by Jody Wallace
Genre: Erotic Contemporary Romance
Length: Novelette (12K)
Rating: R

She’s baring her heart–one garment at a time.

Meet Kitty Bradshaw, sucker. When her best friend asks her to perform a birthday strip-o-gram for a guy at her office, Kitty can’t say no–she needs the money and she doesn’t work there, after all. Who’s going to recognize her in a mask and corset?

Answer: Nathan Guillame, birthday boy, also known as her best friend’s boss, also known as the guy Kitty had a naughty fling with at her friend’s holiday party. What’s a pseudo-stripper to do when she realizes what a mistake she made putting on her mask one last time? Or would it be more of a mistake to take it off–take it all off?

Note: Originally published as Strip-O-Gram by Ellie Marvel from Amber Quill Press. This new edition does not have substantial alterations except for the awesome cover.

***** An excerpt from STRIP-O-GRAM *****

Chapter 1

The things you do for money when you’re flat broke and a real sucker. Otherwise known as a Pisces, Libra rising. Otherwise known as Kitty Bradshaw. Otherwise known as me.

I tightened the belt of my beige trench coat more securely around my waist and watched the numbers on the elevator light up. Two, three, four… My stomach roiled like a morning-after hangover, and the strap on my stiletto sandals bit across my toes. When I fluttered my eyelashes, the thick mascara threatened to glue my eyes shut.

At least then I wouldn’t be able to witness my incipient infamy. My black mask concealed my identity but nothing else; I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t need the money so badly.

In for a penny—make that a bunch of pennies—in for a pound.

The elevator stopped on six. The gold-toned doors slid open to reveal the sedate, chilly lobby of Vanishing Breed, the computer software firm where my friend and client, Sandra, worked. Tall ficus plants formed leafy parentheses on either side of the front desk. The receptionist, a slender woman with a silver headset, forced a smile. She had to be at least a little shocked to see a masked, trench-coated woman gallivanting around the building.

“Welcome to Vanishing Breed,” she said. “Can I help you?”

I fumbled out the slip of paper where Sandra had scribbled my instructions.

“I’m here to see Nathan…Gill-ami?” I had no idea how to pronounce the guy’s last name. Sandra said he wasn’t French or anything, just a prick with a secret on-staff girlfriend (despite the company no-dating policy) who’d recently been promoted. By him. I couldn’t remember if I’d met Mr. Guillaume, Sandra’s boss, at the holiday party she dragged me to, but I’d been a little preoccupied that night.

What a night it had been. First I’d realized I was terribly underdressed—one lady and I were the only ones in funky holiday sweaters instead of sequins and glitz. Shortly thereafter, Sandra deserted me for that Rob guy, and I found the open bar. What was I supposed to do? Probably not what I did do, but heck, I didn’t work here.

And yet here I was. Underdressed again. Would he be here? The guy I…met?

“Mr. Guillaume?” the receptionist repeated, pronouncing it correctly.

“Yes, please.”

Suddenly my mask felt transparent, and my palms began to sweat in the black silk gloves. No going back now. Sandra expected me at eleven-thirty and it was eleven-fifteen. I’d done this before, in college, when I needed cash. No big deal. I had the training. I had the experience. I had the mask. Easy money.

“Can I tell him who’s here?” the receptionist asked. She eyed me uncertainly.

“Hmm.” How to answer without ruining the suspense? “Tell him it’s a birthday present. A surprise.”

Doubt washed over her features, and I grinned, trying to reassure her. If I didn’t do this, Sandra wouldn’t pay the other half of the money, and my landlord would kick me out. As soon as I could, I vowed to find a more lucrative occupation than clerk and cashier.

“His birthday isn’t until tomorrow,” the receptionist said.

“I couldn’t come tomorrow.” Tomorrow rent was due, and I had to work…at my real job, New Age Wonders, which unfortunately didn’t cover rent, food, insurance, utilities, and any car and vet bills. Yeah, me, the cats and the Ford Escort lived on the edge. “The people who, ah, bought me said this was the best day for Mr. Guillaume’s present.”

The receptionist’s thin eyebrows flew toward her hairline. “I see.” She clicked some buttons on the phone and spoke into her headset. “Mr. Guillaume, there’s a lady here with a birthday gift for you… Send her to your office? You’re sure?” She frowned. “Yes, sir.”

I shifted my black bag in my hand, the one with the portable CD player and other tools of my temporary trade. I had a mental image of Mr. Guillaume as a stodgy, middle-aged exec who lorded it over his female employees and hardly ever went home to his wife and kids.

“If you’d just take this visitor’s pass, Ms…?” She held out a white clip-on badge.

“Ms. Babette.” I accepted the nametag and clipped it to my lapel.

“Follow this hall and take the center corridor between the cubicles. You’ll see the main offices in back. Mr. Guillaume’s office is the second from the end on the right.”

Sandra said nearly everybody at Vanishing Breed had an open air workspace to equalize employee status. However, the No-Dating Policy Violating Asshole was a bigwig with a private office. That was one of the reasons I agreed to this—not that he was a bigwig, but that he’d be my only audience. It was one thing to perform on stage or for kids at the hospital, obviously in a different costume, and another to sing and shimmy for an entire cubicle farm, one of whom might be the guy from the party.

Once I got off the carpets and hit the hallway, my heels clicked on the tile. Now it was time to earn my money. To bring the heat and cause the controversy Sandra was paying me for. She claimed the bigwigs here, Mr. Guillaume included, were so uptight just the sight of me would give them apoplexies. I added some swing to my hips and a sultry half-smile to my lips. I tossed my dark hair, which I’d rolled this morning so it fell in loose curls halfway down my back.

A couple of scruffy guys in khakis and polo shirts gossiped at a water cooler—how stereotypical—and their eyes widened as I sashayed toward them. Neither one of them was the guy from the Christmas party, the guy I knew oh-so-well.

“Hello, fellas,” I said in my best breathy starlet voice. “I’m looking for Nate’s office? Nathan, I mean.” I let my coat gape so the tops of my corseted size Cs bulged out at them.

“I’ll take you there,” the pudgier guy said. He straightened, barely taller than I was in my four inch heels, and I was no Amazon.

“Thanks, sweetie.” I adjusted my velvet choker and let my hand smooth down my chest and straighten my trench. If eyes could reach out and touch someone, I’d just been royally felt up. Yep, these guys would be gabbing all over the office about the woman who came to see Mr. Guillaume.

We ambled down the center of a large room of cubicles. Overhead fluorescents bled the color out of everything. I’d hate to work somewhere like this full time, but in view of my finances, it might be time to consider it. Heads and chairs swiveled like sprinklers, checking me out. I smiled and simpered and shook my ass, vixen incarnate. The occupants of the far cubicles popped over the tops. I tried not to look anybody in the eye—tried not to look for him. The only time I’d been to Sandra’s office was that party, and it had been on the first floor, not up here.

I didn’t see Sandra. Dammit! She was supposed to drag Mr. Guillaume’s secret girlfriend here at eleven-thirty sharp to increase the commotion. Sandra was a dear friend, but she could be really driven on occasion—typical Scorpio. I thought her plan to get this guy in trouble was spiteful and dumb, but five hundred bucks was five hundred bucks.

And really, I was just going to sing a song. Where was the harm in that?

My coat gaped open further as we neared the back of the room. The wall was comprised of shiny steel and…glass. Lots of glass.

Glass doors. Glass walls. The private offices weren’t private.

Oooh, I was gonna get Sandra for this! Maybe charge extra. Was this a prank on her jerky boss or on me? What had I ever done to her besides talk her into that yoga session to relieve some of her pent-up anger? Not my fault she dislocated her shoulder.

The suits in the offices did double takes away from their computers or phone calls as I traipsed past, Pudge-Boy leading the way like the white rabbit. Second door from the end. The door wasn’t shut, and my guide waved me through.

Behind the desk, a dark-haired man faced the wall of windows that looked out over a small green space. No gray in that hair or spots on the hands, so not old, but still potentially a prick. On the opposite side of the little park was a similar building where you could see other executives plugging away.

“Happy birthday, Nate,” I purred, again in my sex kitten voice.

He turned.

It was him. The guy. From the office party. The guy I’d nearly screwed was Sandra’s jerk. The guy I’d nearly screwed was an uptight prick who was supposed to have a heart attack at the sight of me.

© 2013 Jody Wallace