Chapter One

Chapter One: New Addition

Cassidy

Friday night, by far one of the busiest nights at the Escape Lounge. I pulled my blue Ford Focus into an empty parking space, shifted the gear stick into park, killed the engine and hurriedly slid from the car, mentally preparing myself for the night ahead. I reached back inside for my bag and hooded jacket, a necessary evil in Bailey, even on such a fair June night. It was always chilly in Bailey Springs.

I made my way to the entrance of the small club of which I was part owner and accounting executive. After college, armed with our respective Bachelor’s degrees in modern design and accounting, my friend Allie and I were unable to find jobs which suited our personalities and with which we would be adequately comfortable for any length of time. It’s hard to imagine Allie in an office for any extended period. She was far too flamboyant and free-spirited for such a punishment. I, on the other hand, hated monotony and got bored easily, therefore a nine to five would never be a comfortable niche for me. We both had the idea of starting our own business but were terrified of taking on such a mammoth feat alone, so we decided to do it together with financial help from both our parents and the entrepreneurial guidance of Allie’s dad who was an investment banker.

At 6:30 p.m., the entrance was already packed with patrons waiting to get inside, although the doors did not officially open until 7:00 p.m. I pushed my way through the horde of bodies, not bothering with the pleasantries of an excuse me. No one here really cared anyway. After a while Paul, one of the burly bouncers at the door, saw me and gestured to the crowd to make way. The way was suddenly clear as people shifted to the side and looked eagerly behind to see who was coming.

“Thanks, Paul.” I smiled when I finally got to him. “Looks like the bartenders have their work cut out for ’em tonight, huh?”

“Sure do, typical weekend madness mixed with end of semester college rush,” he responded, giving me an easy smile.

I waved to Jared, the other bouncer working with him, and continued through the door into Escape. I always got a rush when I walked through the opaque glass doors, down the short narrow passage and stepped into the very large oblong room that was the Escape Lounge. Being inside it always made me feel like I was coming home somehow—it was my own little piece of paradise, my sweet escape.

The center of the room was simply an open black-and-white tiled floor space. There were several tall tables and single stools dotting the otherwise vacant area. During opening hours, that space was usually jam-packed with patrons standing around, drinking, dancing and enjoying the musical vibe of our in-house band or DJ. To the far right, all along the wall, were plush white leather seats where anyone desirous of a little rest could escape. To the left was a raised section, cordoned off with black chains. There were several black-and-white booths in that area where special guests were admitted or patrons willing to pay extra for a secluded environment, away from the drunken masses. Behind that area was a small cage-like room which housed the DJ booth. To the front left-hand side was a narrow corridor leading to the restrooms and on the opposite side was the office.

I darted into the office quickly to store my bag and jacket before crossing the black-and-white tile of the dance floor, heading toward the flashing neon lights at the back of the room where the bar was located. I could see Jay stocking the shelves behind the bar with adequate supplies of whatever drinks he thought would be popular tonight. Allie sat on a stool next to the bar doing some paperwork. Across from the bar was the small stage where our live band performed every weekend night. As I approached I could see them setting up and tuning instruments, working out the arrangements for tonight’s performance.

There were four members making up the band. The lead singer was a killer blonde named Roslyn Halley, whose platinum hair perfectly offset her startling blue eyes set in a slim, beautiful face. She was tall and blessed with a slim, willowy build but had curves in all the right places. Rose had a sultry, seductive voice which only added to the allure her beauty already afforded her. Many of the male patrons visited Escape just for a glimpse of Rose’s sexily clad figure. Tonight, black leather leggings hugged her slim hips. They were complemented by an electric pink bra top and matching pink pumps. She had pink highlights in her next-to-white hair which flowed over her shoulders and down her back like a gentle waterfall.

On keyboard was Rose’s twin brother Nicolas. He was just as strikingly beautiful as his sister, possessing the same shockingly blond hair and devastating blue eyes. However, that was where their similarities ended. Their personalities were as different as night was from day. Where Rose was fierce and forthright, Nick was reticent and reserved. He was not much of a talker, preferring to listen and observe his surroundings than contribute to every conversation. When he did speak you could bet your bottom dollar what he would have to say would be worth listening to. It had been quite shocking to all who knew them when he and Allie began a relationship, but they had been going steady and strong now for almost six months.

The drummer was an overgrown teddy bear called Emerson Clearwood. He was about six feet five inches tall and built like a linebacker. His dark head of wavy hair rested on a thick neck that led to impossibly broad shoulders connected to the solid wall of muscle that was his chest. At first sight most people were petrified by the sheer size of Em but after getting to know him it was almost impossible to take him seriously. He had a sweet baby face and a very pleasant disposition, always making jokes and pulling pranks. He was also one of the most caring persons I had ever met. It was no wonder he had caught Rose’s attention instantly. The two had been in a very serious relationship going on two years now.

The fourth member, the guitarist, had formerly been Eric Benjamin, a guy we had all known since high school. However, a few weeks ago he had made the decision to quit the band to pursue other interests and had left the other members in somewhat of a loop. They had made do without a guitarist for a while but had auditioned several candidates throughout that period. They had finally settled on someone earlier this week and Allie was pleased to know that we’d be getting to meet him tonight. I could see his silhouette on the stage with the others but the only distinct feature I could make out was an astounding mat of unruly bronze hair.

Reluctantly I pulled my attention from the stage and focused on Allie and Jay as I walked up to the bar.

“Hola,” I offered quietly.

“It’s about time you got here, what took you so long?” Allie let out in her shrill, bell-like voice.

“Yea, yea, sorry. Made a quick stop at the house, Cathy wanted to talk to me about something. What’d I miss?”

“Nothing, she’s just overreacting as usual.” This came from Jay. I looked up and smiled almost awkwardly in his direction. Jayson Tacoma was a devastatingly handsome Native American, with rich, caramel skin and thick, straight, jet-black hair cropped short on his head. His chiseled features and hard, muscled body were favorites with almost all the female patrons at the club. At the end of every night his tip jar was practically overflowing and his pockets bulging with strips of paper containing phone numbers.

“Hey you,” I said. “Gonna be a killer tonight. The masses are literally chomping at the bit out there.”

He laughed easily. “No worries, I can handle it. Can I get you anything?”

“Nah, I’m good.” I gave him another friendly smile and turned back to Allie. I didn’t make a habit of getting into anything too deep with Jay, not after that night almost a year ago.

“So did you check out the new guy?” I asked Allie.

“I met him briefly, yes. You were supposed to be here so we could talk to him together,” she replied disapprovingly.

“Come on, Allie, drop it okay. I said I was sorry, didn’t I?” I was getting a little irritated by this point.

“Okay. Well, his resume is impressive. He’s been playing since he was eight and was part of another band all through high school, did some solo work in college. He has a degree in music production from Columbia and writes his own songs. He recently moved here from New York. That’s as far as I got.” Allie said all this without pausing for a breath. She was a small bubbling mass of kinetic energy, unable to settle down or sit still for any extended period. The little sprite was petite to the utmost. At about an inch taller than five feet she was almost childlike in her tininess. Her hair was jet black and cropped short, arranged in artful spikes atop her elfin head. Tonight she was dressed in a very short, formfitting, capped-sleeved black dress with black leggings and knee-high, black high-heeled boots.

I let out a short laugh. “That’s a lot, Allie, even for you.”

The band struck up their first selection for the night just as a noise coming from the entrance alerted us that seven o’clock had arrived and the club was now open. Allie and I waved to Jay and the two other bartenders that had joined him as we moved off to take our seats in the secluded area toward the left. We generally stayed in this area for the duration of the night so as to be available if we were needed in our capacity as managers.

The club filled quickly, all areas were packed with bodies in seemingly no time at all. The music was totally on point and overzealous patrons were soon drinking and dancing freely on the dance floor. We mingled among the booths in our section, greeting regulars and VIPs and the night passed before I even registered that time was moving on.

At 2:00 a.m., when the band had rendered their last item, the security team began flickering the lights to indicate to the patrons that it was time to leave. I was downright exhausted, my feet ached from walking around all evening and I kicked off my Converse to give them some breathing space. Barefooted, I oversaw the count off of the cash registers at the bar and then at the door, balanced the books and stored the profits away in the safe behind my desk.

With that taken care of, I returned to the lounge to see that the band had finished packing away the last of their equipment. They descended on the bar for a few drinks on the house before Jake took off for the night, although his team had already left. Rose sat in Em’s lap on a stool, Allie rested on Nick’s thigh where she was standing between his legs, and New Guy sat facing the bar with both elbows on the counter, nursing a beer.

“You guys were awesome tonight,” I offered as I neared them. “The new talent was a welcome addition.” I came to stand next to Allie and Nick and they both looked up to smile at me.

“Cameron Chase, meet Cassidy Samson, my partner in crime here at Escape,” Allie said cheerfully. New Guy spun on his stool in my direction and I was met with the most potent pair of green eyes I had ever had the pleasure to look into. They were riveting, a compelling force that gripped and held my gaze even as I struggled to look away. A tidal wave of emotions crashed through my system as I was held spellbound by those spectacular jade diamonds—surprise, awe, disbelief, lust, pleasure. Never before had I seen anything so lovely.

“Hello.” The sultry rasp of his voice made me blink rapidly. Suddenly the image of the demigod before me struck me with the full force of its intensity. He was breathtaking. A brooding green stare and a perfect nose set among high cheekbones and an angular jawline that added raw masculinity to pure beauty. Atop his head sat a tousle of haphazard, slightly overlong, bronze locks, making him appear gloriously naughty and disheveled. His full lips turned up slightly in a knowing smirk. He was fully aware of the effect he was having on my heart rate.

“Ah, uh, hi,” I stuttered foolishly. I shook my head in an attempt to gather my composure and tried again. “Pleased to meet you, welcome to Escape.” That was much better.

“Something to drink, Cassie?” Jay asked, a weird expression on his face. He probably noticed me eye-fucking New Guy, shit!

“Jack and club soda.” I ordered my usual drink and noticed New Guy raise his eyebrow slightly.

“A whiskey woman, no shit,” he said with a cocky grin.

“Yep, Cassie here is our local badass around here,” Emerson piped up.

“Totally,” Allie chimed in. “She’ll kick your ass faster than Rose can apply lip gloss!” That got the whole group chuckling, whether because of the unlikelihood of me kicking any ass with my slight stature or because Rose did apply lip gloss pretty frequently, I wasn’t quite sure.

“No ass kicking,” I said, glancing at him nervously, “I just know how to hold my waters, unlike these other pansies here.”

“A sailor’s kid?” he asked, looking genuinely interested.

“Cop,” Emerson answered for me.

“Close enough,” he responded and the group laughed again.

The conversation petered out as the two couples went off into their own private realms, successfully shutting the rest of us out. I sat nursing my Jack, staring straight ahead as I watched Jayson wipe down the counters and put away the liquor bottles. Every so often I glanced up to see New Guy—I really need to stop calling him that, I do know his name after all—watching me with unabashed interest in his startling green gaze. Jay kept glancing my way with obvious disapproval on his face which I deftly avoided each time by taking a sip of my drink. Well, this does make for a pretty pickle, doesn’t it?

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