Shakespeare had it all wrong. What was in a name? A lot. There was no way a rose could be called stinkweed without losing some of its appeal. Kind of like Jen. Or Suri, depending on the hour of the day and the location. Jen Robertson was nothing but a doormat. Suri O'Callaghan was a sexy, confident woman who wasn't afraid to take what she wanted. It was far better to be Suri than Jen. Suri was the rose. Jen was most definitely stinkweed.
Suri held the neck of the champagne bottle between her thumb and forefinger, letting it swing back and forth like a heavy pendulum. Buzzed, drunk--weren't they just two names for the same thing too? Either way, she was doing her best to forget the problems associated with the Jen portion of her life. Forget she was broke. Forget her crazy family. Forget her job. Forget she was single with no prospects. Forget she was horny as hell. Forget everything.
Resting her head on the overstuffed seat of the chaise lounge, she let her legs dangle over the arm. She supposed it was silly to lie sideways on the thing, but it felt good to swing her feet and wiggle her bare toes while she stared up into space.
The coffered ceiling created a dome that was painted with scenes straight from Arabian Nights. Desert dunes, a sultan's palace, camels, flying carpets, Scheherazade and her Arabian prince--all given a dreamlike quality by some talented artist's brush. The jewel-toned colors matched the lengths of silk draping from the lip of the dome to the walls. The effect was tentlike, airy, soothing, and erotic all at the same time. Especially considering the giant bed covered in satiny sheets and strewn with tasseled pillows in the middle of the oddly hexagonal room.
I'm definitely not supposed to be here.
She'd never been in this part of the club before. Asylum was laid out in tiers, with Levels One through Four. This haven was located dead center in the club, connected by catwalks only accessible from the staff areas. From the lower levels, it was disguised as a decorative ceiling centerpiece of sorts, painted like the night sky and camouflaged with greenery.
"This area of the club is restricted."
Suri turned her head to find the source of the voice and nearly choked on her flippant response. Dante Torres was the owner of the club and her boss. She'd been thumbing her nose at the rules before; now, she'd officially been caught. Suri wouldn't have cared, but Jen needed this job.
He moved closer, stepping away from the door and fully into the room. "Are you all right?"
"Does it matter?" She lifted her head long enough to take another drink of champagne.
"Who are you?"
She contemplated the answer. Everything considered, she wasn't even sure which name to use. Suri, the name she used inside the club when she was trying to forget her regular life. Or Jen, the plain, dutiful daughter and sister. Really, it was far too much thought for such a simple question. "I'm just an employee. Or I guess I should say former employee, shouldn't I?"
"Not necessarily. How did you get here?"
He looked different. In her inebriated state, it took her several seconds to realize she'd never seen him without his tailored jacket and tie. His white shirt hung open, the first three buttons undone. His sleeves were rolled back to the elbow, and he wore no belt with his black pants. "You're not wearing shoes."
"Neither are you," he pointed out.
"Guess not." She had only seen Dante up close a handful of times in the eighteen months she'd been working at Asylum. She'd forgotten what kind of charismatic punch he packed with his dark hair and eyes and that dangerously arousing scar bisecting the right side of his mouth. The Suri portion of her personality leaped front and center. "You're drop-dead gorgeous. You know that?"
He lifted one dark brow. "Thank you, though I think you're likely too drunk to know what you're saying."
"I'm not that drunk. Although I'm too drunk to keep my mouth shut, apparently." She waved her hand to beckon him closer. "Look at you. You're the perfect height. I don't have to break my neck just to look at you, but I could wear heels. Your body is freakin' phenomenal. A little more champagne and I'll be asking you to take off your shirt so I can check out those killer abs."
"You're really into the abdominals, hmm?" Dante crossed his arms over his chest. "What else? My ego hasn't had this much stroking in years."
"Your skin." She wished she could think of the perfect word for the warm tone of his complexion. "Caramel. That's what it is. Your skin is caramel colored. With those beautiful dark eyes and thick eyelashes, you make me want to lick you all over just to see if you taste as yummy as you look."
Somewhere inside her head, the Jen portion of her brain was screaming a warning to her mouth that it was time to shut up. Unfortunately, she'd had a little too much champagne to make one listen to the other. She drank Dante in, loving the attention he was paying her. She was sick and tired of being nothing but background. She didn't want to be Jen anymore.
He rubbed one hand down his face. His expression was almost embarrassed. Surely he was used to women falling all over him. When he walked to the chaise and sat down inches from Suri's head, she was in danger of rolling to the floor in surprise.
"What happened that you're trying to drink yourself into oblivion?" He reached over and plucked the bottle from her hand. Tipping it back, he took a swig.
She was mesmerized by his nearness. She tilted her head back to better see him, feeling a damp heat in her crotch that had nothing to do with liquor and everything to do with how long it'd been since she'd had sex. "I'm just tired."
Dante reached down and touched her face, brushing her blonde hair back from her forehead. "Tired of what?"
"Life, I think." She struggled to remember what she'd felt only a second ago. His fingers were electric against her skin. Jen would have never allowed this kind of familiarity. But even Jen was getting tired of being the responsible one. "I'm tired of being ignored and taken for granted."
DANTE HAD ALREADY had too much to drink. The addition of champagne to his palate was sweet, though nothing compared to the angel beside him. He should've called security when the alarm had notified him of someone entering his private suite. Then he'd viewed the security feed and watched her flop down on the chaise before drinking herself senseless. After that, he'd been more curious than angry.
"What's your name?" He threaded his fingers through the long blonde tresses draped across the lounge.
He suppressed a smile. Her name was Persian? Fate was obviously screwing with him. She didn't look much like a princess at the moment, despite the meaning of her name. She was only vaguely familiar. Did she deal cards in the casino or work behind the bar? "You said you work here. What do you do?"
"I don't want to tell you."
Since she'd told him everything else, even things he was certain she would regret once sober, he was taken aback by her reticence. "Why?"
"Because you might think less of me." She sat up, pulling her hair out of his reach.
"I promise you that won't be true."
She took her champagne bottle back. "I don't suppose it matters anyway, since I'm going to be fired."
He had no intention of firing her, though he wasn't going to tell her that now. "Then, since you're so certain you're being fired, what was it you used to do?"
"I was an exotic dancer down on Level One."
Dante didn't know what to say. He wasn't personally acquainted with all the dancers because with three shifts, there were a lot of them. For the most part, he only dealt with the troublemakers. Her current circumstances aside, she just didn't seem the type.
She was exquisitely beautiful in an understated way with her long corn-silk hair, bright blue eyes, athletic build with full breasts, and personality that would keep him guessing for eternity. Barefoot in a simple but elegant black sheath dress, she looked as if she'd escaped from some sort of social event.
"Were you supposed to work tonight?" He leaned back against the chaise, trying to encourage her with his body language to relax.
She bent over and buried her face in her hands, muffling her reply. "No."
One of the two access doors opened to admit Jericho Davies. He stepped inside and closed it behind him with a soft click. Dante was only marginally surprised to see his head of security. Dante prided himself on knowing everyone and everything going on in his club. Jericho was the one who actually did.
Jericho Davies was six feet tall and slender in a way that put people at ease until they realized the man didn't need excess muscle mass to scare you shitless and rip out your spine. He kept his curly dark hair cropped close to his head. The hair, his hazel-green eyes, and his olive-toned complexion hinted at his Welsh roots. Jericho held dual citizenship and had been raised in Wales. It was something they never discussed. Dante didn't discuss his past either, and the two men had never needed anything more than the present to signify the strength of their bond.
Suri looked up at Jericho's approach. "I haven't had this much male attention in years. I should break the rules a little more often." She gave a bitter laugh and took another long draw from the champagne bottle.
"What brings you up here?" Dante asked Jericho.
"Her, actually. One of the other dancers saw her jimmy a lock about an hour ago. I came to find out what she was up to."
Suri got unsteadily to her feet. She would have tumbled head over heels had Jericho not reached out and pulled her into the safety of his arms. "God, you're hot." Suri allowed him to hold her, and he didn't seem inclined to let go. "I've always wondered what you look like under those long-sleeved shirts you wear. I bet you're amazing."
"She's feeling very honest at the moment," Dante explained, enjoying the bewilderment on Jericho's typically smooth expression.
Something in the way Jericho held Suri gave Dante the impression that his friend wasn't as unfamiliar with the dancer as Dante was. Jericho's body cupped hers, protectively, instinctively, as if he'd thought of doing so more than once before. The sight turned Dante on in ways he hadn't experienced in a decade.
The two people who had first introduced him to the titillation of voyeurism were long ago and far away. Jericho was now and had been for years. Whether it was the alcohol in his blood or the circumstances, Dante was finding it difficult to rein in the attraction he'd long harbored for his friend. Jericho was a sexy man--everything Dante had ever looked for in a lover. If fate had just handed Dante a way to have his cake and eat it too, he sure as hell wasn't going to waste the opportunity.
"My best friend has been in a committed relationship with two men for more than a year." Suri was still staring up into Jericho's face. "I always thought she was the luckiest girl in the world. She has two hot guys all to herself, but they could never compare to the two of you."
Her words made Dante's heart hammer at a furious pace. She had a friend involved in a menage? She was open to the idea? This wasn't just fate, it was destiny. No man raised in Dante's family would ever ignore a prompting like that.
"You're drunk," Jericho told her softly, reaching out to brush the hair back from her face.
"Not that drunk." Her smile was all mischief and sexy as hell. "I've had a shit day. I'm getting fired. Now I've stumbled into a sultan's bedroom with two men that make me want to get naked and try everything. I'm sober enough to know this is my chance to stop being boring."
"Boring people don't break and enter. They run screaming at the idea of a threesome. And who said you're getting fired?" Jericho glanced up, and Dante shook his head to let his friend know that was assumption, not fact.
Eager to see if she was serious, Dante tested Suri's resolve. "So, if you're going to try everything, where will you begin?"
"Right here." She put her arms around Jericho's neck and stood on tiptoe to kiss him hungrily on the mouth.
Dante sat forward, his body engulfed in flames as he watched his friend's stiff demeanor melt beneath Suri's uninhibited onslaught. She devoured him, their tongues tangling in a passionate expression that made Dante long to join them.
JERICHO SHOULD HAVE said no. It was late, and he was the only sober one in the room. It was his duty to take a step back and prevent all three of them from having regrets in the morning.
Except that Jericho wouldn't regret this. How could he? Suri was soft and eager against him. She tasted sweet, her lips warm and willing as she kissed him with abandon. He'd watched her from across the club and dreamed of this moment. She'd caught his eye the moment she'd taken the stage for the first time. The sheer presence of her was enough to give him decadent thoughts of running his hands up and down her sleek body. Watching her sinuous dancing had become a full-time preoccupation.
And now she was in his arms.
Jericho cupped her ass and pulled her against his body. His cock was hard and hot, tenting his slacks and demanding release. It was all he could do not to drag her to the bed and cover every inch of her with every inch of him. The champagne bottle dropped from her fingers, spilling onto the thick rug. It didn't matter. Nothing did.
Jericho caught sight of Dante from the corner of his eye. The naked hunger on his friend's face stirred something foreign inside Jericho's gut. He knew Dante. Knew him well enough to see that he craved Suri as much as Jericho did.
It should have upset him to know that Dante desired the woman Jericho was kissing with such passion. But it didn't. Jericho wanted Dante to see her. More than that, he ached for his friend to taste, to touch, to share in the incredible woman who was whimpering with every thrust of his tongue. This was Asylum, where everything was acceptable and nothing was taboo.
There was a line before him. Jericho could sense it, could acknowledge that he was choosing to change the nature of his friendship with Dante, despite the consequences. Locking gazes with his friend, Jericho nodded to let him know that it was all right.