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Anthony’s gaze burned directly through me, an insulted look of immediate disapproval. I accidentally backed away, realizing all too late he pinned me against the wall with only a few words. I wore heels, but they did nothing.

Anthony’s shadow cast over me, his body obscuring my view of the club. Not only was he tall, every inch of him sculpted with muscle. The kind of strength bred from a deliberate attempt to intimidate. He didn’t need it. He possessed just as much strength in his stare, in the roughness of his voice, and in the ripples of displeasure.

I majorly fucked up.

He crossed his arms. His biceps tightened, even under the suit.

And then the inappropriate images flitted into my mind. Those powerful arms pressed against either side of me. His body trapping me between his solid chest and the wall. It was a good thought—a stirring, heavy thought—but one I didn’t need to have in a modern-day sex dungeon, no matter how many fish tanks or leather couches were stacked in the hall.

It was also a thought I didn’t need to have about a man who had no problem chastising a perfect stranger. His presence would have subdued the hard-ass police officer who nailed me for going 38 in a 35 last winter outside of campus.

And his voice. Just the threat I imagined behind those words drove a whimper to my lips. The wall offered me no protection.

Anthony stepped closer. Within arm’s reach. Another cry echoed from the party. More applause. He ignored it. I prayed I wasn’t next.

“Well, well, well, who is your friend?”

The feminine voice snaked behind Anthony. For a second, I breathed easy, grateful for the reprieve. Then she emerged. Tucked her arm around his. Offered me the same stern glance.

Christ, she was as beautiful as him.

She rocked skin-tight black pants and a crimson corset—an ensemble matching Anthony’s chosen colors. But she didn’t look like the other women wandering around the floor. Her four inch stilettos were more presentation than practicality, and she must have sewed her pants over her hips. The corset framed her perfectly flat stomach and barely contained her chest. Not a single lock of auburn hair dared to slip out of her meticulously tended French braid.

Though she coiled over Anthony, pouting trouble-maker red lips, there was no way in hell anyone was leading her around on a leash.

Anthony’s eyes darkened. “This is Morgan.”

“What a pleasure, Morgan.” The woman purred over my name. She studied me as remorselessly as Anthony. Licked her bottom lip.

Damn my curiosity.

“Welcome to Duchess,” she said. “I’m Simone Lesley. This is my club.”

Simone. Of course. She was everything I imagined in a fetish club owner, and she fit perfectly against Anthony. I swallowed as best I could, but a response wasn’t coming. I was a violinist, not a singer. I had nothing in my vocal range that could match the sultry whisper of her voice.

I held out the phone and prayed I wouldn’t spontaneously combust under the combined burden of their attention.

“You left this downstairs,” I murmured.

He didn’t hear me. I might as well have mewed like a kitten and started to cry. My cheeks burned, and Simone lowered her head onto his shoulder.

“Look, Anthony. She returned your phone.” She tapped her heel against the wooden floors. I got the point. She’d squish me in a heartbeat. “How sweet.”

He made me hold out the phone for longer than was necessary. It felt like a test. No, a judgment. He wanted to see if I would crack under the pressure. Another slap echoed off the wall, and a girl moaned for mercy. The crowd murmured their appreciation.

Yes. Yes, I would crack. The phone trembled.

Anthony exhaled, but the aggravation in his expression melted. He took the phone from my hand, his fingers dragging on my palm as pulled away.

“You didn’t need to bring this up to me.”

Despite my best intentions, and everything I was taught about holding a proper conversation, I had to look away.

“I didn’t want it to get lost.”

Simone wiggled against him. “She’s so thoughtful, Anthony.”


“And brave. Coming up here all alone.” Simone’s words sounded too sweet. She charmed and insulted in the same breath. Better than the alternative. She owned Duchess, and I had a feeling more than a few people were thrown out for crashing the upstairs party.

Maybe she’d just let me leave. Was it a crime to trespass up here?

I couldn’t imagine the news headline: College Dropout Jailed Overnight in Sex Club Scandal.

Then the quote from my mother—I don’t know where we went wrong, but I blame her father for encouraging her to go into the arts.

“Okay.” I had nothing to do with my hands and nowhere safe to look. “I wanted to make sure you got your phone.”

“Leaving so soon?” Simone grinned.

What did she want from me? I braved a glance at her, but that was a mistake. More people probably got in trouble for looking at her than sneaking in the club. Anthony was a safer target. But his expression raged even darker. Far more dangerous. My stomach peeled out and fled back downstairs.

“Let me thank you properly for returning my phone,” Anthony said.

I hesitated. A dozen scenarios played through my mind, and not one of them was suitable outside the crazy ass club.

“A reward?” Simone’s blood-red fingernails traced over Anthony’s shoulder. “I hoped her good deed wouldn’t go unpunished.”

And the panic was back.

I stepped backwards, colliding again with the wall. They probably heard the thunk. I had enough evaluation for one day. I didn’t know if it their beauty, strength, or the atmosphere in the club, but I feared they could see right through my clothes. Everything in me fluttered. I didn’t like it.

But I wasn’t sure I disliked the attention.

“Let me take you out for coffee,” Anthony said.

Coffee? I looked around the room. The lingerie clad women plunked off the couch and settled between the man’s legs. The masked man groaned and rattled the chain on his ankle. How could he talk about a coffee date when a women in the next room was getting the hell beat out of her—and somehow loving it—while everyone else watched like it was country club bridge night?

“Oh, go on,” Simone said. “He doesn’t bite on the first date.”

That was a step too far for Anthony. The disapproving glance aimed for me ricocheted to her. Simone went silent.

That was interesting.

“Coffee?” I asked. “Where?”

Where? That was the question I picked? Not what the hell is this place or are you going to beat that woman next or are you and Simone some sort of weird fetish couple dream team?

“There’s a cafe not far from here.” Anthony didn’t miss a beat as the screams from the mystery woman sang in pleasure. “On the corner of Fifth. Do you know it?”

I sighed. Yeah, I knew it. I almost worked there. I managed to get a job at the one on Eleventh instead, six blocks closer to my apartment.

“Tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll be there at seven.”

He was firm, but it wasn’t a question. It also wasn’t a demand. I bit my lip and offered him a nervous smile. Simone’s hand tickled along his bicep. A pang of jealousy ripped through me.

“Okay,” I said.

I didn’t confirm his invitation, but it was a sufficiently diplomatic response. They said nothing else, and I had the distinct impression the conversation was over. Dismissed then ignored. Not exactly polite, but, then again, society checked its morals with its coat when it entered a place like this.

I hurried back to the safety of the bar below, avoiding the curious gazes of those who watched me descend the stairs.

I knew what they thought, and they were right.

Duchess was no place where I belonged.

Oh, but I was so glad I came…

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