CAN’T BUY LOVE

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Bleeding Love

I scour the bobbing faces that comprise the current of humanity streaming past my window. None of the unfamiliar features belong to the man I crave. Rick. Where is he? He should stride by my booth in Amsterdam’s red light district, or maybe hop inside for quick relief—his and mine—and end up being a few minutes late to his post as a bouncer for the live sex show debauching the other end of the block.

Should.

If he maintains his clockwork schedule. Sometime in the past three years since I’d opened my window to negotiate the first of a million not-so-standard suck and fucks with him, I’d noted his rock-solid patterns in the recess of my mind. Worse, I’d become accustomed to his routine. Until he let me down by withholding my glimpse of him.

For two weeks straight.

My cell phone’s simple bell tone startles me, jarring me from my obsessive inspection. I don’t have to leave my perch on my stool to reach the tiny stand holding my ledger, a lockbox, a clock and my phone. I tilt the screen toward myself, hoping the glowing readout proclaims Rick is attempting to contact me despite never having given him my unlisted number.

Oh crap. Not only is it not him, but it also seems I’ve been busted.

I hit the receive button, bracing myself for a typhoon of well-intended scolding.

“Perk it up over there, sister!”

I can’t help it. I laugh when Mari shouts so I can hear while I bring the device to my ear. She’s not psychic. She works the booth across the street from mine. I glance up to witness her blowing me a kiss. Instead of catching it, I bat it back with my middle finger.

A couple stares at me as though I’m crass simply because of my profession. Well, if the gesture fits…

“Don’t you have anybody else to harass? Your regular Tuesday-at-nine customer likes it when you spank him. Save it for someone who will reward your effort.”

Mari sticks her tongue out at me, catching the interest of a young man in ripped jeans who probably couldn’t afford a fifteen-minute session with the high-end workers in this section of the district. Too bad, he seems cute and frisky. Exactly the type Mari prefers and attracts with her
lighthearted, playful offering.

“Seriously, Star.” Mari pauses her habitual swaying to meet my gaze across the canal and the river of people passing us by. “Are you all right? I’ve never seen you so solemn. No dancing, no flirting, no smiles for the shy guys…”

“I’m fine.”

“Just lovesick.”

“How the hell did this happen?” I massage the ache at the base of my neck.

“Well, you met this smoking-hot guy who doesn’t seem to mind that you service other men for a living. Then somehow you left him hanging.”

“Mari—”

“Sorry, Star, I’m just joking. Not the right time. I know.” She’s seldom serious and I can’t fault her for it now. Men adore banging her silly. Perky and intelligent don’t often pair up. And it’s not as though she’s entirely wrong. “I hate that you’re hurting. It’s like the time that drunk bastard hit me when I wouldn’t agree to anal and you flew off the handle. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t chased him off with your wicked heels. I just… Let me be here for you?”

“I appreciate the thought. But there’s no bad guy this time. No one to hunt and destroy.”

“More like someone to hold hostage and perform all your tricks for until he sees what a mistake he’s making. Look, maybe Rick’s spending an extended time with his family. You said he’s close to them, right? He headed home for the holidays. I’m sure…”

“I convinced myself that was the case for the first week. The holiday season is peak time around here, sex shows included. Tommy can’t be down his best bouncer for that long. Rick has to be back by now.”

“Do you want me to ask around? I can take a break later tonight and run over there quick. I can be stealthy.”

“What part of daisy dukes and two sunflowers on fishing line covering your ginormous tits will camouflage you in the middle of winter?” I glare at her from my post. “Don’t you dare. No way. I won’t be that girl. Come on, how attractive is it when one of our clients turns clingy? Takes things too far. Rick and I fucked. Onstage. For a ton of cash. And celebrated afterward in private. It might not have meant anything more to him.”

“And you?”

“It doesn’t matter if he never shows up at my window again. He’s allowed to change his mind.”

“Shit, and he was a loyal customer too. Maybe your best.”

“No kidding. I’ll miss…” I can’t bring myself to admit it. “The income.”

“Liar.”

“Bitch.” I smile as I deliver the lighthearted curse. “Pay attention. The younger, blond-haired guy approaching from the north looks interested. He’s done a not-so-subtle browse twice already, debating. Seems like he could be a fun one. Nice body under that soft gray fleece.”

“Damn, you’re right. I gotta go. I’ll check in later. Maybe we can grab some breakfast?”

“Sure.” If my appetite for nourishment in forms other than a hunky bouncer reappears anytime soon.

Why did Mari have to plant her wild ideas in my brain—in my heart? She couldn’t have known Rick’s boss Tommy had arranged to drop off my check from the Kinkmas pageant in less than a half an hour. How hard would it be to ask, casually, if Rick had made it home yet?

Damn it, no. If my costar—my client, my friend and the only true lover I’ve ever had—cares for me to know where the hell he’s vanished to, he’ll impart the news himself. Did my decision to walk away after a night of public thrills and private sharing kill any chance we had to sustain even our casual relationship? Had he realized dating a sex worker couldn’t lead to anything but disaster?

Truth is, I’m afraid to ask. I’ve nurtured the fuzzy tingles in my belly, hoping for another chance to stretch our boundaries or at least return to the intimate exchange of pleasure we’ve perfected over numerous sessions in my window.

The answer could fracture the delicate spark glowing in my core. It’s too new, too brilliant for me to take the chance.

So, I stand here, wearing the platform-heeled boots that make me the perfect height for Rick to fuck while I’m standing, bent over on my loft stairs. I wait—not so patiently. I dream—of what might have been with one special partner while hundreds of others consider purchasing the goods I would freely give my absent lover. A fraction of what I’d gift him with really since our trust ensures I’d journey deeper into kinky sexuality in his arms than I would with the average patron.

Our electrifying Christmas show had proved the extremes we were willing to indulge in onstage before the admiring gazes of a thousand or so strangers. Could Rick abandon what they’d all applauded, the chemistry arcing between us as bright as the sparks he’d harnessed to thrill me? My hand slips over my ribs to cup my breast, rubbing my straining nipple.

A man crashes into the bicycle rack in front of my window.

Not the first time that’s happened. Mari and I have joked about strapping a pillow to the weathered metal or covering the flaking paint with a coat of florescent orange to avoid a negligence lawsuit.

Even the unintended compliment can’t inspire my smile for long. I miss the radiance of Rick’s eyes, the imperfection of his twice-broken nose and the well-muscled frame he fills out so damn well. Almost as much as I mourn the loss of his open-minded acceptance, genuine attentiveness and the natural attraction that billows between us like a mushroom cloud whenever we enter the same space.

A gnawing ache twists my stomach. Hunger has built inside me since I rejected the feast Rick offered on Christmas day. Despite my ironclad belief it had been the right decision for Rick and his family, fifteen days have oozed by with the bizarre unnaturalness of ultra-slow-motion video. By running out on Christmas day, I sacrificed my chance to go back for seconds, thirds or five hundred and seventy-sixths of the passion he inspires in me, sweeter than any dessert. Like a woman on a restrictive fad diet, the longing for a taste of him—even just a quick blowjob—is driving me insane.

When did I become the sort of woman who reconsiders her outfit in case a particular male happens to catch a glimpse of it? Or one who fusses with arranging herself at the best possible angle for viewing from his usual direction of approach?

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment he altered me.

Still, that doesn’t stop me from scrutinizing each tall tourist with close-cut yet messy hair or wilting a tiny bit more with each near miss.

I glance at the clock beside my ledger. Quarter after nine. His shift has already begun. He’s never late—too dependable for tardiness. A do-gooder bad boy, if such a thing is possible. He’s not coming. Again.

My sigh buffets the soft, natural waves of my hair, which hides my eyes as I study the ancient hardwood flooring. Until a familiar triple knock rattles the glass.

Snapping to attention, I lift my face. The neon lights outside blind me for a moment as my pupils dilate. I can’t mistake the distinctive rap of one of my key customers.

Oh thank you, thank you.