward. I don’t—”
But the last thing Tess wanted was for him to feel sorry for her. She was the one who just slobbered all over him like a desperate poodle begging to be loved. “It’s okay. I just made a complete fool of myself.” Fuck. And earlier she thought the day couldn’t get any worse.
Tess pulled herself back together. Smoothing a hand down her blouse over her belly, taking a deep breath, and scrubbing all emotion from her face. She took another step back and was about to turn away when Elijah gripped her elbows and towed her back into the hard warmth of his body.
“Don’t do that.” He kissed the side of her mouth, a whisper of touch that stole her breath. “Don’t keep yourself away from me. You took me by surprise.” Another kiss, still light, still dry, but longer, firmer. His hands skimmed up to her arms, her shoulders. “That’s all.” His mouth touched hers again, a firmer kiss, a flicker of his tongue along her lower lip.
Desire licked between her thighs and she shivered.
“Tess.” Then he was breathing her name against her mouth, and that had been one thing she could never resist, a man calling her name while he tried to make her feel good. She melted under the onslaught of his kisses, sighed when she felt the press of a car door at her back. It was warm from the sunlight of the day. She melted between the hard steel of the car and the muscled plane of Elijah’s chest.
“What are you doing?” she asked, her voice sounding drugged even to her own ears.
“Kissing you.” He pressed his mouth just beneath her jaw, his breath a furnace at her throat. “I admit I don’t have much experience but I was hoping my kiss would be fairly obvious.”
“You don’t have to…” she tried to find her words but it was harder than it should have been. “…you don’t have to do this. I—” The moan she couldn’t contain slid past her lips and into the air.
“I want to.” Elijah whispered her name again, and the vibration of it settled into Tess’s skin.
And she gave up every ounce of her already faint resistance. Sighing, she slid her arms around his neck and leaned into his kisses that were oddly chaste and dirty at the same time, his tongue licking at the seam of her lips, stealing the response from her while his body remained still against hers but practically vibrating with the desire to move.
Tess opened her mouth and licked the sweetness of his lips, breathed into him and sucked on his tongue. He responded with a deep groan, his tongue sketching desire along the outline of her lips then sliding between to lick and tease, dragging sounds from Tess that she’d never heard before.
He didn’t touch her beyond the tight grasp of his hands on her waist but still made her feel like all her brains were leaking from between her legs. It drove Tess mad. She slid her thighs together, her wet panties dragging along her clit. She was ready to give him anything, allow him to yank down her pants, rip her underwear, and plunge into her in front of whoever else cared to look. She was past lust, past coherence, past thought.
Fuck me, she thought frantically. Then realized she said it out loud when he gasped and gripped her harder. His fingers sank into her back, just above the curve of her behind and she curled into him, her body alight with lust and dripping wet. She was past subtlety.
“Do you have a place we can go?” she panted into his mouth, desperate for the completion his kisses promised.
He hesitated. “I…I have a roommate.”
The fog of lust lifted for a moment for her to think more coherently. “My place then?” She swallowed and only just stopped herself from grinding into him although the lick of flame in her belly ached to be stoked with more direct contact from his body. Lust carved her wide open and her body clutched at the emptiness, aching to be filled. “It’s not far.”
She felt his hesitation again, and it wasn’t even that he didn’t want her, she had the proof of his desire pressed against her belly, thick and tempting, but his muscled arms trembled under the tight clutch of her hands like he was trying to hold himself back.
“Okay.” He panted again, pulling away from her. But she followed his mouth for another wet and desperate kiss. She felt the twine of his tongue around hers all the way through her body and between her legs, the slick and agile movement of it, promising all kinds of things that made her sob.
“Okay,” she echoed and slipped into the passenger seat of his little Nissan after he opened the door for her, her legs shaky and all her finer thought processes lost to desire.
“Where do you live?” It took Tess a moment to summon enough brain power to remember her Little 5 Points address. “I know where that is,” Elijah said. And he sped toward her little apartment like he’d taken her home a thousand times before.
Then they were at her place, fumbling out of the seat belt and across the small paved lot, up the stairs, then her key pushing clumsily into the lock. She dropped the key twice and on the third time, he took it from her.
“Let me.” And he slid the key in, a firm thrust and twist of his large hand that shouldn’t have been a surprise but it was.
Inside the apartment, she dropped her bag, he dropped the keys and grabbed her by the waist, fingers digging with desperation into her hips. His breath was an excited pant at her ear.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” he groaned into her mouth.
She dragged him by the belt loops past the curtains separating the rest of the little studio from her sleeping area, excitement building inside her with each step. Elijah dropped easily onto the bed when she pushed him, his look wild-eyed and hungry. Tess quickly got rid of her clothes while he tore his off, squirming out of his jeans and shirt on the bed in a way that should have been funny but wasn’t. When Elijah was gorgeously naked, his hard and muscled body beautiful by the light streaming in through the window, she practically jumped on him in the bed.
Their flesh slid together and it was electric, a sizzling connection that made Tess gasp in reaction. Elijah’s eyes widened and he licked his lips, falling back into the bed with a groan of appreciation, his gaze hungry on Tess’ body.
He was a visual feast. Hard everywhere, young and strong, practically hairless but built like an athlete with his wide shoulders, trim waist, and thick thighs that her teeth ached to bite. His dick lay thick and wet-tipped against his belly. A mouthwatering sight. And it was big, bigger than any she’d seen in a long time. Desire dripped from between her legs, insistent and slick. She grabbed his hand and made him feel.
His eyes rolled back in his head, and he made a low and helpless sound that went straight between her legs. Then he looked at her, the gravity and desire equally strong in his gaze. “I haven’t done this before,” Elijah said, his voice confessional and low in a way that made Tess want to lick him everywhere. “But I’ll try to make this good for you, I swear.” He petted her wet pussy, a surprisingly fumbling move that still managed to turn Tess on even more. She dropped her own hand low to return the favor. Fuck, he even felt big. Silken and hard between her fingers, the leaking slit a pleasure beneath the stroke of her thumb. He whimpered for her, biting his lip when she stroked his dick again.
Tess untangled her thoughts from the addictive sounds he made and the way they made her feel—desperate with lust—to respond to what he’d just said. “I don’t usually go home with strangers either.” She groaned and touched him again, squeezed him in a gentle fist. “This is a first for me too.”
His fingers on her clit between her legs robbed her of the next words. “No. This.” He moved his fingers again, a clumsy grope. “Sex.” He paused. “With another person.”
“What?” Panting, she pulled back, staring hard at his face for some sign he was joking. No way someone this fine was a virgin.
He whined with obvious disappointment when she stopped touching him, his throat moving with a hard swallow. “I—hope…I hope it’s not a deal breaker.” His hips moved under the startled grip of her hands, a frantic, jerking motion that now made sense if what he said was true. No experienced man would allow himself to seem so eager, so desperate for it, in front of a woman he just met.
But was it true? Could a hot man who took his clothes off for hundreds of horny and available women multiple times a week actually be a for-real virgin? The thought was mind-boggling. Impossible.
Then Elijah’s dick bobbed in front of her, drooling from its fat and mouthwatering head and blew away every trace of hesitation and disbelief she had. Tess climbed higher up on his body, pressing his dick flat against his stomach with the wet ache of a pussy. The firm heat of him between her lower lips lit a glowing pleasure from her belly up to her hard nipples through to her fingers and toes.
Virgin or not, he felt fucking amazing.
“You’re much too delicious to give up.” Tess rolled her hips again, and his breath audibly stuttered. “But it does change how we’ll do things. Only a little, though.” And she made sure he was watching as she moved slowly down his body.
Elijah’s eyes went wide then he froze against the sheets. “What…what—”
She replied with a stroke of her tongue along the thick vein at the underside of his dick, and his entire body shuddered at the same moment that he grunted like he’d been punched in the stomach. Her thighs shuddered at the sound, her pussy dripping even more. He was so responsive, so open with his reactions to her hands and tongue that it felt like he pushed a slick finger inside her and rubbed her clit at the same time. Tess moaned around his dick, pushed her hips down into the mattress to chase her own pleasure.
The taste of him was almost flavorless. Salt and wet. A silken firmness on her tongue. He’d showered after his night at work and the scent of a generic soap, maybe Ivory or Irish Spring, lingered in the crisp pubic hair and the tender skin under her nose.
With her mouth on him, she was grateful when his hands fisted in the sheets on either side of his hips instead of in her hair. His hands tensed when he sat up to watch her, breath coming quickly past his parted lips, her name punching on each exhale from his mouth.
“I’m gonna—I—I can’t—”
Tess stroked his belly, hummed around the thickness of his dick to let him know it was okay. This was what she wanted to happen. Sighing in pleasure, she raked her nails down his chest and across a nipple, her other hand tender on the heavy weight of his balls. He shouted her name as he came, and she pulled off just in time, gripping the twitching length of his dick as he spurted thick and hot over her lips, chin, and throat.
He groaned her name again, his voice rough from shouting. “You’re amazing.” Reaching down, Elijah wiped her mouth with his thumb. Like a typical man, he cleaned the spunk off his finger with her sheets.
Tess caught his wandering thumb with her teeth. “We’re just getting started, baby.”
It didn’t take long to get him hard again. Slow kisses and rolling in the sheets with him, the wonder in his face as he touched her and learned her body. Tess let him caress her everywhere he wanted, his touches getting more confident, more demanding as the night grew around them.
“Like that?” He breathed the question, his fingers stroking her clit the way she directed, his urgency curtailed since he’d already come.
Tess shivered, his fingers moving over her wet flesh, gushing more wetness from her, her thighs falling wider around his hips as he nuzzled her breasts, fingered her steadily toward an orgasm. She sank her nails into his back and the breath sobbed from her throat.
“Does this mean you need to take the edge off too?” He laughed into her throat.
“As if…uh…you could,” Tess challenged although she could barely talk with the familiar pleasure tightening by degrees in her belly.
But she didn’t have time to grade him on a curve. After having her mouth on him, nearly an hour of kisses with her pussy getting wetter with each stroke of his fingers and each masculine groan that echoed in the close quarters of her room, her desire had grown to a nearly unbearable level.
“I need you to fuck me,” she gasped.
He looked shocked for a moment. Then, “Okay. Okay.” He reached for one of the condoms she’d put on the bedside table earlier and pressed it into her hand. “I want you to do it.”
Tess tried to ignore the way her hands trembled rolling the condom over him, his dick twitching and thick between her fingers. Elijah’s mouth hung open as he watched her, his head tilting up from the bed.
He groaned and thrust up into the loose grasp of her hand. “That feels—that feels good.”
Tess climbed on top of him, his hard and lightly furred thighs rasping against her skin, masculine and firm in a way that made her shiver. The way he lay beneath her, eyes glazed with lust, his mouth wet and open as she writhed on top of him, painting his abs with the wetness from between her legs—God!—it was like a drug. He didn’t grab her and shove her under him to start pounding into her like most men would have. Instead, he submitted breathlessly to her pleasure, waiting for her take what she wanted.
His voice choked off when she gripped him. His fingers dug into her thighs, desperation written in the sweat coating his skin, the tight and heaving muscles in his belly.
“Let me…” Tess whispered.
Her thighs burned as she hovered over him, his hardness at her entrance, then slowly, slowly swallowed him with the wanting slickness of her pussy.
“Jesus…” He arched back in the bed, his eyes tightly closed for a moment before they flew back open like he didn’t want to miss a single second of what was happening between them.
He felt so firm, so right inside her.
Elijah’s eyes held and met hers, refused to let her go as she started to move on top of him, around him. “I think—” He groaned and bucked his hips, slamming up into her with a motion that made them both gasp. “—I think I might love you.”
Tess laughed around her own helpless noise. “It’s just…the sex talking.” Then she couldn’t talk anymore, swept away on the tide of feeling, her breath lost, the pleasure rolling everything else aside.
I might love you too, was her last thought before losing all coherence, her body riding toward pleasure, leaning forward so each thrust stroked her clit and made wet and urgent sounds. Then she was quickening, burning, and spectacularly falling apart.
Through the storm of her own orgasm, she felt him come inside her, his face caught in a look of shock as the room filled with his shouts of pleasure. Tess rode him through the unsteady orgasmic jerks, squeezing him with her internal muscles and prolonging the waves of bliss undulating through her body. When she could eventually move, she climbed off him and dropped back onto the bed.
“God...” Her hand slapped wetly against her sweat-soaked stomach.
“You shouldn’t take the lord’s name in vain.” Elijah only sounded a little like he was joking.
“What are you, a priest?” Tess watched him strip off the condom, resisting the urge to help him with the obviously unfamiliar task. But when he looked around the room for the trash, she took the condom from him, tied it off then dropped it in the small trash can she kept just under the bed.
“Just about,” he said, sinking down next to her.
She rolled her head to look at him. “What do you mean?”
The moonlight poured through the window and moved over his face, keeping the hard planes of his chest hidden in almost-shadow, an irresistible temptation for Tess’ hands. He pushed into her touch but looked briefly away from her, depriving her of the melting darkness of his eyes. But only for a moment.
“Most of the men in my family are in the church. I was supposed to be a pastor.” Despite his confession, he sounded almost…relaxed. His limbs were stretched out toward every corner of her queen-sized bed, but strategically making room for her, and a faint smile shaped his mouth. First time sex endorphins, maybe. In the past, Tess had found herself leaking unnecessary confessions a time or two after good sex.
“Is that why you’ve never...” She gestured mutely to their naked bodies.
“Yeah.” He said, then sighed when she soothed him with a long and slow caress down his side and along his hip. His skin was like silk under her fingers. “My parents advised me to do it years ago and, even when I started to want other things, I never found a good enough reason to sleep with anyone.”
Tess felt her curiosity reaching out like tendrils toward him despite the earlier warnings she’d given herself.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a male virgin over the age of ten before you.” She traced the long and uncalloused fingers of his hand, the rhythm of the touches lulling her into an odd combination of relaxation and arousal. His skin was so damn addictive. “And I definitely never met one who was a stripper.”
“We don’t always get what we expect,” he murmured in turn. “I certainly wasn’t expecting to end up here tonight.” He said it like it was an understatement, his eyes running lazily over her in a way that made her very aware of every place they touched.
Tess breathed into the faint arousal she already felt, allowing it to catch fully alight on the flicker of desire in his eyes. Her nipples tightened. Her hips shifted. Elijah was gorgeous and, before him, it had been a long time since she’d had a man in her bed. But she resisted the flames of renewing desire.
“Why lose your virginity now?” She squirmed and adjusted her body on top of his into a less sexually available position, resting her chin on top of her clasped hands and on his chest. “Why me?”
Yes, he was handsome and in the prime of his youth, but those were reasons for her to want him, not the other way around.
“I don’t know,” he said far too casually. But the way he said it made her think that he did know. That although he’d just shared his body with her, his thoughts and reasons for ending up in her bed were still his to keep. “Tonight just happened.” He tipped his head toward her. “What about you, why did you bring me here?”
Because you’re hot. The dismissive comment was within easy reach, but she chose to give him the truth instead. “I couldn’t stop thinking about what you said back in the alley. I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”
Elijah grunted in response, his gaze shifting to look over Tess’ shoulder. But she doubted he was seeing into the shadowed corners of her little three room apartment.
“You were on my mind too,” he said after a while. “I’m glad you came back to the club.”
At the mention of the club, her mind went back to the question that popped up earlier but she’d been too distracted to ask. “Yes, the club where you, the almost-priest, is stripping.”
“Pastor not priest.” He sighed and shifted against the sheets, looking uncomfortable before his features and his body settled. His lashes fluttering down to fan against his cheeks, the moonlight falling over him and turning him into a Dahomey sculpture. “It seems off, I know. But I made peace with it a long time ago. I don’t do anything with the women there. I just dance, serve some drinks and go home alone.” He turned to look at her with a shy almost smile. “Until tonight anyway. I need the money, and this pays better than any fast food joint or coffee shop I checked out before. It’s my last resort to get where I need to go.”
Tess allowed his explanation to just be. It wasn’t her place to question him, not when her own reasons for doing things—or not doing them—were flimsy at best. “And where do you need to go?” she asked, allowing that least bit of curiosity free rein.
“Away from here.”
Tess absorbed that in silence. It seemed that everyone had a real goal to leave the city, everybody except for her. Something in her face must have given away her unpleasant thoughts because he reached for her, hands sliding down to caress her hip.
“This conversation has outlived its usefulness, don’t you think?” He squeezed her butt, an endearing mix of a caress and a grope, her sigh becoming a gasp of arousal when his fingers dipped between her cheeks to the dampness still between her thighs.
Tess tilted her head up to receive his kiss, her legs falling open to welcome the heat flickering stroke of his fingers. “I absolutely agree.”