When a book gets a coveted gold star rating from one of our reviewers, we at RT sit up and take notice. And then when the author pens a heartwrenching essay on the genesis of her story, well, we’re even more invested. Which is why today we’re so excited to share this expert from Mia Sheridan‘s Most of All You. We hope you love this contemporary romance starring two people who need to heal from their pasts — and in doing so grow together.
This whole scene opened up some void inside that made me feel angry and sad at the same time. I stood up, throwing a tip down on the table, and headed to the back to wait. I rounded the corner to the hallway where I’d waited for Crystal the first time, and saw that the bouncer, Anthony, was sitting on a stool. “What can I do for you?” he asked in his deep baritone.
“I’m here to see Crystal after she’s finished dancing.”
“Yeah,” I said, surprised. I hadn’t expected that she would have given my name to Anthony.
“I’ll show you back.”
I followed Anthony to a different room than the one where I’d talked to Crystal the first time. It was dim and had purple velvet fabric hanging from all four walls. There was a black leather couch against one wall, a few scattered velvet ottomans, a sound system in the corner, and a large-screen TV hanging on the opposite wall from the couch.
“Go ’head and take a seat,” Anthony said. “Crystal will be in after her performance.”
“Right,” I said, moving deeper into the room.
I heard the click of the door closing behind me and let out a breath. I sat down on the edge of the couch, fighting anxiety. Shadowy. Locked door. Soundless. This room felt like a cave, or a dank basement. My eyes landed on the door, and I reminded myself that I could leave anytime I wanted to. This wasn’t the same. Not at all.
I wondered, though, if this was Crystal’s version of a dank, locked basement.
I wasn’t exactly sure why I questioned it, but the thought sat there like a rock, the weight of it pushing on my conscience.
A few minutes later, I was startled from my thoughts when the door swung open and Crystal stepped inside. I started to stand, but she gestured for me to remain sitting and so I did. She had put on a long sweatshirt that came to the middle of her thighs and fell off her shoulders, but was still wearing the silver boots. I smiled at the outfit. She sat down on the couch, turning toward me. My insides twisted. God, she was beautiful. Too beautiful for this room. Too beautiful for this place.
She’d put her hair up in a huge, messy pile on top of her head. It looked darker in this light, more brown than gold. Her almond-shaped eyes were heavily made up in black eyeliner and ridiculously long, obviously false eyelashes. “I wasn’t sure you’d come.” She smiled, the one that didn’t meet her eyes.
I massaged the back of my neck, feeling strange, shy, out of my element, and…guilt ridden. “I’m not sure I should have.”
Her face fell slightly, and I rushed on. “I’m just…I guess I’m having a pang of conscience.”
Her gaze moved over my face for a moment in that measuring way of hers before she raised an eyebrow, standing and walking seductively toward the sound system before turning back to me. “Well, my goodness, that sounds painful. It’s not contagious, is it?” She put a hand on her hip and smiled sweetly at me.
I laughed, a burst of warm humor mixed with a bit of surprise filling my chest. It felt good. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Well, good.” She put on some music, turning the volume down low, and walked back toward me, sitting on the couch again. “How about we try out one session, and if it doesn’t work for you, if it makes you feel…not good, we’ll call it quits, no harm done.”
She gave me a small, teasing smile, and it felt like bird wings had begun flapping between my ribs.
One session. She really was thinking of this as therapy. I supposed that was accurate enough. I sucked my bottom lip into my mouth, still not sure, but not wanting to leave, not really.
I liked her. I liked the way she looked at me, the way she teased, the flash of keen intelligence behind her eyes, her quick wit, the way she seemed so hard, and yet was somehow soft at the same time. I did, I liked her. Oh, Gabriel, you idiot.
“We should agree on a fee first.”
“You just name the price,” I said. “I’m fine with whatever you think is fair.”
“Fair,” she murmured. “Well, the club takes the cost of a lap dance while we’re in here, so in order to make any money for myself, I would have to double that. So fifty.” Uncertainty passed briefly over her expression, as if she was nervous she might have asked for too much.
“Fifty dollars?” I repeated, trying not to wince at the knowledge of how little she got paid to do what she did. The club takes the cost of a lap dance. Jesus.
“If that’s too much, I could do forty-five,” she said in a rush of words, a tinge of desperation in her tone. Ah. That explained it. She needed the money, small amount though it was. That’s why she had decided to do this.
That pang was back again—even sharper this time—causing a stabbing sensation in my gut. I shifted in my seat. “When I was a teenager, I used to go to this psychologist in Middlebury who charged a hundred and fifty a session. I wouldn’t pay you any less.”
Her eyes widened very slightly before that unaffected look came over her face again. “Oh, okay. Well, great. Should we start with kissing?”
I blinked and then chuckled softly. It turned into a grimace, and I rubbed at the back of my neck again, embarrassed. “I might not have been totally clear about the extent of my discomfort with having people in my personal space. If I was ready for kissing, I wouldn’t be here.”
She frowned slightly, tilting her head as she measured me again. She nodded, that bare hint of softness coming into her eyes, but no judgment. I released a breath, grateful for that small mercy.
“I can teach you what I do when someone gets close to me. I remove myself completely, and it makes it bearable.” She bit her lip, her brow furrowing as if considering something. “I think I can teach you how to do that.”
My body stilled as I stared at her. Her words caused my heart to ache. Oh God. “That’s not what I want, though. I know how to remove myself. I know how to do that. I want to stay present. That’s what I need you to help me with. Staying.”
© Grand Central Publishing/Forever Romance
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