He grimaces. “Let’s just say I owe a favor to my partner. And thank you for being my date.”

I give him a wink and a lopsided smile. “Let’s be honest… it was the prospect of going to The Wicked Horse with you afterward that made me agree.”

His eyes round in surprise, his lips curving upward. “Really?”

“Really,” I say with a firm nod of my head. “Why does that surprise you?”

He shrugs just as the elevator doors open. He ushers me in, and we move to the back as a handful of other people enter. He sidles in closer as the doors close and we start to ascend.

Leaning down, Benjamin murmurs, “Most single women just aren’t into sex like that.”

There’s truth in his words. Most of the women at The Wicked Horse are in committed relationships. There is a lot of swinging that goes on with their partners. I have seen very few single women go there just for sex. On top of that, it’s sad to say very few women can afford the fee.

I tilt my head up. He leans a little bit closer to me so I can whisper, “Let’s just say I have found being involved in a committed relationship to be… un-empowering.”

We reach our floor, and the elevator doors open. Benjamin moves me through the crowd, and we exit. I put my arm through his, and we head down the hallway to the ballroom where we can see people mingling.

“And yet,” he says as we stroll along. “You give up all control to me. That doesn’t seem empowering.”

My laugh is husky, delighted. “On the contrary, giving up control is the height of empowerment for me. Knowing I’ve got the courage to do that, I mean.”

Benjamin halts, and so do I. He turns, eyes quizzical. “You continually surprise me.”

“Is that a good thing?” I ask.

He inclines his head. “It’s an incredibly good thing. It’s what I need.”

Benjamin takes my hand in his, and we head into the ballroom. The soft strains of a waltz hit my ears and the smells of delicious food assault my nose, making my belly rumble. Benjamin nods toward a group of people and says, “Come on. I see Dr. Metzer there. He’s the one putting on this gala. I need to say hello.”

“Sounds good to me.”

We maneuver our way over to the group. The surprised expressions on people’s faces when they see Benjamin proves him showing up is unexpected. I guess it truly is unusual for him to attend these types of events.

I’m introduced to a portly older man—Dr. Metzer—who gives me a polite nod. Benjamin next introduces me to a very handsome man and his wife, Brandon and Colleen Aimes.

“Brandon is my medical partner,” Benjamin explains as we shake hands.

Brandon and Colleen look stunned to see me, and I wonder why. Does Benjamin not date at all? Is he gay? What if he has a wife… and I’m just a side piece he’s brazenly parading around?

Those questions are all answered when Colleen seems to come to her senses and gushes, “It is so nice to meet you, Elena. It’s nice to see Benjamin getting out for a change.”

That puts me at ease, and I’m thankful it seems like I’ll have someone else to talk to tonight.

“So, Elena,” Brandon says. “What do you do?”

“I’m a hair stylist,” I say, expecting a little bit of disdain over my lower-class status.

Instead, Colleen pipes up, “Here in Vegas? Because I’m looking for a change.”

She pats her perfectly styled bob, tilting her head expectantly.

“In Henderson,” I reply. “I actually own my own place there, but if you don’t mind making the drive, I’d love to work with you.”

“I can totally come to you,” she chirps with excitement. “So how did you and Benjamin meet?”

I wasn’t expecting this question. In hindsight, it was stupid not to expect it. I freeze, shooting a questioning look at Benjamin, who just stares back impassively, willing to accept whatever answer I give.

“An online dating service,” I say as I turn back to Colleen.

She nods exuberantly. “That’s all the rage these days, right? Swipe right. Or is it left? Regardless, I’m just thrilled Benjamin’s out and about tonight. Oh, we should go get a table so we can sit together for when the auction starts.”

“Why don’t you grab us some seats?” Benjamin suggests to Colleen as he takes my elbow, making his intent to lead me away clear. “We’re going to peruse the art pieces up for auction and grab a drink. Want anything?”

“We’re good,” Brandon says.

Benjamin takes it as an exit cue to lead me away. “Sorry about that,” he murmurs as we meander through the crowd. “Didn’t think to come up with a story about how we’d met.”

“Well, what I said was sort of true.”

He stops, turning to face me with a serious expression. “Look… I had thought I’d get you a room here tonight, so you don’t have to drive all the way back to Henderson.”

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