I flashed him a sweet smile, “I’m here to see Brian about a job.”
He got a sly smile and let me in past the closed door, “Head to the office upstairs.”
I climbed the stairs, disturbed a little bit by how dingy it was with lights on, and no Lochlan to liven the place up. I took a deep breath and knocked on the door that said office.
A greasy-looking, forty-year-old man answered. He gave me a once over and grinned, “You looking for a job?”
I nodded, “I am.”
“Come on in.” He looked like a hungry wolf.
I shuddered, hating him instantly. Loch had been right, the guy was a pig. I almost bolted for the door, but $500 for two days of work was too good to pass up.
I sat in the leather chair across from his desk. He sat on the corner of the desk, hovering over me casually. His dark hair was smoothed back and his face was worn, making him look older than he was. He had beady eyes and a crooked grin.
“What’s you name?”
I cleared my throat, “Erin Benson.”
He smiled until the name hit him, “Fuck, Lochlan’s girl?”
I shook my head, “I’m not his. I’m a human being. He has no control over me.” I ran a hand through my silky hair.
He snorted, “Yeah, right. Look, I’m not pissing him off. He’s famous and has a temper like a mother fucker. So take your cute butt back to his place. There is no job here for you.”
I stood up and leaned into his face, “You don’t think that having the infamous Lochlan Barlow’s girlfriend working here, will bring in the business? It’ll guarantee he’s here more, that’s good for business. Not to mention, I used to help out at my parents’ country club at Christmas time for extra money, so I actually know how to serve. I’d be useful, unlike half of your staff, and I would bring Thin Ice in on their own time.”
He sighed, “You’re going to get me in fucking trouble.”
I shrugged, “Think of the ride you could have, for the time I work here. I’ll do Friday and Saturday nights, and you won’t lay a hand on me or Lise.”
He looked confused, “Lise?”
My gaze narrowed, “Brown hair, beautiful, law student.”
He nodded slowly, “Right, her.”
I stuck a finger in his face, “You touch her and I use my claim to fame as Loch’s girl, for bad things. Slanderous things.”
He chuckled, “Man, I had you pegged differently. Guess the whole law school thing should have clued me in.” He nodded and stuck a hand out, “Deal.” I shook his hand. “Start tonight then?”
I grinned, “Of course.”
He pointed at my black eye, “That might be a problem.”
I shook my head, “I’ll get the other girls to patch me up, it’ll be dark in here soon anyway.”
I walked out of the office and down the stairs.
Lise screamed when she saw me, “Ahhhh, you came.”
I hugged her and smiled, “I did. I start tonight.”
“What happened to your eye and your lip?” She looked horrified.
I sighed, “Ran into an ex-stalker in North Dakota. He attacked me. It’s in the papers.”
She laughed, “I’m sorry. Oh my God, that’s awful. I just remembered I saw that fat picture of you and you were all fat. The media hates you.”
I rolled my eyes, “Laugh it up.”
She gushed, “Well, you working here should be fun for them to take pics.”
I never thought about that. Was that what Loch was talking about, keeping me out of the public eye?
She pulled her makeup out and fixed my eyes, “Thin Ice plays tonight; you ready for some serious cash and the sorest feet ever?”
I laughed, “I am.”
My phone rang. I pulled it out and sighed, “I’ll just go get ready.”
I answered, “Hey.”
He sounded panicked, “Don’t leave. I should have told you and I’m sorry. I’ll be sorry for the rest of my life. I had no idea you needed me. I couldn’t hear the phone.”
I frowned, “What are you talking about?”
“You moved all my shit back in my room and I saw your laptop. Just please don’t leave. I know I keep fucking up.”
I laughed, “I’m not leaving.”
He was silent for a second, “You’re not?”
I laughed, “No. I just need to buckle down and I don’t need you to distract me constantly.”
“Erin, I know you’re mad about the pictures.”
I laughed again, “Yeah, not cool. Sucks to be me, I guess. Another cost of dating you.” That was off side and bitter.
“Where are you?”
“Work. I’ll see you guys when you get here.”
He shouted instantly, “I told you no. Brian is a seedy fuck.”
I looked at my black eye in the bathroom mirror, “I know. I got that from him.”
“Did he touch you?”
I sighed, “No. He’s scared of me. I threatened him with a lawsuit if he touched me. I also told him that I was comfortable misusing my obvious stardom, from dating you. I told him I would slander his bar in every corner of the world. He’s being a good scum bag for now.”
“I’ll be there in five to get you. Just wait outside.”
I noticed the fierce look in my eyes and wished he was there to see it, “Nope. You even try to get me fired, or make me quit, and we are done. I like my hair straight and smooth. I like to pick my meal. I like to serve myself and I like my own drink, not a shared one.”
“Is this about the money? I can buy you anything you want or need. I have money, princess. I always have.”
I sighed, “I also hate the way you choose not to hear the things I say, that you don’t like. This is our first real couple’s fight, Loch. I want to be the girl I was, not the girl you’re making me. I want to be with you on my terms, not yours. It’s all about you. I’m living through you—your career, your friends, your success, your name. My fucking name doesn’t even Google anymore. I Googled me, and it comes up as Lochlan’s girl, Erin Benson. Apparently, I’m ugly, pregnant, and manipulating you. People think I’m an evil whore who can suck-start a truck. I’m not me anymore. I’m yours and that’s not cool for me. I’m stronger than that. At least, I used to be.”
He sounded pissed, “We’ll talk about this, after we leave the bar together.” He hung up on me. I worried for a while, he would come and drag me out. He didn’t. He showed for his stage setup, ignoring me.
I served drinks, dodged groping hands, and smiled until I was blue in the face. Lise was the most fun person to work with ever. She danced and drank shots, and made me have some. She stuffed money down my underwear, making customers think it was okay. I thought the money flowed amazingly, until the show started, then it got busy. I saw the blank stares in their eyes, the seduction of each person, the pleasure senses being driven wild. I saw it all. He lit the fire on the stage with his voice, making love to each of us. I caught myself staring with them. I had to fight the urge to get caught up in him. It was his best show yet. His passion was explosive. I shuddered, imagining him between my thighs with that kind of power, and made the noise he always made me make.
He finished the set and shouted into the crowd, “Good night and thank you for coming.” He didn’t say the North Dakota thing. Fear crept around inside of me. He didn’t want me strong. He wanted me malleable. He was done with me, if I was taking a stand against him and being my own person. He wanted a weak girl to be his.
My heart snapped as fears became facts, without any evidence really.
I was serving drinks to a group of young college boys, when I felt a sweaty face pressed into my nape. My eyes widened but then I smiled. He kissed me and pointed at the bar, “I’ll be over there.” He grinned, “Why don’t you get me a beer.”
I laughed and nodded.
The guys at the table were either in awe or suddenly interested in me. I left them and grabbed him a beer. He smiled at me, “I’m sorry for the media shit, and the old-roommate Facebook pictures, and the fact I wasn’t there when you needed me. I won’t ever actually forgive myself for that. Danny told me that chick was kind of a snotty bitch, and that she’d tagged him and you in the pictures. I panicked when he got the notifications, and then I got home, and you were gone ,and my stuff was moved.”
I shook my head, “I’m sorry I blamed you for the fact, I was becoming your groupie and not your girlfriend. It’s my fault, not yours.”
He took my finger and slid the ring back on. I laughed, “I didn’t want to lose it.”
He shook his head, “You’re making me lose it, I swear.” He pulled me in, kissing my cheek, “I never saw you as a groupie. I see your strength and your beauty. I always just see you.” I looked in his eyes and saw it too. I was still in there, even with the shiny hair.
What happens in New York…
He was pacing the living room, with whoever he was on the phone with. I was trying to study but he kept lifting his arms in the air, showing off the new tattoo he’d gotten on his lower abdomen. It dipped into his pants and made me want to touch it.
I sighed, walked into my room, closed the door and continued reading.
He came in a few minutes later, “Can we do my parent’s at Thanksgiving and do your parent’s here for Christmas?”
I frowned, “What?”
He was leaving in two days for New York and the tickets were booked. He looked worried. I got off the bed, pulling his face down to mine and kissed him hard. “Yeah, of course. I’ll take care of switching the flights and shit.”
He sighed, “Okay, here.” He handed me his credit card.
I kissed him, “Stop stressing, baby. You got this. New York is going to be amazing.”
He looked stormy, “I want you there.”