There are a dozen different jobs just a hop, skip, and a jump down the road in Las Vegas, the devil’s playground. Unfortunately, they all involve having breasts spilling out of your dance number or a bared pussy for a gentleman caller.
In other words, the exact reason why I lived just past the city limits in a suburb of the real deal. It wasn’t as glamorous and I would make more in the city, but I just didn’t want to deal with the liberties people thought they could take with pretty young women in the city. Like we were all just a step away from prostitution.
It was maybe worse for me, because I had the body for it. Curvy hips, a slim waist, and breasts that made for a full show of cleavage with little prep work on my part.
I was sweeping up the floor, clearing away the loose hairs that had accumulated over the last hour or so since I’d swept before, when my phone buzzed on the table. I finished sweeping before going over to the table, taking a seat in the cushy chair that spun a little as I kicked off the footrest at the bottom. When the spin completed its turn, I came face to face with my reflection. I wasn’t a bad looking woman, though I was nearing thirty and you could see it around my wide green eyes, but I was doing better than most thanks to a healthy diet and a lot less makeup. My hair dropped nearly to my waist, though maybe that wasn’t a good promotion for my profession.
Shouldn’t a hair stylist have more cutting edge hair?
I couldn’t bring myself to cut it, though. I couldn’t decide if it was because I liked the long silky strands or if it was the lingering restrictions that had once ruled my life.
Taking a deep breath, I looked away from my reflection and reached for my phone, unlocking it to read the text. My shoulders tensed instantly as I saw who it was from. Ben. My ex. I slammed my phone on the countertop face down before even catching more of a glimpse of what he’d said. I had to clench my eyes shut and slow my breathing before I forced myself into a panic attack.
We’d broken up only two months ago, but it felt both like an eternity and yesterday since that night. The night things had gone from bad to worse to over.
I finished cleaning up, putting away the chemicals, the hairdryers, the combs, and tossing the used towels into the laundry. When I was satisfied the shop was clean—I wanted it to be spotless, a low key means of showing I deserved the promotion I was gunning for—I finally went to my phone. I didn’t want to check it, even after I’d had some time to calm down, but ultimately I couldn’t resist.
I flipped the screen up so I could read the text.
I miss you, babe. We’re so good together. Don’t let one bad night wreck us. You’re mine; you’ll come back.
A cold feeling slid down my spine, but I just turned off the screen, shoved the phone in my pocket, and left the shop, ignoring the feeling. I locked the doors and headed towards the bus station—I didn’t have a car right now. I was saving up, but it was hard because I’d only just started working again. People liked me, but they didn’t give cars away for free and loans needed proof that you could pay them back.
So, the bus and I were good buddies now.
I tucked my hands into my jacket pockets, walking to the nearest stop and stood next to the bench. There was a man, maybe a little younger than me, sitting on the bench, and though there was enough room for me on there, too, I didn’t want to risk it or invite any unwelcome attention. I’d already caught his eyes wandering low over my body, lingering at the slight line of cleavage peeking out from my collar.
I closed my jacket tighter around me and pointedly ignored him. I didn’t dress for attention, but I dressed to impress. No one wanted a frumpy hairstylist.
When I felt the man still staring at me, I pulled my phone from my pocket and searched through my contact list. I needed a little distraction tonight, I decided. Some fun. By the time the bus came to pick me up, I’d texted Ashley and Kaleigh, both of whom would meet me in an hour at Lights, the nightclub that was as close to exciting as you could get without actually going into downtown Las Vegas.
I felt a little better, but I still sat in the front section of the bus with my back to a wall and my bag beside me, making it clear I wasn’t inviting any attention from anyone.
Kaleigh was driving, because I didn’t have a car and Ashley’s boyfriend used hers to get to and from work. I liked to remind her every so often that he was a little possessive, but she just shrugged it off.
“He’s not possessive,” she told me nonchalantly. “He’s protective. There is a difference, you know.”
I rolled my eyes at her, but didn’t pick up the old argument. I was speaking from a place that came from my relationship with Ben—I shuddered involuntarily and tried to pass it off as from the cold—and I didn’t want to think of Ben tonight.
We got in line at the entrance of Lights. Thankfully, it wasn’t too bad tonight, most of the people in the area having opted for the more exciting Las Vegas strip since it was the weekend. Bad for business, sure, but good for us. We were waiting barely a minute before we were at the front, presenting our IDs and our smiles.
The bouncer, a big man with broad shoulders and rippling muscles that weren’t exactly attractive on him, but not unattractive either, checked our IDs then looked us over. Technically, he was making sure the ID matched the face, but the way his eyes dipped down past our shoulders made it obvious he was checking for other things, too.
Like, on a scale of one to ten, how pretty we were.
It irked me a little bit, but I let it slide. It was his boss who made those kinds of rules—no one under a seven allowed inside—not him. Besides, after a second he nodded his head and unhooked the rope, like this was some high end Hollywood event rather than an out of place club on the edge of suburbia hell in the middle of the desert.
Guess we all had to tell ourselves things to get through the day.
When we got in, a wall of music and sweat hit us. It mingled with high perfumes, so it wasn’t unbearable, just powerful. The beat of the music settled into my body, my heart almost seeming to pound in time with it, and already I felt a little better.
I didn’t even think about Ben’s text or what it meant.
Ashley nudged me as we walked farther into the club towards the bar. “I was a little worried he wasn’t going to let us in tonight,” she joked, eying my clothing. “I didn’t think nametags were used anywhere beyond speed dating places.”
“Ha ha,” I answered, putting as much sarcasm as I could into the fake laugh. “Shut up. I didn’t want to waste time changing.”
It was true; I’d decided against changing clothing and just wore what I’d had on at work. It wasn’t the sexiest thing around, but it was sharp and hinted at the hourglass curves that I was lucky—or unlucky, depending on how you looked at it—to call my own.
The pencil skirt went past my knees, the heels were maybe three inches, and the blouse was a white button down with the first three undone so a small line of cleavage could be seen, but my bra wasn’t peeking out. That was it. Simply and versatile, though I knew Ashley thought it was a waste of a night out when I dressed like that. She was under the assumption that a night out on the town meant showing as much leg and cleavage as you could without getting arrested for indecent exposure. Like we were still nineteen and in college or something. Her sequin covered top dipped dangerously low down her chest, hinting that she’d opted out of a bra, and her black miniskirt suggested this same thing.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we were not teenagers anymore, so I just chose to take the light razzing. At least Kaleigh was a little more toned down, if you called skin tight leather pants toned down. But her top covered her boobs, even as it exposed an inch-long strip of her midsection.
Next to them, I looked like a secretary, and not the sexy kind.
“Hey, I see a table!” Kaleigh exclaimed, nudging the both of us as she pointed across the dance floor to the other side of the bar. It was near the fire exit and was only half visible thanks to the dim lighting. But it was empty and that went a long way.
“You go save us a spot,” Ashley told her, her eyes already scanning the crowd to look for her newest dance partner. She had been with her boyfriend for the last two years now, but they had an agreement that other “partners” were okay so long as they were safe, used protection, and always came home to the other person.
I never understood it, but it seemed to work for them. It was the main reason I never got upset with her for staying with him, strangely enough. It meant if he could be okay with her sleeping with other guys, then he couldn’t be all that possessive in the end, right?
That was how I chose to look at it.
Kaleigh headed through the crowd of undulating bodies, most of them rubbing against one another rather than really dancing, but they did it to the beat that pounded out of the speakers from all sides. As she began to disappear, she called over her shoulder, “Order me a beer! A pale ale!”
Ashley waved her off and the two of us went to the bar, her eyes still scanning the crowd.
The bar was full for the most part, so Ashley and I had to squeeze in between two leather clad men who were twice our size, biceps bulging. Bikers were a pretty regular scene out here, most of them belonging to the same club, though I wasn’t sure which club that was. They were rough and tumble and, throughout the week, they were Lights’ main patronage. Probably they were the only reason the place even made enough money to stay open. It was only on weekends, nights like tonight, that the place saw the rest of us average citizens.
I let Ashley do the ordering, because I knew she had a thing for the bartender. He was tall and buff, but I’d never paid him much attention. I didn’t know if he and Ashley had already hit the sack, but I wasn’t about to get into that one way or the other.
As I waited for her to get through with the flirting and finally just put our order in, I scanned the room, just enjoying the feeling of being somewhere.
Ben never let me go out on my own or with friends. It was still refreshing.
Beside me, a gruff voice called to me. “Hey, baby. You’re looking pretty good tonight.”
I turned to the guy beside me, one of the bikers, who was grinning like a lecher and winking like he had a twitch. I rolled my eyes at him and tried to turn away, but he kept talking.
“You’re looking like a naughty little teacher. Did you come out to play?”
A blush—from anger, not flattery—rose up along my neck higher towards my cheeks. I turned back to answer him. “Not with you,” I told him flatly.
He muttered something that sounded like bitch, but our drinks came then and we grabbed them to head over and join Kaleigh at our table. This is the only downside to clubs and bars, I thought. Men thought they had the right to just nose up into your business and when you told them no, they called you a bitch.
I hated it.
We joined Kaleigh at the table a few minutes later, Ashley depositing her pale ale in front of her. “Don’t go overboard tonight,” she reminded her in the closest to a mom voice Ashley has ever used. “You’re our DD, remember?”
Kaleigh took a swig, waving her off. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Why do you think I’m doing beer tonight?”
She could get drunk on beer, too, but it would take a lot more, and if we stayed long enough and she only had a couple, she’d be mostly sober by the time we left. I hoped. I had the number of a drunk cab just in case, but I hoped not to use it.
We chatted and had fun for half the evening—Kaleigh even did her best to limit her drinking to the bare minimum, still managing to have fun with the girls—avoiding topics too close to home, like Ben, and I was finally feeling pretty good about everything. Until one of the biker guys from the bar came over to our table.
He was grinning widely and made it obvious as his eyes slid down over my body. His gaze lingered on my legs, which were crossed at the knees, and, of course, my limited cleavage. Ashley had disappeared to the bathroom, which was probably why he wasn’t salivating over her instead. Both Kaleigh and Ashley were attractive, but they didn’t have the hourglass shape like I did. A lot of guys would take that shape over how much skin was showing, only because they thought I was being a tease.
Which I wasn’t. My attire was supposed to say I wasn’t interested. They never seemed to get that message, though.
When he’d finished looking me up and down, he leaned his hands on our table. There were tattoos on his arms and he was wearing leather fingerless gloves, which matched his leather jacket. The effect didn’t make him look manlier, but unclean. Like he couldn’t bother to bathe or something, though I didn’t strictly get the smell of body odor.
“Hey there, honey,” he said, still grinning. “You’re looking mighty lonesome.”
I glanced over at Kaleigh with a raised eyebrow, but instead of getting support from her, I got two thumbs up and a wide smile. She was encouraging me to go for it, instead of backing me up in my attempts to ignore him.
Looking back at the man, I said, “Well, I’m not. I’ve got two friends here and I don’t need another.”
He laughed. I thought it was obnoxious. “I wasn’t talking about friendship, honey. I was talking about one hell of a good time. I’ll show you things you’ve never seen before.”
Taking a slow, steadying breath, I tried again. “Not interested. Bye now.”
His grin finally dropped as he realized I wasn’t just going to drop my panties and spread my legs for him right there in the club. He shoved back from the table and gave me the finger. I didn’t know if he called me bitch or not, because he stomped away too quickly, his frame and everything else about him disappearing into the crowded club.
When I turned back to Kaleigh she was shaking her head. “Seriously? He was hot.”
“Hot? Were we even looking at the same guy?” I demanded.
Before she could answer, Ashley returned. “What did I miss?”
Kaleigh crossed her arms over her chest, sitting back in her chair. “A perfectly good opportunity being shot down.”
Ashley looked confused for a moment, then turned to look at me. “What’s she talking about?”
I shook my head and tried to change the subject, but Kaleigh wasn’t having it. She was already diving head first into a recount of what had just happened. A story where I was apparently the villain.
“I mean, he was totally hot and had those rippling muscles that feature on the cover of every bodice ripper I’ve ever read,” Kaleigh told Ashley, embellishing a little. At least I thought so, but then I hadn’t been paying much attention to his muscles. “And she just shooed him like he was an irritating bug or a child or something. Like she just couldn’t be bothered with him! Will you please tell her she’s out of her mind?”
Kaleigh gestured to me and Ashley had no problems fulfilling that particular request. I sighed and leaned back in my chair, waiting for the lecture that was inevitably going to come.
“You can’t just ignore every guy, you know?” Ashley began, her lecture all but memorized by now. “Not every one of these assholes is going to be Ben, but you won’t know if you don’t give one of them a try!”
“They aren’t my type,” I said coolly.
Ashley rolled her eyes. “How would you even know that? You haven’t talked to any of the guys who have approached you in the last month for more than two minutes! And most of that time you’re just being a bitch!”
“I am not being a bitch!”
Both Kaleigh and Ashley gave me pointed looks, like I was lying flat out to them. I felt frustrated, folding my arms across my chest and looking away from them. For a moment, the tension rose up between us, then it fizzled out and when I looked back, Kaleigh was shaking her head but looked forgiving and Ashley reached out to take my hand. She offered me a smile.
“It’s hard to get back on the horse again, but you don’t have to run forever.”
I frowned, but gave in. “I’m not running. I’m just not looking to make the same mistake I did before, you know? I just…I just want to do it right this time.”
Offering me a sympathetic look, Ashley gave my hand a quick squeeze. “Okay, okay. Our bad. No pressure. But, seriously, you should give someone a try. Even if it’s only a test drive, if you know what I mean.” She winked and both she and Kaleigh laughed.
I couldn’t help it; I joined in.
As we laughed, I looked across the room and spotted him. He should have looked just like any other guy in the room, complete with leather jacket, dark but faded jeans, and naturally dirty blond hair that hung about the most beautiful blue-grey eyes I had ever seen.
Our eyes locked and his mouth—full lips, the bruising kind—pulled up into a slow, sensual smile that had my breath catching in my throat like I was some poor school girl just hitting puberty. His eyes flashed, never leaving mine. He was beautiful in a rugged sort of way, his shoulders broad and muscled, and the way his jeans hugged his legs…
I didn’t mean to stare at him for so long, but the longer I did, the larger his smile became. I knew I had to break eye contact with him, but it was so much harder than I thought it would be.
Forcefully, I ripped my eyes back to my girlfriends, my heart stuttering and stumbling along in my chest, erratic and unsure of itself. Subconsciously, I placed a hand against my chest just over the raging organ. My skin felt flushed, hot, and suddenly I had a flash of someone else’s hands sliding against my skin, over my chest. I pictured those full lips against my ear, his chest pressing against my back, as his hand caressed my flushed skin.
And then I snapped myself out of it, because my god, what was I thinking?
Shaking my head, I glanced at the other girls, standing up abruptly. They’d been talking about something that I had completely missed, but stopped mid-sentence as I stood. They turned to look at me questioningly.
“I’m going to get us another round, okay?” I said.
Before either of them answered, I made my way quickly through the crowd and to the bar. My heart was still pounding wildly, and I couldn’t help it; I glanced back towards the blond biker who had grabbed my attention.
But he was gone. I frowned, turning back to the bar. The bartender was busy with other customers, so I had to wait a minute.
A minute was all it took.
I sensed him standing beside me before I noticed him. Heat seemed to radiate from him in waves, intense and seductive. When it was clear the bartender wasn’t going to come over right that second, I couldn’t resist any longer and looked over to find him, the blond guy, standing right beside me. And he was staring at me.
There was no denying the lust in his eyes. They were like grey storm clouds, promising rain and power and a night to remember, and there was definitely no mistaking the way he was staring at me.
To his credit, his eyes started at my face, searching all of it and lingering on my painted lips, before dropping lower and lower. They trailed down my long, bare neck like a caress and seemed to almost slip beneath my blouse, popping the buttons open farther to expose my breasts to him. And they didn’t stop there. They dropped lower, slipping across my slim stomach and curving over my full hips, darting between my thighs.
By the time he was done, I felt naked, as though he had stripped me bare to reveal my wanton flesh beneath the almost demure clothing I wore.
The effect was tremble worthy, and I couldn’t help but shudder at the experience.
His eyes found mine again somehow and despite the roaring of desire in my ears, I managed to hear him as his voice, thick and heady, washed over me. “Maxwell,” he said.
I let out a shaky breath, trying to pull myself together. Did I miss something? What did Maxwell mean? “What?” I asked, meaning to sound haughty, but instead sounding as though I was a begging lover.
He smiled, slow and sexual. “Maxwell. My name, it’s Maxwell.”