It felt, oddly enough, like a date.
He specifically chose a restaurant overlooking Hollywood Hills. They had a private booth and champagne service. He held the doors open for her and pulled out her chair. When the waiter came by, Jackson ordered for her. They talked about everything from music to politics. Jackson was charming, smiling often, and sharing antidotes about growing up. He was the complete antithesis of what Angela thought a man in his profession should be.
His profession… what was his exact profession?
“What’s on your mind?” Jackson’s baritone interrupted her thoughts.
There was a lot on Angela’s mind and she wondered where she should start. She chose the slow approach. “Do I call you Daddy in public or private?” She asked.
A husky laugh escaped Jackson’s mouth and Angela found it to be sexy. “You can call me Jackson, for now.”
“So, tell me about Jackson.”
“I grew up rich and privileged.” Jackson gave a slight shrug. “I had everything at my disposal and then some. Parents were absent, emotionally and physically. My mom was too busy staying drugged up on whatever cocktail she could get her Botoxified hands on.”
“Was a traveling CEO who was never home and never cared. I can actually count the number of times on one hand my dad showed a slight interest in anything that I did. Once I was out of high school, my dad announced to my mother that he was finally trading her in for a new model. The marriage had been over for years but he waited so he wouldn’t have to fork over child support in addition to alimony.” Jackson shrugged, seemingly sloughing off the obvious hurt and frustration in his voice.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Angela frowned.
“It is what it is.” He leaned over and grabbed Angela’s hand. “Tell me about Angela.”
A surge of electricity shot up Angela’s back. She wasn’t supposed to feel a connection to a man she barely knew and was scared of. “I grew up in Troy, Michigan, with my mother. We eventually moved down to Atlanta during my teenage years. My mother was obsessed with Hollywood and everything about it, but she never wanted to become an actress. I guess her obsession trickled down to me, except I wanted to become an actress. I still do in some ways.”
“Never met him.” Angela shrugged. “It was just me and mom growing up. When she died a few years ago, I had relatives promise to look after me but they all say that to make themselves sound like they’re decent human beings who care, but they don’t. I’m lucky if I get a Christmas card.”
Jackson felt Angela’s sadness. She was truly all alone, without anyone to care about her. His timing in her life couldn’t have been more perfect. “Have you been on any auditions?”
“A ton of them.” She revealed a small smile full of half-hope and half-regret. “There’s not much work for a Black woman in Hollywood.”
“I don’t know about that,” Jackson replied and rubbed his five o’clock stubble, “Angela Bassett and Halle Berry seem to be doing fine.”
“Yeah, they are. And so are Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, and all of the other White actresses out there as well.” Angela wryly smiled. “The roles for a girl like me are few and far between.”
“So, you were between auditions when we met the other night?”
“Something like that,” she replied, resting her neck in her palm, “I audition during the day and work at night, hustling whatever I can.”
“You know I can help you with auditions?” Jackson revealed.
Angela’s eyes lit up. “Really?”
“Really.” Jackson replied. “Let me make a few phone calls and I’ll see what I can do.”
The smile in Angela’s eyes turned into a frown. If Jackson had Hollywood connections, there was a price for that access and Angela wasn’t sure it was something she could afford. “You don’t have to.”
“I don’t see why not. You’re beautiful and I’m sure you’re talented enough.” Jackson’s eyes once again swept over. “Why not make a few phone calls to some friends who can help you with that dream?”
Angela wanted to jump at the chance feet first without looking to see how deep and warm the water was, but something told her to dip a toe in. “What do you expect from me in return?”
Jackson took another sip of beer and rubbed his stubble again. “Loyalty.” His answer was authoritative and direct.
Jackson may not have said it directly, but Angela knew there were strings attached to his message and Jackson was the one pulling them. It was time to stop playing games and get down to business. “I know what you are, Daddy,” Angela loathed calling him that name but did it to prove a point, “you don’t have to pretend with me.”
Jackson leaned back in his chair. “And what am I?”
Angela contemplated what she really wanted to say. They both knew it was on her mind and on the tip of her tongue. She wondered how angry he would get in a public place. “A pimp,” her voice was above a whisper.
Jackson grinned and took another sip of beer. “I’m not a pimp.”
Angela’s eyes narrowed and locked with Jackson’s. He said it so fluidly, for a moment she thought she misheard him. “Then what are you?”
“I’m a business man, that’s all.” Jackson answered.
“That’s a very politically correct answer.” Angela surmised.
“Pimps force their hoes to perform sexual acts. They disrespect the women, calling them bitches and hoes and tricks. They humiliate the women. I don’t force the girls to do anything. They do whatever they want and they can leave whenever they want.”
“Can they really?” Angela objected. “It doesn’t seem that way.”
“There are no bars on the windows. I don’t keep the girls locked in their rooms. They can leave whenever they want.” Jackson’s eyes sparkled. “I don’t keep them hostage by any means whatsoever.”
“But they give you all of their money,” Angela met his challenge.
“They also live in a very nice home and wear the finest designer clothing. A chef prepares all of their food. If they want a spa day, they get one. If they want to go to Disneyland, they can. They want plastic surgery, it’s paid for. Whatever they want in terms of jewelry, accessories, and the like, all they have to do is ask and I’ll get it for them. They’re not being denied.” Jackson reasoned. “How many pimps do you know do that for their bitches?”
Angela was stumped. Jackson did have a valid point. Maybe he wasn’t a pimp but being a businessman who was insistent that he be referred to as ‘Daddy’ wasn’t doing Jackson any favors. She didn’t have to guess why he preferred that nickname and that it was a play on the daddy issues all the girls silently had in common. She particularly found it creepy since Jackson was only a few years older than she was. “I guess you’re right.”
Jackson reached over and grabbed Angela’s hand, gently caressing it with his thumb. “I won’t hurt you. I won’t put you in a position to be hurt. If someone hurts you, I will hurt them.”
Angela’s body responded with a nonverbal sigh as the electrical current once again surged through her. She hated how her body betrayed what her mind was thinking. “You talk a good game, Daddy.”
“I don’t talk any game, Angela,” his voice reverberated throughout Angela’s core and she felt herself turn into butter, “now you know about me and what I can offer you, what can you offer me?”
Angela looked into the depths of Jackson’s stunning blue eyes. His face softened and his stance relaxed, making her more at ease. Jackson’d just promised her everything she could ever want and would protect her for as long as she needed. Angela wasn’t stupid and she knew it was too good to be true. For as long as she worked for Daddy, he owned her. There might not have been bars on the windows and she could come and go anytime she pleased, but there were thick, invisible strings attached.
She made a calculated move. She was going to stay for a few months, enough to get back on her feet, and then she’d leave. In order for her to do that, though, she would have to play the role of submissive girlfriend. He couldn’t know what her true intentions were and her escape plan would have to be fool-proof. She just needed six months.
“Loyalty,” she softly answered and a slow smile spread across her lips. “I’ll give you my loyalty, Daddy.”
Jackson leaned over and swept his lips against Angela’s. Her lips were soft and magnetic. He may not have said it but he already felt that Angela was going to be his favorite and he would do whatever it took to keep her. “That’s what I wanted to hear.”