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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.
Whatever. I 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.