Den of Desire

By: Shauna Hart

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To my mother, Sharon, thank you for being my best friend.

To my father, Robert, thank you for all of the love and support that you have given me.

To Nonny, thank you for encouraging me to be creative.

To my uncle Sam and aunt Jami, thank you for giving me the confidence to believe in my writing.

To my aunt Toni Ann and uncle Bill, thank you for all the love and laughter we have shared together.

To my in-laws, Chris and Patricia, thank you for always believing in me.

To Pepper and Nutmeg, thank you for being the best writing partners a girl could ever have.

And as always, to my husband, Willchris, thank you for proving that my soul mate was out there.

I love you with all my heart.

* * *

Chapter 1

What was she doing here?

She still couldn't believe that she'd let Lexi talk her into this. She knew that time was running out. After all, the deadline for her next erotic romance novel was only a month away, and she hadn't written a single word. Readers expecting the next Mara Templeton novel were definitely going to be disappointed if she didn't find some way to spark the muse. The two words that every writer dreads couldn't have struck at a worse time.

Writer's block.

Like the nemesis in the Harry Potter series, it was something that every writer feared but didn't dare speak of aloud. But after a messy breakup two months ago, it had become her constant companion. She couldn't deny that her breakup with Dan had been a shock. It wasn't every day she found her boyfriend in bed with another woman. Still, it wasn't like their relationship was a hot one. It wasn't even lukewarm. After living together for four months, anything hot about their relationship had died a lonely death within the first few weeks.

So, why was she having this problem?

It was a good question.

One that she didn't have an answer for.

Now, as she stood outside the club, she wondered if her problem wasn't a bout of insanity. She looked up at the large X that hung over the door. At night, it would light up half of the block. But now, in the light of day, it was little more than an outline. She willed herself to knock, willed herself to be bold and brave like the characters in her books, but a part of her wavered.

When Lexi'd offered to take her to the club, she'd refused. As much as she wanted to be as wild and free as Lexi was, the truth was that they were complete opposites. She had never done anything like the things Lexi did. Until recently, it had seemed like her life was right on course. She had a successful career and a solid relationship. Now, she was beginning to see how naïve she had been.

Sensing that she was nervous about visiting the club, Lexi had set up a private walk-through with the owner during the day. She could still remember her friend's good-natured prodding.

“What have you got to lose? Maybe if you walk around the place, you will get a few ideas. I know that I always do,” she said with a wink.

She knew Lexi was right.

What could touring the club when it was closed hurt?

She raised her hand to knock mere seconds before it was pulled open. Her gaze rose to meet an arresting pair of green eyes. One eyebrow arched.

“Miss Templeton?”

She offered him a timid smile. “Yes, I'm here to meet...”

“Joe Gates,” he replied, holding out his hand.

She wasn't sure what she had pictured when she thought of the man who owned the hottest sex club in town. Maybe bald, with the look of a pervert? But she definitely hadn't expected him to be so ... sexy.

Why would a guy like him be working in a place like this?

She placed her hand in his, noting how large it felt as it closed around her own. Instead of shaking it, he pulled her inside, closing the door behind them.

“Lexi said you wanted a private tour,” he said.

Despite the darkness, she could feel his eyes traveling the length of her body.

“Yes,” she managed.

He pulled a remote out of his pocket to press a button. Instantly, the room was flooded with light. Mara looked down the long narrow hall, her surprise evident. She wasn't sure what she was expecting.

But this wasn't it.

The place looked like little more than a glorified basement with track lighting. After everything she had heard from Lexi about how wonderful the place was, this was definitely not what she had envisioned.

He walked ahead of her, and she followed behind him.