Got a secret
can you keep it?
Swear this one you'll save
Better lock it, in your pocket
Taking this one to the grave
If I show you, then I know you
won't tell what I said
'Cause two can keep a secret
if one of them is dead
~The Pierces, Secret
How I came to be living with a mafia princess turned stripper.
“The target is Carlisle Cullen, but any information you can get out of Jasper or Emmett Cullen would be useful. They own the strip club, Facade, located in the downtown area known as the warehouse district. Demetri got you an in, vouching for you as having come from the Volturi family out in Chicago. Don't leave him swaying in the breeze, Masen.”
“Got it, sir. My undercover assignment is to pose as a bouncer at the club, yeah?” I pushed around the papers on my desk until I found the pictures of the girls that danced at Facade. Not the cream of the crop, exactly, but there was one girl that drew my eye every time I looked at the surveillance photos. Dark doe eyes glared out at the camera, her hair a combination of pink and blonde. She looked like she could use a decent meal and her makeup was heavy, making her look tired. Something about her made me want to swoop in and protect her from the shit she must see on a regular basis.
“Right. Don’t be gettin’ all cozy with anyone, either, slick. Unless it furthers the investigation, I don’t want you making friends. That’s how you blow your cover and get caught, and that’s the last thing you need.”
Jacob Black was my Squad Supervisor and contact with the FBI whenever I went undercover, or UC for short. My latest assignment was to gather as much intel as possible to bring down the Cullen crime organization. Rumor had it they were the most ruthless family in Seattle since Charles Swan was killed and left the business to Carlisle Cullen. The details surrounding Swan’s untimely demise were still a mystery, but all signs pointed to an inside job. Demetri Falconari was a fellow UC Agent out of the Chicago Division, my hometown and the place I’d supposedly just moved from. He vouched for me as one of the Volturi foot soldiers under his watch so that I could insinuate myself into the Cullen crew without suspicion.
“It’s been almost a year since Swan bit the bullet, and we’re no closer to finding out who did it. Let’s get this case closed and put away a few mob guys while we’re at it,” Black said in his curt manner.
“Absolutely,” I agreed. I left my service weapon and all of my true identification as Edward Masen with my superior. After accessing the safe and gathering all of my UC identification and a couple of unregistered weapons, I headed out.
I went back to my apartment to prepare for my evening at my new job. I had to report to Emmett Cullen at nine, ready to take control of all the losers that wandered into the nudie bar with ugly intentions. It was up my alley to protect those girls, of course, so I was confident with my ability to accomplish that task. I stared at myself in the mirror; I’d been growing some stubble over the past few days to hide a faint scar that ran along my jaw. My hair could lean toward red if I spent too much time in the sun, so I was lucky that it was the dead of winter and I’d been indoors studying the case files. I had no tattoos to leave me vulnerable to identification, but my eyes were a bit of a beacon. I slipped in my very lightly brown tinted contacts, giving my green eyes a more hazel appearance. It would be a simple thing to claim they were corrective if anyone asked. The resemblance to my undercover driver’s license was identical.
This case required a complete undercover existence, therefore, I was residing in one of the bureau’s undercover residences. It looked lived in, shit every-fucking-where, clothing that would fit my cover in the closet and dresser. The bathroom was stocked with typical male shit, scents I didn't usually use in the aftershave and cologne department, razors and toothpaste and any bullshit I’d need for now. My bureau assigned bank account in my UC name was set up with a modest amount of cash to get me by until I started earning at the club. My POS car was parked out front, so I grabbed my keys and headed out to get the night started.
There was only street parking, which kind of sucked, but it was to be expected in this kind of an area. I doubted anyone would want to steal the mostly rusty 1984 Cadillac DeVille with Chicago plates that I was currently stuck with. The air was as cold as my last girlfriend’s heart as I climbed out and flicked the collar of my leather jacket up closer to my face, walking the few blocks to get to the club. I spotted the blinking red neon sign that said Facade, and wondered who the genius was that thought they were being ironic with that name.
I stepped up to the giant redwood of a man that was guarding the entrance, sticking my hand out from my pocket as I walked up. “Anthony Di Stefano, looking for Emmett Cullen.”
The bastard stared me down like a mouse running up for a bite of cheese that fell off the dude’s beard. Like I’m some chump looking for a handout. Fucking asshole.
“Look, it’s my first night on the job, maybe you could cut me some slack, man.”
Finally some expression on the dick’s face as he raised his left eyebrow. You ever see a gorilla in a three piece suit? Me either, until now.
“The boss will see you.” His voice was like a dead body that’s been drug across gravel for ten miles. It completely fit him.
“What, you got telepathy or somethin’?” He’d never so much as moved except for that eyebrow. I was tempted to tell the monkey to dance, but he’d probably smash me into next week like Donkey Kong.
He stepped aside, pulling the door handle as it buzzed. I could only assume they’d been waiting for my arrival, but I wasn’t naïve enough to expect the welcome wagon.
It was like walking through a time machine into the seventies. Black leather couches, thinning red carpet, and red wallpaper with black swirls were the first things I noticed. The putrid smell hit three steps in; smoke, and not merely from cigarettes, bodies crammed into a warm room, and the melted fur smell that comes off of heaters sometimes in the winter.
Gee, I couldn’t wait to get to work.
The next thing I saw was the stage, with three scrawny women gyrating to the stripper typical, ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’. It had a C shape with a pole at each end and one in the middle, and I couldn't help but imagine their stilettos sticking to the floor as they walked. The lights were low, of course, but I made it out to be seven customers, two bartenders, and at least five armed ‘bouncers’. If there is one thing these type of assignments require, it’s to know your surroundings, and the surveillance package had truly prepared me for this evening. The second largest man I’d ever seen in my life was walking toward me, a huge smile on his face. His hair was blond, a full beard covering his face. I took him to be six-five, sporting two seventy-five worth of muscle.
He stuck out his hand as he grew closer. “Anthony, right? Emmett. I hear you're a friend of ours.”
“You can call me Tony. Nice to meet you.” I shook the slab of beef masquerading as a hand he thrust at me and mentally high-fived him for not squeezing too hard. I didn't want to show him up on my first night and I certainly wasn't intimidated by his size. I tended to hide my muscular build pretty well under my clothes.
“Well, Tony, let me show you around.”
I followed Emmett dutifully as he showed me all the areas suitable for the public. I had yet to spot either Carlisle or Jasper.
“Um, work attire…” he started. I’d noticed his fancy, well-tailored suit, though it wasn’t a three piece like the goon out front.
“I’m, uh, used to wearing black jeans and a leather jacket back in Chicago. I can see you’re better dressed out here,” I offered. He nodded curtly.
“Tomorrow, something more upscale,” he said, well, demanded.
“Of course,” I replied, barely resisting a snort. Like the strippers would become classier, the clientele less trashy, if the employees wore tuxedos.
“Okay, for tonight, just do a walk around and make sure nobody is roughing up one of the girls. They can get hands-on, as long as the girl is okay with it. No sex in the club, on their own time is whatever. Got it?” He threw the words at me like a deck of cards someone had fumbled, floating out haphazardly over his shoulder as he walked and I followed.
“Yes, sir.” We exited the back room onto the main floor again, after I made note of the four locked doors I had not been allowed access to. The girls on stage had rotated, and I stopped in my tracks as the girl from the picture caught my eye. Covering my stumble, I kept her in my periphery as I continued after Emmett until he brought me to a stopping place. I could see the whole club from there, so I understood the reason for him bringing me to that spot.
I took my post as Emmett walked away. The girl was fucking mesmerizing. Her hair was turquoise now, long and flowing out behind her as she spun around the pole and my mouth went dry. Her body was lithe, a little fuller than in the photo I’d studied until my eyes blurred. She looked healthier, and she damn sure looked fine with her tits hanging upside down with her on that fucking pole. All that hair swept the floor, one leg kicked out, and she spun back to right herself.
She looked right at me as the song ended, and I had to force myself not to squirm. Her gaze pinned me to the spot, and finally I had to wipe the sweat from my upper lip.
Then the new song came on and she went back to dancing, and I went back to sweeping my eyes around the room like nothing had happened.
When I woke the next morning, okay, crack of noon, I reminded myself that sleep was for the weak. I was relieved to find a coffee maker and a stash of sub-par ground coffee that would have to do. My cover story would not mesh with fancy dark roast coffee. Those were the things I must sacrifice for the greater good.
I’d spent the remainder of the night at the club doing walk arounds, watching for signs of persons of interest. I didn't recognize anybody, and I’d seen plenty of photos of the players in the Cullen mafia. It was mostly a bust, including the very end of the night when I had to escort a few ladies to their cars. While escorting them, I tried to spy any of the vehicles the surveillance team had tagged, coming up empty.
We walked in a group to each girls’ car, and, of course my doe-eyes was in the talkative gaggle. They thoroughly enjoyed taking turns holding on to my biceps as though they couldn’t take one more step without the support. Despite feeling her eyes on me constantly—and more than once catching her staring—doe-eyes never touched me. Pity.
I noted that she left with another girl whose name I hadn’t gotten, instead of having her own car. I found myself wanting to know everything about her; then she was gone and there was nothing left for me but getting in my car and heading home.
I couldn’t sleep, memories of her plaguing my overtaxed mind. Names and faces and aliases flashed through my brain as I struggled to fall asleep. Details of my UC life crowded in, my subconscious not allowing me to forget anything, however miniscule. I finally slept fitfully, hot and kicking the twisted sheets to the floor. They were scratchy anyway, the ugly pieces of shit that they’d picked for the place.
So here I was, drinking my third cup of coffee and debating what to do for the daylight hours. I finally decided I couldn't stay cooped up here, and dragged my ass out of the apartment. I stepped into the nearest convenience store for orange juice and a donut that had probably been around since the first world war. As I walked back out, I noted the twenty-four hour laundromat, the small gym, and the pawn shop. Deciding to brave the cold for a bit, I walked north from where I was in the hopes of finding something entertaining. I was not exactly ensconced in the Palace of Versailles, so the pickings were slim.
Someone rammed hard into my shoulder, the feminine expletive making me laugh and soften my initial ass-kicking stance of defense. The first thing I noted was turquoise hair; lots and lots of it tumbling around the woman from the club as she attempted to stand up straight. My hand shot out to steady her as she tripped over her sneaker and plowed into my chest.
“Wow, I am so sorry,” she muttered. Her cheeks were a fabulous shade of red as those deep pools looked up at me.
“It’s fine,” I murmured, stroking a hand lightly down her hair and placing a firm hand on her back to steady her.
“I wasn't watching where I was going, and then my two left feet caught up to me.”
I stared at her face; the black eyeliner that was apparently ever-present, the clear brown eyes and nude lips. Something about her just called to me. “A-are you going somewhere in this cold?”
She dropped her eyes and gazed back at me from under her lashes. Jesus. I had to reboot my brain. “I was thinking of getting warm in the coffee shop around the corner. Wanna come?”
Did I? You’re damn skippy. “Yes—yeah. Sure.” I shrugged, trying to play it cool. Too late, idiot.
I followed her as she picked her way through the crowd of people that always seemed present on the sidewalks in any busy city. She rounded the brick building that I thought housed the utility company and opened the door to a bakery cafe.
The smell coming from inside was enough to make my mouth water. I knew that Tony wouldn’t order what Edward would order, so I purchased a black coffee and a bagel, insisting on paying for doe-eyes. She protested half-heartedly, then blushed when she ordered a latte and a croissant.
“Call it an afternoon pick me up,” she said, glancing away from me as she bit her plump pink lip.
My cock loved the idea of a pick me up with her at any time of the day or night. I told him to stand down.
We sat, and I finally got the chance to talk to her, to ask her name. She pulled her coat off and hung it on the back of her chair, revealing a white sweatshirt that kept slipping off her shoulders. She was so fucking sexy without even working at it.
“My name is Bella.”
“Tony,” I replied. “I just moved here about six weeks ago from Chicago, where I was born. It’s certainly different.”
“I suppose it must be,” she agreed, pursing her lips to blow on her hot coffee before taking a sip. My eyes were glued to her every move.
“So, how long you been here?” I asked to try to distract myself.
“All my life. My dad was Charles Swan,” she whispered, glancing around again.
My eyebrows shot up; I couldn't help it. “The Charles Swan?” I asked quietly.
Bella nodded, and I watched her mouth as she bit into her pastry. She chewed for a minute before answering. “He died, and I’ve been stuck doing things I’m not terribly proud of to make ends meet. Like having to work at the club.”
“So you went from high on the hog to the gutters of Seattle?” I hissed, trying desperately to keep my voice down.
She dropped her head, staring at her lap as she shredded a napkin. “I guess so.”
“Why weren’t you given respect and a place to live, at the very least?”
One creamy shoulder rose and fell. “Dad left everything to Carlisle, and he lets his sons run the business the way they see fit. He makes money, but he doesn’t work for it.”
“So, the two of them are the reason you… dance?” I demanded.
Bella inclined her head slightly. “I’ve been trying to find a place to rent around here, you know, to get out of the place they pay for. There are so many girls there, it’s never quiet. They’re always fighting, there’s never any food because they eat it without replacing it. It’s awful.”
“There’s gotta be something we can do.”
I watched the tear tremble on her lower lash before she swiped angrily at it with her thumb.
And that’s how I came to be living with a mafia princess turned stripper.