The fifth book in the EVER AFTER series by Stephanie Hoffman McManus is now live!
The first book in the series will be free till September 14th, so get your copy now!
At twenty-one, Claire Preston knows her dream of becoming one of the top dancers with the most prestigious ballet company in the country is within reach.
Every night Damien “Spade” Slater lives out his dream on stage, playing hard and then partying harder.
Both are so far from the small town pasts they left behind and the people who said they’d never make it.
She’s disciplined, determined, focused . . .
He’s Rock ‘N’ Roll’s current favorite bad boy and the last single man standing in Ashes and Embers now that the rest of the band has settled down . . .
She follows the rules . . .
He believes rules were meant to be broken . . .
So what happens when she decides to break them, when one night, one reckless decision costs her that dream she’s held onto for so long? What happens when the only person she can turn to for help is the last person in the world she thinks she can depend on?
“You did it, Claire! You were amazing,” Kiera thrust the colorful drink into my hands, contents unknown and probably better off that way.
“I can’t believe it. It was so incredible. I want to feel that every night.” My first night dancing principal had been amazing, more than amazing. I didn’t know what that word was, but that’s how I felt. I’d worked my ass off these past few weeks. No, months. No, I’d worked my ass off for the past fourteen years, all in anticipation of tonight.
“You were incredible. The New York City Ballet is lucky to have you. You’re the best dancer they’ve got.”
I didn’t know if that was true, but it felt good to hear it, even if it was just my best friend saying it, and I had got the lead in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Kiera was right, I deserved to celebrate tonight. Tomorrow I could go right back to working my ass off, but tonight I was going to cut loose and enjoy the moment, enjoy that out of all the amazing dancers I’d been up against, they chose me, and tonight I showed everyone why. It was everything I’d ever wanted.
I tipped the drink back, and my face puckered as the tart alcohol hit my tongue. I wasn’t much of a drinker, ever. My first drink had been three months ago on my twenty-first when Kiera insisted I let her drag me from club to club throughout the city.
I didn’t party in high school like most of the other kids. I wasn’t very social at all back then. I still wasn’t, which is why Kiera was the only real friend I’d made since moving to New York three years ago. I danced, and I took it seriously. I had to if I wanted to be taken seriously as a dancer. It meant giving up most of my free time and devoting hours every day to conditioning and training, but tonight had proved that it was all worth it. Every school event and dance that I’d ever missed. Every date I turned down. Every blister, bruise and sore muscle. It was all worth it.
I tipped the cup again, and this time emptied its contents down my throat. It burned a little and I still wasn’t accustomed to the taste of alcohol, but I enjoyed the warmth that spread through my belly when it hit my stomach. I was determined to have a good time tonight. That meant getting out of my own head, where I constantly worried and stressed over every little thing I did. Kiera gave a little cheer and then tossed back a shot of whatever she had.
It didn’t take long for the alcohol to do its job. When Kiera grabbed my hand and started pulling me out onto the dance floor, I went willingly, excited even. The club Dj knew what he was doing and the dance floor was a mass of energized, sexually charged, sweaty bodies all getting lost in the rhythmic thump of the bass.
I let out a soft giggle as we joined them and the music started moving through me. Kiera’s grin was huge as she started moving her hips and throwing her arms up. The music pulsed through me, bringing everything to life. It wasn’t long before I felt the ache in my feet from these stupid heels Kiera made me put on, but that was nothing compared to some of the things I had put my poor feet through over the years.
Eventually Kiera pulled on my hand and mouthed “bathroom,” before tugging me back through the crowd. The place was packed. I don’t even think I’d realized just how crowded it had become until we were fighting our way toward the ladies’ room. Two other girls stood at the sink, fixing their makeup when we pushed inside. Kiera quickly claimed the one unoccupied stall and I stood there, out of the way of the door in case someone else shoved it open.
“Did you see the way he looked at me? I swear, I think I got pregnant from just that look,” one of the girls at the mirror gushed.
“Shit, I know. What I wouldn’t give to have his babies, or any of their babies. Hell, I’d do every last one of them, or all them together,” her friend said, yanking the top of her dress down to expose more cleavage.
“Me too. I just can’t believe they’re here at this club. Fuck, I hope it’s our lucky night.”
“I don’t know how we’d even get close enough to them to do more than look with all those people around them.”
“We only need to get close enough for them to look. All we gotta do is get them to see us.”
Kiera, who wasn’t shy at all and had no problem butting into people’s conversations, came out of the stall and asked, “Who’s here?” as she joined them at the sinks.
“Ashes and Embers,” cleavage girl told her.
“No, shit!” Kiera looked at her.
“Yeah, the whole band is here. Showed up about half an hour ago, but they’re secluded in some VIP section.”
“That’s not going to stop us,” the other one grinned. “I’ve got my eyes set on Kyden. He’s so fucking gorgeous.”
“Do you think Ace and Spade will notice these?” Cleavage girl shoved her boobs out and pulled the dress down farther until I was pretty sure we were going to have some nip slippage on our hands. “I’ve heard they like to share girls. I’m hoping for double the fun tonight.”
Kiera looked at them like they were both idiots. “You guys know Kyden and Ace are both married right?”
“So,” they said in unison.
“That doesn’t mean anything. They’re rock stars. They probably hook up after all their shows. It’s what they do. No guy can resist that many girls throwing themselves at them every night. They can have any girl they want. They’re not going to settle for just one.”
Kiera dried her hands and then, still looking at them like they were idiots, said, “Have you seen pictures of their wives? I’d do them and I’m not even a les.”
“But Ky’s wife is pregnant, so she’s like fat right now. I’m sure he’s looking for something else tonight.”
“She’s pregnant because he likes to do her. That’s how that works, but good luck with your Slut Mission Impossible,” Kiera turned, ignoring their muttered, “bitch” and I followed her out of the bathroom trying not to laugh.
“Those girls are so dumb,” she said once we were back out in the crowd. She spun around in a slow circle, craning her neck to look over the heads of everyone around us.
“Who are you looking for?”
“The band, duh, who else?”
“You just got done saying those girls are dumb, and now you want to go throw yourself at them?”
“No, I just want to see them. Don’t you?”
“I don’t know, I guess.”
Her eyes snapped to mine incredulously. “You guess? Come on, C.”
“Okay, it would be cool, but I doubt we’ll be able to if they’re hiding out in some VIP section.”
“Well it doesn’t hurt to look. Come on,” she grabbed my arm and started dragging me closer to the middle of the room and the dance floor.”
“Do you seem them?” she asked, stopping when we had a better view.
“I don’t know, what do they look like?” Again her eyes met mine in disbelief.
“For fuck’s sake, really C?”
“What? I’ve seen them on magazines and I think I’ve watched one of their music videos, but it’s not like I follow them on Twitter or anything.”
“You don’t even have Twitter, Claire.”
“I know, that’s my point. I have better things to do than stalk celebrities online.”
“Whatever, just look for four hot guys.”
“There’s like a hundred hot guys here, Kier.”
“Fine, look for the four hottest guys you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Like scary hot, like make you want to hand over your precious V-card with one look, kind of hot, and that’s them.” I smacked her. “Oww. What? I’m serious.”
“You’re going to have to lose it sometime C, and trust me, when you see these guys, you won’t want to wait anymore.”
“Well, I don’t see them. Let’s just go dance.”
“Fine, whatever, but we’re doing shots first,” she grumbled and we managed to push our way to the bar. I let Kiera order since I had no idea what anything was. When I heard her order four of something I thought she was nuts, but when the bartender lined them up, two in front of each of us, she just looked at me expectantly and picked up her first one. “Come on, C. Don’t think, just do it.” I didn’t know who was more insane, her, or me for listening to her. We took our shots and then took our places back out on the dance floor amongst the mass of sweaty, grinding bodies that seemed to have multiplied while we were in the bathroom.
Once again, we found ourselves getting lost in the music, ignoring the guys that tried to crowd around us. Every once in a while I saw Kiera’s eyes dart around like she was still hoping to catch a glimpse of the band. A while later, she gestured that she was going back to the bar. I didn’t know how she could possibly handle anymore. The shots we’d done and the drink from earlier were hitting me hard. I let her go, and continued to dance, but she wasn’t gone thirty seconds before a warm body pressed into me from behind. The hands that landed on my hips were very large and obviously male. It wasn’t the first time tonight that a guy had tried it, but when I spun around to face him and tell him that I wasn’t interested in having a dance partner for the night, my words got caught in my throat. The guy that stood before me was definitely large and very male. He was over six foot, and all lean muscle. I could see his well defined arms and chest even under the tee and woven button-up that hugged his torso. But it was his face that left me momentarily stunned.
I wouldn’t say I had a specific type, but I’d always preferred the clean-cut guys. There was nothing clean-cut about this one. Not the wild and messy hair that was styled into a semi- fauxhawk, or the barbell through his brow and gauges in his ears, and definitely not the tattoos I could see peeking above his collar, but he was absolutely gorgeous.
He was more than gorgeous. He was easily the hottest guy I’d ever seen in my life, like scary hot, like . . . oh crap. He was one of them . . .
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