“So,” he said as he strode into the suite I’d booked for the weekend. “You got my attention. Now keep it.”
I took one look at that big, muscular body and the chestnut curls, the ice blue eyes—
—fuck me that I only wanted to have sex with gay men. What was it about me?
He stood in the middle of the room in an expensive suit, relaxed, his hands in his pockets, and looked right through me, as if he could see into my soul.
I approached him, my dressing gown open enough for him to see patches of my cleavage, glimpses of nipples and pussy. I hoped he was bisexual …
He wrapped his arm around me when I slithered against him, and he lowered his mouth to mine, kissing me expertly. I ran my hand up the inside of his leg and felt him up. He had an impressive cock as far as I could tell, but it was flaccid and, I knew, would remain so.
“And that,” he whispered against my mouth as the kiss faded away, “is all you’re going to get.”
“Well, shit,” I muttered, turning away from him to head into the bathroom.
He chuckled and took off his tie, his suit coat, his shoes and socks, and while he undressed, I threw on some comfortable pajamas. I don’t care to be half nude in front of men who don’t want me, so what did I care about wearing plaid flannel and chenille?
I found him sitting at the table in the dining area picking over the appetizers with a fork.
“Men like you are a crime against womanhood.”
He snorted. “So I’ve been told.” He looked up at me, gave me the once over and grinned.
“Now you know, my reputation’s gonna fry if it comes out I spent the weekend with New York’s highest-priced call girl.”
I waved a hand. “No, it won’t. They’ll think I cured you straight. Your credibility goes up along with my rates.”
We settled in to eat the fabulous food the Watergate Hotel had conjured up, and he said, “Okay, now tell me the story.”
So I did.
It was after three o’clock in the morning when I came to the end of it.
We lay in bed together, spooned. He wore bike shorts and a tee shirt. I had discarded the chenille robe, but had needed the comfort of my PJs. It was dark. We had both dozed here and again. He stroked my hair absently, as if he knew I liked it and never got that.
I liked feeling this man against my body, his calm cheer. He was far less boisterous in private than he was in public.
He was quiet.
The loud, gregarious man was a front for the real Morgan Ashworth.
“Good heavens,” he said with a stunned tone and a frustrated exhale. “You write for General Hospital on the side, don’t you?”
“Unfortunately, no,” I whispered, turning into him, the bed sheets rustling with an intimacy I hadn’t known in a long time, if ever. “My life is a soap opera.” Our legs twined together and we kissed for a long time. Softly. Kisses of friendship and vague desire.
I felt him stir, but not enough. He would never stir enough.
Oh, were he not gay …
“Go to sleep, Cassie,” Morgan whispered to me finally. I buried my nose in his chest and he smoothed my hair back behind my ear. He dropped a kiss on the top of my head. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”
I couldn’t figure out why his tee shirt was getting wet.
• • •
We spent Saturday together on the floor in the sitting area of the hotel suite, using the couches and the coffee table as our desk to hammer out our agreement.
“Aren’t you going to ask me what you get out of this?” I finally asked him, when it began to appear that he had all the responsibility to me, and I had none to him.
“No,” he said absently, not looking at me, writing on this paper or that paper.
“Why not?” Now I was getting suspicious.
He shrugged. “Can’t a guy do something nice for somebody?”
“No. Tell me why you’re not asking for anything.” I wasn’t joking.
He took a deep breath and ran his thumb and forefinger down the creases around his mouth. “I … don’t know how to put it.”
“Do it anyway.”
“Fine. I feel impressed that I should.”
I stared at him, confused. “What the hell kind of answer is that?”
“Take it or leave it,” he snapped.
I didn’t understand it, but I supposed, considering what I needed, it didn’t matter why he was willing to do it, just that he was. “Whatever.”
Morgan looked at me then, his face perfectly serious, and said, “If you think I’m not that kind of guy, what is it about me that made you call me?”
I looked away.
“Is it because you’re just generally that cynical, that you really don’t trust me but I’m the best of a bad lot of people who can do what you want, or that you don’t think you deserve to have nice things done for you, or that somebody would even want to?”
“Oh, shut up,” I muttered. “It just makes me uncomfortable. It means I owe you.”
He sighed. “Look,” he finally said after a long silence spent doing nothing. “We don’t work that way. My family, I mean. Me. The rest of us. It looks that way to the outside world, but that’s not the way it really is.”
“I know,” I said low.
“How do you know?” he insisted.
I gulped. “Your idiot cousin. Hilliard. Giving all his money away constantly. As far as I can tell, he’d do it even if it weren’t a big red herring.”
I could feel the vibrations of the couch from Morgan’s low chuckle. “He doesn’t care so much about money.”
“You have a strange family,” I muttered. “Your other cousin. LaMontagne. Just throws ideas out into the wind, all his training and brilliance, talking to people about his work, never expecting any return, not caring if people steal from him … ”
“Well,” Morgan said after a moment. “Étienne’s hard to explain … ”
“Yes, I’m very well aware of what he is. At least his wife has the good sense to keep her ideas close to the vest and him from spilling everything.”
He snorted. “She’s the same way. Hers manifests differently.”
“Oh, Lord. Two of them.”
“The truth is, nobody could duplicate what they do anyway, so it doesn’t matter if they spill their guts. It’s how they got rich in spite of themselves.”
“Now I guess I can figure out why you chose me.” Morgan gestured over the papers spread out all over that would be shredded and then burned in the suite’s fireplace before we left. “I’m a nice guy with a nice family.”
“There are a lot of nice families out there. Also rich. Also powerful.”
I couldn’t. He knew it. I knew it.
“Nobody else will grant or take favors without strings. Nobody else will whip out a gun when it’s necessary just because it needs to be done. We aren’t any flavor of Mafia, Cassie. That’s why you’ve been watching us, why you’re so fascinated by us, and why you called me to protect you.”
It took me a moment, but then I nodded. Reluctantly. “It’s why everybody’s fascinated by you,” I groused.
He gestured at our mess, the laptops now open on the coffee table, dutifully filtering through data. “Like you’re much different. You just don’t have the stomach for killing.”
I thought of the plans I’d laid, upon whom I’d taken revenge, upon whom I still intended to take revenge and why, and how to deal with the collateral damage. None of these people warranted blood on my hands, but they did warrant swift and severe retribution—
—and what I had planned would come back on me.
I sighed. “No, I don’t.”
Morgan and his family would do what I could not.