Chapter 1 – Tangled

Steele Ranch – Book 3

© 2018 Vanessa Vale


“You’ve got ten minutes,” Schmidt growled, pushing an outfit at me.

“Put this on and come back out. Find some shoes that fit.” He pointed to the floor behind me. The thump of the base from the song blaring in the main room came through the floor, the thin walls. The scent of stale beer and smoke lingered.

I glanced about at my new reality. The space was small, an oversized closet. A fluorescent light bar affixed to the ceiling cast everything in a harsh glare. Two moveable hanging racks flanked me, lingerie and the skimpiest of outfits hanging from them. Red lace, shiny metal lamé, cheerleader and schoolgirl skirts along with midriff baring tops. On the floor were a variety of fuck-me shoes with at least four-inch heels in all colors of patent pleather.

I glanced down to what he’d shoved in my hands. A nurse’s outfit. A white dress—if it could be called that, with short sleeves and even shorter hem—with Velcro closures on the front instead of buttons. Beneath it, I was to wear a white bikini top, made up of two tiny triangles, and a matching G-string, also white, which had a red plus sign right on the front as if my crotch was the source of medical help.

My stomach roiled at the thought of what they expected. I couldn’t go out there and strip! I couldn’t even put the outfit on.

“I can’t do this,” I said, pleading. One last time. I’d been doing it for the past two hours, ever since they’d taken me from my apartment.

“You don’t have a choice, sweetheart.” Schmidt—I assumed it was his last name, but it was all I knew him by—was in his fifties, built like a whiskey barrel, and had a cigarette dangling from his lip. I’d seen the gun in the waistband of his pants. Nothing unusual since it was Montana and everyone carried, even little old ladies, but I didn’t think his was as much for protection as enforcement of his wishes.

While he hadn’t laid a finger on me, I knew he wouldn’t hesitate to do so if he wanted. Same for his sidekick, Rocky. Especially after Rocky had grabbed me and dragged me out of my apartment and to my car. I’d had no choice but to drive us to this seedy place on the edge of town. I’d had thoughts of jumping out at a stoplight, but I knew he’d just drag me back, pissed off.

Maybe it would’ve been better to have jumped into an intersection instead of being where I was now. I couldn’t get past Schmidt since he was almost as wide as the doorway, but even if I could, Rocky was looming behind him. And with both of them armed, I didn’t risk it. I didn’t think they were killers, but I didn’t put rape past them. Their way to persuade me most likely involved me on my knees or on my back.

“I paid you the amount I owed,” I reminded him. Again. Desperation laced my words.

He laughed at that, his eyes roaming over me in my jeans and plain t-shirt. “Not the interest.”

“I paid that, too. Twenty percent.”

He grinned, slowly shook his head as if he were talking to an idiot. Maybe I was one since I was standing in the back room of a seedy strip club. “Sweetheart, I told you, it’s compound interest. Didn’t you learn anything about that in the fancy college classes you borrowed money to take?”

The anatomy and physiology class I’d taken covered how his ACL would be torn if I kicked him in the knee the way I wanted, but it hadn’t had any quizzes on being screwed over by a shifty loan shark. I’d been so stupid taking money from him. I could practically see the diploma I’d worked so hard to get, except a new transmission had put me behind, no matter how many extra shifts I’d worked.

He grinned, his crooked teeth yellow. He had me, and I had a very good feeling the compound interest would never go away. I was fucked. So damned fucked.

“That outfit’s special, just for you since you’re studying to be a nurse and all.”

I was nauseated, realizing he remembered why I’d borrowed money from him in the first place. It hadn’t been to pay for a drug habit, dammit! It was college, to fucking better myself! How long had he been keeping an eye on me?

“I don’t know how to strip,” I said, licking my dry lips, stating the obvious. I could barely dance; my friends always teased me that I had no rhythm.

“You take your clothes off every damned day,” he countered. “It’s not that hard, and as long as you show those big tits and tease the guys with a glimpse of a tight pussy at the end, no one will know.”

Tears burned at the back of my eyes. “I’ve never done this before.”

“Sweetheart, you’re the Virgin Nurse. Everyone’s going to love watching you get your stripper cherry popped out there. You only have to strip until your debt’s paid.”

“Two thousand dollars?” I replied. “That’s one-hundred percent interest and a hell of a lot of stripping.”

He lifted a beefy shoulder. “You can take customers in the back room. Lap dances pay more, especially if you give them a happy ending.”

Gag. I knew what he meant. Fucking strangers or sucking their dicks for extra money. A happy ending for me would be to walk out of here and never see him again.

“You can show me how good you are after closing.” He winked and I threw up a little in my mouth.
I wasn’t a virgin and I liked sex a little wild, but there was no way I was doing anything with him, or anyone else in this place. I slowly shook my head, my eyes wide.

“I can go to the police,” I added, although the threat, I knew, was empty.

His smile shifted to lethal. “Tell anyone and sucking dicks for a twenty isn’t all you’ll be doing. Hope you liked that semester of school. Payback’s a bitch.” He just smiled. “Ten minutes.”

He stepped back, slammed the door shut, making the metal hangers rattle.

I gulped, let the tears fall. Shit, shit! I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t stand before a roomful of strange men and dance, let alone take my clothes off. I’d been naked in front of guys before, but those times had been completely different. Consensual. Fun. A little wild. No, a whole lot wild. But this?

I had money. Now. Not at the beginning of summer semester when I’d borrowed from Schmidt. Last week when I’d received the official letter in the mail, I hadn’t believed it. My father, whom I’d never known, had died and left me money. Lots of it. But if I told Schmidt about the inheritance, he’d want more than the two grand. He’d never leave me alone and that was why I kept it a secret. I wanted to tell him, desperately, so I could get out of here, but at this point, I doubted he’d even believe me.

I’m the heiress to the Steele fortune.

Yeah, right. He’d seen my apartment, my older car. Hell, I’d borrowed money from him. No millionaire needed to borrow money from a loan shark.

The door opened and I jumped, the G-string sliding off the hanger and falling to the floor. “You’re not changing.”

Rocky. Schmidt was definitely in charge and he was all business. I didn’t doubt he fucked the women who worked at his club, but he wasn’t like Rocky. Rocky was all sick leer. Handsy. He’d take me right now if he could get away with it. And he scared me more than the boss.

He bent down, picked up the G-string so it dangled from one of his fingers. “I can help.” His slick grin made my stomach roil.

“I’m going to be sick.” I put a hand over my mouth. Perhaps it was the look on my face or the way I probably turned a funky shade of green, but he jumped back and pointed to the door across the hall. I bolted for the ladies’ room and into the back stall, leaned over the toilet and dry heaved.

The song switched and I knew my turn was coming closer. With one hand on the stained white wall, I caught my breath.

Finished, my stomach hurting, I stood, realizing I still held the hanger with the nurse’s outfit. No way in hell could I put that on.

“Five minutes,” Rocky shouted, pounding on the door. He might have wanted to help me get into the sexy nurse’s outfit, but it seemed he drew the line at holding my hair back as I threw up. He’d remained in the hall. For that, I was grateful.

I had to get out of here, out of this. I’d borrowed the money, yes. I knew, going in, that it was probably stupid, but I’d paid Schmidt back in full. On time. Worked overtime to do so. I never did drugs in my life, didn’t even drink. Had never smoked a cigarette. I’d seen too much in my time in foster care to know what all that did to people and quickly learned no one else was going to take care of me. All my money went to my bills and to school, so I could get my nursing degree and get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck existence.

But Schmidt just wanted to fuck with me, to drag me down. To make extra cash off the backs of those who unfortunately got involved with him. I’d paid him back. I was tired of being taken advantage of. I wasn’t having it, not again.

I stepped out of the stall, looked around. Dingy mint green tile, a cracked mirror. Not enough women came to the strip club to warrant a remodel. But unlike the closet, there was a window. A small one, but a way out. I went to it, fiddled with the latch, then glanced over my shoulder. Rocky could come in at any time. He would, I knew, in less than five minutes if I didn’t come out.

I flipped the worn lock, put my palms on the middle part of the frame and pushed. It shifted, but the paint was old, the wood swollen, my efforts producing a loud creak of protest. Glancing over my shoulder once again, I wondered if Rocky had heard it. Hopefully, the heavy beat of the music hid the noise. A draft of cool air hit me from the small opening I’d created, spurring me to get the thing open.

Two inches of freedom and my adrenaline surged. The window was small, but if I could get it open, I could squeeze out. I would, no matter what. I pushed and worked it open, more, then more still until I could fit through.

I shimmied, squeezed, pushed and worked myself through the opening, putting my hands out to block my head as I fell the few feet to the pavement. Looking around, I got my bearings. I was in the parking lot, the dumpster in front of me, meaning I was on the far side, away from the entrance. It wasn’t dark yet, maybe seven o’clock or so. While the lot was partially full, no one was around. No one witnessed my escape. I just had to hope the place was too low-class for security cameras, at least on this side of the building.

I stood, wiped my hands on my jeans to get the grit off, then ran toward my car. I still had my leather purse slung crosswise over my body. With fumbling fingers, I grabbed my keys from within, looked back to make sure Rocky hadn’t found me missing yet. I only had a minute or two at the most.

Once in my car, I prayed that it would start. They didn’t see me much as a threat, knowing that they could intimidate me—or hurt me—if I didn’t keep coming back night after night and strip until the damned debt was paid. They didn’t need to hold me hostage to keep me a prisoner.

No fucking way. I wasn’t coming back. Ever. I had to get out of here. Out of this parking lot, out of town. I started my POS car and sped out of the lot, barely slowing to make the turn onto the street. My heart jumped in my throat as I saw in the rearview mirror Rocky’s head sticking out the open bathroom window, his eyes murderous.

I couldn’t go home, not even for clothes or the money I had hidden. They knew where I lived and no doubt that would be the first place they’d look for me. All they’d do was grab me and bring me back, the next time with a little more anger and aggression. Probably have a little fun with me first. They’d underestimated me tonight, thankfully, but I knew they wouldn’t a second time.

I put my foot to the floor at the far side of town, the buildings receding behind me. I needed to get lost. Hide. I knew just where to go.

Amazon Apple Nook Kobo Google
Vanessa Vale