Clarity

In the split turn of a moment, everything can change. You can lose everything you ever thought was "you" in exchange for something else--in exchange for someone else. That is exactly how Clarity Smith felt.

Ripped from the life that she had known for twenty-three years, she is thrust into a world completely different than her own. What is stranger is that she feels comfortable there. But when the truth is unveiled, will Clarity be able to handle it or will she fall prey to what she truly is?

In a tale of twisted romance, Clarity must find who she really is and chose between the two men who once meant the world to her heart.

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3. Chapter One

        I glared at the man with distaste. He was one of those guys you could tell was always drunk and was dying to get his hands on at least one pretty female. Desperate. His smile was creepier than the business clothes he wore.

        The male was one of those fat business men that you knew hated his nine-to-five and preferred to wander aimlessly around bars. Most likely he was that guy who could never get a girl no matter how hard he tried and was in debt up to his eyeballs trying to impress a girl. But he wasn’t a box of chocolates. He was well over three hundred pounds with red cheeks and squinty eyes and balding hair that was turning that bright silver.

         I would almost feel bad for him if it wasn’t for the disgusting looks an obvious ogling that he was doing.

        Forty-year-old virgin, I thought sarcastically as I smiled my perfect little smile. I refilled his drink and tried not to gag when he looked down my shirt. More like sixty. Where do these men come from?

        “Hey, honey,” the man called out as I turned away. “You like this job, don’t you?”

        I withheld the groan that threatened to come out as I turned back out and tossed my hair over my shoulder. The man’s eyes immediately went to my breasts again and I bit down the scoff that threatened to escape.

           “Sir,” I replied, leaning close. “The dancers will be out soon. I’m not a dancer. This is a shitty with shitty pay with shitty people. I don’t like it.”

        I shifted back and set the empty tequila glasses on the back stand casually before smiling once more at the disgusting man.

        “Don’t forget to tip!”

        The shocked look on the man’s pudgy, ruddy face was priceless and I would have paid for a picture of it. It was obvious that he had never been to the Raven before. We weren’t like most strip clubs.

        I walked away from the bar and stepped into the kitchen with the dirtied tequila glasses. Mostly for my own sanity, I looked into the mirror over the sink to make sure there weren’t any traces of stare marks on me.

        Stare marks, Clarity, I questioned myself. Smart one, girl. Like those are even real. You’re freaking out over nothing. Besides, who do you have to dress up for?

        I frowned in the mirror and shifted my train of thought to looking more put together.

        My hair was that deep black that people have to dye their hair to be. I was constantly being asked what dye I used and being given dirty looks when they learned it was natural. What was worse was when they asked me how I got such large, perfect curls.

        They were natural too.

        I removed the hairpin I had used to keep my hair from my eyes and shook out the mess gently. I carefully smoothed back the bounce I had given to cover my eyes slightly and pinned the thick, smooth hair into place once again.

        My reflection watched me closely and I hugged myself nervously.

        Her eyes were sharp and cat-like and such a blue that they nearly glowed with an indigo light. The color was unnerving and I had taken to saying that I had contacts just to stay away from even more glares and quiet whispers. Being completely pale wasn’t much better either so, from afar, I looked like one of those pretty magazine models.

        If only I was one of those pretty models.

        I adjusted my pleather corset and tugged down my jean skirt to actually cover myself. I had learned quickly not to wear loose clothing. Yet, somehow, the men managed to flip up my skirt anyway. It was beginning to try on my nerves.

        “Clari—what are you doing in here?” someone called. “This isn’t your break. You know we need you on shift.”

        “I know, Ryan!” I hissed, pretending to mess with the gel cat-eyes I had drawn onto my lids with the liner.

        Thankfully the makeup hadn’t smudged all night still looked perfect. I couldn’t say the same about my poor clothes. They were soaked in the smell of alcohol and sex and I wanted so terribly to take them off.

        “Then get your ass out there,” he replied, putting his hands on my shoulders and squeezing roughly. “Or I might have to punish you.”

        I slammed the heel of my boot into his foot and he let out a yelp of pain, jumping away as if I had just burned him with fire. I just wished I had a flaming torch I could burn him with.

        “I’m not one of your dancers, Ryan,” I spat. “Don’t treat me like one. You may be my boss but you need me much more than I need you!”

        My hands fisted briefly, cutting off circulation to my fingers for just an instant, before relaxing. I took a calming breath before looking at Ryan and smiling my stupid, perfected smile again. I was worse than a damn beauty queen!

        “If you need anything, Mr. Stone, just call!” I trilled, waving my hand as I turned away and went back into the main room.

        Ryan was gorgeous. He was six feet and two inches of pure male with beautiful, milky brown eyes and messy hair that fell everywhere in a mass of chestnut colorings. He was that guy that always wore tight clothes and made women want to drool.

        He was a complete ass.

        I slammed the door behind me for good measure but it wasn’t heard over the pounding of the music. One look at the bar told me that I didn’t want to be there—Mr. Pudgy was still there and it looked like he was looking for me.

        My stomach revolted against my actions but I walked behind the bar anyway and smiled at the man. He ignored me and I couldn’t say that I wasn’t relieved.

        I dropped my head, washing the new glasses dry with a wash cloth as the music shifted. My lips tugged down in a frown and my gaze shifted to the stage as the first of the dancers came out.

        Of course it’s her, I thought sadly, watching the woman walk up the six steps it took to reach the stage.

     The club was set up into five places with a fifth back space for lap dances or if a couple wanted to rent a private room. Farther back into them was the area where the strippers could relax before and after the shows.

     When you walked in through the back, opaque glass doors you saw the black marble bar with about fifteen black and silver bar stools on the right.  Right beside it was the kitchen that held the break area for the bartenders. On the left you saw the clear stages and silver stripper poles that were cut separately for men to easier stand and gawk at the dancers.

     In the far back were the collection of rooms that had separate cubicles and were sound proof. I’d heard the dancers talk about them and the men that went back there but I had never seen them myself. What was more disturbing, though, was that right beside the rooms was the dining and relaxation area where people normally comingled until the dancers came out.

     I gripped the glass I was holding tighter and sighed, releasing my grip before I shattered the glass. Ryan would throw one Hell of a fit if I broke yet another glass.

     My gaze lifted to the woman on stage and sorrow swelled in my heart.

     The girl was twenty-six and beautiful. She had endless waves of hair so pale a blonde that it went far past platinum and to an almost silver color. The hair shimmered and was like silk against her as she moved against the pole and across the stage with her long limbs.

     Her skin was a soft alabaster that seemed to stretch smoothly with her five-foot-eight-inch body. Her turquoise, jewel eyes seemed to shine even from the stage and everything about her drew you in despite your gender.

     She was simply beautiful.

     She was my best friend.

     “Can I have a Kamikaze?” a voice asked. “Nothing special.”

     A shiver coursed through my body and I felt a sharp stab of pain somewhere in my body. I couldn’t quite tell where but the female nearly drug me to my knees before I met the stranger’s gaze.

     “Kamikaze?” he asked again. “You do serve that, right?”

     “Of course we do,” I replied with a smile. “I’ll get you that right now. Your total is six-fifty.”

     I grabbed the silver shaker and sat it on the bar in front of the male as I took the vodka, triple sec and lime juice from the back counter. I shifted to the front and pulled the shot glass and strainer form beneath the table, falling into my normal routine of mixing drinks.

     My body stood on end as I took the time to actually look at the man, my hands moving to make the drink despite my diverted attention.

     The male stood at about six-four or so with jet black hair dyed a dark, brilliant purple at the ends. His skin was just as pale as my own which was a bit shocking but his natural chocolate brown eyes made everything else look…normal.

     I shifted uncomfortably as I strained the shaker’s contents into the shot glass and slide the drink to the stranger.

     There was something about him that wasn’t right. It made my skin crawl and made the hot, sweaty place colder than the Arctic Circle. There was nothing pleasant about the feeling whatsoever.

     “Jack,” he smiled, lifting the glass. “I’m Jack Craven…and your name would be?”

     Anything I had just felt fell completely flat at his stupid remark. Whatever I felt had to have been overworked stress. He was no different than Mr. Pudgy.

     I ignored him and handed the shaker to another bartender who headed to the kitchen. I didn’t pay her any mind either as I returned to cleaning already clean glasses.

     “Do I not get an answer?”

     I clenched my hands before sighing, giving into the male as I saw Ryan appear at the edge of the bar.

     “Clarity,” I replied quietly, pouting. “My name is Clarity.”

     The male’s face fell and I shifted uncomfortably, looking to the stages. New dancers had taken their places and I watched as one of the dancers approached the bar.

     “Dyeana,” I laughed. “You did great tonight. Beautiful as always.”

     Dyeana’s face remained placid but she smiled. I hated her smile. She did it so often that there was not one trace a real happiness behind it. It was just plaster on. Everyone in the Raven was like that, though. The place sucked the soul out of its workers.

     “Thank you, Clarity. Did that man ever finally leave you alone? The fat one. I saw him over here earlier before we went on and he looked drunk.”

     I nodded and leaned across the bar, folding my arms.

     “What time do you get off? My shift ends in ten minutes.” I paused. “Or do you have another dance to do?”

     She smiled sympathetically at me and I frowned.

     “Oh,” I said flatly, sighing. “I’ll walk home alone tonight, then. Make sure you get a ride home? Hell, Ryan can take you home for all the Hell he puts you through.”

     Dyeana let out a laugh but shook her head as she sat on one of the bar stools, folding her arms. I didn’t need to see to know that she crossed her legs against the two strips of a bikini that pretended to cover her.

     “You two seem to get along,” Jack put in. “Are you two lovers?”

     My anger shot at least three levels and I prayed to God that he would say something stupid again so I could floor him.

     “Ask me that again when I’m not on the clock,” I hissed. “I dare you.”

     Jack held my gaze unwaveringly, his lips pressed together in silence and I faltered, taking a step away from him as I felt an uneasiness grow in my stomach.

     I was the first to break the harsh hold as I looked at the clock. The feeling of unease that had settled like a twenty ton weight in the bottom of my stomach served only to heighten my fight-or-flight reflexes.

   “Dyeana, I’m heading on back. My shift’s over in a couple of minutes.”

     I didn’t bother to hear Dyeana’s reply as I fled back to the kitchen. Flight it was, it seemed.

   My heart felt like it was going to break through my chest and shatter my bones. The feeling echoed and pounded against my ribs and my veins pulsed with its never-ending thrumming.

   I hugged my arms around myself tightly and I trembled as I sank to the dirty floor. I felt no better than it for some reason and all I wanted to do was bawl my eyes out like a little girl.

   “Clari, you okay?”

   I couldn’t count the cuss words that rushed through my head in response to Ryan’s sudden appearance. Not one word was nice save ‘that.’ And even then, what came after was nice by no standard.

   “What do you want, Ryan?” I hissed lowly. “I’m not in the mood.”

   “I just came to check on you.” He crouched to my level. “Did someone say something? Do I need to remove someone?”

   My eyes widened and I was pretty sure that my mouth had dropped to the floor in response to his concern.

   Ryan was never concerned. He was only ever caring about how the place was running and how much money was coming in and how many people there were. His actual employees were left in the dust to squander and rot and slide around the dangerous men and women who came into the Raven.

   So seeing him concerned was as scarier than Hell.

   “I’m fine?”

   Ryan reached out and his hand landed right on my breast, giving it a little squeeze. I stared at him in disbelief as his gaze stayed soft and concerned.

   “Good,” he said softly. “You’re the best looking girl I have. If someone bothers you, tell me and I’ll kick them faster than you can say tequila.”

   I felt my body trembling and I couldn’t stop my hand as it punched him squarely in the jaw. He didn’t even flinch at the blow but the pain searing through my hand nearly made me want to scream.

   “Son of a bitch,” I mutter, shoving myself to my feet before glaring at him. “I’ve said it twenty thousand times by now—stop touching me.”

   I slammed the door behind me, fiercely berating at myself.

   Concerned? Concerned my ass, I raged. It’s Ryan. Of course he isn’t going to turn tail and simply—

   I crashed into someone and the electricity that ran through my body lit my skin on fire. I couldn’t withhold the meek cry that escaped from my lips as I clung to the person’s leather jacket.

   “Well no,” the voice came. “I didn’t think you liked me that much.”

   Even at my five-eight height, the male still towered over me and it was both the scariest and the sexiest thing I had ever experienced.

   “Jack,” I gasped. “I…I…Thanks.”

   I shoved away from him and half ran through the doors to reach the city. The cool air brushed against my skin and I sighed in relief to the cold freshness that filled my lungs. It was just cold enough that it felt nice without freezing to death.

   The cold was much better than what lurked inside of the Raven.

   “Clarity,” Jack called out. “Let me walk you home.”

   I jerked around and stared at Jack like he was stupid. There was no possible way I was ever letting him walk me home.

   Or did he just think that I was that stupid?

   “Get lost, freak!” I yelled angrily, heading the opposite direction of my home. “I have better things to do than entertain stalkers.”

   If he was going to follow me there was no way I was going to lead him right to where I lived. I’d had enough strange men follow me to know better. I had already had to move three times in the past two months and I was not in the mood to move for a fourth time.

   “I don’t think I am freak,” he replied, smoothly walking beside me despite my larger-than-normal steps. “I think I am a very normal man who enjoys speaking with a beautiful woman.”

   “Go get yourself off with one of the willing women in the club. I’m sure most of them wouldn’t mind jumping in bed with you.”

   I winced at the words, knowing they weren’t true, but tried my best to hide it. Those girls weren’t there because they wanted to be. They were there because they had no other choice.

   Jack stepped in front of me, pinning my body to the brick wall as we turned the corner and I became acutely aware of his dark jeans as they scraped my bare thighs and his tight black t-shirt as my hands fell to his chest. Even his jacket seemed to have its own place in my awareness as the edges brushed along my sides in a teasing hug.

   “I want you.”

   His eyes flashed an almost red and I felt my stomach lurch in response. The red flashed again, my gaze darting towards where the light was coming from, and I relaxed slightly as I focused on the broken traffic light.

   “Look,” I whispered. “I’m not the girl you want to mess with because I can kick your ass.”

   Jack let out a deep chuckle.

   “Oh, I bet you could, Clarity.”

   I shivered, pressing into the wall at the way he said my name. There was a fondness there—a knowing. Much more than should have been there given we met only about thirty minutes ago.

   My mind quickly began churning all possible avenues and panic swelled, cutting off my voice as I held my gaze as firm and confidently as I could.

   He knew me too well which meant he had probably stalked me for a while. Nothing new. I could handle that. He was six-four or so which meant that he had a decent advantage. I would have a few problems if I fought him, but I could handle that too.

   My only problem that I couldn’t handle was the fact that all I wanted to do was melt in his arms and beg for him to take me.

   My cheeks flamed at the sudden realization that what I was feeling wasn’t fear or panic—it was arousal.

   No, Clarity, I reprimanded. You are not under any circumstance to have a case of Stockholm syndrome. True…you aren’t kidnapped—yet. Okay…stop. I just need to calm down and…stop staring at him.

   I realized that I hadn’t stopped staring at him and every fiber of my being seemed to blush. I was ready to drop to the ground and die. For all I knew, minutes could have passed and I had become that creepy girl that stared at the man.

   I tried to make thoughts form in my mind but all that came out was mush and I clenched my fists in a mixture of shame and embarrassment as Jack’s eyes told me that he knew what I was thinking and, if given the chance, he would act on it.

   My hands flattened against my chest and I broke into a run, diving into the busy sidewalk and into the gleaming lights of nighttime Cincinnati.

  I let out a soft sigh as I meshed into the crowd of tired and drunk people. There was no way someone would do something stupid and try to kidnap me when I was surrounded by people.

   Despite my reassurances, I knew that I was not safe yet. I wouldn’t be safe until I was home and safe and under my covers—with every lock in my house tied down.

   I waved my hand at a taxi and the car screeched to a halt before back up slightly to accommodate me. I didn’t hesitate to dive in, in case anyone happening to watching or following me. The sooner I became untraceable, the better.

   “Where you going?” the cabby asked, shifting to look at me.

   I let out a soft sigh and settled in the back seat. My mind took a moment to comprehend the question and the man looked at me, slightly angered.

   “Oh. East Tenth and Orchard, please.” I relaxed back and ignored the strange look the man gave me. “Yes, I do have that much money.”

   The cabby gave me another weird look but drove on anyway and I let out another sigh as I watched the flashy lights of neon signs fly by. The titles were too blurred for me to read them but I knew what most of them were anyway.

   We took a sharp turn and I frowned, leaning up to speak to the cabby.

   “Aren’t we going in the wrong direction? East Tenth and Orchard is on the other side.”

   The cabby’s eyes flickered up and I heard the sharp click of the doors locking. Fear chilled my insides and I sat back.

   “Where the Hell are you taking me,” I yelled. I hit the window. “Let me out of this car, you sicko!”

   I dug my nails into the leather of the seat and shoved my feet as roughly as I could into the back of his seat. He didn’t budge an inch and I let out a tiny whimper.

   There was no way I was going to be kidnapped by a stupid cab driver.

   I tugged at the door and the car made another wide, steep turn and I was thrown into the opposite door. My head hit sharply against the glass and I let out a moan as my vision blurred.

   And then we were stopped.

   The doors unlocked and I scrambled to open the closest one. I wasn’t even sure which one was which but every inch of my body was screaming to run for my life.

   Hot hands gripped my wrist and I screamed as loudly as I could, kicking and fighting every inch as I was drug from the cab.

   “Stupid bitch!” the man cried. “Stop struggling or I’ll have to hurt you!”

   I bit into his arm with as much force as I could and kicked my legs, making contact with something that I wasn’t quite sure if it was man or car. All that served to do was to make him angrier and he gripped my head, bashing it into the side of the car.

   My vision dazed again and I felt blood coat my tongue as the man lifted me into his arms. I felt too weak to do anything but just hang there limply but I knew better than that.

  “Now you’re quiet,” the man grumbled. “Stupid bitch.”

   I closed my eyes, my head spinning round and round until I felt like I was going to vomit. My arms wouldn’t move at all and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make my voice move.

   “You didn’t have to be so harsh with her,” a voice came. “We need her alive, after all.”

   My eyes fluttered open suddenly and my heart clenched at the sight of Jack.

   He didn’t have his jacket on and I could see the strange tattoos that decorated his arms. Words I didn’t know wrapped in chains around his biceps and on his right forearm I saw a cross of some kind. They were all beige-colored and I almost couldn’t see them since they looked more like scars than tattoos.

   “Jack?” a female voice called. “Do we have her?”

   I saw the look of pain appear on Jack’s face before he let it fall and my own heart ached for him. I couldn’t tell why but every fiber of my being as contradicting itself—I want to hug him and melt into him while wanting to beat him bloody and scream at him.

   “Don’t do this,” he whispered quietly. “Please. Leave her out of this—you have me. Am I not enough?”

   “This one is special,” the female cooed. “She is…different. You chose her and yet she denied you.”

   My eyes darted around the room but I couldn’t quite find the owner of the voice. All I could see was the cabby driver who looked like he was ready to drop me and run and Jack who was looking so heart achingly upset.

   What the Hell are you doing, I yelled at myself. What’s gotten into you?! You don’t know Jack and this guy freaking kidnapped you! Getting out is your only concern!

   I inhaled sharply and with every ounce of myself I slammed my elbow into the cabby’s chest.

   The man let out a cry and I hit the floor painfully. I didn’t stop as the voice erupted in loud chatters signifying that there were more than just the woman, the cabby man, Jack and I in the room.

   I thrust my body up as fast as I could and forced my body into a run. My lungs felt like they were going to collapse and my heart was rushing faster than it had been in the Raven.

   This is fear, I thought. This is real fear.

   I felt suffocated and I nearly cried when cool hands wrapped around my burning body, holding me in place. My right arm was held into the air while my left was bent at the elbow and held against my captor’s body.

   “I really wish you would have let me walk you home,” Jack whispered. “I could have kept you safe.”

   My eyes darted around quickly and I realized that we were in a warehouse. I tried taking everything in as quickly as possible but knew I probably would survive to get to a phone and tell someone where I was.

   “If you’re going to kill me, kill me!” I hissed lowly. “Don’t toy with me.”

   “Unfortunately, she is going to do something much worse than kill you. I’m sorry, Clarity—I can’t protect you.”

   Jack’s voice grew thick and I started to make a sharp comment when something sharp stabbed into my arm.

   “Fight.”

   My vision swam endlessly and I struggled to keep my eyes open. I had more I had to say. More I had to do. I couldn’t pass out and let them kidnap me so easily.

   I have to…fight.

   And then I was gone.

 

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