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von Willegen, Therése - Tainted Love (Siren Publishing Classic)
 


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von Willegen, Therése - Tainted Love (Siren Publishing Classic)


  Tainted Love

  Retrenched and persuaded to participate in amateur night at a strip club all in one day, Marianne discovers she’s actually a damn fine stripper, and baring all brings in far easier money than dying by degrees as a temp in a cubicle farm.

  But things between her and her ex-boyfriend, Carl, have gone horribly sour, and there’s no denying that her fascination with Brett Gentle, the owner of Imperial House Gentleman’s Club, will bring more complications than she has bargained for.

  Even as she gains confidence in tantalising men with her sex appeal on stage and on laps, Marianne’s life starts spinning out of control, tainting the love she has dared to taste.

  Genre: Contemporary

  Length: 45,864 words

  TAINTED LOVE

  Therése von Willegen

  EROTIC ROMANCE

  Siren Publishing, Inc.

  www.SirenPublishing.com

  ABOUT THE E-BOOK YOU HAVE PURCHASED: Your non-refundable purchase of this e-book allows you to only ONE LEGAL copy for your own personal reading on your own personal computer or device. You do not have resell or distribution rights without the prior written permission of both the publisher and the copyright owner of this book. This book cannot be copied in any format, sold, or otherwise transferred from your computer to another through upload to a file sharing peer to peer program, for free or for a fee, or as a prize in any contest. Such action is illegal and in violation of the U.S. Copyright Law. Distribution of this e-book, in whole or in part, online, offline, in print or in any way or any other method currently known or yet to be invented, is forbidden. If you do not want this book anymore, you must delete it from your computer.

  WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

  If you find a Siren-BookStrand e-book being sold or shared illegally, please let us know at

  legal@sirenbookstrand.com

  A SIREN PUBLISHING BOOK

  IMPRINT: Erotic Romance

  TAINTED LOVE

  Copyright © 2010 by Therése von Willegen

  E-book ISBN: 1-61034-010-8

  First E-book Publication: December 2010

  Cover design by Jinger Heaston

  All cover art and logo copyright © 2010 by Siren Publishing, Inc.

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.

  All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

  PUBLISHER

  Siren Publishing, Inc.

  www.SirenPublishing.com

  Letter from Therése von Willegen

  Regarding Ebook Piracy

  Dear Readers,

  Electronic publishing is changing the way we approach books and reading. No longer do you have to wait sometimes weeks for a book to arrive in the mail. You can buy and download an electronic copy for a fraction of the price and enjoy your story immediately. But, please be a doll and realise as much effort goes into bringing you your ebook as it does with a printed book. Do the right thing. Support your favourite authors by not pirating your reading matter. That way we can work hard to bring you more of the kind of stories you enjoy reading.

  With deep gratitude,

  Therése von Willegen

  DEDICATION

  This story is dedicated to my friends, the dancers, who shared their tales with me. Thank you. You know who you are.

  TAINTED LOVE

  THERÉSE VON WILLEGEN

  Copyright © 2010

  Chapter 1

  Marianne’s stomach clenched when she saw the general notification from HR in her inbox. They were calling a special meeting in the boardroom, and that could only mean one thing. Judging by the sudden restless squeak of office furniture in the small studio, the other designers must have just read the same e-mail.

  She shared a worried glance with Judith, who sat opposite her.

  “The big moment’s arrived,” her colleague said with a grimace.

  “Didn’t think it would reach this far,” Marianne said. She stretched some of the stiffness from her back.

  “We should know we’d be in the firing line. We’re creatives. Since Global Communications went bang…” Judith shrugged.

  Less and less layout work had been coming in. They didn’t have to discuss it. Their studio manager, Mandy, had been in meetings with HR all of last week. It had only been a matter of time.

  Unease coiled in Marianne’s stomach, sending its tendrils along her spine. “Guess we’ll know in an hour, then.” Sick certainty had her smiling at her colleague anyway. “Let’s go get that cup of coffee while the company is still paying for our cuppa.”

  They sat outside in the courtyard, enjoying the thin winter sunshine that was more a haze filtered through the blanket of wispy clouds. Marianne would miss working here at Westlake Square. Sure, it was a schlep riding all the way to the southern suburbs from the centre of town each morning, but she’d become good friends with Judith during the two years they’d been on this commute.

  Judith said little but had lit a second cigarette, which was ample evidence of their shared nagging concern. Marianne didn’t smoke, didn’t want to, but decided against passing a comment at her friend, whose fingers shook slightly as she lifted the cigarette to her lips.

  Presently Judith spoke. “Who do you think it will be? You, me, David, or Sue?”

  “Dunno. Look, let’s not worry about it, okay?” She knew, however, that she had a fair chance of being one of the staff members dumped. Last in, first out, the old saying went. Marianne looked back at Judith. “Even if you get the chop, you’ll find work easily. You’re pretty. You’ve had five years’ industry experience.”

  “Gee, thanks.” Judith fingered her shoulder-length blonde curls, then gazed out toward the bulk of Constantiaberg peeking over the rooftops.

  Marianne sighed. Apart from being slender, she didn’t have Judith’s attributes of a lush build and sparkling blue eyes. At best, she could take a leaf out of a Douglas Adams book and say she had hair-coloured hair and eye-coloured eyes. At school she’d been teased, called Little Mouse by some of the older girls.

  Before Judith could light her third cigarette, Marianne motioned for them to go back inside, where the mood in the office remained tense. Not even Nadia, the normally bubbly receptionist, looked up to greet them as they entered.

  That hour before the meeting seemed to stretch into infinity. Try as she might, Marianne just couldn’t focus on her work. It didn’t help that she was busy retouching food photographs for some restaurant menu. Looking at the greasy eggs and bacon made her stomach churn even more as she brightened yellows and hunted down small blotches that must have been specks of dirt on the photographer’s lens. Hell, for all she knew, she’d be serving up burgers and bottomless coffee at the local steak ranch soon, the rate things were going.

  Entertaining visions of herself in a waitress uniform did even less to improve her mood. What would she say to Carl? And things hadn’t been going well of late. She’d been hoping to save some bucks so she could look for a place of her own.

  “Hey, Mari.” Judith touched her shoulder lightly.

  Marianne started, looking up from her screen. She’d been staring at the same enlarged grouping of pixels for good
ness knew how long.

  “It’s time.” Her colleague inclined her head in the direction of the boardroom.

  A wave of nausea washed through Marianne. She swallowed, her throat dry. “Okay.”

  Human resources had gathered all the creative and administrative staff in the boardroom. Marianne found a corner where she could stand, trying to squish herself somehow behind Benjamin, the bookkeeper. He flashed a grin at her, but the humour did not reach his eyes.

  A dozen nervous, shifting people were crowded into the small area, unconsciously leaving a space at the head of the oval table for the CEO and the head of human resources to sit. No one had taken a seat, however. The entire situation reminded Marianne of what it was like when she and a bunch of her friends had last gotten detention during high school, and she disliked being reminded of being in a similar scenario. The only difference was that now she’d not done anything wrong.

  The CEO, Mr. Griffiths, and Adéle, the head of HR, entered five minutes past the proposed start of the meeting, and, by then, Marianne was all too aware of Benjamin’s body odour and how his shirt had developed a damp patch near the armpit. She was wedged in firmly now, however, and although she felt faint, she knew she had to see this through.

  Mr. Griffiths, a strong-featured, tall man in his late fifties, sat hard in the chair so its frame squeaked in protest, and faced them. He brushed a hand over his short-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, and his iron-grey gaze flicked over them. He did not smile.

  “I’m sure you know why we’ve called you together today.” Mr. Griffiths’s voice was full of gravel. “As you all know by now, since our biggest client, Global Communications went into liquidation, we’ve lost more than half the business we’ve been relying on over the past few months. As it was, things were tough during the recession, but, if Trade Exchange is going to pull through, we’re unfortunately going to have to scale down. And, as we all know, that means we’re going to have to retrench staff.”

  Marianne tried to cringe into herself as Mr. Griffiths looked around the room again. His eyes bored into hers, as if he’d marked her personally.

  He licked his lips, shuffling some of the papers in the manila folder before him.

  Adéle took the opportunity to continue. A leggy brunette in her late forties, she’d been here since the start of the company, or so Marianne had heard. She’d also heard rumours Adéle was shagging Mr. Griffiths, but she didn’t want to think about that. Not now.

  No chance of you losing your job, bitch.

  Marianne grimaced, focusing on how red Adéle’s lips were and how tight her face appeared. Must be Botox. Not for the first time Marianne wondered if this was how she’d end up looking when she got to that age. But hell, she’d hate to wear pencil skirts and court shoes.

  At first she didn’t hear when Adéle started talking, but Marianne drew quickly out of her mental funk to pay attention to the woman.

  “…if you receive an e-mail, please come see me in my office at the allotted time so we can discuss your package. Some of you will be given the opportunity to be reshuffled to other designations. Of course you may need to take a cut in pay. If anyone would like to speak to a financial adviser…”

  Marianne let the words tumble over her. They held very little meaning.

  Last in, first out.

  When she returned to her desk, it came as no surprise to Marianne that Adéle had sent her that e-mail. It was clever of the HR department to send the messages of doom while the targets were already gathered, waiting to hear the bad news. No one would be sure, at first, who’d received the chop. Yet, somehow, it was difficult not feeling the sharp pain to her gut. This had been a good job for the past two years. She’d learnt a lot, yet it didn’t lessen the sense of betrayal that forced prickles of tears to the corners of her eyes.

  Judith’s worried gaze met hers from across her screen. “You okay?” she mouthed.

  Marianne tried to nod, then looked away, sure the entire studio was watching her.

  Chapter 2

  Judith shut the door of her car almost too hard, making Marianne flinch. Her face was flushed, and she flashed a smile.

  “You seem happy,” Marianne said. She wanted to add something bitchy about her friend still having a job the following month, but she decided against this.

  Remorse clouded Judith’s features for a moment. “I’m sorry, Mari…but I had an idea.”

  “What? Go drink ourselves into oblivion at the Blah Bar, then call in sick tomorrow? I’m very tempted, to be quite honest.”

  “Not the Blah Bar. I actually meant to suggest this last week already, but it completely escaped my mind. Let’s get the girls together and do something seriously different and wild. Something we’d never considered doing before, and forget about today’s entire mess, okay? We can cheer up; then tomorrow you and I will go buy the papers and start looking. Let’s be positive about the whole thing. Retrenchment is not the end. You’re what…twenty-four?”

  Somehow Judith always had a habit of making Marianne feel better about a bad situation, she grudgingly admitted. She allowed herself to nod but kept looking dead ahead while Judith started the aging Toyota Corolla and put the vehicle into gear.

  “Yeah, I’m twenty-four…working at an ad agency…dream job…blah blah blah.”

  “What, and you wanted to be a graphic designer for the rest of your life?”

  “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Marianne sighed.

  “What scope do we have at the company anyway? Would you really want to be studio manager once Mandy moves on to greener pastures?” Judith asked. “And you know she’s probably going to be working there until they have to force her to retire, which means you’d be a middle-weight designer for the rest of your natural life, retouching photos of hair care products and laying out ads for insurance scheisters.”

  “You have a point. I guess I never really gave it much thought…that I would be there for a long time.”

  “Look at it as an opportunity,” Judith said, “a cosmic kick up the arse instead of mouldering away.” She gave a soft snort. “Actually, be glad you’re not turning out like Mandy. She’s what…thirty-seven this year. Still not married. Gets in at six thirty in the morning, leaves twelve or fourteen hours later. Even comes in on Saturday and Sunday mornings. You’d swear she lives at the office. She may as well buy a sleeper couch and pack an overnight bag.”

  Marianne nodded. “She chews her nails to the quick and looks like she’s constantly expecting the world to come to an end. When you’re right, you’re right. I don’t want to end up like that. Just wish it didn’t feel like I’ve just been dumped.”

  “It’s gonna be okay, sweet thing.” Judith spared a moment from keeping an eye on the traffic to grin at Marianne. “Aunty Judie here’s gonna make sure you gonna forget all about the bad day at the office. Us cowgirls gonna have us some fun.” She drawled the last words, putting on a fake Southern accent.

  * * * *

  “Oh God, I look like a slag.” Cynthia turned in front of the full-length mirror.

  Marianne was tempted to agree, but she was too busy laughing at her red-haired friend to say as much. Cynthia had found a silver sequined top that barely covered her midriff, which she’d pulled on over a snakeskin bikini she’d found goodness knew where. A short black skirt that kept riding up to expose the mounds of her arse completed the ensemble. And it was a very nice arse, Marianne had to admit, not that she was into chicks or anything.

  Considering herself, Marianne knew she’d be a fine one to talk. Judith had, from somewhere in her cupboard, uncovered a black leather biker jacket with a long fringe on its arms. Maybe she was taking that earlier talk of cowgirls much further than anticipated. At least the jacket would keep her warm. She couldn’t say much for the rest of her ensemble. Shiny silver six-inch stilettos with a clear heel complemented the shimmery green dress she wore over a black bikini that left very little to the imagination. Where did Judith find this stuff?

  No
t only would she have to make it to the car, they’d have to find parking in the city centre and walk to Imperial House, the small “gentleman’s club” Judith had selected for its amateur night. On top of dressing like a woman of ill repute, she’d still have to take all this off, right down to the bikini, in front of an audience.

  Not for the first time this evening, Marianne wanted to turn around and tell Judith she was mad, go home, get changed into her PJs, and finish that half tub of chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer. She had season three of Heroes she could re-watch while toasting her feet on the electric heater.

  As if in answer to her thoughts, a squall of wind rattled the windows, and Marianne’s skin puckered in gooseflesh at the mere thought of stepping out the door.

  “You’re not wearing enough eyeliner,” Judith said.

  Dressed in a red leather mini with matching waistcoat, Judith looked every inch a scarlet woman. Her hair, loosened from its regulation clips, framed her face in masses of bouncing golden curls. Marianne couldn’t help but notice how her friend’s cleavage strained against the buttons. No doubt she’d be an irresistible hit with the male contingent, and inwardly Marianne cringed when she considered how they’d all be stared at.

  “I’m not sure I want to do this anymore, Judith.”

  “Don’t be such a wimp. Here, let me apply some more liner, and you do need brighter lipstick.” Judith grabbed Marianne’s chin with a strong hand and would not allow her to jerk away while she touched up what Marianne already felt to be too much make-up.

 
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