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    Synopsis:

    Darlina Flowers longs to fit in, to belong, and more than anything, to be accepted. On her own, in Abilene, Texas, 1970, at nineteen, she’s working days in a boiler factory and nights at a local nightclub as a fledgling go-go dancer and waitress. Growing up in a strict religious home, sheltered and protected from the world, she finds herself drawn to all the things that were taboo or forbidden by her mother and the religion.


    CHAPTER 1

    Darlina Flowers adjusted her silver midriff top and black satin shorts while she stood at the counter waiting for the next food order. Her gaze wandered around the dimly lit nightclub. Plumes of smoke swirled around the large mirrored ball hanging from the ceiling, as electric yellow, red, blue and green reflected on the ceiling. The sights and sounds of the club had become familiar and comfortable. A vision of her strict religious mother frowning at her flashed through her mind for a brief second. Her mother never hesitated to express her disappointment with Darlina’s chosen lifestyle.

    The band began a boisterous performance of Proud Mary, and she unconsciously moved to the beat of the drum. She often pondered why the places and things forbidden by the church and her mother drew her the most.

    Her musings were interrupted by her boss. Marketa had not been in America long enough to lose her thick Czechoslovakian accent. “Darlina, when it’s your turn, I want you to try those moves. The customers love it.”

    “I’ll try, but I’m not sure I can.” She focused her attention on the stage and how her friend, Sherry, shook her hips and shimmied her boobs at the same time to the rhythm of the music.

    Darlina truly enjoyed the time she spent at the nightclub. When Marketa had approached her about working for tips and learning to dance, she never imagined she would have the confidence to be in the spotlight.

    “You’re up.” Marketa affectionately patted her arm. “Show me how it’s done.”

    Darlina climbed the steps to the stage amidst whistles and catcalls. Her insides churned as if hundreds of butterflies fluttered around. She turned to the band leader, a burly man everyone called Buffalo. “Let’s do Suzie Q.”

    He took a noisy slurp from his drink. “Okay, little lady.”

    While the band played, she moved her hips concentrating on the beat of the music. Within seconds, the nerves settled, and her movements became more fluid.

    “Keep it sexy but clean,” Marketa taught her.

    That wasn’t hard for her since she knew very little about “dirty.”

    Just as her dance performance came to an end, she heard a commotion. Turning, she saw Marketa personally escorting a group of customers to the best table in the club. It was totally out of character for this spitfire of a woman to make a fuss over anyone. Marketa flitted around with her long elegant ivory cigarette holder in her hand.

    Amidst enthusiastic applause, the bright spotlight now off her, Darlina hurried to talk to Sherry.

    “Who is that?”

    Sherry rolled her eyes. “That’s Luke Stone and the Rebel Rousers. I can’t believe you don’t know that.”

    “How would I know? You forget I don’t get out much other than here.”

    “They are only the hottest band in the whole State of Texas.”

    “Do you know them?”

    “Hell yes, I know ‘em. Had a one-night stand with the drummer a year or so ago.”

    With overwhelming curiosity, Darlina proposed, “Let me wait their table.”

    Sherry shrugged her shoulders, “Suits me.”

    Darlina hurried to the table carrying menus. “Evening folks, I’m Darlina, and I’ll be taking care of you tonight.”

    Luke Stone, an assuming man over six feet tall with a swagger and crooked grin promptly replied, “Honey, are you sure about that?”

    A hot flush spread across her cheeks at his implication. “Let me re-phrase that. I’ll be taking your order tonight. What can I get you to drink?”

    “Well, seein’ as how you don’t serve whiskey here, guess I’ll be havin’ a cup of coffee,” Luke said, leaning back in his chair and lighting a King Edward cigar.

    Darlina worked her way around the table taking everyone’s drink orders. Luke’s stare bore a hole through her, and it made her more than a little uncomfortable.

    Rushing to the counter to fill the orders, she heard Buffalo’s voice boom from the stage. “Folks, we are real honored to have Luke Stone and the Rebel Rousers in here tonight. I wanna dedicate this next song to them.” The band played a rousing rendition of The Fightin’ Side of Me.

    Luke yelled from his table, “Hell Yeah!”

    Darlina stood where she could watch this group. It appeared that Luke Stone was the man in charge and everyone around him either seemed to respect and love him or fear him. She couldn’t tell which, and maybe it was a little of both.

    The attractive dark-haired lady to the left of him must be his wife, she concluded. Many of the customers approached his table, and he seemed to know them all personally.

    Sherry joined her. “Whatcha’ lookin’ at, sweetie?”

    She quickly looked away. “Just watchin’ the show.”

    “Let me give you a little advice. Luke Stone is bad news. And besides that, he’s way too old for you.”

    “I have no intention of getting any closer to him than to take his order and serve his food.”

    She knew in her heart the words that came out of her mouth weren’t true. He fascinated her. It’s just curiosity, she told herself. She also figured he’d never give her the time of day.

    Marketa continued to hover around Luke’s table while Darlina served drinks to the group. “Luke, this is Darlina, my up and coming new dancing star and I’m anxious for you to see her perform.”

    Luke flashed his crooked grin. “Marketa, everyone knows you’ve got the best dancin’ girls in Abilene. I’ll look forward to it.”

    Darlina blushed at the compliment. “Is everyone ready to order?”

    She avoided eye contact with Luke while he placed his order. She didn’t know why this man unnerved her so, but it seemed as if he could see straight through her. She retreated to the safety of the counter to wait for their food.

    Marketa sought her out. “Honey, I want you to take another turn up on the stage, so Luke can see you dance.”

    Darlina almost choked on her Coke, and replied somewhat breathlessly, “Oh Marketa, I feel really nervous all of a sudden.”

    Marketa threw back her bleached blonde head and laughed. “Luke Stone has that effect on women. Don’t worry; he’ll love you.”

    “I think that’s what I’m afraid of,” Darlina muttered.

    As she climbed the steps to the stage, Luke’s distinctive voice rang out. “Alright! Now we’re gonna get some entertainment.”

    Darlina called to Buffalo, “Play Mustang Sally.”

    The music started, and she tried to forget about a certain pair of eyes out in the audience. After a few seconds into the song, she relaxed and danced, remembering every move Marketa had taught her.

    She finished to whoops and hollers from all over the club.

    Marketa rushed up to meet her as she came off the stage. “That was perfect! I knew you could do it!”

    Passing through the crowd, everyone showered Darlina with compliments for the performance. Breathless and exhilarated, she reached the counter to gather Luke Stone’s order, suddenly no longer shy about approaching him.

    She’d performed well, and it gave her confidence. Smiling directly at Luke, she placed the food in front of him.

    He put his arm around her waist. “Little lady, you did a hell of a job up there. I really enjoyed watchin’ you.” He winked as if to emphasize some hidden meaning.

    Darlina placed her hand lightly on Luke’s shoulder. “Thank you so much. I’m really glad you enjoyed it.”

    As she started to move away, he asked. “Where are you runnin’ off to so fast?”

    “Gotta get the rest of these orders out.”

    “Come back and talk to me.”

    “Sure, soon as I get a minute,” she said over her shoulder as she hurried off, pleased that Luke wanted to talk to her.

    She continued bringing the rest of the food to the table and then moved back to the counter after flashing Luke another warm smile.

    “What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” Sherry did not try to hide her agitation.

    “I’m just doin’ my job.”

    “You’re flirting with Luke Stone.”

    Darlina twisted a lock of hair around her finger. “No I’m not. I’m bein’ friendly ‘cause I want a good tip.”

    “I wasn’t born yesterday, honey. I know what I see. I also know Luke. With your blue eyes and long auburn hair, he’s gonna be after you like a duck after a June bug.”

    Darlina brushed her friend’s accusation aside, but her pulse quickened when she looked toward Luke and his group.

    An hour later, she collected the empty dishes. “Can I get y’all anything else?”

    Luke motioned, “Down here, honey.”

    She walked to the end of the table where he sat.

    “Sugar, I’d like to invite you to go to the motel with me and Mary tonight.”

    Shaking her head, she replied. “I have no idea what you’re asking me, but the answer is no.”

    “Come on,” Luke insisted. “We’ll make sure you have a real good time.”

    Darlina cast a glance at the woman she assumed was Mary only to see her smiling openly at her. “I appreciate the invite, Mr. Stone, but the answer is still no.”

    “Oh, come on now, and don’t call me Mr. Stone. I’m Luke, and this here is Mary. I promise you we can have one hell of a good time.” Luke stood and put his arm around Darlina’s waist.

    His warm hand on her bare skin made her heart race, and she pulled away. “Luke, it’s been great meeting you tonight, but I truly don’t know what you’re talking about and I’ve gotta go. Y’all come in and see us again.”

    Luke released her smiling. “Sugar, you can bet on that!”

    The rest of the group joined him, and they left the club. He looked back when he reached the door, winked at Darlina, and then held the door for Mary as they disappeared into the night.

    A confused and shaken Darlina quickly gathered the rest of the dishes from the table, finding a sizable tip.

    Sherry was once again waiting for her when she returned with the dishes. “Honey, you’re playing with fire if you have anything to do with him.”

    “He wanted me to go with him and his lady to a motel. I don’t know much, but that sure seems wrong. I don’t understand why he would ask me that and especially right in front of her.”

    “You have lots to learn, Darlina. He wanted to have a three-way.” Sherry laughed out loud.

    “All three of us at the same time?”

    “Yes, sweetie, at the same time.”

    Her face flushed with embarrassment. “Well, I guess that certainly is different.”

    “Different is one way to describe Luke Stone.”

    On her way home that night, Darlina couldn’t stop thinking about Luke Stone, his handsome face, the arrogance, his crooked grin and the indecent proposal. She knew she wanted to see him again.