Here’s an except from Breathe Me In (Crescent City #1) releasing on Friday, March 6 from Changeling Press.
Breathe Me In (Crescent City 1)
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2015 Lily Vega
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Veronika Mason slipped the envelope filled with crisp bills into her knockoff Prada bag and hoisted the straps onto her shoulder. The air conditioning in the hotel suite made the ruby-red pleather chilly against her bare arm. She might have breached one of her personal moral codes by agreeing to this deal, but her life depended on earning the money.
Her benefactor, an elegant woman in a slim-fitting navy blue suit, black hair in a severe bun and dead eyes, pointed a gold-tipped fingernail at the bedroom door of the hotel suite. “I shall return in two hours.” Her gaze slid over Veronika’s body, claiming every inch for her employer. “Remember, you are to submit to his every whim.”
A phantom hand gripped Veronika’s throat and squeezed out the breath along with her nerve. “I didn’t agree to that.”
The woman narrowed her eyes. “Why do you think you are getting paid so much?”
Veronika wasn’t in any position to negotiate. The twenty-five-hundred bucks would prevent her from being sliced, diced and filleted by a psychopath. But it was one thing to be a stripper. And a completely different one to be a whore.
In an attempt to reclaim a morsel of dignity, she turned her back on the other woman, sucked in a breath and twisted the doorknob. Stale smoke from a long ago extinguished cigarette assaulted her sinuses. She suppressed a sneeze.
Her client was not lying naked on the round bed with one hand on his flaccid cock. Good call. The ratty burgundy spread probably hosted more DNA than the New Orleans crime lab database.
Instead, he sat fully dressed in a crisp white button-down shirt and charcoal-gray trousers. The clothes hung on his lanky frame and his cheekbones had the pronounced look of someone who had emerged from the bayou after wandering lost for days after his supplies ran out.
Despite his emaciated appearance, he was a striking man with wavy brown hair. After a cheeseburger or thirty, he would be at home on the pages of a high-end menswear catalog. Not at all the desperate, paunchy sleaze she’d imagined.
He didn’t look up when she entered the room, keeping his eyes fixed on the closed drapes blocking out the flashing neon debauchery of Bourbon Street.
His hands, not touching any part of his anatomy, clenched the arms of the chair. Most men awaiting a lap dance weren’t tense. Did he expect her to beat him with strings of Mardi Gras beads or force him to drink a hurricane made with moonshine from a goldfish bowl?
Her mission, to succumb to his every depraved wish, didn’t appear so daunting now. He seemed to want the ordeal over as much as she did. Maybe he had an incurable illness and private time with a stripper topped his bucket list.
Stop it. She refused to allow herself to feel sympathy for the man.
She tugged on her lipstick-red leather corset and smoothed the short black skirt with its mid-thigh-to-waist zipper. The outfit was nothing like the schoolgirl ensemble that had become her uniform at Big Easy Babes. But she never wore her jailbait costume outside of work.
She dropped her handbag on the scarred wooden surface of the dresser and dug out her MP3 player. Soon Joan Jett’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me” belted out of the cheap speaker.
Veronika strode to the metal pole in the corner, cringing before touching the sticky, fingerprint-covered surface. The miniature bottle of hand sanitizer mocked her from the depths of her purse. Were stripper poles a hotel amenity in cities besides New Orleans or Las Vegas? What prop would she need to use as a substitute in Omaha or Orlando?
She zoned out and moved through her routine, barely glancing at her client, caught up in the pounding beat of the song. Breath ragged, she clung to the pole upside down and peered at him.
He remained motionless with his gaze still locked on the closed curtains.
Veronika wasn’t sure he had taken a breath since she entered the room. She didn’t have the stamina to work the pole for the entire session, not that she was eager to get introduced to whatever disturbing act she would have to endure to earn the money. It was going to be a long…
She glanced at her watch — an hour and fifty-three minutes left. Shit.
She turned her back on him and faced the pole. Bending from the waist, she drew in a deep breath. Once she paid off her ex’s gambling debt, the thug who threatened her would leave her alone and her life would return to normal. Maybe she could even return to teaching yoga.
Exhaling through her nose, she imagined releasing the tension that had clung to her since the man had twisted her wrist back and described in vivid detail exactly what he would do if she didn’t have the money the next time he came calling. She gulped in another breath. It would be okay. She had enough cash in her purse to keep him from following through with his violent agenda.
Enough stalling. This time she moved through the song, keeping her motions more sensual and less aerobic, and watched her client staring at the curtains.
Heat crept up her neck. She might not be the youngest employee at Big Easy Babes, or the one with the biggest breasts, or the firmest ass, but she refused to be ignored.
She excavated the hand sanitizer from her purse without touching the inside fabric, squirted a quarter-sized amount in her palm and rubbed her hands together. Once she smelled the lavender fragrance, she imagined the bacteria getting zapped by the chemical.
She turned to face her client and strutted toward him, drawing the zipper of her skirt down inch by inch to reveal the bucktoothed cartoon chipmunk on the triangle of fabric of her g-string. The undergarment went a hell of a lot better with the schoolgirl costume than her current ensemble, but screw him if he couldn’t take a joke.
“Hey, the show is over here.” She snapped her fingers and shimmied her hips.
He stared at the woodland creature on her panties, one eyebrow raised, and his mouth turned up in an appreciative smile that made her insides turn gooier than a pat of butter on a steaming plate of grits.
The music player switched to the Divinyls’ song “I Touch Myself.” Perfect. She couldn’t have done better with a live DJ spinning for her. She had captured his attention. His gaze tracked the movement of her left hand. She ran it down her body and licked her lips.
Her imagination must be working in overdrive, but she could swear her skin warmed under his concentrated gaze…