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“Sweetheart, we’re here.”

Sweetheart? He’s got to be kidding, right? And where is here? My eyes fly open and I stare at him, or rather right through him.

“We’re here,” he growls again, those blue eyes intense. “My home.”

Tilting my head I try to peer around him, but it’s impossible because he’s too big.

“Yes, but where is home?”

He takes a deep breath.

“This is my place,” he says in a steady voice. “Not the club, and not some hotel. My real home, where the real Benjamin Culver lives.”

I’m still shivering as I try to process these words. The real Benjamin Culver? What does that even mean? I thought the man I met at Club Z was a billionaire running a company called NFT Ideations. I thought Ben valued his privacy because many wealthy men are tight-lipped, if not downright secretive. Of course, he never brought me back to his apartment because it was convenient to hang out at the club. We were able to do everything at the compound including eat, play, socialize, and of course, make love again and again. So what is this “home” Ben speaks of now?

But I just don’t have the strength to argue right now. Instead, Ben holds his hand out to me, and I slip my fingers into his grasp, letting him help me out of the car. Then, he slides a strong arm around my waist and leads me to the elevator before we step in, whooshing up into the sky. Finally, the door pings open, and we enter a beige hallway.

It’s normal actually. Wall sconces light the way, and the carpet is clean, if basic. Ben takes out a key and opens a door on the right, and we step into what must be his “real” apartment.

The space is modest. It’s clearly not the home of a billionaire, with its minimalist furniture and basic kitchen, but it’s clean and neat. There’s a large flat screen hung on the wall, as well as beige couches, and to be honest, at this point, a purple dog could jump out of his closet and I doubt I’d be surprised. After all, there’s no telling how much of what I know is fake; hell, maybe all of it. I just need to relax enough to stop shaking so I can call myself a ride and leave. I just need to go home.

“Ben, I need to leave,” I say in a low voice. “I don’t belong here.”

He nods before sitting me on the couch.

“I get it, but please, just listen to me first, Michelle. Give me a chance to explain, and then you can leave. You’ll never have to see me again, if that’s what you want. But please, just ten minutes of your time.”

I look around. The kitchen is decent-sized with an electric stove and even some counter space, which is a rarity in New York. There’s a small eat-in area off to the left with a modest four-top, and to my surprise, there’s even a vase of flowers on the table. Very nice.

I turn to Ben, still blinking.

“So talk,” I say in a low voice. “And then, I’m going.”

He clears his throat uncomfortably before taking a seat on the couch across from me.

“Would you like something to drink? I think I’ve got some water in the fridge.”

I don’t answer and instead, just continue staring blankly ahead.

“Okay, I can see you want to get this over with,” he says in a low voice. “So be it.” Then he takes a deep breath. “As you’ve probably realized, I’m an undercover cop with the NYPD. I’ve been working undercover for a while now to infiltrate a sex trafficking ring run by the brothers Vladimir and Semyon Sim. This wasn’t my first undercover job, but it’s been one of the most difficult because people who traffic women tend to be very guarded. It makes sense, seeing that their product can talk.”

I shoot him a look, but don’t say anything. Ben inhales again and then starts speaking once more.

“Anyways, being undercover is always tricky because you have to inhabit somebody else’s persona, and that person was Ben Culver in my case. The identity was crafted by our operations team, and that Ben was obviously a billionaire playboy with a strong misogynistic streak. He wanted to subjugate women. He wanted to buy them, and to humiliate them. We worked on that identity for years, as distasteful as it seems. We set him up in a penthouse, gave him the right cars, clothes, bank accounts and bling, and then got him an invitation to Club Z. That was our first big break.”

I stare at him, still silent, and he continues.

“But Club Z was just a means to an end because we needed to penetrate the Sims’ inner circle, and in doing so, you became part of the story. As you know, we needed to show our chops, and bringing you to that party was key.”

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