“Fuck, I miss that,” muttered Cookie, and I glanced over to see tears in her eyes.

“Buck up, bitch,” said Maggs, giving her a little punch on the shoulder. “You wanna make a  p**n o for your boy, you can’t be crying in it. That’s not his kink—unless you’ve been holding out on us?”


Cookie laughed, shaking off her melancholy with a visible force of will. These were strong women, I decided. Really strong women. I could learn from them.

“You know I draw the line at soft-core, no fetish stuff,” Cookie replied, waggling her eyebrows suggestively. “I’m gonna get drinks. Maggs, show the newbie where the VIP rooms are, will ya? And make sure it’s wiped down before I strut my stuff. My man likes his girls clean and tight, no sloppy seconds!”

She gave a little shimmy and we whooped, clapping. Maggs pointed me across the floor to a long, dark hallway.

“Rooms are over there, sugar,” she said. “I left my phone in the car, and I’m definitely gonna need my own personal copy of this for blackmail purposes. See you in a few.”

She pushed me toward the rooms. I crossed the floor to the hallway, feeling awkward as all get out. Dark doors lined the both sides of the hall, all of them closed. I had no idea what I’d find inside and exploring on my own felt weird. I decided to wait for Maggs. Then Max strolled up, offering me that same friendly smile he’d worn at the bar.

“You lost?” he asked. I shook my head.

“Not so much lost as a little out of my depth,” I admitted. “I guess Cookie’s gonna have us film her dancing for Bagger. She said to find a room, but I’m afraid to just start opening doors.”

“No prob,” he said, shrugging casually, although his eyes held a pleased gleam. “Follow me.”

Something felt off. My instincts said I shouldn’t follow him, but I couldn’t think of a reason not to and I was still pretty drunk. My drunken instincts weren’t so hot—Gary’d asked me to marry him after I’d just killed a six-pack.

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When Max pointed me toward the last door on the right side of the hall, which had a little green light glowing above it, I hesitantly walked over and pushed it open. It took a second for my eyes to adjust to the darkness and soft red light. Then I saw Horse sitting on a black leather couch against the wall, arms stretched out along the back. His shirt was off and an almost-naked, bleached-blonde woman straddled him. Her hips writhed against his and when she turned to look at us, I saw she had giant, obviously fake boobs. She wore a blue, sparkly G-string and nothing else.

Horse met my wide, frozen eyes and glared.

“What the f**k are you doing here? Thought this was ladies’ night.”

“Nothing,” I whispered, stepping back and very carefully shutting the door. I felt brittle, fragile, like I was going to break apart into a thousand pieces. I don’t know why. It wasn’t like we had a real relationship. I didn’t own him. But seeing him with another woman—that hurt me deep down inside. I bumped into Max, who caught my arms and steadied me. I looked up at him, devastated, and he wore an expression I couldn’t begin to describe.

“Did you know he was in there?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Max replied. His easy response, completely unapologetic, threw me.

“You set me up?” I whispered. “Why?”

“Because you’re living in a f**king dream world and the girls were filling your head with shit. I can be a dick, but not as big a dick as he’s being. Thought you had a right to know.”

I tried to think. Unfortunately, everything was spinning around me.

“I didn’t do it to hurt you, Marie,” Max said, pulling me in for a rough hug. I stiffened, then relaxed into him, needing the comfort. He rubbed my hair, combing it with his fingers.

“You’re a sweet kid and you’re in a really f**ked-up situation,” he said, not unkindly. “You need to keep your head straight. Horse is not your old man, you’re not going to live happily ever after with him and your brother isn’t going to come through for you. The faster you figure that out, the better your life is going to be. That’s the truth.”

I pulled away from Max and glanced back at the door, willing Horse to open it, to come out and explain that this was all just some sort of mistake. He didn’t. The green light taunted me.

“You want a ride home?” Max asked.

“Yeah,” I said.


He took my arm and went to the fire door, quickly punching a code into a keypad on the side. A tiny red light blinked green and he pushed through the door. I followed him across the parking lot to his bike. My phone started vibrating and I looked down to see Horse’s name on the screen.

I turned it off.

The ride seemed to last forever, and I was pretty much sober by the time we reached the house. Ariel ran out to greet us, smiling his big puppy grin, but I didn’t pet him so he whined and crawled under the porch. Max surprised me when he left his bike and followed me into the house. I guess I expected him to just drop me off or something. It felt strange and awkward with him there, and I wished I could be alone.

“You want a drink?” I asked, hoping he’d say no.

“Yeah, grab me a beer,” he replied, pulling out his phone. I left him fiddling with it while I found a beer for him and a glass of water for myself. As I came back down the hall he met me halfway, taking the drinks and walking into the dining room. He set them on the pool table and cocked his head to the side, studying me again.

“Why do you do that?” I asked.

“Do what?”

“Look at me like that?”

“Trying to decide what the f**k Horse is thinking,” he replied. “You don’t need to be with him, Marie. This is f**ked up. You should let me help you.”

“Help me how?”

Instead of answering, he leaned down and threw me over his shoulder. I shrieked, hitting him on the back and kicking. Max ignored my struggles, carrying me back into the living room and throwing me down on to the couch. I hit hard and lost my breath. Before I could recover he was on me, thrusting a knee between my legs, covering my mouth with his. I struggled against him, but I shouldn’t have bothered. Way too strong for me. His legs pinned me, pelvis grinding into mine as his arms wrestled my own into the couch. His kiss wasn’t sensual, just a brutal attack. No tongue, no seduction. Just a crushing of his lips against my mouth. I seriously couldn’t breathe and my vision started going dark.

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