Paper Princess Page 39

“Aw, thanks. You’re the bestest friend ever.” She laughs, then looks over at me. “Anyway, I actually stopped by to see if you wanted to go somewhere tonight.”

My happy mood dims a little. I hope she’s not asking me to go to a party, because the idea of spending time with Astor Park kids outside of school isn’t too appealing. “Well, I have some homework…”

Valerie reaches over and pinches me.

“Ow! What was that for?” I rub my arm and scowl at her.

“Give me a little credit. I’m not taking us to an Astor party. I mean, there might be Astor peeps there, but it’s a club downtown that sometimes allows in under twenty-one year olds, and tonight is one of those nights. There’ll be kids from all over and not just from Astor Park.”

“I’m not eighteen.” I slump down in my seat. “And the only ID I have says I’m thirty-four.”

“Doesn’t matter. You’re hot. They’ll let you in,” Valerie says confidently.

* * *

She’s right. They don’t card either of us at the door when we arrive at the club later that night. The bouncer runs his flashlight over Val and then me, taking in our blown-out hair, skimpy dresses and high heels, and lets us in with a wink.

The place appears to be a renovated warehouse. The bass is shaking the walls and there are strobe lights illuminating the dance floor. Up toward the front is a stage and there are girls dirty dancing on it.

“We’re dancing in that tonight,” Valerie shouts in my ear.

I follow the line of her arm. Above the dance floor, suspended at different levels, are four human-sized birdcages. In each one there are dancers. One has a girl and a guy who are grinding against each other, and the other three feature solo girls.

“Why?” I ask suspiciously.

“To make ourselves feel good. I’m missing Tam and I want to dance and have fun.”

“Can’t we just dance on a stage?”

Val shakes her head. “No. Half of dancing is the crowd appreciation.” She grins at me.

I stare back at her in amazement. “This seems so unlike you.”

She laughs and shakes her cloud of hair. “I’m not a mouse. I love to dance and show off and this is a place I can do it. Tam brought me here and we tore up the floor. And after, we tore up the sheets.” She bites her lip and her eyes get a little glassy as she recalls a post party romp with her boyfriend.

So Val’s a little exhibitionist. Who knew? I guess it’s always the quiet ones. I’ve never minded dancing in front of people, but I don’t get off on it like Val apparently does. Once I start dancing, I get lost in the music and forget that anyone is even watching.

Maybe it’s a protective reflex—one I learned early when I was stripping at the age of fifteen. But whatever the reason, when the beat seeps into my blood, there could be no one or there could be a hundred people around. I move to the music, not the audience.

“Sure. I’m up for that.”

She looks thrilled. “Awesome. One cage or two?”

“How about together? We’ll really give everyone a show.”

The men at Miss Candy’s loved it when two girls danced together. Just like the football players the other day enjoyed watching Jordan and me fight.

Valerie claps her hands. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

I watch as she trots over to a guy in a booth. I assumed he was a DJ, but I guess he’s the one who controls access to the cages. They exchange words and then the guy holds up one finger. Valerie reaches over the barrier and gives him a hug.

Once she’s done convincing him that we’re a better act, she runs back to me. “One song,” she says, “and then we’re up.” She grabs two sodas from a waitress passing by with a tray full of drinks and hands me one.

Val’s not real patient. She shifts from one foot to another. Taps her palm against her leg. Finally, she turns to me. “Why does Jordan call you a stripper?”

“Because I was,” I admit. “I stripped to pay my mom’s medical bills and when she died I stripped to pay for the roof over my head.”

Her mouth drops open. “Holy shit. Why didn’t you just go to a relative?”

“I didn’t know I had any.” I shrug. “It’s been me and Mom for as long as I can remember. And once she was gone, I just didn’t want to go into foster care. I heard all these nightmares about the system and I figured I’d been taking care of her and me for so long that just taking care of myself for two years would be a breeze.”

“Wow. You are entirely too impressive for me,” Val declares.

I snort. “In what way? Taking my clothes off for money isn’t a skill most people admire.” My mind involuntarily skips back to Reed. He definitely doesn’t think it’s a skill I should be bragging about.

“You’ve got a lot of moxie,” Val says. “And that’s what’s admirable.”

“Moxie? Who says moxie?”

“I do!” She smiles and pulls on my hand. “Moxie. Moxie. Moxie.” I start to laugh because Val is adorable and her smiles are infectious. She grabs my hand. “Let’s go. It’s our turn.”

I let her drag me over to the base of the stairs. The couple has already left and the door to the cage is open. We run up the stairs and climb inside. Val shuts the door behind us.

“Let’s have some fun!” she shouts over the music.

And we do. We start out dancing side by side, doing our own thing. It’s like the video game only a live action one. Guys below us stop dancing and start watching, and their admiring gazes start working on me in a way I thought would be impossible. I’ve had dozens of men stare at me before, but this is the first time I’ve actually enjoyed the attention. I run my hands down my sides and shimmy low to the floor of the cage. Val is pressed up against the bars, bracing against them as she writhes to the music.

It’s when I start to rise that I spot him—Reed. He’s slouched against the bar, a beer bottle dangling from his fingers. His lips are parted—in surprise? Desire? I’m not sure, but even from this distance I can feel the heat from his eyes as they rake over me.

He’s the hottest guy in the club, hands down. Taller than almost everyone, more muscular, more everything. I can’t help but admire the way his black T-shirt clings to his perfect chest, and I feel a tingle shoot up my spine. Licking my lips, I push to my feet. Val’s hands land on my waist. In our heels, we’re about the same height. I feel her boobs push into my back as she uses my body as a pole to show off her own moves.

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