Tempted by Pleasure (Secret Invitation #1) (2 page)

BOOK: Tempted by Pleasure (Secret Invitation #1)
2.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Chapter 2

Erin

Before I hit ‘send,’ Katie snatches my cell. “Research,” she says and walks toward the tiny sun room off the kitchen I use as an office.

“Hey!” I scoot after her, still determined to make the call. “Spontaneity, remember? Hand over the phone.”

She refuses, turns on my computer, then types something into the Google search bar. “Look!”

Several pages come up, and something about secret societies catches my attention. She scrolls down, revealing more headlines.

“Ooh, pictures,” I say.

She clicks on dozens of photos of men and women in masquerade and I note the captions.
Corpus Christi fundraiser.
Svengali-like management bans press coverage. Hellfire Club operating in South Texas. Secret lives of the Corpus Christi elite—prowess on Wall Street and in the bedroom.
The headlines are endless.

“See the value in collecting data before you accept?”

“What search parameters did you use?” I’m fascinated.

“The exact verbiage on the invitation.” She gazes over her shoulder. “But there’s not much here. Whoever it is prefers anonymity.”

I laugh nervously. The invitation did list
silence
as the price. “So now what?”

“Forget about it. Ropers is a safer venue. Maybe we can hook up with a couple executives from Dallas posing as cowboys.”

“Why are you so obsessed with cowboys?”

Her mischievous grin says it all. “Spurs? Rope? Who knows? Ready to go to work?”

I sigh, feeling completely unmotivated. I hired two reliable employees last year, Mary and Nadia, so whenever I want to play hooky, I just call in. “Girls day off?”

“Next week. I need the extra cash.”

Katie picks me up on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and we work afternoons together. “Let me grab my bag.” I head to my bedroom, slip on my heels, and stuff a sweater into my backpack. “Ready.”

Traffic is light over the Kennedy Causeway and we hit South Padre Island Drive, turn on South Staples Street, then park in the Moore Plaza. My store, Shakespeare’s Quill, is located next to PetSmart. I’ve done everything I can to give the interior the feel of something you’d find in a Harry Potter movie. From the made-to-order American black walnut shelves to the matching dark-wood ceilings, I enjoy being here. Two Victorian stained-glass welcome windows with matching Tiffany lamps on three reading tables are up front. There’s a leather couch in the corner and a small gas fireplace I keep lit to add ambiance. We offer coffee and tea to anyone who enters the front door.

“Good afternoon,” Mary whispers as I walk by the register.

I smile and wave. Mary’s soft spoken and reveres the store like a library. Katie follows me to my office, and I drop my bags on the desk.

“I think Mary needs to attend that party, too,” she teases.

“Frederick wouldn’t appreciate anyone corrupting his girlfriend.”

“What about you, Erin?”

I shrug. “We’ve already discussed it. Now that we know it’s real, all I need to do is accept.”

“Whoa.” She holds a hand up. “We completed a preliminary Internet search. That doesn’t count. I can’t believe this about-face. Book worm turns ‘girl gone wild.’ And while we’re still on the subject, what’s a Hellfire Club?”

I plop into my leather chair and power up the laptop on my desk. “Leave it to you to remember that. You’re the history buff.”


American
and
Texas
history. You’re the ancient civilizations expert.”

I’m very familiar with the legends surrounding the eighteenth century Hellfire Clubs. “Sir Francis Dashwood presumably established the first club in Britain.” I type his name. “Think orgies and pagan rituals, politics and money . . .”

“Sounds like Manhattan.”

I giggle. “Would you believe it was rumored Benjamin Franklin frequented the meetings?”

“I thought old Ben preferred the French court. What’s the point?”

I angle the computer so she can see the screen. “Brotherhood, similar to today’s fraternities. See this?” I point to a list of secret societies; Skull and Bones, Freemasons, Rosicrucians,
Ordo Templis Orientis
, Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Knights Templar . . . “Instead of deciding the fates of kings and queens, I suppose anything remotely linked to one of these organizations today would involve Insider Trading and hookers.”

“You’re going to pimp yourself out? Don’t be too stupid to live.”

“Figuratively.” I roll my eyes. “I don’t want Thomas to pop my cherry.”

I cringe when I hear Mary gasp from the doorway.

“Sorry.” Heat rises in my cheeks. “Do you need me up front?”

Mary shakes her head, her eyes wide. “You’re a virgin?”

“Yes.”

Katie laughs. “Shocking, isn’t it? Don’t worry, we’re trying to figure out a safe way to take care of it.”

“Why?” Mary blurts. “Aren’t you thinking about getting married?”

I don’t want to elaborate. Mary only knows a little bit about what my parents suggested because I was so stressed afterward I needed someone to talk to. “I apologize for what you overheard.”

“No offense taken.” Mary sits in the guest chair in front of my desk. “Remember, I love Jodi Ellen Malpas!”

How could I forget? My little wallflower can be found in the erotic romance section whenever the store is empty. If I don’t explain, she’ll never look at me the same way again. I can’t have that hanging between us. “There was only one boy in high school I ever considered sleeping with.” A half-truth at best.

“Erik Grant.” Katie and I say his name at the same time. I’ve never shared anything about Foster. I slap her arm. “Blond hair, blue eyes, and the tightest ass I’ve ever seen.”

“Quarterback,” Katie adds.

“I loved jocks,” I admit. “Think junior prom. After splitting a bottle of Champagne with my girlfriend, Erik took me to his parents’ bedroom. Everything was perfect, candlelight, soft music, a king-sized bed with silk sheets. I was pretty buzzed, but I wanted him. He stripped down to his boxers and I waited to see him completely naked for the first time.”

Mary places both of her elbows on my desk and leans forward, hungry for details. “And?”

I hold up my pinky—small penis. It’s a universal symbol like the peace sign.

“Oh. My. God.” She nods sympathetically.

“Frederick has a couple single friends,” Mary offers.

I close my eyes, conjuring the mental image of skinny, sun-deprived computer geeks who game all night. “Thank you. I don’t like blind dates or vampires.”

The chimes on the front door sound and I jump up, ready to end the conversation. “Take a break, Mary, I’ll help the customer.”

Foster

I pray I’m standing in the middle of the right bookstore. The lush surroundings remind me of Erin. She always had sophisticated taste. There’s framed prints of Shakespeare hanging on the walls and a showcase displaying various antiques. I take a closer look. The centerpiece is labeled as an early nineteenth century black Ansonia Shakespeare mantel clock. There’s also a ten-volume set of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, circa 1903, in decorative leather.

“Can I help you?”

Her sultry voice is more than a little tantalizing. I glance up, and find her blue eyes fixed on me. “I’m interested in the Edgar Allan Poe collection.”

Erin Covington is striking up close. Her blond hair falls loosely around her shoulders, and those breasts, the ones I venerated in high school, are as tempting as ever.
Fuck.
Everything about her is the same, down to her tiny feet.

“Sir?”

She doesn’t recognize me. “The collection, I’d like to buy it.”

She clears her throat and approaches the showcase. “A fine selection,” she says. “I purchased the set at an auction in London last year.” She reaches into her front jeans pocket and produces a key, then unlocks the glass, her hands shaking. “Which volume do you want to see?”

“You choose.”

She picks the first, carefully offering it to me. I scan the title page pretending to be interested in what I’m reading. Satisfied, I hand it back. “Do you gift wrap?”

“Absolutely.” She walks a few feet to the cash register and picks up the phone. “Mary, I need your assistance up front please.” She hangs up. “Cash or credit?”

“American Express.” I reach inside my breast pocket and pull out my wallet.

“She’s a lucky lady.”

“Excuse me?” I hand her the credit card.

“Forgive me.” She blushes. “I assumed you were getting the set for your wife or girlfriend.”

“I’m not married,” I say, hoping for a reaction.

Her thick lashes flutter as she avoids eye contact. Although she doesn’t recognize me, she’s undeniably guarded. Maybe there’s a subconscious alarm going off in her head. Regardless, the attraction is obvious, whether she knows me or not. And if I have my way, her defensive walls are going to crumble soon. Nothing has changed between us, never will. She swipes my card.

“Four thousand dollars,” she says quietly, waiting for the machine to spit out a receipt.

A dark-haired woman joins us. “What do you need me to do?”

“Finish Mr.—” She sucks in a breath. “Wagner’s transaction.”

Our gazes lock, and I’m drowning in blue.

She turns to Mary. “He purchased the Poe collection.”

“Really?” Mary seems mesmerized. “I’m impressed.”

I grin.

Erin walks around the counter, heading to the back of the store.

“I need to see your I.D., please.”

“Of course.” I hand her my driver’s license.

“Foster Everett Wagner,” she reads. “Why does that name sound familiar?” She gives it back.

I shrug. “Common enough name.”

The clerk is still trying to place me, tapping the corner of her gold-rimmed wire glasses.

“I know,” she exclaims. “The Face Forward Gala. Your family hosted.”

Apparently she reads the society section in the newspaper. “Guilty.”

“Wow.” She slides the receipt across the counter and hands me a pen. I sign and she tucks the paper in the register, slamming the drawer shut. “You dressed like Marlon Brando in
The
Godfather
.”

“I’m fond of classic gangster movies.”

“You don’t strike me as a Poe type.”

“I’m not.”

She freezes, frowning. “You just bought four thousand dollars’ worth.”

“For a very good cause.”

“Charity auction?”

“No.” I lift her hair off her shoulder so I have access to her ear. “To meet Erin.”

Chapter 3

Erin

OH my God. Foster is standing inside my store. The bastard just bought the most expensive item I have. What’s he doing here? Why didn’t I say something? Coward. That’s what I am. A total loser for not exerting myself. All those nights I spent staring at his photo—dreaming about him—wondering what it would be like to see him again. Hear his voice. And that face . . . 

Well, I can’t let Katie see me falling apart. I’ve had eight years to get over that arrogant jock. I moved on a long time ago, right? Finished college and opened my store. And I have a bright future. After all, who would turn down a chance to marry a man their parents picked out? I release a breath and open the door to my office, putting on my best I-don’t-give-a-shit smile.

“You’re still reading about sex clubs?” I’m surprised to find my best friend planted in my chair. “I have a stack of receipts to scan.”

Katie looks up. “Actually, I discovered something even more intriguing. Have you ever heard of sugaring?”

“No.”

“Apparently it’s a newer spin on an old concept sweeping the United States. Young hot women seeking older, wealthy men.” She grins.

I hope she’s being sarcastic. “Mistresses?”

She nods. “
Companions
is the politically correct term now.”

“Oh,” I say, wondering why different labels convince people things are less diabolical then they truly are. “Sex for money.”

“In some cases. Maybe you should see if a sugar daddy can take care of that virgin problem.”

“I don’t need financial assistance,” I remind her. “I just want a night of mind-blowing sex, remember?”

“I’m glad to hear that,” she says.

“What?”

“I have a confession.” Katie stands up, looking guilty. About what exactly, I’m afraid to ask.

“Remember what I said about that college thing some of our sisters getting involved with at that club?”

“Not you?”

“Almost.”

I let out a sigh of relief. “And?”

“I’ve maintained friendships with some of the people who are still active members. I wanted to help, Erin. I can’t live with the idea of Thomas being your first. I know how much you hate him. So I called in a favor and had that invitation sent to your house.”

I gape at her, completely caught off guard. I guess everyone harbors secrets. “Why didn’t you just say so?”

She smiles. “I wanted to make sure you made an informed decision without any influence from me. I want you to own this opportunity, to be in control.”

“I’m a virgin, remember? What do I know?”

Katie laughs. “Technically yes, but you’ve done things, girlfriend.”

I don’t know whether to take it as a compliment or insult. But Katie doesn’t do anything half-ass, she’s gregarious. “Yes.” With Foster. But I don’t want to discuss this right now. Not with him only feet away. I need to think,
alone
. “There’s a new order of books in the storage room that need tags. Think you can handle it?”

“Erin?” Mary is back.

“Is everything okay?”

“Mr. Wagner is gone, but . . .”

“What?” I stand. “Did his credit card get denied?”

“No.” She shakes her head. “He told me he doesn’t like Poe and only bought the books to meet you.”

Katie clicks her tongue.

“I think he was flirting with you.”

“No, he was serious.”

“Do you remember his full name?” I ask.

“How could I forget?” She’s practically swooning. “Foster Everett Wagner.”


The
Foster Wagner?” As if I need confirmation. Eight years has only blessed him with more ruggedly handsome features and a body most women would crawl through fire or broken glass to possess. “Bastard.”

“You know him?” Katie asks.

I turn, hoping all color hasn’t drained from my face. Time to make my own confession. “Too well.”

“Can I close the store for a few moments?” Mary asks.

Another
tell-everything
session at the cost of my dignity and privacy. “Yes.”

She rushes away.

“Talk about skeletons in the closet,” Katie remarks. “What dark secrets have you been keeping?”

I drum my fingers on the desk, waiting for my gossip-hungry groupie to return. A few minutes later, I’m pacing, and the girls are waiting expectantly.

“Sorry I haven’t been completely forthcoming about my past, Katie. I never thought I’d have to explain myself. Hell, I never thought Foster would come back into my life. We dated my sophomore year in high school. He played football and basketball, chased all the cheerleaders, had über wealthy parents, and the biggest ego.”

“What happened?” Mary asks.

“I refused to sleep with him.”

“That’s it?” Katie asks.

Her question quickly reminds me of why I left public school, to get away from the past. “Don’t dig too deep.”

Her brown eyes narrow like she’s offended, but I know she’ll respect my wishes in front of Mary. “Before or after pinkie guy?”

“Before.”

“Oh dear,” Mary says.

Maybe if I make them laugh I can end the conversation on a high note and they’ll forget about it. “I left him on his parents’ deck with his shorts wrapped around his ankles. He actually crawled after me, begging me to come back.”

“Why’d you leave?”

“You’ll never go back to work unless I finish the story, will you, Mary?”

She grins.

“We were getting friendly and Foster decided to
show me
how well-endowed he was.”

Katie lets out a hoot, her body convulsing with laughter. “Did Mr. Penis scare the shit out of you?”

“Terrified me.”

“That explains everything,” she teases. “You went from one extreme to the other. Feast or famine. Poor baby.” She pats my arm reassuringly. “So you need something in the middle.”

“I don’t know, Katie.” I really don’t. After I walked out on Erik, knowing he’d never be able to sexually satisfy me, I let my studies consume me. I transferred to a private school and graduated at the top of my class. Since then, I’ve dated plenty of men, but none captured my attention—
until now
. “Foster Wagner is a misogynistic pig. Ever read the newspaper? A different woman every week.”

“You sound jealous,” Katie observes.

“Shocked. I can’t believe he showed up in my store after all these years.”

“Maybe he wants to finish what he started.”

“Go. Back. To. Work. Mary.”

“Yes, ma’am.” She scrambles from the office.

“Little Mary is more perceptive than I’ve ever given her credit for.”

“She devours romances like M&Ms. I’ve created a monster.”

“You expanded the smut section,” she points out.

“Just following market trends.”

“Why didn’t you confront Foster?”

Good question.
“I don’t know.”

“Maybe you should forget the party and call him. I bet he’ll fuck you.”

“I’d sooner join one of those dating clubs than sleep with Foster Wagner. I’ll
never
give him the satisfaction.
Ever
.”

All the animosity I’ve kept bottled up suddenly surfaces. Truth be told, I adored him. But his lewd behavior had left a lasting impression. I couldn’t look him in the eyes when we passed each other in the hallways at school. I knew our secret was safe. He’d never admit he got turned down. I sigh.

“Never say never.” Katie gives me a hug. “People change.”

As soon as she’s gone, I open my picture archive on the computer. There’s two files containing photographs from high school. I find the ones I’m looking for, a weekend camping trip to Port A. Foster and I looked so happy together. That’s before I knew what lurked beneath his sweet ‘Texas boy’ façade. “They call it the past for a reason.”

I close the file and open my accounting program.

Foster

“I’ve never been surer of anything in my life,” I tell my best friend, Kevin Mallory. We’re having lunch at the Corpus Christi Country Club. “She’s as aloof and beautiful as the day I met her.”

“You mean frigid?”

“I admit she’s a bit frosty. But if I didn’t know better . . .” I banish an absurd thought from my mind.

“What?” My friend puts his fork down and stares at me. “She prefers women?” That’s his excuse for any female who doesn’t throw herself at me.

“No.”

He rolls his eyes. “She’s the only one that ever denied you.”

I rub my chin, regretting I told him. “Makes the game that much sweeter.”

“But if she’s not into men . . .”

“Trust me.” Erin is too provincial to stray outside the lines. “She just hasn’t found the right one.” A server brings our steaks and baked potatoes. I drape a linen napkin over my legs. “Another scotch and soda.”

The waiter disappears.

“The hardest part is over.” I check my watch. “By now, her employee has reported everything. I’d give up a month’s salary to see the look on Erin’s face when she realized who I was.”

“I can’t believe she didn’t recognize you.”

“It’s been eight years.”

Kevin shovels a piece of meat into his mouth, then takes a swig of water. “Still think you should have introduced yourself.”

“Some things are worth waiting for. She’s not the kind of woman who gives anything up easily.”

A few minutes into our meal, Kevin’s cell vibrates. He scoops it off the table, grins, then holds it up for me to see. “Guess who just RSVP’d?”

I snatch the iPhone and stare at the screen.
Holy shit, I underestimated Erin.
She’s audacious enough to accept my invitation. Of course she’ll never know how or why she got it, but I’m pleased. What happened to the incorruptible little prude from high school? Has she finally surrendered to her sensuality, learned to accept what comes naturally to everyone? Is she into kink? By responding, she’s proven one thing, she’s into
something
, and I plan on finding out what it is.

“Plan B,” I say, cutting into my T-bone. “You can collect a blood and urine sample from her tomorrow.”

“You’re sure?”

“I don’t want to disappoint the lady.” I wanted Erin to make the choice on how I’d proceed with her. “We already have her medical records and college transcripts. She exceeds our standards. But treat her the same way we do any new recruit. If she wants to join Lazarus, she needs to pass the final test.”

“But she’s not just any other woman.”

“Until I say otherwise, she is.”

Kevin is my right hand when it comes to anything involving the club. He’s a medical doctor and maintains a private practice that caters to a handful of wealthy families in South Texas. He’s also a platinum member of my club.

Last year, Texas dominated the Fortune 500 list with fifty-two companies. Quantum Energy, my father’s corporation, was ranked two hundred.

Now that I’m a vice president, I reap the benefits of a senior executive. Lazarus is listed as a
social
club, but sex sells, and I’ve cashed in on it since college. What harm is there in offering consenting adults a place to indulge themselves? Men and women alike are subjected to rigorous background checks and medical screenings. If there’s ever a change in status, whether financial, criminal, or health-related, membership can be revoked without question. It’s about discretion and keeping everyone safe.

Our next gala is on Halloween, three weeks away, where hopefully Erin will make her debut. The location is never revealed until the night of the event. New members are blindfolded and delivered by limousine to ensure their safety and our continued secrecy. We’ve had a couple close calls in the past, tenacious journalists breeching security. It helps having several judges on our roster. Gag orders or the threat of an expensive libel suit have chilled any public discussions concerning our activities.

“Right,” he comments. “Do I have to spend four thousand dollars to get her attention?”

“No, asshole,” I answer. “Show her your credentials. If she’s truly interested, she’ll cooperate. If she gives you any problems, leave.”

“I hope her pussy is solid gold. I’ve never seen you go to such extremes to get laid.”

BOOK: Tempted by Pleasure (Secret Invitation #1)
2.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Caitlin by Jade Parker
The Moon Around Sarah by Paul Lederer
Texas Lily by Rice, Patricia
2 Bodies for the Price of 1 by Stephanie Bond
Short Straw Bride by Dallas Schulze
In the Balance by Harry Turtledove
Mannequin by J. Robert Janes