Mar 31, 2014

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**Blog Tour & Giveaway** Uncovering You by Scarlett Edwards


Title: Uncovering You
Author: Scarlett Edwards   
Genre: Dark Romance
Release Date: March 17th, 2014
Series (Y/N) - Yes, first book in series.  Second will be out April 20th, 2014
Tour Host: Lady Amber's Tours


Book Description:When I wake up in a dark, unfamiliar room, I have no idea what's waiting for me in the shadows. My imagination conjures up demons of the worst kind. 
Reality is much worse: 
A collar with no leash. A prison with no walls. And a life stripped of meaning. 
I am presented with a vile contract and asked to sign. It outlines the terms of my servitude. The only information I have about my captor are the two small letters inked at the bottom: 
J.S. 
Armed with only my memories, I must do everything I can to avoid becoming ensnared in his twisted mind games. But in the end, it all comes down to one choice: 
Resist and die. 
Or submit, and sign my life away

I live near beautiful Seattle, Washington.  I grew up reading all types of fantasy books before discovering the wonderful world of romances in high school.  Now, I spend most of my time writing about sexy men and the women who love them.
Links:

“Lilly.”
Oh God. It’s him. There’s no mistaking that rich, masculine treble.
What’s he doing down here?
“M-Mr. Stonehart,” I stutter, turning. I curse my inability to hide my surprise. He totally caught me off-guard. I have to look up to meet his eyes. Then up some more.
The face that I find is so striking it should belong to a Greek god.
He’s younger than I expected. Late thirties, maybe early forties.
That means he started his company when he was younger than me!
Dark scruff lines his angular cheeks. His jet-black hair is styled in long, natural waves. My fingers itch to run through it.
Totally inappropriate.
He has a prominent nose that might be too big on a less imposing man, but on him, it’s perfect.
In short, he’s a package of the purest masculinity I’ve ever seen.
And then there are his eyes. Oh my God. His eyes. They pierce into me like honing missiles. They are the deepest black I have ever seen. They would be frightening if they weren’t so beautiful. When the light reflects a certain way, you catch a glimpse of the purple underneath.
They are like midnight sapphires. His eyes reveal a cunning intellect. Those eyes do not miss a thing.
Add all that to his towering height, his wide shoulders, his confident-yet-at-ease posture… and Stonehart cuts an intimidating figure.
My gaze darts to his left hand before I can stop it. No ring. He’s unmarried.
He looks down at me, expectantly. His eyes narrow ever so slightly, and I feel like I’m being dissected, measured up, and tucked away in some small corner of his brain. I imagine this is what a gemstone feels like under the magnifying class of the most critical appraiser.
Stonehart clears his throat. I come to with a start, realizing I haven’t said anything in ages. I open my mouth, but the capacity for speech seems like a foreign concept to my brain. “I—”
Somebody bumps into me from behind. I stagger forward. I’m not used to these shoes, so my heel steps the wrong way. My ankle twists under me, and I start to fall.
I don’t fall far. The hand still on my elbow tightens, and Stonehart pulls me into him.
I plaster myself onto the solid steel wall the man has for a body. I catch a scent of his cologne. It’s a deep, musky smell with a hint of charred spruce that is all male. It scrambles my thoughts even more.
“Sorry!” a rushed voice calls out. From the corner of my eye, I see the postman giving a hurried, apologetic wave.
Although the sequence lasts less than a second, it feels like an eternity. Pressed up against him like that, I don’t want to move. I know that I couldn’t have made a worse first impression.
Stonehart eases me off him with a firm yet gentle grip. Our eyes meet. I flush the most vibrant red. His fingers graze my forehead as he brushes a lock of hair out of my face.
Any tenderness I may have imagined vanishes when Stonehart takes out his cell. He long dials a key and growls an order. “Steven. See the delivery boy leaving right now? Have his building pass revoked.”
I gape. Stonehart keeps speaking. “Wait. I thought of one better. Bar his company from accessing the building.” There’s a pause. “For how long? Indefinitely. FedEx can talk to me when they have an improved employee selection program in place.”
The phone call gives me just enough time to compose myself. My heart’s still beating out of my chest. But nobody has to know that.
I speak without thinking. “You’re going to restrict the entire company from serving this building because of that?”
Stonehart humors me with an answer. “A company’s employees are its most important asset. Their behavior reflects the organization as a whole. If FedEx decided that clown is good enough for them, it tells me they’re sloppy. I do not do business with sloppy organizations.”
“What about the other tenants in the building?” I ask. “Won’t that piss them off?”
When I hear myself and realize how improper my question is, my cheeks flame red again.
Stonehart’s eyes darken, as if he cannot believe I asked that question. I open my mouth to apologize for my imprudence, hating the way my professional skills have evaporated into thin air. I’m cut off by a short, barked laugh.
“Miss Ryder.” He sounds amused. “I believe that is the most direct and honest question anybody has dared ask me in weeks.” He takes my elbow again and leads me to the elevators. I have to take two quick steps to match one of his long strides.
“Yes,” he continues. “They will be ‘pissed off.’ But the perk of owning a building—” he hits the elevator call button, “—is that you get to make executive decisions.” He gives me an unreadable glance as the doors open. “That is, at the risk of being questioned by inexperienced interns.”
If that isn’t a loaded remark, I don’t know what is. I flush scarlet red for the third time since I’ve met him. I’ve never had a man throw me so off balance.
The elevator is packed, for which I’m infinitely thankful. The trip up will give me some time to properlycompose myself.
Gratitude turns to panic when the crowd files out, meek as mice, when Stonehart steps in. None of the people waiting in the lobby follow us.
The doors close. I’m alone in here with him. My heart’s beating as fast as a hummingbird’s wings.
He catches me staring. “Impressed?” he asks.
“They know you,” I manage.
His dark eyes flash with amusement. “Astute.”


Chapter One
October 2013. Date unknown.
(Present day)
A faint hiss, like the sound of an angry cat, jars me from my sleep.
I open my eyes to pure blackness. I blink, trying to get my bearings. A vague memory forms in the back of my mind, too far away to reach.
Why can’t I see anything?
My breath hitches. Panic rips through my body as the horrifying answer comes to me:
I’m blind!
I scramble onto hands and knees and desperately claw at the dark, searching for something, anything, for my senses to latch onto.
A dim overhead light comes on.
Relief swells inside.
I plop back on my butt and close my eyes, taking deep breaths to dispel the rush of adrenaline released by my body. When my heart’s not beating quite so fast, I open my eyes again.
The light’s gotten brighter. I look up at the source. It’s far above me, like a dull, miniature sun. It spreads a little sphere around me, maybe ten feet in diameter. Past that, everything is swallowed by darkness.
An irksome memory keeps gnawing at me. But my head is too heavy to remember. I feel… strange. Kind of like I’m hung over, but without the telltale pounding between my ears.
Cautiously, I try to stand. My limbs are slow to react. They feel heavy, too, like they’ve been dipped in wet clay. I steady myself. Only when I’m satisfied that my knees won’t give out, do I strain my ears for that hissing sound again.
It’s coming from somewhere behind me. I turn back—and nearly smash my head on a gleaming white pillar.
What the hell?
The sound is forgotten as I reach out and brush tentative fingers against the pillar’s surface. It’s cool to the touch. Smooth, too. I put my other hand on it. If I had to guess, I’d say it was made of marble. But what is a lone, white marble pillar doing in the middle of this room?
The memory is like a gong going off inside my head. But trying to reach it is like grasping at a smooth, slippery stone at the bottom of an aquarium. Just when I think I have it, it slips through my fingers and falls even farther out of reach.
I walk a slow, measured circle around the pillar. If I tried wrapping my arms around it, I doubt if I could even span half the circumference. Something far in the back of my mind tells me I should be alarmed. I look behind me and frown. By what? A dark room?
No, you idiot. By the reason you’re here!
My eyes widen. The reason I’m here? I don’t… I don’t remember.
I wince and bring one hand to my temple. Why am I having so much trouble remembering?
I gasp as a second gruesome thought hits me. Did I lose my memory? Do I have… amnesia?
I sink down with my back to the pillar. Desperation starts to take over. I hold my head between my knees and close my eyes to focus.
My name is Lilly Ryder. I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 17th, 1990.
My eyes pop open. Joyous tears form in the corners. I do remember! I take a deep breath and try to keep going.
I was raised by my mom. I do not know my dad…
Suddenly, all my childhood memories come streaming back. Moving around as a kid. Never staying in one place longer than six months. All the cities I’ve lived in. All the apartments my mom and I called home. Even the revolving door of her boyfriends. There was Dave, and Matthew. Tom, and Steve. There was…
I shake my head to stop myself. I don’t doubt my memory anymore. But that still does not explain why I have absolutely no recollection of this place, or how I got here.
I push myself back up. The spotlight above me has gotten progressively brighter. The little enclosure of light doesn’t feel quite so tight anymore. I trail my eyes up the length of the pillar. I can’t see where it ends because of the light. But I can tell it’s tall, at least twenty, maybe twenty-five feet…
There’s also something about its surface that calls out to me. My hands itch to run over the smooth stone. A giggle bubbles up as I picture myself stroking it. The column is quite phallic.
I waver at the unfamiliar thought and have to catch my balance against the beam.
Focus, Lilly! I chide myself.
I have no idea where that thought came from. I have never been overtly sexual.
Nothing feels right. The fog that’s heavy on my mind is starting to lift, but not yet enough for me to understand—or remember—where the hell I am. This place is unfamiliar. I know that much. But right now, I feel almost like a surgery patient whose anesthetic kinked out: fully awake mentally, but completely impaired physically.
I go back to my memories. I can remember high school. I remember college. That’s where I spent the last three years of my life, isn’t it? Yes. Yes, it is.
“Hello?” I call out. My voice echoes into the surrounding gloom. “Is anybody there?”
I wait for an answer. All I get is the hollow repetition of my own voice.
anybody there, there, there…
I spent the last three years in college… but that’s not where I think I am right now. No. I shake my head. I knowthat’s not where I am. My memories are fuzzier the closer I bring them to today. Time feels… skewed. Freshman year’s easy to remember. So is sophomore, and most of junior… but things get weird toward the end.
I… finished junior year, didn’t I? Yes. Yes, I did. And then…
And then I took an internship in distant California for the summer, I remember with another gasp.
Suddenly, my mind is crystal clear. That pressing memory hurtles into view. It’s from yesterday. The last thing I recall, I was alone in a booth at an upscale restaurant. The waiter brought me a glass of wine. I took a few sips, contemplating my future….
Oh, God! Fear wraps a stranglehold around my neck.
The restaurantThe wine.
I’ve been drugged!
I can’t breathe. A suppressing tightness constricts my throat. I feel dizzy, and terrified, and most of all… ashamed.
Holy shit, Lilly, way to look out for yourself! My semi-mad inner dialogue pans with a generous dollop of sarcasm.
I’ve always known about the dangers of sick men preying on unsuspecting girls. I just never thought I’d fall victim to it.
I’ve been on my own since I turned eighteen, after the final falling out with my mother. I’ve always been proud of how well I managed. Even the shabby holes I’ve lived in while saving up college tuition were an improvement over living with her and all her low-life boyfriends. At least there, I had autonomy.
I’ve dealt with landlords selling crack on the side and the junkies they attract. Always, I’ve been known as independent, and strong—maybe offputtingly so. But, those were the character traits I had to develop to have any chance of getting ahead.
And all that lead to what? To this? To letting my guard down for one night and ending up… here?
Wherever “here” is, I think to myself.
The shock of the revelation has subsided a bit. I push off from the pillar. I can figure this out. I take a deep breath and look at my hands and feet. I am not bound. I pick at my clothes. They are the same ones I wore last night.
Do you know what might be lurking in the darkness?
I shove the meddlesome voice down. I don’t need more worries. Not now.
Carefully, I place one foot in front of the other and edge to the outer reaches of the light. The strange hissing noise has gone away. I don’t know when that happened. Maybe it was in my head the entire time.
I strain my eyes, trying to pierce the surrounding darkness. It’s impossible. I reach out with one hand and find nothing but air. This far from the pillar, I can barely see my outstretched hand.
“Hello?” I try again. “Who’s there?”
There’s no answer.
What kind of madman would do something like this? I wonder. What is hidden in the shadows?
Without warning, my imagination starts to run wild. Torture devices? Bondage equipment? Something… worse?
Snap out of it! I tell myself firmly.
I refuse to give in to despair, even if my entire self-preservation mechanism is on high alert. Despair is what whoever brought me here wants me to feel.
I will not succumb to that.
I look down at the floor. It is made of some expensive stone. I kneel down and brush my hand over the large, square tiles. They feel solid. Sturdy. They don’t belong in a dingy basement or a dirty warehouse.
Somehow, that thought strengthens me. Things aren’t quite as bad as they could be.
I stand up and peer into the black. I glance back at the safety of my pillar. If I venture past the light, I can always find my way back.
Go slow, I warn myself. Who knows what might be waiting for me out there?
I’ve seen the horror movies. Just because I don’t get the dungeon vibes here does not mean I’m not in one.
Haltingly, my foot reaches past the edge.
A thousand bright lights flood the room. I gasp and shy back, shielding my eyes on instinct.
After a few seconds, I lower my arm, blinking through the sharp pain that shoots through my head. I can almost groan. Light sensitivity, too?
Then I see the room.
Holy shit.
It’s huge. Massive. It must be at least five thousand square feet of pristine, flat space. I’m smack dab in the middle of it all.
The lights come from embedded ceiling lamps high overhead. Three of the walls, far away from me, are decorated with black and white abstract paintings created in bold brush strokes. The fourth wall is shielded by a heavy red curtain. The entire floor is made of rich, creamy white tiles reminiscent of steamed milk.
The ceiling is so high above me I almost feel like I’m in a cathedral. It’s made of exquisite dark oak beams.
But this is no church.
I do a slow turn. Something about this is all wrong.
So wrong.
Why am I here? What is behind the curtain? Other than the massive pillar and the paintings, there is nothing in the room.
If I’m being kept prisoner, why am I unbound? Why waste so much space on me?
I cup my hands around my mouth and yell.
“HEY! Anybody? Where am I?”
As before, I’m greeted with silence.
I take one more careful look around. If I got in, there must be a way out.
My eyes dart to the curtain.
Behind there.
I start toward it, my bare feet making determined slaps against the cold floor. I’ve not even gone ten paces toward it when I feel a small tug on my ankle.
I stop and look down. I discover a thread, so thin it’s almost translucent, tied loosely around my foot. The other end is attached to the base of the pillar.
I bend down and finger it.
What on earth is this?
The thread looks like it should snap with the smallest amount of force. I wrap my hands around it and tug.
It doesn’t give.
I frown, and apply a little more effort.
This time, it breaks in a clean cut.
I shake my head as I straighten.
Strange.
I half-expected something to happen when I did that. Alarms to blare, the lights to go off, something.
Nothing.
That’s when I notice a small white envelope leaning against the pillar. It’s right where the thread connects. In fact, it blends so well with the marble that I’m sure I would have missed it were it not for the string.
Exploration forgotten for now, I pick up the envelope. Maybe it will give some clue about what the fuck is going on.
It’s made of heavy paper. A wax stamp seals it, imprinted with a two-faced drama mask that I would find unnerving no matter where I saw it.
The only time I saw a wax-sealed envelope was when my ex got tapped by the Spade and Grave at Yale. I can understand the need for antiquity in New Haven. It makes no sense here.
My finger slips under the flap. I carefully ease it open. A foreboding sense of doom swirls around me as I pull the folded letter out.
I stare at it for a long minute. This is all so surreal. It feels like being caught in a bad dream. Once, I play myself right into my captor’s hands.
My natural inclination to resist, to fight back, tells me to tear the paper up without another glance. But that would be madness. The only clue I have to my whereabouts might be contained inside.
My thirst for information gets the better of me. I sit on the floor, cross my legs, and slowly unfold the paper.
It’s handwritten in swift, flowing blue ink. The rows of words make perfect strides across the page. Precision is the first word that comes to mind to describe the owner of the handwriting.
I set the sheet on the floor in front of me, lean forward and begin to read:
Two items require your immediate attention.
 1.   You may spuriously assume you are being held here against your will. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You are a guest. As a guest, you retain full ability to leave my home at any time. The door behind the drapes shall remain open for the duration of your stay. There are no physical barriers to speak of—though I would advise you to read to the end of this letter before making decisions based on a flawed understanding of your situation.
 2.   You may have already noted the new adornment around your neck. If so, well done! I applaud—
Adornment? I stop reading. What adornment?
I bring my hands to my neck. I feel the unfamiliar shape against my skin. Why hadn’t I noticed it before?
I scamper closer to the marble pillar to try to make out my reflection. I can’t see much, but I can make out the “adornment”. There’s a black collar around my throat. I touch it with one hand.
It’s smooth and flat. It’s made of some kind of matted plastic, like the edges of a computer screen. It’s not tight or uncomfortable.
It frightens me. If it warranted a place in the letter, there must be something to it. I need to get it off.
My fingers dart around the edges, seeking the clasp that opens it.
I don’t find one.
The collar is smooth inside and out. It feels like a single piece of plastic. I trail one finger around the rim on the inside, and, finding no discrepancies, do the same on the outside. Again, I feel nothing.
There’s no crack, no edge, nothing to indicate how it was put around my neck.
I jam all my fingers between my skin and the plastic and pull with all my might. The collar flexes ever-so-slightly but doesn’t give.
Dammit! I cry out and try again.
I pull with all the strength God gave me. It’s not enough. I try again, and again, and again.
Nothing.
I realize I’m panting at this point. The exertion has me almost hyperventilating.
I drop my hands. It’s just a stupid, harmless little piece of plastic. Why do I want it off so much?
Because the idea of having anything foreign touch your skin is repulsive.
The voice is right, as always. But what can I do? The collar is bound to be part of the mind game in which I’m an unwitting participant. Reacting the way I just did is probably exactly what my captor wants. He—and I am certain it’s a “he” now, from the wording of the letter—wants me to feel terrified.
I will not give him the pleasure. I return to the letter and continue to read:
…applaud your perspicacity! You should know, however, that it is not an ordinary collar. Contained inside is a small positioning chip and two electrodes. They become activated the moment you stray outside your designated safe zone.
The string around your foot offers a conservative estimation of the distance you may roam past the marble column. Stay close, and you will remain untroubled. I am told that the electric shock the collar provides, while not lethal, can be quite unpleasant.
Holy fuck!
My spine goes absolutely straight and I forget to breathe. Now the collar has meaning. It feels like a live serpent wrapped around my neck.
My eyes are wide as I look down to my foot. The piece of string is still there, but it’s not connected to the one linked to the pillar.
I’d ripped it like a moron.
How far do I dare go? I’ll have to retie the string—unless I find a way to get the collar off my neck, first.
Another thought occurs to me:
Maybe this is a bluff? Does the collar really have an electrode in it? It’s so thin. Where would it draw power from?
I stand up. Assuming the collar is rigged, and the pillar is the center point… but that’s just what he wants me to believe, isn’t it? The letter claims there’s a door behind the drapes. It could be my path to freedom. I would have to be an idiot to stay here without testing the boundary myself.
I can’t trust anything the letter says. But, I can’t give in to despair, either. My only choice is to contest everything that’s thrown at me. If this is supposed to be a battle of the wills, the guy chose the wrong girl to mess with.
I pick up the remainder of the string and hold it in my fist. I square my shoulders to the long, drawn curtain. I hold my head high. My free hand itches to tug at the collar, but I keep it still. If my captor is watching me—which I’m sure he is, because I’m positive there are cameras hidden all around me—I will not give him the satisfaction of seeing me hesitate.
I take a deep breath and start toward the curtained wall. My strides are strong and purposeful. I will not waver. I will not turn back. Fear of a little shock will not keep me from testing the true limits of this prison.
The string goes taut, and I stop.
So far, so good.
It’s the next few steps that will determine everything.
I glance at the floor to mark my position. So, he expects to keep me in an invisible cage, does he? A cage of my own imagination?
Yeah, tough luck.
I drop the string and take one solid step forward.
Nothing happens.
I risk one more.
Nothing happens.
The corner of my lip twitches up in a hint of a smile. I called his bluff. But, I’m not home free yet. The veiled wall is another thirty-odd paces away from me.
I take two more steps forward, and, when nothing happens, start to walk more briskly.
My stroll is cut short by a sharp little zap beneath my left ear.
I tense and wait for more.
Well, color me surprised.
It looks like the collar does have bite, after all. When a second jolt doesn’t come, I can’t stop my smile from becoming a satisfied smirk. I knew the collar couldn’t possible have enough juice to hurt me. Where would the battery go?
Extremely pleased with myself, I venture onward, toward the curtain and its promise of freedom.
The violent torrent of electricity blindsides me. One second I’m on my feet, the next I’m writhing on the floor.
The current pours into me. I thrash about like a grounded fish. Fierce convulsions rock my body. And all I know is pain, pain, pain.
I can feel the source of it, snug around my neck. I’m helpless to fight the onslaught. My head flails about on the ground, throwing hair into my face. A high-pitched squeal sounds in my ears and I desperately hope that pathetic sound is not me.
My eyes roll up and all goes black.

Mar 28, 2014

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Chapter Reveal: Beautiful Lies by Gina Whitney


Title: Beautiful Lies
Author: Gina Whitney        
Genre: Erotic Romance
Reveal Host: Lady Amber's Tours


Synopsis:Enigmatic Cameron Sterling is quickly rising through the ranks at New York’s most prestigious and corrupt law firm Wotherspoon and Associates. He has willfully avoided any meaningful personal relationships and is content to casually hook up with Becky, a young woman who fancies herself as his actual girlfriend. As a child, Cam witnessed his father murder his mother, and this was the genesis of his relationship-avoidance issue. The only thing he cares about now is becoming a partner at Wotherspoon and Associates. Cam is obsessed with the promotion and will not let anything—or anyone—stand in his way.

But when Cam crosses paths with Lilly Amsel, a fashion model, the edges of his well laid plans begin to fray. At first, Cam is unimpressed by Lilly’s exaggerated effervescence and entitled air. However, he is taken aback by her incredible beauty—legs as long as an Amazon’s, silky honeyed-hair, and blazing body. This undeniable physical attraction disturbs Cam on all levels, leaving him intrigued by Lilly and wanting to get away from her at the same time. 

Lilly is strongly aroused by Cam’s moody presence. His dark, erotic looks and heady scent ignite long-dormant embers of wanton desire buried deep within her. Practically hypnotized, she finds her body reacting in the most surprising and carnal of ways. However, the two separate and never expect to see each other again, but somehow they manage to still linger on each other. Lilly’s larger-than-life persona that Cam initially encountered is a sham, though. It is a well-crafted costume that masks deeply rooted insecurity and an unfortunate dependence on prescription drugs. This stems from a horrifically abusive childhood that she is trying desperately, and unsuccessfully, to forget. Her mediocre modeling career was the perfect vehicle for her to escape that tumult and simultaneously receive acceptance and praise. It did not matter to Lilly that the kudos were based on superficial assumptions. She was still almost satisfied with the result and what modeling could not fix, the drugs could. 

Enthrallment and lust have other plans, though. Despite their best efforts to stay apart, Cam and Lilly come back together and embark on a tempestuous affair. For both of them, a torrid weekend getaway in the mountains unleashes years of pent-up sexual frustration and destroys inhibitions. Cam has no problem taking charge as he relishes Lilly’s delicious inner nectar. Again and again, Cam delivers Lilly pleasure she has never known before, leaving her trembling as she reclaims the goddess within.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18718514-beautiful-lies

Gina Whitney grew up reading Judy Blume, and Nancy Drew books. She was raised in the town of North Valley Stream, New York(Long Island)and attended community college for fashion design. At 19 she opened a boutique. She recently published her first paranormal romance novel Blood Ties. When she's not writing, she's hanging with family and friends. She shares a home with her wonderful son’s PJ and Drew, and their 200lb Mastiff Hercules. She currently lives in Massapequa, New York. Reading has always been a passion and obsession. You can usually find her typing furiously while shouting obscenities over her latest work. She also enjoys a good laugh, being snarky, espresso, and above all steamy swooning angst filled novels. She's pathologically obsessed with True Blood(Eric ;), Games of Thrones, Borgias, Vampire Diaries and Originals. You can also find her chatting it up with readers on Facebook.



Links:
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Gina-Whitney/e/B00DWDU1KG/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
Blog: http://authorginawhitney.blogspot.com/


Chapter One

If I had known then that Lilly Amsel would set such a fierce blaze in my life, I would have taken the next elevator.
All I wanted that morning was to get a hard run on the treadmill and go to my office to put in some weekend overtime. I arrived at The Equity, the most prestigious gym not only in New York City but in the country, and was checking my work-issued Blackberry as usual. I tended to avoid such pretentious settings, but membership was one of the many perks of my employment at Wotherspoon and Associates. As a law student at Aldensburg University, I had interned at the corporate law firm and had been offered a position after I’d passed the bar five years ago. Aldensburg was not as premier a college when compared to the Ivies; in fact most people have never heard of it. But, like me, it got the job done. And professionally the job I was trying to get done now was making partner. I know it was an ambitious goal, but I had nothing but faith in my skills to make it happen.
For the moment I was there at The Equity in my sagging basketball shorts and stretched-out T-shirt, standing amid chichi air kissers. I was not there to hobnob; I actually had a serious goal. I worked out not only to maintain my body but to keep my mind sharp, focused, and ready at all times. That was what separated me from those people. I was a shark among peacocks.
The cheerless receptionist with the sucked-in cheeks eyed me as I stepped through the door. I could see her hostile nostrils widen like a bull’s as she feigned a barely polite smile. She knew who I was but played this ridiculous game with me every day. Always pretending not to know me.
“I’m sorry, sir. You must be looking for the gym down the street.”
That was her way of telling me that my choice of clothing was not up to par, and I might consider some more appropriate attire. I had known plenty of people like her growing up and knew that the best way to handle her was to be in her face every chance I got, to be the proverbial pebble in her shoe. I swiped my security pass card and told her, “See you tomorrow.”
The Equity was an “it” destination for celebrities and all manner of the rich and powerful. The entry level consisted of a wide, stark-white hallway with electric-blue tube lights lining the walls and ceiling, and filled with the ethereal melody of a string orchestra. This main hallway connected with several more, with the last one ending a spacious, low-lit lounge area. Scattered about were suede couches and glass tables; black-and-white photos of perfectly sculpted body parts hung on the walls. This was where those who came to be seen strategically posed themselves just in case an undercover paparazzo managed to sneak in. The lounge was usually empty in the morning because its denizens could not manage to roll out of bed until well into the afternoon.
I made my way across the rugs to yet another hall that led to a bank of elevators. I pushed the “up” button, eager to start my workout. Then I heard the quick click clack of feminine footsteps come up behind me. I sighed because I knew those shoes—probably high heels—were not made for running. This was just another pampered pest whose idea of working out was getting a massage. I did not even have to turn around to figure this chick out.
Her heavy perfume was layered with the fresh smell of soap and shampoo. Typical of someone who saw the gym as a social occasion rather than a place to exercise. I never had patience with lackadaisical people who were not willing to put in the effort to achieve anything. I wanted so badly to turn around and say, “Why are you even here? Shouldn’t you be having Sunday brunch over at Peacock Alley?”  
However, I was not there to judge. I was there to work out. But I was curious as to who was standing behind me. I looked into the stainless-steel door of the elevator to see if I could make out the reflection. The dull surface only revealed that the grayish silhouette behind me was tall and lanky. Not as tall as me at six foot three, but tall nonetheless.  
Then a hoard of more click-clacking footsteps arrived, accompanied by raucously shrill voices greeting the first woman. I thought, Oh god. Jersey girls.
“Lilly!” they all screamed in unison.
The first woman, Lilly, chirped back. “Sweetie pies, how are you?” 
One nasally voice responded, “Fine if you like your nipples turning into Popsicles. It’s cold as hell out there. What’s on your agenda today? ”
“Pilates with Jean-Paul. Thirty minutes.”
“What is he? A slave driver?” another woman said seriously with a croaky smoker’s voice.
“I know, right?” Lilly agreed. All I could do was roll my eyes at that nonsense.    
Lilly had an odd way of speaking that only a discerning ear could pick up. She was trying her best to affect a newscaster accent, that plain Midwestern way of speaking. However, she would occasionally slip into an upward inflection that made every sentence sound like a question. She was definitely a So-Cal transplant. It was beyond me why, in the midst of shudder-inducing Jersey accents, Lilly hid her natural one.
As the elevator numbers slowly ticked down, I noticed in my peripheral vision the number of men passing. They were all doing double takes at Lilly. Either she was gorgeous or hideous beyond measure. Either way, it did not matter to me. I had seen plenty of both and was not swayed by the slop or gloss of anything. An ethics professor a long way back even accused me of being jaded. What he could not understand was that when your life has been a trial by fire, you see things differently from most. The world and all the people in it are just opportunities for you to get what you need. You can’t depend on anyone but yourself. When you have lived in a cushioned bubble like the professor, you just don’t get that. Needless to say I barely passed that class.
The elevator finally arrived, and the herd of new-money cows stampeded past me to get in. I turned back, and Lilly was waiting for me to usher her out like I was the doorman. Sure enough she was decked out in black from head to toe—leggings, turtleneck, and those clacking ankle boots. She had a leather bag brimming with Voss water and vitamin blister packs. She appeared to be in her early twenties, so I was perplexed as to why she needed so many pills.
Still, I must admit that I was taken aback by how beautiful she was. Her hair, pushed back and glossed into a tight bun, reminded me of dark honey, and her graceful, lithe body looked like that of a ballet dancer. And those eyes—they were extraordinarily large orbs of malachite rimmed in chestnut. However, no matter how pouty her dewy lips were, Lilly still acted like an entitled elitist, so pampered that she probably considered Park Slope to be the ghetto.
I watched her standing there looking at me. This woman was used to people fawning all over her, and I was not one to do that. I did not grovel or bow down to anybody. But no matter what I felt about her at the moment, I decided to do the gentlemanly thing.
“Ladies first,” I said.
Lilly sashayed past me and joined her tacky and deeply moneyed crew. As she crossed the threshold of the elevator, she gave me a “thanks” that was nowhere near sincere. I spent the elevator ride to the third floor listening to her companions’ boisterous gossip about other women at the club. Yet I did not hear Lilly utter any comment. I just felt her eyes laser beaming my back. Apparently she was still shocked and pissed that I didn’t think she was the shit.

* * *

“Lilly, you forgot your water,” Jean-Paul yelled out to me. He had been my Pilates instructor for the past six years—my entire time in New York. After I finished my thirty-minute workout with him, I got some fresh acrylics in the spa. I was preparing for an interview with Paramour Life, fashion’s most prominent magazine, later that afternoon. Though I was modeling, the interview was not about me. It was really about my boyfriend of two years, Sig Krok. Sig had come from Sweden twenty years ago and started his own fashion house, Klå. Klå. It quickly became one of the best-selling clothing lines in the world.
This article would be a tribute to Sig. The magazine just wanted my perspective of him and a little insider knowledge of our highly visible yet terribly private relationship.  
With discreet sleight of hand, Jean-Paul handed me my property, and it was not really water. It was my bottle of Klonopin.
“I know how important water is,” he said then quickly dismissed himself to his next scheduled client. I watched him for a moment. I was in awe and bewilderment over how he mastered the art of prancing and swaying like a seasoned burlesque dancer. He really had to teach me that sometime.
Realizing I was running out of time before the interview and still had to get my makeup done, I abruptly turned around to leave. And I turned right into Mr. Scowl—the guy at the elevator this morning. Aw, just great, I thought.
“Excuse me,” I said as I started walking away. By then he had put on some more weather-appropriate clothing—jeans and a cable-knit sweater with a white T-shirt underneath. And the creep did not even respond to me, smirking his arrogant mouth instead. Even though he was pompous, he was kind of cute. Though it was the middle of winter, his skin looked sun kissed. He was a giant of a man, well over six feet tall. His luminous, copper eyes seemed like they were always narrowed, like he was annoyed with people because they were merely human and could not withstand his survey.
I headed toward the elevator, and he did the same. When we got there, I started pushing buttons in hopes it would make the elevator come faster. The bell dinged, and he let me on first. I could tell he didn’t want to but was trying to be The Man.
We stood in opposite corners. By then most men would have engaged me in conversation. He hadn’t. Was he gay? No, I had a fairly accurate gaydar. What was wrong with him then? I was becoming increasingly irritated by this man’s presence. I glanced over at him. He was wiping his sweaty brow, and his hand pushed up his cap a bit, exposing his inky hair cut with perfect precision around the edges. The cap was thready and had a large A on the front. He probably had gotten it from some college a while back. I also noticed that on the underside of the cap’s bill, he had written his name in permanent marker: Cam.  
Even though he grated on me, I could not help but be distracted by his body. He had Adonis-like shoulders, broad and protective. His thick thighs were agape, his wide stance taking up a good deal of space. This square-jawed man was definitely broody, but even without a smile, I could make out the dimple in his cheek. And I did not even want to get started on the size of his hands and feet. They were enormous.
The air vent was blowing a light, steady stream of air across Cam. I inhaled the heady scent of his newly sweaty body intermingled with a woodsy deodorant. I leaned in his direction. One of my eyes went on autopilot and fluttered—that thing that happens when something is real good. I took another breath and leaned in some more.  
Wait! What…the fuck…am I doing? I caught myself right before my nose landed on Cam’s arm. And there he was with the same “what the fuck?” look. He was staring at me going for his pit with my crazy eye. He obviously thought I was about to rape him.
Quick, deflect. I pointed at my ear. “I thought you said something.” I regained my composure and returned my gaze forward.
But he sure did smell good. And boy, was I horny.
WhateverI wasn’t going to say anything else to Cam. He was still nothing but an aloof, smug asshole to me. And I had to endure what seemed like a forever ride to the first floor with him. I turned my face back to the elevator doors with just the sound of the motors and cables to break the silence.
I was so relieved to get out of the elevator, I practically sprinted into the parking garage. I slung my faux fur over my shoulders as I rushed to Sig’s Infiniti QX80. Cam was trailing me, sliding into his leather jacket. And I just knew he was about to ask me for my number despite that fiasco in the elevator. Maybe I hadn’t lost my touch. I was prepared to shoot him down, of course. But he sure was taking his time. I was already at Sig’s SUV.
However, not only did Cam not ask me for my number, he was only walking behind me because he had parked his powerful, black Harley 1200 Custom next to me. He spread his thick legs and straddled it then put on his Aviator sunglasses and revved up his baby. I had to say, that motorcycle…the way it just hung between his legs…looked more like a big, hard dick than anything else.
Cam turned the twist grip like it was his cock and throttled up. The rumble from the motorcycle bounced off the concrete walls of the garage. It was almost deafening. He didn’t care. In fact, if I hadn’t known any better, I would have sworn he’d done it on purpose. I was totally conflicted. Never had I so detested a man and still wanted to fuck the skin off his dick at the same time.
Alas, Cam drove off without even looking in my direction. I let out an audible gasp. No straight male ever looked at me and just turned away.
Hmm…maybe my gaydar was in need of a tune-up.