- For Martha, our very own beautiful (cancer-beating) bombshell
“The smartest thing I’ve ever done was recruiting Max Stella to help plan your bachelor party.”
I looked over at my brother, Henry, after he practically sang this. He was leaning back in his plush leather chair, fresh vodka gimlet in hand, recently returned from a private “session” in a mysterious backroom location, and wearing the biggest grin I think I’d ever seen. He wasn’t looking at me when he spoke; he was watching three beautiful women onstage dance and strip to a slow, pulsing rhythm. “Gotta remember that next time,” he murmured, bringing the glass to his lips.
“I plan on only having the one,” I said.
“Well.” Will Sumner, Max’s best friend and business partner, leaned forward to catch Henry’s eye. “You, however, might end up in need of a second bachelor party if the current wife finds out about the professional dancer activities just now. From the looks of this place, they don’t just do the average lap wiggle around here.”
With a dismissive wave of his hand, Henry said, “It really was only a lap dance.” And then he smiled at me, winking. “Albeit a very good lap dance.”
“Happy ending?” I asked, teasing but mildly revolted.
Henry shook his head with a laugh and took another sip of his drink. “Not that good, Ben.”
I exhaled, relieved. I knew my brother well enough to know that he would never cheat on his wife, Mina, but he was still far more of the “what she doesn’t know can’t hurt her” ethos than I ever would be.
Although Chloe and I were getting married in June, the only weekend Max, Henry, Will, and I could all get away together for my bachelor party was the second weekend in February. We’d expected there to be some serious bribing for the women to agree to let us head to Vegas for a guy’s weekend over Valentine’s Day, but as usual they’d surprised us: they’d barely blinked, and simply planned a weekend trip to the Catskills together instead.
Max had chosen a high-end club to kick off the weekend of ensured debauchery. This place certainly wasn’t something we would have stumbled upon via an online search or a stroll down the Las Vegas Strip. To be honest, Black Heart didn’t look like much from the outside. It was buried in an innocuous office building a couple blocks off the heavy traffic of Las Vegas Boulevard. But inside—past three locked doors and two bouncers roughly the size of my apartment in New York, then deeper into the dark belly of the building—the club was posh, and positively vibrating with sex.
The enormous main room was spotted with small raised platforms, each one topped with a dancer wearing sparkling, silver lingerie. There were four black marble bars, one in every corner, and each specializing in a different type of drink. Henry and I had indulged in the vodka bar, also grabbing some caviar, gravlax, and blinis. Max and Will had made a beeline for the scotch. The other two bars offered an assortment of wine, or cordials.
The furniture was plush, dark leather. It was unbelievably soft, and each chair was large enough for two . . . in case any of us accepted the offers for a dance out on the main floor. Servers wearing anything from latex bikinis to nothing at all carried trays with drinks. Our hostess, Gia, had started the night in a lacy red chemise and panties with some elaborate jewelry in her hair, ears, and around her neck, but seemed to be removing something each time she checked on us.
I wasn’t a regular at this type of establishment, but even I knew this was no run-of-the-mill strip club. It was pretty fucking impressive.
“The question,” Henry said, interrupting my thoughts, “is when is the groom-to-be getting his lap dance?”
Around me, the others all responded with various words of encouragement, but I was already shaking my head. “I’m going to pass. Lap dances aren’t really my thing.”
“How is an unfamiliar and extremely hot woman dancing on your lap not your thing?” Henry asked, eyes wide with disbelief. My brother and I hadn’t ever visited a club of this sort in any of our business travels. I think I was as surprised to learn of his enthusiasm for them as he was to learn of my aversion. “Are you warm-blooded?”
I nodded. “Very. I think that’s why I don’t like them.”
“Bollocks,” Max said, putting his drink down on the table and waving across the room to someone in the far, dark corner. “This is the first night of your stag weekend, and a lappy is a requisite.”
“You may all be surprised to hear that I’m with Bennett on this one,” Will said. “Lap dances from strangers are pretty awful. Where do you put your hands? Where do you look? It’s not the same as being with a lover—it feels too impersonal.”
While Henry insisted that Will had obviously never had a good lap dance, Max stood to speak to a man who seemed to have materialized out of thin air at the side of our table. He was shorter than Max—which wasn’t uncommon—and graying at his temples. He had a face and eyes that carried the kind of calm that told me he’d done a lot, and seen even more. His suit was dark and impeccable, his lips pressed together in a thin line. I registered that this must be the infamous Johnny French, whom Max had mentioned on our flight in.
Although I’d assumed they were talking about making arrangements for me to get a dance, I watched as Johnny murmured something and Max turned to stare at the wall, his face tight. I could count on one hand the number of times I’d ever seen Max look anything but relaxed, and I leaned forward, straining to understand what was happening. Henry and Will remained oblivious, having returned their attention to the now-naked dancers on the stage. Finally, Max’s shoulders relaxed as if he had come to some kind of conclusion, and he smiled at Johnny, muttering, “Thanks, mate.”
With a pat to Max’s shoulder, Johnny turned and left us. Max returned to his seat, reaching for his drink. I lifted my chin toward the doorway Johnny had stepped through, behind a black curtain. “What was all that about?”
“That,” said Max, “was about the room that is being prepared for you.”
“For me?” I pressed my hand to my chest, shaking my head. “Again, Max, I’m going to pass.”
“The fuck you are.”
“You’re bloody right I am. He told me you’re to head down that hall”—Max pointed to a different doorway than the one through which Johnny had disappeared—“and head to Neptune.”
I groaned, leaning back in my chair. Although this club seemed like the best of its kind in town—or anywhere for that matter—on a list of things I wanted to do tonight, getting a lap dance from some random Vegas dancer ranked barely above eating bad sushi and getting violently ill.
“Just walk down the hall like a fucking bloke and get your knob rubbed by some girl dancing on you.” Max stared at me, his eyes narrowed. “Are you taking the piss with this whingey shite? It’s your fucking stag weekend. Act like the man you used to be.”
I studied him, wondering why he seemed so firmly planted in his own chair while he encouraged me to leave mine. “Did Johnny give you a room to visit as well? Aren’t you getting a lap dance?”
He laughed, tipping his scotch to his lips and mumbling, “It’s a lap dance, Ben. Not a fucking trip to the dentist.”
“Asshole.” Lifting my drink, I gazed at the thick, clear liquid. I’d known going into this that there would be women, and booze, and probably some activities that might push the limits of legal, but the truth was, Chloe had known this, too. She’d told me to have fun, and her eyes had never shadowed with worry or mistrust. They had no reason to.
I brought the drink to my lips, downed it, and muttered, “Fuck it,” before standing and heading to the hallway. My companions for the evening were—surprisingly—classy enough to not cheer at my departure, but even still I could feel their attention on my back as I made my way to the hallway to the left of the main stage.
Just beyond the doorway the carpet changed from black to a deep, royal blue, and the space felt even darker than it had out in the main room. The walls were the same velvety black, and there was just enough illumination from tiny crystal lights on the wall to light a path ahead of me. Along one side of the long hallway were doors with the names of planets on them: Mercury, Venus, Earth . . . Down at the end, at the door labeled Neptune, I hesitated. Would there be a woman already inside? Would there be a chair for me or, worse, a bed?
The door was ornate and heavy, like something out of a castle or, fuck, some sort of creepy Gothic basement sex dungeon. Fucking Max. I shivered and turned the knob, exhaling in relief when I saw that there was no iron cross or handcuffs, and no woman inside yet, only a long chaise with a small silver box in its center. Tied to the box with a silky red ribbon was a white card with Bennett Ryan written in neat script.
Great. Random Vegas Dancer might already know my fucking name.
Inside the box was a black satin blindfold and a sliver of thick cardstock with the words Put this on written in black ink.
I was meant to put on a blindfold for a lap dance? What was the point of that? Just because I didn’t want one tonight didn’t mean I didn’t recall lap dances past. Unless the format had changed in the past few years, getting one meant looking, not touching. What the fuck was I supposed to do if I was blindfolded when she came in? I sure as shit wasn’t going to touch her.
I laid the slip of fabric on the chaise, ignoring it as I stared at the wall. Minutes ticked by, and with each one I grew more convinced there was no fucking way I was blindfolding myself in this room.
I could almost hear the sound of my own irritation building. It sounded like a roar, a wave, a flame crackling. Closing my eyes, I took three deep breaths and then looked more carefully at my surroundings. The walls were a soft gray, the chaise a dusky blue. The room looked more like a dressing room at a high-end store than a room where men got what I assumed amounted to a lot more than just a dance. I ran my hand over the supple leather of the chaise, and only then did I notice the second note that had been buried beneath the blindfold inside the box. Written in the same script on the heavy paper, it said,
Put on the fucking blindfold, Ben, don’t be a pussy.
Fucking Max. Would I really have to sit here, captive, until I put on the blindfold and got this over with? With a groan, I lifted the black fabric, slipping it over my head and hesitating just a heartbeat before pulling it across my eyes. I was already plotting how I would get back at Max. He’d known me longer than almost anyone in my life other than my family, and was aware of how much I valued fidelity and control. Asking me to come back to this room and cover my eyes without knowing what was coming? What a fucking dick.
I leaned back against the wall and waited in annoyed isolation, my ears picking up sounds I hadn’t noticed before: the dull pulse of the music in the other rooms, the sound of doors opening and closing with quiet, heavy clicks. And then I heard the sound of the handle to my room turning, the door opening with the gentle slide of wood across carpeting.
My heart began to thunder.
As soon as I got a whiff of the unfamiliar perfume, I felt my back go rigid with discomfort. Other than the scent of the stranger, I knew nothing about who was in here and I hated not being able to see what was coming at me. She did something against the wall: I heard rustling, a small click, and then quiet, rhythmic music filled the room.
Warm, soft hands took hold of my wrists and gently but expertly positioned my hands so that they rested idly at my sides. No touching? No fucking problem.
I sat motionless as she slid over me, her breath smelling like cinnamon, her hips grinding on my lap, hands pressed to my chest. So this is how it was going to go: I would remain blindfolded, she would dance over me, and then I would leave? I felt myself begin to relax incrementally. The woman moved above me, her hips shifting against my thighs, her hands moving gently over my chest. I could feel enough of her body that the blindfold didn’t seem completely absurd, but if I’d been the kind of man to enjoy this sort of thing, being robbed of my sight would have been a hindrance.
But maybe Max knew this would be the only way this experience wouldn’t be unbearable to me. The thought made me want to kick his ass just slightly less.
The dancer rolled over me, hips rocking rhythmically with the music, undulating in small, suggestive circles. She leaned away, gripping my shoulders to anchor herself, and I felt the press of her ass on my thighs, the suggestion of her sex so close to my dick that I tried as carefully as I could to inch away, to push my body deeper into the chaise. And then she sat upright again, and I could feel the shape of her breasts as she brushed against my chest. Her breath was warm and soft on my neck, and although it wasn’t unpleasant, per se, it quickly grew awkward. My initial fear that I would have to make eye contact, or smile, or appear to be here voluntarily dissolved, and instead I registered that this dance was for neither of us. Certainly she wasn’t getting anything but money out of it, and because of my blindfold, I didn’t even need to fake my enjoyment. I found myself straining to calculate how much was left of the song. It wasn’t one I knew, but the formula was clear and I exhaled the rest of my tension as the song started its predictable ramp-up to the end. Over me, the poor woman seemed to slow, her hands coming to rest on my shoulders.
When the song ended, the only sound remaining in the room was the stripper’s quickened breathing.
Is she going to leave? Should I say something?
With dread weighing down my stomach, I understood very clearly that maybe this was when the show really started. To my absolute horror, the stripper leaned forward and grazed her teeth across my jaw.
Then . . . I froze, a cloudy awareness starting to overtake my impatience.
“Hello, Mr. Ryan.” Her breath was hot in my ear and I startled at the sound, my entire body going stiff. What in the actual fuck? My hands curled into fists at my sides. “I really, really want to kiss that sexy, angry mouth of yours.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
Chloe Fucking Mills.
“I just danced my ass off, and you aren’t even a little hard right now?” She leaned in, licking up my neck as she lowered her hips and wiggled over my cock. “There we go . . .” She giggled into my neck. “Now you are.”
My mind exploded with reactions: relief and anger, shock and embarrassment. Here Chloe was, in Vegas, not skiing in the fucking Catskills, and she’d come in here to find me blindfolded and waiting for a dancer to do exactly what she’d done: dance on my thighs, grind herself into my cock. But for once I’d managed to do with Chloe what I’d been able to do in every one of my business relationships: hide the reaction you have until you’ve transformed it into the reaction you want.
I counted down from ten before asking, “Was this some sort of test?”
She leaned close, kissed my earlobe. “No.”
I wasn’t going to explain why I was in this room; I’d done nothing wrong. Still, I felt the strange war inside me: growing arousal that she’d done this for me and anger that she’d set me up. “You’re in trouble, Mills.”
She pressed a fingertip to my lips, and then trapped it between our mouths with a brief kiss. “I’m just happy to be right. Max owes me fifty dollars. I told him you would hate getting a lap dance from a stranger. Your hard limit is infidelity.”
I swallowed, nodding.
“I used all of my moves, but nothing. Not even a twitch down there. I’m really hoping you had no idea it was me or else—I’ll be honest—I’m a little insulted.”
Shaking my head, I murmured, “No. The perfume is . . . off. You hate cinnamon gum. And I can’t see you or feel you.”
“You can now,” she said, lifting my hands to rest on her bare thighs. I ran my palms up to her hips and felt the sharp press of small stones on her underwear. What the fuck is she wearing? I was dying to take off the blindfold, but as she hadn’t done it yet, I suspected this was another thing I was meant to wait for.
I ran my hands over her thighs, down to her calves, and suddenly wanted nothing more than to get laid in this room in the middle of a questionably legal Vegas club. My relief that it was Chloe in here with me, and not some stranger sitting on my lap, overwhelmed me, and a burst of adrenaline shot into my bloodstream. “You should feel free to fuck me in this room, Miss Mills.”
She leaned forward, sucked on my jaw. “Hmm . . . maybe. Want a second chance to enjoy a dance first?”
I nodded and exhaled as she slipped the blindfold off me, exposing her . . . outfit. She wore a tiny bra that tied with thin satin straps at her shoulders and appeared to be made entirely of gemstones held together with the barest scrap of silk. Her panties were similarly flimsy, and even more fascinating. The thin satin ties at the sides hinted to me that I probably shouldn’t destroy them.
Running a fingertip across her torso, she whispered, “You like my new lingerie?”
I stared at the tiny jewels decorating her skin, winking brilliant green and clear as diamonds. She looked like a fucking work of art. “They’ll do,” I mumbled, leaning forward to kiss between her breasts. “In a pinch.”
“Do you want to touch me?”
I nodded again, looking up at her face and feeling my eyes grow dark at the way she watched me with both hunger and uncertainty.
She smiled, licked her lips. “This wasn’t a test, sending you down here. But,” she said, eyes falling to my mouth, “the fact is that you did come down to this room expecting a stranger to dance for you. You put on a blindfold, and any other woman could have come in here and touched what’s mine.” She cocked her head, studied me. “I think maybe I deserve a little treat.”
Hell yes. “I can agree with that.”
“And, the rules being what they are”—she nodded to a small sign on the wall basically suggesting that men who violated dancers would be unceremoniously carried out and dropped over the Hoover Dam—“you still aren’t allowed to touch me freely.”
I wasn’t sure what she meant by “freely” and I was still mostly trapped beneath her, so I simply let my hands fall back to her thighs, waiting for instruction. My body was tightly coiled and ready for whatever she wanted to do.
She stood, walked over to the wall unit, and started the song over again.
I really was a lucky fucking bastard. I had the hottest girlfriend in the entire world. Licking my lips, I stared at her firm, perfect ass until she turned back around and, with the trademark confident sway of her hips, returned to where I sat.
Chloe climbed over me, straddling my thighs. “Take off my panties.”
I pulled at the delicate tie at each hip, and slowly dragged them away from her body, tossing them to the side somewhere.
“Now. Put the back of your hand on your thigh and hold up however many fingers you want me to fuck,” she whispered.
I blinked. “What?”
She laughed, sucking on her lip before enunciating very slowly, “Put the back of your hand on your thigh, and hold up however many fingers you want me to fuck.”
Was she serious with this shit? Without taking my eyes off of hers, I slid my hand to my leg, turned it palm up, and offered up my middle finger. “Here you go.”
She looked down and giggled. “That’s a good one, but maybe at least one more. I do need a closer approximation of your cock.”
“You’re really only going to fuck my fingers? My dick is pretty much ready to go, and you can’t pretend that isn’t the preferable option for everyone involved.”
“You were going to get a lap dance from a Vegas showgirl,” she countered, brow raised. “Your dick wasn’t even interested five minutes ago.”
With a sigh, I closed my eyes, extending three fingers.
“So generous,” she whispered, lifting her hips and gliding her sex across my rigid fingertips. “You’ll make a pretty stellar husband if you keep this sort of thing up.”
“Chlo . . .” I groaned, opening my eyes to watch her as she slowly lowered herself over my fingers. She was already wet, and I stared down at her, naked but for her skimpy bra, her smooth thighs spread over the dark fabric of my pants.
She wrapped her hands around my neck and began to move over me, lifting her body and circling her hips as she came down, rubbing her clit against the heel of my hand. Again, and again, and again. I thrust up beneath her, needing friction. I could taste her scent in the air, could hear every one of her tight little sounds. Between her breasts, sweat caused her skin to glisten. No way would I admit right now how much I loved watching her use my body to find her own pleasure.
“You’re a fucking tease,” I growled, relishing the dip and swell from the weight of her arms braced on my shoulders. The sight of her was doing savage things to my body, and I was pretty sure I could get off if she just lowered herself a bit more, rubbed her thigh against my clothed cock. “I’m going to walk out of here still hard and smelling like pussy.”
Circling her hips, she whispered, “Don’t care.”
And yet, at the sound of my voice, I’d noticed the tight press of her nipples inside her little bra. She knew how hard I was, and she cared greatly.
Chloe gasped as I curled my fingers and moved my other hand to slide over her backside and guide her hips. I pressed my thumb across her clit, feeling myself come undone just watching her. Around my fingers, her body rippled, tensing in anticipation. Even in a strange room with God-knows-what going on around us, I could make her come in minutes. She was such a fucking tangle of contradictions: generous and teasing, earnest and coy. “You fucking wreck me, Chlo.”
“Can you tell I’m close?” Our eyes never broke contact, and I slid my hand up her side, tracing the frame of her ribs with my fingertips.
“Yeah,” I whispered.
“Does that still make you wild? Knowing how fast you can do this to me?”
I nodded, and my hand slid higher, to her shoulder, her neck. My fingers flexed against her jugular, itching to feel the race of her pulse when she came. “I love knowing no one else could make you this wet.”
Her brown sugar eyes darkened, grew heavy with desire. “I need you to want me every second,” she whispered, breathless. “You’re the only one I’d ever let own me like this.”
The word—own—triggered a spark in my chest, a wild-ness I couldn’t hold back anymore. Her lips were so close to mine and the taste of cinnamon on her breath, the foreign perfume . . . the reality of how far she’d gone to fool me poured fuel on the flame and I lurched forward, disintegrating; my kiss was sharp and punishing, starving for the feel and taste of her.
She pulled back only far enough to gasp, “Do you want to hear me?”
“I want the entire club to hear you.”
Her hands sank into the hair at the nape of my neck and her hips faltered, trapping my fingers deep inside her as she rocked wildly over my palm.
“Oh God . . .” Pulling her bottom lip into her mouth, she arched away and I bent to her neck, sucking, biting, owning her fucking heartbeat.
I felt the hammering of her pulse against my lips, felt each one of her exhales as she gasped, tensing above me and around me as she came. With a hoarse cry, she said my name and her voice sent a vibration across my tongue, pressed to her throat.
Chloe stilled, her body leaning into mine, sated and boneless, and lifted both hands to my neck. Her thumbs pressed gently into my pulse points and she leaned forward, sucking my lower lip into her mouth before biting it quickly, savagely. I let out a surprised grunt, and wasn’t sure what it said about me that for a second I thought that bite might make me come in my pants.
“That . . .” she breathed, pulling back, “was unbelievable.”
Lifting herself gingerly off my hand, she rose and stood on shaky legs. I leaned forward to kiss the damp skin between her breasts, and pulled her hand over the crown of my cock through my pants. “You’re so fucking beautiful when you come, Chlo. Feel how hard you get me.”
She squeezed, stroking me slowly.
My eyes rolled closed and I begged, “I want you on your knees now. Put your mouth on me.”
But to my absolute fucking horror, she moved her hand and walked over to retrieve her panties from the corner.
“What are you doing?” I rasped.
She tied the tiny straps of satin at each hip, and pulled a robe from a hook on the wall, slipping it over her shoulders and smiling a little at me. “You good?”
I returned her level stare. “Are you serious?”
She came back to me, lifting my left hand to her mouth, sliding my bare ring finger between her teeth and deeper, wrapping it in the delicate softness of her tongue. And then she released it with a wink, whispering, “I’m serious.”
My arms shook with tension, my cock pulsing from the echo of her mouth, her too-short, gentle suction. “Then no, I am not good, Chloe. Not even a little bit.”
“I am,” she said, smiling sweetly. “I feel fantastic. I hope you enjoy the rest of your bachelor party.”
I leaned back into the wall, watching her cinch the robe around her waist. My skin felt hot, itchy, feverish and the entire time she dressed she watched me, relishing my frustrated need for her.
I struggled to hide it, deciding to pretend I was fine. Yelling would only make her more pleased with herself. Cool detachment always worked best when Chloe was being a teasing bitch. But when my brow smoothed, she laughed a little, not even a little surprised.
“What are you doing after this?” I asked. For some reason it hadn’t even occurred to me what she would do when she left. Was she flying straight home?
With a shrug, she murmured, “Don’t know. Dinner. Maybe a show.”
“Wait. Are you here with someone?”
She looked at me, pursing her lips and shrugging.
“The fuck, Chloe? Are you at least going to tell me where you’re staying?”
She looked me up and down, letting her eyes linger a little longer on the fly of my pants than the rest of me before she smiled. “At a hotel.” She straightened, arching her brow before purring, “Oh, and happy Valentine’s Day, Mr. Ryan.”
And with that, she stepped out of the room and into the hallway.