Coming September 23rd!

Chapter 3

The top half of Zack’s latest piece – tentatively titled The Siren That Stole My Soul –cracked into two on the floor of his art studio. He likewise tossed his supplies, because they weren’t going to do him any good now.
“This is what happens when we get started on a Sunday.” Every artist, like every sportsman or fisherman, had his superstitions. Those tried and true “dos and don’ts” that would either make or break his day. One of Zack’s was Never start a new project on a Sunday. Continuing a project was fine. Finishing one up was considered fortuitous for the project’s success. Starting one, however, was like cursing himself. Every time he made the attempt, it blew up in his face.
Or broke in half and smashed onto his floor. That worked, too.
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Coming September 22nd!

Chapter 2

He saw her the moment he entered the café. In fact, he entered the café because he saw her through the window, ordering a cup of tea while chatting with the barista.
It was the way she moved. Gracefully, but wholly unaware of how effortlessly pretty she was. Then again, Zachary Feldman thought most women were pretty to some degree or another. He was trained to see the beauty in everyone. Sometimes the greatest muses were the ones other artists decried as nothing special.
It also wasn’t until that moment that he realized he had been in an artistic slump. Because the moment he saw the young woman toss her giant bag of office supplies into one of the white chairs, Zack knew he had to draw her.
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Coming September 22nd!

Chapter 1

Rachel Taylor woke up with the sun in her face and some guy’s morning wood pressing into her back.
Ah hell no.
Funny thing, morning memory is. One moment a woman is thinking about all the work she has to do in a day. The next? She’s kicking out a guy who was never supposed to stay the night. Let alone try to cop a feel before he made his way out the door!
Harry was a guy she picked up from a dating website. Okay, a dating app. Because that somehow makes it better. They had met a week before with the understanding that it was only a casual setup. She wanted sex, he wanted… well, he wanted sex, too. But what Rachel assumed to be a run of the mill hookup date turned into a preliminary let’s check out how hot she is before I go fuck someone else date. Which should have been Rachel’s first red flag that she should never let this guy anywhere near her bed.
Desperation had won out in the end. Doesn’t it always? She cursed her debilitating libido that forced her to make the saddest decisions. Harry wasn’t only lackluster in bed, but he was also so damn smug that Rachel woke up choking on his fumes more than once that night. Too bad she had been too drunk on a lack of self-respect to realize she needed to kick the bastard out before daylight broke.
Too late.
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DRABBLE: Late Night Taco Bell Run



Jade, Vincent, Stella, Nala

Another air quality warning lit up Jade’s phone as she pressed down the darkened streets of Northwest Portland. Smoke from the Eagle Creek fire blew into town faster than people could blow it back out their windows. It didn’t help that it was already the most humid day of the year.

Good thing the quaint condo she shared with girlfriend Stella had awesome air conditioning. Jade was content to seal the windows shut and enjoy the blast of cool air and worry about the smoke later. Well, wildfire smoke, anyway. There was no ignoring the other kind of smoke Stella blew through a tiny crack in the living room window because her shoulder pain had come back with bitter vengeance.

Jade was used to medical marijuana being the norm. She was from southern Oregon, the original home of Mary-Jane and all things pain-killing. Her girlfriend’s relationship with such things didn’t faze her. What did, however, was the new strain Stella insisted on trying that night.

Yeah. The strain that made her higher than the red moon in the sky.

Stella needed food. Fast food. Salt, sugar, all of it. She wanted it all, and she wanted it now. Good thing there was a Taco Bell not too far way. Oh, and Jade was volunteered to go get the food. Stella even went to her purse and put a nice stack of dimes and dollar bills in Jade’s hand. A whopping $3.40.

Think I’ll just use my debit card.

Jade turned onto the main boulevard and began the descent. Cars honked at her for daring to cross the street when the light turned green. The usual camp of homeless men and women asked her for some change. Jade only had the pile of dimes for them.

She tightened the hood of her sweatshirt around her face as she went on her way. The night had barely cooled off enough to warrant a sweatshirt, but it helped keep the smoke out of her nose.
“All this for a chalupa.” Jade loved her girlfriend, she really did, but sometimes crunked up Stella was a pain in the ass.

She supposed she should get something for herself, too. Yet it appeared that Jade had plenty of time to figure out what she wanted, for when she opened the glass door to the restaurant, she found a hefty line in front of the counter. Apparently, half of Northwest Portland had the same idea at eleven on a weeknight.

“Great,” Jade muttered. She lined up behind a tall man in a gray sweatshirt. “Party time at the Taco Bell.”

Her hood came down as she texted her girlfriend. “Gonna be a few extra minutes. There’s a line.”
“Hrrrngggj jsljoao odjfoi 334.”

“I know, hon.”

Jade put her phone away. The man in front of her happened to look over his shoulder and make eye contact with her.

Did he instantly recognize her? Fuck. Jade wasn’t in the mood to entertain men this late at night. Let alone alone. In a fast food restaurant.

“Fancy meeting you here.”

It took Jade a few moments to place where she recognized that masculine profile. Probably because she was used to seeing Vincent Lane in more formal circumstances, like at the parties, fundraisers, and occasional club Stella attended. The image Jade had of Vincent, a man Stella knew from her Portland police department days, usually included a business suit or tuxedo. Seeing the tech billionaire in his jeans and sweatshirt at the local Taco Bell wasn’t something Jade ever thought she would see. Let alone on a Wednesday night…


“What brings you here?”

Jade looked around. Was he seriously talking to her? Was he that hard up for someone to talk to? He had a cell phone the mass market didn’t even have access to yet. Couldn’t he call one of his friends in China and bust out the Mandarin if he was that bored? I barely know this guy. All she knew about Vincent Lane on a personal level was that he was Stella’s ex-boyfriend’s friend from an undercover investigation that brought down some pharmaceutical giant. Whatever.

He also was a huge Timbers fan, which explained the faded soccer sweatshirt.

“My girlfriend tried a new strain of medical marijuana from the local dispensary, and, well…”
“If you’re at Taco Bell, I can guess what happened.” Vincent chuckled. “Stella, right? Your girlfriend.”


“Can’t say I ever saw her when she was high, but I’ve seen her drunk.”

“It’s about the same, honestly. Only with more hallucinations.”

The line moved up one. The cashier, a teenager who looked like he had no idea how he was going to process so many people in a decent amount of time, grimaced when an elderly gentleman demanded five crunchy tacos. Not six. Five.

Jade’s phone buzzed. “I need those cinnamon twisty things. Get five. No, better make it 8. I gave u some $$ for it.”

Sighing, Jade shoved her phone back into her sweatshirt pocket. “Is your girlfriend high too?”
“Only on ibuprofen. I’m here for hormonal reasons.”


“So how about that smoke, huh?”

Jade crossed her arms. “Not getting enough socializing at home, huh?”

“Sorry. You don’t really know me.”

“All I know is that Stella knows you from that… thing.’

“Ah.” Vincent scooted farther up the line. Jade took her time covering the distance between them. “The thing. Yeah. You missed out on that whole drama.”

“I hear you and your girlfriend are bored to tears these days without something to fuck up.”
“You weren’t complaining when we helped save your ass a few months ago.”

“Don’t remind me, please.” Bullets flying. Breaking her knuckles on a former coworker’s face. Watching a police raid rain down around her. Just little relationship things.

That was the first time Jade met Vincent and his girlfriend Nala, but she had been a bit too frazzled to commit them to memory. It wasn’t until they were at the same fundraiser a few weeks later that they had a real conversation. This line at Taco Bell held more substance that night.

Partly because Jade was always awkward around men she barely knew. And partly because she didn’t know just what kind of relationship he and Stella once had. After all, they had gone undercover in a swinger’s ring, and Stella had been open about sleeping with other men in the club as part of her cover. “Oh, yeah, those two. They totally watched me and Joseph do it one night.” How was Jade supposed to cope with facts like that? With the man in question right in front of her?

“I’ve never known Stella well.” Was he reading her mind? “But she seems like a fun character.”
Vincent was called to place his order. Jade remained two feet behind him, chewing on his words. What a night. First Stella was on another planet, and now she had to receive coded messages that absolved Vincent Lane from Jade’s girlfriend’s sexual history.

Not what she wanted to think about right before midnight while the world burned outside.
The torture didn’t end once her order was placed. Now she had to stand beside Vincent and wait for the bag to appear.

“You were at the Green For Life Rally, right?”

God, he was still talking? Jade just wanted to get her food and go.

“Yup. We both were. Don’t tell me you were there, too.”

“It’s easy to blend into crowds after I take off the suits.”

“Let me guess. You’re not a suit guy.”

“Nope. I’ve tried starting up a casual every fucking day at my office, but everyone tells me to keep it to business casual Friday. You?”

“What? Do I like dressing up?” Jade scoffed. “No. That’s more my girlfriend’s thing.”

Vincent stepped forward to grab his food. Jade checked her phone for more messages, but there was nothing.

Probably because the woman stumbling through the doors was too busy to text anyone.

“Baaaabe!” Stella screeched above the rabble of the midnight Taco Bell lobby. “I’m here to help!”

Jade’s jaw dropped. Vincent stopped halfway to the door.

Of course Stella saw him first.

“Oh my God, Vinny!” She stumbled into the restaurant, her fluffy white coat falling off her shoulders and arms while one shoe flew off her foot.

She looked like one of Dali’s melting paintings.

“Hi, Stella. Long time no see.” Vincent expertly dodged her flailing hug. He looked over Stella’s tangled blond hair and to Jade, a countenance of “Holy shit she reeks” crossing his face. “See you’re enjoying your Wednesday night.”

“I’m getting Taco Bell!”

“You sure are. Tell Joseph hi for me next time you see him.”

“I will!”

She almost followed him out of the restaurant. A few other diners and those grabbing their meals to go glanced at her with the usual bored Portlander demeanor. This was tame compared to what most people saw around town.

“Uh.” Jade slammed her hand upon Stella’s shoulder. “What the fuck are you doing? Did you walk all the way down here dressed like this?”

“Dressed like what?”

Stella was in her PJs, no bra, and a baggy coat she usually wore with cocktail dresses. Half of her hair was clamped on top of her head while the rest dusted her bare shoulders. Her eyes were red and watery from the smoke – or from being too high to live. Either one.

“Never mind. I got us our food.” No way was Jade letting Stella have it. She’d eat the whole bag – including her girlfriend’s share – before they turned onto their street. “Let’s get out of here before they call your old coworkers on us.”

“Oh my God! We should totally do that!” Stella held her cell phone up to her head. “911? This is Stella. I need assis… assista… ass.

They stepped out into the warm night. Jade pulled her hood back up and held her breath against the smoke blanketing the world. She was so focused on getting Stella home in one piece that she didn’t notice the black car pulling up alongside them in the parking lot.

“Get in. I’ll give you guys a ride home.” Vincent opened the back doors of his car with a touch of a button. “You really shouldn’t be walking with this shit air quality.”

Stella climbed in, laughing, before Jade had the chance to realize what was happening.

Oh, well. Instead of ten minutes, they’d be home in two, and she wouldn’t have to worry about Stella wandering into the busy streets or breathing in more crap air. Besides, Vincent had a pretty nice car that was way more comfortable than walking uphill.

Someone else’s head perked up from the front row passenger seat. “What the…”

“Bumped into some old friends in the Taco Bell,” Vincent told his girlfriend Nala once he was back in the driver’s seat. “We’re giving them a ride home before going back to the Pearl.”

Stella launched into the space between headrests. “Hi, Nala!”

“Oh my God. She smells like…”

“Costa Rican Wildflowers,” Jade mumbled.

“What did you get? I got a chalupa and two cinnamon twists.”

Nala, who looked like she had the damn flu, smacked her head against the rest. Vincent waited for a red light to turn before heading down 23rd Street. “I don’t know. What did you get me?”

You also got a chalupa and a couple of burritos. Because you told me to spend all seven dollars, and that was still with me getting something for myself.”

“Nala!” Stella was halfway into the front seat. She would’ve stolen Homeplate if it weren’t for Jade pulling her back into her seat. “You should trade me that chalupa for one of my cinnamon twists!”

By the time they reached the condominium, Stella had amassed another chalupa and half of a burrito. She shoved both in Jade’s face. I’m never eating again at this rate.

“Thanks for the ride…” She tried to get out of the car, but her girlfriend was still in her lap, face plastered on the window. “Think I’ve got it from here.”

“No, she needs ass!

Both Vincent and Nala turned their heads in Stella’s direction.

“You heard the woman. I need ass.” Jade yanked Stella out of the car, Taco Bell bag back in hand. “Assistance. She means assistance.”

“Have a good night, you two. Stay safe and keep those windows closed.”

“We gotta go, babe,” Nala groaned. “I need more ibuprofen.”

Jade kept her hand locked on Stella’s. It was only a short elevator ride up to their home. “Hope you enjoyed yourself, Stell. ‘Cause that was the worst late night Taco Bell run ever.”

“I did have fun! Think I’ll order some Chinese. You think anywhere’s open this late?”

“I just got you… know what? Never mind.” Jade would lock her girlfriend in their bedroom and let her have her way with the chalupas and burritos. Within ten minutes, Chinese food would be a faraway idea.

She would also hide the Costa Rican Wildflower. Assuming she didn’t take a hit of it herself to get through the rest of the night. 


DRABBLE: An Indecent Invitation



Kathryn Alison, Ian Mathers, Ken & Lana Andrews

Kathryn gritted her teeth and looked the other way, her glass of champagne dangling over the arm of the leather chair. “No, they’re your friends.”

It was the same petty argument she and boyfriend Ian had every time they tried to have a nice evening out on the town and crossed paths with Lana and Ken Andrews. What did we expect when we came to The Dark Hour, though? The club was the home away from home for the married couple who got off on exhibition and voyeurism. The more people they could include in their kink, the better!

All well and good, except for the fact that the Andrews were under the impression that Kathryn and Ian were their friends.

“Your friends.” Ian turned his body away from the approaching form of Ken Andrews. The man didn’t have the greatest height on him, but his confident gait owned every room he sauntered through. That included the rear VIP lounge where Kathryn and Ian had come for some peace and quiet in a club full of raucous partying and enough drunk people to start a new round of legal prohibition. “They are most certainly your friends. They bother you way more than they bother me.”

“Amazing, because you’re the one they have a crush on.”

The champagne filtered through Kathryn’s lips until the bottom of her glass was high up in the air and her throat worked to make it all go down. The goal was to swallow all of her drink before Ken finished his beeline for them.

“Kathryn, Ian,” he said with a charming grin. Neither of them made eye contact with him. “Having a good evening?”

Kathryn reflected on her finishing school training and remembered to sweetly, professionally smile at the older man starting a conversation with her. Ian, on the other hand, went straight for the jolly shake that suggested he would rather eat his fist than talk to Ken.

“You know how it is around here,” Ian said, arm firmly around Kathryn. What, did he think this was the time to show off what a great alpha boyfriend he was? Kathryn readjusted the glittering black mask on her face. The theme of the party was Feminine Mystique. Every woman wore masks and more conservative dresses than they usually would. So happened Kathryn had a gorgeous long-sleeved dress she acquired on her most recent trip to Paris. (No, not the one with Ian. The one she took by herself a month ago because she just needed to get away for the weekend, no men allowed.) “One moment you’re having a pleasant conversation, and the next you’ve seen five blowjobs, one of which was for someone you didn’t even realize had a penis.”

“Yes, it’s always a great assembly.”

Kathryn cut to the chase. I want to get this over with, thanks. She had plans to enact with her boyfriend. The sooner they could be alone again, the sooner they could decompress and head back to her apartment for the real fun and games. “What can we do for you this evening, Mr. Andrews?” She kept her voice curt enough to broadcast her ladylike irritation.

A small business card landed on the table. “I know it’s a longshot,” Ken began, “but I’m throwing a party for Lana’s birthday. No offense taken if neither of you want to come.” His wink as he walked away again told Kathryn she didn’t want to look at the card.

Because when it came to Kenneth Andrews and his wife Lana, nobody’s birthday party would be anything but inappropriate for half the populace.

“Oh, boy.” Ian picked up the card and held it out of Kathryn’s reach while he read it. “Well… you’ll never guess what this is for.”

Kathryn sighed. “I’ve got a pretty wild guess. Does it include their swinging lifestyle?”


“Does it include Lana having the best birthday a woman like her could ask for?”

“Oh, absolutely.”

Kathryn wasn’t a math whiz, but she could still put two and two together. “Key party?”

“Come on, Katie, that’s something they do for their anniversary, not Lana’s birthday.”

“Give it to me.”

The card fluttered into her lap. Kathryn snatched it up and instantly wished she could bleach the announcement out of her brain.

Because who didn’t want to be invited to a gangbang carefully curated by one woman’s husband?

“I think I should be flattered,” Ian said. “I should be flattered, right?”

Kathryn wadded up the card and shoved it into her purse. She may have been put out, but she wasn’t about to leave something as private as this laying around for strangers to pick up. I have class. Lana and Ken didn’t need some random perv crashing their sexy party. Nope. They only needed the carefully curated additions to show up. Don’t want details. Hell no. After Lana’s birthday, there would be men (and probably some women) Kathryn knew who had done things with Lana she would never, ever want to know about. Guaranteed that Kathryn would now search the faces of all the other men in the club, wondering which ones would show up for Lana Andrews’s weird birthday party.

“It’s not flattery if we already know they’d love to swing with us one day. Specifically with you.” Kathryn summoned a server to bring them another round of drinks. She needed it now. “Both of them.”

“So… I’m flattered.”

“Whatever makes you feel like a big strong man.”

The party grew over the next hour. Eventually, Kathryn and Ian ventured out of their tiny VIP area and joined a slightly larger one full of locals and out-of-towners they both knew and had only met once or twice. It was the delightful kind of socializing that carried with it the usual sexual expressiveness and freedom that still did not put the onus to participate on anyone who didn’t want to. Because while Kathryn and Ian were no strangers to flaunting their sex lives in front of others, that didn’t mean she was always in the mood. Neither was Ian, for that matter – although he would never openly say it. Good thing Kathryn had learned to read his tone and body language so well that even she could confidently say that her boyfriend was not going to push the public boundaries that night.

The Andrews were there, of course, mingling as if nobody had been invited to anything and the entire evening was social business as usual. Lana was aghast that a certain Italian woman had never been to the new five-star restaurant opened on the far side of downtown. (She only cared because it was in a building she and her husband owned.) Ken talked literary pursuits with a Brazilian real estate developer and his male partner of twenty years.
The two were never far apart.

“Can you imagine us turning into them one day?” Ian murmured in his girlfriend’s ear.
Kathryn’s eyes glazed over. Through the milky haze of the room, she admired the way Ken always kept one loving hand on his wife, whether he stroked her thigh or wrapped his fingers firmly around her shoulder. Likewise, Lana always leaned back against him, smacked his leg with laughter even when they were not a part of the same conversation, and naturally referenced their marriage in half of her dialogue.

People joked that they would always be “The Andrews” because they were such a fluid unit that could read each other’s minds and desires. People made fun of their sexual lifestyle while also admiring their keen business sense in the real estate world. Kathryn couldn’t fault either approach.
“Don’t know what would be so bad about that.”

Ian stopped laughing. “You think so?”

“Babe…” Kathryn leaned against her boyfriend, hand on his shoulder and hand softly landing in his lap. “If we’ve been together that long and you still look at me the way he looks at his wife, then life will be more than good.”

Because that was pure, undying love on Ken Andrews’s face every time he was caught gazing upon his wife.


When Kathryn was alone in her office later that night, with her boyfriend asleep in her bed in the other room, she emptied her purse and found the crumpled up invitation.

She unfolded it and stared at it beneath the lamp light. Her cat, perched on the corner of her desk, waited to see what she would do with it.

She didn’t put it through her shredder and into the trash as she had originally planned. Instead, she placed it in the bottom of her locked drawer, in a little stash she called, Relationship Goals. Because a man who was on the same exact level as his wife and always willing to try new things and do whatever made her happy on her birthday was exactly the kind of husband she eventually wanted.

“Good night.” Kathryn patted her cat on the head and turned off the desk lamp. The cat tried to follow her into the bedroom, but she closed the door in its face. She wanted to be alone with the man she was trying to forge that aforementioned bond with.



DRABBLE: Rivals of the Flesh



Monica Warren & Damon Monroe

“Pretty sure he’s looking at you.”

Monica stole a glance over her glass of ’97 Napa Valley Chardonnay. There, devilishly positioned in another booth – and sitting alone – was none other than Damon Monroe, one of the most ruthless businessmen in the city.

And one of her top rivals, but who was keeping track?

Her dear friend Ethan sat back in his seat with nothing but mischief in his blue eyes. This was supposed to be a belated birthday dinner, her ex-boyfriend’s treat. Also known as an excuse to catch up in the midst of their hectic lives. The reason they couldn’t have a birthday dinner closer to Monica’s actual birthday was because they had both been knee-deep in work. Now they were ass-deep in Damon Monroe.

“Anyway,” Monica said, “what was this about Italy for Christmas?”

Ethan was in no hurry to resume their previous conversation. “Now why does a man like that have so much interest in you?”

“Clearly, he fancies me. Haven’t you heard? He’s been conspiring to get me away from my husband ever since he heard I was pregnant. He’s a fetishist, you know. Ask his lovely wife.”

Ethan didn’t fall for it. “He’s coming over here, and he’s only got big amber eyes for you.” That finely-tailored Armani suit moved gracefully when Ethan stood up and rebuttoned an errant snap. “Think I’ll hit the men’s room while you and Monroe have a lovely chat.”

Don’t you dare…

“Cole.” Damon’s deep voice rumbled in their pocket of the restaurant. “So lovely to see you.” They shook hands, Ethan the first to pull his away. “What are you up to this summer? Losing more deals in Portland?”

They flashed each other soul-biting smiles. Children. Both of them. Monica sipped her chardonnay with a roll of her eyes. How many times had she consulted Ethan on how best to approach one of his biggest rivals in the business world? He should have let Damon end the handshake on his own terms. He was the one who initiated it.

“Work is great. Thanks for asking.” Ethan nodded to both and Damon and Monica. “I was just stepping out for a few minutes. Oh, and congrats on the healthy baby. Don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure to tell you that.” With another nod, Ethan exited stage left.

“Yes. Thank you.” Damon turned his attention to Monica, his gaze cracking the glass in her hand. “Monica. Or is everyone really calling you Lady Warren these days?”

Time for her transformation.

“You can call me whatever pleases you, Mr. Monroe,” Monica said with a cool, submissive smile. That role came easily to her, and God and every man in a suit knew that Damon Monroe was a power-tripping Dom who best responded to women who knew how to bat their eyelashes and speak smoothly. And Monica was the #1 woman in the world when it came to both. “Although I must warn you that my husband has his claim on Princess.”

Damon helped himself to the chair beside the booth. “I wouldn’t want to offend your husband.”

“To what do I owe this lovely pleasure?”

Damon cut right to the chase, bless his emerald-money soul. “What’s this I hear about you starting a nightclub in the city? Your chateau isn’t enough for you?”

Monica was the queen of poker faces. Even though Damon’s question surprised her, she would not allow him to see her widening eyes or flaring nostrils. Nor would he ever sense the change in her pulse or the heat flushing her cheeks.

It doesn’t help that he’s the exact kind of Dom I naturally respond to. Not that there had ever – or would ever – be a thing between her and Damon. But when a man like that aggressively approached her and demanded to hear her voice on the spot? That did things to a woman, married or no.

She would enjoy confessing this meeting to her husband later and receiving her punishment.

“I have no plans on opening a nightclub of any kind, Mr. Monroe. Whoever slipped that into your ear was either gravely misinformed or trying to start rumors.” She made him watch her finish her belated birthday chardonnay. When her fingers released the stem of her glass, she continued, “What I’m planning to do is open a lovely lounge right here in the heart of downtown.”
“A lounge.” That businessman’s smile became more ruthless by the second. It didn’t help that Monica counted at least five serrated edges in his amber eyes. Four for my limbs and one for my jugular. “Don’t suppose this would be a lascivious extension of your pleasure house, would it? I can only imagine the legal hurdles you’d have to jump through for that.”

Monica shrugged. Her Dior dress caught those serrated edges for a second before her face regained Damon’s attention. “It will share similar branding, yes. A few of the women under my employ will be setting up shop in the lounge instead. But not for sex work.”


“No. I’m assuming that’s what your concerns are? That I will interfere with your club’s business?”

Monica also had no issues cutting to the chase. They were rivals because they both catered to the oversexed crowds of the rich and famous. Damon had his sex club that got more action on the weekends than a busy porn set, and Monica had her brothel (which was such a crass way to put it) that kept more money in its coffers than some net-worths in the city. Of course Damon was rattled to hear that Monica might start up a competing business closer to home, even though he did not formally offer sex.

Neither would she in this venture.

“We’re only looking at spaces right now,” Monica reassured him. “My vision is a quiet, relaxing atmosphere where men and women can come and have a delicious drink while a trained professional entertains them for a couple of hours. No sex. If they want that, they can be referred to my primary place of business.” She pushed aside her empty dinner plate. “But I’m surprised you don’t know this information already! Surely, your wife has already told you everything. Or is she the one spreading rumors?”

Damon was the first to crack his demeanor. “My wife?”

“Why, yes! I’ve been discussing this at length with Alice for the past few weeks. She has such a generous mind that I insist on picking. I even bought her lunch the other day so we could discuss potential rental spaces. She lamented that she could not offer a good space in your building, Mr. Monroe. She said that all the best spaces were already rented.”

“My wife. You’ve been talking to my wife about this…”

“Why wouldn’t I? Culver Hospitality Holdings is the second biggest hospitality company to originate in this town, after Mathers & Co., of course. Alice has access to all of the best real estate listings and can refer me to some of the most excellent third party deals that I will surely need to get started. She knows how important it is to support her fellow association members.” She referred to the Married Women’s Association, which Alice was a full-fledged member of since her City Hall wedding to this man sitting before Monica. “Which is why Henry and I are so obliged to continue to be VIP members of your wonderful club, even though we don’t have as much time to go to many of you parties. I’m sure you understand, Mr. Monroe. Marriage and children fill up a busy schedule.”

“Indeed they do. My wife failed to mention these details, however.”

“Well, she is a busy woman.” And Monica was busy giving Alice Monroe pointers as well. Both new mother pointers and husband pleasing pointers. Alice may be married to Damon, but it was Monica who knew best how to appeal to his fantasies.

Something, she noted, he had never taken her up on at her Chateau. Not when he was single, anyway.

“Sounds like a lovely venture, and I wish you the best of luck.” Damon extended his hand to shake hers. But unlike Ethan, who now hovered around the edge of the room, Monica was not one to offer hearty shakes. She entwined her fingers with Damon’s, sure to keep her hand on top of his. She kept the firm handshakes for actual business talk. “Just keep in mind that I don’t like to play games, Mrs. Warren.”

She slowly pulled her hand away. “Of course you don’t. You’re ruthless and demanding. The moment I opened a place like The Dark Hour in the same state, your lawyers – no, you – would come sweeping down to squish me like a stink beetle. Well, I don’t have to tell you what happens when you come around a stink beetle, Mr. Monroe.”

Damon stood. “Something tells me that I should stay on my toes, because you might like that. Me coming down on you, that is.”

“I save that for my personal life, not my business life, Mr. Monroe.”

“I’m sure.”

He bumped into Ethan again on his way out. The two men shared one last nod before Ethan returned to the table.

“What was that about?”

Monica was about to ask for another glass of chardonnay. “Sex, of course.”
“I thought it was about business.”

She snorted. “Same difference, Ethan. When it comes to us, we don’t know how to separate the two. And that causes professional problems.”

“What about personal ones?”

Monica didn’t respond to that. She was already fantasizing about relaying this conversation to her husband. Henry would love it.

“Your guys’ kids are going to end up married one day, and you’ll never be able to get away from each other at the family reunions. Mark my words.”
“Please. We both have daughters, and I’m done.”

“Everyone knows he wants to have like ten kids, so you never know. Besides,” Ethan scooted closer to her, “it’s a new millennium. I hear women can marry each other now.”

“Don’t you dare put that out there!” Not the women marrying each other part, but the being related to Damon Monroe part!

Then again, they were two of the richest families in New England, let alone the state…

And the Monroes were keen on arranged marriages…

Fuck it. First things were first. Monica wanted another drink and to conquer the nighttime entertainment world. Her baby’s future love life could wait another forty years.