It was almost perfect.
A day at the center – the day before the big softball game, actually. The brand-new fridge and freezer were filled to the brim with food, and the kids were taking full advantage. And we were letting them.
“Eat as much as you want, sweetheart.”
Being able to say those words filled me with the kind of joy I couldn’t even describe, and it made the kids happy, which made the volunteers happy. Everybody was happy.
Except… there was still the little matter of what I’d had to do in order to make this happen.
What I still had to do.
I was trying not to think about it, because thinking about it made it even more real, which I didn’t need. For the moment, I could just look at it as a distant, vague responsibility, and focus on living in this moment of good energy.
Well… I could until Desiree walked into the building.
She was obviously out of place among the timeworn surroundings of the center, with her designer wardrobe, perfect hair, and badass female bodyguards. Still, she wore a smile on her face as she sauntered up to me, waving at the kids. Cool and collected, while I was about to have a heart attack.
“Ms. Byers!” I said, rushing up to her before one of the volunteers could ask a question. “How can I help you?”
“I was just coming to make sure the new appliances had been installed, and that you were happy with the delivery. But,” she glanced around the little cafeteria. “It looks like everything is on the up and up.”
I nodded. “Yes, it is. And thank you again.”
“Oh, you don’t have to thank me. But, you do have to come with me. Your presence has been requested for the night, and since this is the uh… first time… I thought I’d procure you myself instead of sending one of my companions in for you.”
My eyebrow went up. “Excuse me? Procure me?”
“Yes, Ms. Phillips. You do remember the terms of the arrangement, don’t you? He calls, you… come.” She smirked after she said that, obviously pleased with her little joke.
I wasn’t amused.
I glanced up to see that Mila had entered the dining room, and was standing with the other volunteers. Whispering, watching, and undoubtedly wondering why in the world I was talking to a woman like this.
Grabbing Desiree at the elbow, I pulled her a little closer to the door, out of view – and earshot – of anyone else. “Are you serious with this? He wants me now? I have softball game tomorrow, and—”
“Not that it’s relevant, but you’ll make it to your game, Rowan. Right now though, you will let your volunteers know that you need them to take over, because you have something to do. My client’s schedule is tight, and part of the agreement is that you will work around it. Starting now. Meet me at the car in two minutes.”
With that, she turned and walked off, leaving no room for argument. And because I didn’t doubt that she meant what she said, I didn’t waste time getting back into the dining room to pull Mila aside.
“What the hell is Desiree Byers doing here?” she gushed, as soon as we were in semi-private. “Was it her? It was her, wasn’t it? The angel donor, that gave the appliances? How do you know her?!”
“I…” I shook my head, then pushed out a sigh. “I’ll have to explain later. Right now though, I have to go with her. Can you close up for me?”
“Of course. Why are you going with her? Can I come too? Are you meeting more donors?”
“It’s complicated,” I told her, holding up my hands to get her to stop. “But listen… thank you, okay?”
“Yeah, no problem. Go. Go,” she insisted, pushing me toward the door.
Knowing I was running on a tight limit, I didn’t prolong it. I grabbed my things from my office and headed out, climbing into the back of the sleek black SUV that was waiting out front.
As it pulled off, I looked to Desiree, whose attention was buried in her phone. For the first few minutes, I was fine, but the longer we drove, the more my stomach knotted, the more raw my nerves became, until I was feeling anxious, and… agitated.
“Are you proud of yourself?” I asked, out of nowhere, and immediately wished I could take back. But since I couldn’t – and since Desiree was looking at me know, undoubtedly wondering if I’d lost my mind – I had to press on. “For this. Bullying poor, desperate women into selling themselves? Is this where you thought you’d be when you got your law degree? Part of the sex trade?”
Desiree’s eyebrows went way up, and she turned off her phone, giving me her full attention, with a look that would’ve killed me, no question, if she had such superpowers.
“You are no victim,” she said slowly, deliberately. “You were presented an offer, you took it, now you sit there and wait while you’re driven to a luxury hotel, to put on designer lingerie, and fuck a man you don’t even have to look at for the nice big check and other perks you agreed to receive. If you want to back out now? Fine. We can stop this car, you can keep the freezer and the food, and my client will write you a ten thousand dollar check for your consideration. Or you can do what you agreed to. The choice is yours. But that’s just it – a choice. Do not dare sit across from me and accuse me of selling you into the sex trade. Don’t play those games with me.”
I swallowed hard. “I didn’t mean to—”
“Offend me, I know. But you did. And it’s fine. You’re ashamed of yourself. You’re confused, and scared, I get it. But… you have a choice here, Rowan. If you decide to move forward, you should know… I would not send another woman – especially one I admire – into an unsafe situation with a man. No harm will come to you from him. Okay?”
“Yeah. Fine. Whatever,” I responded, trying to save whatever little pride I could after getting lit into that way. sitting back in my seat, I crossed my arms as I sifted through my thoughts.
I’d messed up.
Not about the agreement in general – that was debatable anyway. But it definitely did me no good to antagonize Desiree, when hers was the only name or face I knew associated with this.
It was probably best to chill.
So that was exactly what I did, after I took the time to shoot a text to Laurel, letting her know what was going on. She’d hooked me up with some souped up tracking app that she swore would get through any attempts to block it, and I believed her, knowing what she and her tech genius sister were capable of. If nothing else, I had that to help me feel better.
When I noticed a difference in surroundings through the windows I looked up, just in time to see the Drake Hotel signage before we pulled into a private parking garage, traveling several levels underground before the vehicle came to a stop.
As soon as it did, Desiree finally gave me her attention again. “Here’s how this will work. You have roughly an hour to go to the room and get ready. Everything you need is there to shower, shave your legs, whatever. Take this time to do whatever you need to do get yourself together, and look your absolute best.”
“You grabbed me from the center,” I reminded her, confused. “I’m in jeans and a sweaty tee shirt, my hair is a mess, I’m tired, I—”
“Sounds to me like you’ve got work to do then. The lingerie my client requested is waiting for you upstairs… As well as a mini bar. If you need to pour yourself a shot or two to relax, do it.”
I nodded, even though I still had a million questions in my mind. I was a pretty firm believer in experience being the best teacher, so at this point… It was time to just do it.
“So is this how it will always be? Somebody just picking me up at whatever time, no matter the inconvenience?”
Desiree shook her head. “No. After tonight, he’ll let me know how often he wants to see you, and I’ll work out a schedule. I’ll try to let you know at least two days in advance, but there might be times that he wants to see you immediately, no matter what the schedule says. And you agreed to that.”
I sighed. “Yeah. I did.”
I reached for the door handle to get out, but Desiree stopped me, reminding me I didn’t know where I was going.
“You’ll need this,” she said, pressing a key card into my hand, then closing my fingers around it. “When you get into the elevator, put the card in the slot. It’ll automatically take you to the right floor. Once you’re there, turn the card over, and use it to open the door to the suite. Put your cell phone and purse in the tray beside the door. Once you’re ready for the client, you pick up the phone in the bedroom, dial “313”, and then put on the mask that’s there.”
“Then you wait. He’ll come to you.”
I swallowed another heavy breath, then gave Desiree a nod before I opened the door and climbed out, taking my purse with me. A huge part of me wanted to look back, wanted to ask Desiree to walk me up, so I wouldn’t be alone.
But I wasn’t a child.
I was a grown woman, who’d made a grown-ass decision, and now it was time for me to face the responsibility of what I’d signed up for.
Following the instructions Desiree had given, I made my way to a suite that took me breath away. Dark, polished stone floors, marble counters, big windows, lush fabrics – I’d seen stuff like this on TV, but had never seen surrounded by it in real life. I took a few minutes to look around, to touch the supple leather of the sofa, peek out the windows at the view, and simply take it all in before I made my way to the back.
To the bedroom.
Trying not to focus on the bed, I went straight to the bathroom, where I stripped down to climb into the extravagance of the shower. The shelf there was lined with everything high-end versions of everything I could possibly need, including shampoo and conditioner, so I did cleaned myself from head to toe, figuring wet hair was better than sweaty hair.
In the cabinet under the vanity, I found a variety of products and perfumes, so I set to work pulling together a passable wash-n-go style for my hair, and making sure I smelled good. There was a makeup bag equipped with enough for a full face, but with the limited time I had, I opted for simple liner and gloss.
When I stepped back into the bedroom, I took the time to really look around, and noticed flowers and a box on the dresser I hadn’t paid attention to before. There was a card attached to the flowers, which I quickly ripped open, greedily scanning the words for anything that would bring some reality back to the unreal situation I’d put myself in.
“Looking forward to meeting you today. I hope the feeling is mutual.”
Frustrated, I tossed the card down.
“Meeting” someone required a face to face interaction, being able to look them in their eyes. Being able to see them.
That’s not what was happening.
Instead of dwelling on that, I pulled the box open. I had to dig through soft tissue paper to get to the contents, but once I got there, my mouth dropped open. I’d never touched lingerie that looked like that.
For the first time, a little tingle of excitement rushed through me, courtesy of the black-and-white bra, panties, and garter belt in that box. Goosebumps spread over my arms as I carefully put each piece on, even the stockings that attached to the garter belt, then moved to the mirror to look at myself.
I’d never found myself plagued by the belief that I wasn’t an attractive woman. I considered myself such, and had been told so often. But, I rarely – if ever – had occasion to dress up, and had even less reason to put on sexy lingerie. After this though… maybe I’d make up some reasons.
I looked amazing.
Even with my “imperfect” body – stretch marks here and there, love handles, etc – the quality and construction of this lingerie made it to where your eyes were too busy with my breasts and ass to be bothered with looking at anything else.
As I moved back and forth in the mirror, it struck me how, in that moment, I looked very little like “Ms. Ro”, who handed out popsicles and books and helped with homework and coached softball. That was who I was. The woman in the mirror with the buttery-soft skin, big natural hair fluffed around her shoulders, dressed in lingerie she couldn’t afford to purchase for herself, in a hotel room that probably cost more for one night than her monthly rent… she was someone else.
She – I… needed to be someone else.
That was the only way I was going to go through with this.
Maybe Rowan Phillips, with degrees in social work and childhood education couldn’t sleep with a man in exchange for the list of benefits in that contract, but Ro could. It was corny, and I knew it, but if it got the job done, whatever.
My bolder, sexier, alter-ego put the lacy black mask over her head, dialed 313 on the phone by the bed, and then sat down, pulling the mask over her eyes to wait.
But nothing happened.
After twenty minutes, I stood up, put on the silk robe that matched the lingerie, and went to that window to push my mask up and look out over the busy lights of the city.
Alter-ego my ass, I thought, shaking my head. It was a cool concept, sure, but if I were honest with myself… I was still terrified.
I shouldn’t be here.
No sooner than the thought ran through my mind, the air in the room shifted as my ears picked up the sound of footsteps. Swallowing hard, I fought the urge go sprinting toward the sound, mask up, satisfying my curiosity to see Desiree’s “client”.
But I suspected her guarantee of my safety went hand in hand with my adhesion to the rules that had been set. If I broke them, there was a good chance that what would have been an easy way to solve my financial troubles would turn into a nightmare. So I chose integrity, since I was already compromising my morality.
I pulled the mask down.
Moments later, those footsteps reached the bedroom, and stopped. At least, the sound did, muffled by the thick, plush surface of the carpet. I knew he was in the room because I could feel him there, but instead of saying anything, I turned back to the window, tightening the belt of my robe as I moved. I took a deep breath, willing myself not to start hyperventilating over what I had to do.
“Would I be correct in my observation if I told you that you seemed nervous?” he asked, and the deep, rich timbre of his voice sent an immediate tremble through me.
I clutched my arms around my waist, and nodded. “Yes. You would.”
“Well… if it helps at all, I have no plans to score your performance. If that’s what you’re nervous about.”
“I’m nervous because I’ve never done anything like this before.”
“Neither have I,” he claimed, from much closer than he’d been a moment ago. “And if my circumstances were different, I would have simply approached you the first time I saw you.”
“Which was where?”
He laughed – a sound that warmed me from head to toe. “Now you know I can’t tell you that, Ms. Phillips. That would help you figure out who I was, and we can’t have that, can we?”
“You could just tell me. I signed ten different non-disclosures. I wouldn’t say anything.”
“Not a risk I can take, although for the record, I believe you.”
He was right beside me now – probably facing the window just like I was. Only when he looked out, he saw lights, and cars, and the ant-sized people moving along the walkways many floors below us on The Strip.
All I saw was nothing.
“What would you like me to call you?” I asked, feeling indignant again. “Sir? Master? Your Highness?”
Again, he laughed. “No. I’ve been accused of arrogance, but I try to make a point of not being insufferable. You can call me Nick.”
“Obviously not your actual name.”
“It’s a variation that I’m comfortable with. May I touch you?”
Behind my mask, my eyes narrowed, even though I couldn’t see anything. His requesting to touch me struck me as odd, since I’d essentially signed myself over to him. He didn’t have to ask for my permission, and yet… he did.
“Uh… yes. It’s fine.”
I held my breath a little, expecting him to immediately go for my ass underneath the robe. Instead, he turned me to face him, saying nothing as he pulled my crossed arms apart, then unbelted the robe.
And… there it was.
The beginning of my “belonging” to him.
A deeply appreciative sound left his throat as he pushed the robe from my shoulders, letting it drop to the floor around my feet. I couldn’t see him, but I could certainly feel his gaze on me, lingering over my breasts, and then my ass, as he circled me.
“You look even better in this than I expected,” he said, stopping in front of me. The fresh, woodsy scent of his cologne tickled my nose, making me breathe it in a little deeper, further consuming my senses. “I knew it would be perfect on you as soon as I saw it.”
I swallowed. “Oh? You picked it yourself?” I asked, trying not to sound or look as nervous as I felt.
“Why wouldn’t I? Do you not like it?”
“No,” I answered immediately. “It’s not that, at all. It’s beautiful.”
“You are beautiful.”
I gasped as he suddenly grabbed me at the wrists, hauling me against him. There was definite strength in his grasp – this was no old, frail man. This was a broad chest, and good cologne, and a sexy voice, and definite arousal pressed against my stomach. Those things should have relieved me – instead, they raised my anxiety even further, to the point that I snatched away from him, taking several quick steps across the room.
“I can’t do this,” I insisted, reaching for the mask. I only got it pushed halfway over my eyes before “Nick” was on me, grabbing me from behind to clamp his big hands around my wrists.
“Rowan stop,” he growled in my ear, making me whimper as his arms closed around me, wrapping me tight to keep me still. “You know you’re supposed to keep the mask on at all times when I’m here.”
I twisted my shoulders, trying in vain to get free. “I don’t care!” I yelled, heart racing as he held me tighter.
“But I do,” he told me, in a much calmer voice. “And you should. There is too much at stake, for too many people, for you to simply walk out of here after you’ve seen my face.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“I am warning you,” he corrected. “You can leave at any time you want to, if you don’t want to be here. I don’t get off on assault, Rowan. You can leave right now, and I promise you, you won’t be bothered again. But if you stay – if you want those things I offered, the things for the center – you must follow the rules. And you have to decide. Right now.”
I sucked in a shaky breath, trying to calm my heart before it shot right out of my chest. With the way the mask had slipped up, I could see just a sliver underneath – enough to see his hands clutching my arms, enough to see the smooth, deep brown of skin a few shades darker than mine.
“Decide,” he growled, making me flinch a little as I shut my eyes tight. Of course I wanted to leave, and forget this had ever happened, settling right back into the safe bubble of my own little world. But there was another part of me – the part that signed the contract in the first place, the part that felt sexy as hell is this lingerie, and horny as hell in “Nick’s” arms…that wanted to stay.
Needed to stay.
Needed to see this through.
Needed something that wasn’t bills, or juvenile court, or alphabet charts.
I could practically feel his relief as his hold on me loosened, just enough that I could breathe a little easier. A moment later, his lips were on my skin, and I melted right into his touch. As if, less than a minute ago, I hadn’t been ready to run away screaming.
My mouth opened for a whimper at the warm, wet sensation of his tongue on my neck, followed shortly by his teeth, for a gentle nip that paralyzed me for a moment. Long enough for him to let me go, pull my mask securely down over my eyes, and then pull me back into his arms.
I… hadn’t been touched in a while.
Between the time I put in at the center, and my lack of patience for dealing with men, sex and romance had been off my radar. Now though, my mental sirens were blaring loud, in the form of hard nipples and wet panties and a strong desire to beg him to never stop doing what he was doing to my neck with his mouth.
A shudder rushed through me as his hands closed over my lace-covered breasts, cupping and squeezing. Briefly, I hoped he wasn’t sucking my neck hard enough to leave a mark, but that thought was quickly overwhelmed by pleasure as he found my nipples, pinching them through the soft lace. My mouth fell open, panting as one of his hands slipped lower, past the garter belt and into my flimsy underwear.
Very, very quickly, his fingers pushed me damn near to the point of hyperventilation. When he slid further, sinking his middle and index fingers into me while the heel of his hand ground against my clit, I gave up on breathing altogether. My hand closed around his wrist, wanting and not wanting him to stop.
This felt… different.
Maybe it had been so long that I’d forgotten what stimulation at someone else’s hand felt like. Or maybe it was the blindfold – the lack of sight heightening my other senses, making me more sensitive, more entuned. Either way, I was sliding towards an orgasm at record speed… until he stopped.
Confusion made me frown as he pulled away, but it quickly gave way to surprise as he turned me in his direction. His hands came to face, holding me where he wanted me for the next thing which, to my surprise, was a kiss.
And not just any kiss.
I whimpered into his mouth as his lips took over mine, gentle but insistent. After a moment, his tongue pressed the seam of my lips, seeking an invitation that I readily gave, opening myself to be devoured.
His hands went to my waist, pulling me into him as his tongue dipped into my mouth, caressing mine. I could feel his dick against my stomach again, heavy and hot and begging to be freed, which I expected to happen at any moment.
But it didn’t.
What happened instead is that he kissed me until my knees were weak and my lips were tender, and his uniquely warm, minty taste was permanently implanted on my brain. By that point, I had no real sense of where we were in the room, but he solved my unspoken question by effortlessly hefting me up, walking a few steps, and then lowering me onto the oversized bed, with our mouths still connected. Until they weren’t.
Behind the mask, I opened my eyes to darkness as his lips grazed my jaw, then my chin, then my neck. Down and down he went, gifting me with soft wet things that half-suckle, half-kiss, and all appreciated. He cupped my breasts again, squeezing before he lowered his mouth, sucking my nipple through that soft lace. He did that for the other side too, then easily undid the front clasp of the bra, freezing my sensitive peaks to the open air.
The appreciative grunt he offered was the first sound he’d made since I told him I was staying, and it struck me as just as erotic as everything else. It didn’t matter, but I closed my eyes as his mouth closed over my bare, hard nipples, with nothing to muffle the fullness of sensation now. And it was glorious.
Instinctively, I reached out, stopping when my fingers came in contact with his head. I couldn’t see him, but nothing said I couldn’t touch him, so I went for it, somewhat satisfying my curiosity with yet another detail to fill in – waves. My palms spread over his low cut, feeling the ridges of his waves on top, and the gradual fading of the sides. The lining around his hairline felt superbly crisp, letting me know the haircut was recent.
Which led me to the – probably dangerous – assumption that… he’d gotten a fresh haircut for me.
My shoulders relaxed as he moved lower, taking his lips down to my ribs, then my belly button, making my stomach cave in anticipation. I felt the release in tautness as he unhooked the stockings from my garter belt, sucked in a breath when I felt his fingers at the waist of the panties.
He tugged down, and immediately, I lifted my lower half to let him remove those panties. Once again, I was barely breathing – barely believing this was happening. But then he spread my legs open, burying his face between them, leaving no doubt that it absolutely was.
A high-pitched “Ahh!” shot from my lips as he covered me with his hot mouth, doing… something… with his tongue that damn near sent me through the ceiling. He hooked his arms around my thighs, pressing in closer, with his whole face, as he went in, slurping, licking, sucking, devouring me like he was starved.
My hands slipped from his head, down to his ears, down to his collar – still buttoned, tie still around his neck. That was all I needed to complete my little fantasy visual, of a tall, dark, sexy man, greedily eating my pussy while he was still all buttoned up.
Why was that was such an enticing visual? I had no idea. But it certainly fueled my record-time rocket to an intense orgasm that didn’t seem to be his end goal – in fact, the fresh wave of wetness it brought seemed to make him go harder, like he was determined to lick me clean – an ambition I certainly had no complaints against him attempting.
Especially when he hooked his fingers into me, stroking deep and slow on a quest to find just the right spot. When he found it, it brought another implosion – even more intense than the first, so good that I damn near screamed myself hoarse with pleasure.
My chest heaved as I tried to catch my breath when he finally pulled himself from between my legs. I expected to hear him undressing, maybe even the sound of a condom wrapper, but instead he brought his lips to mine again, plying me with a kiss so deep I didn’t even care that his face was still messy with my juices.
It was welcome proof of what he’d done to me.
“I have to go,” he murmured against my lips, making me feel a disappointment I hadn’t expected. “Desiree will let you know when I want to see you again. And I definitely want to see you again. Okay?”
I just nodded, somehow unable to speak, even though I’d been perfectly able to vocalize my pleasure moments before.
“Did you enjoy yourself?” he asked – I could hear the smirk in his voice, and knew he was teasing, but I nodded again anyway as I felt him climb off the bed. “Good,” he responded to my answer. “Then we won’t have any issues next time, will we?”
I swallowed. “No.”
“Good. When the phone rings, you can take off the mask. There are clothes in the closet, and a driver waiting for you downstairs.”
He didn’t say goodbye.
I heard him in the bathroom, undoubtedly washing himself up, but then, without saying anything, his footsteps were in the hall, traveling away. A few moments later, the phone rang, just once, and I snatched the mask off my head, wildly looking around.
I was alone.
Why wouldn’t you be?
Taking a deep breath, I shook my head. My stocking-clad feet caught my attention, reminding me that they, and the garter belt they’d been attached to, were the only articles of clothing still on my body. My legs were still splayed out, nipples still hard, and I was definitely sitting in a wet spot of my own creation that had probably ruined the expensive duvet he’d spread me on top of.
I braced myself, waiting for shame to take hold.
It never came.
I didn’t feel dirty or embarrassed, the way I’d expected to. I just felt… good.
Pulling myself out of bed, I stripped down for another shower, and then went searching for the clothes he’d told me were there. I expected a few things at most, just enough for me to get home without it looking like a walk of shame, but instead I found clothes.
Nice ass clothes.
Pretty, obviously expensive undergarments in the drawers, all in the right sizes – obviously based on the information I’d had to provide to Desiree. In the closet were jeans, tops, dresses, shoes, whatever I needed to go pretty much anywhere, from a formal event to a private beach.
But all I wanted was to go home.
I tamped down my kidlike excitement, choosing the simplest bra and panties, the most basic jeans, and a plain tee shirt. I had every intention of simply putting on the shoes I’d worn to get here to go home, but one when I picked them up, I noticed something I hadn’t earlier.
What had previously been a bad scuff, had now worn into a damn hole.
That brought the embarrassment.
When I imagined my life in my thirties, it certainly hadn’t been this – not being able to afford a decent pair of shoes. Sitting there in that luxurious suite, with a closet full of things intended for my use… I couldn’t force myself to put on those shoes.
I tossed them in the trash bin.
And then I went into the closet to pick a different pair, since now I had something I hadn’t had before, hadn’t had in a very, very long time.
It didn’t make sense not to use them.
– & –
“Well if it isn’t Mr. President himself. Gone and give us a campaign speech nigga,” Braxton teased, putting out a hand to slap mine as I joined him, his brother Lincoln, and my other friends – Kingston and Trei – for a dinner I’d strongly contemplated missing.
For one, Braxton and Kingston weren’t the most “political campaign” friendly homeboys to have. Secondly… coming here had required that I leave Rowan spread out on that bed, after a not nearly long enough sample of just how sweet she was to my taste buds.
A sample that I’d sorely needed.
Reid Bennet for City Council had taken an ugly hit today.
I was up against an opponent that had age, experience, and friends in high places on their side. What I had was passion, energy, and the ability to talk my way out of – or into – nearly anything. Because of that, early data suggested that I had a fighting chance, with a younger generation of voters, but today, I’d been hit with an uppercut than in the world of Vegas politics, I might not recover from.
My opponent’s husband had a heart attack. And there, in a live stream from his hospital bedside, he’d stated a wish – played on every fucking local news station – to see his wife elected councilwoman while he was alive to see it.
That seat was good as hers.
While I was sitting in a long-ass, depressing-ass meeting about what we would do next, to save my campaign, all I could think about was not thinking about any of this shit. That city council seat was important to me, absolutely – I wanted to make real change for the people of this city. Not the tourists and billionaires than ran the strip, but the people. I wanted to make a difference.
I didn’t want to be a politician.
I just thought it was necessary.
But the more I learned about the dirty politics, nepotism, and outright crime that actually ran this city – something that campaigning for a “real” office had shown me – I was less inclined to believe it. Still, if having the office would put me in a position to effect even the smallest change, I wanted to do it.
But I was tired.
I was really fucking tired.
Tired of the campaign bullshit, tired of putting on appearances. Tired of pretending to still be in love with a woman whose betrayal I’d discovered months ago, but couldn’t really do shit about, because she was the Enid Grant, of the Grants, and their name meant a whole lot in this city. I couldn’t drop her, because a single black man who’d lost his fiancée to another man wasn’t a candidate people were going to vote for. She stuck around because there was political capitol involved for her as well, through her father, who was running for state representative.
Couldn’t have his whore of a daughter creating a messy scandal, messing with his chances of election, and if her ass messed things up for me, there would absolutely be a fucking scandal.
But I wasn’t trying to think about that. All I wanted was an escape, and that was where Rowan had come in. I knew we weren’t supposed to have our initial meeting for a few more days, but after the blow to my campaign, I couldn’t help it.
I needed her.
And it had sure as hell been worth it.
“Surprised to see you out and among the living man,” Kingston teased as I took the empty seat beside him, requesting a Mauve and coke from the server who’d appeared. “Expected you to be holed up somewhere, strategizing your next move after ol’ Betty gave her husband a heart attack to make sure she won.”
Shaking my head, I laughed. That was exactly why I’d come out. Couldn’t have the city thinking I was somewhere huddling in a corner, licking my wounds.
“That’s what I pay a campaign manager for,” I told him, propping my elbows on the table. “And mine thinks that it’s a good idea for me to be seen doing some good deeds – out and about in the neighborhood with regular people.”
Trei chuckled. “Look around, Reid… you’re not among regular people.”
“Not right now,” I explained, thanking the server as she handed me my requested drink. I took a sip, then looked around the table. “Whatever you planned to do tomorrow between two and four, cancel it. We’re going to a softball game.”