A Story by Deborah Benson



Name Your Price

First there is desire, then passion, and then suspicion…

With the book being written and the set list starting to fall into place the only hard work left to do fell on Kimberly and the other dancers.

Dakota had promised them grand sets and even grander costumes with Luscious’s help, a fact that excited everyone in the company aside from Kim. The show had yet to be named but as far as the company was told it promised to be the most successful show they had put on.

If Kimberly could keep her end of the deal up, anyway.

The choreographer worked her feet to the bone as the company watched. Serena managing to weave her way into the lessons to push and pull Kim’s body to show her how to properly seduce the audience, something that at first seemed strange until the male dancers began to offer their opinions on Serena’s methods. Even the sweet-mannered Paul offered a comment or too when he thought there was something that could be changed.

“You have to convince the crowd you have feelings for the club owner Kim,” Serena said, walking her through the choreographer’s steps.

“You make Paul here fall for you and they will too, and if they like you that’s better for all of us.”

At this the tall man’s cheeks turned a light pink, causing the men around him to chuckle. “What Serena means is you just have to make it look like you like me, you don’t have to pretend to be in love with me.”

Kimberly nodded, taking a small break when the choreographer started to work with the men.

Well, that’s one less person I need to lie to , she thought, digging around in her dance bag for a bottle of water.

She had already heard from Serena and Dakota how important convincing Luscious she cared for him was to so many people besides the three of them, and she’d skipped out on staying with John for breakfast to keep from explaining to him why she had to take so many pills before rehearsal. Even if it was just an act the last thing she needed was to have another web of lies to string together in order to protect herself and her performance. As far as she was concerned the only lie she wanted to tell was that she understood her steps for the opening number.

“I want the backdrop to be big enough to have the whole company standing around it together.

No I don’t care how much it costs you know we’ve got the deal signed. No, no Kimberly wont be using it works with her pieces so he’ll still be paying for it.” Kim could just barely make out Dakota fussing about on stage, her phone pressed close to her ear. “Just get it done, the sooner the sets are finished the sooner we move to costume. We’re on a tight schedule here, make it happen.”

Everything and everyone seemed to be running in a frenzy around her as she ordered people to and fro. Kimberly had never seen someone so in control of their surroundings and while the sight was impressive she wanted nothing more than to use the chaos to go back to John’s bed and hide from everything that was expected of her. Dakota, however, had different plans the second she spotted Kim.

“There you are,” she said as she hung up her call. “Come here, I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”

“I’m not sure if I’m free right now Dakota, we still have the rest of the number to learn,” Kim said in an attempt to avoid the conversation.

“Nonsense, they’ve still got ten other people to teach it to, I can borrow you for a moment.”

Dakota’s polite smile did nothing to hide the fact she wouldn’t be allowing Kimberly to make excuses. “Come see me in my office.”

Dakota walked off stage through the frenzy of dancers and builders with such a sense of purpose she seemed to part the sea of people and curtains with an effortless ease. Should her air of power had been directed to any other profession there was no doubt in Dakota’s mind that she would be terrifyingly successful.

But for better or for worse, Dakota’s efforts were focused on the theater and Kimberly specifically.

This made the idea of trying to avoid Dakota a second time completely ridiculous.

With a small sigh Kimberly pulled herself up from her seat, walking backstage after the taller woman as quickly as she could manage. She had never been inside the office personally but the older members of the company were able to point her in the right direction easily.

The office lay in a hallway between the girls’ dressing room and the stage door. Secluded from the rest of the theater Kimberly could only assume what kinds of shady deals she needed complete privacy for. It wasn’t until she came to sit down across from the large hard wood desk that she even considered the fact Luscious’s investment in her was most likely made in the room as well.

“Is something wrong?” Kim asked, watching Dakota dig through one of the desk drawers.

“Not at all, I just have a little business to talk to you about.” The woman carefully pulled out a small notebook and a bottle of pills from the top drawer. “The dancers have been saying you get a bit nervous on stage, yes?”

“I don’t think so… I mean I haven’t been there as long as them so I guess it takes some getting used to,” Kim said, unsure of where she was going with her question. “Serena said everyone gets a little nervous.”

“Serena says a lot of things dear, and you can’t always listen to her.” Dakota smiled, handing Kim the bottle. “Sometimes you need a second opinion, and in this case it’s mine.”

The bottle felt heavier in her hand than the pain pills Serena had given her. The label across the side filled with warnings and ingredients she had never heard of before and the doctor’s notes were nearly impossible to read. She had taken serious medication once or twice before and remembered the feeling of the few pills placed in a large bottle. A quick shake proved that unlike her past prescriptions, this bottle had been filled to the top.

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“How is this a second opinion?” She asked, an uneasy feeling coming over her the longer she held the bottle.

“For your stage fright. They help calm the nerves and remove inhibitions. Serena took them for a while when she started too. Just take two if you start feeling nervous and everything will be fine.” Dakota smiled, placing her hands over Kim’s, skillfully closing her hands around the bottle to ensure she kept it.

“You can stop taking them once we’re sure you can handle everything. Alright?”

Before Kimberly could consider the issues with taking a medication like that she found herself already putting it in her dance bag, Dakota’s gaze only leaving her when the pills were tucked safely in their new home. Had she refused the bottle there was no doubt in her mind Dakota would have found a way to force her to take it.

“Alright. I’ll try not to use it up too fast,” Kim attempted to chuckle.

With a small smile she was excused, pulling her bag back over her shoulder head out of the room as quickly as possible. She wanted to rid herself of the uneasy feeling that had settled in at the sight of the bottle and she doubted the bleak office was doing anything to help.

It wasn’t until she had almost made her escape that the sound of Dakota clearing her throat forced her to look back.

“I almost forgot. You wont be going to rehearsal Friday night.” Dakota’s smile seemed almost genuine, as if she was excited for Kim.

“Luscious has arranged a dinner for the two of you then. He’s very excited apparently, so you get some rest before then.”

Kimberly felt her heart sink. She had no desire to pretend to be interested in another man while John was most likely still in the bed she had left so unceremoniously. Yet she could not use another man as an excuse to avoid her investor, not while she knew how much was at stake.

“That sounds fun,” she lied much to Dakota’s enjoyment. “I’ll be ready.”

At that she was finally dismissed, being left to return to the theater on her own. As thoughts about making an excuse to avoid John that day began to mingle with all the lies she’d have to prepare to deal with Luscious’s affections Kimberly barely noticed the sound of her dance bag opening up.

As her mind began to turn towards how to tell John she wouldn’t be available all Friday she became unaware of the bottle of pills opening.

And as she pictured having to tell him she would be busy Saturday as well she could barely taste the bitterness of the pills as she walked back onto stage.

__

Bleep To say finding someone willing to speak to John was difficult would be a sickening understatement. Since he had left the comforts of his bed that morning there was not a single person willing to even point him in the direction of Dakota’s office, and for the first time in his life dropping the Grey name only seemed to steer him farther from where he wanted to go.

It wasn’t until the dancers had been released from their rehearsal that he was even allowed to enter the theater.

The dancers passed around him completely unaffected by his presence. To them he had no more importance than one of the many set pieces placed throughout the theater. He doubted they even knew who he was.

Looking around the exiting dancers John almost thought he saw Kimberly leaving with a few of the other people in the company but before he could call her name the vaguely familiar face of the old lead cut off his view.

“Are you lost?” she asked, distracting him long enough to allow Kimberly to leave without seeing him.

Pulling himself back to earth John looked down to the woman; though she was taller than his Kim she still wasn’t as tall as him. With his first view of her in proper lighting he could note several differences between her andKim aside from their height. This woman seemed harder, her features and her demeanor sharpened in a manner he had only seen before in Dakota.

Her body looked thinner and frailer than Kimberly’s but she held herself with a strength that he was nearly certain was the only thing keeping her standing.

At one point in time, he might have found her beautiful. But in the middle of the day he could tell something else had gotten to her first.

“No, I’m just looking for Dakota,” he finally replied, “I need to speak with her.”

“She can’t help you,” she said curtly. “She doesn’t take clients when there isn’t a show running, and besides she doesn’t cater to family matters.”

Serena patted his arm in a fake show of sympathy before starting to walk away. The remaining dancers avoided her with a fearful show of respect as she past them to head backstage.

He may not be able to question Dakota directly, but he knew business well enough to recognize the second in command.

Quickly he followed Serena backstage, weaving his way past have constructed set pieces and costume racks meant for dozens of different people and scenes. While Serena moved through the clutter with a practiced grace John’s stumbling nearly knocked over two costume racks and a small stagehand as they moved passed the dressing rooms.

“You’re persistent aren’t you?” Serena said, turning back to look at John.

“I need to talk to you, since Dakota isn’t available. It’ll only take a minute I promise.”

At this the woman’s sharp features softened, her face breaking out into a wide smile as she laughed. “That’s nothing to be proud of, Mr. Grey. That’s actually really sad.” Her laughter continued as she led him to a back room free from any of the pre-show clutter.

Pink satin and ivory pillows covered the room along with empty silver trays and remnants of some long forgotten party. Serena lounged across a large pink loveseat, toying with a piece of her hair as Johb entered the room. She somehow blended seamlessly into the gaudy set up in a way that almost caused him to forget how ridiculous the place looked during the day, but only almost.

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“What are you talking about?” He asked, not particularly caring to touch anything in the room.

“‘It’ll only take a minute’ , a great Grey can only last a minute? No wonder you were looking for Dakota,” she teased, her smile quickly fading when Serena failed to understand her joke. “…What did you want to talk to her about?”

“A friend of mine, I just want to know a few things about how everything’s run, business stuff, not too much. What did you think I wanted to know?”

Quickly Serena rose from the chair, closing he door behind John, pushing him over to sit where she had been. Her well-groomed brows furrowing as she looked him over. John recognized the look crossing her face to be the same his father had before telling him bad news, she had something to admit and whatever it was he doubted he’d like it.

“Who is your friend?” she countered, trying to buy herself more time.

John considered lying for a moment, but he figured there was nothing to be gained in hiding who he was to Kimberly. Especially if that would help him get his answers.

“Kimberly we’re rather close.” Serena’s face seemed to harden at the mention of Kim’s name. “She and I were a bit curious about how everything works from here, since Dakota doesn’t tell my father or I more than how much money she brings in.”

“…You shouldn’t be meddling in these things, John. Kim has enough to deal with and I can promise you she knows how things work around here.” Serena’s stern gaze never left his face.

“Just explain to me about this whole investor deal, that man from dinner earlier, that’s her investor right? What do they do? Why does she have to pretend to be sweet on him?” Once the questions started coming out he could barely get them to stop. “Why are you giving her pills, and why on earth is it so important that she listen to what you and Dakota say? She’s just a dancer, she doesn’t need you all fussing over her!”

Serena went quiet, a slow recognition passing over her face as she realized why John was so wound up from something he had no business being involved with. Carefully she managed to keep her tone calm, wanting to make sure John listened to her completely.

“The pills are for her feet, if a dancer ruins their feet then they ruin the show. They wont hurt her if she takes them every now and again. It’s not important to her to listen to Dakota, but I’ve been where she is and if she wants to make it she needs to listen to me, plus if things go well for her I can work with her to get back where I belong.” Her hand covered his lightly, as if to insure he stayed down while she continued.

“The investor is something every lead wants to get, they pay for the show and anything to do with the girl their investing in. It’s like a partnership. Her investor is called Luscious and he’s got big money down in South America or something, I don’t really know. But I do know what he’s investing more money in Kim than any investor has in any dancer before, so we need to make sure he likes her enough to want to keep giving us his money.” Serena paused for a moment, considering the best way to word her next point. “Saying she’s just a dancer is wrong, she’s much more important than that.

“She’s like an escort now, most of the girls are.

It’s good money and it keeps the theater running even if the shows aren’t great. Dakota has her rules and the girls aren’t made to do anything they don’t want to do. An escort isn’t just some hooker that men can call though; they show men a good time. It’s like paying to be in a relationship. That’s why Kim has to pretend to like being around Luscious, because as far as he’s concerned they’re together when he’s around.”

For what seemed like ages neither of them spoke. John could feel his heart drop to his stomach as he heard the final bit of news. He couldn’t believe his ears at first, something as insane as his Kimberly selling herself just couldn’t be true. She was his, and he was hers, no price tag needed. Yet all it took for someone else to call her there’s was a few dollars and some fancy costumes. It all made him sick.

“What if I pay over him to make him leave?”

John asked, having a hard time getting the words out. “Then she wouldn’t have to pretend to be anything to him.”

Serena’s gazed softened as she almost seemed to pity John “Dakota wont take your money.

The last thing she’d want is to give any of her success to you or your father… You can’t make Luscious leave, legally he nearly owns the show.”

“There has to be something…”

The silence covered the room again as Serena considered his options. She wasn’t about to sabotage her show and he knew that, but for one reason or another she took pity on him, so he could only hope she’d have pity for Kim as well.

“You could take Kim away from here,” she said, a devious twinkle returning to her eyes.

“Give her to opening night and I’ll keep her safe, then you get her on a plane and take her far from here and Luscious. I’ll help if you make sure she’s long gone before the show starts.”

Had John cared to think about the situation logically he would have turned Serena down.

There was no doubt in his mind his removing Kim would benefit her position in the show, and he had no real reason to trust she would take care of her. He didn’t even have a reason to believe Kimberly would want to leave with him. But he was too consumed with a need for action to even think about any negative outcome.

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Kimberly may have fallen into Dakota’s game, but he would be the one to get her out if it was the last thing he did.

“You keep Dakota and that Luscious away from her and you’ll never see either of us again.” Bleep

__
Bleep For hours after John the shared penthouse things had become almost unbearably quiet.

The cleaning lady had given up on helping with John’s room, and the kitchen had taken hours to even begin to look like it had before John got to it. Mark had dealt with being left around the house waiting for John before, but the longer he was left alone the flat the more anxious he became. He even began to think he could hear the digital clock changing time. Unable to bear inaction any longer Mark left the penthouse in search of John or Kimberly.

He had agreed to take care of Kim while John was busy, so it only made sense that he could at least try to find her. She was more enjoyable to be around than John was anyway.

It didn’t take long for Mark to start wandering the halls of the resort in search of anywhere Kim may have gone. The other dancers frequented lounges or bars, usually moving in groups of three or more, but none of the groups he passed seemed to hold Kimberly. The only person who could even help him find her was a small blonde girl who offered a ‘she went home’ before flitting off to try and flirt her way into free drinks from another dancer.

Wandering through the penthouse floor Mark began checking random doors in hope of finding Kim’s. A majority of the doors didn’t open, leading him to begin an extensive game of knocking on each door before hiding behind a corner to allow unamused neighbors to blame each other for their confusion.

The game didn’t help him find Kim but it did cure his boredom.

He had almost made it through a second floor of penthouse suits before finding an unlocked door budged open at his knocking. The foyer was almost completely blocked by different cardboard boxes; Mark doubted he could have pushed the door open any further even if he wanted to.

“Anybody home?” he asked, a bit curious as to why the door would be left unlocked.

The sound of a person inside the flat stumbling answered his question as he saw a few box being shoved out of the foyer in order to open the door fully. A mess of brown curls peaked around a stack of boxes as Mark was allowed inside, its owner laughing lightly at a joke he must have just missed.

“Mark!” Kimberly giggled, her gaze a bit hazier than he remembered. “What are you doing here?”

“Just visiting,” he said, helping Kim make her way through the box maze to find the living room. “You still unpacking?”

“Yup, a lot of this is stuff Serena doesn’t need but I didn’t think there’d be so much!”

Kimberly’s giggling persisted as she took a seat on a chair that came with the flat. She motioned for Mark to join her but he passed up on the offer, taking a moment to look over everything as she calmed herself down. “I could give you a tour but I almost fell in the kitchen, so I’m avoiding there for a while.”

For someone like Kimberly the clutter seemed a tad out of character, and he couldn’t understand for the life of him why falling would have made her laugh so hard. Dance equipment scattered itself across the room with shoes and rehearsal clothes draped over coffee tables and chairs alike. The only thing in the room that didn’t seem to be a part of the move or her work was a small orange bottle sitting on a table in front of Kim, the cap left slightly undone.

Taking another look at Kim he began to realize there wasn’t any joke he was missing, but a dosage he hadn’t taken.

“You feeling okay, Kim?” he asked, moving over to read the label on the pills without a complaint from his giggling friend.

“I’m fine, Mark,” she said, drawing out his name before laughing at herself. “I’m just a little dizzy, and you’re a little blurry.”

Closing the bottle for her Mark allowed her to laugh at her own joke for a while longer before putting it far out of her reach. He doubted she would be harmed by taking more pills than necessary, but he wasn’t about the to back to John to tell him either.

“You can’t take more than two of these a day, okay Kim? You look like you’re drunk.”

Kimberly frowned, her laughter fading quickly as Merlin moved to sit beside her.

“Dakota said I could take however many I wanted, and I feel fine,” she protested.

“Dakota’s not a doctor, I don’t even know what those are for, but lay off them for a little, okay?” She grumbled in protest, crossing her arms stubbornly. “If you keep taking them like this I’m going to have to tell John you know. I don’t want to but he’s worried about you being around his cousin. Help me out here would you?”

At the mere mention of John’s name Kimberly’s entire demeanor began to sober up. Her eyes dropping to the ground as she leaned against Mark for balance. He didn’t know what was going on inside her head, and he doubted she would be able to tell him even if she wanted to. But for a moment, he almost thought he saw guilt hiding behind her hazy gaze.

“I’ve got this under control… It was just one time, it wont happen again I promise.”

Kimberly’s tone began to change, sounding almost desperate as she continued. “Just don’t tell John. You can’t tell John. I’ll handle this.”

Mark wasn’t entirely sure what she was talking about but he knew better than to ask. Lightly he put an arm around her shoulders, keeping her from tipping over.

“I’ve got you Kim, I wont say a thing.”

…to be continued

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