Sweet Recovery Excerpt

Chapter 1

Ginny

Who knew strip clubs could be so much fun?

I was sitting in a cushy, black leather booth in my little red dress with a pretty purple neon light shining down like a spotlight on my table. Music thumped in the air around me, a hard rock song with a heavy beat and lyrics about a man feeling his woman from the inside. Half-naked women served drinks, and a lingerie clad woman danced on the stage in front of me, making the atmosphere vibrate with sexual tension.

Horny men surrounded me, including two of my father’s men who served as my bodyguards. Dexter was a scarred behemoth who could petrify anyone with a look. He was generally the man I had shadowing me. Brad was a smarmy guy who spent as much time as he could trying to kiss the ground my father walked on. I wasn’t sure how he thought that was going to get him through, because even I knew by now that Father hated brownnosers and weak men. Needless to say, both of them were an epic pain in my keister.

When I had mentioned to them about wanting to go to a club, they had not so kindly informed me that the only club I was going to get them to agree to go to was a strip club. I was sure they thought Wellington’s princess would balk at the idea. How wrong they were. There was nowhere else on earth I wanted to be.

Granted, most women probably didn’t come to what was otherwise known as a gentlemen’s club. I wasn’t most women. Far from it. I was a twenty-seven-year-old woman out for one last hoorah because I was engaged to a man I barely knew and hopelessly in love with another, not that the man I loved reciprocated those feelings. Nope. In fact, he had made it perfectly clear I was the honorary second sister he never wanted.

You would think that would make it easy for me to move on to marry someone else, right? Nope again. Not when said marriage was a business arrangement made by my father, which brings me to my biggest problem.

Richard Wellington, dear ol’ Daddy, otherwise known as the kingpin of Chicago.

I didn’t know everything about how he had made himself an extremely rich man, but I had eavesdropped on enough conversations over the past five years to figure out he dealt in some sort of drugs. My suspicions were that he used his legal pharmaceutical company as the cover for his activities, but I had no way to prove it. What I did know was my soon-to-be husband was an integral part in an operation that would take my father from a regional powerhouse to a global one.

To be the trophy wife to a man who was going to help her very own father sell drugs to little kids the world over was just what every girl wanted, right? Of course, those were my assumptions. I didn’t know for sure, but none of it mattered. Whatever Richard Wellington had gotten neck deep into, it most definitely didn’t fit into the legal category.

So why didn’t I just run away from it all? One very good reason: my mother.

She was the sweetest, kindest, best mother in the whole wide world, and she also had a very big problem: my father. She loved him as much as she feared him.

When I was much younger, she had taken me and run from the man who wanted to be a king. It had taken him fifteen years, but he had finally found us. Now we were stuck in a suite of rooms on the twentieth floor of a building my father owned with enough security to protect the president.

Richard Wellington wasn’t exactly a shy guy, either. He had explained to my mother and I on more than one occasion that the security was to keep danger out … and us in. We would never escape him again. Everywhere I went, my father’s men were with me, both for my protection and my continued incarceration.

Through a clever scheme cooked up by my maid Barbara, I had talked dear ol’ Daddy into letting me leave Chicago to come down to Miami for a little shopping trip. What girl didn’t need a new wardrobe to meet her future in-laws? At least, that was the excuse I had given my father.

The kingpin of Chicago wouldn’t dare let his wife or child be seen in public in something other than a designer name, so one mention of a new Donna Karen line being revealed here, and he had grudgingly agreed to let me go… with a few of his men escorting me, of course.

“I would hate for something to happen to you, darling.”

Those words might have seemed protective and affectionate from any other father, but from mine, it was a threat. Behave or there would be consequences. I didn’t have a clue what those consequences might be, but after witnessing my father murder a man a few years ago, I wasn’t exactly eager to find out, either. Richard Wellington was grade-A psycho, and I was nothing more than a pawn in his world of games.

I shouldn’t complain too much, though. In my opinion, my mother had it much worse. She was in love with a man who was nuttier than a peanut factory, which was beyond sad to me. She was a woman who had taught me my entire life to fight for what was right, to believe that sometimes you had to sacrifice what you loved to live the kind of life you should. She had done this by sacrificing her love for my father to run and raise me in an environment where danger didn’t surround us.

Once upon a time, she was that warrior princess. Now, she was more like a beaten down beautiful queen. Mom had given up trying to run away from my father, given up on her idea that she could live a better life separated from him. I just had no clue if it was because she was as afraid of my father as I was or still madly in love with him. Sometimes, I thought it might be a bit of both.

Whistles and catcalls suddenly roared around me, and I realized I was going to have to open my eyes to see what the fuss was all about. Hell, I didn’t remember closing my eyes in the first place, but oh, well. I guessed the drink in my hand was a heck of a lot stronger than I had realized. Or it could have been the three drinks before it. All I knew was the combination of drinks with names like Seduction on the Rocks, Cock Sucking Cowboy, Sex On the Beach, and Screaming Multiple Orgasm would make you feel damn good in no time flat.

Peeling my eyelids open, I first saw Brad getting a lap dance across the table from me, which meant there was a woman’s schoolgirl, mini-skirt covered ass gyrating in my line of sight. Looking over to my left, I took in Dexter who sat silently with his eyes glued to the main stage. Moving my eyes there, I took in what all the fuss was about.

Two women were dancing on stage. The first was a fiery redhead with a milk-white complexion in a devil’s costume, complete with red corset, net thigh highs, garter belt, thong, heels, devil horns, and even a pitchfork that she was currently humping. The other woman was a bottle blonde with gorgeous, naturally tanned fawn skin, dressed in a white see-through baby doll negligée, a white G-string, crystal clear high heels, and angel wings. They were a contrast in light and dark, sugar and spice. I wanted to paint them on canvas. Sweet and seductive, fierce but delightful, wicked yet worthy of all the men’s eyes that they danced for, they were everything I secretly wanted to be but didn’t have the courage to try.

Why not?

Maybe my drunk-ass was imagining them as my metaphorical conscious, but it was a damn good question. Why couldn’t I be all of that? Why couldn’t I be the sort of woman I had only dreamed of being before, one not afraid of her sexuality? I was here to cut loose, wasn’t I?

Feeling freer than I had in years, I drained the rest of my drink, letting the sweet yet tangy alcohol burn on the way down. Then I plunked my glass down on the table before I pushed myself up until I was climbing on the bench seat. This caught Dexter’s attention, and he held his hand up to try to stop my forward momentum, but I simply grabbed his hand and used it to steady myself on top of the table. As I stood up there, I looked down at him and smirked. Take that, Dexter.

Letting the lyrics wash over me, I rolled my hips to the seductive beat. Raising my arms above my head, I let my body flow in time with the rhythm, being as primal as sex itself.

More whistles and lewd encouragement sounded, and I looked around and realized it was all for me. Men’s eyes from the entire club were watching me … wanting me. The rush of adrenaline that hit me at the realization was a high unlike anything I had ever felt before.

Tipping my head back and closing my eyes, I let the indulgence of the moment overtake me. Euphoria was a drug better than any alcohol I had ever consumed. I felt like I was floating on air as I danced on that table to lyrics about fucking like an animal, running my hands over my body as I imagined a lover doing all the delicious things the singer described.

God, this song hit me everywhere it counted. It was one of the moments when you could swear the artist had written it just for you. It spoke of all the things I was internally dying for, transcending the penetration of physical sex. More than the primitive need to touch and want to be touched, it was about offering all of yourself to someone else, trusting that person to take it, cherish it, and nurture it. To fulfill me and erase my isolation. To want and need another person so much that they became vital to my survival.

All the things I had dreamed of feeling years ago with the boy across the street. All the things I would never have with the man I was soon to call husband. All the things I was going to fantasize about having in this moment when I could be me, uninhibited while I danced like I didn’t have a care in the world.

If I were lucky, by the end of the night, at least one part of the song might come true for me. It might not be the best thing for me, but it was the best I could ask for at this time.

As the steady beats continued to roll through me, sensitizing my every cell into wanting and needing one thing, I bit my bottom lip, thinking about it. Fucking like an animal.

Hell yes.

Croon it again and again, my sexy singer boy.

Running my hands over my body as I imagined my imaginary lover might, I felt every word of the song.

Damn, did it feel good.

Freedom did, too.

Lucas

As I crossed the dark, smoky room, I still couldn’t believe my luck. The chances that the very woman I had been looking for over the last five years being here at the same time I was were probably astronomical. Yet, there she was, dancing on top of a table with her eyes closed and her head tipped back as she swayed to the music, looking like sex and sin. The exact opposite of the angel I had been dreaming of night after night.

My mind had a hard time processing the change, but my dick seemed to be at full salute over the transformation. My heart reminded me it didn’t matter what had changed about her. She was Gin, the girl I had grown up with. The woman who carried my heart with her wherever she went. That was all that mattered.

I had tried to get her attention when I had gotten up from the table, but she was either drunk or so into her tabletop dancing routine that she wasn’t paying attention to anything or anyone else around her. My gut told me she was drunk since I had watched her down a drink like it was nothing right before climbing on top of that table. I was not happy about that at all.

Gin had never been very good at holding her liquor, and it looked like that hadn’t changed.

Dozens of men were devouring my woman with their eyes, watching her shake her hips and imagining what she would look like if she were doing it naked. To top it all off, she was dancing in stiletto heels, basically fucking toothpicks that she could fall and break her neck in. I was going to throw those fuckers away the first chance I got.

I was about halfway across the room when she stumbled a bit. Quickening my steps, I raced to her table. In what seemed like slow motion, I watched her tip to the side, her arms wind-milling wildly as she tried to regain her balance, and then she pitched to the side to fall off the table. There was no way I could get to her in time, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

Shoving every idiot out of my way, I made a beeline to Gin as she flailed on her way down … right into the arms of a hulking giant with a mean look on his face.

A million worries ran through my head, as well as a tidal wave of angry possessiveness, as I watched my girl look into the mountain of muscle’s face. Was she afraid of him? He was easily three times her size. Would he try to take advantage of her because she was drunk off her ass?

I was almost to where the scar-faced Goliath held a helpless Gin when the unthinkable happened. She laughed at the burly man right in his face. The sight stopped me dead in my tracks. Had she lost her fucking mind? A tiny thing like her laughing at a man holding her who could snap her like a twig? Why would she do that?

I watched in the shadows as the man said something to her. Of course, I couldn’t hear whatever it was over the music, but I could see his lips moving. The smile didn’t leave her face at whatever he said, and the sight made my gut twist. Who was this man to her?

A boyfriend?

A lover?

A husband?

Fuck, had she had another man’s baby?

God, don’t let it be the last two.

I didn’t have a qualm in the world about breaking up a relationship, but the thought of breaking up a marriage filled me with dread. Was it possible that she had fallen in love with someone else after she had disappeared from my life? Gone on to live the life I had dreamed for five long years of living with her with someone else? Logically, I should have known it was possible, but I was nowhere near a logical man.

Flesh and blood pumping with adrenaline? Yes.

A broken soul? Absolutely.

I was nothing but dirty, jagged pieces left raw from years at war, both on the inside and the out. And the only person who could glue me back together was less than ten feet away from me, giving the light of her smile to someone else.

I had never wanted to murder someone so badly in my life.

Perhaps that was why my hand was on the butt of the holstered handgun at the small of my back before my brain registered the move. A desperate, red haze had covered my vision, accompanied by a rage that could fuel an entire army. I didn’t need an army to win this battle, though. I was a goddamn army of one, and he was the enemy, holding the spoils of a war I had been fighting for far too long.

My gun had started to clear its holster when an immovable hand stopped its track. I was so out of it I had not even noticed someone had snuck up on my back.

A low, compelling voice spoke near my left ear. “Let’s not do anything hasty, man.”

Chase’s calm tone didn’t do a damn thing to pacify my murderous intentions. What it did do was give me a few seconds to come back to my sanity a little bit. I was in a crowded building. If I shot this ass-hat now, there was no way I could get away with it with all the witnesses.

“That’s right; look around at all the people. Take a second to think before you act.”

After sliding the gun back into its holster, I jerked out of my teammate’s strong grip. He moved around to stand in front of me, but he didn’t block my view of where Ginny was in the arms of the man I had just come precariously close to putting holes in.

“I don’t know what the hell is goin’ on with you, bro, but you need to chill out before you do something you regret.”

Clenching my fists at my sides, I spit back at him through clenched teeth, “You’ve got no idea what I fuckin’ regret. Now move out of my way.”

I took a step forward to walk around him, but Chase only stepped back in my path, holding his hands up as if he could keep me from what I wanted most.

“Chill out for a second and look at the two of them.”

My left eye twitched in aggravation. What the hell did Chase think I had been doing before? Not watching them? I had gotten an eyeful, and now I was ready to put a stop to this asshole with his hands on my girl.

It didn’t matter that Ginny had no clue I was even in the room. A dying man didn’t give up on salvation when it was within reach. He fought for it with every iota of his being.

My salvation was only feet from me, yet it felt more like a hundred battlefields separated us. It didn’t matter. I would cross land fields for that woman, face an entire army alone if it meant she was waiting for me on the other side. There was only one thing I couldn’t do in my life right now, and that was let her walk out again. That was why both Chase and the Goliath she was talking to needed to stop being obstacles between me and my prize.

Friend or foe, I would burn the whole world down to put that woman by my side.

I put both of my hands on Chase’s chest to push him out of my way, intent on my goal until one sound cut through all the madness of the room and stopped me.

Laughter.

Ginny’s sweet laughter to be specific.

Silvery, breathy … and a new sultry quality that I had never heard from her before. It was possibly the most sublime sound I had ever noted in my life, and it was aimed at another man.

There was only one thing that kept me from pulling my gun right then and there, but it sure as shit wasn’t Chase. It was another, sudden, new quality I had never seen in the girl I had grown up across the street from: attitude.

Not just a bit of sass, but more of a full-blown spit fire, ready to knee you in the junk, haughty hellion.

As I zeroed in on the sight of Ginny’s face tipped up, sardonically smiling at the man holding her, I realized there was only contempt in her smirking lips. When the hell had Ginny acquired all the attitude and why?

As I watched the man set Gin on her feet and wait until she was steady, an uneasy feeling washed over me. What in the world could turn a girl who had been shy, quiet, and sweet as a mouse into whoever this was who was trashed and ready to start a riot in a club? I couldn’t fathom what it might be, but the churn in my stomach told me that I undoubtedly wouldn’t like the answer.

The giant man watched her with sharp eyes as she walked away from him. Never once did he move his gaze from his target, even when another shorter and sketchy looking man walked up, laughing at something and slapping him on the shoulder. I’d had no idea there was third person in their party. Who the hell was he? A friend of theirs?

Turning my head to catch her trajectory, I realized she was heading to the ladies’ room, which was tucked just around a corner and down a hall, across the room from whoever the big man with the watchful eyes was. Fortune did seem to be shining on me today.

“Go.” Chase’s voice was rough and urgent. “Do what you’ve got to, man. I’ll keep big and ugly distracted.”

He went to push me away, but I was already moving toward my goal, watching as her blonde, curly hair bobbed and weaved through the crowd until she was at the mouth of the hall. Then she disappeared.

It didn’t matter. I was hot on her trail like a heat-seeking missile.

As I made my way through the crowd, shoving more than one horny dipshit out of my way, I snorted at the analogy. In a way, it wasn’t far from the truth. Without her in my life, I felt as cold as Alaska in the middle of its six months of darkness. She had always been the sunshine in my life. Maybe now she could thaw out my heart.

It didn’t take me long to cross the distance of the club, and then I was standing outside the door to the women’s restroom, forcing deep breaths in and out of my body, my mind focused on the most important mission of my life: getting my girl back.