This was a bad idea.
Such a bad idea.
There had been many times in my life I’d felt out of place, like I didn’t belong, but never quite like this.
I tugged at the almost nonexistent hem of the slinky black mini dress Corrine had insisted I wear, hoping I wasn’t inadvertently giving the people around us a show, Britney Spears style.
“Will you stop it?” Corrine hissed, smacking at my hands. “I just bought that damn dress and you’re going to rip it.”
I dropped my hands back to my sides with a huff and let my gaze roam around the room, trying my best not to gawk at the raucous pandemonium all around me.
“I can’t let you talk me into this,” I seethed from the corner of my mouth, hoping she could hear me over the blaring music that seemed to be coming from every corner of the sprawling mansion. “This so isn’t my scene, Corrie.”
“Well it’s not mine either,” she harrumphed, “but how many times in a girl’s life can she claim to have partied with rock stars? Live a little, Gwennie! You deserve it!”
She wasn’t completely wrong about that. With the downward spiral my life had been on for the past few years, I definitely deserved something good. That was why I’d decided to pick up and move to Seattle in the first place.
Corrine and I had grown up together in the same small town in Idaho. We’d been best friends our whole lives, even moving off to Seattle together to attend college. But then, the summer after my sophomore year, my dad died of a massive coronary. I’d made the choice to return home, unable to fathom leaving my mother all by herself. My creative writing degree had been put on hold indefinitely. I got a job as a checkout clerk at the local grocery store to help with bills while my mother did her best to maintain the farm that had been in my father’s family for generations.
It took a while for Mom and me to learn to function normally without my boisterous, lively father around. We missed him every single day, but life continued, and we eventually learned to roll with it.
Then the unimaginable happened.
My mom was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer just shortly after my twenty-first birthday. What the cancer didn’t steal from her, the treatment did. I spent a year watching my beautiful, spirited mother slowly wither before my eyes. Bearing witness to that killed me just a little bit more each and every day.
Thanks to the mountain of medical bills and a bad crop year, we’d eventually sunk so deep into debt that I couldn’t find a way to pull us out of it. My mother passed away just six months ago. Two months after that, the farm was seized by the bank. I’d failed them both.
The only silver lining was that neither of them had been around to witness my downfall.
I spent the next few months getting by on the very meager savings left to me while trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life. I’d always dreamed of being a writer, but after losing the two people who meant the very most to me, and being buried under the crushing weight of loss and failure, I’d eventually let that dream slip away.
The only saving grace in the whole heartbreaking mess was Corrine. She’d practically twisted my arm until I agreed to leave life in Idaho behind and join her in Seattle permanently.
I’d been living there for two weeks now, and I was finally starting to find my footing. Our tiny two-bedroom apartment wasn’t anything spectacular, but we somehow managed to make it feel like a home. And I even lucked out and found work as a barista at a coffee shop just blocks from our place. It paid well enough, offered benefits, and I actually enjoyed what I did and the people I worked with.
Things were finally looking up for the first time in a really long time. So when Corrine came home earlier that day, nearly hysterical with excitement at having landed an invite to an uber-exclusive party in Clyde Hill, I’d—rather stupidly—let her enthusiasm infect me and agreed to tag along.
It had taken less than two minutes for me to regret that decision.
“How did you even get us into this party anyway?” I shouted over the deafening guitar riff coming from the surround sound speakers.
“Best I don’t tell you,” she yelled back, her eyes on the mayhem taking place all around us. “Deniable plausibility! It’s for your own good!”
My eyes bulged out of my head at the scene unfolding before me. “Jesus! Did that guy just snort a line of coke off that chick’s boobs?”
“That’s rock and roll for you,” Corrine laughed like it was just another normal, everyday occurrence for us to witness drug use and sexual debauchery, up close and personal.
The evening was anything but normal. I felt like I’d just fallen down the rabbit hole and straight into the den of iniquity.
“I can not believe I’m standing in a house owned by one of the members of Civil Corruption!” She let out an ecstatic squee of delight. Meanwhile, I felt more and more out of place with every passing moment.
Civil Corruption was Corrine’s all-time favorite band, and judging from the number of people crammed into the obscenely large house—and the fact that I recognized at least a quarter of them from TV and celeb magazines—they were far more popular than I’d imagined. Then again, I’d never been a fan of rock music. I’d always leaned more toward Top 40, to my best friend’s chagrin.
Corrie had tried to get me to listen to their music countless times. It just wasn’t my thing. Sure, I’d heard them talked about on the radio and television, and I’d seen the guys in the band plastered on the cover of the magazines that lined my checkout stands when I worked at the grocery store in Idaho, but other than that, they’d never really been on my radar.
“What do you think the odds are that I can hook up with Deck tonight?”
I turned away from the writhing orgy taking place in the living room—or what was damn close to becoming a writhing orgy—and quirked an eyebrow at my best friend. “Who?”
“Ohmigod!” she shouted, rolling her eyes in exasperation. “Declan Forrester? Lead singer of Civil Corruption? Christ, Gwen. It’s like you live under a rock, I swear.”
“Sorry.” I shrugged, not feeling sorry in the slightest.
Corrie stood on her tiptoes and scanned the ever-growing crowd. “I’m going to see if I can find him and make my move. You coming with?”
I was more than comfortable in my current spot, holding up one of the walls. The corner we were tucked into was one of the only spaces in the room where I wasn’t constantly being jostled or stepped on. I was hard-pressed to leave its cozy confines.
“Pass,” I called out. “But you go do your thing. Text me if you get lucky and I’ll catch a cab home or something.”
Her forehead wrinkled in concern, and I could see the indecision warring in her blue eyes. She was worried about me. Hell, worry had been her constant emotional state since I arrived in Seattle a couple weeks ago. She knew exactly how much I’d been struggling, how much pain I’d been carrying around, and she wanted to do everything in her power to make it better for me.
I loved her for it. But the helicopter routine was getting really freaking annoying.
“Go,” I insisted.
“I don’t know….” She hemmed and hawed, chewing on her bottom lip. “I don’t want to leave you by yourself.”
“I’m serious. I’ll be fine on my own for a bit. I think I need to get some air anyway. You can’t hover over me twenty-four-seven, babe.”
She narrowed her eyes in an intimidating scowl. “Says who? I’m an expert at hovering.”
I laughed, placing my hands on her shoulders and spinning her a hundred and eighty degrees. “Then give yourself the night off,” I shouted over the music. “Hot, famous rock star dick won’t ravage itself!”
“Valid point!” she shouted, giving me a wicked grin over her shoulder before being swallowed up by the crowd.
I breathed a sigh of relief when her bobbing blonde head finally disappeared from sight. I appreciated everything she’d done for me, not just the past few months but also the past few years. She’d been my rock ever since my father passed. But her constant concern left me feeling like I always needed to be on whenever she was around. I didn’t want her to worry more than she already was, so I’d grown rather good at faking a smiling, bubbly personality. It was exhausting, and I was grateful for the reprieve.
Something from the corner of my eye caught my attention, and I turned my head just as a woman who looked an awful lot like a model I’d seen in a Victoria’s Secret catalog dropped to her knees and began unbuckling the belt of the man standing before her.
And time to go.
I stuck close to the wall as I worked my way from the room into the open hallway, hoping to find some much-needed space.
No such luck. There were people everywhere. I could have sworn half—if not more—of the greater Seattle area was crammed into the mansion.
Claustrophobia was starting to creep up on me and the walls began to close in. I could feel the warning signs of a panic attack taking hold. I hadn’t had one of those in a month. I thought I’d been doing so well, but if I didn’t get some air soon, I was going to lose it.
The paths to the front and back of the house were congested with bodies, and the thought of trying to squeeze through made my skin start to crawl. A quick glance showed that the massive curved staircase leading to the upper levels—yes, levels, because the house had three freaking stories—was clear.
The strappy stiletto sandals Corrine had forced me to wear clicked on the Italian marble floor as I walked the small distance to the staircase. Grabbing hold of the glossy mahogany banister, I swung my weight around to the first step and began my ascent.
The constriction on my lungs finally started to ease as I made my way down a long, wide hall on the second level. I began my search, hoping to find a room with a balcony—or an open window at the very least. I made the mistake of opening one of the many closed doors and got an eyeful of something I’d never be able to un-see—naked flesh… lots and lots of naked flesh. Some of the positions the three—wait, make that four—people were in were downright unnatural.
I quickly slammed the door shut and continued down the hall, scrubbing at my eyes in an effort to rid my brain of the disturbing display when I finally came to a door that was partially open. And blessedly empty.
A four-poster bed larger than any I’d ever seen sat in the middle of the wall to my right. Rich dark-wood furniture that probably cost more than I’d ever make in my lifetime filled the rest of the huge room. The decadent décor and furnishings screamed I’m rich AF and you should be jealous. I probably would have been too, had my focus not been on the wide-open French doors directly across from me.
A breeze blowing from outside shifted the thin, gauzy curtains on the door and filled the room with the smell of pine from the endless expanse of forest just outside.
“Thank God,” I gasped as I all but stumbled out onto the terrace. A beautiful view of Lake Washington sat before me. The moon and stars glimmered off the calm surface of the water, but I was too frazzled to enjoy it. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply as my fingers wrapped around the twisted iron railing. Calm washed over me as the chilly wind licked at my flushed cheeks.
I let out a pained “Fuck” and focused on breathing deeply, fighting back the last remaining dregs of the panic that had me in it’s grips just moments before.
Once the vice on my chest released completely, my head dropped and my body sagged against the railing. The metal dug into my stomach, the cold seeping through the flimsy material of my dress, but I didn’t care. I could finally breathe. That was all that mattered to me.
“You’re not about to pass out, are you?”
I let out a startled shriek at the sound of the voice and spun around, my fists instinctively coming up in front of me—not that I had the first clue how to throw a proper punch.
The voice actually sounded amused as it asked, “What? You gonna punch me?”
“Jesus Christ,” I panted, dropping my fists and placing a hand on my pounding chest. “You scared the ever-loving shit out of me!”
In the dim light coming through from the bedroom, I was able to make out the figure of a man sitting in the corner of the balcony. I couldn’t see his face but from what I could tell, the dude was huge. Even sitting with his legs kicked up on the iron patio table in front of him, his size was unmistakable. Even his feet were big, almost the same size as the half-empty bottle of whisky sitting abandoned on the table beside them.
“Well, in my defense, I was out here first.”
His tone had a teasing lilt to it that helped melt some of the tension in my stomach. “I’m sorry,” I spoke, squinting to get a better look at the stranger in the corner. “I didn’t know anyone else was out here.”
“Probably because no one’s allowed upstairs during the parties.”
“Really? Huh.…” One corner of my mouth ticked up in a smirk as I said, “Might want to tell that to the people in the room down the hall, then.”
The sound of his attractive, deep chuckle carried on a breeze and flitted across my skin. “Not surprised.”
“It seems you didn’t have any problems sneaking up here.”
The wind picked up several strands of my dark brown hair and blew them in my face, somewhat obstructing my view of the stranger as he stood from his chair and slowly headed in my direction, stepping into the stream of light pouring through the opened French doors and giving me my very first unimpeded view of his face.
Add it to your TBR lists now
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