When I push out the back door, I walk into the parking lot and stop in my tracks. I blink once, hard.

My car.

I blink again, rapidly, and walk towards it. I haven’t seen it since the accident. It wasn’t running and the front was smashed up. But, I’m looking at it now and the car looks the way it did before the accident. I glance and see Gabe pull into the parking lot. I walk towards my car quickly, holding up a finger for him to wait. I peer inside and see an envelope on the seat. I open the door and grab it.

Standing outside my car, I rip it open and read.

It’s not new, so it doesn’t count as a present. -S

I smile and shove the note into my purse, before jumping into the back of Gabe’s car.

“Good evening, Miss Stanz.”

“Hey Gabe.”

He looks at me in the mirror as he pulls out of the parking lot. He jumps onto the parkway and drives west, towards the city. He gives me the rundown. “Same guy as last week. I’ll be overseeing your meal. Don’t get returned again and you should be off her shit list, for a while anyway.”

I slip my bracelet around my ankle and then lean back in the seat. “I’m always on her shit list.”

“That’s a bad place to be.”

“Can I ask you something?” Gabe grunts and looks at me in the mirror. “How long do girls do this? I mean, how many clients do they see before they quit?”

He shakes his head. “Most get fired. There are a few that are really good at what they do. They create addicts. That’s what Black wants. Guys that are so addicted to your kind of sex that they’ll pay anything to get it. So getting returned kind of screws that up.”

“That guy was a dick.” I look out the window as I say it. I’m still mad at Sean about that, but I’d rather be on my way to see him than Henry.

“Obviously, but that’s unheard of. Lure this new guy into a third contract and all will be forgiven. After that, it’s anyone’s guess how long you’ll last. “

The rest of the ride passes in silence. My heart is lurching like I have to get a root canal in the middle of the mall or something equally horrific. I liked Henry. He was sweet. I need to get my head in the game or I’m going to screw this up.


By the time that we pull up at the restaurant, I feel more poised. Gabe pulls up to the curb and the valet opens the door. I step from the back of the car, smooth my sexy, red, silk dress and look up.

Henry is standing a few feet away. He waves at me and hurries over. “You look stunning.”

I smile warmly at him and take his arm when he offers it. “So do you.” My voice is a little too deep, but that’s okay. It’s better to think I’m a sex fiend, right? We walk inside and get led to a table at the back of the restaurant. It’s an Italian place with stucco walls and a rich red carpet that matches the color of my dress. Each table has a drippy candle in the center, along with beautiful plates and a million pieces of silverware.

When we are both seated, Henry orders wine. I smile at him from under my lashes. I decided to take Mel’s advice and pretend this is a date. “So, how has your day been?”

He beams at me. “Fantastic. I can’t even begin to tell you what that patent has done for me. I wanted to see you again. I had to thank you.”

“You could have done that without all this.” I wink at him and the man smiles harder. Damn, he’s cute. He’s acting like I’m a goddess or something. Every compliment lights him up to full wattage.

“Yes, but I wanted the chance to show you off and tell everyone I meet that you’re the woman who changed my life. You tamed the beast for me. Ferro had no intention of giving me that patent, but you got it from him. It makes me wonder what you’re capable of, so I wanted to take you out, alone, to see for myself.” His gaze is dark. Henry’s eyes don’t dip below my neckline even though I’m sure he can see the little bumps from the crystals under my dress. He doesn’t look.

Sean stares. Stop thinking about Sean.

I lean forward and say in a breathy voice, “You will.”

The meal passes quickly. I try not to think about later, about doing things with him afterward, but images of naked bodies flash through my mind and sour my stomach. After dessert, I excuse myself. As I pass by the bar, Gabe falls into step with me.

“One hundred and ten percent, Stanz. I’ve already told her that the guy is eating out of your hand.”

“Thanks, Gabe.”

He nods and turns like he was going somewhere else. When I’m in the bathroom, I walk up in front of the sink and stare at the mirror. I want to splash water on my face, but it’ll mess up make-up. I stand there for a moment and primp until I’m alone. Then, I sigh and try to work up the nerve to do whatever I need to do with Henry. I’m not cut out for this. Sex and love are tied together in my brain. I don’t know how to tear them apart.

That’s why you can’t be with Sean. That’s why you can’t finish your job tonight.

I look at myself. This isn’t what I thought my life would be like. But the money, oh my God, the money is good. Does it really matter that I fucked a really nice guy to survive? I might have slept with Henry anyway. He’s sweet and funny and… not Sean.

When I leave the ladies room, I know what I need to do. I plaster a sexy smile on my face and saunter back to the table where Henry is waiting for me.

“Are you ready to go?” Henry stands and offers his hand.

I take it in mine. I lean in close to him and run my fingers over his shirt front, letting my fingers slip between the buttons. “I can’t wait.”

Henry squeezes my hand and we head out to the car. He remains a gentleman all the way up to the hotel room. He doesn’t try to kiss me or do more than hold my hand. He smiles like he’s happy to be with me and holding hands in enough. But I’m not that naïve. I said I’d do anything he wanted once we were in the hotel room. For all I know, he might be as twisted as Sean.

My heart pounds a little harder as Henry opens the door. I brush past him slowly, making sure I’m a tad too close. My chest brushes against his. I smile as I do it. Henry sucks in a jagged breath, and steps inside, letting the door close behind him.

He finally looks at my cleavage and his eyes wander over my smooth satin dress to the bumps where the silver rings are located. “Are your nipples pierced, Miss Stanz?” A surprised smile lines his lips.

“Sort of, Mr. Thomas. You’ll have to wait and see for yourself.” Henry knows me as Allison Stanz. Half of the time I don’t respond fast enough when he says Allison. I need to act like I want this. I need this job, I need Henry to want me so badly that he’s willing to triple his payment to have me a third time, assuming I get through this tonight.

Henry makes a content sound in the back of his throat and steps towards me. He hesitates for a second and then dips his head and presses his lips to mine. I lift my hands and tangle them in his hair, but he breaks the kiss before it gets going.

Holding out his arm, he says, “There are some things I want to know about you first.”

I’m knocked off balance, but try to hide it. I smile at him and sit down in a chair. Henry sits next to me. His eyes are on his hand, which he places on my thigh.

I touch my hand to his and say, “It’s all right. I’m yours. You can do anything you want.”

Henry presses his lips together and looks up at me. “That’s just it. You’re not mine, Allison. This is an illusion; I’m not naïve enough to think it isn’t. For all I know, you’re not even into guys like me, but the thing is, I’m really into you. I wish I could ask you on a date. I wish I knew you, the real you, and not this version.” He laughs and pulls his hand away. He stands and walks over to the bar. Pouring a glass of Jack, he turns back to me and says, “I’m a fool. I’ve paid an exorbitant amount of money for a beautiful woman who will do anything I want, and I say things like that.”

I stand and walk up behind him. I touch his shoulder lightly. “Is that why you’re being so careful? Are you afraid I won’t like you?” I turn him toward me and take the Jack out of his hand and put it on the dresser behind him.

“Here’s the truth,” I manage to spin a web of lies that sounds so convincing even I believe it. I have to believe it or I won’t be able to be with him. “I think you’re incredibly sexy. The moment I saw you, I wanted to wrap my arms around your chest. And, the way you acted at dinner the other night was incredible. I am attracted to you. I would have gone on a date with you, and this did feel like a date. A really good date.” I slip my arms around his neck and press my breasts against his chest. “It’s up to you how it ends.”

My heart is pounding. I want this and I don’t want this. Henry is older than me with a runner’s lean body. He’s all hard muscle. I can see that, but he doesn’t turn me on. There’s no spark.

We stand still for a moment. Henry looks down at me and sighs. “Is this the only way to have you?”

I smile slowly. “For now.”

“It’s cruel to give me hope, Allison, but I’ll take what I can get.”

I nod. I’m Allison. I keep forgetting that.

Henry dips his head and kisses me. My hands find the sides of his face as I kiss him back. I close my eyes and picture Sean. When Henry’s hands slide down my sides and cup my butt, I think of Sean’s strong hands holding me tight. I moan a little and lean into him more, but Henry kisses me slowly, gently. He’s lingering, so I follow his lead and slow down. The kiss dawdles and then Henry finally dips his head and kisses my neck. I tilt my head back and think about Sean kissing me in the dressing room. My body is confused. It remembers Sean’s kisses, but it knows this isn’t Sean.

Henry lifts his head and whispers in my ear, “Come to bed with me.”

He pulls my hand across the room to the bed and sits down and scoots back to the middle. I crawl toward him in my tight dress. His eyes dip to my neckline and stay there. As I crawl toward him, I slip up his body, brushing my chest against him.