Veronica.

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3. You can call me Veronica.

Joel’s engaged and I grind on men for hours daily. When did the universe decide to punch me in the face like this? I’m not sure what I did to deserve this sort of shit. Joel, the man-child I married at nineteen is engaged! Then there’s his wife to be, Chloe Nightingale. Even her name sounds expensive. She has a perfect face, perfect posture and a perfect ass. I know that because when she bent down to retrieve one of Rowan’s toys, her plush backside screamed for attention.

Damn her!

I chug the sharp liquid out of the shot glass I was handed a few seconds earlier. Darcy and I are stood by the bar. The men we had previously been with bought us a few drinks and we’re finishing them just as a fresh load of guys walk into the club. I see them out of the corner of my eye.

Darcy hums, obviously satisfied with their appearance, “Four extremely attractive men just walked in.”

I look in their direction, expectant to find four strangers.

“Shit. Darcy, the one at the back. He’s the guy I was telling you about.”

My friend’s eyebrows arch suggestively, “Does that mean there’s a chance there are four, gorgeous firemen in our club?”

Stood closest to the exit is the guy from yesterday. I stare for a few seconds, not quite believing that he’s here. I am about to look away when our eyes lock. His, a soft hazel colour begin to blink rapidly. I realise then that they are dancing over my clothes. Or lack of as is the case. Tonight, I wear a navy-blue set of lingerie. The tassels on the bra hang between the valley of my breasts and reach just above my navel, highlighting my slim waist. My hair is curled down my back in soft waves. What he fails to see are the thigh high stockings and platform heels.

“I think he is having a heart attack at just the sight of you,” Darcy whispers, pulling my attention from him for a second.

“I don’t think it’s that. There are loads of girls in here wearing far less than me,” When I return my stare, he’s no longer looking over here. Proving my previous point.

I watch as he follows the three men he arrived with towards a table at the far end of the room. For the life of me, I can’t explain why my pulse jumps when they sit at table four. It is one of my tables. The large men drop themselves into the low chairs, the one drawing my attention for an unknown reason sits with his back to Darcy and me.

“Should I go over?” I ask, suddenly feeling extremely shy.

Darcy frowns, “You better or I will.”

With a small smile, I leave her by the bar and approach them. As I near the table, I hear his familiar voice,

“I do not appreciate this surprise, at all.”

Squaring my shoulders, I reach the table. The three men who see me begin to smirk and I imagine it’s because their friend has no idea I am stood by his side. When he finally notices me, I make a gesture that’s somewhere between a wave and a salute.

“Hi there, I’m Roni,” I drag my eyes away from the surprise I find in his to greet the other three men.

“Hello, Roni. I’m Henry, this is Ben, Sebastian and the guy with a face like a slapped arse is Max,” the one with a kind smile and huge, blue eyes does the introductions.

Max.

The name oddly suits him.

“Nice to meet the four of you. Welcome to The Red Lounge,” I smile and purposely stick my chest out. “I hope you like the look of the girls because we plan on making this a night you won’t forget in a hurry.”

Max scoffs, “This is insane!”

“Excuse me. What is?” I turn to look down at him directly.

From such proximity, I take in more details about him. He has a strong jawline with a pointed nose that sits atop a full set of lips. A scar that I must have completely overlooked yesterday cuts through his top lip, reaching the highest part of his cheekbone. His hazel eyes stare up at me.

“The whole strip club thing,” he answers, shrugging his shoulders.

“Max, lighten up mate. It’s not the lady’s fault that you have deep-rooted issues with women in lingerie!” The guy I now know is called Sebastian grins, slapping Max over the shoulder as he does so. The other two laugh at what must be an inside joke.

“I don’t like the idea of a woman with two sides to her. Yesterday, you didn’t exactly scream striper. It’s quite a leap, this,” he gestures towards my clothes. “Isn’t it?”

I can’t help but smile at the fact that he remembers me, “This should be entertaining... What exactly do I scream?”

“My name. Hopefully,” Ben pipes up.

Max lets out a heavy sigh and lifts himself to his feet. He steps past me seconds later.

“I’m going to get a drink.”

The three of us watch him walk towards the bar. I turn to face Ben seconds later, the confusion on my face clear. “Hey, handsome. What’s his problem?” I lower myself into Ben’s lap. After all, I have a job to do. He responds by trailing his thumb down my waist softly.

“Max doesn’t understand why you lot would do this to yourselves. He has a dad mindset in that respect,” Sebastian explains.

“That doesn’t make much sense. Why is he at a strip club if he doesn’t like the idea of us?”

Henry smirks, “It’s his birthday. We thought it’d be a good idea to get him a lap dance for his thirtieth. He was blindfolded until we stepped through the door.”

“He’s thirty? Tonight?”

“Yeah what do you reckon, beautiful? You think you can help him relieve his frustration?” Ben asks.

I raise my eyebrows, “I don’t think he’d want that. I’m afraid if I touched him he’d have me arrested.”

The men laugh, “You’re funny. Max could do with whatever you’d be willing to do to him, trust me,” Ben twirls a strand of my hair through his fingers.

“I can’t do anything to him if he doesn’t agree to it. This is a two-way street.”

Henry shrugs, “He wouldn’t want to offend you.”

“That’s true, I reckon he’s only pretending to be difficult,” Sebastian comments.

“Well, in that case, I accept the challenge,” I tug at my bottom lip before lifting myself off Ben’s lap.

If Max wants to be difficult, I’ll show him just how difficult it is to ignore me.

The men cheer as I begin to walk away. I stop mid-step to glance at them over my shoulder. “I’ll send my best girls over and they’ll give you a good time. Don’t miss me too much,” with a wink, I sashay away.

Only when I reach Max do I begin to get anxious. What if he really doesn’t want to be here? With a deep breath, I rest my forearms on the bar in front of me after purposefully brushing my hip against his.

“Happy birthday, Max,” I speak.

He chugs the bottle of beer he has held to his lips before placing it down on the bar, “Those idiots dare you to come over here?”

“Sort of,” I shrug. “They really just want you to have a good time. Is that so bad?” He doesn’t respond. “They’ve paid for you to get a lap dance,” I lie, “Now, it doesn’t have to be from me but it would be rude of you to turn their generous gift down.”

“Of course they have! Look, I appreciate your kindness but I’m fine.”

I ignore his comment, “Darcy, babe, would you take a bottle of whiskey over to table four? They are excited to meet you.” My friend nods her head before doing as I ask.

“Look, I-”

“I’m not going to hurt you. I won’t even touch you if you don’t want me to. You can just sit there and watch. It’s the least you can do after yesterday. Look, I have a bruise on my thigh because of your wall thingy,” I nudge his large arm with my elbow, looking up at him through my eyelashes.

His eyes travel down to my thighs so quickly that I barely catch the action, “That bruise is tiny!”

“Ah, but it’s still a bruise. Right? Max, you can tell me if I’m not your type. I’ll get another girl to come and annoy you into a lap dance if you really want me to!” I am only half joking. The truth is, I don’t want anyone else to touch him. He seems too precious for that.

“Don’t say that. You’re absolutely beautiful, Roni.”

Heat floods up my neck and into my cheeks. The bastard is smooth with words, I’ll give him that.

“Then,” I hold out my hand, “What’s stopping you from saying no?”

It takes him longer than a minute to respond. At first, I believe he’s going to turn me down and I prepare myself for the awkward goodbye. But then his hand is slipping through mine, his large and calloused. He has no ring on his finger, which allows me to happily lead him towards a private room.

Yesterday, I did the very same thing with Adonis. Then, I was praying for the end. Now though, the excitement in the pit of my stomach leaves me confused as all hell.

A Lil Wayne song begins to play through the speakers above us just as I push him back onto the sofa. He plops down awkwardly and I begin to dance, ignoring his wide-eyed stare. I flip my long hair over my shoulder and begin to move my hips. My main assets are my toned thighs and ass. Pun definitely intended. I don’t want to frighten him but I do want him to experience a proper lap dance. Therefore, I push his legs apart, planting my heels on the floor between his combat boots. A heavy breath leaves his lips when I kneel. I run my hands up his jeans towards his abdomen. Leaving one palm there, I graze the other up my own body. Our eyes meet as I bounce to the beat.

I stand up seconds later only to straddle his wide thighs, “You surprise me, Max.”

“W...Why’s that?” He asks, all the while keeping his eyes locked onto my own. Not once do they travel south. His hands also haven’t moved from their position on either side of his thighs.

I grind my hips against his along to the music, “You’re this huge guy but you’re sat there as though you’re terrified of me. I didn’t expect you to be such a gentle giant.”

“I’m not always this gentle.”

He says it so quietly that I almost miss it, “What was that? What did you say?”

“I can be rough but you’re not mine so I’m going to treat you like the woman you are,” he responds.

“Like a stripper?”

He nods, “Exactly.”

“Max, you’re allowed to touch strippers.”

I catch the hand of his left arm and bring it around my waist. It has the desired effect because he grips my hip with the slightest of pressure. Which is a start. I notice too, that his breathing has begun to grow heavier. With a tilt of my head, I press myself down onto him with more force. What I feel in his jeans is the reason I stop talking. He’s hard as a rock but still seems reluctant to touch me. If it wasn’t for his placid personality, I’d be offended.

It’s then I realise that it’s not just Max who is affected. I am too.

“You know, this is the part where I usually strip.”

Max sucks in a breath, “Don’t do that. That’s not necessary.”

“I think that’s the politest way I’ve ever been turned down.”

I run my palm up his chest and boy, am I intrigued by the hard muscle I feel beneath me.

“How long have you been doing this?”

“Four years.”

“Wow, that’s... wow,” he watches me carefully as I bring my palm up to cup his cheek. The scar that runs across his lip intrigues me. I run my thumb across the puckered skin.

“What happened here?”

“I ran into a glass door when I was seven. Blood everywhere, my mum thought I was dead when she found me.” I find myself catching my breath when his eyes drop to my lips, “Roni,”

“Veronica. You can call me Veronica, it’s my real name.”

“It’s as beautiful as you are,” a smile grows on his face. One that has me pulling myself away from him. I lift my body off his and fall back against the armrest to his right.

“This is definitely not how this usually goes,” I mutter.

The only reason I pull away is when he leaves here tonight, he’ll forget all about the stripper who gave him his first lap dance. Me, meanwhile... I’ll remember the feel of him against me for days to come.

“I agree. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an... exciting birthday.”

I laugh, “You’re welcome. Come on, we should go back in there.”

“Is that a polite way of telling me my time’s up?”

I nod my head. The two of us then walk side by side to join his friends. When we get there, I see Darcy has taken Sebastian somewhere private. That doesn’t surprise me at all; she does have a thing for the tall, dark and handsome. Hadley is dancing on the pole ahead of Henry and Ben. I can’t help but laugh when I notice their expressions. The two of them look as though Christmas has come early. Max rolls his eyes, not once looking at Hadley’s naked chest.

“I’ll bring you a drink, on me, for your birthday,” I whisper in Max’s ear before leaving him to sit down with his friends.

I don’t drink often but I do pour myself a glass of our most expensive liquor as well as one for Max. Placing an ice cube in each and a tiny straw in mine, I head back to his table.

“Do you mind?” I ask, gesturing towards the armrest of his chair.

He nods his head softly. After handing him his drink, I lower myself onto the armrest and drape my legs across his almost subconsciously. Without a word, Max lays his hand on my bare thigh, caressing the skin there with lazy strokes. I stare up at Hadley, otherwise known as London. Her auburn hair dances behind her as she rocks herself around the pole. She arches her back, the curve, accentuating her bare ass.

“Do you like what you see?” I tilt my head down to brush my lips against his ear.

Max turns his face quickly, resulting in the tip of his nose hitting my own. His breath fans my cheek as he replies, “I have a birthday request.”

“Oh yeah?” I can’t help but get lost in his eyes.

“I want you up there. That way I can stare,” the grip he has on my thigh increases in pressure.

I nod my head, unsure of what else to do. Once Hadley has done her final dance, I head up. The nerves in the pit of my stomach vanish the second I get on stage. This is what I’m good at. The girls and I do this every day, it’s second nature by now. Though there are over twenty men with their eyes trained to me, I only look at Max. His attention is all mine and that is exciting.

As Rihanna’s Skin begins to play, I start moving. The pole is an extension of my body now. I fluidly wrap my calf around it, using my arms to pull my body off the floor. Letting my head hang backwards, I circle the pole. Then I drop into a split position on the floor, running my fingers up over the plush skin of my breasts. At times like this, it is easy to forget about my life outside of the club. Here, I’m Roni. I have a body I’ve worked hard on and I like to show it off. And by the looks of it, Max is enjoying the view too. I take a hold of the pole once I’m stood up and lean against it seductively. Then I use the momentum of my swing to raise both legs in the air. With one arm wrapped around the pole, I drape the other down so that the tips of my fingers touch the floor.

By the end of my dance, I’m breathing heavily and in need of a drink. I take a bow expectant to find Max’s lingering gaze on mine when I stand up again. Only, he’s not in his seat and his friends are gone too.

Well, that’s it I suppose.

I climb down from the stage and head towards the bar. I’m about to disappear to the locker rooms when a heavy hand lands on my shoulder.

“I brought you a drink,” his voice is like music to my ears. I turn around to find that he’s holding a glass of water in his other hand. “You could do with one. What you did up there... that was beyond amazing.”

I accept the drink happily, “Amazing? I don’t usually get that.”

“What do you usually get?” He asks as I take a large mouthful of water.

“Mostly sexy...”

A sly grin appears on his face, “I was going to say that, but I didn’t want to offend.”

“I don’t think you’ll ever offend me, Max.”

“Christ, I hope not. Hey, we’re going to head out, but this has been a great night. Thank you, Veronica,” he takes a strand of my hair between his fingers, rubbing it gently, “I just wanted to see if it is as soft as it looks.”

“And your verdict?” I ask after clearing the frog from my throat.

“Yeah, that’s soft,” he lets out a breath and tucks the strand of my hair behind my ear, “I really should be going. They are waiting outside.”

“Goodbye, Max. Happy Birthday.”

A slight pout forms on my lips as I watch him walk away until he disappears out of sight. I stare at the doorway until Elias notices my odd behaviour. He approaches me.

“You alright, Roni?”

“Do you believe in love at first sight?” I ask.

He shakes his head, laughing slightly, “Nah. My wife and I hated each other when we first met and there’s no one I love more than her now.”

“Me neither. Hey, if the guy who just left ever comes back and I’m not here please tell him to keep trying to find me. Okay?”

Elias’ grin is all knowing. So much so that I retreat from him with blushing cheeks. The thought of maybe seeing Max again drives me wild with excitement and I can only hope he feels the same way.

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