Chapter 1

“To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s.”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment


The theme of my retirement party was Spring Break.

I’d chosen it after the monetary success of an impromptu car wash we’d had last summer. If tonight was my last night as an exotic dancer, I wanted to go out with plenty of buck for my bang—if you catch my drift.

Wet T-shirt contests, a tiki bar, a limbo bar (how-low-can-you-go limbo, not the Catholic-waiting-room limbo), umbrellas in every drink, and a skimpy swimsuit on every dancer. New costumes were a major expense for a dancer, but all my ladies already owned bikinis. I wanted my colleagues to make money on my party, not be forced to spend it.

“Goldie! Where are you going?”

Without turning to check who’d called after me, I lifted my voice and yelled back, “Be back in a minute. Just need to freshen up!”

Jogging in my stilettos, I came to a stop just inside the hallway off the main floor. I needed to catch my breath and deposit the cash weighing down my swimsuit. While a Jimmy Buffet dance remix pumped over the speakers, reverberating through the walls and in my bones, I plucked the ones and fives from my string bikini and bundled them together, not bothering to count.

I never counted until the end of my shift and saw no reason to break tradition now.

But I did dash down to the dressing room to store most of the cash, leaving just a few bills tucked into the front of my bikini costume as inspiration for other customers to do the same.

The party, which was now in its sixth hour, had been rowdy for sure, but also thankfully uneventful. No one had broken any rules, no one had picked a fight, no one had been thrown out. Most of my regulars had shown their faces, and handing them off to other dancers had struck me as oddly bittersweet.

But . . . so it goes.

Cash dropped off, bottle of water chugged, my breath finally even, I pushed myself into the right headspace, a task that had been surprisingly difficult tonight. I blamed the contingent of firefighters who’d arrived a few hours ago. Apparently, some of the fellas from the neighboring fire stations—“nice” guys I’d gone to elementary, middle, and high school with, but who I’d never spotted at The Pony before—had all talked, and since I was retiring, they’d figured it was their last chance to see me naked.

They were right. Tonight was their last chance.

I wouldn’t go out with George Padmar if the only other alternative was a rabid raccoon. A rabid raccoon would be a better conversationalist and likely have more self-control. That said, I’d let George and all his buddies look at my naked body to their hearts’ content tonight as long as they were stuffing bills in my bikini and kept their mouths shut.

Two more hours.

Just two more hours and then I’d be finished, done for good. I liked my boss and I liked my coworkers, but after ten years of doing this job week after week, I was more than ready for a change.

Taking one last bracing breath, I lifted my shin and plastered a coy smile on my face, getting into character.

I’d just stepped out onto the floor when Kilby—aka Fantasia—intercepted me. “Louis is looking for you. Another lap dance in the champagne room, all bought and paid for.”

She winked, then altered course, sashaying to one of my regulars—that is, one of my former regulars—and placed her hand on the back of his chair. I didn’t waste time watching what happened next.

If someone had already paid for a dance and was waiting, I wanted to get it over with before another queue formed. Earlier in the evening, the line for a private dance with me had been ten folks long. Doing three private dances back-to-back was tiring, but ten took the steam out of a girl real quick. My legs would hurt tomorrow, make no mistake about that.

Careful not to engage in any lingering eye contact, I hopped up to the bar and waved Louis over. Louis was a fine bartender, but he’d never worked in a strip club until Hank had hired him three months ago. As such, he needed guidance and mentorship, both of which I’d be able to give him after tonight when my official role switched from dancer to club manager.

Lifting his chin when he spotted me, Louis wiped his hands on a towel and abandoned the drink he’d been making. He then jogged over to where I waited at the end of the bar. “Hey, Hannah.”

I tried not to grimace. “It’s Goldie. My name is Goldie on the floor.”

“Oh. That’s right. Sorry I keep doing that.” He looked contrite. “It’s only you I keep messing up. Well, you and April.”

“You mean, me and Shimmer.”

“Yes. Sorry.” He huffed, giving his eyes a half roll. “I will stop doing that toShimmer.”

Nodding, I leaned forward so he could hear me better. “Fantasia said I had a private dance paid for?”

“Yeah, about that.” Louis’s eyebrows pulled together and he braced his hands on the bar top. “It’s the blond guy near the front—don’t look yet, he’s, uh, kind of scary.”

I kept my eyes trained on Louis. “Okay.”

“So he asked and I told him I’d have to check with you, but he wants to buy five private dances, all in a row. Is that allowed? I didn’t think it was allowed.”

“Uh, no.” Alarm had me automatically searching for this man who’d asked for five consecutive private dances.

Hank would lose his damn mind if we did that. Private dances lasted no less than three minutes but no more than five. Consecutive dances were not allowed, a bouncer was always stationed outside the door to the champagne room, and no customer could be alone with a dancer inside the room for longer than the maximum of five minutes. “That is definitely not—”

I stiffened.

Oh. My. God.

The words I’d been about to say died on my tongue and my train of thought derailed into a field of wildflowers and fantasy. The man hovering at the front of the club was absolute perfection. Six foot something, long beautiful body, piercing blue eyes, cliffs for cheekbones and a granite jaw, even the way his chin came to a point felt perfect.

And I knew him.

And he was looking right at me.


A shock of thick, blond-white hair topped off his flawless-to-me façade, the locks now much longer than I’d ever seen them before.

Was this a joke? Or . . . a present?

In my haze of shock and thoughtlessly shameless admiration, I tried to remember the last time I’d laid eyes on the real Isaac Sylvester and not the Isaac Sylvester in my dreams.

He’d disappeared years ago, just after the motorcycle club he’d been pledging crumbled. The Iron Wraiths were still around, but without their money man (running from the law) their president (on death row) and their second in command (rumored dead), they were a mere shadow of the powerful club that had reigned over Green Valley decades prior.

My heart jumped to the spot in my throat where the words had died. Abruptly realizing that I’d been blatantly staring, I tore my gaze from the arresting intensity of Isaac’s inscrutable gaze and redirected it to the third button on Louis’s shirt, swallowing convulsively.


What could he be doing here? Surreptitiously, I glanced around the floor, inspecting each of my coworkers in turn. Had they—did someone call him? Is this—is he—some sort of going away gift? Or a practical joke?

It was no secret among my coworkers that I had a thing for Isaac Sylvester. In the past, whenever he’d arrived, they would tease me with quiet whispers and meaningful eyebrow raises. But as a customer, he’d never asked for me. Not once. He never spared me a glance either.

Which, in retrospect, I’d considered a blessing. Other professional dancers plus conventional wisdom told me that developing a crush on a patron was a recipe for bitterness and a broken heart.

“Is that the man?” I croaked, then cleared my throat. “I mean, is that the—uh—the one in the leather jacket, blond hair? He’s the one who wants the dances? From me?”

“Yes. Like I said, the scary looking one.” Louis sounded concerned.

He needn’t be concerned. Isaac used to buy private dances from Tina every time he came in, multiple a night, once an hour at least. Which was why Isaac asking for me now made no sense.

“And he wanted the dances from me?” I licked my lips and tasted the cherry gloss I’d pained on earlier. “Are you sure?”

“He said he wanted you.”

I caught myself before a frown pulled my eyebrows together and forced a fake, small smile. It felt shaky. “You’re absolutely sure? He didn’t ask for Tina? I mean, he didn’t ask for Adore?”

“Nope. Not Adore. He asked for you specifically. He even used your full real name, first and last.”

I stared at Louis without seeing him, my mind staging a riot, my heart beating at warp-speed.

Each dancer I’d ever compared notes with readily admitted to having a mental stand-in, a fantasy person who took the place of the individuals who paid for a dance or stuffed a tip in their G-string. We relied on the pretend image to get through any given moment, imagining until reality blurred with fantasy. Customers who looked at us with desire or leered at us with lust were that fantasy person, and it helped. It helped to imagine that whatever person was in front of me was someone I actually wanted.

Tina / Adore’s stand-in was Duane Winston. Piper / Diamond’s was Benedict Cumberbatch. Everly / Nixie’s was her husband.

My stand-in was, and always had been, Isaac Sylvester.

I rubbed my forehead, not knowing what to do. The answer should’ve been obvious. Logically, reasonably, I knew Hank wouldn’t be happy if I did something so foolish on my last night dancing. He might even question whether I could take over as club’s manager. This would call my judgment into doubt, and it should.

And yet . . .

My gaze flickered to the beautiful man loitering by the front of the club, his eyes on the floor as he waited patiently for my verdict. Heat exploded like a firework in my chest, smoldering embers settling low in my stomach.

I’d never broken the rules. I’d never wanted to. I’d never been tempted.

Lord help me, but right now? I was more than tempted.

“Did you tell him we don’t allow consecutive dances?” I asked Louis, stalling, continuing to weight my options. “Did you tell him there’s a five minute maximum?”

“I did. He told me it was five dances or nothing.”

My stomach dropped even as my head swam.

Louis leaned further over the bar. “Should I tell him—”

“Tell him it’s fine,” I blurted, forcing the words out before I lost my nerve. “Tell him . . . tell him I’ll meet him inside the room.”

Louis’s disquieted frown became a fretful one. “That’s over fifteen minutes alone with one customer, up to twenty-five.”

“I know.” I tucked my hair behind my ears—a nervous habit I’d developed as a kid—but then realized what I was doing and shook my head to release the strands, scrunching the wild-style back into place. “It’s fine. I—uh—know him.”

I didn’t know Isaac Sylvester.

In fact, I’d never spoken to him, not once, but I’d looked at him plenty.

“Goldie . . .”

Giving Louis a sunny smile, I stepped back from the bar. “It’s fine. A bouncer will be outside the room the whole time. In fact, I’ll ask Dave.”

Louis looked like he wanted to argue, but a customer shouted impatiently for a drink. His attention divided, I darted to the side and around the back of the bar, hammering on my sultry expression to hide the knots twisting in my stomach. A regular waved me over and I winked at him. I did not stop.

I didn’t want to stop or chat. I didn’t want to think or give myself time to second-guess this haphazard, reckless decision. I was always the good, level-headed one, the responsible one. I always made good decisions.

I deserve this.


‘All Folked Up’  is coming July 23, 2024!

As a reminder when ‘All Folked Up’ releases (July 23rd wide and July 26th KU), it will be the NEW cover design (purple) that will be released (not the beard silhouette).

BUT, if collectors want the original-style cover design so all three books match (the old covers), we have one for ‘All Folked Up’ and it will be up exclusively through the Penny Reid ninja shop once ‘All Folked Up’ releases.

If you reserve the ‘All Folked Up’ EBOOK from the Penny Reid ninja shop, you’ll get an EXCLUSIVE bonus scene included with your eBook!

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