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Authors: K. J. Bell

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Tug (10 page)

BOOK: Tug
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My mother’s preaching voice is in my head again, reminding me about appearances. I look through the wall of windows, out into the ocean and the setting sun, the fuchsias and indigos a marvel of nature.

“Hello, everyone. I want to thank you all for coming. I apologize for the horrendous view and the sucky weather you all have been subjected to today.” They laugh, which was my goal. Humor is always healing, but as I look at Brady and Tori, I know I owe them more. “Throughout life, people come and go. They change and grow. There are very few people you can depend on. I’m fortunate to have two people in my life who love me unconditionally and who I can always depend on, even when I act like a complete ass.” The room roars with laughter again. I hold my glass in the air. “Tori, Brady, I couldn’t be happier for the two of you, and I wish you a long and wonderful life together. Cheers.”

I swallow the champagne, along with the painful sting of my words. Tori will never be mine. Accepting that we’ll only ever be friends doesn’t erase the fact it hurts like hell. I’m doomed to live in a dark pit of desolation and pretend my heart isn’t completely hollow.

Tori pulls on my hand and I drag my feet, following her to the dance floor. I put my arms around her and close my eyes. When I open them, the beautiful smile touching her lips makes me want to flee the reception and disappear from her life forever. It would be easier.

“Thank you for the toast. It was beautiful.” I stare at her wordlessly and force a smile. “I know this isn’t easy for you.”

“I’m fine.”

“I know you want to be fine, and I love you.”

“I love you, too, Tor.”

“You made me the happiest woman alive today.”

“Because I gave up on you?”

“No, because you came back to me.”

I pull her close. She rests her head on my shoulder, and the pain I feel slowly dissipates. I could never leave her forever.

I
wake after sleeping in late. Last night after I got home from the wedding, my mind refused to rest. All I could think about was how I need to change the public’s perception of me. Being a rich playboy doesn’t make the board happy, and my career is all I have in my life to fill the days. I need a stable girlfriend and one that makes me look good. A career-minded and sophisticated woman, and I know just who to call. I don’t have to love her or enjoy her company. I only have to tolerate her.

My mother faked her entire life for her career. I can pretend for a few months until things smooth over. It can’t be that difficult. The only reason I even have her phone number is because she’s an assistant to a large client of Gibson’s. Her ending up in my bed was a coincidence. I grab my cell and dial her number. She answers on the first ring. Eager is perfect for what I have in mind.

“Hey, Larissa, it’s Aidan.”

“Well, at least you remembered my name.”

“You’re kind of hard to forget.”

“Why are you calling? Did I leave something at your place? Keep it.”

“I was calling to see if you’d have dinner with me tonight?”

“Dinner? Are you delusional?”

“I was a jerk the other morning. I’d like to apologize.”

“You’re serious?”

“Yes. Text me your address, and I’ll pick you up at seven.”

L
arissa opens the door and smiles, her lips covered in cherry-red lipstick. It has no effect on me. Her close-fitting black dress hugs her hips and defines her waist. Her auburn hair is swept off her shoulders into a bun. She’s the epitome of refined class and elegance, everything I should be seen with. The spark is missing, though, and that’s what I want. The raging fire I had with Maria … until I acted like a total dipshit.

“You look beautiful.” I’m being truthful, but the compliment isn’t as sincere as she takes it.

“Thank you.”

She steps into the hall and locks her door.

We drive in silence. Once we’re at the restaurant, I do all the gentlemanly things I’m expected to: hold doors, pull out her chair, and make polite conversation. Her laughter annoys me. She talks mostly about herself. Her efforts to touch me inadvertently are obvious. She’s a Barbie doll, and I wish she’d sit quietly like one.

After her third martini she asks, “Am I ever going to get that apology?”

I sit back in my chair and turn to the side, crossing my legs and folding my hands together on my knee. “I thought that’s what this was.”

She leans forward, purposely exposing her cleavage, and runs a finger over the rim of her martini glass. “Was it?”

I down the remaining Scotch in my glass and hold it in the air for a refill. When the waitress acknowledges me, I set the glass down. Red is waiting for me to comment. I say nothing until my Scotch arrives. I sip the amber liquid slowly, watching her squirm under my gaze.

“I should apologize, but I won’t say it.” She starts to speak, but I cut her off. “We both know why you went home with me the other night.”

“We do?” she asks, attempting to feign innocence. She’s a total bull-shitter, but you can’t fool one, especially one that’s mastered the art of the game.

“You crave power and money, both of which I have, and you thought if we had sex, I would want you for more than one night. Am I close?”

She doesn’t deny it and inquires, “What is this all about, Aidan?”

I sip my Scotch again while the waitress clears our plates. Once she’s gone, I lean across the table and take Larissa’s hand. The gesture isn’t meant to be romantic, and I squeeze hard. “I need a girlfriend.”

“Are you asking me?” I nod, and her jade-green eyes narrow. “How romantic.”

I release her hand and laugh. “If you hadn’t noticed, I’m not exactly the romantic type. I’m not here to woo you and make you feel special. You’re simply a commodity I’m looking to acquire. I need a girlfriend in public, and you want a boyfriend to brag about.”

She twirls a lock of fiery hair around her finger, her expression contemplative. She’ll say yes. I know I have the right girl for the job. “You’re suggesting a business transaction?”

“I’m suggesting that you be my girlfriend, because it looks good for my image, yes. And I’ll pay you well for it.”

She holds her hand out, staring at her long red fingernails, her eyebrows raised.

“You’re going to have to pay well. I have healthy spending habits and mounting debt that needs eliminating.”

Blankly, I say, “Done.”

“For how long?” she asks.

“At least six months.”

“Strictly professional, then?”

“Yes.”

She leans over the table and whispers seductively, “No sex?”

I grin and lick my teeth. My fingers pinch her chin. “Sex is a requirement of the job. If I want to fuck, we will.”

She rights herself properly in the chair and straightens her skirt. “And if you don’t, am I free to have sex with someone else?”

“I don’t care what you do, but if a picture of you and another man ends up in the tabloids, you won’t be paid a dime. This is about making me look good.”

She lifts her glass and drains the remainder of her martini. “I have to think about it.”

“You have two days,” I say flatly.

“What happened to make you so cold?”

Without answering her, I throw some cash on the table and leave the restaurant alone.

I
t’s been two weeks since Tug made me feel more like a prostitute than any of the men at the club ever had. I haven’t been to work since, and this morning my boss called to let me know I’m fired, which means I’ll have to dip into funds that I have no business spending in order to survive. But I can’t go back to that life.

I enter the club to pick up my things. My boss waves me over to the bar where he’s seated. He’s a good guy, American, probably hiding out in Mexico to avoid paying child support or taxes, as most are. He’s always been nice to me and fairer than he is with most of the girls.

“Hey, Mark.”

He smiles. “I can’t say I’m surprised. You never were cut out for this.”

“I know. I was so close to finishing school, though.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“Take the final semester off and work two jobs until I figure something else out.”

He hands me a thick envelope.

“What’s this?”

“It’s from the other night. I didn’t even take a cut. It should help.”

“How much is it?”

“Two thousand. That guy really wanted you.”

I nearly choke. The amount makes the other night hurt that much more.

“Listen, if you need anything, you call me, okay?”

“Okay.”

He laughs softly and gets up from the bar stool. “Hmm … I know you won’t, but you can.”

“Thank you.”

I hug my boss and pack my things from the dressing room into a backpack.

As I exit the club, I run smack dab into a familiar face. “Brady, hi. What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see you. Do you have time to talk?”

“Um … sure, but not here.”

We walk the strip for several blocks without speaking. Brady stops at the next corner. His brow wrinkles when he looks at me.

“Look, Monica…”

“It’s Maria,” I correct him.

“Right. I want to apologize for how my brother treated you.”

I shake my head and smile. “You’re not the one who needs to apologize.” The words come out sounding rude, but I can’t help it. His family constantly trying to smooth over Tug’s mistakes is irritating. Maybe if they quit enabling him, he’d grow up.

“No, but I wanted to anyway,” Brady says, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I know you’ve been looking for a way out of the club for a while, and I have a job for you, if you’re interested.”

Excitement zings through me, but I hide my surprise. “Well, since I quit the club two weeks ago, I’ll take anything I can get.”

Brady smiles. “I invested in a restaurant in the Gas Lamp with my friend, Davey. We need someone to deal with the waitresses, scheduling, and all of the tedious things Davey doesn’t want to be bothered with. You’d be on the floor, making sure everything runs smoothly. It’s upscale, so you’ll have to cover the tattoos with sleeves, but it pays well.”

“I’ll take it,” I say without hesitation.

His deep green eyes smile. “Good. You can start tomorrow. Davey will be expecting you.”

“You won’t be there?”

“Nope, I’m just an investor. I go on the road in a few days, and I have a lot to do before we leave.”

BOOK: Tug
11.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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