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Lori looked over the fence at Mike and snorted. "We're getting married in three months, Mike."
"All the more reason to do it now instead of later. Divorce is expensive." He simply stared at her levelly, his wide-set green eyes revealing exactly what he thought of Dirk. Mike Ryan hadn't ever liked Dirk it was one of the few things the two friends had ever seriously disagreed on.
Lori just arched a brow at him and replied, "I don't plan on getting a divorce."
"He doesn't make you happy. You all but said that."
"He does too," Lori muttered, turning around and leaning against the fence. Crossing her arms over her chest, she stared at the half-finished flower bed. She wasn't pouting. Seriously. Dirk did make her happy.
She wanted more from him.
"If he made you happy, you wouldn't look so damn depressed right now."
A thick hank of blonde hair fell into her eyes and she shoved it back with a grimy hand, leaving a streak of garden soil on her forehead. "Couples have fights, Mike. That's perfectly normal."
"That wasn't a fight, Lori. Fights involve you yelling. Him yelling. Not him talking and you just sitting there, listening and looking like you want to cry. Hell, I've seen that happen four times in the past two months. You seem to be getting more depressed all the time and you want me to believe you're happy?"
A warm hand came up, cupping the back of her neck. His thumb rubbed in slow, comforting circles and Lori had to fight the urge to turn around, bury her face against Mike's chest and wail like a baby. "It's complicated," Lori muttered, blinking away the tears stinging her eyes.
No, it wasn't. Not really. But she wasn't about to tell her buddy Mike that the reason she was miserable was because her fiancé treated her like a child who couldn't think on her own.
Over the past year, Dirk had become more and more controlling. Lori had been having little doubts about things for a while, but lately they weren't little doubts. They were more like Lake Superior-size doubts. Lori hadn't even realized how much he was controlling her until a few days ago.
It was hotter than hell, ninety-five degrees, and the heat index had crept into the triple digits. She was jerking some weeds out of her flower beds, trying to get it done before afternoon came and it got really hot. Curls kept springing loose from her ponytail, and her hair was sticking to her neck and face, falling into her eyes. Usually, come summer, she had her hair trimmed into layers that made it a little more manageable and a lot cooler.
She hadn't this year. She had planned to. She'd even had an appointment but had cancelled it because of Dirk. Just like she had let him talk her out of buying a sporty little Mustang and talk her into buying a Corolla. It gets better gas mileage and it will be a lot easier to maintain.
Other little things here and there. What sort of clothes she should wear. She'd been offered a job at a special needs school. It had involved a pay cut, but she'd really wanted that job. It wasn't enough of a pay cut that it would have caused her problems. Her folks had passed away a few years ago and left her enough money that she could have afforded the cut.
She could have afforded that new Mustang.
He had always been a bit of a control freak, but over the past year Dirk had become more controlling. He tried to tell her what she should wear, how to style her hair, the proper way to clean the house she was feeling more and more like his drudge instead of his fiancée.
But even that wasn't all of it. It was like he was trying to take over her life completely. Make her decisions for her. Even the most intimate ones.
More specifically, Dirk didn't think she knew what she wanted in her sex life and basically tried to control that too. No, we aren't going to the club. No, we aren't going to try this. No, we aren't going to try that.
They had sex one way, missionary, in the bedroom with the lights out. The sex was wonderful, or it used to be until she started trying to convince Dirk to mess around a little more. To loosen up. Now the sex was just okay. Dirk said it was her imagination.
Any time she asserted herself, just a little, it ended up in a fight. Lori was tired of it. And more, although she didn't want to admit it, she had a sinking suspicion that Mike was right.
Mike might not know the whole story but he saw through her façade of happiness. Mom hadn't. Her friends hadn't. And if Dirk had, he didn't care.
Dirk didn't make her happy and he didn't seem too interested in trying to change that.
Mike watched Lori walk away, her tanned shoulders slumped, her head low.
She'd been getting more depressed by the day, it seemed. Today she'd been crying. He could tell by the faint redness in her eyes and it pissed him off something awful.
Dirk was an ass. Up until the past year, he'd been an ass who made Lori happy, but something seemed to have changed that. Mike hadn't seen any signs that Dirk was messing around and Lori said that wasn't it, but there was something.
Lori wouldn't tell him what, and frankly, Mike didn't care.
The only thing he wanted was to see her actually look happy again.
The only thing?
Okay, that wasn't all he wanted. He would love a chance to push her pretty, muscled thighs apart and sink his cock inside her but he wasn't doing that. Sex and friends weren't compatible as far he was concerned.
Especially not the way he liked sex. Lori was the ideal girl next door. Cute, sexy as hell, and funny. She loved the outdoors, loved sports, and as far as Mike was concerned, that was too close to the perfect woman. For him, at least.
She taught kindergarten. She went to church. She was sweet and wholesome, and he wasn't going to risk messing up a friendship by putting the moves on her, even if she hadn't been involved.
Wholesome didn't mix very well with the kind of games he liked. But he still didn't like seeing her look so damn miserable.
"Just dump him," Mike muttered to himself, watching as she disappeared inside.
A week later, Mike's words came back with a vengeance to haunt Lori. She should have listened to him.
If she had listened to him, she wouldn't have had to see this.
Wouldn't have to feel like this.
How can this be happening?
That question kept circling through her mind, but oddly enough, in some part of her, Lori really wasn't that surprised.
Lori stood in the doorway, staring into her shadowed bedroom as tears rolled down her face.
That was her fiancé. The snarling wolf tattoo on his shoulder that she thought was so sexy, the thick sun-streaked blond hair that he kept cut just a little shorter than she liked.
And their neighbor. The pretty redhead with gray eyes and breast implants. Sara Mattingly.
Dirk and Sara. Together.
Sara was on her knees, her ass up in the air, her wrists cuffed at her back and Dirk was pumping back and forth inside her ass, his hands gripping her hips.
The sound of Sara's gasping scream finally pushed Lori to action. Reaching out, she flicked the light on and watched as Dirk turned his head to look at her over Sara's bound body.
Sara was too far gone and had only noticed that Dirk had stopped moving. "Please...please..."
With a brittle smile, Lori said, "Go ahead, Dirk. By all means."
Spinning on her heel, she stalked away.
Things felt surreal now. The gut-wrenching pain had faded, replaced by a distant sort of shock. Weird random thoughts kept darting through her mind and only a few of them were related to what was going on in her bedroom.
Her mind jumped to the conference she had left early and she actually started looking for her car keys, thinking maybe she should just go back there. It was a four-hour drive, but it was only nine o'clock. It would be late when she checked in, but she could still get some sleep and go to the last day of the conference...yeah. Yeah. That would work.
She finally realized she was still holding her keys, the Tinker Bell charm clutched in her hand so hard that the metal bit into her flesh. She stared at the keys for a minute and then shook her head, trying to clear away the thick fog that had wrapped itself around her brain.
"Need to get going," she muttered, shoving her bangs out of her face.
She didn't quite make it to the front door before Dirk caught up to her. "Lori...Lori, wait."
The sound of his voice snapped Lori right out of the nice, comfortable fog. Pain returned, biting and tearing at her heart with razor-sharp claws. With the pain came anger and she spun around to face him as rage bubbled up inside.
Dirk reached for her and light glinted off the titanium bracelet she'd given him for Christmas. She'd spent an arm and a leg on it. He had been wearing it while he fucked their neighbor. For some reason, that made her anger spike irrationally.
Holding up one hand, she whispered harshly, "Don't touch me."
"Lori, please don't go. Let me explain "
"Explain?" she demanded. "There's nothing to explain. I just found my fiancé screwing our neighbor."
"Don't. Okay? Just don't."
Dirk continued to move closer and Lori shifted the keys in her hand, holding them so that her house key protruded between her knuckles as she made a fist. "One more step and you'll be lucky if I don't carve your eyeballs out," she warned, her voice a low, furious snarl.
Lashes flickered over his dark chocolate eyes and Dirk stopped in his tracks. "Lori "
"Shut up!" Her voice broke on the last word and she snapped her jaw shut, waiting until she knew her voice would be level before saying anything else until she knew she could keep the tears in check.
"This isn't the first time, is it?"
Dirk didn't say anything. But they'd been together for three years. Lori knew how to read him, even if he hadn't figured out how to read her. The look on his face was answer enough.
It was bad enough that he was screwing around on her, but considering how she had found them their neighbor was getting the things that Lori had asked for time and again. Dirk had told her each time she wouldn't like it.
Rage and hurt warred inside her, both vying to be let out. Lori didn't know if she wanted to scream or cry. But she wasn't doing either here. Not when she could smell Dirk's sweat and Sara's perfume on his body. And she'd be damned if she let him see her cry.
"I'm leaving," she said icily. "When I get back, I want you both out."
"This is my home, honey." Dirk had that pacifying, soothing tone he used when he thought she was overreacting.
"No. It's mine. It would have been ours in a few more days." On Monday, they had an appointment at the bank to add him to the mortgage and Lori was overcome by a sense of relief as she realized just how close she had come to screwing up her life.
She was damn thankful the appointment wasn't until Monday. "Now, though? It's mine, completely mine and it's staying that way. I want you out."
She turned around and stalked to the door. His hand closed around her right arm and Lori turned, reacting without even thinking. She swung out and punched Dirk square in the nose. Blood spurted and she relished the sight for one second before turning and opening the door.
Her keys were still clutched in her right hand and she knew a second's disappointment that he hadn't grabbed her other arm instead. She would have liked seeing the nasty cut her key could have gouged down his handsome face.
Her voice shook with fury as she said, "If you're still here when I get back, I'll call the cops."
Then she turned on her heel and stalked out.
It had been his experience that the voice of an angry woman carried.
This was no exception. Her voice interrupted Mike's contemplation of the late evening sky and just how damn bored he'd become with his life.
Rolling from the hammock, he sauntered around the side of his house to see Lori striding toward her car, and her jerk-off fiancé chasing her. Dirk Morrigan was naked as a jaybird.
Lori, sadly, was not. She looked furious. Even from where he stood, he could see the light of temper in her eyes.
Mike had overheard the sounds of two people going at it from her house and it looked like Lori had just gotten home. She was supposed to be at some teacher thing in Fort Wayne until Sunday. Using his brilliant powers of deduction, he figured that Lori had interrupted something Dirk would rather she never have known about.
"Dumb ass," he muttered. Not only was Dirk a jerk, he was obviously a stupid one.
Leaning against the white picket fence, he called out, "Y'all got a problem?"
Lori turned her head and stared at him. Even across the yard, he felt the power of her stare clear down to his gut. She had the softest, prettiest blue eyes. But right now, she was so damn pissed, they looked like ice. She stood stiff as a board, her hands clenched at her sides.
"No, Mike," she said, her voice brittle and sharp. She cast a narrow look over her shoulder toward her fiancé and added, "No problem as long as he is gone when I get back."
Mike glanced toward Dirk and drawled, "Might help if he got clothes on first." Then he noticed the swelling coming up around Dirk's right eye and he grinned. "Lori's got a mean left hook, hasn't she? I'd do what she says, unless you want to see if she can aim as well with her knee as she can with her fists."
Dirk opened his mouth, but Lori cut him off. "If he's smart, he'll get everything he can carry out of my house. Come morning, I'm having a bonfire."
Cocking a brow at her, Mike said, "Kind of a dry summer. Might want to think of another way to get rid of his stuff."
"Do you mind, Ryan? Lori and I need to talk."
Glancing toward Dirk, Mike said, "Actually, you need to get some clothes on. And unless your name is listed on the house payment, I think you'd better do what she says."
"This is a private matter, Officer," Dirk snapped.
"It's Detective. And private or not, if she wants you out of her house, you gotta get out." Mike decided this was the most fun he'd had in a long time. He hadn't ever liked Morrigan. Maybe the jerk wouldn't leave willingly. Mike would love to help.
His common sense reminded him it wouldn't look very good if one of the other neighbors reported a domestic disturbance and he was involved, but hell. It wasn't like he'd get this chance again, right? Looking at Lori, Mike asked, "You want him out?"
"Oh, I want him out, all right," Lori said. Then she jerked her car door open and climbed inside.
Dirk started after her, and Mike said levelly, "You make one move toward that car, buddy, and you and me are going to have a go. And I really don't want to wrestle you until you've got some clothes." Baring his teeth in a smile, he said, "But that doesn't mean I won't."
For a minute, it didn't look like Dirk was going to listen. But as Lori pulled away, Dirk swore and turned around, stomping back into the house.
Michael called out, "Be gone in an hour, Dirk."
Dirk turned and flipped him off.
Mike ignored him, focusing instead on Lori's disappearing tail lights.
Well, he sure as hell wasn't bored anymore.
For more than an hour, Lori drove around listlessly. With the window down and Aerosmith blaring, she tried to figure out how long this had been going on. Dirk hadn't been acting any differently, so either he was a hell of a liar or this had not been going on long.
She ended up parked in the parking lot of Exposé.
The club had opened six months ago, and Lori had told Dirk repeatedly that she wanted to go. It's not your kind of club, honey.
Lori knew what kind of club it was.
One of her friends from work was a regular there.
Exposé was a sex club.
She'd heard that damn near any kind of fantasy, no matter how kinky, could be acted out inside those walls. And Lori had a lot of fantasies she wanted to try, but Dirk hadn't ever listened.
Not because he wasn't into it, though. From what she had seen just a little while ago, Dirk was more than into kink. Damn him to hell and back, he knew she'd wanted to try...something. Anything. Hell, with him, nearly everything. She had tried being subtle, then not so subtle, and he hadn't ever listened.
Lori had an image of Dirk pumping against Sara, his cock shuttling back and forth inside the woman's ass. Her stomach twisted, knotting so hard it actually hurt.
He gave it to Sara.
The hot humiliation of it twisted her stomach into such a hard knot that Lori almost doubled over from the pain.
"Not worth it," she told herself. Sooner or later, she'd believe it.
Tears burned her eyes and she dashed them away impatiently, still staring at the discreet lettering of the sign just above the door. The line seemed to be a mile long and as she watched, several couples were turned away. Exposé was a private club. Nonmembers were admitted, but it was at the bouncer's discretion who he let in and who he turned aside.
There was a second entrance, this one with no line.
A man wearing a simple white shirt with a pair of jeans sauntered up to it, his arm wrapped around the waist of a petite brunette. She was wearing a short, black, strapless sheath and a pair of heeled sandals that laced up over her knees. They nodded at the guy watching the second door and walked right in.
The members' entrance.
They'll never let you in.
Even as Lori reached for the handle, she heard those insidious words inside her head. They circled around, repeating themselves over and over as she climbed from the car and started for the line. She doubted her white T-shirt and jeans were what the women usually wore in there, but still, she didn't turn around.
She headed for the back of the line, her hands tucked inside her back pockets. She tuned out the murmur of voices and the hard, steady beat of music pouring from the club as she tried very hard to think of absolutely nothing.
Taking her place in line, she stood there and waited.
When a hand touched her arm, she jumped and spun around, her heart pounding in her chest.
Her friend was grinning, but as she stared at Lori's face, her grin faded. "Honey, what's wrong?"
Lori blinked and shook her head. "Nothing. Just...nothing."
Grace rolled her eyes and said, "Uh-huh. Come on, let's go get a drink and you can tell me all about it."
Resigned, Lori followed Grace into the club. She really didn't want to talk about it but Grace wouldn't take no for an answer. Besides, she could sit at the bar and get a drink. And just the thought of doing something that Dirk wouldn't like was enough to make her smile. Even if it lasted only a few seconds. Copyright © 2009 by Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.
Copyright © 2006 by Shiloh Walker