By: Francette Phal

Knowing she had the next few hours all to herself, Eden sat on the edge of the large sleigh bed, her smooth caramel legs dangling from the edge, her feet barely touching the cream carpet. She’d always been short, standing no taller than the woman who’d given her birth. A sad smile touched Eden’s lips as she thought about her mother. She wouldn’t be happy if she knew this was how Eden had ended up.

A rich man’s blow up doll.

Helen Mercer had always wanted more for her daughter, believing, as all ’mothers do, that her child was special and could reach the stars if she wanted. And while she was alive, Eden had bought into her mother’s dream, had believed that her voice could change their lives, could bring them out of the poverty that was all around them. But a senseless tragedy neither one could’ve predicted stole not only Eden’s mother, but her voice as well. It’d been a drive-by shooting, and in the ghetto of South Rochester, an everyday occurrence. The stray bullets had ripped through her mother that summer evening while she’d been walking home from her night shift at the local burger joint on Third Street. She’d died before the ambulance was called. Eden turned eighteen the following day. She’d stopped celebrating her birthday the day her mother died. After that, it’d been a series of horrible misfortunes brought on by too much debt and not enough money to pay them off. Graduating high school had not been without its efforts, and she’d gone through high school long enough to receive her hard earned diploma. She’d owed her mother at least that, a small honor that would, at the very least, overshadow the shameful way she was going to make money. Learning the finer points of stripping at the Crazy Pussy downtown had been a real low point.

College was put on the backburner for a part time job at Lou’s as a waitress in the morning and her full time gig at the Crazy Pussy at night. The money had been good for a while, but not enough to cover the substantial debts that her mother had kept hidden from her. Life had seemed pretty bleak until the moment Lucas came stumbling into the strip club. Lucas had been an obnoxious, entitled, spoiled asshole with too much time on his hands and an entire inheritance he’d seemed determined to unload at the club. He’d treated the dancers like meat, harassed the waitresses, and made the bartender’s life hell, but he’d always been welcomed because he’d been extremely generous with his money. Eden had not only seen the scope of his generosity with the way he showered the stage with cash when she danced, but he’d made sure to lavish her with extra gifts. Lucas had wanted her but Eden hadn’t taken his pursuit seriously. He’d been incoherently drunk for most of the time he’d spoken to her anyway. But then with Lucas came Dominic. Imperious, indomitable and ruthless, Dominic Armstrong had ridden roughshod through her life. The moment she’d seen him, Eden had known things would never been the same for her. There had been her unimaginable attraction to him, tall, dark and handsome as he’d been, every single female inch of her had prickled with awareness of him. Lucas’s half-brother had looked nothing like his inebriated, slovenly sibling.

Dominic had come with an offer, which Eden has capriciously countered with one of her own. She’d done it simply to knock him off his high horse because she knew people like him would never marry below their station. He’d been so bold, so sure that she would jump on the opportunity to become his mistress that she’d wanted to see how far he was willing to go to have her. Apparently he’d been willing to go quite far. Eden had never expected him to agree to the marriage proposal, but then she quickly saw the advantages it would bring her when he offered her entry to his world. He flaunted his money and she’d been greedy enough to jump on the opportunity. Accidental gold-digger. She laughed humorlessly; she’d done the one thing her mother had cautioned her against doing. Stripping had been one thing, but Eden had sold her soul for wealth and the horrible part was that it hadn’t even been for her voice.

Eden came to her feet wincing when a slight bit of pain shot between her legs. The shower felt great, but the soreness would remain for a few days, along with the bruises that marred her skin.

She wiped the condensation from the bathroom mirror and found a pair of honey gold eyes staring back at her from a round, somewhat attractive face. She wasn’t ugly honestly, although she could say that her mouth was a little too wide and her eyes a little too sunken, but those were features she’d inherited from an unknown father. Her mother hadn’t spoken much of the man who’d been in her life for only period of time, but she did tell Eden that she’d inherited the “music” from him. He’d been a jazz musician from what she knew, and they’d shared a supernova romance that had come and gone, leaving Eden as a result.