Authors: Tiffany Ashley
“I’m sure Warren has already spoken to you, but please allow me to reiterate.” He checked his watch before continuing. “I currently own three night clubs. Lush, Red Door and Club Babylon. Lush is a fetish club, with very select membership. Red Door is a nightclub marketed toward the lesbian persuasion. It’s the smallest of my businesses, but it holds a consistent clientele. Then, there is Club Babylon. It’s my largest undertaking. The club has done very well on the strip, but we recently decided to update the look to grow our service capabilities. We reopened our doors last month. The changes have been received quite well, particularly the amenities marketed toward our members. However, we want to see major returns in a relatively short time. I expect to see a return on my investment in three months’ time.”
“Three months sets a vigorous schedule,” Thandie warned.
Elliot nodded. “Yes, it does, but I’m confident we’ll hit our mark on time. With your help, of course.” He smiled. “Warren sang praises of your abilities. He was quite vocal that you are the person we need.”
She blushed slightly. “Warren is very kind.”
“If that were all it was, you wouldn’t be here.” He looked at her seriously. “Please allow me to be frank.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“I don’t normally employ women, and for good reason.”
“May I inquire why?”
His gaze was level. “In my experience, women become...unfocused.”
She immediately understood. He was the reason for his previous female employees losing their focus. How could they not? He was a walking, talking, breathing distraction.
“In all honesty, Ms. Shaw, I’m not entirely sold on the idea of you being here. Club Babylon is quite the exception to the typical club expirence. This is not a place for emotional beings and and from past experiences, women often get attached to the wrong thing. Which is why working with an all-male staff is not only beneficial but necessary in my line of business.”
She stared at Elliot. His sharp profile and flawless skin made it very clear what those “wrong attachments” might be. Fixing him with a hard stare, she said, “May I ask you a question?”
“What the hell am I doing here?” She could tell her frankness momentarily shocked him. “As you can see, I’m not a man.”
Elliot’s silver gaze roved over her body slowly and intentionally. “That is a fact I have been unable to ignore.” His stare was heated when he added, “And neither will the rest of my staff.”
“I assure you I’m a professional. As long as your staff operates on the same level, then we should have no problems.” She smiled thinly. “You’ve reviewed my portfolio; you know what I’m capable of. So if there is an issue with my gender, again I ask, what the hell am I doing here?”
“You’re here because Warren insisted on it,” he said simply.
He flashed her a devilish grin that made her mind conjure up every dirty thought imaginable. He really was too handsome for his own good. Her gaze unwillingly floated over his body, and there was no doubt in her mind the man was created for mind-numbing, can’t-walk-in-the-morning sex.
“Although I appreciate Warren’s confidence in me,” she began, licking her lips in a struggle to tear her eyes away from his body, “I assure you I come highly recommended. Feel free to check my references.”
“And?” she prodded when he did not elaborate.
His eyes sparkled. “As you said, you come highly recommended. You wouldn’t be here otherwise.” He crossed his legs in one fluid motion. Somehow, he managed to make the action appear very masculine. “I thought it only fair for you to know where I stand.”
She felt as if he were studying her unemotionally, as if he were shopping for a new car, mentally accessing value versus usage and lastly, appeal.
“I appreciate your candor,” she said, somewhat irritated.
“I promise you I have an abundance to give.” He disarmed her by giving a boyish grin. “Babylon is my woman. I love her to obsession. Her success is my own.”
“So I haven’t frightened you off yet?”
“Not even close.”
He grinned at her. “I like that you’re not afraid of me.”
This time, she laughed. “I’m from New York. Nothing frightens me.”
“We shall see about that.”
His words were delivered so softly, Thandie did not immediately catch their meaning. Did he intend to frighten her out of the job? She considered asking him this very question, but at the last minute stopped herself. Instead she asked, “Whom will I be working with?”
“Myself,” he said. “Very closely.” His eyes openly assessed her again, but this time was a little different from the first. This review was sexual. Whether he was impressed or not, she could not tell. “As well as my managing staff,” he added. “You’ll meet them tonight before we open. We get together for an action-meeting during the first hour of business. You should make yourself available. We go over the themes for the next night, as well as address any issues. Use tonight to acquaint yourself with the ins and outs of the club during showtime. It’s easy to get confused when the lights are down.”
“I’ll be there.”
“I know you will be.”
“Can you give me an idea of what you expect from me?”
Elliot inclined his dark head gracefully. “I want you to host a series of events here at the club, leading up to our grand re-opening.”
“Aren’t you open now?”
“This is a ‘soft’ opening. It allows us to work out the kinks and formulate our operations. A dress rehearsal, if you will. We’re showing only half our potential.”
“Oh,” was all she could think to say. She felt a little embarrassed, because she should have known the answer to her question. She’d seen a soft opening before, but certainly not to this extent. “When will I learn specifics regarding the project? Goals, budget, etcetera?”
Thandie frowned. “I’m sorry?”
“Do you have plans tomorrow evening?”
She heard herself answering before thinking. “No.”
“Good. I’d like you to have dinner with me at Peppers at eight o’clock. The attire is formal. I suggest you wear a dress. My assistant Romero can give you directions.”
“Why?” she blurted out, immediately suspicious of his intentions. “Why are we meeting there and not here, in your office?”
Elliot folded his hands in his lap. Thandie could tell he was not use to being questioned. Although his face remained a mask of cool indifference, his silver eyes flashed with what looked like annoyance. In spite of this, his voice was even-tempered when he spoke. “We are meeting at Peppers because I enjoy the food and I have a reserved table there. The timing of our meeting is because of my schedule. My day is filled with meetings. The only block I have available for you is while I’m dining.” He arched a dark brow. “Is this going to be a problem?”
Feeling embarrassed for having jumped to the wrong conclusion, Thandie immediately shook her head. Mercifully, there was a heavy tap on the office door seconds before it opened. The large, beefy head of Michelle appeared.
“Elliot, Warren is here to see you.”
“Thanks. Let him in.” He stood, brushing his hands across his perfectly pressed pants. “Any last questions, Ms. Shaw?”
“No,” she said quickly, avoiding eye contact.
“Before you leave, I should mention the Tower of Babel is off-limits during business hours. Take my word for it and just don’t venture up there.”
The office door opened wider, and Warren Radcliffe entered the room. In his sixties, he was a man who’d aged well. His pure white hair was worn long enough to brush the collar of his shirt. It was stylishly cut, and professionally highlighted. His mustache and beard were trimmed low, and well groomed. Adorned in a colorful Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts, he looked as if he didn’t have a care in the world. If Elliot were an exotic car, Warren was more like a lovable childhood toy, worn in presentation but holding all the jubilance of its younger days. In spite of his features, weathered from years of hard partying, his boyish nature could not be ignored. He was a great reminder that life never got boring because one grew older.
When Warren smiled at her, Thandie resisted the urge to run and curl herself up in his natural sunshine. As if reading her mind, he pulled her to her feet to give her a tight hug. “You’re finally here. It’s great to see you, Thandie. You look great.”
She kissed his cheek. “So do you.”
He shot a curious glance at Elliot. “I see you two have met. I hope he hasn’t seduced you yet.”
Elliot gave a dry laugh. “I’ll leave the seducing to you, Romeo.”
Ignoring Elliot, Warren looked down at Thandie. “We need to get you settled in. Adam loaded your bags into my car. Where are the girls? I’m here to help, but you’ll need them. Damn, listen to me rambling like a woman. Wow, it’s good to see you, Thandie. I feel as if I’m five years old again on Christmas morning.”
“That was a long time ago,” Elliot remarked.
Warren slanted his eyes in his direction, before returning his attention to Thandie. “Fun times, kiddo. This is going to be the adventure of a lifetime.”
There was a knock at the door and Michelle popped his head in again. “Elliot, your next meeting is here.”
Elliot checked his watch, then waved his hand. “Let him in.” He turned to Thandie. “Until tonight, Ms. Shaw.”
The door swung open, and a tall, dark-haired man entered the office.
Before Thandie could figure out who this new visitor was, Warren ushered her out of the office. Michelle quickly closed the door behind them.
Warren huffed. “No need for us to get caught up in that stuff.”
“Who was that?” she asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine. Elliot has his hand in so many ventures, it’s difficult to say.” Warren was about to add more, but before the words could escape his lips, a beautiful Asian woman with long dark hair wrapped her arms around his neck.
Surprised and obviously grateful, Warren grinned from ear to ear. “Susan, how are you, honey?”
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” she said.
“Well, I’m all yours now.”
“Did you forget your promise to me?”
Warren paused for a moment and then snapped his fingers. “Of course not. How could I forget you?” His eyes ran over her long legs. “You’re always on my mind.”
“I better be,” she laughed lightly. “Tonight, right?”
“I’ll have to see if he’ll be available.”
“You promised,” she reminded him in a slightly irritable tone.
“Okay, okay,” he said calmly. “Tonight. I promise.”She gave a triumphant smile and then glanced toward the office door that led to Elliot’s office.
“I’m counting on you, Warren.”
Thandie watched the woman saunter away, still baffled by what had just happened. “Please tell me you’re going to explain that.”
Warren waved his hand and guided Thandie toward the door. “Susan’s a dear friend.”
“How long have you known this dear friend?”
“Ever since she started working here?” he hedged.
Thandie gave him a questioning look.
“Okay, okay, kiddo. She’s been working here for nearly a month,” he admitted.
“What kind of promise did you make her?”
“It’s silly,” he said with a shake of his white head. “Forget you ever heard that.”
“Uh-uh.” Thandie shook her head teasingly. “Tell me everything.”
Warren blushed. “I kinda promised her I’d introduce her to Elliot.”
“Ok, I did—I promised her I’d introduce her to him.”
“And in return?”
He wiggled his eyebrows.
At this, she had to laugh. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
Warren shrugged. “Why shouldn’t I profit from his good fortune? I’ve got to give it to the guy; he’s good. He’s a great business partner but an even better womanizer. Speaking of which—” he turned serious eyes on her “—heed my warning, Thandie. Stay away from him.”
She cocked her head to the side. “Would it surprise you that you aren’t the first person to tell me that?”
“No, but it would surprise me if I were the last.” Tucking her hand into the crook of his arm, like an old-world gentleman, Warren led her to the exit. “I’m so glad you came.”
“Excellent. I promise you won’t regret it.”
The drive to Warren’s home was relaxing, complemented by the subtropical climate. Thandie spent most of their trip being entertained by her host. He caught her up on the latest happenings with him and Wife Number Five. He was eager for the divorce, because he was already dating potential Wife Number Six. Thandie listened, thinking Warren was a fun guy who was desperately looking for happiness. She felt a little sorry for him, but his stories were too comical not to laugh at.
Twenty minutes later, Thandie stared up at a majestic estate. She’d always known Warren was well off, but she never imagined he lived so extravagantly. His beachfront home had a million-dollar view of the ocean. Inside, it had a minimalist design, abstract art and many white walls. He gave her a tour of the home before eventually guiding her to a guest room.
Placing her bags near the door, he said, “There are empty bedrooms down the hall for your staff. Make yourself at home. If there is anything you need, just ask. The housekeeper’s name is Anga. Her room is off the kitchen. She’s a sweetheart. She’ll be happy to assist you. I won’t be at the club until later tonight; however, my driver can take you back and forth. We’ll get you a rental car tomorrow.”
“This is very kind of you, Warren. Are you sure I’m not putting you out?”
“Nonsense. I’m happy to have the company. Things have been pretty quiet around here lately.” He looked at his watch and made a low whistling sound. “I’m going to catch up on my sleep. You might want to do the same. I’ll see you later.” He gave her a kiss on the forehead before leaving.
Too anxious to rest, Thandie began unpacking. She took her time stowing away her toiletries, hanging up her dresses, and taking inventory of her shoes before finally tossing herself across the bed. She could hardly believe she was in Miami. It was a risky move, but she didn’t regret it yet. The atmosphere was very relaxing. She could almost swear she could smell the ocean in the air.