Paper Princess Page 3

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Daddy G’s is a shithole, but it’s a lot nicer than some of the other clubs in town. Then again, that’s like saying, “Take a bite of this rotten chicken. It’s not as green and moldy as these other pieces.” Still, money is money.

Callum Royal’s appearance at the school has been eating at me all day. If I had a laptop and an Internet connection, I would’ve Googled the guy, but my old computer is broken and I haven’t had the cash to lay out for a replacement. I didn’t want to trek to the library to use theirs, either. It’s stupid, but I was scared if I left the apartment, Royal might ambush me on the street.

Who is he? And why does he think he’s my guardian? Mom never once mentioned his name to me. For a moment earlier, I wondered if he might be my father, but those papers said my dad was deceased, too. And unless Mom lied to me, I know my dad’s name wasn’t Callum. It was Steve.

Steve. That always felt made-up to me. Like, when your kid says, “Tell me about my daddy, Mama!” and you’re on the spot so you blurt out the first name that comes to mind—“Uh, his name was, um, Steve, honey.”

But I hate to think that Mom was lying. We’d always been honest with each other.

I push Callum Royal out of my mind, because tonight is my debut at Daddy G’s, and I can’t let some middle-aged stranger in a thousand-dollar suit distract me. There are already enough middle-aged men in this joint to occupy my thoughts.

The club is packed. I guess Catholic schoolgirl night is a big draw at Daddy G’s. The tables and booths on the main floor are all occupied, but the raised level that holds the VIP lounge is deserted. Not a surprise. There aren’t many VIPs in Kirkwood, this small Tennessee town outside of Knoxville. It’s a blue-collar town, mostly lower class. If you make more than 40K a year, you’re considered filthy rich. That’s why I chose it. The rent’s cheap and the public school system is decent.

The dressing room is in the back, and it’s full of life when I walk inside. Half-naked women glance over at my entrance. Some nod, a couple smile, and then they refocus their attention on securing their garter belts or applying their makeup at the vanity tables.

Only one rushes over to me.

“Cinderella?” she says.

I nod. It’s the stage name I’ve been using at Miss Candy’s. Seemed fitting at the time.

“I’m Rose. George asked me to show you the ropes tonight.”

There’s always one mother hen in every club—an older woman who realizes she’s losing the fight against gravity and decides to make herself useful in other ways. At Miss Candy’s, it had been Tina, the aging bleached blonde who took me under her wing from moment one. Here, it’s the aging redhead Rose, who clucks over me as she guides me toward the metal rack of costumes.

When I reach for the schoolgirl uniform, she intercepts my hand. “No, that’s for later. Put this on.”

Next thing I know, she’s helping me into a black corset with crisscrossed laces and a lacy black thong.

“I’m dancing in this?” I can barely breathe in the corset, let alone reach in front of me to unlace it.

“Forget what’s up top.” She laughs when she notices my halted breathing. “Just wiggle that bottom of yours and ride Richie Rich’s pole, and you’ll be fine.”

I give her a blank look. “I thought I was going on stage?”

“George didn’t tell you? You’re doing a private dance in the VIP lounge now.”

What? But I just got here. From my experience at Miss Candy’s, normally you dance on stage a few times before any of the customers request a private show.

“Must be one of your regulars from your former club,” Rose guesses when she notices my confusion. “Richie Rich just waltzes in here like he owns the place, hands George five hundies, and tells ’im to send you over.” She winks at me. “Play it right and you’ll squeeze a few more Benjamins outta him.”

Then she’s gone. Flouncing off to one of the other dancers, while I stand there debating if this was a mistake.

I like to play it off like I’m tough, and yeah, I am, to some extent. I’ve been poor and hungry. I was raised by a stripper. I know how to throw a punch if I have to. But I’m only seventeen. Sometimes that feels too young to have lived the life I have. Sometimes I look around at my surroundings and think, I don’t belong here.

But I am here. I’m here, and I’m broke, and if I want to be that normal girl I’m desperately trying to be, then I need to walk out of this dressing room and ride Mr. VIP’s pole, as Rose so nicely phrased it.

George appears as I step into the hallway. He’s a stocky man with a full beard and kind eyes. “Did Rose tell you about the customer? He’s been waiting for you.”

Nodding, I swallow awkwardly. “I don’t have to do anything fancy, right? Just a regular lap dance?”

He chuckles. “Get as fancy as you like, but if he touches you, Bruno’ll haul him out on his ass.”

I’m relieved to hear that Daddy G’s enforces the no-touching-the-merchandise rule. Dancing for slimy men is a lot easier to swallow when their slimy hands don’t get anywhere near you.

“You’ll do fine, girl.” He pats my arm. “And if he asks, you’re twenty-four, okay? No one over thirty works here, remember?”

What about under twenty? I almost ask. But I keep my lips pressed tight. He has to know I’m lying about my age. Half the girls here are. And I may have lived a hard life, but no way do I look thirty-fricking-four. The makeup helps me pass for twenty-one. Barely.

George disappears into the dressing room, and I take a breath before heading down the hallway.

The sultry bass line greets me in the main room. The dancer on stage just unbuttoned her white uniform shirt, and the men go wild at the first sight of her see-through bra. Dollar bills rain on the stage. That’s what I focus on. The money. Screw everything else.

Still, I’m so bummed at the thought of leaving GW High and all those teachers who actually seem to care about what they’re teaching. But I’ll find another school in another town. A town where Callum Royal won’t be able to find—

I halt in my tracks. Then I spin around in a panic.

It’s too late. Royal has already crossed the shadowy VIP lounge and his strong hand encircles my upper arm.

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