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The Grand used to be a theater, back when the city did more tourist trade than drug trafficking. Back when you could walk down this street without getting mugged. They held ballets and operas and one infamous magic show where a man was killed by a faulty fake gun. Over the years the shows visited less and less. This whole part of the city became gutted, empty. Attempts to revitalize the theater failed because the good, rich folk who had money to spend on theater tickets didn’t want to come to these streets.
Now the building is just a husk of its former glory—faded metallic wallpaper and ornate molding with the gold paint scraping off. Tables and chairs fill the smoky, dark floor. There is a balcony in the back, but it isn’t open to the public.
The rooms for private dances used to be ticket stalls in what would have been the lobby.
They don’t have doors. They barely even have walls. The front window partitions have been ripped away, with only brass rods and velvet curtains to cover them.
The first is occupied by Lola. A flash of red fabric and a long mane of hair between the curtain tells me that much. And I know from her position on the floor and the soft groans that he’s paid for more than a dance.
The second room is empty.
The third room is the farthest from the main floor. The darkest. I can only make out a shadow seated in the chair. All I want is to get the hell out of here, but Blue is standing behind me, crowding me, and the only way to get space, the only place to go is inside.
I slip past the heavy velvet curtain and wait for my eyes to adjust. Even before they do, I know it will be him. Not safe, rule-following Charlie. It’s the other man. The new one. The one with the strange intensity in his stare.
I see the outline of his jacket first. And his boots, forming that same configuration—one leg shoved out, one under the chair. That’s the way he sits, almost sprawled on the uncomfortable wooden chair. He’s watching me. Of course he’s watching me. That’s what he paid to do.
“What’ll it be?” I ask.
“What’s on the menu?” he counters, and I know what he means. He means extra services. The same thing that Lola is doing now. More than just a dance. He looks out from the shadows like the Cheshire cat, all eyes and teeth and challenge. All he’s missing are purple stripes filling in.
And if he’s a cop, he can bust me just for offering it. Cops should have better things to do with their time. But I already know cops don’t do what they should. I know that too well.
I’m running from one.
“A dance, of course.” I run through the prices for fifteen minutes, thirty minutes. No one needs longer than that. They either go to the bathroom to jerk off or come in their pants.
“And if I want more than that?”
Now that my eyes have adjusted, now that I’m up close, I can see the tats at the base of his neck and on his wrists. They are probably along his arms and maybe his chest. There’s ink on his hands too, though I can’t make out what it says.
His black shirt is tight enough to show me his shape, the broad chest and flat abs. Underneath the shirt is a chain or necklace. I can only see the imprint, but it makes me want to pull up the fabric and find out what it is.
He wears his leathers like a second skin, like they’re armor and he’s a fighter. I can’t really imagine him walking through a precinct in a blue shirt. He’s not a cop. But there was that feeling, when I was onstage. I felt his interest, more than sexual. I felt his suspicion. I felt every instinct telling me he is there for more than a dance. I can’t afford not to listen.
“There’s no more than that,” I answer flatly.
He grunts, clearly displeased. But it doesn’t sound like he’s going to force the issue—or complain to Blue. “Then dance.”
Right. That’s why I’m here. That’s not disappointment, heavy in my gut. I don’t expect anything from men except to get paid. So I dance, starting slow, moving my hips, my arms, touching my breasts. I’m a million miles away like this. I’m lying on my back, feeling crisp grass underneath my legs, looking up at the night sky.
It almost works, except that I need to get close to him. I need to climb onto him, straddling his legs with mine, reaching for the back of the chair to shake my tits in his face. And when I do, I smell him. He smells…not like smoke. Not like sweat.
He smells like my daydream, like grass and earth and clean air.
I freeze above him, body crouched, my breasts still shivering with leftover momentum.
“Something wrong?” he asks.
And his voice. God, his voice. It’s gone rough and low, all the way to the ground. It slides along the creaky wood of the chair and the concrete floor and vibrates up my legs. It shimmers through the air and brushes over my skin, that voice. We’re not touching in any place, but I can feel him just the same.
I swallow hard. “Nothing’s wrong, sugar.”
“Then sit down.”
He means on his lap. Touching. It’s against the rules, officially.
Unofficially it’s one of the tamer things that happen in this room. “What if I don’t want to?”
One large shoulder lifts, making the leather sigh. “I won’t make you.”
I hear the unspoken word yet ring in the air.
I should probably refuse him. Whether he’s a cop or not, he’s throwing me off. That’s dangerous. And if there’s some other cop in the building? That’s even more dangerous.
But for some reason, I lower myself until I’m resting on his jeans, my posture awkward and off balance—until he shifts, and suddenly I’m sliding toward him, flush against him while I straddle his legs. Then his arms circle my body, trapping me. Any second now he’s going to grope me. Maybe take his dick out and fuck me like this. It wouldn’t be the first time.
But he just stays like that, arms firm but gentle. A hug. This is a hug.
Jesus. How long has it been since a man hugged me? Just that, without touching anywhere else, without his dick inside me? A long time.
Copyright © 2015 by Skye Warren. All rights reserved. Excerpt reprinted by permission.
A dark romance about the lies that lead us down…
I’ll do anything to get safe, even if that means working at the scariest club in town.
I’ll do anything to stay hidden, even if it means taking off my clothes for strangers.
I’ll do anything to be free. Except give him up. When he looks at me, I forget why I can’t have him. He’s beautiful and scarred. His body fits mine, filling the places where I’m hollow, rough where I am soft.
He’s the one man who wants to help, but he has his own agenda. He has questions I can’t answer. What are you afraid of?