Stripped Read online

Page 23

The woman who greets me is polished and sophisticated, the picture of Rodeo Drive excellence. She’s tall, lithe, and platinum blonde. She introduces herself as Violet, which is just the most apropos thing I can imagine.

  “Can I help you find something?” Her voice is like silk.

  “I—well…” My throat is dry, and I’ve got no idea what to ask for. I don’t even know where to start. I decide to go for honesty; I’m embarrassing myself either way. I’ll probably never be able to visit this store again. “I’ve never shopped for…lingerie before. It’s my boyfr—my fiancé’s— birthday tomorrow, and I want to wear something to surprise him. ”

  She nods evenly, and her expression never changes, although I can almost smell the contempt coming from her. “I see. Buying him something extra to unwrap, hmm?”

  “Something like that. He already has pretty much everything, so all I can really get him that he’ll want is…well, me. ” I blush as I say it, but it’s true.

  I see her expression shift slightly, and I realize she recognizes me but can’t place me. It’s weird to be recognized. “Ah, I see,” she says, looking me up and down, assessing. “You’re very tall, even in flats. A very…generous build, as well. You’re probably a D cup, but no more than a thirty-two or -four around. ” She paces around to the side and examines my butt. It’s weird to be so thoroughly examined by a woman. “A four panty, most likely. ” She says this in a nearly disapproving way.

  I realize, somewhat belatedly, that she’s used to seeing petite women of a very particular size and shape come in here, and I’m not that. There’s no obvious condescension in her tone—she’s too professional for that—but there’s clear judgment. I pretend I don’t notice. She measures me, and then shows me several different kinds of lingerie, some that are full-body suits which leave most of me bare, others that are little more than complicated and lacy bra-and-panty sets. What catches my interest, though, is the corsets. There are all sorts of interesting and sexy numbers in this section, bustiers and basques and corsets, some that are sheer, some opaque, all providing lift and shaping. Not that I need lift or shaping, but still. That’s the point of lingerie, isn’t it? To accentuate and accelerate what you’ve already got?

  I realize, as I browse, that the sizing here is weird. I’m a size four in their underwear, when normally, at every other store I’ve ever shopped at, I’m more of an eight or ten. I try on several different options, and settle on an item which Violet calls a “Leah corset. ” It’s flesh-colored, pleats of soft fabric wrapping around and tied in the back, lifting and compressing and all-around providing enough oomph that even I can tell I look good. Dawson is going to combust.

  After Violet has all the ties tugged tight and fastened, I examine myself in the mirror, and imagine his reaction. He’s…oh, my. He’s going to get that look in his eyes, the nova-hot, dangerous one, the dilated pupils and the ravenous gleam of raw lust and bone-shaking love.

  “I’ll take this one,” I tell Violet.

  I get dressed and wait by the register as she wraps the lingerie for me and rings it up. I hadn’t looked at the tag, so my throat closes when I see the number on the register screen: $1,709. 25. I have to remind myself to breathe, tell myself that this is fine. I can afford this.

  I hand her the Chase bank card Dawson opened for me. It’s in my name, drawing off his account. That’s love and trust for you right there. Giving a girl a debit card with access to millions of dollars? Good thing for him I’m not a material girl. I would never go and spend a bunch of money on diamonds and clothes and shoes. I have what I need, and if there’s something I want, it’s more fun to tell Dawson and let him buy it for me. Don’t get me wrong—I like shopping as much as the next girl, but I enjoy getting gifts from my lover more than I do buying things for myself. It’s more rewarding. Plus, I then to get to thank him in the way we both enjoy.

  Which is why this lingerie I’m buying is really for both of us. I would never wear the corset for myself. It’s stiff and uncomfortable and confining. I feel sexy as sin in it, but it’s for him. It’s to make him need my body more than he already does, which shouldn’t be physiologically possible. And it’s for me, since after he’s looked his fill, he’ll take it off me and make me scream until the neighbors think I’m getting murdered.

  I shiver just thinking about what I’m going to ask him to do to me.

  I’m lost in thoughts of his touch and kiss as I leave the store, and I don’t spot the paparazzi until it’s too late.

  “Grey, Grey, over here, Grey! What’d you get at Agent Provocateur, can you show us?”

  “Grey, how did you feel about Dawson’s proposal?”

  “What are you getting Dawson for his birthday? Is that what’s in the bag?”

  “Are there children in the future for you and Dawson?”

  I blink as flashes go off, try to breathe and keep calm and ignore the flurry of questions. And then a question is shouted that makes me panic.

  It comes from a man in his thirties, with a long dirty-blond ponytail and a high, pimple-dotted forehead, sharp, cruel brown eyes, and an over-hanging beer belly. “Grey, is it true you used to be a stripper?”

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  I can’t help reacting. I know I shouldn’t, that reacting gives credence to the question, but I’m not Dawson. My eyes are drawn to the reporter asking the question. “No…no comment. ” I’m faint with panic. It’s going to come out now, and it’s going to ruin Dawson’s career. And mine.

  “Come on, Grey, we both know the truth. We have a friend in common, you see. A certain Mr. Timothy van Dutton. He told me you were his best dancer. ”

  “No comment. ” I try to push past, but they won’t let me through.

  His grin is lecherous, gleeful. “How about this, if it’s true, say ‘no comment’ again. I mean, there’s no sense denying it. He told me all about you. You wouldn’t go topless except for on-stage. ” He licks his lips, and his eyes lower with obvious lust to my cle**age. “I’m sorry I never got to see you dance. ”

  I don’t answer. I step out into the street, narrowly avoid being smashed by a silver Mercedes. They follow me, bombarding me with questions.

  “Grey! Is it true? Were you a stripper?”

  “Grey, come back! Where did you dance? How did you get the job?”

  “Can you give us a little sample of your dancing?”

  “Look at me, Grey! How long were you a stripper? Did you ever perform sexual services?”

  I’m not crying yet, but nearly. I’m all but running, and I know this is tantamount to confirming it, but I can’t help it. I’m finally to my Rover, almost a block away from the shop, and they’re crowding around me, repeating their questions, cameras flashing, held up over their heads to get a shot, microphones and recorders and flip cameras capture my flushed face, watery eyes, and trembling hands.

  I know at least one of the clicking cameras captures the single tear that falls from my eye as I start the Rover. And the second one as I back up, heedless of toes I must be running over. For once, I understand the anger with which some celebrities respond to situations like this. I’m hyperventilating, each breath wheezing and fast. I’m dizzy, but I don’t dare stop. Honks tell me I’m driving erratically, and I hear squealing tires and shrieking brakes, but I keep driving, letting autopilot take me home.

  Dawson isn’t home. I wish he was. I need him.

  I end up in the gym, sitting in the middle of the dance floor, sobbing. I hear the front door open at some point, and the stiffness of my muscles tells me it’s been a long time that I’ve been here on the floor, crying.

  “Baby? What happened?” He scoops me up and sits down with me on his lap.

  I bury my face in his chest and try to breathe. I start crying all over again. “They…they found—found out. ”

  “Who? About what?”

  “The reporters. The paparazzi. They found out…that I was a stripper. ” I