The city looks beautiful at night its rough edges kissed by moonlight bright neon lights full of hope. My Bugatti slices through the darkness smooths over cracked downtown streets. The leather is warm on the steering wheel the gears smooth under my control. Every muscle in my body hums with anticipation the certainty that I’m going to get laid tonight. It’s more than sex that gets me off. It’s the journey. Discovering what makes a woman work. What holds her back and what lets her go.

I pull into the valet driveway and toss my keys to Alejandro who has three kids at home and another one on the way. “Take care of her” I tell him slipping a twenty into his palm.

“It’s my pleasure” he says giving the gleaming curves an admiring look.

She’s gorgeous this car. The first thing I purchased for myself once I was done scrabbling for scraps. Once I learned how to use my particular talents. Her form is both sleek and curvy the kind of body that drives a man to his knees. But it’s not the way she looks that I love best. It’s the way she moves. The engine that has a mind of her own sometimes sweet surrender sometimes temperamental.

I love her best when she gives me a challenge.

L’Etoile is a luxury hotel with 24-karat gold chandeliers and white marble floors. A slice of European aesthetic in the center of Tanglewood’s urban sprawl. It’s garish and expensive which suits me fine. It was founded in the ’40s by a woman who claimed to be French nobility. In reality she was the madame of a lucrative brothel.

That suits me fine as well.

The front counter is carved with ornate scrolls and baby angels. A woman stands behind them. Jessica her name tag says. I give her a winning smile and her brown eyes widen. “Good evening to you. Is there perhaps a message left for me? Hugo Bellmont.”

Her expression becomes soft vulnerable. I should be very tired of this expression especially when it comes so easily but my male pride is a simple creature. It does not mind making women swoon again and again.

“I… I can check for you.” She looks around for a moment almost dazed. As if it’s never occurred to her that people might come to the desk for messages.

“You have my gratitude.”

After some fumbling her cheeks deeply pink she locates a stack of envelopes in one of the little cubbies. There is one with black script that I can recognize as my name from here. “Here you are.”

I think about what would be required to undress her to take off her clothes and what remains of her defenses. Very little but we would both enjoy the journey. Alas she isn’t my intended partner tonight.

Inside the envelope is a hotel key card which leads to the penthouse.

I’ve been to a hundred penthouses inside the city. And several outside of it. Each one is its own brand of ridiculous luxury. That’s part of the heavy price tag the ridiculousness. Bathtubs that could fit a baby elephant. Private infinity pools. A helipad complete with exclusive helicopter usage. You don’t spring for the penthouse unless you want to be wowed.

Somehow I’ve never been to the penthouse in L’Etoile.

It’s always eluded me. And haunted me.

It isn’t the amenities that interest me. A bed made of solid gold. Draperies spun from a rare Chinese silkworm. Whatever they are I’m sure they’re lovely but it’s the person who rents them I want to meet. My chest feels tight with anticipation. A heavy beat through my veins because this is more than a client. This is someone who might have access to the current owner of this hotel.

I shouldn’t get my hopes up but hopes aren’t under my control. They rise and rise high enough that I have to turn my thoughts away from revenge. To something much more base. Sex.

There’s a private elevator that leads only to the penthouse and the private rooftop gardens. It requires the key card to call it down. There are three buttons on the inside wood panel: L for lobby P for penthouse and R for the roof. There’s also the silhouette of a bell. I suppose that’s for if in the space between the lobby and their suite they decide they need champagne and strawberries delivered. I could call down for some. Or I could have brought some flowers. Props you could say. Props to charm a lady but I don’t need them. Don’t want them. I pride myself on making them feel like they’re the most incredible woman I’ve ever met because for one night they are.

A soft chime signals my arrival. The doors slide open.

I was prepared for any type of penthouse decor. Something lush and antique to match the lower floors. Something modern and sleek to appeal to the upscale traveler.

What I’m looking at isn’t a penthouse at all. Not one I’ve ever seen.

There’s a lumpy corduroy sofa in front of a gilded brick fireplace. A pile of old books about to topple over on a side table that probably came from Ikea. Through the room I can see floor-to-ceiling windows that would have been the focal point but they’ve been covered by drapes. That alone would not be remarkable except for the string of star-shaped plastic lights that traipse across them. It takes me a moment to realize that my mouth is open. Shocked. I’m shocked which is pleasant enough considering it’s a novelty. How long has it been since something surprised me? And where is the object of that surprise? There is no woman to greet me. No seductress. No glamourous woman ready for the night of her life. God what is that strange tightening in my chest? It feels like anticipation deep and true and it’s been a lifetime since I felt that.

“Hello” I call stepping into the suite.

There’s a thump from the bedroom. A woman pops her head around the corner all frizzy hair and wild eyes and plump pink lips. She wears a black dress with a startling high neck lace on top the kind that a matron would wear—but her skin is perfectly smooth her eyes wide. This is a young woman. Younger than myself her clothes an anachronism. Her expression? Pure relief. “Oh thank God.”

She sounds so sincere that I have visions of an orgasm emergency. A deficiency so intense she had to dial a twenty-four-hour line to have it fixed. There’s something undeniably hot about the idea of a woman in dire straits and me the only one who can help.

“Hugo Bellmont” I tell her providing a small bow. “At your service.”

And then I give her the smile. Not the megawatt one that I used downstairs. I give her the slow suggestive one that lets her know every dirty thing that I’m thinking.

It isn’t fake. It doesn’t need to be. Not with her whispery curls that I’d love to feel in my fist. Not with the pale freckles across her nose that I’d love to track all the way down her body.

Her eyes are an interesting pale green. I want to look in them while I go down on her.

Every single dirty thought is in the smallest smile.

Except she disappears back into the bedroom. “In here!”

How unusual. I’ve never met a woman as hurried about her sexual requirements. She sounds worried almost frantic and I haven’t even been here sixty seconds.

I follow her feeling for the first time in years out of my depth. It’s a nice feeling a pleasant simmer in my veins. My steps feel lighter across the plush carpet.

At the threshold I barely have time to register the strange furniture. It’s large and antique. Expensive but mismatched. As if they crammed an estate sale into one room.

The young woman is bent over a large dresser her ass perfectly plump. I could fill my hands with her. Could press my new erection against the crease. Except it isn’t a sexy pose.

Instead she seems to be looking behind the dresser.

“It’s okay” she’s saying breathless. “Come out sweetie. You can do it.”

Based on the sweet tone of her voice and the cat dish I spotted on the way inside I already know what I’m going to see when I peek over the top of the dresser. Sure enough there’s a fluffy cat with bright yellow eyes peering up at me.

I don’t have much experience with cats. They were one level up from rodents where I grew up useful for catching rats and underfoot in dark alleys.

However my experience with pussies of a different sort translates just fine because I can see exactly what’s happened to the poor girl. She’s backed herself all the way into a corner made her body so small she can’t possibly come out.

No matter how nicely her owner coaxes her it won’t work. It can’t possibly. Something like this isn’t solved with words; it’s solved with a confident calming touch.

I straighten enough to pull off my jacket. “If you’ll allow me.”

The woman glances back at me her eyes going wide as she sees my forearms where I’m rolling up my sleeves. “What are you going to do?”

“I assume you wish me to retrieve the cat.”

“Rescue her” she corrects. “Because you have long arms.”

I’ve had women compliment my length before

but usually they’re referring to a different body part. Nothing about this night is usual; maybe that’s why I like it so much. “Happy to be of service.”

“She’s very nervous. She might scratch you.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time.” I give her a small smile and this time I’m rewarded by a pinkening of her cheeks. “Now if you would move aside. I require room to work.”

She scoots herself around me careful not to touch sucking in her breath as she passes by me. Is she afraid of me? I don’t think so. At least not the ordinary fear a woman might have of a man. Instead she seems wary much like the cat that watches me from behind the dresser nervous of the world and its unknowns terrified of everything and nothing at all.

With both hands braced on the side of the dresser I use all my strength to lift it. As I suspected it’s an ancient piece made back when they used solid wood for every beam and joint. It probably weighs a thousand pounds which is why the woman didn’t move it first. I manage to move it two inches farther from the wall which isn’t enough for a person to walk behind but is enough for a cat. This one would probably wander out eventually when she wants to eat but I don’t think my client will relax until she does.

So I return to the far end of the dresser near the corner and bend to look at the cat. She stares at me her eyes almost glowing unfathomable. “You’re a beauty aren’t you?” I murmur.

No response. She doesn’t even blink.

“I could talk to you for hours” I say reaching down to stroke the top of her head.

She’s soft and unexpectedly fragile beneath all that fur. It’s almost like armor the thickness of it. It makes her seem larger than she is. “I could talk for hours and you still wouldn’t trust me would you? You won’t believe a thing I say so I’ll just have to show you.”

I don’t change the cadence of my voice not even as I reach below the cat and scoop her up not even as I clasp her securely against my chest and pet her head. She curls against me with a faint purr of relief her thick tail swishing back and forth in gratitude.

“Oh my God thank you” the woman says looking torn between snatching her cat away and coming near me. Quite a dilemma she has. “I realized I couldn’t find her thirty minutes ago and then spent all this time looking and then when I did find her she wouldn’t come out.” She stops herself flushing. “Sorry I babble when I’m nervous.”

And it’s adorable but I know better than to tell her that.

“My assistance does come with a price” I say instead.

Her eyes widen. “Oh?”

“Your name. It’s only fair now that I’m holding your pussy.”

Oh the color of her cheeks. They remind me of sunsets with wind from the west the kind that herald good weather for sailors the following day. “Bee” she says.

“The kind that make honey?”

“No Bea like Beatrix.” She makes a face. “It was my grandmother’s name.”

I would love to say a name as unique as Beatrix while I pound into her but it’s clear she’d rather I called her by the nickname. Anyway it suits her. Simple on the surface a thousand meanings beneath. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Bea. And your cat” I prompt.

“Minette” she answers her expression softening.

Upon hearing her name the cat seems to realize she’s been far too content in a stranger’s arms. She pulls herself away a little haughty and leaps onto the floor. Only then from the relative safety of two feet away does she turn back to give me a warning hiss.

Then she swishes away with a walk I can only admire.

“I suppose I haven’t made a friend” I say ruefully.

Bea grins. “Are you kidding? She didn’t take a swipe at you. I’m pretty sure that means she loves you in Minette language. She doesn’t like new people.”

Why do you travel with a cat who dislikes new people? I suppose she could keep her locked up in penthouse suites around the country wealthy enough to insist that her cat sit with her in first class instead of locked in steerage but it still seems like a strange pet to travel with.

Come to think of it the pet isn’t the only thing strange. The old furniture. The young woman who’s looking at me with a mixture of trepidation and hope.

“Is it possible…” I say almost reluctant to ask but needing to know. “That she doesn’t meet a lot of people because she lives on the top floor of an exclusive boutique hotel?”

Green eyes blink at me as wide as the ones that looked at me from behind the dresser. As if I’ve trapped her there. As if I’m the only one who can get her out. “Ah. Yes.” She laughs a little. “What gave it away?”

A million things but mostly the fact that Bea looks so skittish I think I could spook her if I move too fast. I nod toward a painting on the wall which features a smaller version of Minette in pointillism. “I assume it’s not standard concierge service to paint a masterpiece of the guest’s pet. Though if it is you really have to mention that in the Expedia review.”

She laughs the sound light as air making my chest feel full. “I’m guessing Olivier would rather paint her than clean her litterbox.”

So she’s on a first-name basis with the concierge. It means she’s been living here for a while most likely which is interesting because she can’t be older than twenty. The high-necked dress is strange for someone that young but it’s surprisingly sexy. It conforms to her figure emphasizing her curves and making my blood run hot.

Her smile fades. “It’s not a problem is it? Me living here?”

As quickly as that my profession fills the air like smoke. Like a bomb went off.

“It’s no problem” I assure her. The agency will send me to a hotel room as easily as a client’s high-rise condo. There’s no difference as long as the credit card charge goes through.

She bites her lip looking anywhere except the large antique bed. “Do you… I mean did you want to just start or…”

“Perhaps let’s go into the living room” I tell her already leading the way my hand light on her lower back. This is the way I picked up the cat moving her before she really had to think about it saving her from herself. “I would love to talk to you first.”

And find out why this beautiful and nervous young woman hired an escort


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