Sasha Wyles is on the verge of both the stage career and relationship of her dreams. But just as it looks like Sasha’s girl next door days are over, her affair with the taciturn Officer Hernandez hits a roadblock, and her dream of becoming a sultry burlesque dancer inches out of reach when her sexiness quotient fails to impress at her audition. Enter Vivienne, proprietress of an exclusive BDSM dungeon, who shows up in the nick of time to help Sasha find her inner Salome, and her way back into the arms of the man she loves.
“You’re going,” Lin said. She grabbed Sasha’s slouched shoulder bag and stuffed fishnet knee-highs and a crimson bustier into it. The apartment looked like the contents of a changing room had been thrown into a whirring blender with the lid off. Sasha lay amidst the wreckage like a drowning victim.
“Please. Look at all of this,” Sasha mumbled from under a pile of threadbare, saggy-kneed leggings. “Granny panties, button-down shirts, and only one bra that doesn’t look like I’ve been wearing it to the gym since the nineties. Any remotely sexy piece of clothing in this apartment is here because you brought it. This was a horrible idea.” Lin gave a determined snarl, swept the clothing off of Sasha’s head, and yanked her up to a sitting position on the bed. Her blue-black hair crackled with static as she kicked a path through Sasha’s discarded clothes.
“You have been talking about this audition since that night at Maisie’s. What are the chances that the woman herself would actually invite you to audition on the one day that you have off from the restaurant and your weird acting gig at the police academy? It’s kismet!”
Sasha groaned and flopped back onto the bed. “Reason number one hundred and one why I shouldn’t go. Officer Hernandez was not amused at my cameo onstage last week, and if he finds out that I actually auditioned at his ex-wife’s club? To be a regular? I’m pretty sure our first kiss will be our last. He might even fire me.”
Lin whirled on her friend. “You are fucking kidding me.” She threw a shirt in Sasha’s face, hard enough to make Sasha glad it bore no zippers or buttons. “Don’t even tell me you’re going to let some guy, some uptight, rule-bound tyrant with a protect and serve fetish, to dictate what you do with your spare time. It’s none of his damn business, and if he tried to fire you for doing the cabaret? Oh hell no. We’d take him to fucking court.”
A fleck of foamy spittle glistened on Lin’s lip, and a turquoise vein throbbed in her temple. She was no fan of Sasha’s last boyfriend, Hess, the suave, egotistical head chef at the restaurant where they both worked. Hernandez fared no better under her critical eye, not that he was anywhere close to being Sasha’s boyfriend. Sasha knew Lin wouldn’t be sympathetic if she let herself get mixed up with yet another controlling asshole. But Hernandez wasn’t a controlling asshole. Was he?
“Okay, so maybe he wouldn’t fire me,” Sasha said, “but he made it pretty clear that seeing me up on stage next to his ex-wife with my tits hanging out was not his favorite moment. And I like him, Lin. He’s a legitimately good person. I know he is. He’s just got baggage like the rest of us. I’ve never been drawn to anyone like him before. He’s so…upright.”
“Uptight more like,” Lin snapped, aggressively flattening the wrinkles out of a silk camisole. “You don’t even call him by his first name. Sounds like a real teddy bear, Sash.”
“He’s decent.” More or less. Sasha let her mind drift back to the scorching kiss she and Hernandez shared the last time they saw each other at the police academy. Weak and shaking from an intense day of playing a civilian in severe psychosis, she’d found herself leaning into the officer’s reassuring arms. The next thing she knew, they were locked in a torrid embrace. She had no idea until that moment that he had any but professional interest in her, but the length of his muscular body pressed against her and his hot, seeking mouth left no doubt. They’d barely avoided being caught in a clinch by one of the recruits, and were obliged to say swift, impersonal goodbyes that left no time for hashing out the implications of their newfound connection.
Sasha’s brow wrinkled at the matter of Hernandez’s first name, though. Surely, she knew it and had simply forgotten? No matter. She’d be seeing him tomorrow for a traffic stop simulation in the police academy parking lot. She was certain that everything would feel clearer after that.
Lin clapped her hands in front of Sasha’s face “Yo! I’m not fucking around here, Sash. I would be the worst kind of friend if I let you wuss out of this. You’d never forgive me, and I’d never forgive myself. If Officer No Name is as good and upright as you say, he’s not going to throw a hissy fit because you’re a grown-ass woman making her own grown-ass choices. Now move your grown ass. It’s show time!”
* * * * *
Maisie Beaumont—formerly Hernandez—gave Sasha a wide smile and nodded towards a row of nervous women stretching on the apron of the stage. Maisie was bent over a clipboard held by Martine, the sensual Quebecois woman who, along with her girlfriend Kat, introduced Sasha to the clandestine pleasures of one of Maisie’s “hospitality rooms.” As Sasha approached the stage to warm up for the audition, Martine caught her eye and gave her a satisfied smile, like a cat licking the cream from her whiskers. Sasha blushed and clambered clumsily onto the stage.
“Horrible idea,” she muttered to herself, hitching up the itchy lace bustier Lin insisted she wrangle into. The short silken bloomers—Lord knew where, or why, Lin had acquired those—were more comfortable, but had a tendency to migrate towards the crack of her ass.
“Hey!” A lanky redhead with a smattering of ginger freckles across her nose waved at Sasha. “Just let me know if I’m in your way.” If her welcome hadn’t been so friendly, she would have completely intimidated Sasha with her effortless split across the scarred pine boards of the stage.
“Oh, no worries,” said Sasha. “I prefer to stand.” She fruitlessly tried to catch her foot behind her in a simple quad stretch. Wally was always trying to get her to one of those hot yoga classes, or at least to limber up a little after their shifts running food at L’Auberge, but all she ever wanted at the end of a busy night was a glass of wine, a hot bath, and bed, in that order. If it weren’t for the ridiculously high—and easy to grab—heels on the pink velvet pumps Lin lent her, her quads would have remained woefully un-stretched.
Upon closer inspection, Sasha noted that some of the women were generously proportioned, like her, but they carried themselves with the grace of prima ballerinas. The extra flesh looked perfect and delicious on them. On Sasha, it often felt like a marshmallow suit she couldn’t take off.
“Alright, ladies, listen up please,” Maisie called, clapping her hands as she sashayed towards the stage. Her pendulous, unbound breasts swayed beneath a loosely belted silk kimono. Sasha wondered if the woman ever wore regular clothes. She imagined Maisie at the dentist’s office in exposed garters, or standing in line at the bank with her rouged nipples staring down the security cameras. Sasha snapped to attention when Martine put down her clipboard and sidled up beside Maisie.
“This saucy little gem is Martine, our cabaret choreographer,” Maisie said. “She’s going to take you through some warm-ups, then teach you a simple routine. We just want to see what you can bring to it, OK?” With that, Maisie plunked down at a table beneath the stage and settled in behind a steaming mug of tea to watch. Martine launched her sylph-like body onto the stage and began barking out orders in accented English.
“Please line up eer, yes? And like thees to move, then thees. We do many times.” Martine demonstrated a series of plies and lunges, prompting the women to follow her en masse, as she made her way around the stage. Within ten minutes, even the most lithe among them panted and glistened. The redhead turned the shade of a dew-drenched strawberry, and by the time Martine had drilled them in the dance routine, there wasn’t a dry bustier in the place. It was far more grueling than one would expect from a cabaret show that most people think of as a lot of wiggling and jiggling, but the mechanics were specific and highly synchronized.
Sasha’s body already forecast the pain and soreness that the next day would bring, but she loved every minute of it. Even with the tables encircled by empty chairs and the absence of music, make-up, and costumes, the pulsing energy of the lights brought her alive. The fearful misgivings she had about auditioning burned up like dry leaves in a bonfire under the glare of that sublime spotlight.
When the time came for those who had prepared a song to take the stage, Sasha was eager to be the first in line. While her looks and her timid stage presence often meant directors overlooked her for major roles, Sasha’s voice was her secret weapon. A surprisingly throaty contralto, she’d chosen Ella Fitzgerald’s “Let’s Do It—Let’s Fall in Love” as her audition piece. When her turn came, she declined Martine’s offer of accompaniment on the piano. She knew her voice needed no embellishment.
“Birds do it,” she began, letting the first pure notes vibrate the wine glasses hanging over the bar on the back wall. “Bees do it. Let’s do it. Let’s fall in love.” Sasha let her eyes drift closed as she sang, the lyrics vibrating in her chest as she imagined every micron of space in the club filled with her voice. When she finished, she counted several beats of silence before Maisie spoke.
“Very nice, Sasha. Great choice. Okay, let’s see who’s next?” Maisie ran a blush-colored fingernail down the list of names on her roster. “Leanne? Are you ready?” Sasha tried not to let her disappointment show as she ceded the spotlight to Leanne, a willowy blond with a waist the approximate diameter of a Snapple lid. Maisie’s reaction to Sasha’s secret weapon had been less enthusiastic than she’d hoped for, but as Leanne belted out the first few lines of “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three” from A Chorus Line, Sasha was sure that she was one of the best singers in the room. Hopefully that would be enough.
Sasha moved off behind the dark folds of the curtain on stage left, where she could let her hopes and anxieties play freely across her face. She was terrible at poker, and would be no better at keeping a neutral expression while her fate hung in the balance.
“Ne t’inquiète pas,” Martine purred over her shoulder. Sasha hadn’t noticed Martine evaluating the auditions from the wings, but the cinnamon scent of her breath was unmistakable. “Don’t worry. Maisie likes you, and you have a beautiful voice. She will pick you out of the crowd just like Kat and I did, chérie.” Martine stroked a long fingernail up Sasha’s bare arm, leaving a trail of goose bumps in her wake.
Sasha was grateful for the darkness of the club, and her distance from the other girls waiting for their turn to sing. Martine pressed a firm breast against the back of Sasha’s arm, stroking between her shoulder blades in slow circles. The warmth shot straight to Sasha’s groin, stirring it like melting fondue.
The touch brought her back to the first night they’d met at the nightclub Paradiso, where Kat swept Sasha off her feet and into the coat alcove for the first lesbian lovemaking of her life. Afterwards, when they returned to the dance floor, Martine had indicated that she would be only too happy to continue Sasha’s initiation. It wouldn’t do for Maisie to see Martine petting Sasha like a beloved housecat, but Maisie was busy watching a muscular college girl named Bernice gyrate her way through an a cappella rendition of Kesha’s “Your Love Is My Drug.” She couldn’t see into the shadows where Martine and Sasha stood.
“We talk about zat night,” Martine whispered huskily as her fingers scratched up Sasha’s back and plunged into the hair at the nape of her neck. “We talk about how beautiful it was ze way you came again and again, like a young girl having her first time. You were so hungry also. So curieux. Are you still?”