“It’s a miracle I still have any gag reflex.” Julia rather indelicately wiped her forearm across her mouth and chin, explaining, “I did a lot of beer bongs in college. Let’s go.” She nudged Chloe. “Bottoms up.”
Chloe bent to the table and took the shot hands-free, as Julia had, and then it was my turn. Both of my friends turned to look at me.
“I met a hot guy,” I said without thinking. “Really hot. And, like, seventeen feet tall.”
Julia gaped at me. “Then why are you standing here doing fake bl*w j*bs with us?”
I laughed, shaking my head. I had no idea how to answer that. I could have left with him, and it really could have gone to BJ territory in someone else’s far more daring life. “It’s a girls’ night out. You’re only here for two days. I’m good.”
“Fuck that noise. Go get some.”
Chloe came to my rescue: “I’m just glad you met someone you thought was hot. It’s been forever since you had this sort of happy boy-related smile.” Her own smile vanished as she reconsidered. “Come to think of it, I’ve never seen you with a happy boy-related smile.”
And with that truth placed so plainly on the table, I picked up my shot, ignoring Julia’s protest about my bad form, and downed it. It was sweet, delicious, and just what I needed to clear my head of the jerk in Chicago and the beautiful stranger at the bar. I dragged my friends out to the dance floor.
Within seconds I felt boneless, mindless, deliciously untethered. Chloe and Julia bounced around me, yell-sang the songs, lost themselves in the mass of sweaty bodies all around us. I wanted my youth to linger a little bit. Away from my routine, overscheduled life in Chicago I could see I hadn’t enjoyed it properly. Only here, with the DJ melting song to song, did I see how I could have spent my early twenties: under the lights, dancing in a scrap of a dress, meeting men who wanted to devour me, watching my girlfriends be wild and silly and young.
I didn’t have to move in with my boyfriend when I was twenty-two.
I could have lived a life outside the straight-and-narrow world of society functions and glad-handing.
I could have been this girl instead—dressed to the nines, dancing her heart out.
Lucky for me, it wasn’t too late. I met Chloe’s elated smile and returned it.
“I’m so glad you’re here!” she yelled over the music.
I started to reply with some similar screaming drunken oath of friendship, but just behind Chloe, set into the shadows off the dance floor, stood my stranger. Our eyes met, and neither of us looked away. He was sipping his three fingers of scotch with a friend, but I could tell by how unsurprised he seemed to be caught staring that he’d been watching every move I made.
The effect of this realization was more potent than the alcohol. It heated every inch of my skin, burned a hole directly through my chest and lower: down past my ribs, and deep into my belly. He lifted his glass, took a sip, and smiled. I felt my eyes rolling closed.
I wanted to dance for him.
Never in my life had I felt so sexy, so completely in control of what I wanted. I’d made it through my master’s degree, found a well-paying job, and even redecorated my house on a budget. But I’d never felt like a grown woman the way I did right now, dancing like crazy with a beautiful stranger standing in the shadows, watching me.
This—this moment was exactly how I wanted to start fresh.
What would it mean to be devoured? Did he mean that as explicitly as it sounded—his head between my thighs, arms wrapped to my hips, holding me open? Or did he mean over me, inside me, sucking my mouth and my neck and my breasts?
A smile spread across my face, my arms stretched up to the ceiling. I could feel the hem of my dress inching up my thighs and didn’t care. I wondered if he noticed. I hoped he noticed.
If I thought he’d walked away, it would have deflated the moment, so I didn’t look over his way again. I was unaccustomed to bar flirtation protocol; maybe his attention lasted all of five seconds, maybe it lasted all night. It didn’t matter. I could pretend he was there in the darkness for as long as I was here in the strobing lights on the floor. I’d grown to never expect much of Andy’s attention, but with this stranger, I wanted his eyes burning through my skin to where my heart thrashed against my ribs.
I lost myself to the music, and memories of his hand on my elbow, his dark eyes and the word devour.
One song bled into another, and then another, and before I could come up for air, Chloe’s arms were around my shoulders and she was laughing into my ear, jumping up and down with me.
“You’ve attracted an audience!” she yelled so loud above the music that I winced, pulling back.
She nodded to the side, and only then did I notice we were surrounded by a group of men wearing tight, dark clothes and grinding suggestively at the air near them. Looking back at Chloe, I saw that her eyes were bright and so familiar, this take-no-prisoners woman who had worked her way to the top of what was now one of the world’s largest media firms and who knew exactly what this night meant to me. Suddenly cool air spread over my skin from the fans overhead and I blinked back into consciousness, still giddy that I was actually in New York City, actually starting over. Actually enjoying myself.
But behind Chloe, the shadows were dark and empty; no stranger stood there watching me.
My stomach dropped a little. “I need to hit the ladies’,” I told her.
I wormed my way through the circle of men, off the dance floor, and followed the signs to the second floor, which was essentially a balcony overlooking the entire club. I walked down a narrow hallway and into the bathroom, which was so bright that a pulse of pain spiked from my eyes to the back of my head. The room was eerily empty, and the music downstairs felt like it was coming up from underwater.
On my way out, I fixed my hair, mentally high-fived myself for putting on a rumple-free dress, and touched up my lipstick.
I walked out of the door and right into a wall of man.
We’d been close at the bar, but not this close. Not my face to his throat, the smell of him surrounding me. He didn’t smell like the men on the dance floor, awash in cologne. He just smelled clean, and like a man who did his laundry, and who also had a touch of scotch on his lips.
“I was watching you dance, you tiny, wild thing.”
“I saw you.” I could barely catch my breath. My legs felt wobbly, like they weren’t sure if they should collapse or go back to rhythmically bouncing across the floor. I chewed my bottom lip, suppressing a smile. “You’re such a creepster. Why didn’t you come out and dance with me?”
“Because I think you rather liked being watched instead.”
I swallowed, gaping up at him and unable to look away. I couldn’t tell what color his eyes were. At the bar I’d assumed brown. But there was something lighter gleaming here in this part of the club, just above the strobes. Greenish, yellow, something mesmerizing. Not only had I known he was watching me—and liked it—but I’d danced entirely to the fantasy of him devouring me.
“Did you imagine I was getting hard?”
I blinked. I could barely keep up with his bluntness. Had men like this always existed, who said exactly what they—and I—were thinking without sounding scary, or rude, or pushy? How did he manage it?
He reached down, took my hand, and pressed it firmly to where he was erect, already arching into my palm. Without thinking, I curled my fingers around him. “This is from watching me dance?”
“Are you always such a performer?”
If I hadn’t been so thunderstruck, I would have laughed. “Never.”
He studied me, the smile still in his eyes but his lips fixed into something more thoughtful. “Come home with me.”
“No. There is no way I’m leaving this club with you.”
He bent and pressed a small, careful kiss to my shoulder before telling me, “But I want to touch you.”
I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t want it, too. It was dark, with flashing arrhythmic lights, and music so loud it felt like it hijacked my pulse. What harm could come from one wild night? After all, Andy had so many.
I led him past the restrooms, farther down the narrow hallway, to a tiny abandoned alcove overlooking the DJ station. We were trapped at a dead end, secluded around a corner but by no means hidden. Other than the wall forming the back of the club, the rest of the space around us was open, and only a waist-high glass wall kept us from falling to the dance floor below. “Okay. Touch me over here.”
He raised an eyebrow, ran a long finger across my collarbone, from one shoulder to the other. “What exactly are you offering?”
I met those strangely backlit eyes that seemed so amused by everything around him. He looked normal, so sane for someone who followed me through a club and bluntly told me he wanted to touch me. I remembered Andy, and how rarely—outside of keeping up appearances—he ever wanted my touch, my conversation, my anything. Is this how it happened for him? A woman would pull him aside, offer herself, and he would take whatever he could before coming home to me? Meanwhile, my life had become so small I could hardly remember how I used to fill the long nights alone.
Was it greedy to want it all? A career to die for, and a crazy moment here and there?
Laughing, he bent to kiss my cheek. “You’re making me feel a touch crazy, but no, I’m not.”
“I just . . .” I started, and then looked down. I pressed my hand flat against his chest. His gray sweater was unbelievably soft—cashmere, I thought. His jeans were dark, and fit him perfectly. His black shoes were unscuffed. Everything about him was meticulous. “I only just moved here.” It seemed a fitting explanation for how much my hand was shaking against him.
“And a moment like this doesn’t feel very safe, does it?”
I shook my head. “Not at all.” But then I reached up, wrapped a hand around the back of his neck, and pulled him to me. He moved willingly, bending down and smiling just before our lips met. The kiss was both the perfect kind of soft and the perfect kind of hard, with the scotch warming his lips against mine. He groaned a little when I opened my mouth and let him in, and the vibration set me on fire. I wanted to feel every one of his sounds.
“You taste like sugar. What’s your name?” he asked.
With that, I felt my first real pulse of panic. “No names.”
He pulled back to look at me, eyebrows inching up. “What’ll I call you?”
“And what’ll you call me when you’re about to come?” He gave me another small kiss.
My heart jerked hard in my chest at the thought. “I don’t think it matters what I call you, does it?”
I took his hand, brought it to my hip. “I’ve been the only person to give myself an orgasm for the past year.” Moving his fingers to the edge of my dress, I whispered, “Can you change that?”
I could feel his smile against my mouth when he bent to kiss me again. “You’re serious.”
The idea of giving myself to this man in this dark corner scared me a little, though not enough to change my mind. “I’m serious.”
He pulled back just enough to examine my eyes. Back and forth his gaze moved until his eyes curved into that amused smile. “The fact that you have no idea how you come off . . .”
He turned me, pressed my front to the edge of the glass wall so I was looking over the balcony at the mass of churning bodies below. Strobe lights pulsed down from iron beams that extended across the club just in front of me, lighting the floor beneath while keeping our upstairs corner virtually black. Steam began to blow up from vents in the dance floor, covering the partiers up to their shoulders; waves broke out in the surface as they moved through it.
My stranger’s fingertips teased at the back edge of my dress, and then he lifted it, slid a hand down the back of my underwear, over my backside and between my legs to where I positively ached for him. Even the vulnerable position didn’t embarrass me as I arched back into his hand, already lost.
“You’re drenched, sweetheart. What’s it you like? The idea that we’re doing this here? Or that I watched you think about f**king me while you danced?”
I didn’t say anything, too afraid of what the answer might be, but I gasped when he slid a long finger inside me. Thoughts of what I should do blurred along the edges as I thought about boring Sara in Chicago. Predictable Sara who always did what everyone expected of her. I didn’t want to be that person anymore. I wanted to be reckless and wild and young. I wanted to live for myself for the first time in my life.
“You’re a tiny little thing, but when you’re slippery like this, I’m quite sure you could easily take those three fingers.” He laughed into a kiss he pressed to the back of my neck as a broad fingertip circled my clit, teasing and slow.
“Please,” I whispered. I had no idea if he could hear me. His face was pressed to my hair, and I could feel his c**k pressed to the side of my hip, but other than that, I was unaware of anything beyond his long finger sliding back into me.
“Your skin is amazing. Particularly here.” He kissed my shoulder. “Did you know the back of your neck is perfect?”