That name may just haunt me for the rest of my life.
Before last night, it had been a minute. A long minute. More than a year, actually, and one of the hardest I’ve ever survived. I couldn’t take it anymore.
Alexander Davenport was an answer to a prayer.
The man’s eyes are like black holes that drew me in with such overpowering force, there was no hope of escape once he had me in his sights. Not that any sane person would want one. He’s so damn good-looking I almost thought he was a mirage.
No really. I even checked-in with Maya to make sure of it.
“Hey, that guy over there, the suit with the haircut, do you know who that is?”
I held my breath while she leaned around me and narrowed her eyes through the flashing strobe lights to get a better look. It only took a second for recognition to light up her face.
“Oh! I think that’s Alexander Davenport, he owns the hotel. He hangs around the influencer crowd a lot. I heard he’s an asshole, but he fucks like a maniac.”
He stared at me the entire time Maya whispered in my ear, like he knew what she was telling me and he wanted to confirm every single word.
I still wasn’t going to sleep with him. I mean, I was definitely going to wonder about it, and I was probably going to fantasize about it, but, at that point, the idea of giving into his licentious stare was still out of the question.
My image wasn’t worth it.
I’ve been in this industry my entire life, and the advice my manager gave me when I got my very first taste of bad press is still the most useful thing anyone has ever told me: people are fickle and easily bought.
Trust the wrong person with your secrets, and they won’t be secrets much longer. The last thing I need right now are leaks about me hooking up with a stranger in a nightclub a day and a half after ending my tour, no matter how badly I need it. I’ve been called a whore and a slut too many times over the past year for me to throw even just accusations of flirting on the pyre the public has built to burn me like a witch. So I haven’t.
I threw myself into an album, went on tour, and made a commitment to myself that I would remain celibate until the rumors and whispers about me died.
Only, the me that made that vow, didn’t know how long those whispers would last.
Or that Charlie would work so hard to keep them going.
I wasn’t going to sleep with him. Guys like the one Maya painted for me can’t wait to spill all the gory details over their most impressive conquests, and Xander was looking at me like I was a rare piece of art he couldn’t wait to display. I was sure that’s what it was, until he found me again and I realized he had absolutely no idea who I was.
Like at all. No matter how I prodded or needled him, no spark of recognition ever ignited behind his eyes.
I was just a girl in a nightclub to him, and it felt like being furloughed from prison. One night where I could do whatever I wanted to do without worrying about the repercussions turning into a hashtag.
Just one night where I wasn’t Leighton Winter.
I was Gorgeous.
He was everything.
The way he kissed me. The way he touched me. The way dirty words dripped from his lips like the password to the strongest orgasm I’ve ever had. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. World changing. Everything he did to me felt so incredible, I still shiver whenever I think about him.
“Would you like me to turn the heat on the bed up, Miss Winter?” The masseuse asks when a gentle pass of her hands triggers a memory of Xander touching me in almost the same way the night before.
My cheeks flush inside the pillow around my face. “Yes, please.”
She reaches down to click the button that controls the temperature on the table I’m laying on, then moves her hands down to knead my thigh. I grimace silently while she presses into the places Xander’s fingers left tender.
I need to stop thinking about him.
It was just one night.
It’s just going to be one night.
“Deep breath,” the masseuse says, pulling my body to stretch out my hips and lower back. I do, wishing the calming scent of the oils she’s rubbing into me would cleanse Xander from my thoughts. Erase how his lips made my head swim. It would probably be a hell of a lot easier if his name wasn’t embroidered into the towel draped over the top of me, but it is. It’s all over this damn room. It echoes in the noises from the sound bath in the same way his voice echoes through my head.
Is this what you want, Gorgeous?
Should I make you come like this?
“Alright,” the soothing voice of the masseuse interjects. “Now slowly open your eyes and come back to the present.” Her hands skim over my back as she covers me with the sheet over the bed again. “Is there anything else I can do for you, Miss Winter?”
Yeah, talk some damn sense into me.
“No,” I say instead. “That was wonderful. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. We’ll leave you two to get dressed.” The masseuse and her partner bow their heads as they slowly back out of the room. The moment the door closes behind them, Elise lifts her face out of the pillow on the bed next to me and gives me a forlorn look.
“Next time, I want a male masseuse. Is it even a real massage without a happy ending?”
“Gross.” I shake my head to dispel the unwanted image, then climb off the bed so I can wrap myself in the towel, but, apparently, I’m not fast enough. Elise’s tawny eyes move to my ass like a laser beam, and she gasps.
“What is that?”
“Nothing.” I move to cover the evidence with my towel, but it doesn’t dissuade her.
“That’s not nothing. Your hip is bruised.”
“I fell in rehearsal yesterday.”
“Uh I watched your rehearsal yesterday and no you didn’t.” She yanks the corner of my towel, hard enough that it slips out of my grip.
“Elise!” While I scramble to try and cover my boobs, she grabs my hip and turns my body towards her.
“Fell in rehearsal, huh?” She looks up at me, the truth about the bruises obvious in the set of her mouth. “I can practically see fingerprints, Leighton.”
“He didn’t leave fingerprints.”
“Oh my god, you whore! Who was it? MC Rowdy? He asked all three of us for your number last night and Maya did say she thought you needed to get laid.”
Oh, I did. And oh. I. Did.
“No, it was nobody. Don’t worry about it.”
“Oh no, Leighton… Did you fuck something gross?”
I glare at her, then snatch my towel back and tuck it around my body. “Drop it.”
She doesn’t. She follows me into the showers, the powder room where I redo my makeup, and the dressing room, pressing for details she knows I’m not going to give her.
“The dude that came over from Justice Fade? The guitar player. What was his name? He was hot.”
“Was it Charlie?”
I stop halfway out the door that leads to reception, a sudden swell of heat surging across my body all at once, as if I was struck by lightning.
“What part of shut the fuck up about it, do you not understand, Elise?”
I storm away while the echoes of my name fill my wake. I can feel her following me, hear the plea in her voice for me to turn around and talk to her, but I ignore her.
“Leighton, stop! Leighton! Leighton Lynne Winter!” This time, my name comes out so sharp and so loud, it almost seems to echo. There’s a girl, probably about fourteen years old, sitting in reception, reading a Teen Vogue in the chair next to her mother. The moment she hears my name, she looks up, locks eyes with me, and the color drains from her face.
“Shit,” Elise hisses.
“Oh my god, it’s Leighton Winter!” The girl comes at me like an F5 tornado, knocking the wind out of me as she collides with my middle. Her mother cringes behind her, mouthing an apology. I wave her off.
“Well, hey there,” I say, grinning down at the girl clinging to me. There are tears in her chocolate colored eyes. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”
“It’s uh… It’s… um….”
“Jessie,” her mother answers for her. “I’m sorry, she loves you.”
“Well, that’s very sweet. Do you want a picture, Jessie?” Shock colors her face and a few incoherent sounds squeak through her lips. She doesn’t reach for her phone; I’m not sure she can. She just gapes at me, clinging to me like she’s forgotten she’s still wrapped around my waist. I give her a warm smile and squeeze her as tightly as I can, then pull out my own phone to snap a photo.
“Mind if I put this on my story?” I check.
“Your story? Like, on your Instagram? Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…”
I glance up at her mom, who nods in approval. Jessie stutters her username to me so I can tag her in the photo, then nearly passes out when I use it to look her up and click the follow button. Her mom hands me a pen and a spa menu for an autograph.
“Okay. Tick tock, Leighton,” Elise grumbles behind me, tapping her foot with impatience. Jessie’s mom looks back at her, then flashes us both a guilty smile.
“I’m sorry, we’re taking up too much of your time…”
“What are you talking about? For Jessie?” I look down at the girl and wink. “Never.”
“Except today. Excuse us.” Elise grabs me by the elbow and drags me away, barely giving me enough time to fish my sunglasses out of my bag before we emerge from the spa.
“I wish you wouldn’t talk to people like that,” I say, yanking my arm out of her grip.
She rolls her eyes before sliding a pair of silver shield glasses over her face. “Whatever.”
We keep our heads down walking through the lobby, trying not to draw attention. It’s still early enough that the few people who meander through the casino are either too old to know who we are, or too hungover to care. Elise seems to have lost interest in where I disappeared to the previous night, and I stay silent so I don’t remind her. Thankfully, a co-star she worked with on her last film texts her just as we come to a stop in front of the elevators, and she disappears into her phone.
I try not to gawk at the place against the wall where, just nine short hours ago, Xander had me pressed into the marble and was kissing me like he fucking invented it.
The elevator doors eventually roll open and I’m so busy trying to convince myself I don’t need to feel that kiss again that I nearly walk head first into a broad, strong chest. My heart flutters with hopeful anticipation as I glance up to see who it is, but the crystal clear blue eyes that meet mine are not the same deep pools of dark that entranced me last night.
“Oh fuck, you’re Leighton Winter,” the hottie standing in front of me blurts out. He stutters for a moment, patting the front of his suit jacket as he tries to collect himself. “My name is Preston James, and my sister is a huge fan. Claire, my sister’s name is Claire. You have no idea what an autograph would mean to her…”
“Ugh, no more autographs!” Elise groans, pushing me past Sexy-McBlueEyes and into the elevator. I open my mouth in protest, but the doors close before I can say anything.
“That’s just great, Elise.”
She rolls her eyes, then buries herself in her phone again. I move and lean against the wall, glancing over at the button to Xander’s floor. He’s staying only two higher than I am. Two measly floors. 45 seconds in the elevator, tops. I wonder how long he has the room?
I wonder if he’ll still be there tonight?
It’s a thought that plagues me until the chime announces the arrival at our floor.
Elise and I walk back to my suite and into a thick, sticky fog of hairspray. Maya and Cameron are already sitting in the director-style chairs lined up in the front room. They both have their hair up in hot rollers and green masks smeared over their faces.
Mario, my makeup artist, catches my eye and winks hello as I start to strip out of my t-shirt, but before I even settle down into the empty chair next to Maya, Jason’s voice comes booming up the hallway.
“Is that her?!” He comes around the corner and catches me in a vicious glare that would make Medusa look like an amateur. “Where the fuck have you been?”
I groan. “Oh my god, relax. I was getting a massage with Elise.”
“I’m talking about last night. Where the fuck did you disappear to?”
“I have a performance today, I went to bed early.” Elise snorts, and my manager’s eyes flash in her direction. Thankfully, she sees the plea I’m practically screaming at her through my gaze and gestures down to her phone as cover.
“Uh huh.” He turns back to me, still red-faced, but resigned to move on. “I heard back from Zoe Arnette’s people. The four of you will be front row at her show on Tuesday night.”
“Tuesday?! Jason, that show is in London!”
“And you have a private plane that will take you there first thing tomorrow morning.”
“But I just got off tour. I haven’t even been home yet.”
“Well tough shit, we made a deal. Zoe Arnette is married to the Commissioner of the NFL. You four sitting front row at her show and posting all about it on your socials is how you got the gig for this year’s Super Bowl half-time show. So, suck it up, Princess.”
I mash my lips together, crossing my arms over my chest as I slump back into my chair. “Don’t call me that.”
He ignores me and turns to Ariel, the hairstylist finishing up on Maya. “Will you please do something about her hair? Even if it’s a wig? I cannot believe she did this twenty-four fucking hours before a performance, the execs are losing their goddamn minds.”
He glances at my newly darkened waves and nods. “Sure thing, boss.”
“Thank you.” Jason shoots a last disapproving look back at me, then starts mumbling to himself as he stalks out of the room. “Dyeing her hair. Of all the stupid ways to express herself. You’re a fucking artist, write a song!”
I stick my tongue out at the back of his head before locking eyes with the stylist, now running his fingers through my locks. “Don’t change a thing about my hair.”
He smiles at me. “After all the work I put into it yesterday? Wouldn’t dream of it, babe.”
Performance days are always hectic. The girls and I spend hours in glam, comparing how little we’ve eaten since we touched down in Vegas as we all simultaneously dread squeezing into the red carpet dresses we had fitted weeks ago. They, at least, won’t be half naked on stage in a few hours. Shorts is a generous word for the black, glittery bottoms the costume designer sewed me into yesterday morning before dress rehearsal. It’s had me so paranoid about how I’ll look on the broadcast that I refuse everything offered to me for the rest of the afternoon to prevent bloat.
Once we’re dressed and sure that our makeup won’t move, even if we’re in a surprise freak attack by someone with a chisel, we head downstairs and wait our turn to walk the red carpet.
It’s actually fun when I get to do it with the girls. We pose together, eyes sparking with laughter, playing off one another as we make our way down the line of photographers. I give an interview about my dress, about the tour I just finished, and about the awards I’m nominated for tonight. A fake but mysterious sounding laugh is all I give each and every time I’m asked whether or not I have a date, though. It doesn’t matter how I respond to that question, the follow up is always about Charlie.
And I’m too exhausted to smile my way through that conversation right now.
Much later than I’d hoped, Cameron finally manages to pull me away from the E! cameras and into the venue where someone in Davenport navy escorts us backstage. He points things out to us along the way, bathrooms, the refreshment table, signatures on the walls from famous acts that have performed here in the past. I don’t hear any of it. I’m too busy staring at the name printed on the breast of his jacket, and yearning over all the steamy thoughts it incites.
I want to scream it so badly it makes my throat dry.
The girls hang out with me in my dressing room for a while, enjoying the free perks that come from being backstage. A few of the artists that will be performing after me poke their heads in to say hi. Jason comes back to yell at me about my hair again, and checks my makeup one last time to make sure it’s holding up over my freckle. He takes the girls with him when he leaves so they can get to their seats, and I fill the rest of my wait with vocal warm ups.
“I’ve got a big cock, you want to be very wet.”
“Miss Winter?” There’s a knock and the stage manager opens my door. “We’ve got ninety seconds.”
I nod, hop out of my seat, and follow him into the dark hallway that leads to the stage. The voice of the announcer is already booming through the overhead speakers when I step on my mark, welcoming the audience to the very first Digital Media Awards. When he says my name, I hear the responding roar of applause come from the house and it makes my chest swell with an anxious kind of anticipation I’ve never gotten used to.
All the lights go black and smoke pours backstage as the curtains draw open. I close my eyes, feeling the energy from the crowd, trying to absorb it while I listen for my cue in the music. Performing always feels a little like an out of body experience. Something you spend weeks, even months preparing for, only it’s always too big to take in while it’s happening, and over before you know it.
But there’s nothing else like it in the world. Everything I do is meant to lead me to moments just like this one, and as the lights flood the stage and the thunder of adoration from the audience hits me full on, I forget I’m tired. I forget I’m starving.
I come to life.
My production is over the top. There are lasers that cut through the smoke that swirls across the stage, video screens laying out an entire plot behind me like a music video, and pyrotechnics that send pink and gold sparkles into the air. The music flows through me as my backup dancers and I hit every count of the complicated choreography in sync. I can feel the anticipation build in the crowd as they wait for the high note at the end of the bridge, and the response is almost deafening when my dancers hoist me into the air while I belt it out.
And then it’s over.
The crowd is lost when the stage is once again plunged into darkness, and then someone tugs at me, pulling me back behind the curtains to a sound guy. He yanks the mic pack off me so quickly I feel like a car making a pit stop in a NASCAR race. His brusk and careless hands untangle me from the wires, and jerk them away from me so hard the plastic snaps as it moves and cracks against my skin. I hiss with pain and reach up to cover the welt that rises to the surface of my arm, when a set of hands starts nudging me forward out of the blackness, like I’m a dog that won’t move off the sofa.
“I’ve got it,” I say, shucking off the unwanted touch and squirming away from the three pairs of hands who reach out to me in its place. My wary eyes stay focused on all of them as I start to move away, which is why I walk right into a man standing just beyond the halo of light that leaks in from the stage.
A man who is entirely too solid to be my manager.
Slowly, my gaze moves up the line of black buttons on his pristinely white shirt, until I meet the eyes that have consumed every thought I’ve had for the past twenty-four hours. They burn into me with the same intensity they did last night while he was pounding me into an orgasm, and it makes everything south of my navel clench with anticipation.
“Oh…” I breathe out in surprise. “Uh… hey.”
The black in his eyes somehow grows darker. “Hey? That’s what you have to say to me, hey? You fucking lied to me, Leighton.”
Automatically, I glance to my right at the crew working through the chaos around us, trying to get the presenters on stage for the next award category. No one seems to have heard him, no one seems to even notice the two of us standing here. So I take his hand and pull him further out of the way, mirroring his hushed tone as I lean in to defend myself.
“I didn’t lie to you, Xander. In fact, I didn’t tell you anything. You were the one horny enough to let that shit fly.” His glare intensifies, and I smirk back at him. “I think you should take this as a lesson. I could have been a serial killer.”
He doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t even smile. Instead, a muscle in his jaw goes tight with irritation and the step he takes toward me brings him close enough that I can feel his body heat through his suit. It brings back the memories of the way he looks under it, and suddenly, I can’t think about anything else.
I don’t even know if I can speak English anymore.
“Why did you leave?”
“Leighton!” My name echoing through the darkness breaks the trance this man has me swept up in, and I turn to see Jason standing near the door I was supposed to exit the stage through. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“I was just-“
“You were just nothing, let’s go.” He snaps his fingers at me, then starts gesturing wildly over his shoulder at the door.
“I’ll be right there.”
“No, you’ll go now. You need to be in your seat by the end of the commercial break, so move!”
“I need a minute.”
“You don’t have a minute.”
He’s right, of course. Jason usually is; it’s one of the most annoying things about him. But right means very little to me right now. Especially if Alexander Davenport is wrong…
“I’ll be where I’m supposed to be, Jason. Why don’t you go worry about Charlie?”
I whip around so that the dark hair he detests fans out behind me, and start towards the other door that exits into the maze of underground tunnels on the opposite side of the stage. It’ll take me longer to get back to my dressing room this way, but I have no problem sprinting all the way down the corridor if it means not following Jason’s instructions like a trained seal.
Xander follows me.
“That’s far enough,” he says once we’re obscured enough by the equipment and shadows that none of the crew can make us out anymore. The warm hand he wraps around my elbow to stop me sends an electric current pulsing through me.
He folds his arms over his chest and cocks an eyebrow like he’s expecting one hell of a story to explain my hasty exit last night.
Only… I don’t really have one.
I press my lips together and glance back toward the curtains blocking the show that’s moving on without me. The seconds I have to change and get back out there have already mostly ticked away, which should give me the perfect excuse to escape his scrutinizing stare.
I just need to actually find the will to get away…
Just like he did last night, he hooks a finger under my chin and turns my face back to his. “Why didn’t you tell me who you were, Leighton?”
“Because that was the whole point.” His face doesn’t soften, so I let out a sigh and shake my head. “Look, I’m sorry. Okay? I was looking for the exact same thing you were last night, and you not knowing who I was meant that I could have it. If you would have known the truth, last night would have never happened.”
“You didn’t think I’d figure it out?”
I could tell him I would have denied it. That no one saw us together and in a he-said-she-said, I have a powerful publicity machine behind me. I knew he didn’t have pictures or videos. I knew he wasn’t recording me or memorizing everything I did and said to recite to the press for a quick payday later. All of that plays to my advantage.
But there’s something in the black depths of his eyes that tells me provoking him isn’t a smart move.
I take a step away from him until I feel my back press into a wall, and use a different approach. “You said you didn’t kiss and tell.”
“Kiss and tell? That’s what you’re worried about? Who the fuck would I tell? I’m not here because I need bragging rights; I’m here because I want to fuck you again.”
He closes the space I just put between us, looming over me, and the hunger brewing in his dark eyes makes my mouth go dry. He brushes my hair back and passes a look over my face so scrutinizing, I feel my stomach tighten with anxiety that my makeup may have moved during my performance, and he can see my freckle. He mustn’t though, because instead of twisting with revulsion, his face breaks into a cocky smirk.
“Looks like I’m not the only one.” I watch his eyes move down to my mouth, and he leans in.
“Wait,” I breathe a second before his kiss touches me. He does, but it doesn’t make him pull away. He stays hovering with his lips only centimeters from mine and the proximity makes me so dizzy, it’s almost impossible to formulate any words. Especially the ones I have to say. “I can’t.”
The confession comes out so soft and shaky, it loses all sincerity, and he doesn’t budge.
“Because I just can’t.” He opens his mouth to argue, so I reach up and press my fingertips against his lips. “Look… last night was incredible, but that’s all it was. That’s all it can be. I’m not the girl for you, Xander.”
He lets out a low, humorless laugh. “Gorgeous, if you were any less the girl for me, you’d be a man.” His sincerity seeps into me just like his body heat when he leans in again. Only, this time, his lips aren’t seeking mine; they move to whisper in my ear. “Has it tortured you all day, the way it’s tortured me?”
I let out a long gasp that he takes as a yes, and I feel his mouth stretch into a smile that would probably have my knees weak if I could see him. Just his voice already has me unsteady.
“Give me one more night, Gorgeous. And I’ll give you something that will haunt you for the rest of your goddamn life.”
The shudder that rocks through me at that promise takes with it the last of my restraint.
And maybe my sanity.
I nod, feverishly, and all sense of urgency related to the awards show that’s shifting to the commercial break I’m supposed to be using to slip into the audience, falls out of my mind. My hands move of their own volition to the lapels of his jacket, and then I’m dragging his lips down to mine.
His kiss is just as intoxicating as I remember.
The heat between us builds quickly, beyond either of our control. Before I know what’s happening, he’s dragging me a few feet further to the right, then he jerks open the door of a utility closet and tosses me inside.
It’s pitch black in the cramped space, and I stumble over the cleaning products piled on the floor, nearly falling face first into the wall. Somehow, Xander’s hands find me in the dark and keep me from tumbling to the ground. He yanks me up and shoves me forward so I’m pinned between his chest and the cold concrete, his fingers digging into my shorts as he tugs the tight, sequined fabric down my ass.
“Did you feel it, Gorgeous,” he growls with satisfaction once I’m exposed and he feels me wince at the fingers pressing into the same places he left bruises. “When you were on stage in front of all those people, did you feel what I did to you last night?”
I scrape my nails against the painted concrete, and hum with lustful anticipation. “Would that get you hard?
“You have no idea.”
I hear the tear of a condom wrapper and his hands jerk my hips back toward him. There’s no hesitation this time. No easing into it. He slams inside of me in one quick thrust that’s so brutal, my hand slips and I crash into the wall. I let out a harsh breath, trying not to scream over the sudden fullness. He presses his chest into my back, leaning into my ear.
“Did I hurt you?” He doesn’t move, but his voice is so strained it must be taking every ounce of restraint he possesses to stay still while he’s buried inside of me.
“No, I’m okay,” I pant back. “God, I’m so okay.”
A low chuckle. “Good. You might want to hang on.”
I readjust as he slams into me again, swallowing back the wholly uncivilized sounds the punishing impact tries to force out of me. There are people ten or twenty feet from the door that I’d rather not hear us. My lips press together. I try to hold my breath. Anything to keep myself from shouting his name while he fucks me right back into the oblivion that almost drowned me last night.
He doesn’t seem to care who hears. He tightens his hold on my body like he wants to make me cry out. He pounds into me like he’s auditioning to be a drummer in the band currently playing on stage.
He’s relentless. Filling me. Overfilling me, trying to push out everything inside of me that isn’t him.
Maybe he was right last night. Maybe I’m not ready for him.
“Oh!” The lone, shaky word escapes through my lips as the very first promise of heat begins to bloom between my legs. My fingernails claw at the paint on the wall, searching for something to anchor me. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
“Getting awfully tight, Gorgeous. Are you about to come?”
“Yes. Almost. There.” I grit my teeth as the heat intensifies.
“Huh.” He sounds uninterested. Almost bored. But his fingers are pushing fresh bruises into my hips. “I was just thinking about leaving.”
“What? No! Don’t stop. Don’t. stop.”
“You sure? I thought you had somewhere to be? Other things to do? Things important enough for you to run away while I was still hard for you… You think I should make you come after that?”
“Xander, please. I’m. So. Cloooooose-”
A hand twists in my hair, pulling me back so that his bared teeth are right against my ear. “Then come.”
I ignite like the volley of sparklers that exploded on stage during my performance. It comes in waves, rippling from the place he moves in and out of me and ricocheting down to the tips of my toes and through the roots of my hair. My body shudders when I feel his hot, harsh grunt against the back of my neck that tells me he’s erupting too. Lost like me, like I’m lost in him.
It’s viscerally gratifying.
When the rolling pleasure finally comes to a stop, my knees give out. Xander catches me and pins me with his body again, keeping me upright while he pushes his still hard cock as deep inside of me as he can reach and his lips start trailing up the back of my neck. His hands are like the hot stones from the massage I had this morning, the parts of my body he touches glowing with warmth beneath the pressure.
I almost feel as though I’m melting into the wall.
In the darkness behind me, he chuckles again.
“What?” I mumble.
“They just called your name.”
He pulls out of me and yanks my shorts back up, slapping my ass before letting me go. “Congratulations, Gorgeous. You just won a Digi.”
The world manages to sink back in through my sex-drunk haze, and as understanding hits me, my scalp prickles with panic. “Shit!”
I shove past him and fly out of the closet, trying to fix my hair and my costume before fighting through the curtains. The moment I emerge, the spotlight finds me and the stage smile that’s more second nature than performance at this point automatically parts my lips. I use it to hide my concern that the cameras will pick up the sheen of sweat on my skin telling everyone I was just fucked like a cheap whore in a closet.
Thankfully, the YouTube creator who hands me the award doesn’t seem to notice anything, so I’m able to convince myself that no one does while I step up to the podium. I don’t even know what award I just won… so I have no idea who to acknowledge until my eyes find the words scrolling across the screens that loop around the audience like a sports stadium.
Favorite Pop Song: Burn Me Down
I take a deep, steadying breath and smile as broadly as I can as I lean into the microphone. “Are the Snowbirds the greatest fan-base on planet earth or what?!”
My speech is rushed, but the applause from the audience as I offer my final ‘thank-yous’ makes me feel like I’ve pulled off a heist.
No one noticed.
No one is any the wiser.
I walk away from the podium and the persistent glare of the spotlight overcome with a criminal kind of excitement, until I emerge through the curtain and find no one there waiting for me but my irate looking manager.
“Where the fuck were you, Leighton?”