"Ladies, if you'll just come this way."
The greeter stepped through a gray metal door that was utterly at odds with his perfectly tailored suit. Nothing about the dingy back-alley entrance fit Chelsea's description of an upscale club that catered to a wealthy clientele with a longing for a walk on the wilder side of casual sex.
"Don't just stand there, Desiree." Chelsea nudged her forward. "If we're late, all the good-looking guys will have already hooked up."
An alarm bell rang in Desiree's head. "I thought you said there was a selection process."
Chelsea impatiently pushed a lock of white-blonde hair over her bare shoulder. "There is."
This was so far out of Desiree's comfort zone that she needed to have her head checked. Stopping at a sex club for a night of no-strings-attached, down and dirty sex was not the way she usually spent a Friday night.
Chelsea strode confidently through the door. "You said you were tired of dating guys who were more interested in stock options than sex. This will spice things up. I promise. It's just what you need to get rid of all that tension you're lugging around. I swear, girl, you're so uptight I don't know how you sleep."
Thankfully her friend couldn't see the uncertainty on Desiree's face. She'd been all for this idea in theory, but the seedy atmosphere and darkened hallway gave her a bad feeling. When they finally emerged in a cramped room that looked like the backstage area of a strip club, Desiree knew her gut had been right.
Their host turned and gave them both a thorough looking over. Something in his expression made her feel violated. The guy was taking a mental inventory of her body like a salesman looking for a gimmick guaranteed to move the merchandise.
"My name is Justin. If the two of you have any questions, now is the time to ask. Once you join our group, you'll be with us for the duration of the evening." He handed each of them a length of sheer white fabric. "Tonight's theme is the slave markets of the Persian Empire."
Desiree didn't like his high-handed tone of voice. The guy was a greeter at an illicit sex club, not a Wall Street brokerage firm. "What kind of costumes do the men have to wear?"
"Our male guests wear whatever they want."
"Then why make the women dress up?" Desiree ignored Chelsea's insistent tugging. No doubt her friend wanted her to shut up and do as she was told, but Desiree was tired of playing by the book. If she'd wanted to play by the rules, she would've gone to a dinner party with her mother.
Justin raked his gaze over her halter top and short leather skirt. "Our clientele have the most beautiful women in the city at their beck and call. If you want to play at the top, you're going to have to prove there's a sex kitten underneath those extra pounds."
Outrage left her speechless. She knew her measurements didn't fit within the culturally acceptable range. Her sister reminded her of that fact on a daily basis. Somehow she'd thought it would be different when the only goal was to pair off and get laid. Now it was becoming apparent that if her trust fund didn't snag one of the men her mother tossed her way, she would have to hang out in sleazy clubs in order to lure one with a show of tits and ass.
This club was her last resort after a dry spell that had lasted longer than she cared to admit. She'd been under the illusion it would involve two consenting adults who got right down to business. Who would have anticipated the need to brush up on her pageant skills?
Justin gave her one last condescending glance before reaching for the doorknob. "Once you're satisfied with your appearance, go through the left door to join the others waiting for purchase."
Desiree waited until he'd made his exit. "This is crap! We have to dress like Persian whores to snag a date? And what did he mean by purchase?"
"It's just part of the selection process." Chelsea was already stripping out of her clothes. Had Desiree been born with that perfect body, she'd have been in a hurry to get naked too. "There's always a theme. The women dress up in sexy costumes, and the men pick the one they like best. Sometimes it's a quick sell, although there have been some really exciting bidding wars. We're late so we need to hurry. Everyone's probably already lined up."
Desiree clenched her costume in a fist. Someday she was going to find a place where casual sex didn't require a girl to become property. "If they're paying money to spend the night with us, we're just hookers who don't get a cut!"
"It's not like that. You don't have to have sex." Chelsea arranged the drape of her costume to show off her legs. "I'd recommend it, though. Some of these guys are hot."
"And if they're trolls?"
"They've got money."
"This is not going to work for me." Desiree let the costume drop to the floor.
"C'mon, Desiree, don't be a prude."
"A prude? How about a prostitute?"
"You've been talking about finding a new scene for weeks. This is it. This is what you've been fantasizing about."
No, this was nothing like her fantasies. Desiree wanted a place to ditch the rules and regulations and have some fun. She wanted to feel alive, to be free, to be herself. None of that included an auction where getting a decent-looking bidder was a crapshoot left up to fate. "Let's just leave. We have a better chance of finding hot guys at any bar in the neighborhood."
"No way. I'm not leaving."
"Please? This was a stupid idea, and there's no way I can leave you here by yourself."
Chelsea adjusted her boobs inside the costume. "Don't worry about me. I come here by myself all the time. Go if you want."
Desiree felt just a smidge guilty for leaving her friend on her own in the club, but sliding into a sheer costume to let a few trust-fund babies grope her for free was not her idea of a satisfying night. By the time she'd navigated the narrow hallway to the back-alley entrance, Desiree was thoroughly disgusted. The club was just a different take on her regular, uptight, no-frills, sex-free existence. She'd been groomed from childhood for a life as an elbow trophy. All she wanted was a chance to find something real.
Seriously, that was one of Boston's most exclusive underground sex clubs? Next time she would take the Red Line down to Dorchester and find a Hooters. She didn't want a glorified wet T-shirt contest. She wanted to find a willing partner for some mutually satisfying down and dirty sex.
She left the rank-smelling alley for the street and hailed the first cab that roared by. It ground to a halt. She flung open the door and plopped down on the backseat.
"Where to, lady?" The driver's words were coated in a thick Middle Eastern accent.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It wasn't the cabbie's fault she was sexually frustrated. "Just take me to a bar. Something close. I don't care what it's called or what they serve. I just want a drink."
The guy slapped the meter and stomped on the gas. They shot into Back Bay's late-night traffic. She caught a glimpse of his expression in the rearview mirror. He definitely thought she was losing her mind. He was right.
She rested her head against the back of the seat and closed her eyes. There wasn't much airflow in the cab, but what little there was kept sneaking under the hem of her black leather skirt. During one of her more adventurous moments, she'd shaved her pussy for what was supposed to have been a special occasion. She'd intended to have sex, good sex, for the first time in ages. So she'd opted to ditch her panties and go with the lace garter belt and her favorite black silk stockings. Needless to say, the air tickling across her bare skin wasn't helping matters any. She crossed her legs and tried to think about something else.
The cab lurched to a stop. "That'll be $14.50."
He'd apparently taken her down the block. Of course, she'd been the one to specifically say she didn't care which bar he picked. She threw a twenty over the seat and pushed the cab door open. "Keep the change."
She stared at the grimy windows lining the front of the corner bar. A simple sign over the door pronounced it JACK'S. The only decoration on the facade was in the form of neon beer signs.
A group of college students jostled her as they tried to go inside. "In or out, lady," someone grumbled. "Just decide already."
Yes, that about summed it up. It was time to make up her mind. She pushed a stray strand of brown hair behind one ear. She'd spent half an hour twisting her long hair into a clip at the back of her head and it itched like mad. In fact, her whole body felt twitchy. She was sick and tired of playing by all the rules.
Eff the rules.
The front doors were heavier than they looked. Her shoulder felt bruised from the impact of trying to shove them open. Rubbing away the sting, she tried to decide on the best place to sit. It was tempting to hide in a corner and watch what everyone else was doing. That was her usual strategy when scoping out new territory, but tonight was supposed to be different.
The bar was made up of two long, low-ceilinged rooms occupying a prime corner. The interior walls were classic bare brick with beautiful archways between support pillars. Any attempt to decorate had been done with beer advertisements, and there weren't any booths. The large round tables were haphazardly clustered wherever there was room. It was obvious the proprietor let the customers decide where and how they were going to sit. Most of the patrons had opted to cluster in large groups, lounging about with dozens of empty pint glasses littering the tabletops.
There were pool tables off to her left. The clack of the cue ball was paired with a chorus of groans as someone missed a shot. Looking more than a little out of place, a baby grand piano occupied a corner on the far right. It was draped with a heavy black cover. An old-fashioned jukebox was tucked in beside the piano. It was blaring out hard rock tunes that could almost be heard over the hum of conversation.
She'd faced down rooms full of investment bankers. No bar in Back Bay could compare to those bottom-feeders. Besides, she was already inside, and there was nothing left to lose. Desiree stiffened her resolve and marched straight up to the bar that stretched down the back wall of both rooms. She picked a bar stool right smack in the middle of everything and set her beaded handbag on the slick mahogany surface before climbing up. The two guys on her left paused in their conversation to look her over. She squirmed in her seat. Trying to find a comfortable position with her leather skirt pressed up against her bare butt was tricky.
"Can I buy you a drink?"
She turned to face her would-be suitor. He wasn't bad looking if you liked the I'm-a-cute-blond-beach-bum type. He looked like he'd spent all summer on Martha's Vineyard or Cape Cod. It was just now September. He'd probably come back to finish up his degree at someplace like Harvard or Boston College.
He showed her a mouth full of perfect white teeth. "Well, sweetheart, what will it be?"
At this point, she had nothing to lose. "Cosmopolitan."
"You heard her, Nicky. Make the lady a Cosmopolitan."
Preoccupied with her new boy toy, Desiree hadn't noticed the bartender. Turning, she found herself staring at a massive man. With a clean-shaven head and face, his broad-shouldered frame was six feet tall and corded with muscle. He wore a black T-shirt, his biceps bulging beneath the short sleeves. Unable to rip her gaze away from his stunning physique, she noticed the fitted cotton peaked over his nipples in a way that suggested they were pierced to match the small silver hoops in both his ears.
Oh. My. God.
She crossed her legs to ease the aching wetness in her pussy. Her lacy demi-cup bra was like sandpaper against her puckered nipples. She hadn't even seen the lower half of his body, but she'd bet her trust fund the guy was packing some serious heat in his crotch. This was what the sex club scene had been missing.
Nicky the bartender deftly flipped a martini glass in his big hand before dumping Smirnoff and triple sec inside. He swirled it expertly in one hand while using the other to reach for the next ingredient. The cranberry juice seeped through the liquor, making red swirls as he stirred with a glass stick that vaguely resembled a miniature version of a certain toy she kept stashed in her nightstand.
"Lemon or lime?"
Desiree was suddenly too tongue-tied to respond, and she was never tongue-tied. She knew instinctively that this man could rock her world from the inside out. Her pussy had responded more viscerally to the smooth baritone of his voice than it had to her last three lovers. She was so turned on she was going to leave a wet spot on the bar stool.
"You look like you prefer them by the book." He looked sideways at the beach bum buying her drink and put a thin slice of lemon on the lip of her glass.
By the book? He thought she preferred things by the book? Her cheeks grew warm, and she clenched her teeth to avoid screaming. If that were true, she wouldn't have been in a bar called Jack's. She'd have been prancing through the master suite of some Brookline estate, dressed in a designer negligee, trying to tempt her workaholic husband into having sex in order to procreate and raise the next generation of Boston's elite. She'd have settled down years ago just like her mother wanted her to, just like her sister was about to do.
"So, sweetheart, what's your name?" Beach Bum was trying to get her attention.
Nobody in this bar would've known her, but Desiree had made a conscious choice to leave her regular life behind for at least one night of fun. "You can call me Dizzy."
Beach Bum leaned in closer. "Baby, you can make me dizzy all night long."
His words suddenly struck her as practiced and hopelessly immature. He was male. He wanted to fuck. Well, dammit, so did she! Why bother with all the small talk? From the corner of her eye, she could see the bartender's chest move as he suppressed a chuckle. Anger, helplessness, and years of repression swelled to mythic proportions inside her head. Snatching the lemon slice from her drink, she lobbed it at the bartender. The fruit bomb bounced off the big man's bare head and plopped right into the drink he was mixing.
Beside her, Beach Bum froze. Sliding down off the bar stool, he moved away from her toward the buddy he'd been chatting with earlier. Coward.
"I don't usually recycle the lemons around here, little girl." The bartender tossed the contents of the glass into the sink.
"And I don't play by the book. So maybe we've both learned something new."
"Little girl, you're so predictable it's like reading a script."
The man was insufferable. "Oh, I'm predictable, but you're the original bad boy with those rings in your ears, barbells through your nipples, and a name like Nicky."
He placed both hands flat on the bar and leaned over until his face was only inches from hers. His eyes were a beautiful rich brown flecked with gold. Her heart began to hammer, her breath coming quickly. He was unbelievably attractive. He was sexy. No. He was sex--sex waiting to happen. She thought of all the Beach Bums who'd ghosted in and out of her life. Starting in prep school, her mother's list of acceptable boys had read like a who's who of the world's most boring dates. If any of them had packed this much charisma, she might've stuck with one.
"My name is Nicolai Anastas, and I think bad man might be a better description."
She watched his lips form each word, their smooth surface giving her all sorts of decadent ideas. For once, why couldn't she have the sexiest man on the planet? Did she have anything to lose? She'd left the estate with every intention of finding down and dirty sex. Instinct told her that Nicolai the bartender could serve that up better than anyone else she'd ever met.
Before she could change her mind, and before he could guess her intention, Desiree leaned forward and pressed her mouth to his. She felt his surprise, and she used the moment to cup his face and pull him closer. He tasted amazing--spicy and male. She didn't want to stop, but she wanted to see his reaction. Pulling back slowly, she was unsettled to realize that his eyes were wide open and staring right at her.
"Was that supposed to be a kiss, little girl?"