"Alessandra Torre is, without a doubt, one of my favorite authors. Every sentence and paragraph is so well-crafted and always draws me in."Aestas's Book Blog
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I've worked a decade for this. I've sold my soul and my reputation. I've lived a lie, smiled for the cameras, and hated myself, all for this fortune.
And then she pops up. A mysterious heir with a rap sheet, combat boots, and a mouth that I want to pin shut with my -
It doesn't matter.
I've played this game for a decade. I can continue the charade a little longer, keep my hands to myself and her body out of my mind.
I can keep my secret until the ink dries and everything is mine.
Release date: January 16, 2018
Publisher: Select Publishing
Print pages: 346
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Listen to a sample
I hate these events. Rooms packed with glitter and gold, everyone preening, cackling, smiling. A woman at the bar, her dress cut down to her navel, stares at me. I meet her eyes, then look away. She’d be perfect. Bent over the bathroom sink, that gown flipped over her back, feet spread, back arched. I’d take her quickly, my hands skimming down the straps of her gown, baring her breasts, and then watch them in the mirror as I fuck her. I turn and accept a glass of champagne, my heartbeat increasing, and I walk forward, moving away from her and will my dick to soften.
She’d be loud when I let loose on her. I’d have to gag her with my fingers, muffle her moans, silence her with my kiss. Her skin would flush, her lipstick smear, and she’d flex around my cock, contracting tightly before she drops to her knees and opens her mouth for me.
Jesus. I push open the bathroom door and nod to the attendant, taking the farthest stall and closing the door. My hands quick, I unzip my pants, pull out my cock, and squeeze it. Closing my eyes, thinking of her breasts, the mirror’s reflection of them bouncing as I slam into her… the orgasm comes, quick and sudden, and I lean over the toilet and shoot the evidence into it.
Breathing hard, I give myself a moment to compose myself, a moment where I put myself back together, all of the pieces of Marco Lent shuttering back into place. Stepping out of the stall, I wash my hands and accept the hand towel.
“Thank you.” I open my wallet, pulling out a fifty and passing it to him without meeting his eyes.
Back in the room, the crowd moves toward the auditorium, the woman gone from the bar, and I find Vince by the doors, his hand gripping mine, the crowd cheering as we step through the doors and onto the press walk.
“Mr. Horace!” A camera is shoved in Vince’s face and he stops, my attention grabbed by a second reporter, his microphone extended, calling my name. I turn to him, the famous Marco Lent smile in place.
“Mr. Lent, what is it like, watching your partner being awarded Gay Man of the Decade?”
I widen my smile. “I’ll let you know in a few minutes.”
There is another shout of my name, a dozen more camera flashes.
“How long have you and Vince Horace been an exclusive couple?”
“For me?” I laugh. “Three years. For Vince…” I make a face and am elbowed by the man himself, who clamps a hand on my shoulder and scowls at the press.
“Don’t listen to this guy. Look at him! How can I even be tempted by anyone else?” He presses a kiss to my cheek and I smile, the flashbulbs going crazy, the crowd behind them cheering.
Three years. Three years, and I was dying inside.
SEVEN YEARS LATER
I fucking hate fashion. Not the clothes, but the people, the illusion—this industry was handed down to us by the greats, and we’ve poisoned it with greed, inflated opinions and social standings. The garment no longer seems to matter, just the label sewn into its neck. A brilliant gown could be ruined by the wrong pedigree, banished to a Des Moines TJ Maxx rack and some cornhusker’s high school prom. In this world, the designers are the gods and lives are orchestrated, backs stabbed, promises and threats made, all to try to climb onto one of those almighty thrones.
I’m the worst of the bunch, and know the sacrifices more than anyone. The last ten years of my life has been orchestrated, a web of deceit and lies, all for one of those thrones.
I sit in a Vince Horace original, an omen to the god, the custom silk-blend suit hugging perfectly to my build. It should. He measured me himself, stretching out that gold and red tape measure, his glasses perched atop his nose, his eyes admiring the lines of my muscles as he worked. Now, I watch him sleep, the fur coverlet tucked under his thin forearms, the limbs slack and almost swallowed by the tubes and wires. Between us, set against gold-leaf walls and velvet curtains, a monitor beeps, his statistics displayed in quiet clarity.
It’s been four days since he last spoke. Four days that I’ve sat in this chair and watched one of the only men I’ve ever loved, die.
“Are you done with dinner, sir?”
I don’t turn my head to acknowledge the man or the silver plate that sits on the table beside me, the veal now cold, the greens past limp. “Yes. I’d like another drink.”
“Certainly. I’ve taken the liberty of calling in Tony. He’ll be here shortly.”
“That’s fine.” In another situation, I would wave off the masseuse, but if there is any energy left in Vince, it doesn’t need to be wasted with scolding me on the finer things in life. If he knew I was sitting here with a stiff back and tight neck, he’d bust a blood vessel, his lips sputtering, eyebrows pinching, disappointment heavy in those piercing brown eyes.
“Marco.” When he speaks, my name is soft, almost lost in the clink of silver, the butler pausing, both of our heads turning at the sound. I rise, stepping to the bed and link my fingers through his, a contrast of strong against weak, tan against pale. I keep my eyes on the man’s face, his eyelids fluttering for a moment but not lifting. “I think it’s time.”
“I know. Stop stalling, old man.”
A ghost of a smile lifts one corner of his mouth, a mouth I know so well, so much wisdom and friendship passing through those lips—a decade of curses and brilliance. “Live well, Marco.” He wheezes out the words, his hand tightening on mine for a whisper of a moment.
I swallow. “I love you, Vince.” I know the answer before it comes, yet need to hear it one final time.
“Always, vecchio amico.”
“Always, vecchio amico.” I lean forward and press my lips to his forehead. “The world will miss you.”
I wait for a scoff, a humble protest of something we both know to be true, but there is only a gentle sigh, a moment of peace falling over those strong features, the muscles in his face falling, my grip of his hand unreturned.
The world spent five decades learning his name, and in just a handful of seconds, Vince Horace is gone. I close my eyes and try to feel him in the room, his presence one I’ve leaned on as heavily as breath. But there is nothing. I lower myself carefully, my hand still in his, to my knees, my cheek against the rough paper of his palm, and close my eyes, saying a prayer that God will respect his choices, honor his lifestyle, and accept him into his kingdom. I pray, in the dim bedroom six floors above Fifth Avenue, for guidance and peace—both for him and for myself.
I stay on my knees beside my mentor, until the doctors arrive, an ashen-faced houseboy helping me to my feet and to my bedroom, the bed already turned down, my evening wear laid out on heated pads, a glass of ice water chilling beside a sleeping pill on the nightstand. I glance at the curtains, pulled tight, and wonder at the city behind them, the chitter chatter of news services and reporters, blogs, and Twitter. The death of Vince Horace will not be ignored. Tonight, a throne is vacant, and everyone in the fashion world will be elbowing and fighting for a chance at it.
I sit on the edge of the bed and work my watch from my wrist, the vintage Cartier dull in the dim light. I pull off the jacket, stepping slowly to the large closet and carefully hanging the piece up, ignoring the line of similar suits, each one a different story, a different factory, trip, or memory.
I am naked by the time I move into the bed, my eyes closing as I lay back on the goose-down bed.
I think of the future, but only feel lost.
I take the two bags of Chinese takeout and tip the guy a twenty. Pushing the door shut, I flip all three deadbolts, then arm the alarm.
Jogging up to the kitchen, I withdraw the top carton in each bag and set them on the stove. Ignoring the temptation of the food, I snag a fortune cookie and rip it open.
Wealth and good fortune are coming your way.
Ha. I smile and tack the fortune to the fridge with a penguin magnet, then pop the cookie in my mouth. Crunching through it, I pull on a set of latex gloves and return to the takeout bags.
The first Styrofoam lid pops open, revealing the cash, neatly stacked three rows high and bound in counter strips. I pull the stacks from the Styrofoam and line them up on the counter, counting as I go. Five, ten, twenty …. sixty grand in the first box. I toss the empty carton toward the trash can, pull the second out, and repeat the process until the stretch of granite is filled with neat rows of cash. I count it all a second time. Two hundred and five grand. Perfect.
The cash didn’t always come with beef and broccoli and shrimp fried rice. It used to come from a little old lady, one who birthed a monster and liked to sit in my living room and talk about her medical problems. And she had a lot of medical problems, enough to fill entire evenings. And I couldn’t complain to her employer because no gangster wants to hear that his mother is painfully time-consuming.
That arrangement died when she did. Out of every medical issue I’d listened through … it had been a steep flight of stairs that killed her. She slipped, fell backward, hit the wrong part of her neck, and died instantly.
I don’t know how the Chinese restaurant guys are connected to Ralph, but I’d take a wild guess and say that they owe him money, and are paying it back through my deliveries. It works out well for me. They’re on time, give me all the MSG-ladened food I want, and the delivery guy doesn’t speak a lick of English, so if he’s got a bad hip and ingrown toenails, I’m oblivious to it.
I text confirmation of receipt and move the cash into Ziploc bags, then a duffel bag. Grabbing the food, I move to the living room. Sitting cross-legged on the couch, I pick up the remote and find the last half of a medical drama.
I need a boyfriend. I decide that as I spear a piece of broccoli and watch bored nurses getting frisky in a supply room. As much as I love having full control of the remote, and a steady diet of stir-fried dishes, it’s getting old. It has gotten old.
Maybe I should have been a nurse. As a nurse, I would have met someone by now. Someone who wasn’t a step away from being shot, or arrested. That’s the problem in my business. Any good guys end up dead or behind bars. And the bad guys … I pick up my soda and twist off the top. The bad guys aren’t worth dating. I did that once. Fell into his pretty blue eyes and looked the other way whenever he beat the shit out of someone. I’d like to say I was young and dumb, but I haven’t exactly made strides in a better direction. I’m still here, spending my nights alone, counting someone else’s money, with no plausible relationship options in sight. I could be in scrubs right now, my tired soles being worked over by some gorgeous husband with a five o’clock shadow, a baby girl sound asleep in the crook of his arm.
The show ends, and the news comes on, the top story about some dead rich guy. I turn it off and stand.
I shove the empty takeout containers into the trash, then yank the ties, lifting the Hefty out of the can. I grab the duffel and carry it all down to the garage. The Hefty goes into the garbage can. I roll underneath the Tahoe and bring the duffel bag along.
Or maybe I’ll get a dog. That would probably cure this stupid yearn for a man. I reach into the duffel bag and pull out a couple of bags of cash. Stacking them inside the Tahoe’s front bumper, I think of a possible dog. It’d have to be something big and scary. Maybe one of those military-trained German Shepherds. I’d want a girl, and I could name her something absolutely unscary. Like Ethel. Or Joyce. Maybe, I could get two.
I push the bags into a hidden compartment, one installed there two years ago. I’d put it in after an overzealous badge pulled me over, then felt the need to dig through my trunk, discovering enough cash to start a Mickey D’s franchise. I almost lost that money, the cop confiscating it and refusing to return it until I proved a legitimate source of the cash. That had been an interesting contortion, one I had barely wiggled through.
Now, if anyone pulls me over? They’d need a cash-sniffing dog to get these bad boys found. I place the last bundle of cash in, lock the hidden door into place, and roll out from under the truck. There. Money secured. I push to my feet and head back inside. Pulling the door shut, I reach out and hit the light switch with my palm.
In bed, I scroll through gossip articles, stopping at one image of some sexy playboy who just inherited a billion dollars. I skip the article and focus on the photos of him—standing on the front of a yacht, his abs on display, his gorgeous grin pulling at the ache between my legs. I put down the phone and close my eyes, imagining the sun on my face, ocean waves crashing in the distance, him pulling me down onto a towel and kissing me everywhere.
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