Could This Be Love? (07)

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A Story by Deborah Benson

The Investor

Though nothing would keep us together, we could steal time. Just for one day.

Finding herself without a single thing suitable to wear to the dinner with all her things still being moved into the suite Dakota had picked it seemed the only thing to do was for Kimberly to simply not show up. Serena could just as easily go in her place, and from what the other dancers told her it she sounded far more experienced in getting a man to invest. Serena however, had different plans.

“You must be going crazy,” she said when Kimberly came to ask her to take her place. “You know how to do these things don’t you?

You’d be better at it than me, and I don’t have a dress.” Serena’s suite was a floor below the one intended for Kimberly, something Dakota made sure to point out when she made the announcement about her being moved in. “I promise I’ll do my work the rest of the time I just need a cover for tonight.”

Serena groaned, pulling Kim into the apartment without a second thought. The light pink walls a white paneling more than making up for the slightly less impressive view. Serena had been around longer than any other girl in the company aside from Dakota and it showed in the expensive furnishings filling up the room to make it look like something out of an editorial on the rich and famous. A vintage dresser set up against the wall to hold dozens of memorabilia from past shows, the most recent being a diamond necklace long enough to be draped across the dresser doors.

“Did anyone ever bother explaining to you how these things work, Kim? I can’t just take your place. The investor wants you.” Serena left Serena alone in the living room, heading into her bedroom to dig through closet. “He requested you, that’s why Dakota wants you to come. If you don’t show up we all lose out on the money. And if we lose out on that money you could be sleeping with the prime minister himself and that wouldn’t keep you safe.”

The warning slipped past Kimberly as she admired the dresser full of expensive costume pieces. A diamond tiara set in the center on a ivory velvet pillow. It didn’t look like a costume piece; it was far too ornate to be useful in any show. It was fit for a princess more than some showgirl.

“Are you listening to me Kim?” Serwna asked, walking back into the living room, a red silk dress in her arms. “I’m serious about this, that man is promising us a new show and I want in. If you don’t show up to that dinner both of our chances of getting on stage again are thrown away. I will not let that happen.”

Kimberly nodded, looking back over to Serena, having heard about how badly she wanted back in the show before. “I still don’t have anything to wear, or know what to do. Why are you and Morgana putting so much faith in me to get this deal?”

“It’s not a deal, kim.” Serena sighed, handing over the red dress motioning for her to go try it on. “The investor makes the deal with Dakota when he’s decided we’re worth his money.

You’re there because you’re what he wants to spend money on. Did Dakota not explain this all to you?”

The dress didn’t want to come on easily no doubt because Serena wasn’t exactly Kim’s size. Their heights were similar, and the waist fit would a problem. It was mainly getting the dress past her hips that seemed difficult.
“No,”Kim said, giving the fabric a final tug to move it passed the curviest part of her body. “She just told me how much he was offering.”

Serena was quiet, her gaze dropping as she pulled the tiara off the dresser. “No… I should’ve figured that’d be how she’d work with you.”

Serena’s voiced almost seemed sad.

“Kimberly, there isn’t much profit in musicals alone and Dakota needs a profit or she loses the company to Collins Grey. So when she realized that she came up with the idea to let customers pay a little extra to meet the dancers, and that grew into them paying a far bit extra to spend some time with the girls.

When she realized how much money men were willing to shill out to spend an hour or two with she began pulling for different ‘investors’ from all over. These men were willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars just to make sure they got to see their favorite girl on stage and off. Each time there’s a new show the lead gets herself an investor and the investor covers all the expenses needed. That means the man your going to meet tonight is the person you have to thank for your new suite and anything else given to you while you work here.”

Kimberly felt her stomach drop. Dakota had told her how badly the investor wanted to meet her and how much she meant to the show, but she had no idea what that all even meant at the time. Now that the truth about her job was coming out Kim began to regret letting her old place go on the market.

“Does that mean you had an investor?” she asked quietly, feeling Serena walk over to her to help her finish dressing.

“I had several. That tiara in the dresser was the first gift I had gotten from one.” Serena closed the zipper of the dress easily, starting to do up Kim’s hair with an assortment of fine jewelry.

“If you play your cards right with this one you’ll have something like that in no time… Kim, what we do is an art. It sounds dirty and gritty and Dakota could care less about what happens as long as she’s paid but we’re artists.

On stage you make people believe in a fantasy world and offstage you make the men believe whatever is going to keep them happy.”

The sudden tenderness from Serena surprised Kim. She had been helpful in the past but always for her own benefit. Something about the gentleness she had while fixing up her hair almost made Kim believe she felt sorry for her.

For the first time, Kimberly saw just how similar their paths must look.

“And if I don’t want to keep him happy?”

“Then we’re both on the street with Dakota after us for the money she’s losing.” Serena moved Kimberly over to her vanity, sitting her down to allow her to help with the makeup.

“When I had my first investor I had to learn how to pretend to like his company quick. You want my advice?”

Kim nodded, letting the woman do whatever she felt was necessary to fix her up.

“Don’t think of who your with, don’t even think about who you want to be with,” Serena said, holding Kim’s chin up to look her in the eyes.

“When you look at that man, think about everything that making him happy will get you. I guarantee if you look at him like you’d look at the marquee with your name in lights you’ll have him eating out of the palm of your hand.”

Bleep The restaurant had been reserved exclusively for Dakota’s dinner. Guests had been turned away and offered a second choice as to where they could go free of charge. John had to practically beg Dakota to allow him to join her.

On the condition that he come without Mark and refrained from speaking during any serious matter she finally agreed to let him join.

Mark hated the idea of being left behind but ultimately he knew it was for the best. If John’s suspicions about the men Kimberly was set to meet were even close to accurate than it was worth it if at least one of them could watch out for her.

Truth be told John was ready to break into the dinner unannounced after finding the pills in Kimberly’s place along with the mention of how much money was on the line. Something didn’t feel right and he was far past trying to reason things out when his kimberly’s well being could be at stake.

His Kimberly. There was a phrase he wouldn’t have thought would have come up so soon.

As he sat beside Dakota he soon realized just how quickly he’d fallen for Kimberly. He wanted to believe in love and all the fairytale nonsense Mark prattled on about but he could never understand feeling whole when another person was beside him. It was all childish and he hadn’t thought about the merit to Mark’s words in ages.

Yet the second he had the chance to kiss Kimberly the other morning he found himself unable to imagine living without knowing the feeling of her lips on his. In just those few seconds he had decided to give her his entire heart in the hopes that she would need him as badly as she needed her.

He had been so wrapped up in his thoughts about Kim that he failed to realize when a tall well dress man joined them at the table, sitting directly across from him and Dakota. His dark hair slicked back to show off his evenly tanned skin. Out of everyone at the table he was the only man who’s suit could rival John’s in price.

“So sorry we’re late Dakota,” the man said, flashing the two a bright smile. “Chris could send me proper directions so it took a while to wait for a cab.”

John turned his attention to the man as he spoke. Under any other circumstance he would’ve struck John as someone trustworthy and harmless. Years of watching his father deal with investors however, taught him that those kinds of men were the ones to watch out for.

“I doubt he could find the place on his own anyway,” Dakota chuckled. “Don’t worry about it, our girl isn’t here yet either. You have to give diva’s their time you know.”

The man laughed, welcoming Dakota’s elder bookkeeper to the seat beside him. John trusted the newer man even less than he trusted the one in front of him but by the way he kept his glance down towards his phone he doubted he had any real interest in Kim.

The only real threat came from the fact the man across from him seemed just as eager to see her walk in as John was.

“A diva needs a show Dakota.” A silky voice came from behind the table as the old lead stepped forward in an ivory gown. “We’ve got a way to go before you can start calling her that.”

All head’s turned to the woman behind them, Dakota’s eyes narrowing at the sight of her.

John could just barely remember her as the lead from the first show he had seen. She seemed sharper than when he had seen her before and if he didn’t know better he would have said she seemed to be threatening Dakota by simply showing up.

He couldn’t give the two women a second thought however, as Kimberly walked over to the table from behind the other woman before Dakota could get a word in. The red gown she wore clinging to her curves in the most delicious manner. Its sleeves falling off her shoulder to showcase her collarbone and just how high the bodice was pushing her chest up.

Had they been alone he doubted he would’ve been able to keep from trying to rip it off her the moment she walked into the room. It was only when he noticed the man across from him sharing the same thought that he pulled himself out of his fantasizing.

“I’m sorry for taking so long,” Kim said, holding back a giggle when both John and the investor stood up to pull a chair out for her. “I had a little trouble finding something to wear.”

“You look perfect.” The investor said, giving Dakota a quick glance before she sent Kim to sit beside him.

John slowly sat himself back down, being joined by Serena where he had expected Kim to sit. Her own gaze lingering on the man beside Kimberly as the two started talking.

“Kimberly, this is Luscious. Luscious, this is Kimberly. She’ll be our company’s new star with the next production,” Dakota said, keeping a close eye on both Serena and John.

“She’s quite the showgirl. I wouldn’t be surprised if she sold the theater out faster than Serena did.”

“Dakota!” Kim said, a slight pink tint covering her cheeks. “I’m still learning sir, she’s just trying to make me sound better than I am.”

“She still has a lot to learn until she’s as good as I was,” Serena said, seeming unfazed by Dakota’s comment. “She’s still brand new, no one else has seen her on stage.”

Luscious’s eyes never left Kim as he moved an arm around her chair, smiling at her with an innocent that made John sick to his stomach.

“I’m sure you’ll do wonderfully, Kimberly,” he said, his arm finding its way across her shoulders with a practiced fluidity that even John lacked. “I hope you don’t mind if I get the front table for your opening night. I’d hate to miss seeing you dance up close.”

The man’s innocent smile could barely hide meaning of his words and to John’s pleasure the look of surprise on Kimberly’s face made it clear that she had caught on as well. There was no way she’d put up with his ogling at her like one of the other dancers John had seen.

To his shock however, Kimberly’s look of surprised quickly melted away into a small smile as she leaning into Luscious with a playfulness John had thought reserved for him.

“When we have a show I’ll be sure to save you a seat, thought if you come by a rehearsal you wont even have to worry about that,” she said with a smile as John suddenly lost his appetite.

The two continued their teasing, occasionally being pushed along by Serena when there was the threat of a silence. John could barely stand to listen to it long enough for the first course to arrive and by the time it did he found himself faking a call from Mark in order to excuse himself.

He left the table in such a hurry he didn’t even have time to notice Kimberly’s gaze leave the doting investor to follow him out of the room, her smile fading just as quickly as his appetite had.

Bleep The dinner couldn’t have ended quick enough as far as Kimberly was concerned. No amount of encouraging smiles from Serena or kind words from Luscious kept the image John hurrying out of the restaurant from her mind. If she had her way she would have followed him out the second he stood up, but both Dakota and Luscious’s gazes kept her from even moving out of her chair.

It wasn’t until the older man at the table mentioned making a deal with Dakota that she and Luscious left, giving Kimberly just enough time to leave. Without a second look to Serena or Dakota leaving Kim quickly followed the same path John had. Praying she’d catch him waiting as she usually did.

The hallway outside the restaurant was empty and her Serena’s dress made it nearly impossible to imagine running around in search of where he had gone. If it hadn’t been for the empty lobby across the hallway she would have missed the blonde man entirely as he waited for an elevator.

“John!” She tried to ignore the relief in her voice as she hurried into the lobby after him. “John please wait a moment.”

“I should get back to Mark, make sure he didn’t burn the place down or something,” John said, barely able to look Kimberly in the eyes. “And you shouldn’t keep your friends waiting either.”

“You know he didn’t and they aren’t my friends.”

Kimberly stepped in front of the elevator doors as the started to open, blocking John from leaving her alone again.

She couldn’t explain the guilt she felt. She and John had only kissed once and though it was certainly a good kiss it didn’t mean they were bound to one another. At least for her. The carefully hidden look of hurt on John’s face seemed to argue otherwise.

“You and that Luscious man seemed rather friendly,” John said, trying to find a way into the elevator around Kim “I was being nice. If he’s who Serena thinks he is then he’s offering up a lot of money to get me on stage. I… I need him to like me John.

It’s just some innocent flirting,” she said, unsure of how much she believed her own words. “I told you not to come anyway so why did you?”

John paused, his deep blue eyes fixed down onto her with steely determination to not show any more emotion than necessary. He knew as well as Kimberly did that neither of them had any right telling the other what not to do after just one kiss. At the same time however, he could not shake the feeling of being led on. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.

Dakota’s a cruel person when it comes to getting what she wants and any man putting down that much money out of the blue obviously wants something for it and you’re walking around in that dress that I’m surprised you could even manage to sit in and—”

“John!” Kim cut him off before his jealous rambling could go any farther. “I know what I’m getting myself into and I’m completely capable of taking care of myself!”

Kimberly knew John wasn’t used to being called out and she wasn’t fond of causing trouble but the fact he was acting so possessive without a clear reason was infuriating.

“I’m not some little girl who’s going to be parading around after a pretty boy just because he makes her feel special alright? I’ve got my own job and if I have to entertain a man with a lot of money then I’m going to do that! It was just some smiles and a little flirting, it was harmless!” she said unable to hold herself back, “I don’t even have to be explaining this to you, I don’t owe you an explanation.”

The taller man took a step back, staring down at the smaller woman in awe. It was then that she realized just how badly the kiss had affected John. From the look on his face she could tell he had never considered she didn’t see them as a couple. He didn’t seem offended or upset. He simply looked hurt.

“Oh,” was all he could get out before he had to catch the elevator doors from closing. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come… I thought… I don’t know what I thought.”

Stepping asideKimberly allowed him into the elevator, the hurt look on his face face she could tell he had never considered she didn’t see them as a couple. He didn’t seem offended or upset. He simply looked hurt.

“Oh,” was all he could get out before he had to catch the elevator doors from closing. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come… I thought… I don’t know what I thought.”

Stepping asideKimberly allowed him into the elevator, the hurt look on his face making her stomach sink down into the pit of her gut. She knew exactly what he thought and that he probably thought she would be far more grateful for his surprise than she was. Had he been any less sincere she would have had half a mind to leave him in the elevator alone.

But damn it all if she wasn’t certain that his hurt face would keep her from sleeping for weeks.

“Wait,” she said. John just barely managing to stop the door in time to let her follow him inside. “I shouldn’t have yelled it’s just… Well this is what I want to do, I want to be on stage and I want to have the cute apartment filled with things from shows I’ve been in and Luscious may be my one ticket there. I don’t know what this is between the two of us but if it’s going to work you’re going to have to accept that I’ll need to show him a good time until I get there. Okay?”

There was more than enough room in the elevator for a good amount of space to be put between the two but she still found herself inches away from John. She watched as he contemplated the offer, the cuff of his jacket brushing against her nose as he fixed a flyaway curl on the top of her head. After what had been a considerably long silence Kim found herself worrying that he say no, and losing him scared her a fair deal more than she wanted it to.

“Okay,” he finally said. “I just don’t want to lose you, Kimberly.”

He didn’t need to elaborate on why or on what they were. He wouldn’t have been given the chance either way. By the time he had said her nameKimberly’s lips were already on his, kissing him lightly at first before he kissed back even harder.

As far as she was concerned at the moment the only reason he would lose her was when they had to separate and leave the elevator. And they had a good twenty floors before that came up.

…to be continued

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