Chapter One

Astra

“Have fun.” I clung to the woman in my arms, blinking back tears.

My best friend laughed and pulled back until I could see her dark blue eyes shine. “I’m not kidding, Astra Traore. If you start to cry, it will make me cry.”

“I’ll cry, you’ll cry…” I gave a dramatic sigh and pulled her in for another hug. “We’ll all start to cry!”

The thing was…it wasn’t really a joke.

I knew it was silly to be this upset. She was just going away for a week. But it was her honeymoon, and when Piety came back, she wouldn’t be the exact same woman. Then again, she already wasn’t.

She was no longer Piety van Allen.

She was Piety Hastings. As of four hours ago – not to mention the numerous drinks, dances, and some rather delicious cake – she was married. For real this time.

The tall, beautiful blond man standing next to her bent to kiss my cheek when I turned to him.

“Take care of her.” I thought it would’ve been easier to fight back the tears now, but it wasn’t. Taking care of Piety – and her taking care of me – had been the job since first grade.

And now I was practically the third wheel.

No wonder I felt like crying.

But I was happy for her.

Of course, I was.

It was the truth too. I didn’t even have to convince myself of that. All I’d ever wanted was for her to be happy, and Kaleb did that.

But as I waved them off, I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I was happy for them, but I wasn’t so sure how I felt about my own life anymore. Piety wasn’t just newly married. She was also four months pregnant. I would be demoted from third wheel to fourth wheel come spring. I didn’t begrudge her any of it, but I couldn’t deny that it made me a bit sad to think that we were barely into our twenties and everything was changing in such a significant way.

“You went and turned kind of grim, sweetness.”

I glanced over at my date for the night – and most nights that needed dates. Baylor Aravis was a friend, casual for the most part. We both hated the idea of our parents setting us up with somebody of their choosing, and since it just wasn’t done to go alone to a wedding, or any other significant social event, we latched onto each other whenever we could. That was just the way the rules played out in the circles our families traveled in.

I could practically hear my mother’s appalled tone if I’d even suggested attending the wedding of a congressman’s daughter by myself. It didn’t matter that everyone would be paying attention to the happy couple since their love story had been splashed all over every magazine, newspaper, and website in the country since the moment it’d broken. Mom would want me to make an appropriate impression.

Since Baylor and I both hated that endless push from our parents, we tended to do the socializing bit together.

And later, we’d do something else together, if we were in the mood.

Earlier, I’d planned on finishing up the night solo girl style, a bunch of corny romantic comedies and ice cream. And maybe some time with my B.O.B. – battery-operated boyfriend.

Now, I didn’t want to be alone.

So, I leaned against Baylor and smiled. “Just thinking about how much it would suck to go home alone after such a beautiful wedding.”

“Is that what you were thinking?”

He rested a hand on my hip, and I felt the warmth of his touch through my silk bridesmaid’s dress. Since I’d been the only bridesmaid, Piety had let me choose what I wanted to wear. I’d gone with a dusky gold dress in a style inspired by the roaring twenties. I looked smashing, if I did say so myself.

Baylor’s hand traveled a bit lower. “I’m not much on weddings, but as far as they go…this one was nice.”

He drew closer, and I pushed myself up on my toes to press a kiss to his lips.

“Come on.” I reached for his hand. “Let’s have one more dance, then we can get out of here.”

 

* * * * *

 

My dress and undergarments lay on the back of Baylor’s couch.

I lay in front of them, devoid of everything but the band in my hair trying to contain my mass of nutmeg brown curls.

And Baylor knelt between my thighs, as naked as I was.

Eyes closed, I focused on what he was doing…which was when I knew I had a problem.

He was good at what he was doing.

I couldn’t fault his technique, and if I could just get my brain to turn off…

He raked his teeth over my clitoris and heat finally sparked through me. A startled noise escaped my throat as he slid two fingers inside my pussy, twisting them. As the heat turned into a pulse, it made it easier for me to feel instead of think. And I welcomed it.

One hand closed around my ankle while he continued to play the skilled fingers of his other hand over me, in me, like a particularly masterful musician.

The bright lights overhead shone too brightly in my eyes, and I closed them to block it out, to block out everything but the feel of his mouth and fingers working me toward release.

Except, just when I felt the climax pressing closer, he pulled away.

“Damn it, Bay!”

He gave an evil chuckle as he tugged me off the couch and helped me to my feet. I sulked, and he just smiled, guiding me until I was bent over, my hands on the couch cushions.

Yeah, he could smile.

He wasn’t the one who was so close to getting worked up just now.

He brushed kisses over my spine, working lower and lower. The gentleness of the touch, the eroticism, brought back the flame that had dimmed when he moved me from one position to another. His fingers stroked between my legs again, and I let my eyes close.

I heard the rustle of a condom wrapper, and then he was sliding inside. I pushed back on him hungrily.

I needed this…an escape from my own mind. A break from all of it. And his cock offered me that. It was one of the things I liked about Baylor. He knew where we stood, knew that it was friendship and sex and nothing more. We used each other for pleasure and escape with no other expectations.

As I ground back against him, he followed my lead, moving faster, rougher, deeper. He was a bit above average in the size department, and better than that, he knew how to use every inch.

It still wasn’t enough.

Even as I climaxed.

But I pretended it was.

An hour later, lying in his bed, I stared at the ceiling until I knew he was asleep.

Sometimes I stayed the night.

Sometimes I didn’t.

I’d never made it a point of sneaking out though.

But tonight…

Yeah.

Earlier, he asked if something was wrong and I laughed it off because I didn’t know if something was wrong.

The only thing I could figure out was that something didn’t feel right.

 

* * * * *

 

“Nope.” I stared at my reflection, the bright makeup lights highlighting a crucial fact: smear-proof makeup was a marketing scam. “Something definitely doesn’t feel right.”

And it was more than my smudged mascara or the lipstick that had long since disappeared.

I’d put it on for the wedding, counting on it to last through the entire event as well as my after-reception activities. It hadn’t. Hopefully, it hadn’t ended up on Piety when I’d been blubbering on her shoulder on more than one occasion.

My dress was on the floor. It needed to be cleaned and pressed before I donated it. I’d never wear it again, not when I knew if my mother spotted me in it a second time, she’d give me a thirty-minute lecture on what it meant to be a part of our world.

Our world did not recycle.

At the moment, I was wearing nothing but a robe, and the bathtub behind me was steaming hot, the water fragrant from the bath salts I dumped in a few minutes ago.

A hot bath, a glass of wine, and hopefully, I’d sleep.

I had all of tomorrow to lay around and mope about how my best friend’s happiness sucked for me. With any luck, I’d mope myself out of this depression.

If I didn’t, I’d just have to grin and bear it. It wasn’t like I hadn’t done that before. People thought that because people like me had money growing up that we had some sort of idyllic childhood. Not that mine was awful. I hadn’t been abused or even neglected. The poor little rich trope was annoying even to me by now.

I had no reason to be depressed, not really.

And I knew these raging feelings couldn’t just be because Piety had gotten married.

Married.

I laughed. She was married because of me.

And just like that, I was smiling. Stepping out of the robe, I thought about my friend and the big, blond Australian who’d stood at her side earlier as they exchanged rings and vows, all that sappy crap I’d pretended wasn’t going to make me cry.

It wasn’t their first time at the altar. They’d gotten married, while drunk, in Vegas. And I’d been there. I was the one who’d convinced them to do it in the first place. I’d seen something in Kaleb that had made me think that he would be perfect for my best friend. Now they were so happy, they were all goofy with it.

Sure, things would change some, but she was still my best friend. And when she had her baby, I’d be an aunt. Well, sort of. Maybe Piety would refer to me as a godmother instead. I could work with that. Astra, the fairy godmother.

The lingering ache of sadness remained, but as I slid into the bath, I felt a little less like crying.

Reaching for the wine, I lifted it up and toasted absolutely nothing.

“Change will do you good, or so the song goes, Astra.”

Don’t miss LA Misbehaved (Married A Stripper 2), release April 21st on Amazon.