First Chapter of One Crazy Night


I swear, who invented these torture devices? The music from the club is thumping through the walls of the club, and even the restroom is packed with bodies. I don’t wait to get into a stall. Once the door swings shut behind me, I reach into the top of my dress and yank off the slimy plastic nipple shields. Okay, I rip one off. The other one has been dangling against the bottom of my boob for the last half hour.

The one I have to rip off? Feels like it had been applied with duct tape. I grit my teeth against the pain, then fling both torture devices into the trash.

Well, try, because of course they stick to my palms, so I have to shake my hand comically to get them to release. I look in the mirror to see the other girls gawking at me, then looking away quickly.

I lean over the black granite sink in the club bathroom and frown at my patchy lipstick, but when I reach for my purse, I remember I’d left it out in the club with my friends.

To be fair, I’m not used to carrying a purse. I like pockets. Seriously, this isn’t even my dress. I look amazing in it, sure, but no pockets, and way more leg than I’m used to exposing. Remembering that, I twist to check the rear view in the mirror to make sure everything is covered, then sashay out.

To find a group of strange men sitting where my friends had been a few minutes earlier.

I’m already kind of buzzed from the two drinks I’ve indulged in, but I don’t think I’m that confused, or that I’d been in line for the bathroom that long. Am I in the wrong place? I look around, but no, we had been sitting on the two curved love seats, and I don’t see any other seating arrangements like it. So where are my friends?

The seven of us came to the city to celebrate Riva’s birthday, the seven of us out on the town, with a limo and a driver and money we’ve been saving for months. We all used to go to college here, but we haven’t been back in a few years. We thought it would be fun to revisit our old haunts and hit up some new ones we hadn’t been able to afford as lowly college girls.

I look toward the dance floor, but no, they aren’t there, nor are they at the bar.

Right, and I don’t know where my purse is.

“Excuse me.” I step forward, and one guy, with floppy hair and big brown eyes, looks up at me, mid-laugh. I watch something shift in his gaze and the laugh transforms into a half-smile that exposes a deep dimple in one cheek. “My friends were sitting here,” I say, addressing him because, well, those eyes are sure pretty, and focused on me.

“Nah, doll, no one was sitting here,” one of the other men says. “But if you want to join us, you can.” He pats the very narrow strip of upholstery next to him.

Panic swells. This can’t be happening. My friends wouldn’t just run off and leave me, would they? And my purse? Where’s my purse? With my phone and my ID and my money and…

I sway a bit on my heels. (Which also are not mine. Diana’s. And way higher than I usually wear.)

“You didn’t see them? Six women? All about thirty, all pretty drunk.” Nausea welled. They might have left, if they were that drunk. They might have forgotten I was in the bathroom.

“Nah, sorry we missed them,” one of the men remarks with a laugh and a nudge from one of his buddies.

“Could you—could you look and see if my purse is still here?” Maybe it’s tucked into one of the cushions, or has gotten kicked under the couch.

The men look at each other and for a minute, I think they won’t help.

But then Pretty Eyes stands and shoos them off the couches. He gives me a look.

“You owe me,” he says, a teasing light in his eyes before he runs his hand between the back of the couch and the cushion.

He makes some disgusted faces, then pulls his hand out and wipes it on his jeans before he turns to me.

One of the other guys bends to look under the couch, then rises and shakes his head before the five of them drop back to the couch and turn their attention to each other.

Well, four of them. Pretty Eyes is still watching me. Which upsets me because I have no idea what I’m going to do next, and I don’t want anyone to see me flailing, especially this handsome stranger.

Okay, I’ll take a circuit of the room, see if I can find any of my friends. Surely they haven’t all forgotten about me. Someone would have said, “Maya is in the bathroom!”

But no, I don’t see any familiar faces, and when I complete my circuit, I see Pretty Eyes is still watching me, a layer of concern beneath his smile. I look away quickly because honestly, I hate drawing attention to myself, and I approach the bar, bracing my hands on the padded edge as I lean forward as far as I can to get the bartender’s attention, before remembering about the dress. I reach back to tug down the hem, pretty sure I’ve gotten everyone’s attention. I lower back on the heels, still stretching as far as I can onto the bar to get the attention of the bartender.

Finally, the busy woman strides toward me. “What can I get you?”

Man, of all the times I could use a drink, and I have zero way of getting one. “Did anyone turn in a purse? Like within the last half hour or so? It was just little.” I measure out the approximate size with my hands on the bar top. “I was sitting over there with my friends.” I motion, then meet the gaze of Pretty Eyes again. He’s sitting forward on the couch now, not paying attention to his friends.

“No, sorry,” the bartender says, already moving away.

“Wait! Where else can I look?” I think about asking the bartender if she’d seen my friends, but she doesn’t seem inclined to help. I look about the room, wondering if there’s a manager or an office. Nothing obvious. I press my palms into the padded edge of the bar as my inebriated brain tries to make sense of the whole situation.

“Hey, is there something I can do to help?” A soft voice beside me penetrates the noise of the music and the crowd.

I turn to look up into those pretty brown eyes under a fringe of curly bangs and dark eyebrows drawn together in concern.

I debate for a moment, because one thing I’ve learned in my twenty-nine years, you don’t want to be vulnerable in front of a man. But I’m at a loss. I don’t know what my next step should be. “Are you sure you didn’t see my purse? My friends took off without me, and I need to call and see where they are.”

Understanding dawns on his handsome face. “Your phone is in your purse?”

I step back and sweep my hands down my sides. “Where do you think I would keep it in this dress?”

When the smile spreads across his face, I realize that I’ve just drawn even more attention to my vulnerability. Barely dressed and without even the protection of a phone. Why had he come up, instead of another woman who could possibly help me?

My fear must show on my face because he holds one hand out, palm facing me. “Look, I wouldn’t want my sister on her own in this city. I want to help you.”

Suspicion lingers even though I want to embrace his offer with both hands. I have never felt so lost. “How can you help?”

“Well, for starters, I have a phone.” He produces it from his back pocket, twisting it toward me, screen up, with a flick of his wrist.

I stare at it, scouring my brain for anyone’s number. Anyone’s. Okay, maybe I could call my childhood home, and my ex, and my job, but those are the only numbers that come to my head. I look from the phone to his expectant face and shake my head.

“I haven’t memorized a number in a long time.” Everything is just programmed into my phone.

He draws his lips in, not in judgement, but as if he’s trying to think about what to try next. His eyes brighten as he offers the phone again. “Call your hotel. You can look up the number.”

Despair weakens my knees, and I lean on the bar a little more. We’re staying at an Airbnb. I don’t even know the street it’s on. I’d come to town with Chelsea, and hadn’t really paid attention, kind of depended on her because, well, she’s dependable.

And look where that got me.

I shake my head again.

He lowers his phone to his side slowly. “What if we go ask that guy if he has seen them, or maybe your purse?”

He nods toward the bouncer, I guess, who is twice the size of my rescuer. His arms are crossed, intimidating, and I swallow hard, then nod.

“Okay.” Then I look at him, silently asking him to come with me.

He motions for me to lead the way and I resist giving the skirt of my dress another tug down my ass as we walk over.

“Excuse me, sir, I was with a group of girls earlier, and when I went to the restroom, I guess they left? Did you see them?”

The mountain doesn’t move his head, only his eyes as he looks from me to Pretty Eyes and back to me again. He gives one nod.

“They left?”

Another nod. I draw in a breath and look back at Pretty Eyes—I really should get his name. Despair is about to sink me, though. I turn back to the bouncer. “My purse is missing, too. Do you know where someone might have turned it in?”

“I saw you talking to the bartender. She’d be the one to have it, if anyone did.”

Is there something lower than despair? Because that’s where I’m heading.

Pretty Eyes steps forward. “Did you see which direction they went?”

The bouncer gives one small shake of his head, and we step away.

“Okay, well, where could they have gone?” Pretty Eyes asks.

I brighten. “We were doing a pub crawl kind of thing, but you know, not a pub, but places to dance?”

“Okay, well, do you remember where you were going next?”

I slump again. Look, even if I hadn’t had a few cocktails, I’m just not that great with names. “I mean, do you think there are other places nearby they could have gone?”

“Ah. Maybe a few.” He shifts his weight on one leg. “All of them have cover charges.”

And I don’t have money. “I don’t suppose they’d let me just go look to see if they’re there?”

He gives a chuckle. “I’m sure they’ve heard that one before.”

My spirits sink. So what am I supposed to do? They couldn’t have stranded me more if they’d dropped me off at a deserted island.

“Maybe they’ll realize I’m gone and come back for me,” I say, and wonder even as I say it why I don’t believe it. They are my friends. None of them would have left me behind deliberately, so why do I believe they won’t come back for me?

“Maybe.” He draws out the word, like he doesn’t believe it either. “Look, I’m going to go let my friends know I’m heading out.”

Is he abandoning me? Only self-respect keeps me from reaching for his arm to anchor him to my side.

“Wait right here, okay?” he asks. “I’m Hugh, by the way.”

“Maya,” I say, and shake his hand like a dummy before he walks back to his friends. I watch him point in my direction, and the other four men turn as one, give me a once-over and nod and cheer their approval. I notice Hugh does nothing to dispel them of their assumptions before he returns to my side.

“Okay, let’s go.”

I am not really sure what that means, but I don’t intend to stand in this bar looking pathetic and waiting for my friends to return. Any plan is better than no plan. I nod, and he takes my hand as we walk out.

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