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I squared my shoulders, affronted that Logan and this stranger thought I was somehow incapable of handling whatever was on the other side of this door. They didn’t know me. I was strong. I wasn’t afraid.

And I was fed up. I was tired of being pushed and pulled by others. Justin. My mother. And now, even though he was nothing like either one of them, to an extent . . . by Shaw.

I was in control. Meeting Logan’s gaze straight on, I said, “I can handle it.” I moved forward and they parted for me. Marching up the steps, I didn’t bother knocking. Turning the doorknob, I walked inside the house.

IT TOOK PRECISELY FIVE minutes for me to realize I’d made a mistake.

It was dark inside the house. Candles big and small decorated several surfaces. Tables. Shelves. I was offered a blindfold, which I declined with a shake of my head. This only got me a frown from the woman dressed in a costume that resembled those cigarette girl outfits from the forties. She moved on with her tray of blindfolds. I didn’t see Annie anywhere.

Sounds mingled with music as I carefully navigated the room. It didn’t take an expert to identify the noises. Moans and wails and sharp, keening cries drifted from upstairs.

I told myself not to let it bother me. It’s not as though I hadn’t been to parties before. I’m sure people made use of rooms at all those other parties I attended. I just never had to hear quite so well what was going on inside them. Logan’s voice echoed through my mind: You don’t want to go in there.

Shaking off that echo, I moved on, searching for Annie.

Several people sat on a couch, all blindfolded. Three women and one man. They were touching, kissing, slowly removing each other’s clothing piece by piece.

As I skirted the couch, a woman approached me and offered me a drink. I smiled shakily as I declined. Something told me I shouldn’t drink. Not only did I need a clear head, but who knew what could be in the contents of those glasses?

A hand stroked down my arm and laced with my fingers. I yanked my hand away and looked down. A guy sat in a sofa chair, a girl already snuggled up in his lap. He smiled at me and held out his hand as if I would just naturally accept it. He patted the seat next to him and then with that same hand he cupped the girl’s breast, watching me as he fondled it.

My stomach dipped. I backed away and bumped into someone. I turned with an apology on my lips and came face-to-face with a life-size squirrel. Given his height I would guess it was a man.

A man inside a squirrel costume.

He bumped me again and I glanced down to see that he was anatomically correct. Well, disproportionately so. Peering at him in the dim lighting, that part of him jutted out bigger than the average man. Bigger than the above average man.

“E-excuse me,” I stammered, jerking my gaze back up. The squirrel’s big dark eyes stared down at me, wide as saucers.

With an awkward hip thrust, he bumped me again and I snapped, “Stop that!”

I shuffled backward to avoid his enormous . . . what even was it? A strap-on? Was it sewn into the costume? I shook my head and told myself this was one mystery I didn’t want to unravel. I might have laughed, but my overriding emotion was annoyance.

“There you are, Chippy.” A woman appeared at the squirrel’s side. “Oh, did you meet a friend?” She gave me a flirty smile.

I mumbled something and backed away, still shaking my head. I didn’t bother searching for Annie anymore. My overriding thought was: Leave. Get out of here, Emerson.

A guy reached for my arm, but I side-stepped him as I hurried toward the front door. I plunged out into the night and sucked a breath of bitter-cold air into my lungs, unaware until that moment that I had hardly been breathing since I stepped inside that house. Which totally mystified me.

I had wanted to check out this kink club ever since I heard of its existence. I figured it would be the perfect place where I could hook up with guys who didn’t mind dominant girls who called all the shots. Only it hadn’t been like that at all, and somehow I knew. Shaw was to blame.

He had ruined me. I couldn’t even think about being with another guy. He filled my head. I wrapped my fingers around the porch post and stared out at the silent street, my fingers digging into the rough, cold wood. I needed to get him out of my system. And to do that . . . maybe I should just get my fill of him, satisfy my curiosity, my urges. Then I could walk away from him for good.

I took several more bracing breaths and released the post. Stepping down, I let that idea take root, testing it out, trying to decide if it was as crazy as it sounded.

I heard him before I saw him. Like the mere idea of him had conjured him up here.

Footsteps thudded against the sidewalk. His large shape appeared, skidding to a stop at the end of the walkway, his chest lifting with breaths.

“Shaw . . . what are you doing here?”

Crazy, stupid delight coursed through me. I drank in the sight of him, standing tall before me, legs braced apart like nothing could take him down. The guy was built like a tank, and my belly fluttered, the very core of me reacting to him in the most fundamental way. A week without a glimpse of him and my heart reacted, pounding with longing. Such a treacherous thing. The heart really does have a mind of its own.

“I got a text from Reece.”

Anger flared to life inside me. I approached him with hard steps, delight at seeing him withering away. “Why did Reece text you?”

“Logan told him you were here.” His gaze flicked to the house. “He was worried about you.”

Damn Logan. My life was none of his business. “And you raced over here? For what? To rescue me? I told you I didn’t need rescuing.”

His gaze slid from the house back to me again. I had no doubt that he knew what this place was. Reece hadn’t left that tidbit out when he called him. And why had Reece called him anyway? Did he think Shaw and I were involved? Because that would be incorrect on his part.

“What are you doing here, Emerson?”

I compressed my lips, not about to tell him that I had been wondering the same thing. “I don’t need Logan or Reece or you looking out for me like I can’t take care of myself.” This was the part where I could tell him that I had made a mistake and had decided to leave, that the kink club wasn’t for me—that I was in fact leaving when he showed up, but I refused to give him that satisfaction.

“C’mon.” He reached for my hand, but I yanked my arm back before he could claim it.