By: Kim Jones

“Stop thinking, Carmen,” Emily snaps. “Get out. Go in. Order a drink. Order another one. Then make that bastard pay.” I nod with each command—willing myself to follow through.

“I’ll call you when it’s done.” Hanging up, I blow out a breath and grip the steering wheel. I’m way out of my comfort zone. But I’ve been good for too long. It’s time for me to live on the edge. Take chances. Chase a thrill. Understand the feeling of danger—not just the definition.

Without giving myself time to change my mind, I step out of the car and into the dark parking lot littered with bikes and a few old trucks. I feel even more out of place when I hit the lock button on my keypad, and the two loud chirps of my alarm system echo in the night as the LED headlights of my E Class Mercedes illuminate the front of the building.

My head jerks from side to side—searching the lot for anyone paying attention. I’m all alone and the realization has me shoving my hands into the front pockets of my coat and sprinting toward the entrance. Although, I’m not sure if I’m running from danger, or into the hands of it.

A cloud of smoke billows over my head as I pull open the heavy glass door. Loud music blasts from speakers hanging on the dark-colored walls covered in posters of half-naked women and neon beer signs. The bar makes a huge U in the center of the room. Nearly every stool is occupied with men donned in black leather vests covered in patches—some the same, some different.

Several tables are scattered to my left—most empty. To my right are a row of pool tables where another crowd of men are gathered. I quickly make my way to one of the empty tables at the furthest corner of the room and take a seat—feeling a little safer in the shadows.

“What ya drinkin’ doll?” I jump, startled as I meet the inquisitive eyes of the waitress. She’s smacking on a piece of gum, her pen tapping impatiently on the tray in her hands.

“Chardonnay, please.”

The corner of her mouth turns up as she drags her eyes down my body. I swallow and shift in my seat. “We don’t serve Chardonnay.”

“Right.” I let out a nervous laugh. “Sorry, I’ve never been here before.”

“No reason to apologize,” she says, pulling out the chair next to mine. “I’ll fix you up somethin’ good. But first…” She leans in, her jaws working overtime as she chews her gum furiously. “Tell me why a girl like you is in a place like this.”

Her gaze is so penetrating that I’m forced to look away. My eyes scan the room for something else to focus on. That’s when I see him. Jud. My ex-boyfriend. The man I’d been planning to marry since my sophomore year in high school. The guy with the dark brown hair that curls at the nape of his neck and around his face. The one with the golden eyes and small dimple that appears in his right cheek when he smiles.

His arm—the strong arm that once held me is now draped over a girl’s shoulders as he shakes hands with several of the bikers at the bar. Not just any girl. Clarissa. One of my sorority sisters. Regret starts to sink in as I take in her tall, perfect frame—dressed to ride. Her hair is a sexy mess from her helmet. Her cheeks flushed from the wind. Her eyes bright with excitement. Could that be me if I weren’t always so scared to ride?

“You know them folks or somethin’?” the waitress asks, looking from me to Jud and Clarissa and back.

“He’s my ex. She was my friend,” I say, unable to look away from them.

There’s a brief moment of silence before she gives my arm a squeeze and whispers, “I’ll get you that drink.” She disappears through a door, leaving me in the darkened corner with only my thoughts.

Seeing them together, in the flesh, is a lot different than hearing the rumors or seeing pictures. It hurts more—deeper. My throat constricts. Stomach tightens. Tears prick the back of my eyes as the ache intensifies. That place in my heart reserved only for Jud is now hollow. And I realize it’s the emptiness that makes it so painful.

The waitress appears and I grab one of the glasses from her tray, not bothering to even ask what it is before I toss it back. The welcome burn in my throat and belly helps to dull the agony. In hopes I can numb it, I reach for another shot…and then another.