Charlotte - Lisa Helen Gray

PROLOGUE

Music blares through the club, vibrating through the back of the booth I’m sitting in. The stench of sweat and beer lingers in the air as bodies mill around the busy hot spot. Tease is a popular strip club and has all kinds of clientele.

Bored, single chicks being one of them.

I swirl the paper umbrella in my cocktail, staring at the orange liquid as it makes a tiny tornado.

Sighing, I sit back in the booth whilst people-watching those in the club and immediately spot Candy. I send her a wave and smile as she approaches me, her tiny sequined thong the only thing on her toned body. Candy isn’t her real name— it’s Harriet— but she likes to keep her anonymity working here. I guess she doesn’t want her other job or the university she attends to find out she’s a stripper—not that there’s anything wrong with it.

She sits down next to me, placing a shot next to my cocktail that’s still full. “What’s up tonight, Charlie? You don’t seem yourself. Misty is worried too.”

Misty is Olivia’s stripper name. All my friends have one, and it’s always how they are addressed in the club, no matter who they are talking to.

Over the past year, these guys have become good friends of mine. I only see them on the odd occasion outside the strip club, but our time together is spent having fun. I love them. They’re outgoing, confident, and full of life. There are times when I wish I could be just like them. They even loaned me and Lily some outfits once, to wear to Faith’s engagement party, but it was a miss. I’m not cut out for high heels and tight dresses.

I shouldn’t be surprised they would read my mood. They’re very intuitional.

I turn to look at her. “I’m fine,” I lie, leaning into her so she can hear me. Her sweet perfume masks the smell of sweat coming from the men in the room and I relax a little.

She nudges my shoulder. “Want a lap dance?”

I pick up my drink, turning the umbrella once again as I think about her offer. “Not tonight, Harriet.”

She pulls the drink out of my hand and I glance up at her, startled. “C’mon. Tell me what’s going on.”

“Why do you think there’s anything going on?”

“Because in all the time I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you upset.” She pauses for a minute, arching an eyebrow. “And you never turn down a lap dance.”

She has a point. I do make it my mission not to get sad. As for the lap dance, they’re for research.

“What do you want from life?” I ask, taking her off guard.

“Apart from money, I want to buy a holiday home in Spain and own my own business someday.”

I shake my head. “No, I mean, what do you want aside from that? Do you want kids? A husband?”

She shrugs. “I’ve never really thought past getting my degree.”

I fiddle with my umbrella again. “See, I want kids. I want a husband. I want to make someone dinner ready for when they come home. I want to read bedtime stories to my kids.”

Her gaze softens. “But what about other things?”

I shrug. “I have everything. I have a great family. I have a business I love. And I write. Books are a huge part of my life, but I want my happily ever after.”

“You’re so young,” she states.

“I’m twenty-one this year.”

“Like I said, still young. You’ve got plenty of time to have all of that.”

She’s right, I do. I just don’t want to wait anymore. All my generation in my family are pairing off. Faith is engaged. Aiden has a daughter and a girlfriend. Landon, who I miss terribly, is even living with Paisley, who I’m sure will want to start a family soon. Lily is married and I’m sure it won’t be long until she’s pregnant. And now Hayden has found someone. I’m alone for the first time in my life, and as they’re all moving forward, I’m stuck.

“I guess.”

“Want to go and see if Dave will let you make some cocktails?” she asks, her bare breasts rubbing against my arm.

I grab my bag. “No. He’s still mad about me setting the counter and Jen’s wig on fire.”

She laughs, throwing her head back. “The bitch had it coming. He’s over it. You know he loves you.”

“I’m going to get back, but I’ll see you next week.”

She stands and wraps her arms around me, pulling me in for a hug. “Don’t be