Aaliyah felt the wandering eyes of the men in the crowd. There weren’t as many as there usually was, but the club still had a buzz that filled the emptiness of the spacious area.
She hated it. She hated dancing for the pleasure of men— and sometimes women, but it was the only way she could pay her bills. Manhattan wasn’t a cheap place, and Aaliyah was barely scraping by every week.
Waitressing just wasn’t enough, which is why she chose to become a stripper in the first place. It was simply for survival.
She clutched the silver pole and walked around it, swinging her hips as the seductive red lighting casted a burning desire across her skin.
The lacy lingerie did nothing to protect her dignity, but wearing the skimpy cloth was a choice that was already made for her. The only thing that protected her was her mask.
The simple black lace covered her facial features and protected her identity, and protection was something Aaliyah needed.
It was only a matter of time before her past caught up with her, and she dreaded the inevitable day that it would happen. But she couldn’t spend much time on those thoughts. She had a job, and if she wanted her pay check at the end of the month, she would have to put on a good show for the men.
With that in mind, she climbed up the shining pole, doing her best to stay on beat with the erotic tune that was playing through the speakers. She crossed her legs, swinging around the silver before beginning to move them in a flirtatious manner.
When she looked into the crowd, amidst the seductive red lighting, sat a man. A crisp white shirt and black slacks adorned his toned body whilst a golden watch gleamed on his right wrist. His hair was as dark as the night, longer on the top and shorter on the sides.
Aaliyah couldn’t make out his facial features from where she was, but she had no doubt in her mind that he was beautiful.
An aura of power surrounded his god-like stature, filling the empty seats next to him.
When his eyes locked on hers, her breath hitched in her throat, refusing to escape. Her hold on the pole slowly loosened, and she slid down with her breath held.
A slow, dangerous smirk made it’s way across his alluring features, causing desire to pool in Aaliyah’s stomach, her southern regions dampening with liquid heat.
Then his eyes detached from hers, finally allowing her to breathe like a normal person, though, she was still stuck to her spot, watching his every move. He moved with grace, oozing power and authority.
His eyes continued to roam lower as they glided over her honey-coloured skin. A burning sensation greeted the skin on her legs, igniting her body with a burning desire. She shut her eyes and basked in the enticing heat.
Her mind seemed to have completely stopped functioning, because in that moment, Aaliyah felt a hand softly land on her shoulder, pulling her out of whatever trance she had been thrown into.
The touch was as light as a feather, but it still caused Aaliyha’s lungs to empty all the air inside them. Her eyelashes fluttered open to reveal her deep brown eyes as they instantly locked on the dangerously handsome man that still sat in the plush velvet chair, a glass of amber liquid held to his luscious lips.
With every ounce of power in her body, she ripped her eyes away from his face, turning to face whoever stood behind her, instead.
Candace offered her a small smile before she leaned in with a low voice, “I think you should take a break, Cherry,” Aaliyah had to stop herself from cringinging at her stripper name.
It wasn’t something she liked to be referred to as, to Aaliyah, it was just another reminder of how fucked up her life was, and hearing people use it always plagued her mind with the reasons as to why she had to use the name.
When she fell back into reality, far away from her restless thoughts, all she could do was stare at Candace in mild confusion. Why did she have to take a break?
The answer was spelled out in Candaces eyes when she gave Aaliyah a once over before laughing lightly.
“You stopped dancing a while ago.” Candaces words held amusement as she watched Aaliyah look out into the quiet crowd for a split moment before she briskly walked behind the thick velvet curtains.
She was met with David— her manager. The money-hungry man who stopped at nothing to get what he wanted. He held no respect for the girls and he exploited them on a regular basis, but he was too blinded by the money and power to even see how fucked up the whole thing was.
But alas; he paid her. He was partly the reason why Aaliyah was able to survive from week to week, so she had to put up with him and his sick ways.
“What the fuck was that, Cherry?” He spit out each word as if it were venom in his mouth, holding out his chubby hands as he approached her. All Aaliyah did was shrug. “Sorry, I just forgot some of the routine,” she lied easily.
“It won’t happen again.” David didn’t look happy with her answer, but she had stopped caring a long time ago. Her only mission now was to survive, and to hope that her past stayed where she wanted it; in the past.
Pleasing her boss wasn’t on her priority list.
“It better not, because the next time it does, I’ll have money deducted from your pay check.” The malicious glint in his eyes didn’t go unnoticed, but before Aaliyah could say anything back to him, he was already gone back into the club.
He was well aware of her financial struggles, yet chose to make things ten times more difficult for her. She didn’t have any idea as to why he loved making things difficult for her, but she was too busy trying to keep her broken life together to entertain thoughts of her boss.
She gritted her teeth, taking a few deep breaths before she walked down to steps and back into the main area, wasting no time in making her way to the bar.
Her dark eyes darted all over the dim-lit club in search of the mysterious man that her mind refused to eradicate. His seat was empty and the drinks on his table were cleared. As if no one was there.
She examined the club once more, sifting through the faces that occupied the space. She came up short again and decided to leave it at that. What was she looking for? A man that she hadn’t ever exchanged words with?
She almost slapped herself at the thought. Her history with men wasn’t the best, so she steered clear of them. She knew the risks that came with allowing people into her life. There would be questions. Ones that she wouldn’t be able to answer.
They would become targets.
She picked up the towel with a sigh, finally feeling the exhaustion of the day catch up to her. She had to force her eyelids to stay open as she wiped down the bar and cleared some of the glasses that had been left there.
“Would you ever stop doing my job for me, Lia,” she would have known that Irish accent anywhere, and without even turning around, she was able to put a name and a face to the voice.
Aisling stood behind her as she dried the crystal glass in her hands. Aaliyah turned around with a cheeky grin plastered across her face, “I’m just hoping that David will let me leave early if he sees me doing extra work.”
“That fella wouldn’t let the queen leave early.” Aaliyah couldn’t help the unladylike snort that escaped her. The statement was probably true. David didn’t bend his rules for anyone, which was a good trait to have for someone in his line of business, but all it did for Aaliyah was piss her off.
When Aisling's eyes drifted to something behind her, her mouth slacked open and Aaliyah saw her blue eyes widen. Shock? Surprise? She couldn’t tell.
Suddenly, goosebumps pebbled her skin, and she knew exactly who was standing behind her. She felt heat spread throughout her body, burning through her like a wildfire.
She resisted the urge to turn around and catch a glimpse of the man that had been on her mind all night, instead, deciding to divert her attention to something else.
“So, how are things going back home? Did your sister have her baby yet?” She cursed herself for sounding so— flustered?
Aisling fell back into reality with a few blinks and a clearing of her throat. She met Aaliyah’s eyes with her icy blue ones. “Yeah, she had a baby boy. They named him Kieran.” She smiled fondly at the thought of her nephew.
Aaliyah noticed her shoulders drop with something she could only pin as relief and within seconds, Aisling was clutching her hand for dear life.
“Lia, holy shit. You should've seen him!” she gazed off as she continued to describe the man that had been standing behind her friend moments ago.
“He was tall and— my god! He was built like some God.” Aaliyah couldn’t help the smile that broke out on her face. She knew that if she was in Aisling’s position, she would have been ranting about him as well.
“His face was like-“ Her speech came to an abrupt halt when David’s voice sliced through their conversation like a knife.
His mean eyes landed on Aaliyah first. “You don’t get paid to chat. Get up and fuckin’ do something.”
With a deep scowl etched into her features, Aaliyah stood up to meet his blazing eyes with her own. “Why don’t you get back into your office and f-“ Aisling grabbed her friends wrist before another word could leave her mouth.
She had known Aaliyah long enough to know that she was a fiery person who lacked a filter on her mouth, and god forbid you were ever on the receiving end of Lia’s callous words.
She looked over her shoulder, latching onto the familiar blue before she took a deep breath. Losing her job would cost her greatly, and she needed the money right now.
“Just do what he says, he’s not worth losing your job over, yeah?” Aisling’s words sounded more like a plea, and that was enough to have Aaliyah nodding tightly before throwing David one last look and leaving.
Within moments, she found herself throwing open the back door, allowing a gust of wind to contact her skin. She was mad, and that’s why she welcomed the cold air with open arms.
She took a seat on the steps, finally letting herself feel some peace. She could still hear the sounds from the cars and the sirens that seemed to never to end in New York. She leaned her head back, taking a moment to appreciate the stars that lit up the night sky like little diamonds glittering in the moonlight.
The tranquil silence of the night was short lived. The sound of commotion reached her first, and along with her gasp came a cloud of hot smoke that drifted through the crisp air.
She knew that she shouldn’t have. She knew that she should have gone back inside to finish her shift, but there was an unstoppable pull that reeled her closer to the voices that echoed through the dirty alleyway.
She saw a man on his knees. His uncontrollable sobs filled the alley as another man stood in front of him. She stared at the scene with wide eyes. She had no idea what to do. Call the cops? Yell for help?
She couldn’t make out what they were saying, only mumbled voices ran past her ears. But then she heard it.
The unmistakable click of a gun.
She knew she had to do something. Springing into action with impulsive thoughts, she moved out from behind the garbage bin. With scattered thoughts, she hadn’t been paying attention to her surroundings, knocking over a trash bag and giving away her location, she wished that she had stayed inside the club.
The broad shoulders under the crisp white shirt became tense. The man stood deathly still as he kept the gun pointed at the man on the ground.
She held her breath when he began to turn around. Her palms were clammy and her breathing was laboured.
When silver pools met her black orbs, her breath hitched— and she felt her blood run cold as a dangerous smirk made it’s away across his face.