A constipated smile settles onto Kim’s face as her head dips into a cautious nod.
I knock twice on Anthony’s office door.
I ease open the solid cherry door.
“There’s my angel.” Anthony shuts his laptop and leans back in his leather chair behind the presidential-looking desk.
He’s twenty years my senior, but at forty-nine he’s the sexiest silver fox I’ve ever seen. Okay, maybe the second sexiest silver fox I’ve ever seen. I once dated a guy in his early fifties who looked like the Pretty Woman version of Richard Gere—but with straight teeth and more muscle definition. He died unexpectedly during a routine procedure to repair a hernia. I wasn’t in his will. Apparently, three months of deep-throating isn’t enough to get as much as a pair of diamond and white gold cufflinks. Lesson learned.
Anthony has an odd-shaped nose, like a three-year-old’s first attempt at molding putty, and it’s a bit too big for his face. He tastes of thick, molten whisky and the clashing flavor of spicy, full-bodied, hand-rolled Cuban cigars. I used to be more of a minty mouthwash kind of girl, but I’ve grown accustomed to his particular taste. Money.
Anthony Bianchi Jr. tastes like money, and he treats me like a queen.
I’ve tried the sweet nice-guy route—the jock, the teacher, the aspiring actor, the musician. I’ve tried the bad-boy route—the tattoo artist, the wannabe rock star, the guy who always carried a gun but couldn’t tell me why. They are all cheaters with no direction and clueless when it comes to knowing how to treat a woman.
“Angel, what happened to your hand?” He stands and closes the distance between us.
“Don’t touch it!” I cringe, angling my body away from him.
“I’m not. What happened?”
“Swarley happened. Where have you been?” I shoot him a teary-eyed look. “I called. You never answered. You didn’t respond. Ingrid took me to the hospital.”
My head juts forward. “Yes. Ingrid.”
No light turns on. He has no clue whom I’m talking about. “You hired her as my personal stylist last year.”
“Oh …” He nods.
He still has no clue.
“Why didn’t you call your sister?”
“Hello?” I scoff. “Where have you been? My sister is on vacation. I’m dog-sitting Swarley for her. Do you not listen to anything I say?”
He rests his hands on my shoulders and kisses my cheek. “Of course I do, angel. I’ve just been very busy lately. I’m sorry I missed your call. I thought you were going out with your friends tonight.”
Okay, so he kinda listens to me. “I was, but Swarley chased a stupid cat, and my hand may never be the same. I can’t go out with friends. I can’t see clients. I’m useless at the moment.” A lone tear trails down my cheek.
His phone buzzes. He glances at the screen. “I have to take this. It’s business. Give me a few minutes, and you’ll have my undivided attention.”
I nod, wiping the tear I thought he’d wipe away with the tender pad of his thumb or kiss away with those full ruddy lips. Never mind. I got it. He can catch the next one.
After he slips out of his office to take the call, I collapse into his desk chair, relishing the buttery leather that molds to every curve. I bet it cost more than my first car.
My phone chimes. It’s my niece, Ocean, FaceTiming me. In spite of my horrible day, I grin. When I swipe to accept the call, the screen goes black. My battery is dead. Of course it is—par for my day.
Anthony’s laptop is a Mac, so I flip up the lid to use his FaceTime to call her back. I click to shut out of the window he has open, but it doesn’t close; it plays instead. It’s a video.
My body goes rigid for a split second before collapsing in on itself. The weight of utter shock and disbelief drags me to the depths of Hell like an anchor off the side of a boat. That abused organ behind my ribs slows from the sludge of anger crawling through my veins. The only part of me that moves is the cold sweat beading along my skin and the bob of my throat as I try to swallow the truth.
Anthony stuck his slightly bent dick into Kim, and he recorded it.
My head eases to one side and then the other. Yep. Any way you look at it, they are going at it in the kitchen. How appropriate. We first had sex on my massage table. He was a client of mine. Not my usual MO. I guess Anthony Crooked Dick Bianchi likes to see how women perform in their element.
He pulls out of her, swipes his finger through a bowl of chocolate mousse, and … no no no … he smears it between her legs as she arches her back off the white granite counter top. What a waste of chocolate mousse. Anthony doesn’t even like chocolate—
Bile seeps up my throat.
Clearly, he likes chocolate mousse. He’s eating it as if he’s starving and it’s the last food on earth.
Why am I watching this? I know how it ends, yet I can’t look away. Even worse, my finger inches to the volume button. I tap it once, twice, three times until his moans fill the room, accompanied by Kim chanting, “Tony, Tony, Tony…” Wait a damn minute. He told me his name is Anthony like Saint Anthony. Period. Not Tony. No nickname.
My head snaps up. I don’t shut the computer. I don’t mute the volume.
Tony’s jaw ticks, eyes wide and flitting between me and the computer.
“Spread them wider, my little angel.”
He grimaces at his recorded voice full of lust, and my eyebrows shoot up. Well, I was raised to believe there is only one God, but many angels. Kim’s skin is beautiful, some might say angelic. Moans and the intermittent slurping of Saint Anthony enjoying his mousse keep us both entranced. Who will speak first?
Me. I’ll go first.
“So you do like chocolate, Tony.”
“Avery.” Anger purses his lips as he takes three long strides forward, slapping the laptop shut.
I can’t even … Nope. My world is gone. Swarley is off the hook. I can’t even feel the pain in my hand at the moment. I can’t feel anything. Disbelief is a long-lasting shot of anesthetic.
“Why were you snooping on my computer?”
I choke on a laugh as it attempts to break free. “Why were you sticking your bent dick in Kim? And why is there a video of it?”
He gnashes his teeth some more. “I’m sorry. We can fix this.” He tugs at his tie like it’s strangling him. If only …
If disbelief is an anesthetic, then shock is an adhesive that temporarily holds everything together. I can’t find a single tear. I can’t even find appropriate words to say or muster the energy to scream at him. It’s as if I’m on the outside looking in objectively.
“I’ll bite. How would we fix this? I mean…” I shake my head and shrug “…had you just asked, I would have let you do that to me.”
“Jesus, Avery …”
“No. Don’t say that. I know a lot about Jesus and you should too, Saint Anthony. I’m certain he wants nothing to do with this conversation.”
I lean back in the chair, cradling my hand. Anthony bends forward, resting his fists on the opposite side of the desk. “My parents like you. I like you. We could be such a great team.”
“You like the lifestyle, Avery. Don’t pretend you don’t. You’ll get everything you could ever possibly want—kids, mansions, cars, yachts, jets, a closet bigger than your entire apartment filled with the most expensive clothes …”
“And what do you get?”
“My angel.” A satisfied grin slides across his face.
“Which one?” I cock my head to the side.
His lips twist, eyes narrowed. “All of them.”
Them. Them! THEM!?!
My jaw plummets to my lap.
“But you will always be my favorite—the chosen one. My wife. Mother of my children. Queen of my empire.”
This is the part where I should break something like his computer or his toddler-sculpted nose.
As livid as I am with this stranger before me, this man who fooled me for two years, I’m more upset with myself because for a few brief, totally insane seconds I think about his offer. When did I surrender my pride, my sense of self-worth? Who broke me to the point that I don’t feel worthy of the one thing he’s not offering me?
If I walk out that door, who will I be? What if something better never comes along? I’m knocking on thirty’s door while mastering the art of failed relationships. If in ten years I have nothing more than a two-bedroom apartment, arthritic hands, and a measly disability check, will I regret saying no to a family and everything money can buy?
“I just want the spa. We go our separate ways, but you sign over the spa to me.”
“Avery.” He shakes his head while clucking his tongue. “I haven’t acquired this level of wealth and success by handing out million-dollar businesses to every woman who rolls through my bed.”
“It’s my spa.”
The smirk on his face stings. I already know what he’s going to say. I let myself become dependent on a man—again. My whole damn life at the moment is a lease.