Something in his tone stops me short. I swallow hard, feeling the familiarity grow even more now. No man has talked to me like this before, except once… Even though my brain is telling me to leave, to just walk outside and never look back, my body moves to follow him.
He takes me past the main section of the party, back through hallways that grow less and less crowded with every step we take. We eventually reach a thick wooden door at the bottom of a short staircase. He turns the knob and opens the door to reveal a completely separate party area, except everyone here wears red. Even the walls are a deep, blood red with dark wood paneling. The music is slower, but with a more pulsating beat that feels sensual and mysterious.
I nearly fall backwards when a woman passes us wearing nothing but a red thong and mask. Her impressive breasts bounce with each step, and she takes her time slowing in front of my mysterious stranger, pouting a little when he doesn’t seem to return her interest.
“Where are we?” I ask.
He turns suddenly, pressing me to the wall with a firm hand so I’m forced to look into his startling blue eyes. “If you trust me, I’ll open up a world you’ve never known, a hunger you didn’t know you had.”
I open my mouth to speak but can’t seem to find words that make sense. “Why should I trust you? I don’t even know you.” Or do I? Every second I spend in his presence makes the strange feeling of recognition grow stronger and stronger until I feel like realization is on the tip of my tongue.
“You could leave, but then you’d wonder what you walked away from,” he says smoothly.
It’s impossible not to feel drunk on the air in this place, like the throbbing beat is pushing its way into my lungs and making my pulse match the slow rhythm, like I can’t breathe anything but his enticing scent, which is also oddly familiar.
“Do I know you?” I ask again.
“I could tell you, but that would ruin the fun, wouldn’t it?”
“I don’t know if fun is the word I’d–” I yelp as he sweeps me away from the wall by my waist, gripping me and parading me through the crowded space like I’m his property.
Melina’s words echo in my mind, reminding me to just let go, to enjoy this. Nothing bad is going to happen to me with so many people around. Probably. I follow him deeper into the room as we wind through an impossibly large space full of candlelit alcoves, dark rooms lit by black lights where half-naked men and women gyrate, and past what even looks like a full-blown torture chamber.
He finally opens a door at the end of a dimly lit hallway with an old-fashioned brass key. Inside, the music is nothing but a dull thumping I can only hear if I strain. The relative quiet is shocking–unnerving, even.
He reaches up to remove his mask. It feels like an ice-cold fist clutches my heart, squeezing until my arms and legs are tingling.
“No,” I say. “No. No fucking way,” I turn to the door, trying to pull it open.
He plants a hand on the door, keeping it shut. “Kylie,” he says softly. “You have no idea how long I’ve been trying to find you.”
“Yeah? You look like you’re trying real hard while you were playing dress-up here.”
His jaw flexes. “Kylie… I need you to hear me out. If you still want to leave once I’ve said what I need to say, you can.”
“I can leave now if I want to,” I growl stupidly, yanking on the door but I can’t even make it budge.
“I know Faleena talked to you on the plane that day. She was lying. Everything she said was bullshit.”
I shake my head, laughing humorlessly. “That’s convenient, because it seemed like your hot little flight attendant recognized her well enough. But you’re telling me she was lying about being your girlfriend?”
His knuckles turn white as he presses harder into the door, eyes blazing with anger. “I dated her once. But I cut things off with her months before she talked to you. She was jealous of you. She said anything she could to get you to leave.”
My eyes well with tears, and I don’t know if it’s from anger, sadness, embarrassment, or maybe some combination of the three. “Can I go now?”
He hesitates a long time, watching me with eyes that don’t look cold or disinterested. They look as possessive and hungry as the last time I saw him. I’m worried if I stand here too long I’ll fall under his spell again, that I’ll believe this mountain of a man really wants me–cares for me, even.
“For now,” he says. “But if you think you’re coming here was a coincidence, you’re mistaken. We’ll talk again, Kylie. Soon.”