By Lisabet Sarai
I strip for the fun of it. Don't let anyone tell you different. It's not the money. I could make nearly as much working at the mill and keep my clothes on, but then I'd have to suck up to the bosses. Here at the Peacock, I'm the one in charge, and I like it that way.
Sometimes I think it's a sort of revenge, for all the times I heard those nasty calls trailing after me: Honey Jugs, Monster Boobs, Bouncer. Not to mention those sweaty, awkward clinches in back seats, trying to please. Trying to be popular. Now they can't take their eyes off my breasts, swinging back and forth in time to the music. Their tongues are hanging out. I can see the tents in their laps. They all want me; I know how to make them want me. I'm an expert. But I'm off limits. They can look, they can drool, they can beg me. But my job's to turn them on and bring them to the bursting point, then send them home unsatisfied.
That's my view, anyway. Some of the other girls think different. All in all, though, the Peacock Lounge is a pretty classy joint, not like some of sleaze pits down near the railroad.
I love the moment when the lights come down, and the DJ introduces me. There's this strange pause, as if I was floating. I can feel them out there, the audience, holding their breath. Then, I hear the first notes of my routine. Energy surges through me. I'm one hundred percent alive. My nipples get hard and my sex tingles when I step out onto the stage and meet their eyes.
That's my secret weapon: eye contact. Up close and personal. I can bump and grind, shake my tits in their faces, bend over so they get a good look at the G-string settled in my ass-crack. It doesn't do any good without my stare. I try to see their darkest fantasies. This one pictures me sitting on him, his mouth burrowing in my bush. That one wants me to hold his dick while he pees. That guy in the back, oh, he's bad news. He aches to tie me up and beat me with his belt. Tough luck, feller. Dream on.
I don't know whether what I see is real or just my imagination, but it has a real effect. They feel my eyes; they think I know them. They get all flustered and embarrassed, wave to me, stick their tens and twenties into my G-string. Watching me, anxious-like, all the time.
Meanwhile, it turns me on. I dance a lot better when I'm horny. Sometimes I play with myself a bit before my set, to get myself into the mood. Then I hold my fingers under their noses, and watch their reactions.
I feed off their desire. The more they want me, the hotter I get, the better I dance. The more outrageous I become. So, it's particularly annoying tonight that this one guy in the front row doesn't react at all.
I've been writing forever and publishing for more than a decade: six novels, at least fifty short stories, plus a handful of neither-fish-nor-fowl creations. Though I'm not what you'd call prolific, that's still a lot of characters under the bridge. Nevertheless, when I consider the question of who is my favorite, Stella wins, hands down.
Stella Xanathakeos is the heroine of my erotic thriller Exposure. She was born one theme weekend in the Erotica Readers and Writers Association Storytime critique group. The theme was “Erotic Noir”. I'd never tried writing that dark, hard-boiled genre, where nothing is as it seems and no one is to be trusted, but it sounded like an enjoyable challenge. Stella's first line came to me out of the blue, and I immediately had the sense of who she was: a tough, no-nonsense broad who is not going to let anyone tell her what to do. I wrote “Private Dance” in a couple of hours, working in a charismatic politico with mob ties, his ice-cold henchman, a secret camera and a double murder. Members of Storytime suggested I try another tale involving Stella. The result was “Black Widow”, which eventually became the second chapter in Exposure. At this point I discovered that Stella was bi-sexual, that in fact she'd had a torrid love affair with a fellow waitress at the Lebanese restaurant where she'd worked for a while.
Clearly there was more to Stella than just the noir stereotypes. I had to write her novel; I didn't have any choice.
One reason that I love Stella is that she's not much like me. She's big and curvy, a Greek goddess of a woman, with olive skin, long black tresses and dark eyes. I'm petite, fair and Jewish-looking. She's working class with just a high school diploma. I've got degrees coming out of my ears. She grew up in a row house in a shabby but ethnic Pittsburgh neighborhood. I'm a child of middle-class, East Coast suburbia. Mostly, though, she has a lot more guts than I will ever have. In Exposure, she devotes herself to solving the murders—not who done it, since that's obvious, but why—in the face of increasingly scary threats. I used to dream about being Nancy Drew but in fact I'm so timid I hate making phone calls to strangers.
Stella's also a mass of contradictions. Even when she's acting tough, she's emotionally vulnerable. She's proud of her independence, yet lonely. She claims to be particularly choosy about her sexual involvements, but she can't resist the call of lust. She might be a stripper, but she's also a lady, and wants to be treated like one.
Here's a scene with one of the villains that may help you understand her a bit better.
White's house is very grand, even bigger and fancier than Francesca's. I am determined not to be impressed. The leaded glass door is opened by a sour-faced maid in a black uniform. I hand her one of the business cards that Francesca insisted on having printed. She doesn't try to pronounce my name.
"Mr. White is waiting for you in the library." She points to the French doors on the left of the winding staircase. My heels click aggressively on the black and white marble tiles of the entry way.
White opens the door before I can knock. "Come in, Ms. Xanathakeos. Or can I call you Stella?"
"Actually, I'd prefer Ms. Xanathakeos, if you don't mind."
Graham White grins at me. No, that's not right, he leers. He puts a hand on my arm, as if to lead me into the room, and I have an almost overwhelming urge to punch him in the nose.
I manage to control myself. Barely. Only the thought that I am representing Francesca keeps me from treating him the way I'd treat a pushy customer at the Peacock.
I snatch my arm away from him. He shrugs and settles into an armchair on one side of a magnificent stone fireplace decorated with what probably are priceless Chinese antiques. He gestures at the matching chair opposite him. "Please, sit down, Ms. Xanathakeos." The way he drawls out my name makes me want to punch him even more. Still, I sit, needing to take the weight off my ankle.
"You told me on the phone that you have some important information for me. What information?"
"Actually, it's more of a proposal."
I sit silent, waiting for him to continue.
"As you can imagine, I have been watching your campaign work for Francesca Pinelli. Watching quite closely. You're doing a bang-up job."
"Thank you – I suppose."
"What I'd like to propose is that you come work for me."
I burst out laughing. I can't help it. I can see the headlines: Stripper becomes hot political property.
"I'm serious, Ms. Xanathakeos. I'll pay you three times whatever Francesca's paying you."
Gradually, my laughter fades away. But the situation still strikes me as absurd. "Really, Mr. White, do you think that I'm for sale to the highest bidder?"
White leans forward eagerly. "Everyone has their price. I'm willing to meet yours."
I look him over, sizing him up. Big, sort of puffy, but not really fat. Thick copper-colored hair, prominent nose, fleshy lips. As I had noticed at the funeral, he has the rosy complexion of someone with high blood pressure.
His eyes are a bit of a shock, crystalline blue, and cold as shards of ice, despite his broad politician's smile. I hold his gaze, trying to glimpse his secret perversions, and fail utterly. The only thing I see in him is raw ambition.
He thinks that I am considering his proposition. I could string him along, but I'd like to get out of his obnoxious presence as quickly as possible.
"There's not a chance, Mr. White, that I'd ever work for you."
His eyes narrow and his face gets redder. "Why not? I hope it's not out of loyalty to the poor bereaved widow. Because let me tell you, my dear, you can't trust Francesca Pinelli. She'll discard you as soon as she doesn't need you anymore."
"I'm not your 'dear', Mr. White. And my arrangement with Ms. Pinelli is strictly temporary, in any case."
"Oh, are you trying to tell me she doesn't have her claws in you yet?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, and frankly, I don't care." I stand as gracefully as I can with my bad ankle. "This interview is over. Don't bother to get up. I can find my way out."
His face is a mottled crimson. White splutters – that's the only way to describe it – trying to get sufficient control of himself to speak. As I'm closing the door behind me, he finally finds his voice. "You'll be sorry, you slut," he yells after me. "I'll make you sorry." There is a loud crash from the library, then another.
I feel as though I know Stella very well. I sometimes ask myself why I don't write her a sequel. One reason is that Exposure hasn't sold all that well. With its F/F and M/F sex, its menacing atmosphere, and its ambiguous ending, it thoroughly mixes up genres. Maybe that confuses readers. I'd love to follow Stella to Greece and see what happens to her there, but these days I've been sufficiently corrupted by the market that I don't want to spend my time writing something that nobody will read.
Then there's the fact that readers expect a sequel not only to feature the same characters but to have a similar atmosphere and plot. In Exposure, Stella loses a lot. I'm not sure that I want to put her through something like that again, not to mention the effort involved in plotting out even moderately plausible mystery. I could write another erotic novel featuring Ms. Xanathakeos, but I'm not that keen to do another noir.
I do adore her, though. If she were real, I'd want to be her friend, despite our differences—or maybe even her lover.
There's a soft knock. I hobble over to the door and peer through the peephole to confirm that it's Jimmy. It seems to take hours for me to unfasten the chain and retract the bolt, but I finally get the door open.
"Hi, Stella." His voice is soft, concerned. It feels like a caress. "I didn't want to ring the bell. Figured your nerves were kind of shot, the last thing you need is the jangling."
Jimmy looks a bit rumpled. His sandy hair is in his eyes. His white business shirt is damp, wrinkled and untucked in the back. He needs a shave.
He looks good enough to eat.
"Come on in out the rain. I'm so glad to see you."
"Not as glad as I am to see you." Jimmy wraps his arms around me in what begins as a brotherly hug. He buries his face in my hair, breathing deeply. "I've been so worried about you, Stella. This whole thing with the murders..."
"Shush, let's not talk about that." I am enjoying the feel of his lean, strong body pressed against mine. I ignore the dull ache from my bruised ribs. I want him to be my only reality. He smells clean, despite his disarray: soap, menthol, some kind of lemony after shave. Just a hint of sweat, enough to blend the other scents into something organic and distinctly Jimmy. Breathing him in, I feel a bit light-headed, like he was some kind of drug. My knees go weak, and I hold onto him more tightly.
"Stella..." he whispers. His hands begin to roam, gliding from my back under my arms to cradle my breasts. He holds them almost reverently, ignoring for the moment the swollen, demanding nipples poking into his chest.
I adjust my position, inserting one thigh between his legs, to seek out the rigid bulk I know I'll find there. Ooh, Jimmy! Very nice! I rub myself back and forth over his cock, teasing, feeling him grow even bigger and harder. A shudder runs through his frame and I think for a moment that I've gone too far, that he's already going to come. I try to back away, but he grabs me and pulls me back, grinding his thigh against my pubis.
Even through two layers of cloth, my clit pulses and throbs exquisitely. I reach around and grab his butt cheeks so that I can control the friction. He does the same to me. For I don't know how long, we stand there tangled up in the doorway, dry-humping each other like two teenagers.
I'm halfway to coming, when he stops suddenly. I start to protest, but he silences me with a rich, delicious kiss. It's strong and sweet like Greek coffee, brazen tongue probing, shy lips nibbling. I kiss him back eagerly, trying to pour all my gratitude and my lust into the moment.
All at once I'm off balance. Before I realize what is happening, Jimmy sweeps me up in his arms and carries me into the parlor. "Jimmy, you'll hurt yourself!" I'm half laughing, half concerned. I'm not a small woman, and Jimmy's no Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"Just relax and let me do the work." He settles me gently on the couch and for a moment just stands back to look at me, something like adoration in his eyes. I'm embarrassed by his intensity. I focus my attention on the appealing bulge in his groin.
"Why don't you open your fly and make yourself more comfortable?" I reach for his zipper, but he catches my hands in his, holding them tight. His lips twist in an odd half-smile.
"Why don't you let someone else take control for a change?" A flicker of fear shimmers through me. I have the strange notion that he is planning to get out his handcuffs and restrain me. I swear, the image is so vivid, it must come from his mind. All my years of dancing have made me sensitive to men's perverse desires.
Terror seizes me briefly. I wonder if I can escape. Then lust floods in, and I wonder if I want to.
See what I mean?