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.”
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.