Remotely, I register voices sounding somewhere nearby, and some tiny part of my mind is aware we could be caught, but I am too lost to care. I do not want to stop kissing him and I am panting when Chris tears his mouth from mine and presses his lips to my ear. He gently strokes my hair, his breath warm on my neck. “Go the bathroom baby, before someone sees us.”

The endearment does funny things to my chest.


He turns me to the door, his hands on my waist, his body framing me from behind, and I can feel him hot and hard against my backside. It is all I can do not to lean into him. He kisses my neck. “I don’t mind who knows what we are doing but I don’t want you embarrassed.”

The voices grow louder, high heels clicking on the tiled floor. Reality blasts through me and I dart for the bathroom door without looking back at Chris.

***

I rush into a bathroom stall, forced to hide until the ladies who have followed me inside the bathroom depart. Sitting on top of the toilet seat, I know I should be reprimanding myself over my wanton behavior, and worrying about my job. Instead, I squeeze my thighs together, all too aware of the dampness clinging to my panties, and replay every stroke of Chris’s tongue against mine. It is a testament to how affected I am by Chris. I am protecting you, he’d said. What he’d done was more like claiming. His hand on mine with Mark, his demand I be taken care of. His following me to the bathroom and pushing me against the wall. His mouth on my mouth.

A full five minutes passes, and the woman chatter amongst themselves and finally leave. I exit the stall and stare into the mirror, barely recognizing the woman in the reflection. My hair is a wild, dark brown mass and my lips are swollen. My eyes are dark with unfulfilled desire.

High heels sounds outside the door and my heart leaps with the inevitable newcomer. I haven’t had time to process what to do about Chris, how to act when I exit the bathroom, but I don’t want unwanted scrutiny either. I smooth my hair and dart for the door and I am shocked at who stands on the other side.

“Ava,” I blink.

“Sara!” She exclaims and I join her in the hallway, only to be pulled into a hug and she announces, “I was hoping I’d get here in time to see you.”

I scan over her shoulder, seeking out Chris, but he is nowhere visible. His absence gnaws at my gut, but I tell myself he’s still here. He’s being discreet.

Ava releases me and I step back, noting how her long, silky black hair is styled with ringlets around her face and she is wearing a red siren dress. “You look terrific.”

“Thank you. I love the excuse the gallery gives me to dress up, but I barely made it. I flew in today.”

“Oh? Where’d you go?”

Her lips curve with mischief. “A little last minute romantic getaway. It was fabulous. Listen, I don’t want to get Mark mad at you. I know you have to work the floor, but how about lunch on Monday?”

Mark. She’d called him Mark when no one else did. “I’d love that,” I say, and remind myself she isn’t an employee of the gallery, so why would she use his formal name?

A few minutes later, we’ve arranged a meeting spot, and I head to the gallery floor. Nervously, I look for Chris and don’t see him. Mary is helping a customer and Amanda and the rest of the crew seem to be hanging out at the front door, bidding customers goodnight. I quickly check in with the few lingering guests, and try not to let my mind go wild over Chris. But it is. He’s gone. He used me to piss Mark off, kissed me, and then left. I am hurt and yes, I am angry all over again. My final customer is all about sampling wine, and this time, I dive right in. I’m going to be fired. I’ve been used and abused and turned on in a hallway I shouldn’t have been doing naughty things in. I have a free ride home. I’m going to drink some damn wine.

By the time the final guests are gone, and I’ve gathered my jacket and purse, the staff is gathering for a cab line at the door. At this point, my head is buzzing and I feel a little queasy. I don’t want to talk to anyone, and I sure as heck don’t want to see Chris or Mark. Not that seeing Chris appears to be an option, but Mark is unavoidable since he’s standing by the door, having what looks like a tense conversation with Ava—or the wine is distorting my impressions, which is quite possible--and the two of them are having a happy chat. Nah. Mark isn’t the happy chat kind of guy. More the whips and chains, and pleasure me baby, kind of guy. Oh boy, the wine has worked me over good and my mind is running a marathon of ridiculousness. Empowered by wine, and feeling quite the daring butterfly, I decide it’s time to go home, and to do so with answers.

Unsteady, but with nothing to lose that I haven’t already lost, I walk right up to Mark. He glances at Ava, a silent command in his look, and even she obeys him, waving to me as she departs. The world does what this man wants. Well, the world minus Chris.

“Am I fired?” I demand, fairly certain no one else is around, which on a non-wine night wouldn’t be good enough. It works just fine for me now though.

He crosses his arms over his broad chest, and studies me with—what?—Interest? Irritation? The man is impossible to read. “Why would you be fired, Ms. McMillan?”

“Because of Chris.”

“Chris made us both a lot of money tonight. Making money is not a terminating offense. Now, using Chris to manipulate me for money would be, but you wouldn’t do that, now would you?”

“No,” I say, and dare to go where I would normally never go, but then nothing is normal about the past few days. “And I don’t want to be a part of the ‘who’s got the bigger sword’ contest you two have going on either. I don’t do cock-fights. I just want to do my job and do it well.”

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