“She wasn’t like the other one, willing to fuck for some extra cash, so I gave her some incentive by way of a roofie in her water.” He paused, then added, “Bitch never knew what hit her.”

I couldn’t breathe. My chest was tight, the pressure on it nearly unbearable, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I wanted to move, but I was frozen to the spot, forced to listen as my boyfriend continued.

“Still has no clue that the guy she’s been fucking drugged her. Dumb cunt actually believed the story that she was pass-out drunk.”

The memory hit me. When I’d woken in Reed’s room, he’d said that I’d been drunk and had passed out. I hadn’t really questioned it though. I’d been too flustered by being in Reed’s bed.

The anger that flared inside me, hot and bright, burned away my paralysis and I stormed out of the bathroom, crossing into to the main room but froze when I saw Julien land a solid right hook to Brock’s jaw. Brock dropped to his knees.

“You fucking bastard!” I heard Julien say but I barely registered the words. I could feel tears in my eyes and pushed them back. I didn’t want Brock to think I was crying over him. I was crying because I was furious.

I took a step towards him. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to tear him apart. It didn’t matter that he was bigger than me and probably didn’t have any qualms about hitting a woman. He’d been prepared to rape me. Who knew what else he was capable of? He probably didn’t see it that way. I was just a stripper after all. Nothing more than a whore who sometimes didn’t put out.

A hand closed around my wrist and I struggled against it for a moment before I realized it was Julien.

“He’s not worth it,” Julien spat the words out. His bright blue eyes were shining with something I hadn’t seen in them before. Anger. Not annoyance or even just the disgust he’d had the other nights Brock had done something stupid. Julien was beyond pissed and it transformed his normally easygoing features into something sharp and fierce. If he hadn’t been on my side, I’d have been a little frightened.

“You’re seriously going to ruin years of friendship over her?” Brock’s hand was at his jaw as he struggled to his feet. “You don’t even know her.”

“But I know you,” Julien countered. He was still holding my wrist, but now I felt like I was the one holding him back, like if he didn’t have a grip on me, he’d hit Brock again. “I know about the girls in college who claimed you got a little too friendly. Never quite crossed that line with them, did you?”

Brock didn’t even look at me. “Come on, Julien. She’s a good lay, but she’s not worth breaking ties with me.”

I ground my teeth together, too furious to even speak.

“Get out, Brock,” Julien said. “And I don’t just mean out of the apartment. Get out of Vegas. I don’t want you to be in the hotel when I get back.”

“You can’t–”

Julien took a step forward, his eyes narrowed. Brock stumbled backwards. “Remember what you said about my dad always having the biggest yacht? Well, it’s still true. You might be a big-shot in Philly too, but my family’s got ties everywhere. You don’t want to cross me.”

Brock sneered. “Never thought I’d see you start throwing around the family weight.”

Julien didn’t answer, but I supposed the stoney silence was enough because Brock just looked at him for a few seconds longer, then left, slamming the door so hard that the faulty latch didn’t catch and it banged back open.

I didn’t care about that though. The enormity of what had happened hit me, full force, and I felt my knees start to buckle. Julien caught me before I could fall and held me up, wrapping his arms around me. I stiffened for a moment, but relaxed as soon as I realized he wasn’t using this as an excuse to feel me up. I couldn’t take another fight.

“I am so sorry.” There was no pity in Julien’s words, only sympathy.

I pressed my face against his chest and tried not to cry. How stupid was I? I’d not only slept with a nearly-married man – twice – but I’d fallen for someone who’d tried to rape me. Not only fallen for him but fucked him. And I’d enjoyed it. I swallowed hard. I was pretty sure I was going to be sick, but if I was, I didn’t want to do it in front of Julien.

“You can go to the cops about what he did,” Julien said. “I’ll come with you and say how he confessed in front of me.”

I shook my head but didn’t look up. I didn’t want to see if the pity that wasn’t in his voice was in his eyes. “Doesn’t matter what you say. No one cares about an almost-assault on a stripper. I wasn’t hurt. Don’t even remember it.”

“He shouldn’t be able to do something like that and get away with it.” There was heat to Julien’s voice now.

“He got a sore jaw out of it.” I tried to make the words light. If I didn’t, I was going crack and, as nice as Julien was being, he didn’t deserve that. “Thank you, by the way.”

“Should’ve castrated the bastard. Maybe that would’ve taught him a lesson,” Julien muttered darkly.

Now there was a pleasing image. I pressed my lips together tightly. Julien’s comfort was welcome, but I needed to regain my composure enough to see him out before I could let go of everything I was holding in. I was just getting ready to take a step back when I heard a voice speak.

“Well, looks like you’re really working your way through the who’s who of Philadelphia society.”

For the second time in just a few minutes, my mind and body were frozen in place by the sound of a male voice. Only, this one wasn’t Brock. This was the one voice I didn’t want to hear again, but also the only one I wanted to hear.


What was he doing here? That question was immediately followed by one prompted by my recent discover. Had he been in on it the whole time?

That thought gave me what I needed to move. I took a step back, breaking free of Julien’s embrace. He let me go and stepped off to the side. I wasn’t sure if it was because of what Reed had said or if he was able to tell I had someone else to be angry at. All I knew was that now I could see Reed standing in the doorway.

His expression was tight and his eyes guarded. I thought I could see a hint of hurt in them, and rather than feeling sorry for him, it just made me angrier.

“Did you see your buddy in the hallway? Oh, sorry, your brother-in-law. Did he tell you the game was over? I know.”

“Oh, so Brock was here too?” Reed snapped. “Were you having a threesome, or did Brock go first?”

I felt Julien take a step forward and knew he was going to come to my defense. I put a hand out. “Could you give us a minute?”

I waited until Julien closed the apartment door behind him and then turned on Reed again.

“Listen to me, you arrogant bastard.” I crossed the space between us until I could’ve reached out and touched him. I didn’t though. I didn’t want to touch him ever again. “I’m not sleeping with Julien. He was comforting me. Besides, you have no right to act all holier-than-thou considering what you’ve done.” My hands were shaking and I curled them into fists. “Was it all part of some kind of game? Fuck me, hire me, then see how far Brock was willing to take things? Play the hero and step in so I’d trust you? Or were you just waiting to take your turn?”

Genuine confusion crossed his face. “What are you talking about?”

The fact that he so obviously didn’t know what Brock had done should’ve softened me, but I didn’t let it. Besides, I told myself, I knew he was a good actor. Maybe he was faking this too.

“I’m talking about Brock putting something in my water at your bachelor party,” I said. “I hadn’t been drinking. Since you kept watching me, I figured you must’ve known that.”

“I didn’t know where you were all the time,” he countered. “For all I knew, you were out on the balcony doing shots before I came out there.”

“Yeah, because that’s my thing,” I snapped. “Get wasted and hook up with some random guy.”

“Wasn’t like you hadn’t done that before,” Reed retorted, his almost-black eyes flashing. “For all I knew, I’d just been a warm-up to see if you could fuck someone else like me.”

My stomach twisted again and I had a feeling, at some point very soon, I was going to lose my dinner. I was determined to get my say in before that happened. “Someone like you? You mean an arrogant prick? It’s not that hard. Guys like you don’t exactly have any sort of integrity to begin with.”

He took a step back, a shocked expression on his face.

I kept going. “You’re all the same. Guys like you and Brock. You don’t mind slumming it when it means you’re getting laid, but that’s all girls like me are. Mistresses, whores, not really much of a difference.”

“I didn’t know, okay?” Reed interrupted. “I didn’t know that Brock had put something in your water. But I’ll kill him for it.”

“Don’t bother.” I crossed my arms. “Wouldn’t want you to do something that might jeopardize knocking up the wife you don’t love.”

“Who told you…” he started to ask, then answered his own question. “Brock.” His hands became fists. “Now I’m really going to kill him.”

“Oh, was that supposed to be a secret?” I asked. “Were you thinking I’d be a nice piece of ass while Britni was pregnant, but I wasn’t supposed to know the reason?”

“It’s not like that.”

“I know about the heir clause, Reed. Did you think that was going to be your out? Your way to excuse the fact that you say you want to be with me but you’re still sleeping with your wife?” I could feel the little bit of control that I had slipping away. “If that’s what you came here to say, don’t bother.”

“That’s not why I came here.” He tossed an envelope at me and I caught it reflexively. “I came to give you an apology for my behavior.”

“What is this?” I held up the envelope. “Money? That’s how men like you ‘apologize’ to girls like me, isn’t it? Buy us off with cash or jewelry.” I walked over to the table and grabbed the roses from their vase. It tipped over, spilling water across the dishes I hadn’t yet cleaned up. I didn’t care. “Or flowers. That’s always a good one. I should be so grateful that someone like you would buy me flowers that I should just forgive you.” I shoved the flowers into the trashcan, keeping my back to Reed so he couldn’t see the tears that had finally managed to escape.

“No,” he snapped. “It’s not money. It’s a place at Madam Emilana’s Dance School in Philadelphia.”

Shock broke through my anger enough to make me turn, but he was gone. I took a step towards the door. My mind was spinning. This was too much. I was still reeling from Brock’s confession and Reed’s accusations, and now I had a hundred questions about the envelope I’d tossed onto the table when I’d grabbed the roses.

The first one was the most obvious. Why? Why had Reed pulled strings to get me a place at one of the elite private studios in Philadelphia? There had to be some ulterior motive. Some reason beyond wanting to apologize.

The door opened and my heart gave a wild leap. An unwanted flash of disappointment went through me. It was Julien.

“Are you okay?” he asked immediately. He glanced at the trashcan where broken stalks stuck up. The scent from the crushed petals was nearly overwhelming.

I start to nod, but it quickly becomes a shake as my composure cracks. I put my face in my hands and press my lips together, desperately trying not to completely break in front of Julien. He put his hand on my shoulder and the kind touch undid me. I let out a strangled sob and he pulled me against his chest.

All of the frustration of the past couple months, combined with everything that had happened tonight was too much. I could barely breathe as I cried, taking gulping, gasping breaths before letting them out again in a choking sound. I didn’t try to talk to explain what I was feeling and Julien didn’t ask. He didn’t say anything, in fact. He just held me and let me cry.

At some point, we moved to the couch, but his hands stayed on my back the entire time. Not once did they venture anywhere they shouldn’t be and I realized I felt safe with him. I trusted him, and though I knew that might’ve been the emotional vulnerability talking, I didn’t have the energy for anything more introspective.

Finally, I pulled back, brushing my hands across my cheeks. I felt hollow and empty inside, but it was better than everything else I’d been feeling. And I didn’t think I was going to throw up now, which was a definite plus.

“Do you want to be alone?” Julien broke the silence with his softly-spoken question. “Or do you want me to stay on the couch?”

I appreciated the way he worded it so there was no doubt as to his intentions. I looked up at him, promising myself that if I saw the least bit of interest, I’d ask him to leave. All I saw was compassion and a hint of anger.

“I’ll get some sheets.” I sniffled as I stood.

“Don’t go to any trouble,” Julien got to his feet as well. “This is better than half the places I slept in Europe.”

“It’s no trouble,” I said. “It’s the least I could do.”

When I came back from the bathroom closet, Julien was clearing the table. I didn’t protest because I knew it wouldn’t do any good. Instead, I put the sheets on the couch and then went to help him.

By the time we finished, I showered, and finally climbed into bed, I was so emotionally and physically exhausted that I didn’t have any problem falling straight to sleep.



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