Chapter One

Dax

I’d gotten pretty good at lying, especially these last few years. My mom would’ve said I was a little too good if she’d known just how often I did it, but half the time, I did it to protect her. I tried not to lie too much to her face, but lying to myself was a different story. I told myself all sorts of shit so I’d do what needed to be done. I was pretty sure that wasn’t one of my lies. It had only been me and Mom my whole life, and since she got hurt, it’d been my job to take care of her.

Okay, so maybe I used that as an excuse not to get involved with anyone, but the truth was, once I fucked a woman, I really didn’t have any further use for her. I was sure some people considered me an asshole for having that attitude, but I always made sure the woman I was with knew that going in. I made sure she got off, and I never treated her like trash, which was more than some guys, but she knew the whole time it was only sex.

Bryne Dawkins hadn’t been any different. She wasn’t any different.

Dammit.

As I looked down at her, some small part of me called me out for lying. The lighting in the hotel room was dim, but I didn’t need bright light to be able to see her perfectly. Her bronze curls were soft against my skin, and it was all I could do not to run my fingers through them. Her eyes were closed, but I knew their exact shade of green. They’d haunted me from the moment I first saw them, the day she walked into DeMarco’s & Sons.

I told myself then that I just wanted to get hold of those soft curves, see what was hiding under those winter clothes. The moment I slid inside her though, I’d known once wouldn’t be enough. I tried to deny it, tried to tell myself that she was out of my league. Hell, I’d known that from the second she walked into the shop, but it hadn’t stopped me from wanting her. And getting her.

And she’d been nothing but trouble ever since.

Georgie, my buddy, had been pissed when I told him to back off, so when she turned up again, I’d behaved like an ass to drive her away. Then her aunt had fired me from Club Privé, which meant I lost the better half of my income. Confronting Bryne hadn’t done anything but confirm what I’d been trying to deny for days.

I still wanted her.

My stomach clenched as she shifted in her sleep, her naked body rubbing against mine. Fuck. Even after having her again, I wanted nothing more than to bury my face between her legs until she woke up calling out my name, then see how many more times I could make her come on my cock.

Except that would be a bad idea, and no amount of lying to myself would change the truth of that.

Bryne wasn’t naive, but she was definitely innocent. Hell, I could almost taste it on her. This city could chew up and spit out girls like her, and it would happen even faster if she was near me.

I forced myself from the bed, careful not to wake Bryne as I did. I wouldn’t be able to leave if she woke up. One look from her, and I’d have a condom on and be inside her before either of us could think about why it was a bad idea.

Grabbing up my clothes, I crept out into the living room to dress. I should’ve left as soon as I wasn’t bare-ass naked, but even as I took a step toward the door, I remembered what it had been like to walk out that first time, the way my heart had twisted at the expression on Bryne’s face when I’d given her those flippant lines.

I couldn’t do that to her again. No matter how many lies I told myself about what I wanted or didn’t want, that was one thing I couldn’t lie about. Hurting her hurt me.

And I knew if I ever wanted to see her again, I couldn’t just go. I had to let her know I wasn’t blowing her off.

My eyes had adjusted enough to the darkness that I was able to make my way over to the hotel desk. I found a piece of paper and pen easily enough. Before I could second guess myself, I jotted down a quick invitation to dinner and hoped she would take it.

I could’ve left the note anywhere, but I made myself walk back into the bedroom and put it on the side of the bed where I’d been sleeping so she wouldn’t miss it. I didn’t want her waking up and thinking I’d left her without a second thought. Hell, she was in all my thoughts pretty much all the time. I’d been a walking hard-on since I met her and fucking her hadn’t helped. I was already half-hard by the time I got on the elevator.

I ignored the surprised look the desk clerk sent my way as I walked through the lobby. I didn’t need some condescending prick to tell me I didn’t look like I belonged there. A shiver went through me as I stepped outside, and I hunched my shoulders, trying to bury myself deeper in my coat. I hadn’t paid much attention last night to where I was, so it took me a moment to catch my bearings before deciding that I could make it to the subway without freezing my ass off. I tried to avoid spending money on taxis, but sometimes it was just too damn cold to do it any other way.

I blew on my hands as I jogged down the steps, then fished my metro card out of my wallet. My mom insisted on me having one, and I used it often enough to keep her from suspecting how many times I hopped a turnstile rather than pay.

A pang of guilt went through me at the thought of my mom. I hadn’t meant to fall asleep with Bryne, but the lack of sleep I’d had every night since meeting her was taking its toll. Add that into the fact that I’d basically been working two jobs non-stop for the last year, and it wasn’t really surprising that I’d fallen asleep.

I doubted Mom would even be annoyed that I hadn’t called. I’d be home before she woke up anyway. And she was always good about not pushing to know what I was out doing. She just wanted me to take care of myself.

I frowned as I took a seat. I was twenty-four years old. My mother didn’t need to be thinking about how to take care of me, especially not after the year she’d gone through. She’d raised me all by herself, and I was the first to admit that I hadn’t made it easy on her. I’d tried to stay away from the worst of things, despite how much pressure I’d gotten from Georgie and the guys to take part in the less-than-legal things that went on in the shop, but I couldn’t say that I’d been a good kid. Not by a long-shot.

I sighed and ran my hand through my hair. Not for the first time, I wondered how different things would’ve been if my father had stuck around. Then again, for all I knew, things would’ve been worse. He could’ve been a complete asshole. Abusive. Alcoholic. A whole other list of things that was worse than absent.

I’d given up asking about him a long time ago. My birth certificate simply said unknown, but Mom always insisted she knew who he was. When I’d nagged her about it as a child, she’d only said that circumstances had prevented him from being a part of my life. Sometimes, I thought she meant that he died, but most of the time, I just figured he was married.

Or he simply hadn’t wanted me.

I glowered at a punk teenager who tripped over my foot and swore at me. The kid flipped me off but hurried away before I could get up and teach him some respect.

I pushed myself to my feet as the first of my two changes came up. Mom and I lived in Hell’s Kitchen, not too far from DeMarco’s & Sons, and not too far from Club Privé either, but the hotel Bryne and I had gone to was on the opposite side of Manhattan. Still, I wouldn’t complain. Sex with Bryne was worth every minute, and more. I didn’t know how much experience she had, but she was definitely one of the best lays I’d ever had under me.

My stomach twisted with some unfamiliar sensation, and it took me a moment to realize that it was jealousy. I didn’t like thinking about how Bryne had gotten so good in bed.

Shit.

I needed to get myself under control. I couldn’t be jealous because we weren’t in a relationship. We could be friends. Maybe have sex when we felt like it. But nothing else. I couldn’t do it.

Besides, she deserved better than me.

 

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