Gideon: Val, we need you to come into the office, there’s a job for you.
The text woke me far too early in the morning, and I groaned as I rolled over. I loved my bed. It was impossible to fall out of, and that was important in a storm. I slid off the end, fitting my feet into fluffy white slippers before making my way to the galley. I had docked a few days ago and slowly eased my way back into the city. Every day I walked a little further, and every day I ran back to my boat, to my hallowed ground.
My phone went off again, this time it was a call, and I answered slowly. “What?”
“Really? Snark at 6 AM?” The Cajun accent on the other end was Gideon, my boss. Well, I called him my boss, he’s really just the person I reported to.
I sighed away a yawn and put on the coffee. “Sorry, Gid, you know how I am in New Orleans.”
I suppressed a shudder as Gideon continued. “I just need you to come into the office for an hour, and then you can be on your merry way. We need,” he coughed a little, sounding embarrassed, “your unique skills.”
I barked out a laugh and poured my coffee, adding a touch of cream. “My skills, hmm? Where are you dispatching me now?”
I could hear the smile in his voice. “I’ll tell you more about it when you get here. But you won’t be going alone.”
“Please, you know I do my best work when you are not there to watch…” Gideon and I had a past, before Ceci when I could have a relationship. He knew everything about me and accepted me. Even though we were not romantic anymore, he was one of my best friends. “You know you dislike it when I dance for others, especially in large settings.”
“Just come in, look at the job and decide if you need accompaniment. I know you’ve been waiting to get onto the super trawlers.”
My jaw hit the deck. “I will be there in an hour.” I hung up quickly and threw on clothing without even thinking about it. In less than five minutes, I was off the dock and running through the city, heading to work.
Forty minutes later, I was in the main lobby of Ocean Guardian, panting from the run, and Gideon laughed. “You really want this job, don’t you?”
I nodded emphatically, grabbing a bottle of water. “You know I do. How did you get the job? They have been cagey for over a decade.” We walked toward the offices, and Gideon’s face lit up like a holiday tree.
“Sub-contract. We got a call from her.” For the second time this morning, my mouth fell open. Tania ran the club Ceci and I used to work at, and I had not heard from her in exactly that long. I just stared at Gideon. “She doesn’t know you’re back, just asked if I knew of anyone who was free.”
I groaned and sat down behind my desk. “Of course she knows I am back. Had you received any calls before today?” Gideon shook his head. “Right, one of our goals before I…” I choked and shook a little. Gideon just placed a hand on my shoulder gently, and I leaned in. I had missed my friend more than I realized. “Anyway, before I left, Tania knew we were trying to find a way onto one of the super-trawlers. How coincidental is it that I came back to New Orleans, and suddenly you have an in?”
Gideon sighed and sat on the corner of my desk. I reclined slightly in my chair, hiding the scar on my arm. He noticed the movement but said nothing about it. “I know, but I don’t want to look this gift horse in the mouth. You’re right, of course, but we need this. The information you or I could gather while there would be invaluable to getting those monsters off the seas. And I know how much you desire that.”
I stared at him. “So, you are thinking about the normal story? You act as my manager, and I dance to distract?” Gideon flushed slightly and nodded. “I suppose we could do that again,” I mused, tapping my chin slightly. “I would need to find something special, something that would keep everyone’s attention.” A thought occurred to me. “What is the occasion?”
Gideon smirked playfully. “The captain’s birthday. So everyone will be there.”
I nodded slightly and chuckled. “Then I suppose you should rsvp and make sure there is a pole for me.” Gideon laughed, and we set to making plans.
A couple of days later, Gideon and I were on a helicopter heading out to sea. I disliked the idea of this mode of transportation, mainly because it makes our departure from the ship reliant on someone else. But neither Gideon nor I wanted to bring one of our boats. All the company ones had the logo plastered on the side, and Spring Tide was my home. Gideon had organized a way off the ship if needed. Normally we would try to keep Gideon’s activities hidden so that we could just leave as scheduled. But there have been a few times when we have needed to sneak off, and I was hoping this would not be one of them.
The helicopter landed and shut down, and we disembarked quickly. Someone would grab our luggage and bring it to our room later. Gideon took my arm and looped it through his as the scent of fish assaulted us. It was a good thing I had eaten earlier. So much temptation nearby was hard. I also picked up notes of dolphin, turtle…some shark. All of it emanated from the hold of the ship. It took every ounce of strength I had to keep from shaking visibly. Gideon patted my arm and brought me back to the task at hand. “So, where shall she set up?” He had removed his accent, a useful skill to have, and began working out the details of my performance.
“There is a bit of a theatre a deck below. It’s large enough for the woman to dance.” The deckhand commented offhand, and I nearly slapped him.
“The woman has a name,” I grated out, and Gideon tightened his grip.
“I’m sure she does,” he replied curtly. “But you are not being paid to have a name. You are being paid to dance for the captain.”
I looked at Gideon, worry in my eyes, catching the slant the deckhand used. Gideon stopped, and the deckhand followed suit. “She will only dance for him. That was the contract. Anything else is off the table.”
The deckhand turned to look at us, an icy glint in the steel-grey eyes. “The contract will be whatever the captain says it will be.”
I shook, and Gideon turned around, pulling us back toward the helicopter. “Then we leave. I will not put my best dancer into situations she does not agree to, just for money.” I looked at Gideon, remembering why we were so good together.
“Steve, it is fine.” I placed my hand on his cheek. It was a common lie we told when in these situations. Steve and Mary were a long-time devoted couple. It worked well while we were dating, and now it was like riding a bike. “I will trust that the captain will not press any advantage he may have over little ole me.” Gideon stared down at me, and I knew what he was thinking. If the captain did try something, I would freak, and the game would be up. But I had to do this. I needed to do this.
The deckhand shrugged and brought us below deck to the guest quarters. He led us to a room and brought our bags down. Gideon shut the door behind the deckhand. “Val, you can’t do this. I was so wrong. We’ll back out.”
I sat down on the bed and shook my head, my body trembling. “No, I can do this, Gid. No matter what.” He sat down beside me and wrapped me in his arms.
“You told me about what happened in Hawaii between you and Valen or what didn’t happen.” I nodded, and he continued. “If you couldn’t sleep with your fiance, do you really think a stranger will be the answer?”
I shook my head. “No, it is not. I felt…”
Gideon kissed my forehead and smiled. “I know, Val, I know. Let’s just get this over with, and I promise, I will not allow him to destroy your honour.”
I smiled at my friend and nodded, shaking the fears away. “Alright, let us get this over with.” I stood up. Gideon chuckled and opened his bag. He pulled out a suit while I found my dress. It was a small silver halter number that clung to my hips and ass but left my back bare. It was one of my favourites. I heard Gideon groan beside me as I bent over to put on my 6-inch stiletto heels and looked over at him. The sight I must make did not escape me. I just did not think about it. “Yes, Gideon?”
I stood back up, still looking at him, and smiling slyly. “Nothing, Val, just remembering what we had.” I chuckled, and we made our way to the door. I pulled my hair around over my shoulder and took Gideon’s arm again. There was a different deckhand outside and he led us to the theatre space. I could feel the crew’s eyes on me, and Gideon held me fast. He brought us into a large room, a stage set up with a pole in the middle. It was exactly what I needed.
“Is this good enough?” he asked, and I nodded. “We’ll have you wait back here until the crew and captain filter in, and then I’ll announce you. Do you have a stage name?”
“Pixie,” I replied. A slight change to my proper stage name should not hurt, and it was easier than coming up with something else. The deckhand just looked at me and shrugged, leading us to the back and leaving. Something about this situation was feeling weird. “Ok, so once I am on stage, you need to move quickly, Gideon.”
“I know, but what’s wrong? I know you well enough to read your face.” I shook my head, not knowing how to put these worries into words, and he wrapped me in a hug. “Just be you out there. You’ll have them eating out of the palm of your hand in no time. And hey, if you make some tips, even better.”
I snickered and slapped his chest as I heard the room fill. “Okay, nearly showtime.” I took a deep breath as the lights went down, and applause went up for the captain. Gideon placed a small kiss on my forehead, and I hugged him tightly before heading back to the opening in the curtain. Gideon stepped back and winked at me.
“Well, gentlemen, it is time for the main event. To celebrate our distinguished captain’s birthday, we bring you one of New Orleans’s finest exotic dancers. Give it up for Pixie!”
I strutted onto the stage as my name was called, zeroed in on the captain, and had to hide my shock. It was the deckhand who met us at the helicopter. The music turned on, and the beats rolled through me as I got lost in the music. I did not normally have a specific routine unless I was dancing alongside others, and tonight I let instinct take its course. I felt my body move, almost serpentine in its grace, but my eyes never left his. Steel-gray eyes followed me along the stage, on the pole, everywhere I went. Nothing else, no one else, mattered. When the last song ended and I gave my bows to roaring applause, the captain jumped up on the stage, which I expected.
What I did not expect were his arms around my waist and his mouth pressing down on mine. “Get off!” I pushed hard against him, expecting him to budge, but he did not. He did, however, step back, yet his presence still loomed over me even with my heels. “What are—?”
My words were cut off by the sound of a growl, feral in its ferocity. “Denying me was a big mistake, wench.”