I stared at him as he perused the menu, marveling that he could think so little of the arts when his own daughter was a studio arts major.
“Imagine that,” I murmured.
The waiter appeared then and we placed our orders.
His gaze settled on me then, and even though he had seen me over the holidays he winced at the dyed streaks in my hair. Fortunately, he refrained from commenting. He’d already voiced his disapproval. I was spared from hearing it again.
“So. How’s school?”
“Good.” I sipped from my glass of water. “I’ve been busy on several pieces for the upcoming showcase—”
“Oh, that reminds me. I was talking to Bill Wetherford.”
At my blank look, he added, “Of Wetherford Enterprises?”
I nodded like that rang a bell. He was looking at me like I should know the company.
Apparently he could see I didn’t. “It’s one of the largest toilet paper manufacturers in the United States. Anyway. Turns out Wetherford is interested in creating an in-house design team. And I told him all about you.”
A design team for a toilet paper company? “That sounds . . . interesting.”
Thankfully, our food arrived right then and he became more interested in his prime rib. Conversation was intermittent after that and he took two more calls. I found myself watching Beth as she came in and out of the room, seating other diners. It seemed like she made a great effort not to look my way, and I knew it was because I’d brought up Shaw.
I don’t know why I had mentioned him. We weren’t really friends. Sure, I hadn’t kissed any other guy since I met him, but that was about to change. At least I assumed it would. I doubted a night at a kink club would result in anything less. Annie had texted me and we were on for tonight.
“So. Emerson,” Dad said, clicking his phone shut. “Are you seeing anyone?”
I shook my head and reached for my glass, shoving the image of Shaw from my mind. “No. No one.”
“Good. You’re still young. Best to focus on your studies and get your career off the ground.”
I nodded like that was it. Like that was the reason I wasn’t seeing anyone. The reason I couldn’t let myself have more than empty hookups. The reason I was going to a kink club. It had nothing to do with trying to get a guy out of my system.
I DROVE MY OWN car, my fingers flexing on the leather steering wheel as if finding the right grip would somehow strengthen my shaky resolve. Annie offered to drive, but that was one mistake I wasn’t repeating. My stomach was full of knots as I followed her across town, and I wasn’t sure why. Deciding to go to the kink club was a lot easier in theory. Right now, when it was about to become a reality . . . it was a lot harder than I had expected.
I parked behind Annie on a residential street. The houses were nice, middle-class homes. Two-storied with driveways scraped fresh of snow.
Shaw had texted me off and on through the week . . . even called twice. I ignored him until he finally stopped. Either he had given up or he was just super busy. Pepper had mentioned that Reece went to visit him at work to check out the custom bike he was working on for some rich client, so there was merit in that theory.
Still, as I stepped from my car and locked it, I couldn’t help wondering what he was doing tonight. I couldn’t imagine him spending a Friday night alone, but Pepper hadn’t mentioned that she or Reece had plans with him. Was he at Maisie’s?
“C’mon!” Annie waved at me anxiously. As I hurried to catch up with her, she added, “This isn’t the kind of thing you want to be late to. All the most interesting people are paired up by then.”
Annie turned up the walkway of a two-story home that looked very . . . Well, not the location one would expect to host a kink club.
“This is it?”
“Tonight it is. It changes location every time.”
I sent her a look. “Why?”
She laughed. “I never thought I’d say this, but oh, Emerson. You’re so naïve.” At my continued blank look, she sighed. “So we don’t get raided.”
“Raided? What? Are we walking into a meth house?” I looked around as if I expected the DEA to jump out of the bushes.
She laughed again. “Do me a favor. Don’t sound like such a Girl Scout in there. Or maybe you should. Some of them might like that.”
Misgivings trickled through me as we neared the front door. Music floated from behind it. She stepped up onto the porch ahead of me. When she realized I wasn’t at her side, she started to turn back, but then the front door opened.
A girl dressed from head to toe in black leather stepped out followed by a guy. A guy I knew. And so did Annie.
“Logan,” I breathed. “What are you doing here?”
He looked down at me in surprise from the porch. “Emerson. What are you doing here?”
“Logan,” Annie greeted in a purring voice, sidling close. She stroked a hand along his arm. “I didn’t know you were a member.”
He gave her a distracted look, as if he didn’t remember hooking up with her all that well. “Amber, hey. How are you?”
“Annie,” she snapped. “It’s Annie.” She shot me a look. “I’ll be inside.” That said, she flounced in.
Logan and his friend descended the steps to stop in front of me. He repeated himself. “Em, what are you doing here?”
I looked from the friend back to him. “Same thing you are.”
He shook his head and rubbed at the back of his neck, looking older than his eighteen years as he stared at me in concern. “Look, maybe you should go home.”
His friend dug in her bag, pulled out a cigarette, and lit up. She watched us with mild interest, inhaling deeply.
“Why would I want to do that?”
He leaned a little closer, lowering his voice. “I’m not sure this is the place for you. You don’t want to go in there.”
I laughed, but the sound was forced. “Clearly you don’t know me as well as you think.”
He shared a look with his companion. She watched me in silence, her black fingernails a severe contrast to her milk-white skin as she brought the cigarette to her lips again. She worked her lips, puffing smoke in my direction. Her lips were painted so red they looked almost as dark as her fingernails. Her throaty voice scratched the air. “It’s not for everyone, sweetheart. Maybe you should listen to him.”