Erica Hathaway: I need to borrow your closet. Do you want to cut out early?

Alli Malloy: Sure. Let me ask the boss.

I wanted to smile, but I was too far from levity right now. I shut down my computer, grabbed my purse, and met Alli in the hallway where we quickly descended to the street. We stepped into the Escalade and directed Clay where to take us.

Alli’s eyes were wide. “What’s the occasion? It’s only Wednesday.”

“I’m surprising Blake. And I need something…um, really sexy.” This shouldn’t have surprised her, considering she still believed the mysterious red box had come from him.

She hummed. “Okay, I definitely can help with that. What are we talking, Vegas-sexy or you’re not leaving the house sexy?”

I swallowed hard, the reality of what I was about to do dropping like a rock in my stomach. I wished I could share a fraction of the excitement Alli seemed to have about what tonight would bring. Unfortunately, sex wasn’t the only thing I had to look forward to. “Vegas sexy should be fine,” I said quickly, shifting my focus out the window.

Clay dropped us at Alli and Heath’s apartment a few minutes later. Alli riffled through her ample closet and tossed out a handful of tiny dresses. A few I recognized from our trip to Vegas months ago. At the time, I couldn’t imagine walking around in public in these outfits. The normal discomfort I’d feel from being seen in a barely-there mini dress paled in comparison to the unknown of how I’d be received at the club, if they even let me in. This could all turn into one humiliating mess, but Blake still wasn’t talking and I needed answers. Tonight, one way or the other, I’d get them.

“This one is fine.” I smoothed my hand over a black mini dress made of stretchy cotton sateen that would fit tightly over my curves. I brought it up to my front, gauging that it would hit mid-thigh. The neckline was a revealing scoop, which would accentuate my cleavage. I had no idea what I’d be walking into tonight, but I was determined to at least try to look the part.

The truth of the matter was I had no fucking idea what I was doing.

* * *

I fiddled with the buttons of the long jacket that concealed the outfit that was hardly appropriate for any old Wednesday night date. Clay turned down a few more streets, and I knew we were getting close. My stomach rolled with my anxiety. I fought the urge to throw up and instead shot off a text to Blake and turned my phone to silent. Thank God Clay had no idea where he was taking me, which gave me some small measure of comfort. He hadn’t taken Blake here since he’d hired him to keep tabs on me. Already I had a million questions, and the one that kept pushing its way to the forefront of my brain was when he’d been here last.

Clay turned onto North Hampton, and a thousand scenarios spun through my head. Maybe they’d be closed. I could go home and surprise Blake with this outfit and pretend like Sophia hadn’t sent me a relic from their D/s sex life. Maybe they’d take one look at me and tell me to get lost or find the nearest street corner. Heaven knew the outfit I was wearing would warrant such a reaction.

He slowed in front of a row of brownstones. The building was simply marked with a plaque reading 990, with no indication that we were anywhere important. Clay squinted and glanced back at me with a wary look. “This it?”

“Yeah, um, I think so.” I scolded myself for sounding so nervous.

“Want me to wait for you?”

I hesitated. Maybe he should. God, Blake was going to skin me alive for this one. Fear shot through me all over again when my phone vibrated for the third time.

“Sure, if you want to until I’m inside.” I tried to sound innocent.

“Does Blake know you’re here?”

“Yeah, of course. He’s meeting me here,” I reached for the door handle before I needed to lie again. I liked Clay, and I already felt guilty. He’d no doubt get a verbal lashing from Blake that might rival my own.

“All right,” he said after a moment.

Confident he almost believed me, I stepped out and climbed the steps to the broad wooden door. I was running out of time to follow through. I located the buzzer to the right, pressed it, and waited impatiently. I rotated my weight between my feet, careful not to offset my balance and tumble. A minute later the door opened. A girl with long bleached blond hair stood before me. She was dressed entirely in black, a small halter and leather pants. Her makeup was heavy, and I began to feel a little better about my attire.

Our eyes met and she stared blankly. “Can I help you?”

I licked my lips, feeling uneasy. They weren’t going to just let me waltz in here, skank dress or not. “I’m meeting someone here,” I said, my voice wavering more than I wanted it to.

She toyed with the shiny metal that looped through the side of her lower lip. “Who?”

Oh hell, here we go. I shoved my nerves to the side. “Blake Landon.”

Her pierced eyebrow lifted before she shifted her bored stare past me. She stepped back and lifted her chin a fraction, motioning for me to come forward.

I stepped far enough inside for her to close the heavy door behind me. I moved to follow her, but she raised her hand. “Wait here.”

I nodded quickly, as if I knew that was protocol. I knew nothing. I was officially in well over my head. Time stretched on. Every second felt like an eternity as I waited for her to return or for Blake to come barging in after me.

Then I heard someone coming down the hall. My breath caught when, instead of the girl, a man nearly twice her age greeted me. He was dressed well in a black suit and a white shirt unbuttoned casually at the collar. Even in the poor light of the foyer, I could see his skin was dark, not tanned but naturally olive. He regarded me coolly. I knew instantly that I was in the right place, and without question, that this man knew Blake.

“Tessa tells me you know Mr. Landon. Is this true?” His voice was smooth, cultured, and tinted with an accent that I couldn’t place among my scattered thoughts.

“Yes. I’m actually meeting him here.” I battled the urge to break away from the intensity of his stare. The quiet humor in his eyes made me feel small and vulnerable in his presence, as if he held a wealth of knowledge above me. I had little doubt he did. Still, I sensed that he wanted to believe me, which made it easier to lie somehow. “He should be here soon,” I added, just in case this dark and dangerous stranger was having any thoughts about locking me up in his cage in the interim.

He held out his hand. I hesitated for a moment that seemed too long, and then accepted the gesture. I tightened my grip, expecting him to shake my hand. Instead he turned my palm down and lowered his lips to the top of my hand. The kiss was sweet, but if a kiss could have layers, this one did. Something about the firm but gentle grasp on my hand, the slow purposeful way he grazed my skin, and the dark look in his eyes when he lifted them to mine had my heart racing with fear. And something else, something darker that I couldn’t name. This man was a Dom. I was willing to put money on it.