How do I even start? I’ve never been great at talking up anything I’ve personally done. I’m just not a self-praise type of person, I suppose. Some might call it humility, I call it “Why Melissa’s book doesn’t sell. Period.” I’ve been brought up not to boast, and to praise others instead of myself. So, how (as a self-published indie author) am I to convince my prospective audience that they should read my book? Well… I haven’t quite figured that part out yet. In the mean time, though, things such as this blog hop brought to us by Precious Monsters certainly do help! I hope.
And so, without further ado, allow me to reward your curious minds with an excerpt from my first novel Deny the Moon. I struggled with picking which part to showcase here but, ultimately, went for one of the moments where Harley makes a decision to break the cycle of her ex’s control over her. I think, to me, it is a pivotal moment where she discovers that she just have what it takes to stand up to him, after all.
I stepped into the small, private, VIP room adjusting my fedora. I pulled the door closed behind me and tugged on the string that held the red curtain open, freeing it to fall over the window as per usual. The mystery of what went on behind closed doors was part of the appeal of the VIP room. It’s what made the people pay the big money. To explore the darker, more exclusive, side of the club.
The interior of the room kept with the promise. Red backlighting ran the entire space of the room, bouncing onto the crimson walls from a small black rail that ran the length of each wall, breaking only for the space of the door. Though the coloring of each private room was different, each one had an overstuffed loveseat, upholstered in the softest velvet, and a small circular stage with a pole running through the center. The floor of the stage was also lit with a red light. The only break in the color scheme was the white light that hung over the loveseat, pointing at the stage to give the customer a good view of their dancer.
A pair of legs stuck out from the shadows of the couch, covered in faded denim jeans. I gave the shadows my best flirtatious smile and walked towards a small table in the corner of the room.
“I’m Harley,” I said awkwardly. Talking to the costumers wasn’t my strong suit. I’d rather just dance and pretend they weren’t real people with real thoughts. I grabbed the small, credit card-sized remote to the stereo and pushed the power button. “Just sit back and relax. I’ll take good care of you.”
The music began to play. A low, heady beat that was commonplace in strip clubs. It was too cliché for my taste but, then again, the music selection wasn’t what drew in the men. I tossed the remote back onto the table and prowled towards the small stage, putting on a show for my customer. Private dances weren’t exactly my cup of tea, but when you had bills to pay you did what you had to do. The VIPs paid well.
“So, do you have anything in particular that you like?” I asked as I grabbed the pole and pulled myself onto the stage slowly, pressing the front of my body against the cold metal.
“Actually,” the man in the darkness said, the timber of his voice making the hairs on my arms stand on end. He pulled his feet out of the light and leaned forward, letting the soft white light spill over his face. My body froze mid-movement, my hand tightening around the pole as my eyes grew wider, “you should know exactly what I like.” The grin that spread across his face was cold and dangerous. “Hiya, Harls.”
“Frank,” I managed to force out on a shaky breath.
Sitting in front of me, on a velvety couch in a closed off room, was a ghost from my past. Or, more accurately, a demon. I was frozen on the spot, staring at him like a deer caught in the headlights. Eleven months I’d been free of him and he still managed to grip me with fear as strongly as the day I left. Just saying his name aloud made my blood run cold.
Frank apparently found triumph in catching me off guard. His lips curled with a look of self-satisfaction as he watched how I reacted to him being there.
“Blonde, huh?” he said finally as he straightened up in his seat, pulling on the collar off his jacket. “Have to say, the darker hair was better but I guess I could get used to it.”
The idea of him being around long enough to get used to anything made my stomach knot.
“What the Hell do you want, Frank?” I finally managed to say, though my voice seemed less confident than I had tried to make it.
Frank simply continued to smile at me, his ruggedly handsome face full of mirth and something much darker. He honestly seemed to be beside himself that we were sitting in the same room together again. He rubbed a hand over the back of his head, which was covered by a black bandana.
“What do I want?” he repeated, dropping his hand to hang between his legs. “Well, I want what I paid for. A dance.”
Alarm bells rang out in my head. I needed to get out of there. Get as far away from him as I could manage. I found myself wishing Jackson worked tonight, so I could run to him and tell him that I was in trouble, but he was still home recovering. Knowing Frank, I wasn’t sure any of the other bouncers were big enough, or strong enough, to take him down. All I knew was the longer I stayed there the more he was going to get into my head and that never ended well for me.
“Go to Hell,” I hissed and I finally managed to peel my white-knuckled grip from the pole and step down off the stage. “Find somebody else to dance for you.”
I turned around and stepped towards the door, ready to make a run for it. Maybe I could withdraw all my cash and get my things out of my apartment before he caught up with me.
“Well that’s fair, I guess,” he said the moment I gripped the doorknob. “Wouldn’t wanna cause problems. I’ll just ask for that pretty little blond you were talking to at the bar.”
My spine went stiff and I stopped halfway through the door, my eyes peering through the cracked door and falling on Liz. She was laughing with the bartender. Carefree and completely unaware of the danger she was in because of me. He knew he had my attention now.
“She’s cute. Small. Doesn’t look like she’d give me too hard a time. Tell me, Harls… she a good friend of yours?”
The words were fairly innocent but, coming from Frank, I understood the underlying threat they held. I stared at Liz for a moment, my jaw clenched. Even though I’d been angry with her this morning, I couldn’t let him hurt her. She hadn’t been spying on me for him. I knew that, now that he used her as leverage against me. I closed my eyes as his question loomed in my head. He had watched us and he was using it to his advantage.
“Fuck!” I growled, pounding the side of my fist into the wall just inside the room. I took a step back and slammed the door behind me, rattling the decor hanging on the wall.
“One fucking dance,” I said through clenched teeth. “Then you get the Hell out of my life.”
I walked back to the stage and Frank’s awaiting grin. I’d have loved nothing more than to slap that smile right off his face but that would only make matters worse. I wanted to get him out of there not give him a reason to continue to fuck with me.
Frank sat back and got comfortable on the couch as I stepped back on the stage. I hadn’t had this much trouble getting my head into dancing since my first night. It was hard to be sexy when I wanted to run away screaming from the person I was dancing for. I tried to keep my breathing even as I wrapped my fingers around the pole and tip-toed around it. I closed my eyes and let the sound of the music fill my head, anything to push the thought of the man watching me from my mind, but I still found myself having to force one foot in front of the other.
“No,” his voice cut through the music, stopping me before I even got started.
I looked past the pole to him, waiting for him to elaborate on why he stopped me now. He shifted in his seat again, leaning forward.
“I don’t want a damn robot dancing for me. Dance like you did on stage earlier. Seduce me.”
I stared coldly at him, wondering now just how long he had been watching me. An hour? All week? Or had he been longer? Had he only let me believe I had finally gotten away from him? I stepped in front of the pole and started to close my eyes again when he made a disapproving sound, stopping me once more.
“Eyes open,” the teasing was gone and now his voice held a more serious tone.
It was lower, commanding, and held just a hint of that dark desire that was pure carnal instinct. It was the tone he used when he wanted me to do exactly as he instructed. To please him. I bit back a few words that I wanted to throw at him. Fine. He wanted me to dance for him? I would give him a dance like any other meaningless Joe Schmoe and get the fuck up out of there. I pushed against that last shred of iron will I had and forced myself to do what needed to be done.
My hips began to sway deliberately and I locked eyes with him. A deep, penetrating stare in which I pushed every bit of cold, seething anger I could muster. I wanted him to feel the burning hatred I held for him. My body moved slowly, drinking in the music, and I kept my eyes on him.
I concentrated on how good-looking he was instead of the crazy he hid behind those honey-brown eyes and strong jaw. The more I allowed myself to do that, the easier it became to turn on the sex appeal. It wasn’t so long ago that staring at that face would drive me wild. He was sexy as hell. Rough, rugged, oozing masculinity from every pore. I thought about his broad back and shoulders, the way his body tapered into narrow hips, the rock hard biceps under smooth tan skin. Moreso, I remembered how that skin tasted. The earthy, salty flavor of him as I’d nibble the underside of his jaw. The way his day’s growth of beard scratched over my tongue and lips.
My inhibition slipped away, layer by layer, and I rolled my body against the steel pole, bringing a knee up with my eyes still fixed on him. I twirled once around the pole before stepping down in front of Frank, going to a knee and dropping down so that I crawled slowly towards him. I watched as the simple movement made him shift in his seat again, and I could see from there that he was enjoying the show now.
When I reached his feet I pressed my hands to his shins and sat back on my legs, sliding my hands slowly up to his knees. With a soft, sensual grin of my own, I grabbed his knees and pushed them apart so I could slide my body between them. He let out a restrained breath and I let my hands rub and explore over his legs and thighs, working him up like he was just another paying customer.
Still, try as I might, I knew he was much more than that. In the years we had been together there had been a lot of heat and passion. When we first got together we couldn’t keep our hands off one another and I let the memories of those distant days fuel the dance.
He felt just as I’d remembered. Solid. Strong. I let my fingers play over every inch of rock-hard muscle through his jeans and t-shirt, remembering days when we were the only thing on each other’s minds.
The more I stepped into my memories, the easier it became to be the temptress I was being paid to be. It was a fine line I walked. Where it helped me get in the right frame of mind to get this over with, it also brought me dangerously close to the feelings I had once held for him. Feelings I stuffed into that psychological back pocket to keep from running back to the back of his bike. I knew I needed to take care not to step over that quickly-thinning line of control.
I pushed myself up to my feet, sliding the front of my body over the front of his. The feel of his body beneath mine made my stomach clench. He felt like home. The one and only place I had ever felt as though I belonged. The way his neck and shoulders tensed as I slithered over him, though, showed me that I was giving him exactly what he asked for. I was holding up my end of the deal and, in my own little way, exerting my own type of control over him.
I reached eye level with him and pulled my knees up, sliding them on either side of his hips until I was straddling his lap. I rolled my hips, pressing our lower bodies together until I felt the hard length of him rub me through the precariously thin shorts I was wearing. It threw my head back, and I had to grab his shoulders to keep from falling backwards.
He made soft, eager sounds as I rolled against him to the sultry rhythm of the music. Using him to keep me balanced I bent back, my spine arching deeply, and continued the provocative hip rolls, mimicking sex as closely as I could with my clothes still on.
I felt a hand slide over my belly, barely touching my skin at first, but as it curved around my side it clung more desperately. My skin drank in the rough, calloused hands that rubbed small, greedy circles on my sides, guiding my body into a fluid rhythm. His skin was always so much warmer than my own and the more friction he made against my skin the hotter his touch grew.
I thought I might melt in his hands.
Before I could stop myself, my excitement came out in a throaty groan and Frank reciprocated with a whispered grunt of his own. He must have taken it as something permissive because he sat forward, grabbing me at my ribs, and pulled me towards him. His face pressed against the soft mounds of flesh peeking out over my bra and tugged at them with lips and teeth. His hands slid around my back and up my spine, his fingers tangling into my hair.
He growled into my chest with a gentle tug on my hair, “You belong with me. Your body knows it.” Though his voice was muffled against my body, the mix of desperation and triumph rang clear in my ears. “Let’s get outta here, get you back where you belong.”
Just as I was riding along that dangerous edge, my eyes flew open. My body stilled under his hands as his words replayed over in my head. I stared down at the top of Frank’s head, his face still buried in the softness of my breasts, lost in his desires.
Where I belonged? Controlled and pushed around by a ruthless, sadistic criminal? I had lived that life for so long that it had all seemed perfectly normal. Get up in the morning, play a con to get a little bit of gas money, and head out to a new town by dusk. Did I belong with Frank and his pack? The thought of the others, of the wolves, helped to push me back into my head and clear the haze of desire.
Pressing both hands on either side of his shoulders I pushed away from Frank’s hungry lips, sliding my feet back down to the floor. With a measurable step backwards, I stared coldly into his unfocused eyes and let all that burning desire frost over once again.
“Belong with you? Don’t you mean to you?” I pulled my bra strap back over my shoulder and took another step away as Frank sat back, running his fingers across his lower lips as if he was trying to wipe the feel of my skin from it. He looked just as lost as I had felt moments ago curled up on his lap. Perhaps it ran both ways. Or maybe Frank was just another horny asshole and any girl would have made his head spin.
“Get out of my fucking life, Frank. Stay away from me or I’ll run to the police and tell them everything.”
With the threat shaking on my voice, I turned and all but ran to the door. As my fingertips grazed the doorknob, the air around me stirred seconds before I crashed into the door, a solid weight pressing against my back. My cheek crushed against the soft curtain that covered the window and hid what was happening in the small room from the public eye. His arms encircled me, holding me in that one small space between him and the door.
“You’ll tell the police, huh?” Rough fingertips pressed against the side of my face as he spoke, his voice a low, threatening rumble. “And what exactly will you tell them, Harls? That you watched men turn into wolves? Or that we killed people while you watched and did nothing to stop it?”
“Please,” I managed to whisper through the pulse in my throat.
His fingers slid up the side of my face into my hair and pressed my head harder into the door.
“See, I don’t think they’d believe you,” his breath was hot on my cheek now, his lips so very close. “And if they did… well eleven months is an awfully long time to confess to murder.”
“I didn’t kill them,” I said in disbelief. He was going to pin it on me?
“No, but you were an accessory. You could’ve went to the cops when you got back to town but you didn’t. You helped us get away with murder.”
I forced my eyes back open, but I saw nothing but his shadow. If he was trying to intimidate me with his size and power, well, he was doing a damn good job of it. Still, I had seen this show many times. I swallowed hard, still trying to come out on top of his threats with a little more strength than I had shown him before.
“You can’t scare me anymore, Frank,” I almost believed it myself.
A bone-chilling laugh erupted in my ear.
“Is that so?” Frank closed the, already minute, distance between us and breathed in deeply, his nose buried deep in my hair. It was odd and completely unsettling. Quite frankly, it scared the shit out of me. After a few silent moments of him smelling me, he pressed his lips to my ear and whispered, “You sure smell scared. It’s intoxicating.”
He grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me around to face him making my stomach lurch. Fear held my voice captive as I stared into his eyes. An amber glow flickered behind his irises, like a candle behind stained glass.
“Let me tell you how it’s going to go down, babe. You’ll go tell the pigs about what happened. I’ll get arrested, taken in for questioning, and then they’ll start asking me who helped. You with me so far?” His eyes bore into me, searching for my tell. Something that would let him know he had me where he wanted.
His thumbs kneaded my collarbone as he continued, “See, I’ve been around the block with cops, babe. They’re gonna want names. So, being the helpful guy that I am, I’ll tell them everything. How you knowingly, and willingly, went with me and my guys to a drug deal, how you didn’t even try to stop me and just watched as I killed some poor bastard, and how you helped me cover it up. Then BAM!” he clapped his hands centimeters from my nose, making me jump, “they’ll slap a bare of bracelets on you, too, and drag you off to prison just like the rest of us. By the time you get out, you’ll be good and ready for some of me.”
My eyes met his again, full of the cold hatred I had built up over the last year. It was no surprise he would spin a yarn like that. Embellishment was just another talent in Frank Essex’s bag of tricks. Though I’d innocently happened across the entire situation, he’d twist it into some ugly tale of aiding and abetting.
My lips curled back, exposing my teeth with a hiss, “You are unbelievable.”
A smile stretched over his face but there was nothing friendly about it, “Thanks. I am pretty awe-inspiring, aren’t I?”
His hands slid over my neck and up my face, brushing a hair from my forehead and holding my face towards him, forcing me to stare into his handsome, smug face, “That’s option A. Option B… you forget about the past year and come back with me. Where. You. Belong.”
Each word he spoke was a breath closer to my lips, raspy with growing desire, and before I could take in a full breath his lips were crushing against mine.
He didn’t kiss me so much as feed at my mouth, his tongue sliding between my lips and filling it. I cried out around his tongue, trying to pull away, but his hands gripped the sides of my head roughly, holding me in place so he could ravish my mouth fully. Frank’s desire poured into me and I found myself caught between wanting to kiss him back and wanting to bite his tongue off.
If one good thing could be said for Frank, it was that his was an amazing kisser. There were times when I felt starved for the taste of his lips. One kiss could make me forget everything I had been thinking or worrying about and leave me in a state of bliss for hours. But that was before, and this was now. All I wanted now was to escape his hungry kiss before I said yes to option B.
It was almost an impossible feat. His hands roamed over my small frame, exploring places that hadn’t been touched in quite some time. The line of his body pressed against mine and I could feel the length of him grow against my hip, pushing just that much harder at the thin sheet of glass that was my will.
My body betrayed my mind, reacting to his touch. It ached for him, having missed his attentions for so long. If I hoped to break free of his influence, I would have to do something quick. Something to snap me out of it before it consumed me.
I pushed against his shoulders, breaking the kiss. His eyes were half-lidded and unfocused, drowning in lust and desire. With every ounce of strength I could gather, I pulled my hand back and slapped him sharply across the cheek.
Stunned with the force of the slap, Frank stared down at the floor between us, still pinning me to the wall with an arm on each side of me. He glanced up at me, the silence stretching on for far too long, and then the corner of his mouth turned up into a wicked grin.
“Oh, baby, you do remember what I like,” he taunted as he brought a hand to his cheek and rubbed at the pink welt my palm had left behind.
This cat and mouse game was getting old. Beyond the incessant need to make me as miserable as he could, there had to be something else keeping him there. He had to have known I wouldn’t go back to him willingly. So why was he still there toying with me? What did he really want?
Tired of the games, I ignored his comment and asked him exactly what I was thinking, “What do you want from me, Frank? The truth.”
The humor receded from his eyes and he looked at me as if I’d surprised him. The falter in his expression told me he wasn’t just here for me. There was something else after all and I had called him out on it. Just a small wrench thrown into his plans but, as usual, he recovered quickly. His hands dropped to his sides, allowing me a little more breathing room, and he shrugged his broad shoulders.
“Fine. Down to business it is,” he locked eyes with me and I saw that all the humor and playfulness was long gone. “You took something of mine when you left. Something very precious to me. Give it back and I’ll let you get on with your glamorous little life here.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh,” he shook a finger at me, taking a step back with his mouth twisted in an annoyed sneer, “see you really shouldn’t lie to me, Harls. You took the Beast, remember? Hopped right up in my seat and drove like a bat out of Hell. Probably thought it was pretty funny too, huh? The guys sure thought it was,” he stepped back into me until we were nose to nose, his breathing faster, “but let me tell you something… I didn’t!”
He screamed the last word into my face, making my heart stop a beat. I prayed that he had been loud enough to catch the attention of someone outside but, as minutes passed and no one came, I let go of that small glimmer of hope. No one was going to come to my rescue. It was too loud out in the main room to hear any of the screaming back and forth. The curtains were drawn down to cloak us from sight. As far as André knew, I was giving him a hell of a party and making him more money. No one would come until one of us left the room or the club emptied. Whichever came first.
I let my face go slack, sliding into bored indifference. I was growing tired of the meek, helpless girl I used to be and the new, more confident woman was ready to get this shit over with.
“Aww, what’s the matter, baby?” I spit the word out like a bitter venom, “The other kids making fun of you now that your girl decided to get off the bitch seat?”
“Harls, I fucking run the pack, remember? The last guy that tried to prove something to me is rotting in the dirt. No one is stupid enough to run their mouth at me. No one but you,” He brought his hand up to my face, stroking my cheek slowly. I tried to move out of reach but there really wasn’t anywhere to go.
“Just give me the bike. Or I’ll send some of the guys to get it.”
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you the number of the chop shop I sold that piece of shit to. Maybe you can find all the pieces and Humpty Dumpty that shit back together again.”
His nostrils flared at the mention of his bike being in pieces. I could see the force it took to control his urge to lash out at me. Anger shifted into mild amusement and the look made me swallow hard.
“Nice bluff,” he said. “I almost bought it. Quit fuckin’ with me, baby. Just tell me where it’s at.”
“I already told you; I sold it.”
“Hmm. Don’t remember,” I said.
My heart was racing now. I knew what would happen if Frank found the guy I had sold his bike to. It didn’t matter that he was innocent. Frank would work him up just for touching his Beast.
Amusement shone on his face now as he let out a rumbling chuckle, “You stupid, stupid girl. God, you really are a stubborn one. But hey, I like that. I really… really, do.”
One moment I was standing back against the door staring at Frank and then, suddenly, he grabbed me by my arms and flung me across the room to land, hard, into the couch. The couch rocked back and my body slid down the soft velvet until my ass was just barely on the edge of the cushion. I grasped the edge of the cushions tight as he approached unbuckling his belt and my eyes trained on his movements.
He slid the buckle from his belt and maneuvered it in his hands. I strained to see it more clearly and when I did my racing heart stopped altogether. The buckle was a small, silver dagger that fit in his palm. He wrapped his fingers in the loop, poising the tip on top of his knuckles so he could punch the blade into his target.
“We were good together, Harls. Given just a little more time and we would have been unstoppable. Then you had to go and fuck it all to Hell,” he said as he leaned into me.
He moved the blade dangerously close to my eye, forcing me to push my head back into the sofa as far as the cushion would allow.
“I didn’t fuck anything up. I ran away from a cold, murdering bastard.”
“You just… you don’t get it. Not at all. You didn’t even stop and ask me why it happened, did you?” Something glimmered behind his eyes, something softer than I had seen all night. It was almost as if he was thinking back on that night but then, as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone.
Whatever I thought I might have seen, Frank realized I’d seen it and the darkness returned to his eyes. He lowered the blade in a long, slow ling down the center of my chest, holding it so close my skin that I could feel the sharp edge tickle threatingly, and stopped just over my sternum.
“Just tell me where my bike is,” he repeated, moving back to the real issue at hand.
“I’m not going to send you to attack some innocent guy, Frank. The bike is gone.”
“Fine. Just remember, you made me do this,” he said as he snatched my left arm and pulled it to him, spilling me to the floor at his feet.