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Chapter 1

ARE YOU SURE THIS is the place?” I stepped out of Annie’s car into the cold January night. My hand lingered on the passenger door as though I might suddenly pull it wide open again and dive back inside.

The bar looked more like a dockside warehouse than a building. A stiff wind could blow it over. More motorcycles than cars sat parked in front of the tin-walled structure. The place was crowded. There was no real rhyme or reason to the parking situation. No lines or curbs marked where to park. It was just a massive free-for-all.

“Yep,” she answered. “This is it. Maisie’s.” She waved to the red neon sign positioned at a crooked angle. Despite the sweet-sounding name, the bar looked about as innocent as . . . well. Not me.

“You sure there’s not another Maisie’s?” One that didn’t look like it could give you tetanus just by walking through the door.

“Look.” She motioned to a nearby Lexus parked between a pickup and a rusted Pinto, her breath puffing like fog from her lips. The luxury vehicle was about as out of place in the lot as we were in our skinny jeans and designer coats. She walked a few steps closer to the vehicle, her boot heels crunching over the snow-covered gravel. “It’s Noah’s car.” Noah. Annie’s latest obsession and the reason we were even here.

Nodding, I buried my hands in my coat pockets and fell into step beside her, trying to pretend that I wasn’t totally out of my element. I was all about a good time, after all. That was my rep. Nothing too wild for me. Not even a biker bar.

Still, I tried to imagine my two best friends coming here with me. It would never happen. Even if Georgia and Pepper didn’t have boyfriends who kept them occupied, this wasn’t their scene.

It’s not really yours either.

True. I wouldn’t find my type here. No one to flirt with. Definitely no one to take back to the dorm. Maybe one of the guys in Noah’s fledgling band would qualify.

Sighing, I looked over at Annie just as she parted the front of her coat and seized both of her enormous br**sts and adjusted them, making sure her cle**age was optimally displayed within the deep V of her too-small sweater. I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel with her, but there wasn’t anyone else to hang out with tonight. Georgia was out with Harris. Pepper and Reece invited me to stay in and watch a movie with them, but that always made me feel a little lonely. Isolated even though I was among friends. They were in love and it was in everything they did. Every word. Every touch. And yes. They were constantly touching each other—my presence the only thing stopping them from getting naked. It was enough to turn my stomach. But hey. Better them than me.

Love was losing control. And I never lost control. I just made it look like I did—hooking up with different guys every week—but I was always fully cognizant of my actions. In charge every moment along the way.

Sighing, I tucked a short strand of hair behind my ear. Even Suzanne, my go-to wing-girl of late, had a date tonight. All my friends had—or were close to having—boyfriends. Considering that was the last thing I wanted, I was stuck with the likes of Annie. Not the nicest girl I’d met in my two years at Dartford but she was the only one available. Since I wasn’t the kind of person to stay in and stare at the walls or watch reruns of Glee, that left me here. At a biker bar.

The moment we stepped inside, I decided I might have miscalculated what I could handle, because as bad as Maisie’s looked on the outside it was way worse inside.

Apparently the smoking ban was ignored here because the air was thick with the stuff. My virgin lungs seized and I coughed. As wild as I got, I didn’t smoke. Cigarettes or anything else. The worst thing I put in my body was a Taco Bell burrito. My tearing eyes squinted into the haze.

The average patron was male, over thirty, and sporting a beard and tats that didn’t especially smack of quality. Patches that looked gang related decorated their denim jackets and vests. Not that I could vouch for the authenticity of said patches, but I once watched a special on the History Channel about biker gangs and these looked legit to me.

“Annie,” I murmured, hovering in the doorway. “Are you sure about this?”

“What?” She blinked. “This is the kind of place all the great bands get their start.”

I shook my head, and said in a deceptively casual voice, all the while my eyes scanning the room, “This is the kind of place you get knifed.”

I always did this. Watched. Assessed. I might appear carefree, but my mind was always working, always weighing and considering. I had to be this way. It’s how I made sure I never ended up in a situation that I couldn’t escape. Like before.

She rolled her eyes. “I never thought you would be such a wimp. C’mon. Let’s get a table.”

I wasn’t a wimp, but every move, every decision I made was calculated. I partied at places I knew. Mulvaney’s, Freemont’s, the familiar frat houses. I only fooled around with guys I knew, too. Even if they were strangers, I knew them. Because I knew their type. They were all the same. Easy to read. Easy to control.

Weaving through tables after Annie, it was clear there weren’t guys like that here. No. These guys looked like they’d just been released from the penitentiary. Burly and tattooed with eyes that followed us like hungry wolves. Nobody controlled them.

I stared straight ahead as if I didn’t see them. Didn’t feel their stares.

We took a table near the stage, sliding off our coats and hanging them on the backs of our chairs. Noah and his band were already performing. They weren’t very good, but I didn’t think the bar was set very high here. Just the same, I think Noah and his guys would have been better off performing something other than an old Depeche Mode song. The patrons who did pay attention didn’t look impressed.

Annie clapped loudly—the only person—as they finished one song and slid into the next. Noah winked down at her.

“Isn’t he great?” she called over to me.

“Yeah.” I winced as his voice cracked midsong. Even if I could forget that he was singing Depeche Mode in a biker bar, he was dressed in a striped button-down polo and looked like he’d just rolled out of the Gap.

“So how did he get this gig, anyway?”

Annie didn’t answer. She clasped her hands together and swayed in her seat. I rolled my eyes and searched for the waitress, hoping she would be making her way to us soon. Mind-numbing alcohol sounded like a good plan.

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