She’s beautiful. Stunning. Breathtaking.
She’s my game changer.
I’ve never trusted anyone outside my aunt and uncle—and even that took months. I didn’t have it easy growing up. My mom was usually strung out, and she didn’t give me a second thought. Drugs and the men who paid her were more important to her. It was horrible, but I’m stronger today. Because of my past, security is what I need most. Money assures me that I can take care of myself today, tomorrow, and next month. I don’t want to ever be hungry or go without again, so I work hard for every penny.
Oh, by the way, I’m Claire Anderson. I’m a hard-studying sophomore at the University of Bellevue, dancer for the school dance team, and a burlesque dancer at a club, but that’s my secret.
You may think you know how our story ends, but you have no clue. It’s not easy falling in love… or living happily ever after. At first it may seem so, but when is anything worth having ever won without a fight?
Especially when you’re boarded by love.
This has been the toughest year of my life. I watched my brother go into the draft without me, my mom got divorced, and the weight of my family’s issues is heavy on my shoulders. I feel like it’s my job to fix everything while working my butt off in school and trying to make my game better. I have to go into the draft. It will give my family the support they need, and it will prove that I’m good enough. But to get there, I have to show I can be the best captain for the Bellevue Bullies. The spot is mine—no one can take it. First though, Jude is making me go on a brother’s weekend. Innocent enough, I guess…until I see her. She’s the biggest competitor I’ve ever faced. Not only for my spot but also my heart. It’s hard to ignore someone like Baylor Moore.
We both have the same goal. Victory. But how do you compete against the person you want to win? It’s not easy. Love isn’t something you can control. It isn’t like a puck that can be handled by a stick. No, it has a mind of its own and does what it wants.
Neither of us saw it coming, and we really don’t know if there is a way to score, especially when you’re being Clipped by Love.
Jace Sinclair here, and I’m amazing. There is no other way to describe me. I am the leading scorer for the Bellevue Bullies, I’m the captain, and people love me: my family, my teammates, my coach, and the NHL. This is my last year in college–I already have one foot in the draft. Hockey keeps me warm even when it’s freezing. It’s always there when nothing else is. And it pushes me to be the best I can be. It’s my one and only love.
That is, until I see her against a tree with a guitar.
The last thing I wanted was to meet anyone. My heart is on the bench because of what happened with my parents, and I don’t want that for myself. I don’t want to be hurt by anyone. I can’t give them that power.
But my heart is begging for ice time, and I can’t control it around her.
I didn’t want to meet anyone. I didn’t want to end up freezing the puck with him. It’s not what I want.
I have demons.
I have issues.
Living in the shadows, no one even knew until it was too late. But Jace wants to know.
He wants me.
And that scares me the living hell out of me.
We were so worried about what would happen if we fell, but we never thought what could happen in the process of falling. We never saw it coming. But it’s here, and the repercussions are not pretty. We should have known that there is no way out of the zone when you are being Hooked by Love.
Something is off tonight.
I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know why I’m feeling like this tonight. But as I sit staring at myself in the mirror, I can’t help but want more than what I’m doing right now. I mean, I have a good life and I am happy now, but something, something is missing. It honestly makes no sense; I’m actually loved and happy, so I have no clue what is wrong with me. I have everything I need and could ask for. But instead of being thankful and grateful, I question myself – my life – when I shouldn’t because thankfully, I don’t have to live the way I did four years ago.
I no longer have to worry constantly if my mom will be coming home with food instead of drugs or booze, that she wouldn’t be alone. She was never alone. She always came home with some random sleazy guy that she would make me call “uncle,” if he was around for more than five minutes. And soon the food she hopefully brought with her, usually cold, greasy KFC or burgers, would be forgotten. Instead, shit would get weird in our hundred square foot trailer; my heart would race, and I would be hiding underneath my bed from my new “uncle.”
She had a tendency to pick the supershitty guys – it was like her superpower, one I hope she didn’t pass down to me. She especially managed to pick the ones who liked to touch little girls, but thankfully, I was pretty good at getting away. I was always a kicker, a biter, and a nut-puncher. But that all changed when I turned fourteen – my mom brought home a guy that did get to me.
Because that time I didn’t try to get away.
Wasn’t my greatest decision, and I regret it now, but at the time I wanted to feel something. I wanted to feel what my mom felt, because obviously she was feeling something great, judging by the noises she made, but I felt absolutely nothing. I really wanted to eat that day. I hadn’t eaten in four days, I was starving, and he worked at the grocery store, so I figured it was a good bet. I was empty in more ways than one, so I did it to get what I needed.
And because of that moment, for the next two years, I lived just like my mother. Drinking the Two-Buck Chuck she brought home, having sex with any guy who wanted me and promised me dinner. Disgusting, I know. I was basically what my mom was – a whore. And I was living the life I thought I was destined for, living the life I was dealt because no one gave a shit enough to tell me that there could have been anything else.
That all changed when my mom was brutally killed.
It was surreal, and for a long time I didn’t believe it. I also blamed everyone, I think because I was so disgusted in myself that I wasn’t sad. I didn’t miss her. I was glad to be free of her, but I thought that made me a bad person. I was mostly mad at my real uncle for not saving me when he could. I’ll never forget the moment that my uncle Phillip came into my life. I was sixteen, and I was angry that my mom was gone because of her own stupidity. I was scared that I was going to end up like her. For the first time, survival was not the most important option, and I was messed up. My great-aunt had been hell, putting me in religious rehab, calling me a whore and telling me I was just like my mother, and trying to “SAVE ME WITH THE JESUS.” I just couldn’t go back to her version of rehab with the orderlies that had grabby hands. That was not an option, so I did the most logical thing. I tore her house apart and packed what little shit I had and was gone.
I was walking down the street, getting ready to walk right out of town if I had to. But I knew I needed to stop and think, so I went to my favorite place, the Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis where I grew up. As I thought about my next move and what to do, Phillip was there to get me. He was driving from my aunt’s house, trying to find me, and when he did, he wasn’t going anywhere without me. He convinced me to go get waffles at this diner across the street, and it was there that he told me that he wasn’t going to let me go the way he had let his sister go. Of course, I didn’t believe him. I was used to men making promises they didn’t keep just to use me. But now, three years later, I couldn’t be more grateful for him.
At the time, I didn’t understand how anyone thought a single, twenty-nine-year-old man would know how to take care of an angry sixteen-year-old, but obviously someone knew that he was what I needed. It wasn’t easy. The first six months of being with him were complete hell. I drove him crazy; I tried to sleep with a couple of the guys from the Assassins, the team he played pro hockey for. I tried to push every button I could on him, but he never broke. He kept strong, told me he loved me, and would always be there for me, no matter what I did.
I’d never had that.
My mom only told me she loved me when she was strung out, wearing ripped up fishnets with makeup smeared on her face while she leaned back on some guy, his eyes locked on my small, fragile body. Or when she needed me to go to the store for cigarettes, or condoms, or something. And as I got older, she stopped saying it because I was competition for the attention of the men she brought home. I wanted to vomit when she would say it because I knew it wasn’t true. If she really loved me, why was I living in a roach-infested house, hiding under my bed from the fourteenth “uncle” of the month? Why would I lock myself in the bathroom and cry because I was so hungry while she had lines of cocaine laid on every flat surface in the house, higher than a kite. Why wasn’t I important enough?
I was destined to end up like her, and I probably would have ended up like her – beaten, raped, and found in a ditch – if Phillip hadn’t come into my life.
It wasn’t just Phillip, though; it was Reese too, his now soon-to-be wife. Before, I never had goals; I only wanted to get through the next day, wanting to feel anything enough to sleep with the next guy who wanted me. I used to think that I wasn’t worth much, but Reese helped me to see that being a coked-out stripper like my mom wasn’t what I was meant to be. I wasn’t easy to talk to, but she found a way, and that was through dance. I’ve always loved to dance, not of the stripper variety like my mom, but more like the really awesome, choreographed stuff. I would spend hours watching music videos, when my mom would remember to pay the cable bill, and I would mimic the girls in the videos. I was amazing, and when Reese found me doing just that in her sister’s house, the next thing I knew she had me in her studio learning routines with her.
And soon my dream was born.
Even looking at myself now, that dream still wants to be a reality. I feel it in my heart. I want to be a world-famous choreographer, teaching people like Justin Timberlake amazing routines to perform all over the world, or in Vegas, choreographing shows. The only problem is I’m not sure if it will to keep me safe, stable, and steady. I need that. After years of not knowing when my next meal was coming, I can’t just throw caution to the wind and hope I make it. I need safety. I need stability. I’ve had that the last three years because of Phillip, but I can’t depend on him my whole life. I can’t depend on anyone. I have to work for me.
So while I would have loved to go to a dance school like Reese suggested, I decided to stay home near them and go for business. Maybe I’ll take over Reese’s dance studio, or maybe start my own. The possibilities are endless, and I think that maybe I’m working here just to have the option to go do something amazing later.
“Claire, you go on in thirty.”
I nod without looking as I know the voice belongs to Ms. Prissy, before reaching back to French braid my bright red hair. Tucking it up in the back since my hair is so long, I reach for my black wig and slide it on my head. Pinning down the wig real tight, I start to put on my makeup in a rush. I’m running a tad bit behind since I stayed at the studio later, working on a routine for a duet that will compete in a couple weeks. As I apply my eye shadow in a dark, dramatic way, my hand pauses as the only advice my mom ever gave me rushes through my mind: Never look back, baby. That’s a real good way to get hit, head-on.
Crap, why am I thinking of that? I can’t sit here and think of her right now. I don’t do it often, but when I do, I dwell, and right now is not the time to dwell. Ms. Prissy doesn’t like when you’re late, and I try never to be. I needed a job like this and got lucky when she wanted to hire me. I know that Phillip and Reese would give me the world if I asked, but I don’t like to ask for things. I want to stand on my own two feet, be able to afford my next meal, and working here, I’ve managed to bank more than I ever thought, and I don’t plan on stopping until I graduate. Then I’ll have a down payment for a business of my own or to redo Reese’s. I don’t know. We will see.
“Oh my God, Claire!”
I look back at one of my friends, Ellen, with a puzzled look on my face. “What? What happened?
She didn’t look like anything was wrong, but you never knew with her. Ellen reminds me a lot of my mom. She isn’t an addict or anything, but she sure does love the men, and they love her. With her luscious blond hair, big breasts, blue eyes, and big, plump lips, the guys eat her up. She’s sweet, but outside of work, we aren’t friends. I don’t need someone in my life who reminds me of my mom.
“That asshole I was sleeping with, he gave me crabs!”
I gasp, “What? One of your rockers?”
“Rockers” was what the girls who worked in the Rock Room called the guys who came in there. When the station beside me shakes, I look over to see my friend Tessi rushing to get ready. I shoot her a grin before turning back to Ellen.
“No! Heck no, but because I got the crabs, I can’t fucking dance in there till I get rid of them. That’s like a WEEK! I’m so fucking pissed.”
I nod. I’d be pissed too if I actually worked in that room, but I don’t, by choice. I don’t have to grind on some forty-five-year-old for extra money. The girls in the club pay me extra to choreograph their routines – management does too for the group numbers – so I am pretty secure without the extra dough, plus my tips are fantastic. Some of the girls say they bring home thousands, but still, I can’t do it. There is a difference between dancing onstage in only a bra and undies and dancing naked on some guy. I don’t mind being looked at, but I do have a problem being touched. Hence the reason I haven’t had sex in three years. I feel I did that enough in my younger teen years to suffice for the rest of my life.
“So who were you sleeping with?” I ask Ellen.
“Allen West, told ya he was a sleaze,” Tessi says from beside me. I glance over at her before looking back at Ellen and then looking back at Tessi. I’m confused.
“Allen? My Allen? Tall Allen?”
“Yeah, didn’t you go out with him a few times?” Ellen asks.
I blink a few times, confused. “I am still going out with him.”
Tessi scoffs beside me as Ellen exclaims, “What?! That douche told me you broke up!”
“I mean, we weren’t really together, but we were seeing each other. I never slept with him or anything,” I say, but I still can’t believe that not only has Ellen been sleeping with him, but he gave her crabs. Small miracles… Small freaking miracles.
“Damn girl, I’m so sorry,” Ellen says with a worried look on her face.
I shake my head, waving her off. “Don’t worry about it.”
With a curt smile, Ellen runs off as I sit with my brush still held up to my face. I can’t believe it. Allen West was a decent guy, solid, or at least I thought he was. I stayed clear of guys my freshman year and the beginning of this year, but somehow Allen talked me into a date and then another. The next thing I knew, we were walking across the quad holding hands. We had never officially put labels on each other, but he was fun to hang out with, and I thought that he would be a great guy to end my celibacy streak with, but I guess I was wrong.
“Wow. Just wow. Man, I can pick ’em, huh?” I say with a shake of my head.
“Yeah, I was gonna tell you about that today. Ellen called me last night, but I forgot to call you when I looked back down at my sociology work. I am going to fail that class,” Tessi says as she brings her brown hair up into a high ponytail. Tessi, my friend Skylar, and I are the only girls from UB who work in the club. It’s great money, easy hours, and they let you come and go as you please. Plus we have actual security so we won’t get jumped in the parking lot. Girls who waitress at TGI Fridays have more problems than we do. And make less in tips.
“It’s okay, and no, you won’t fail. I’ll help you,” I say as I watch her for a moment. Tessi gives me a bright smile as I continue to watch her get ready. I’m zoning out a lot tonight, which is unusual. Usually I’m on top of things, helping the other girls who are behind. Tessi never needs my help, though. She’s a lot like me, a go-getter, climbing out of her own issues. That’s probably why we’re such great friends. We both get it. We met at freshman orientation and became fast friends. I am the one who got her the job here. She is a great friend and one of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen.
She has beautiful, big brown eyes, with thick black lashes framing them, big breasts, and beautifully plump lips. She has dangerous curves and a really great attitude. Like me, she had lived a pretty rough life, and now is doing everything to make sure she never has to go back to the life she used to live. She’s going to school to be a social worker; she wants to help kids who had shitty lives. She always tells me that she wishes someone had been there for her and me, and I do too, but then I think that maybe it was for the best. We learned from that shit and pulled ourselves together, and going to live with Phillip was probably the best thing ever. I know that it wasn’t ideal for a kid to grow up like that, but I’ve accepted it. I figure it made me stronger. I learned from it and got my drive from it. I’m stronger than any of the silly girls I go to school with, and I like that. I wear my childhood like a badge of honor instead of being ashamed of it.
She turns to look at me and smiles. “You’re not torn up by this, are you? Allen was a dick. You can get someone way better, girl. Don’t sweat it.”
She was right, obviously he didn’t mean that much to me, because I’m not mad or even broken up about it. I don’t even feel like I lost anything. I feel nothing. Surprise maybe because he was harboring an STD but nothing else. I nod. “Nope, not torn up at all. I’m not mad that he slept with someone else while talking to me, but I am mad that he could have gotten my vagina sick.”
Tessi nods sagely as she moves some gloss along her bottom lip. “I would be too. Give him hell, girlfriend, but right now, you need to pop your contacts in and get onstage. Ms. Prissy hasn’t been laid in weeks, and she is in full bitch mode, I can promise you that.”
I laugh out loud as I turn to look back at myself. I still have a lot to do. I wish I could be like Tessi and not care if someone recognizes me in this place, but it always freaks me out that Phillip could come in here, or one of his friends. I’m not ashamed of what I do by any means, but I still don’t like to advertise it. Plus, I’m not a hundred percent sure how Phillip would feel about this. Reese knows, but I’ve never brought it up to Phillip, and neither has she. But really, the thought of some guy coming up to me outside of the club is enough, so I do everything I can to change my appearance.
Reaching for my contact case, I open it quickly, popping in my dark brown contacts to cover my bright blue eyes. Positioning some fake lashes to make my eyes look fuller, I finish my eye makeup before applying some bright red lipstick. Pursing my lips at myself, satisfied with the way I look, I smile at my reflection before standing up to get ready. Reaching for my outfit for the night, I hurry to get ready because, like Tessi said, Ms. Prissy could be a major bitch when she wasn’t getting laid regularly. After sliding the crystal-encrusted booty shorts up over my black fishnets, I slide my feet into a pair of black high heels as Tessi stands up to help me tie up the back of the crystal-studded corset.
“Claire! Let’s go,” Ms. Prissy yells.
Tessi laughs before swatting me on my butt. “Good luck.”
I flash her a grin as I grab my fans and make my way to the curtain. Tonight, I’m doing an old-fashioned burlesque fan dance. I’d seen it on TV one night and then spent the next two weeks researching and rehearsing my set before I showed Ms. Prissy and management at the club. That was a year ago, and now I was the most popular act on the busiest night. I also do pole and regular burlesque dancing, but the fans are my favorite. I send Ms. Prissy an apologetic smile as I run to my mark, but all I receive back is an eye roll before she gets on the radio to let the tech guys know I’m ready. When “Diamonds” by Rihanna starts, I slowly pull the curtains back, revealing myself to the crowd as it erupts with catcalls and men hollering my name.
Oh, by the way, my name is Claire Anderson and I’m a nineteen-year-old sophomore at the University of Bellevue here in Tennessee. By night though, onstage and in this club, my name is Diamond, and I’m the best burlesque dancer at Ms. Prissy’s Gentlemen’s Club.
Nice to meet you.
I am a wife, mother of two and a bulldog, and also a hopeless romantic.
I am the biggest Shea Weber fan ever, and can be found during hockey season with my nose pressed against the Bridgestone Arena’s glass, watching my Nashville Predators play!
When my nose isn’t pressed against the glass, I enjoy going to my husband and son’s hockey games, my daughter’s dance competition, hanging with my best friends, taking pictures, scrapbooking, and reading the latest romance novel.
I have a slight Disney and Harry Potter obsession, I love things that sparkle, I love the color pink, I might have been a Disney Princess in a past life… probably Belle.
… and did I mention I love hockey?