Finding Beauty in the Darkness by Nikki Ash


Chapter One





GIOVANNI





“Listen, Don, you and my father go way back, so if this girl has the balls to show up here and ask for the loan, I’m going to give it to her. But I just had Johnny look her up and she isn’t worth shit. You know I don’t normally deal with people like this.”

I’m sitting at my desk in my office, checking my watch for the time…again. I’ve got too much shit to handle today, and dealing with a little girl who needs money to pay off her overdue credit card bills isn’t my top priority, that’s for damn sure.

“I understand, Giovanni. Like I said, I’m calling in a personal favor. This girl, Ashley, she’s a tough cookie, but she just can’t seem to catch a break. Single mom, working at my strip joint to make ends meet. She isn’t like the usual women. She doesn’t do drugs. She’s got her head screwed on right. She wouldn’t be asking for thirty grand unless she’s desperate for it.”

Don is the owner of Double D’s strip club here in Las Vegas. For many years, Don and my father have done business together. Our family owns the club, but we are what you call a silent partner. My father has been using the club to launder money for years. I, on the other hand, have more productive ways to do business.

“You know the chance of me getting my money back from her is slim, right? Which means you’ll be paying me back if she can’t.” Don knows I don’t lend money to people who have nothing to lose.

“I told her if she can’t pay you back, she’d have to work for you.”

I laugh at that. There’s no way I’m forcing some woman to work for me. The reason everything runs so smoothly is because the women who work here choose to be here.

“You know that’s not happening.”

Don sighs. “I know, but I’m hoping she’ll be scared enough, she’ll pay you back. She’s responsible. She’s just going through a tough time.”

There’s a knock on my door, and Johnny—my right-hand man—enters. “Boss, there’s an Ashley Myers here to see you. Edgardo asked me to see what she wants, but she only wants to speak to you. Are you expecting her?”

Edgardo is one of my bouncers here at the club. His job is to keep an eye on who’s coming and going and to make sure shit stays on the up and up. When you’re in the business I’m in, it’s easy for shit to go bad quick. The key is to always be one step ahead.

“Send her back here.” Johnny nods once and heads back out, closing the door behind him. “Listen, Don, apparently your girl has some brass fucking balls because she just got here.”

“Thank you, Giovanni. Like I said, I owe you one.”

“Yeah, you do.” And I always fucking collect.

I hang up the phone and wait for Johnny to walk this girl back to my office so I can handle this before I leave to meet my mom for lunch. I check my cell for any messages and notice one from Cecilia.

Cecilia: Senator Hightower hurt Natalie. Can you please come here asap?

Me: Is Rome holding him?

Cecilia: Yes

Me: Be there in twenty. Do we need to call Dr. Fox?

Cecilia: Already did. It’s not good.





Jesus fucking Christ! This isn’t the first time the Senator’s put his hands on one of my girls. I gave him a second chance because of his affluence in the community, but it won’t be happening again—not at my damn club. I look down at my watch and make a mental note to let my mom know I won’t be making it to lunch today.

There’s a knock at my door and Johnny enters. “Boss, Ashley Myers.”

“Thank you. You can close the door behind you.”

He exits, leaving a pretty brunette with a banging fucking body, and my first thought is she would make a fabulous addition to the women here. While she’s probably almost thirty years old, she screams innocence and maturity in her royal blue wrap around dress. Don was right—she isn’t your typical stripper. She hasn’t been in this life long enough for it to corrupt her, but it will. It always does.

I stand to greet her, and as I’m assessing her, I notice she’s doing the same to me. Her eyes are telling. She’s trying to figure out if she can trust me, which is ironic since I’m the one lending her the money. Her eyes roam over my face then descend to my chest. While I start my day in a three-piece suit, as the morning progresses, articles of clothing tend to get shed, piece by piece. My jacket’s thrown over the back of my chair and my tie undone with the top buttons of my shirt unbuttoned.