My Bad Decisions
Book 4 in the On My Own Series
The first time he kissed me, we kept it a secret.
Tanner and I have been at each other’s throats ever since.
The second time he kissed me, I told myself not to fall.
I should have known something burned beneath the surface and I couldn’t resist him.
The third time led to something more and now one positive test later, neither one of us can walk away.
Only when his past sheds light on every difference we’ve chosen to ignore, we’ll have to fight for each other, or lose everything before we’ve even had a chance.
My Bad Decisions
I had grown up in a world of privilege. High teas, boarding schools, Mercedes as starter cars before teenagers got their even higher-end vehicles, and scary amounts of entitlement.
My parents had done their best not to spoil me, and I thought I had some concept of reality. At least, that’s what I told myself.
I did not have an Ivy League education, but I could have gone to any school I set my eyes on. Money was no object, and with the multiple trust funds that had come to me when I hit twenty-one, I didn’t even need a job. My grandmother had even suggested that I go to school to get my MRS degree—aka a husband—not my BA, BS, or Ph.D.
No, a Blake did not need a college degree, especially if that Blake happened to be a woman.
Now, if I had been born with a penis, that would have meant a whole other set of rules, requirements, and expectations. I would have had to go to business school—especially the Ivy League ones—and perhaps even law school. Some were doctors, but most of my cousins and extended family were lawyers or business executives that knew how to work with money and how to make more of it.
That was what Blakes had done for generations.
If you asked my grandmother, the Blakes came in on the Mayflower. I wasn’t quite sure if that was true, though my grandmother probably had the papers to prove it—forged or not.
I was not the Blake my grandmother hoped for, but at least I could look at myself in the mirror. Grandmother lived on the east coast, well away from us, and I rarely saw her since she didn’t like to travel to Colorado. But her mouthpiece, my mother, made sure her rules were clear.
My school friends had been of the same ideals as my grandmother, the same background as me before I decided to go to Denver State University for a degree in social work and not one of the premier colleges. I had been part of the crowd that stuck up their noses and had lunches that were a little more liquid than they were sandwich-based—even at my age. I’d never truly fit in, but I had tried to find my way with them before I changed my mind about who I wanted to be.
With all of that in mind, it honestly surprised me that the location for this bachelorette party was not some high-society tea or something my grandmother would approve of. Of course, the name of the club we were about to enter might seem decent—at least from the outside—but I didn’t think it fit with the usual routine.
After all, the Executive Gentlemen’s Club was not necessarily for the Blake gentlemen.
No, this would be something far different.
“Okay, girls, everyone have their dollar bills?” Janice asked as she held up her Chanel wallet purse.
Victoria, Samantha, Charli, and Karen all giggled, holding up their equally pristine bags. I held back a sigh and tugged my crossbody Dior bag a little closer.
“I don’t see happiness on your face,” Janice stated as she narrowed her eyes at me. “Natalie, come on. We’re near your side of town. You should enjoy yourself.”
The other girls giggled and whispered to each other, and I just rolled my eyes. Somehow, I was friends with these rich bitches—as Tanner would’ve called them—and I wasn’t sure how.
Why had I thought of Tanner just then? Why could I clearly hear his voice when I shouldn’t.
Tanner was a sort-of friend of mine that I had become close to over the past two years. Especially since his roommates were dating every one of my roommates.
Somehow, three of the guys and three of the girls had ended up together and would probably get married sometime soon. However, Nessa and Miles were still in the budding phase of their relationship and hadn’t declared their feelings for one another. My grandmother would somewhat approve of the girls getting their MRSs, even though they were all going towards graduate schools for other degrees. Only Grandmother wouldn’t dwell on those other letters some would eventually get behind their names.
It was the three letters up front that mattered.
The idea that I still hadn’t had a serious relationship, even with all the eligible men my mother tried to set me up with, was not something I needed to dwell on.
Nor was Tanner’s voice in my head.
“It’s my bachelorette party,” Victoria said, clapping her hands in front of her. She had a hundred-dollar manicure on those nails, a four-hundred-dollar haircut, and a four-figure bag in that hand of hers.
She looked gorgeous—they all did—yet I felt like I was miles away from them. Holding back a sigh, I realized I just needed to get through the night and try to remember that I used to be friends with these people.
Even though I wasn’t the same Natalie Blake I had been when I left high school.
“I promise, we’ll have fun. Though I wasn’t expecting a male revue strip club as our evening’s activities.”
“We’ve already had the champagne and appetizers. Now, we’re going to the buffet,” Samantha added as she giggled into her clutch.
I held back an eye roll as the others giggled with her, and we made our way to the front of the line. Yes, there was an actual red-velvet-roped line to get into the place. I hadn’t realized male revues were so popular in Colorado. Though we were near downtown Denver and two large universities. Perhaps this was what people did in their evenings when they weren’t going to school or having house parties.
I needed to get out more. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I would get into tonight.
Hopefully, nothing. I did not want to be scarred for the rest of my life. Images of men in tight leather randomly gyrating to music from the late ‘90s filled my mind, and I tried to push that out of my brain.
I was a big proponent of doing what worked for a person. If you wanted to strip for money, I said go for it. If you wanted to take off your clothes and enjoy yourself, then have fun.
I just didn’t want to be here for it since I had no idea what I was supposed to do.
I knew with complete certainty that I was the only virgin in the group—just like I was the only virgin in most groups.
I held back a painful and hollow laugh, thinking of another friend who used to joke with me about being the last virgin. But I had lost Corinne over a year ago now, and there was no bringing her back.
“Now you’re truly frowning,” Janice tittered, glaring at me. “If you don’t get those wrinkles away from your forehead, you’re going to need more Botox than any of us.”
I sighed, put a bright smile on my face that I knew looked a little manic but was necessary to fit in with this crowd, and rolled back my shoulders. “I’m ready. Bring on whatever the hell we’re getting into.”
“The language. I guess that’s what comes when you go to a state university,” Karen muttered to herself as we walked in. I ignored her and noticed a few of the people in line glaring at us. I wondered what strings they’d pulled to get into the VIP section and to the head of the line for a male strip club.
We walked past a large bouncer, who swept his gaze over all of us, but I didn’t know if it was to check us out or to see if we had any weapons or extra body glitter. I held back a snort at that and told myself not to be a party pooper. I needed to have fun tonight. Maybe let loose. Only the people that I wanted to let loose with were all out on dates tonight.
My roommate Nessa was on a date with Miles, and I thought the relationship might be going well. I was worried about the rest of the semester with everything Nessa was going through, but things seemed to be progressing nicely with Miles. Nessa hadn’t said that she loved him yet, but I knew it. I might be a virgin, but I was a romantic at heart.
Dillon, Elise, Pacey, and Mackenzie were out on a double date. I thought it was cute that the four of them were spending so much time together, and I had a feeling those bonds would last forever.
I wasn’t sure where my bonds would end up because I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. That didn’t seem right, and I needed to be better about it. Still, it felt that way sometimes.
I blinked myself out of my thoughts and looked around at the leather-adorned interior of the club and the red velvet ceiling. It was nice in here. It didn’t smell like smoke or sweat or other bodily fluids, and there was a decent bar. Still, I had no idea what to expect. There were corner tables all around, as well as some in the middle. Groups of people mingled: businessmen, businesswomen, college-aged people. Everyone.
I nearly tripped as I looked over and recognized another student from my class. Their name was Tru, without the e. They waved and winked before gesturing towards the stage. A very built man wearing a firefighter costume gyrated, and I squinted, wondering how I could have missed that part of his costume.
I blushed, scampered after my friends, and gave Tru a little wave. They rolled their eyes, leaned into their friends, and the group in rainbow-colored attire and enormous wigs waved back.
I knew that Janice and the others would get angry if I left them, even for a minute, but I would deal with it. I walked up to Tru and hugged them hard.
“Hey, you. This is the last place I thought I would see the Natalie Blake.”
I winced and hugged them again. “Bachelorette party. For a friend from high school. I haven’t seen them in over a year, so I’m a little bit out of my element in more ways than one.” I didn’t mean to sound so bitter about that, but it was true. Everyone else in the group had gone to the same school, and most of them were married—everybody but Victoria and me.
Victoria was getting married next week, though. I would be the lone old maid in the group. I would turn twenty-two next month. I really was the old maid. Lovely.
Tru gave the girls a look, held back the eyebrow raise I knew they wanted to give me, and gestured towards their group.
“My friends, this is Natalie, a friend from class.” They turned to me again. “We’re here for a bachelor party of our own for Brandon and Franklin,” they said, gesturing to the others at the end of the table, both with frilly white sashes, large beards, and tiaras. They looked amazing.
“It’s nice to meet you all.”
Tru introduced me to the rest of the group and asked me if I wanted to sit for a drink.
“I should probably return to the group I came with because I am here for a bachelorette party.”
“Considering that one of them is glaring daggers at you, you’re probably not wrong,” Franklin said. “Thank you for the congratulations. And if you need a place to hide, we’re here for you. It’s always a safe place with us.”
I smiled widely and hugged Tru again. “I don’t know the etiquette at a strip club, but can I send over a drink? Or maybe a lap dance?” I said with a laugh. Everybody joined in, thankfully.
“Look at you. Again. I wouldn’t have thought those words would come out of your mouth.”
I shoved playfully at Tru’s shoulder. “Be nice. I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“Clearly. But we love you anyway. You’re welcome to send over a drink. The lap dance…not so much because we’re a little territorial,” Tru added with a grin. I smiled, said my goodbyes, and took a little extra time handing over a fifty to their waiter. The waiter smiled and went over to the booth, and I made my way back to the girls.
“What were you doing with them?” Victoria asked. I narrowed my eyes, ready to defend my friends, but she held up a hand. “Not because they seem to be having a lovely gay bachelor party, but because you were with our group, not them. We may be bitches, but we’re not bigoted bitches. Duh.” She held up her martini glass. “Now, sit and enjoy the show.”
Relief spread through me, and I was grateful that she had just come right out and said it. She was right. They were bitches and proud of it, but they only judged people for their money and class—or lack thereof—not anything else. And that was a horrible thing to think about my former friends.
I sat down at the end of the booth and looked at the sparkly pink drink in front of me. Karen leaned over. “It’s a sparkling rosé with strawberries. Sounded good.”
“It looks tempting. Thank you.” The others held up their half-empty glasses, and we clinked and said our cheers. I took a drink of my sweet and sparkly concoction.
We were taking the limo home, so I could have as much as I wanted, but I wasn’t in the mood to drink tonight. Everybody seemed as if they were having fun, and I felt like I was two steps behind.
A voice came over the speaker, and I instinctively looked towards the stage. “And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. It’s time to tame this bad boy. He may be wearing leather, and he may have a few chains waiting for you behind these curtains, but…here we go. Let’s see what he has in those hips tonight.”
I winced as the girls screeched when a younger man with dark hair he’d brushed back slid onto the stage. He wore jeans with holes in the knees, a leather jacket, and a white T-shirt. He moved those hips so sensually, I couldn’t help but be drawn to them. I swallowed hard, wondering why I cared about this guy’s hips and not the firefighter’s—or his hose attachment.
“Look at him. Look at that bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks,” Samantha joked. “I wouldn’t mind figuring out exactly how bad he can be.”
“I know, right? Just a fling. Of course, my flings are over,” Victoria said, and I looked over as she wiggled her finger with her four-carat diamond ring.
I pulled my gaze from her and ignored how they continued talking about the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. They had no idea who this person was. They shouldn’t be talking bad about him, and I didn’t want to hear what they thought of him.
He moved his hips and slowly stripped off his leather jacket—to the delighted squeals and shouts of the crowd. He worked the music, getting low to the ground and grinding, but the shadows were above his face, and I couldn’t see any details.
Those arm muscles as he stripped off his shirt, though? Whoa. Dear, God. And that back of his was all broad muscle, too.
He was gorgeous. I couldn’t help but blush, yet I knew this was wrong. Ogling him. I shouldn’t be enjoying this. But I was a warm-blooded woman. Maybe I could have just a little fun. I let out a squeal with the rest of them, wanting to join in. And then he turned.
I stiffened, met his gaze for an instant, and all breath rushed out of me. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. I had to be seeing things. After all, I’d never been to a strip club before. Surely, the first one I went to wouldn’t have a stripper I recognized.
He didn’t seem to care when our eyes met. Instead, Tanner moved his hips and put one hand on his belt.
I swallowed hard, watching how his thumb swiped at the button of his jeans, first one and then another. I realized I hadn’t known men still wore button fly jeans.
I couldn’t breathe.
Tanner Hagen, the final roommate, my somewhat friend and somewhat nemesis, was currently stripping at my friend’s bachelorette party.
This was what death and mortification truly felt like.
My cheeks flamed, and I took a big swallow of my drink, nearly choking on it. “I have to use the bathroom.” The girls waved me off, not caring about my crudeness.
I nearly tripped over my heels as I made my way down the hallway and past another bouncer. “You going to hurl?” the bouncer asked.
I shook my head, my cheeks red. “I just need some air. Can I go out this back door?”
“No problem. You got your ticket?”
I held up my hand and waved it so his gaze went to the glowing wristband that served as the ticket. “Jeff out there will let you in when you’re ready. Just breathe. Take care of yourself.”
“Thanks,” I said, warmed by his care.
“You’re welcome. You won’t be alone out there. He’ll keep you safe.”
I stumbled out the back door, nodded at the other bouncer, took a few more steps, and then put my back to the brick. I sucked in a deep breath of the cool air and let out another. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t do anything.
Tanner was a stripper?
I knew he worked late and long hours to pay for school and other things, but I didn’t know he was a stripper. Did anyone else?
No, they would have told me. Or…maybe not. It was none of my business. Hadn’t I just said that people were allowed to do whatever they needed to pay for school?
Tanner, though… The man who had starred in more than one of my fantasies was a stripper.
And he was even sexier in person than he was in my dreams.
All hard ridges, dark hair, and light eyes. He had a smattering of chest hair that glistened under the lights, but he was mostly all sweat-slick skin and rigid muscles, with a little trail of hair down from his belly button into those jeans I hadn’t looked too closely at because I had run before he fully pulled them off.
This wasn’t a nude strip club, so he’d likely be wearing a G-string or briefs or whatever under them. But the girls would see nearly everything—as would Tru and their friends.
Everyone would see him moving those hips and everything else, and I had run.
Sad, little virgin Natalie had run from Tanner and his penis.
That needed to be the title of my new diary entry this evening. I put my hands over my face and let out a deep breath, freezing at the sound of gravel underfoot.
“So. Here we are.”
I looked up at him, letting my hands fall to my hips as I coughed. “You’re wearing clothes.”
That wasn’t exactly what I had wanted to say, but I couldn’t take it back now.
He quirked a smile, giving me that damn sexy look of his that I both hated and loved all at once. I didn’t dislike Tanner. He was nice and sweet most of the time. He cared for everyone in his circle, but he also had secrets, pushed people away, and was growly and judgy when in a mood.
Perhaps now, I understood why he held some things close to the vest. But that didn’t mean I had to like it.
“I didn’t think I’d see Natalie Blake here.”
I wasn’t sure if I liked him saying my name like that, even though I really did like that he said my name like that.
“I’m here for a bachelorette party.”
“Didn’t realize one of our friends was getting married,” he drawled as he came forward. He wore those same jeans and white T-shirt, but the leather jacket was long gone.
How long had I been standing out here trying to cool down?
Long enough for him to finish his set and come out here fully dressed, apparently.
“They’re friends from high school. Not truly my friends anymore, but they asked me to come, so I did.”
He tilted his head, stared at me, and then put a hand against the brick wall on either side of my head. I was caged, trapped. Yet I didn’t want to push him away.
I’d only had that single glass of champagne. But, apparently, it had gone right to my head.
“Don’t tell them, Natalie.”
I tilted my head, studying the angle of his jaw. I knew he wasn’t talking about my high school friends anymore. “Of course, I won’t.”
He leaned closer, his lips a bare breath from mine. “Again?” he asked, his voice low, a growl in his tone.
I swallowed hard, my gaze going to his lips. “We can’t.”
He smirked. “Why? Because I’m a poor stripper?”
Hurt sliced through me, and I leaned forward, brushing his hair from his forehead. He radiated heat, and his gaze was full of something I couldn’t read. Still, he looked so damn good. “No, because you don’t like me.”
“Of course, I do, princess.”
Then he pressed his lips to mine, and I told myself—once again—that this would be the last time I kissed Tanner Hagen.
My Bad Decisions
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Pregnancy, Childhood emotional Abuse