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Nobody Looks Good Naked, Dear Professor #2
A Penny Reid Newsletter Exclusive
Dr. Hanover stared at me, his eyebrows pulling low on his forehead. Then he raised one. Then he raised the other. Then they pulled low again.
At odd intervals, he took a breath as though about to make a declaration. Instead of speaking, he breathed out, the thread of a thought or shadow of a suspicion evading him.
All the while I watched, waited with baited breath—with a stone cold façade—for my professor to place me.
After a full minute, maybe less, maybe more, he shook his head. “I know you.” The words were an accusation, but they were also uncertain.
Inwardly, a wave of tentative relief loosened my mind enough that I realized, for maybe the first time in my life, my propensity to freeze had saved me. Now that my brain was thawing, it was also spinning. I needed to do something. Soon. I needed to distract him. I guestimated we had less than ten minutes left in this session.
“You think so?” I countered quietly, hoping my expression was as disinterested as I sounded. On a reckless hunch, I took a step closer. The back of his knuckles—of the hand holding his scotch—came in light contact with the fabric of the robe over my stomach.
He stiffened, his chin lifting, but he didn’t step away. “What are you doing?”
“The kimono is a blend of vucana and spider silk. Isn’t it soft?” My voice was just above a whisper.
“I thought we weren’t allowed to touch.” He unbent his index and middle finger from his glass, catching a fold of the kimono between his fingers while also lightly brushing them against my stomach. The movement was so natural, felt so instinctual, I doubted he realized what he was doing.
“You’re allowed to touch the material of our lingerie, with your fingers, anywhere except at the breast or . . .” I couldn’t finish, my chest and throat wouldn’t cooperate. I wasn’t breathing hard, but I was out of breath.
This was so ridiculous. I’d said these words hundreds of times to hundreds of clients.
Before I could sort out the source of my anomalous behavior, Victor removed his other hand from his pocket and trailed a light fingertip along the edge of the robe at my neck, down the V to my chest between my breasts, then back up to my shoulder.
His eyes followed the movement of his finger as though entranced. “Like this?”
I nodded. My mouth parted, but I was still unable to speak, and certainly not able to think.
Victor’s gaze moved to my lips, sharpened as his gentle touch skimmed down the silk at the back of my arm, to my waist, then hip, sending a cascade of goosebumps over my skin beneath the robe.
“I can only touch the material of what you wear?” His gaze narrowed, but not with suspicion. More like curiosity, as though he were asking me to read back the rules of a game.
I nodded again.
“Can you touch me?” Victor brushed the backs of his knuckles along the outside of my leg, and then used his fingertips to raise the fabric upwards, the cool silk caressing my skin, the hem of the kimono lifting to my knee. His progress stopped at the curve of my bottom.
I shook my head, biting my bottom lip to keep from making a sound that would only embarrass me. A shockwave of heat radiated from my abdomen outward; I locked my knees so I wouldn’t sway towards him; curled my hands into fists so I wouldn’t touch him. The room, everything in it except the man in front of me and his touch, faded into a shadowy nothingness.
“Is that why—” he started softly, tilting his head to the side as his dark eyes moved between mine. “Is that why you didn’t want to be covered? By the robe? Because, if you’re covered, I can touch you?”
I could only swallow and stare in response.
I wasn’t panicked and I wasn’t exactly frozen, I was too hot to be frozen. In truth, I was on fire. Everywhere. Yet the effect was still the same.
He was right, I preferred stage three garments. Stage three meant customers couldn’t touch anywhere except the bra strap over the shoulder or clasp at the back. Everything else was off limits or bare skin (so, again off limits).
Looking was just looking. So what if these rich people saw me naked?
But touching? Nope. I wasn’t a fan of strangers touching me and I believed that made me 100% normal. Except right now, I didn’t mind being touched at all.
“How ironic.” The side of his mouth curved just barely and the light in his eyes felt oddly esteeming, as though he’d discovered something wonderful about me. “The more you wear, the more vulnerable you become.”
“And the less a woman wears, the more powerful she becomes?”
I flinched, as though jolted awake from a dream, and turned my heard toward the unexpected sound of Madame Purple’s voice.
She stood in the center of the room, which meant she hadn’t just entered. She’d been there for a while. One hand was on her hip and she was splitting her attention equally between us, smiling with her eyes but not with her lips.
“Dr. Hanover.” She indicated with her chin towards the lingerie rack. “Did you see anything you like?”
I glanced to Victor, found him frowning at my boss like he was trying to make sense of her words. Or maybe he was trying to make sense of her sudden presence.
Abruptly, he released the fabric of the kimono and stiffened, taking a step back and blinking around the room as though suddenly remembering himself.
“I—sorry.” He shook his head, looking dazed and maybe a little mortified. Then again, to me, “I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry, Dr. Hanover?” Madame Purple strolled over to us, her mouth curving into a pretty smile. She stopped less than a foot from me and used the back of her hand to brush my long hair from my shoulder. She then trailed a finger down my arm and her grin widened when his eyes followed the movement. “Nothing you did was forbidden, Professor.”
His eyes lifted to hers and he swallowed, the uneasiness in his gaze quickly giving way to repulsion. “Just because a thing is allowed,” his eyes flickered over me, all hint of their earlier esteem gone, “doesn’t mean it should be done.”
His words stung like rejection and smelled of pretention, a heady combination.
A new type of embarrassment—the really, really bad kind—clawed its way up my throat, burning and scratching the inside and the out, while waves of heat flooded my neck and cheeks.
I tore my eyes from his and lifted my chin, giving Madame Purple a tight smile. “Are we finished?”
She inspected me impassively for a quick moment, and then nodded. “Yes. Thank you, Lavender.”
Holding the kimono closed at my neck, I side-stepped Professor Hanover and walked quickly to the dressing room. I thought I heard him make a strangled sound just as I hurried past, but I ignored it. I ignored him. I ignored everything.
I stomped into the dressing room, past the board of notices, past a few of my co-workers in various stages of undress, and by the time I’d made it to my own dressing area I was in a tizzy.
Because, I mean, how fucking dare he! The puritan prude. Wearing lingerie for a living meant that I should be ashamed of myself? What a dickwad. What a judgmental asshat.
*He* was the taint.
“Taint!” I pulled the kimono from my shoulders and threw it at my chair, forcefully tugging off the stockings next and chucking them at the pile of red silk.
“Whoa, wait. Emily,” my coworker Helen jogged over from her spot, placing her hand over mine where I was tearing at the bra clasp. “Girl, this bra costs eight hundred dollars. And that’s the spider silk kimono you just threw. That thing costs more than the down payment for my house. Calm down.”
I growled. Then huffed. Then growled again, glancing up at the ceiling while I blinked back tears. Why the fuck did I feel like crying?
“I don’t care.”
“Okay, Honey Badger.” She rubbed a circle on my bare back. “What happened?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. Not a damn thing. It’s just, you know, a person I respected and admired looked at me like I revolted him—right after turning me on like a strand of Christmas lights—and then said something to make me feel like garbage. No big deal.”
She huffed a short laugh. “What are you talking about?”
“Nothing,” I ground out through clenched teeth. “Just ignore me.”
“Right. Well,” Helen squeezed my shoulder, moving to my discarded stockings and kimono, “You don’t want Purple to see this. Let me hang them up for you.”
“It’s just—” I shoved my fingers into my hair, digging them into my scalp. “Who the hell do these people think they are? Nobody held a gun to their head, to bring them here. If they find what we do to be so—”
Helen cleared her throat loudly, her eyes growing wide as they looked beyond me.
I straightened, the fine hairs on the back of my neck coming to attention just as I discerned the sound of high heels clicking on the linoleum floor.
“Crap,” I sighed, closing my eyes. It had to be Madame Purple. Helen wouldn’t have cut me off if it had been anyone else.
Our boss rarely entered the dressing stalls, typically only when she had big news to discuss. Or she needed to fire someone.
I forced calm into my voice and pasted a smile over my mouth as I turned to face her. “Madame Purple.”
Her gaze flickered over me, much like she’d done in my private showroom just a few moments ago. But this time she wore a frown instead of the smooth, impassive expression she put on for clients.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes.” I nodded succinctly, forcing my smile wider. “And how are you?”
“I’m very well.” She squinted at me just slightly, an almost imperceptible narrowing of the eyes. “In fact, I’m great.”
“Good. That’s good.” I reached behind me, carefully unclasping the bra, and realizing I’d broken one of the cardinal rules. Models were never supposed to leave the showroom wearing merchandise. “I—uh—sorry about—”
“Don’t let it happen again,” she said, but she waved away my apology like it was unnecessary. “That’s not why I’m here.”
“Oh.” I successfully unhooked the bra and covered my breasts with my forearm as best I could, handing the lacy item to my boss.
She accepted it, reaching for the t-shirt on my dressing table and tossing it to me. “Tell me, did your last client say or do anything I should know about? The camera didn’t pick up what he said before I walked in.”
I shook my head before she’d finished her question, but I also ground my teeth at the memory and the silly way I’d behaved. He’d touched me. And I liked it. I’d liked it a lot. And maybe I thought he’d liked it.
An image of him, of the revulsion in his gaze as he looked at me afterward, flashed through my mind.
Ah, jeez. So what? What the hell had I been thinking? This was work. This was my job. In the end he proved himself to be a taint and, in retrospect, I felt nothing but irritated with myself.
“No. He didn’t do anything, or say anything you should know about. He didn’t break the rules.” I held my t-shirt to my chest and was just about to pull it on when a thought occurred to me. “Why? Did he say something about me? Because I didn’t—”
“No. Not at all.” Madame Purple’s lips curved into a rare, genuine smile. “Actually, he said you were very ‘efficient’ at your job.”
I didn’t know how to feel about that revelation. My brain seemed to think it was insulting, but my body seemed to think it was delightful. Therefore, I said nothing and ignored them both.
“In fact,” her grin grew and a light disbelieving laugh tumbled from her lips, “he’s now a client.”
“What?” I gripped the shirt tighter to my chest, her last statement essentially freezing me in place. “What did you just say?”
“He signed up. Paid the deposit, just now. He’s a member.” Madame Purple reached for the hanger Helen—who’d been off to the side, listening to our entire conversation—was holding with the kimono and the stockings. Giving me one last perfunctory smile, Madame Purple turned from us both and strolled towards the exit.
What? Why would he do that? What would make him do that? I couldn’t think. Especially after his little snobby speech about—
“Oh yeah,” my boss paused just outside the door, interrupting my thoughts, “and he bought everything you wore today, including the kimono.” She gave me an approving head bob. “Great job today, Lavender. Keep up the good work.”
** END PART 2 **