HATE TO LOVE

Pole Dance 3

hatetolove

A bad boy CEO...

Michael Daniels. He thinks I'm out of his league. I think he's exactly what I need.

When we collide we don't think at all.

I'm Molly Rogers. This is my story.


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Read an excerpt

Chapter 1

“I can’t believe Edward proposed.” Molly caught Angie’s hand and studied the radiant-cut diamond in the bright lights in front of New York’s hottest strip club, Jewel’s. “Did you know about this?” She looked at her former roommate Lexa, who was dating Edward’s brother Jack.

“I heard a rumor.” Lexa leaned in to sneak a glance at the ring. “No hard facts. Until now.”

“Wait, what? Engaged?” Kaycee sidled closer. “Are you saying this is your bachelorette party and you didn’t tell us?”

Someone didn’t want to wear the standard inflatable pecker on their head.” Lizzie waggled her eyebrows.

“That’s not it.” Angie had the decency to look sheepish. “I was going to tell you about the wedding. Truly, I was. See, here?” She dug in her handbag to pull out a stack of embossed invitations and started handing them out one by one. “Things just happened so quickly.”

“No shit.” Tracy slid the white card with bold black and gold writing into her bag. “I’ll check my calendar when I get home.”

“I’m sure it’s packed with social engagements.” Lizzie rolled her eyes. “Can I bring a second plus one if Tracy RSVPs ‘with regrets’?”

“She won’t.” Lexa sent Tracy a warning glance, who stared back with a defiant gleam in her eyes.

“I just think it’s ridiculous to hook up, get engaged, then get married in such short succession.”

“Forget timelines.” Emily stared longingly at the gemstone on Angie’s hand. “When you know, you know. And what I want to know is how he proposed? Did he kneel? Was there champagne? Oh, oh, oh, don’t tell me. I bet he baked this fantastic cake.”

“Actually—”

“Molly, hide. Now!” Kaycee’s sudden outcry was almost lost over the excitement that had gripped their little group, but Molly had been waiting for exactly such a warning since she stepped out of her two-bedroom apartment less than an hour ago.

She slid behind Lizzie’s voluptuous figure, pulling the designer hair piece slash hat that she couldn’t pass up while out shopping on Fifth Avenue last month because it worked perfectly with her honey-blond curls further over her eyes.

“Smooth move.” Angie, aspiring painter by passion, well of motivational encouragement by natural aptitude and fiancée by evidence of the beautiful sparkler on her fourth finger, nodded appreciatively. “I knew there was a reason why you kept shunning our pole dance classes. You know how to work your body, no lessons required. Good reaction time, too.” She gave Molly a thumbs-up, but was interrupted by Lexa.

“Not good enough.” Lexa studied the narrow-eyed male who tried to stare a hole through Lizzie’s body. The worried expression on her face said it all. “I think he recognized you, Mol. Dammit. This was supposed to be a relaxing, anonymous evening.”

Molly shot her friend a surprised look. It wasn’t often that she heard Lexa swearing out loud, a single character trait they shared although the reasons for their reserve were vastly different.

While Molly had been drilled by her mother from a young age to watch her tongue—a survival skill on the political parquet that was Molly’s nursery and one that she seemed to forget only in the presence of a single obnoxious male, Lexa was simply too self-conscious to raise her voice much.

Until she met the love of her life, Jack Daniels, earlier in the year, Lexa had been the epitome of an introvert personality with the social skills of a hermit. Since then, she had learned to resort to stronger language when the occasion called for it, had taken to dressing more sexily and had generally come out of her wallflower-y shell. All signs of her budding self-confidence. Molly was happy for her friend. Even if all the changes in Lexa’s life had meant that she had moved out of their shared apartment to live with her new boyfriend.

Molly missed having Lexa as a roommate. Phone calls and the occasional Sunday morning coffee catch-up just didn’t cut it when life called for an emergency BFF session.

Molly blew out a breath to shake off the feeling of melancholy that tried to grip her at the thought and instead stole another look at the guy Kaycee had spotted first.

“Any chance he will go away quietly?” she asked.

Tracy didn’t waste a second to share her gloomy two cents worth. “Nah! He’ll definitely call it in.”

Molly ignored their little group’s perpetual troublemaker in favor of the quiet anthropology student to her right. “Emily?”

“Sorry, Molly, he looks like a geek. Persistent, too.”

“Not that we’re judging him or anything.” Lizzie snorted.

Emily shrugged her shoulders. “He has ‘political activist’ basically tattooed on his forehead. I can’t believe you spotted him before I did.” She pushed her glasses further up on her nose and regarded Kaycee with new admiration. “How did you know?”

“Takes one to know one, I guess.” Kaycee's lips tilted in a lopsided grin.

“You’re a political activist?” Angie whistled. “Looks and brains. Are you sure you’re still single?”

“’Fraid so.” Kaycee went on tiptoe to look over Lizzie’s shoulder at Molly. “I concur with Emily. He’s not going anywhere. He’ll want to make sure he gets his fifteen minutes of fame. He’ll call the papers as soon as we’re out of sight. I assume he’ll even feel proud doing his part keeping the public informed of where their tax dollar is going. The potential to earn a little cash on the side for a newsworthy story won’t make him change his mind. Tomorrow the whole nation will know that Molly Rogers, lawyer-to-be and daughter of Joana and Harold Rogers, political powerhouse couple of the new millennium, has visited a strip club.”

Molly groaned.

“Look at the bright side.” Lizzie turned to give Molly an encouraging smile.” At least we’re not wearing penis headpieces to match.”

“That could actually have been an advantage,” Lexa mused.

“Bachelorette gear would have made it clear we are visiting, not working,”

Sheesh. Worse and worse. Molly had to make sure they at least got that part right.

Even without the ridiculous exaggeration, the headlines would no doubt be scathing.

If past experiences were anything to go by, the scandal sheets would first speculate if she was finally going off the deep end like so many of her rich kid peers. The opinions on whether her Friday night extravaganza was going to hurt her career going forward would pour in soon thereafter. As would the questions on how her parents could claim to lobby for the empowerment of the female sex when their own and only daughter visited an establishment that went against everything that the emancipated modern woman strived for?

Of course, none of this would be a problem if Molly wasn’t missing one crucial part of her anatomy that could be blamed for nearly every salacious impulse known to mankind and that—no matter how insignificant in some individuals—somehow safeguarded the bearer from public scrutiny through its existence alone. Men were almost expected to spend their last day of the week staring at a naked piece of ass. Talk about gender equality.

Not that Molly was a stickler for the buzz phrase. She had accepted a long time ago that she had to work harder than her XY counterparts to be afforded the same respect.

There was a crossroads to consider for every woman, where to focus her efforts in life. For Molly, keeping bad people off the street had taken precedence over the fight for the right to pay for her half of the bill. Sure, she hoped the scales would balance out eventually. In the meantime she wasn’t going to sweat it if her future boyfriend slash husband insisted on forking out for dinner. She was going to earn comparatively less than the man anyway.

Not that Molly could ever voice this opinion anywhere near her parents’ supporters. They would immediately label her as the ignorant brat that they had suspected her to be for years. According to their secret—not so secret—opinion, she enjoyed the easy life living off her family’s considerable fortune and connections. Little did they know that Molly’s parents were determined to make Molly earn her own place in the world and that Molly was contending against people on a daily basis who thought that she had already been handed that place on a silver platter and threw obstacles her way just to ‘make her feel some of the pain that everyone else went through.’

Molly liked to think that she was a better person for not holding their ignorance against them, or pointing out that they were wasting precious resources meddling with the fairly unimportant life of a young woman rather than using their time and energy to make the world a better place. But it was hard to bite her tongue, to turn a deaf ear when hateful comments were hurled her way and spiteful interference messed with her right to live a quiet life.

It was the kind of judgmental prejudice she had experienced en masse when dealing with political activists before. Only the lawyer in her was reluctant to throw the young man Kaycee had spotted into the same ‘jerkist’ category, until she had undeniable proof. To obtain that proof, however, meant to risk her good name and that of her family.

Molly weighed her options. She could run right now, act as if she had met her friends in passing and never had any intention entering the club. Or, she could go ahead with the night as planned and deal with a potential fallout later.

Personally, she couldn’t care less what any self-righteous prick thought of her. Or what the entire nation would think of her if the news hit. The only opinion she cared about was her parents’ who, thanks to their political influence, had a professional obligation to care about polls and votes. Which meant there was really no escape for Molly from the consequences of her actions tonight and she would feel the full force of her mother’s disappointment come morning.

Molly mashed her lips together. Well, she could at least make it worth her while, because she was not missing out on this evening with her friends. Political activist or not.

Stepping out from behind the relative shield of Lizzie’s back, Molly cut through the queue to the entrance of the club, causing the clatter of twelve high-heeled feet to scurry after her, one pair faster than the rest.

“You really want to do this?” Lexa caught up with her in time to watch Molly flash her ID card at the bouncer who, after a quick double take, lifted the red cutoff rope to let them into the hallowed halls of Jewel's, one of New York’s most sought after, and if rumor was to be believed, most refined strip clubs.

Molly shrugged. Refined or not, she had just blown every chance to safeguard her reputation by refusing to mislead the young man who was still watching her with undue interest from the sidelines as to her intended destination.

“You said he wasn’t going to go away. What do you want me to do?”

“We could have tried to sneak you in,” Lexa suggested.

Molly tilted her head at the curious glances their group received from the predominantly male clientele. “Not a chance. Apart from the strippers, we are the only women in this place.”

Lexa faltered at the truth in Molly’s statement.

“So, what?” Emily asked. “Keep calm and carry on?”

“Exactly that.” Molly blew out a breath, counseling herself to take her own advice. “Anyone have an idea how to blend in here?”

“I do.” Angie pointed at a medium-sized reception desk where a scantily clad woman sold wads of flashy paper money to new arrivals.

“What on earth?” Lizzie plucked a colorful note from the back pocket of a guy standing close.

Emily slapped a hand in front of her mouth. “I can’t believe you just stole a stripper dollar.”

Borrowed. And how do you know what these are called?”

Red swept up Emily’s neck. “I did some research.”

“Yet you have the audacity to lecture me on doing the same?” Lizzie raised a brow.

Internet research,” Emily murmured, embarrassed.

“Pha! Who wants to ask a search engine for answers when the hands-on approach is so much more preferable?” Lizzie asked, returning the dollar to its owner, but not without patting the guy’s backside and copping a feel. “Tight,” she whispered.

Emily buried her face in her hands. “Theft and a sexual harassment charge.”

“He didn’t mind.” Lizzie flashed a brilliant smile at her victim, who had turned and was hesitantly returning the favor. “I wonder what he’s doing here. With a face like his I wouldn’t make him pay.”

“Don’t even think about it,” Lexa warned, hooking an arm through Lizzie’s. “We’re trying to blend in, remember?”

You are trying to blend in,” Lizzie said. “I’m simply trying to enjoy myself.”

“Not with the clientele.”

“But—”

“No but.”

“And obviously also no ‘butt.’” Lizzie sighed, giving the tight behind a last appreciative glance. “So you want to buy fake money?” she asked Angie. “Why?”

“It’s the only currency allowed in the club.”

“Like the tokens in a casino?” Kaycee was catching on quick.

“Exactly right.” Angie pointed at one of the strippers. Multiple dollar notes were sticking out of her G-string. “Tipping the dancers is appreciated by Jewel’s staff and management,” she explained. “More important, it’s our only way to help Gigi out tonight.”

“Done.” At the mention of their friend’s name, Molly slapped a wad of cash into Angie’s palm.

She didn’t usually throw money around. Well, maybe for clothes. And shoes. And accessories, at times. But she tried to live a modest lifestyle despite her parents’ immodest wealth. Only sometimes, like today, in situations like this one was she willing to splash out.

Because Molly, Tracy, Kaycee, Angie, Lexa, Emily and Lizzie weren’t here just for fun. They had actual work to do. They were acting as the unwavering support group for Gigi Valentino, shy mouse and stripping novice. What a combination.

Gigi, like the rest of the group except for Molly, had been taking pole dancing lessons at New York’s hip pole dance studio Crystal’s for the past six month. Unlike the rest of the girls, the lessons had been business for Gigi, rather than pleasure. Because the strip club’s management had threatened her with dismissal if she didn’t learn how to work a rod.

Today was Gigi’s stripping debut and considering their friend’s timid nature, Gigi was going to need all the help she could get. Emotional and monetary. Hence seven girls and stripper dollars.

“Awesome.” Angie added up the collective sum before handing it over to the receptionist. “Maybe I’ll top up my share and get a couple dollars extra to give to Edward, to slip into my panties on our wedding night when we—”

“TMI.” Emily covered her ears and mumbled under her breath when heads swiveled to openly stare in their direction, more than one dropping in the general vicinity of Angie’s crotch. “Gosh, this is so embarrassing.”

Molly felt her lips twitch. Her decision to let fun rule this night rather than reason was growing on her. It wasn’t often that she pushed the unspoken boundaries of society. Other than indulging in the odd one-night stand, she usually barely nudged at them. Even that little bit of freedom had lost its attraction in recent months for reasons she didn’t want to examine too closely.

It felt good to take a break from being ‘Molly Goody Two Shoes’ and be ‘Molly Good Times’ instead. She was going out tonight. All out. She had earned this celebration after finishing her law degree summa cum laude. The serious side of life would have to wait for once. It was going to catch up with her again soon enough.

“Oh my God. You’re here.”

At the squeaky squeal behind them, Molly turned to see Gigi—their charge for the evening—teeter toward them in a pair of fuchsia and black stripper heels, her long-limbed figure highlighted by some sexy négligée ensemble, temporarily made half-decent by a wide fur stole wrapped around her neck that dropped halfway down her thighs.

“Of course we are.” Lexa moved to wrap her arms around the slim girl in a comforting hug, careful not to disturb the shiny mass of dark brown hair that looked sleek and chic and not at all like it belonged to a girl whose lap dance services could be bought for the night. “We wouldn’t miss your debut for the world.”

“Debut?” Tracy frowned, taking a second to process the unsurprised expressions around her. “I’m the only one who doesn’t know?”

“Are you surprised, Grouchy?” Lizzie jumped to Gigi’s rescue.

Only Molly saw the fractional tightening of Tracy’s jaw at the unflattering nickname. After a moment, the European shrugged. “Just curious. I thought you’d been employed here for months.”

Gigi blushed. “I never made it out from behind the bar.”

“Stage fright?” Emily guessed, laying a comforting hand on Gigi’s arm.

“Stage terror, more like. That’s why I started taking the classes. To get used to dancing in front of people. Today’s my last chance.”

“You’ll do great.” Kaycee squeezed Gigi’s shoulder.

Gigi twisted her hands in front of her body. “I hope so.”

Molly considered the girl. How the timid mouse thought she was going to drop her clothes in front of a bunch of strange men was beyond her.

“Just imagine them naked,” Tracy suggested, earning more than one outraged glance.

“Not while she’s giving them a lap dance.” Emily glared. “There has to be a better strategy. How do you cope with scrutiny from strangers, Molly? You’re used to being in the limelight.”

“Uh, I’m not sure that’s quite the same.” Molly saw Gigi’s hopeful expression falter. “Then again, I guess it’s worth a shot. I usually look for an audience member who gives me positive vibes. You know, the cute guy in the front row who’s smiling. A nice gentleman who keeps nodding. Anybody who makes you feel more comfortable. Speak, uh, dance for them and forget the rest of the crowd.”

“You’re right. It’s not quite the same.” Gigi nibbled on her lip. “It’s not even the dancing that worries me most. After my set is up, I’m supposed to work the floor, talk to the guys to get them to book me for a private performance.” Gigi stared at the tips of her shoes, her voice shaking. “I’m not good at talking, girls. How am I ever going to make enough money for the club to keep me on?”

“Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.” Angie waved a fistful of the dollars she had just exchanged. “You’re going to make a killing tonight.”

Gigi’s eyes widened, her smile tremulous but genuine. “You are the best friends in the world, you know that right?”

“Sure we do,” Lizzie patted Gigi’s mostly uncovered butt. “Now off with you. I, for one, want to see a proper show for my money.” She winked.

Half an hour later, Lizzie’s request was being fulfilled as Gigi twirled like a pro on the pole. Molly didn’t have much experience except for what Lexa had told her about the classes, but compared to the other strippers in the club, Gigi sure rocked the metal. It didn’t hurt that she had a killer body.

Molly could barely believe that the seductress on stage was the same girl who could barely string three sentences together in front of strangers.

Gigi was definitely going to make a killing. Even without their help and her lack of conversational skills she was going to be busy private dancing for the rest of the night.

Molly narrowed her eyes.

If the guy clenching and unclenching his fists in the shadowed corner of the club had anything to say about it, it would probably be with him.

Molly let her eyes drift across the room. He would have a lot of competition. There wasn’t a man at the club who wasn’t eating Gigi up with his eyes.

No. Wrong. There were a couple of guys sitting with their backs to the stage. Molly snorted when she recognized their faces. She leaned across the table to shout over the beat of the music. “Lexa. Angie. Did you know Jack and Edward are here?”

Two pairs of eyes snapped away from Gigi’s performance toward her, then followed her gaze. Her friends’ mouths dropped open.

“They didn’t…” Lexa growled.

“They did,” Angie huffed. “They better have a good explanation.” She jumped up when a dancer off stage approached the table. “If she touches him—”

“Calm down, girlfriend.” Lizzie patted Angie’s arm. “He’s blown off the last three who tried to strike up a conversation.” She looked at Lexa. “As did Jack. From what I can see, they are here for you. They haven’t let you out of their sight since we arrived. Haven’t even looked once at all the naked woman-flesh prancing around here.”

“Woman-flesh? Ew.” Tracy wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“You knew?” Lexa asked, outraged, as Angie slowly sank back into her chair.

Lizzie lifted her eyebrows. “You mean, did I notice their presence when every guy who tries to approach our table swerves past us at the last moment and quickly heads in a different direction? I was hoping to get lucky tonight, you know.”

Emily groaned. “Oh no, Liz. Not in a strip club.”

“Why not?”

Because.

Gigi’s set came to an end at that moment and Molly’s attention was diverted away from her bickering friends toward the good-looking stranger who had been holding on to his temper through sheer force of will. He peeled away from the wall to stalk toward the back of the round stage where Gigi was descending a couple of stairs, her head bent until the guy grabbed her arm.

“Hey!”

It was the first time Molly heard Gigi squeak above a whisper.
A security guard materialized from the shadows with impressive speed, but Gigi didn’t look frightened. Her expression was one of…anger? Molly did a double-take. Could the timid girl indeed be furious?

Gigi was full of surprises tonight. She told the security guard to stand down with an almost imperceptible shake of her hand, before very deliberately extracting her wrist from the possessive clasp of the stranger, who reluctantly let her go. But only after Gigi indicated that they were going to continue their conversation in a slightly more private area of the room.

Molly craned her neck to see whether Gigi was truly okay, or if she needed an intervention from her friends. But a cone of light settling on the next dancer climbing the stage blinded her momentarily before it swung toward the audience over the heads of Jack and Edward, who were cracking jokes at a third man who had arrived from the bar and who was setting down drinks at their table. For an instant, Molly’s gaze lingered on the broad back, the strange familiarity of the man’s movement.

His thick hair was just long enough to curl at his nape and Molly thought she could make out the distinct shape of a strong nose and full lips.

Molly sucked in a breath.

It couldn’t be. Life couldn’t be this cruel to allow him to choose the same night to accompany his brothers that Molly was here too.

She pushed back in her chair, then thought better of it and chugged the rest of the frilly, neon green cocktail that the well-endowed waitress had delivered to their table some time ago. Her eyes were stuck like glue to what simply couldn’t be the profile of someone whose profile she had no business remembering.

Michael Daniels. Her arch enemy and the one man who certainly wasn’t making all her lady parts sit up and take notice.

Molly watched as he turned toward the stage, his head moving in the distinct fashion that all men seemed to adopt whenever they followed a nice piece of ass with their eyes.

Molly told herself she didn’t care. She didn’t care that he liked what he saw. She didn’t care that he was salivating after a nameless stripper.

She repeated the words right up to the point where jealousy sucker punched her in the gut and she fled to the bar to escape the infuriating sight.


Thank god the performance was over.

Michael set down the two beers and one soda that he had ordered at the bar rather than instructing the waitress servicing their table and watched as a new dancer climbed the stage.

Nothing. His brow furrowed in annoyance when the traitor below his belt didn’t even give a twitch of appreciation for the seriously attractive redhead. She was exactly his type. Curvaceous…

Michael huffed. Wasn’t it just a sad reflection of his state of mind that he could still think in politically correct terms sitting in a strip club on a Friday night?

“Let me guess. From the lack of excitement on your face, she’s not a blonde.”

His brother Edward grinned as Michael pushed one of the beer glasses in his direction forcefully enough to make the frothy liquid slosh over the rim.

“Aw, not the right eye color either?” Jack, his other brother, chimed in.

“Fuck off.” Michael growled. “The woman’s fine.”

At least Michael would be able to watch this one dance without feeling like a dirty bastard. Something he hadn’t been able to do with Gigi Valentino. Not because he was a good person, or because he didn’t like strippers as much as the next guy. Hell, he wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t at least at some point enjoyed the chance to stare at tits and ass all night.

No, watching Lexa’s friend perform her sexy routine had felt wrong for other reasons. Not only was Lexa practically family, but how was Michael supposed to look Gigi in the eye the next time they happened to cross paths, knowing he had seen her flash her barely clad crotch at a roomful of blue-balled men? Knowing she knew he had seen her flash her crotch. But that wasn’t the only reason. The girl reminded him too much of his younger sister, Sophie. Long-limbed. Delicate. Vulnerable.

Not the manufactured vulnerability that some strippers seemed to cultivate to try and deceive men into thinking they were watching a virgin perform instead of a master manipulator, but the vulnerability that came from being too young, too sheltered. And wasn’t that a contradiction in terms for someone who worked in this profession?

It begged the question of what Gigi was doing here. And did she even know what she was doing here? Did she know that her innocence stood out in this dimly lit room like a beacon of light? And like moths to the light Gigi had drawn way more than her fair share of looks. Good for business. Troublesome for the slender beauty, who Michael couldn’t help but worry about in an entirely big-brotherly kind of way and who he suspected was further out of her element than even she realized.

Knowing it was none of his business but unable to shake the feeling that Gigi wasn’t half as confident as she wanted everyone to believe, Michael had found himself hard-pressed not to climb the stage and wrap his suit jacket around the girl when she had dropped that fur thing that had served as a half-assed cover-up at the beginning of her set. It was only after he realized that he was halfway out of his seat that he had used his brothers’ comments about another round of drinks as an excuse to escape the unsettling view.

At the bar, he had spent his waiting time trying to come up with a way to suggest a different kind of profession to the girl. If it was money that Gigi needed, a paid internship at his own company, Corporate Calls, could tide her over until she found a job she wanted to stick with long term. He had once before taken a chance on one of her friends. Lexa had gone on to become a permanent employee. With such a great success to look back upon, he was more than willing to take another chance on an inexperienced candidate.

But when he returned to the table, drinks in hand, he realized that his intervention would not be needed. Someone else had already taken over the task of rescuing the girl.

Michael shot another look at the very tall, very pissed-off male who had snagged Gigi’s arm as soon as the girl stepped off the stage and who was currently staring down the six-foot-plus security guard without even looking at the man. Talk about skill. Of course, security would have to take him on anyway, if it wasn’t for the almost imperceptible shake of Gigi’s head. She obviously knew the guy well enough to allow him to manhandle her. And she knew enough about the club’s policies to realize that making a scene—even one that wasn’t her fault—would mean the end of her stint at Jewel’s.

Men didn’t come here for drama. They came here for the illusion of willing and able women. They thought it was their prerogative to treat the strippers like objects of desire that could star in their dirtiest, filthiest fantasies, if they just had the right amount of cash in their wallets.

Michael should know. He was a regular. Or at least he had been until a few months ago, because recently he could barely dredge up the motivation to come to his favorite strip club on his usual Friday night.

Ever since he first saw her—a fuck-up of epic proportions—he hadn’t been able to get her out of his mind. And the only fantasies he had starred a certain blonde bombshell. Damn it all to hell.

The woman who his brothers were talking about was irritating as all get out. And that was as politically correct as he was going to get about Molly Rogers.

Michael’s mouth set into a thin, flat line as the thought of her name alone made excitement pump through his blood without warning. Excitement that had persistently eluded him over the last half hour.

He didn’t want his body to react this way. Nothing would ever come from lusting after the woman. He was as likely to get his hands on her as he was to catch a puff of the special-effect smoke that rolled around the stripper stage and that was part of the club’s carefully crafted reality of haze, low lighting and significant amounts of alcohol that was supposed to turn the ordinary into extraordinary and loosen the male clientele’s inhibitions along with their wallets. Too bad Michael was stone-cold sober. Another epic fail. One he had brought on himself.

Who in their right mind took their car to a strip club? Only him. Only because he hated commuting in overcrowded subways, was successful enough as senior partner of his own company to not have to settle for public transportation, and didn’t actually plan to spend his Friday night in this fine establishment, until he learned of his brothers’ plan for the evening. Car or no car, Michael couldn’t pass up the opportunity to watch his brothers explain to their girlfriends what they were doing in a strip club. The fireworks were going to be epic.

Ready to pour some oil onto the kindling and hopefully distract himself from the one face that stuck in his mind like glue, he let his gaze stray back to the dancer on stage. He gave the curvy redhead in her minuscule baby-doll dress a lingering look he didn’t feel. “I changed my mind. She’s actually pretty fucking amazing. As you would see for yourself if you weren’t too chickenshit to turn around.”

Edward gave a laugh. “Forget it, man. I know you. I’m not going to fall for that. Much better view from this angle.”

“Safer, you mean,” Michael needled him, not bothering to follow Edward’s gaze. He could hear the female party at his back in all its noisy glory. They had arrived at some point after Michael and his brothers and their laughter was piercing the music that was pumping around them at regular intervals. It seemed that Lexa, Angie and their pole-dancing friends were enjoying the night of their lives.

Edward shrugged his shoulders. “That, too.”

“You know what you two are, right?” Michael tilted the neck of his soda bottle in a silent toast. “Pussy-whipped.”

Neither of his brothers dignified him with a response. As if either of them could dispute the fact. Ha. The only reason Edward and Jack had even dared to set foot in the strip club was to keep an eye on their girlfriends. And Michael understood the sentiment behind the move—any woman entering a strip club was likely to be subjected to a lot of unwanted scrutiny, not something Jack and Edward wanted to let happen. But the fact that they kept their backs turned toward the stage and their eyes firmly away from the dancers spoke volumes about who was wearing the pants in their relationships.

“I feel sorry for you.” Michael sighed.

“No need,” Edward drawled. “At least we weren’t too chickenshit to go after what we wanted.”

Michael tried hard not to glare. His brother had it all wrong. He did not want Molly Rogers. His body just hadn’t gotten the memo yet.

He decided to play dumb. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“Oh, good.” Edward leaned back, steepling his fingers over his stomach. “Then you won’t be interested that you don’t know who I’m talking about is part of the girls group and currently being propositioned by two guys at the bar.”

Michael didn’t even hear his brother’s laugh, or Jack’s must have forgotten the coasters, until he was already halfway to said bar.


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