Stripped by Jamie Knight

Chapter One - Shane

“Screw this.” I stood and shoved away from the conference table. “No fucking way.” My three business partners glanced at one another. “This isn’t something I’m interested in. Period. When you said you wanted to talk about opening a new club, I didn’t think you meant a fucking strip club. We run nightclubs, not titty bars.”

My cousin Liam pinched the bridge of his large nose. “Shane, sit the fuck down and calm the fuck down. The Bachelor’s owner will be here in five minutes. I don’t want him walking into a brawl.”

I jabbed a finger in his direction. “You of all people should know how I feel about strippers.”

He scowled at me. “C’mon, man. That was almost twenty-five years ago. You were ten. Not every stripper is a money grabber who breaks up families. Most just want to earn a living.”

I briefly closed my eyes. Angel, aka Missy, aka the stripper my dad had left my mom for, had tainted my view of women who took their clothes off for profit.

Jack, usually the typical hot-headed redhead, gestured for me to sit. “Calm down. This could net us millions in profits. I’ve seen the numbers. At least sit and listen to Johnny.”

“Not interested.”

Noah raised his dark eyebrows. “Why not hear the guy out?”

“Fine,” I said, relenting. “But don’t expect him to change my mind. I’m not putting my money into some sticky-floored strip joint in the middle of nowhere.”

“It’s not in the middle of nowhere,” Noah explained. “You might not like strip clubs, but you know as well as I do that Atlanta is the strip club capital of the country. Buying one is a no brainer.”

I yanked out my chair and sat. Sure, I was acting like a petulant child, but I had every reason. At the age when I’d needed my dad the most, he’d knocked up his stripper mistress and then left my mom alone to raise my two younger sisters and me. To make matters worse, he hadn’t paid one cent in child support.

For the family to get by, I worked as much as school allowed and gave all my wages to my mom. What she earned as a kindergarten teacher was barely enough to cover the bills. Even with both of us working, meals were still slim, and occasionally, the lights would be shut off. It was not an easy childhood, and the experience left me bitter.

I got it, not every stripper was like Missy, but it would take a lot to convince me they all weren’t out for a rich baby daddy. Not that my dad was rich, but he worked as an accountant for a finance firm and had done okay for himself. I hadn’t seen him since the day he’d left. I’d refused to have anything to do with him. The last I’d heard, he lived in Las Vegas, having traded in Missy for a younger model.

I skimmed through my phone will waiting for Johnny to arrive. I laughed to myself. He sounded like a mobster and probably used the club as a front for drugs or gun-running.

“He’s here,” Liam said. “Don’t act like an ass, Shane.”

I glared in his direction. “I’ll act whatever way I want.”

The man who walked into our conference room was exactly what I’d expected—overweight and sixty-something with dyed black hair, an orange tan, and teeth so white, my eyes were dazzled when he smiled. Chunky gold rings adorned his fingers, and a rope necklace hung around his neck. He had cliché written all over him.

Liam stood and shook his hand. “Thanks for coming to meet us.”

Johnny clasped Liam’s hand and shrugged. “No problem. I have a few interested parties, but since you guys are the nightclub kings of Atlanta, I hope we can come to an agreement.”

“Us too.” Liam dropped his hand and did the introductions. For the next hour, Johnny went over the figures the club brought in each week and how much each stripper gave him for house fees. The numbers seemed too good to be true.

“How much do they charge for tricks?” I asked, looking directly into the man’s eyes. “Do you get a cut of that too?”

“Excuse my cousin,” Liam said with a scowl. “He got out of bed on the wrong side this morning.”

“It’s alright.” Jonny leaned back in his chair and sized me up for a few seconds before answering my question. “Not under my roof. I know it happens in other establishments. I look after the girls. Give them medical and dental. They don’t bring any trouble my way. I can’t attest to what they do in their free time, but I keep a clean house. No drugs, no sex, no funny business.”

His explanation didn’t convince me. “Why are you selling? The truth.”

Jonny sighed and opened his hands in a gesture of acceptance. “My wife died a few years ago. I gave all my time to my business and not my family. My daughter had her first baby last month. I want to be a grandpa and spend the rest of my days with my kids and grandkids. I’ve been doing this for longer than any of you have been alive. It’s time for someone with a fresh set of eyes to take over.”

I still wasn’t convinced. “Why us?”

“You guys know the business.” He shrugged.

I huffed out a laugh. “Hardly. Night clubs and strip clubs are two vastly different things.”

“Are they?” Jonny tilted his head to one side. “We’re all in the business of making people part with their money. Of making them forget about the real world for a while. We sell a fantasy, if only for a few hours.”

As much as I didn’t want to like Johnny, he was a nice guy and proved that appearances could be deceiving. He wasn’t a mobster or a drug runner. From the way he spoke, he seemed to genuinely enjoy his job.

However, agreeing to become part owner in a strip joint still felt wrong. Almost like I was betraying my mother.

After ten more minutes of questioning Johnny and going over small details, he left.

“I’m in,” Liam announced. “The Bachelor would be a good addition to our clubs and bars.”

“Count me in,” Jack added.

Noah nodded and grinned. “I’ll be in charge of hiring the talent. I’ll personally audition them.”

They all looked at me expectantly. I pursed my lips and shook my head. “I don’t know. Is this good for our brand?”

Liam sighed. “Personal feelings aside, Shane, you know this is a good deal. He’s practically giving the place away. Think with your head, not your heart. But if you feel that strongly, then we’ll walk away. From day one, we all agreed if one of us was out, we were all out.”

I drummed my fingers against the polished tabletop. I wasn’t sure if I could put my personal feelings aside. I wasn’t sure if I could think with my head and not my heart. The numbers were good—better than good. The income from drinks alone outshone our highest-earning club, and the cut from the talent, as Johnny referred to them, was jaw-dropping.

I blew out a long breath and looked at the ceiling. “Don’t make me regret this.”

I had a feeling I’d made the biggest mistake of my life.