“You walk taller. You’re a little bit intimidating, to be honest.”

I snorted and gave him an incredulous look, barely able to make out his face to see if he was being insincere or not. “I’m still Dawn.”

He licked his lips. “You’re better. Everything about you is better.”

He took a step closer and slipped his hand around my waist. I froze, wide-eyed, not sure what the hell was happening. He brought me to him and put his lips to my ear. “I’m better, too. Want to see?”

Ryan pressed his lips to my neck and my eyes fluttered closed at the familiar feeling. Heat was flaring up my face and chest. Christ. Maybe Mel was right; maybe I did need to get laid. This was the closest any man had been to me since I was back in California with Sage.

“Want to feel?” Ryan went on and took my hand, placing it against his erection and pressing it in hard. Geez, I wasn’t far off by saying he had a sexual swagger to him; the old Ryan would have never done something so ballsy. Pun intended.

Still, this was wrong. Wasn’t it?

“Ryan,” I said, even though I hadn’t yet removed my hand. I tried to pull my head away, but his mouth was slowly devouring my neck. “We shouldn’t do this.”

“Why?” he murmured against my skin. “This doesn’t have to be anything, Dawn. I’m leaving soon, you’re leaving soon. You know how to fuck.” He brought his mouth to mine, and I tried to look into his hooded eyes. “Let’s just fuck.”

He certainly wasn’t winning any points for romance, and I really wanted to ask him if that’s the line he used on the chick that he cheated on me with. But I bit my tongue. Actually, he bit my tongue. And as his tongue soothed mine, tasting like warm beer, and the heat started to flare between my legs, I started to wonder why I cared. Why couldn’t this just be a fuck? And who better to do it with than the guy I lost my virginity to? I was at least a little bit curious to see what had changed between us.

“Let’s just fuck,” he said again, as his hands were slipping under my shirt…and, no, I wasn’t wearing a bra. I eased into his touch like he was stroking me with the warmth of old memories. In reality, he was pawing at me like a hungry bear and I was the pot of honey. Despite his sexual boldness, there was something still a bit immature about him.

Twenty-two wasn’t twenty-eight.

I tried to erase the image of Sage from my mind, tried to get myself to stop comparing Ryan to him, or anyone to him. But I couldn’t. Even as Ryan started undoing my corduroys and slipped his hand into my underwear. Even though I moaned into him, because it felt damn good. Even as he dropped his pants and I could make out the outline of his erect dick in the darkness and my hands immediately went for it, Sage was still at the forefront of my mind.

After absently stroking Ryan for a few moments, and as he lay me back into the soft grass, I knew this wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t just fuck Ryan and be done with it. I couldn’t fuck anyone but Sage, and I knew how goddamn ridiculous that was.

Sage and I went through a lot together in a short period of time. But for the most part, I was the journalist and the fan, and he was the mysterious rock star. I’m not sure any of that had changed. Sure, we had sex, and after Jacob scooped us out of Lake Shasta, we spent a few weeks together trying to pick up the pieces and be normal people. But even though I’d fallen in love with the man—it wasn’t hard to do—he never told me he loved me. In fact, all I knew for a fact was that he didn’t love me. We were just…well, I guess what Ryan and I were supposed to be. A fuck. That was it.

But foolishly, somewhere deep inside, I felt like I still had another shot with Sage. A reason to be loyal to him, even though our contact over the last ten months had been extremely limited. He had still invited me to come to Paris with him, fucking Paris! And I was going in a week. I had to at least see how things were going to go between us before I did anything foolish.

And a fuck was just a fuck until it was foolish.

“Ryan,” I said as he kissed my breasts, the grass tickling my ears.

He groaned in return. He was not going to like this.

“Ryan, we need to stop,” I said, pushing myself back on my elbows.

He finally looked up, though I couldn’t make out his face in the darkness. Noise from the barn drifted toward us over the field.

“Stop?” he asked, his voice ragged.

I was afraid this was going to get very ugly.

“Sorry,” I told him. “I don’t mean to be a tease, it’s just…this isn’t a good idea.”

Silence fell between us, and I waited with bated breath to hear his response. The music from the barn had changed to The Who’s “Pinball Wizard.” Finally he sighed and moved off of me. “Right.”

I sat up and pulled down my shirt. “Sorry,” I apologized again. “I’d probably regret it.”

“Well, that sounds like the old Dawn,” he remarked.

“What?”

He stood up and pulled up his pants, towering over me. “I don’t know, I thought maybe after you’d fucked all those rock stars, you would have been a bit…easier. You know, looser.”

All the heat from between my legs went to my head instead, flamed by rage. “I didn’t fuck a bunch of rock stars,” I spat out defensively.

I could tell he was giving me a wry look. “Sure, Dawn. You go on tour with a band for a few weeks, a band we were obsessed with, and you didn’t end up blowing all of them.”

I only blew one of them! I thought and decided that wouldn’t help my case.

I struggled to my feet and glared at him. “I didn’t sleep with the band or do anything. I covered it like the music journalist that I am.”

“Everyone knows that,” he said. “I just figured hanging out with Hybrid would have made you…well, anyway. I should have known.”

“Ryan,” I said, trying to control my anger. “You don’t know shit. Maybe I’m not sleeping with you because you’re my ex-boyfriend…who fucking cheated on me with some whore!” And finally it was all coming out.

“Well, maybe I cheated on you because…” he trailed off. “You know what? Forget it. If you want to be a tease, then be a tease. Let’s go back inside.”

He turned and started off to the barn, to my party. I didn’t move. He turned around. “Aren’t you coming?”

Hell no. “I want to be alone,” I said. I was too angry and confused by what had just happened. “I’m going to stay out here for a bit.”

He paused then shrugged, his silhouette visible against the lights coming from the barn. “Suit yourself. I’ll just go drink this boner away.” He walked off.

“Boner,” I muttered under my breath, shaking my head. And I almost slept with him. What the hell had I been thinking?

I turned around and leaned into the fence post. It was too dark now to see anything but the flashing light from the farmhouse, where I knew my dad was watching television with Eric. Suddenly I wanted nothing more than to ditch my own party and hang out with them. They were the ones I was really going to miss when I was gone.

I sighed and decided to call for Moonglow. Horsey hugs always made me feel better. I put my fingers into my mouth and whistled for her, hoping she could hear it over the noise of the party. She whinnied far off in the distance, and I immediately heard her hoofbeats pounding across the field.

Her hoofbeats became louder as she got closer, one of my most favorite sounds in the whole world. So earthy and wild. I couldn’t see anything except the blackness.

And the hoofbeats kept coming.

And coming.

And then I started to get a queer feeling in my chest. Her hooves were rumbling, pounding the grass, but I never saw Moonglow. The sound just grew louder and louder, but the horse never appeared.

What the fuck?

“Moonglow?” I called out into the night.

Suddenly the hoofbeats stopped, at what sounded like just a few yards away. Silence cloaked me and so did the breeze that brought with it a horrible, rotten stench.

The tightness in my chest grew, and I felt a wave of prickles come over my body as I tried not to breathe in through my nose.

“Moonglow?” I said softly. I squinted, urging my night vision to kick in, trying to make out her shape in the darkness but seeing nothing.

I only heard her breathing, slowly. But her exhales were rough and wheezing, coarse like sand. Guttural.

I said her name again, my voice shaking slightly, all my worries about Ryan falling away. I was inexplicably afraid of my own horse and afraid of the night and all the things it hid from me. I’d forgotten what fear was like, forgotten that it could find you anywhere.

I swallowed with effort, my throat thick, and stepped through the fence.

I could feel her, her presence, so close. But I couldn’t see a goddamn thing.

Except…

A pair of red eyes.

I sucked in my breath and blinked hard, confident that I couldn’t actually be seeing this.

But I was.

Narrow, unblinking eyes, entirely the color of crimson, were boring into me.

Someone laughed, rich and throaty.

And a puff of hot air went into my ear.

I screamed bloody murder and jumped to the side, looking around wildly.

Moonglow was right beside me, her head raised high in the air, the whites of her eyes showing even in the dark. She snorted, agitated, and I tried to make sense of what had happened.

I turned to where I was looking before but the red eyes were gone.

My horse was here, but she’d come from a different direction than the hoofbeats and red eyes. I looked at her dim shape, and she pawed the grass nervously. I knew just how she felt. I really, really hoped that someone had slipped some acid into my beer because I couldn’t handle the alternative.

Be careful what you wish for.

I shook the thought out of my head. No. I couldn’t even think about that. My nightmare was over, and I had never wished for anything; at least, I never made any sort of deal with the Devil. I wasn’t Sage. This had to be put behind me, no matter how suspicious I sometimes felt that they weren’t done with me yet.

I reached out for Moonglow, hoping her warmth would comfort me, but she spooked and quickly turned away, galloping off into the distance. I was alone. Great.

I hurried back through the fence and speedwalked my way to the barn, to my party, to my friends and ex-boyfriend, to music and life and where nothing scary could get at me. I grabbed the first available drink from someone’s hand and proceeded to drink my face off.

It was the middle of the night—well, almost morning—when I felt a booze-laden Mel climb into bed with me. She was spending the night, as were most of the guests who were too drunk to drive, but she got my bed while everyone else was free to find available hay in the barn. The night had gone on in a blur of beer and tunes. I hadn’t seen Ryan again, but perhaps he was there and I’d been too drunk to tell.

“I’m surprised you didn’t find some guy,” I mumbled into my pillow as she lay down beside me.

“I did,” she replied. “But he was quick. In and out in the back of his shaggin’ wagon.”

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