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In the Night We Trust

Chapter Text

According to Kit, the Blue Banana Club has always been on the seamy side. It's easy to get into. It's easy to find whatever you need: a drink, a diversion, a companion for the night.

You went to the Blue Banana because Kit went to the Blue Banana, not because you're delighted by the atmosphere. You know she's in there now. You know she'd gone there for a diversion. The street life isn't easy, even for someone who chose it. It's even harder for someone who didn't.

Like Skinny Marie. Who was just found dead in a dumpster.

You don't want that to be Kit's fate, but you're scared it won't matter what you want. It rarely matters what you want. For example, you wanted to pay the rent when you woke this evening. However, the travel soap container—and cash stash—hidden in the toilet tank was empty.

You snuck out of the apartment you share with Kit via the fire escape like a fucking criminal. While you were a prostitute, and technically a criminal, you pay the landlord every Saturday.

But Kit ruined that winning streak.

The thumping music spills out of the open door of the Blue Banana. You wind your way around the Harleys parked at the curb, ignoring the attention of the few men in the vestibule. You ask after Kit at the bar, and Pop, the bartender, tells you she's in the pool room.

Ah, shit. You know what that means.

You find Kit wearing sunglasses and obsessively combing her bangs. She's high alright, but coming down. Next to her is Angel and, of fucking course, Carlos.

Kit lights up the second she sees you. "Yo, babe!"

"Is it all gone?" you ask in lieu of a greeting.

She takes off her sunglasses and stumbles to her feet, teetering in her heels. You catch her by the shoulder of her jean jacket. She grabs your forearm to steady herself.

"Is it all gone, Kit?!"

"I—" She braces herself on the table. "I needed a little pick-me-up."

Carlos, the neighborhood pusher and wannabe pimp, intervenes like the nosey little shit he is. "Calm down, chica," he says all rico suave. "She only owes me two hundred more."

You glare at Kit. "Another two hundred?"

"From way before," Kit says.

"Yeah, another two hundred," he replies. "But if you wanna work off her money with me, we can come to some sort of agreement."

Kit takes your elbow and dead-pans, "That's a very sweet offer, Carlos, but not now."

She directs you to the bar as you sputter at his offer. You protest going to the bar because you both have to get to work. There's rent to cover and now an additional two hundred dollars to pay a man who would most definitely knife you both to save face.

Kit insists she needs a snack, and you wonder how she can handle food with that shit running through her veins. She stacks a few cocktail napkins from the bar in her hand and loads it with orange slices and maraschino cherries. Pop chides her, saying it ain't a buffet.

You both duck out of the Blue Banana before anything else can go wrong. The night is mild as usual. There are plenty of cars rolling down Hollywood Boulevard.

"You took it while I was sleeping," you say as you cross the street.

Kit pops a cherry in her mouth. "Unavailable for consultation."

You snort, and Kit retorts, "Besides, it's my apartment."

"Yeah, well, I have to live there, too."

"Look, I gave you money, a place to stay…" She throws a cherry stem on the sidewalk. "And some very valuable vocational advice. Carlos was on my ass, alright? I had to give him something." She nibbles on an orange wedge. "So don't… Don't irritate me."

"Irritate you? Irritate you? I just saw Skinny Marie pulled out of a dumpster."

"Beh! She was a flake—a… a crackhead. Dominic was trying to straighten her out for months."

You want to point out that maybe if Dominic hadn't forced her to fuck strangers and then take most of her money, she wouldn't have been a crackhead. But it's a tired argument.

As you make it to your corner and settle in, a shiny red Beamer rolls by and some cake-eater leans out the window. "Hey, girls!"

Kit smiles at him and pockets the damp napkins half-full of cocktail garnishes. "Hey, yo, baby!"

"How about a freebie? It's my birthday!"

Kit waves the kid away. "Dream on!"

You lean against the closest parking meter. "It's looking really slow tonight."

"Maybe you should get a pimp? Carlos really digs you," she says as she fishes the wad of fruit from her jacket pocket. It's all lint-y now, and she dumps the whole thing in the gutter.

"And then he'll run our lives and take our money. No."

"You're right. We say who, we say when, we say how much."

Before you could say anything more, the terrible screeching of a car's grinding gears comes from the boulevard. The tires chirp as the driver pops the clutch. There comes a honk of a horn and then a man bellowing for the other driver to eat a dick.

Kit's eyes go wide. "Oh yo, oh yo! Catch this!"

You turn to see a steel-gray Lotus Esprit. A fucking Lotus on Hollywood.

"Hold up," you say in awe. "That's a Lotus Esprit."

It's gorgeous and sleek, looking fast even as it jerks to a stop at the curb a few yards ahead.

"No, that's rent. You should go for him. You look hot." Kit adjusts the lapel of your maroon hand-me-down tuxedo jacket. "Don't take less than a hundred. Call me when you're through. Take care of you."

You nod and pull her into a brief hug. "Take care of you."

With a deep breath, you shrug off the jacket and sling it over your big purse. You'd put on your lucky dress tonight. The white halter part clings to your breasts while the blue skirt just covers your ass. The two halves come together with o-rings front and back. You hope it's still lucky.

As you approach the Lotus, you can hear the driver cursing a Jersey-accented storm that you're sure will linger like a miasma of frustration over the boulevard for the rest of the night.

"God-fucking-dammit! Where the fuck is first goddamn gear, you piece of fuck—stupid shit—ass-fucker!"

The squeal of gears finish the tirade, and you cringe for the poor car.

You put on a smile, bend in front of the open passenger-side window, and press your breasts together. "Hey, sugar, you lookin' for a date?"

"No, I wanna find Beverly fucking Hills," the driver snaps, pegging himself as a newcomer of some sort.

He's good-looking and white, younger than you expect, with dark wavy hair that almost brushes his shoulders. He has strong cheekbones and a nearly-Roman nose. His lips are full and pink—downright pretty. He takes up quite a bit of room, too. His hand is huge on the gear shift.

For a john, he looks dangerous. And volatile. Too worked up. Too rich. His creamy skin is flushed with stress—or coke. But a trick is a trick, and you need the money.

"I can get you there," you offer with a smile. "For five bucks."

He finally turns to you, and you realize he is way more handsome than you initially thought. "Are you pushin' fuckin' extortion on me?"

"More like blackmail."

He sarcastically laughs. "Get the fuck outta here."

"Price just went up to ten."

"You can't charge me for shittin' directions."

"I can do whatever I want to, baby. I ain't lost."

You straighten and lean your hip on the car door. You know he's not going anywhere. First, he can barely handle this car. Second, he's lost. Third, it's night in a strange city—which makes being lost even worse.

A string of fucks come from inside the car. "Fine! Alright. Jesus, you win!"

You smirk, but school your features before you open the door. A conceited winner never gets far in life, and you don't want to piss him off.

"You got change for a twenty?" he asks as you install yourself in the passenger seat.

You snatch the bill from between his fingers and stuff it in your thigh-high boot. "For twenty, I'll show you personal. Like where the stars live."

"Tch, don't bother. Already seen Stallone's."

You bet he had.

You point forward. "Keep going straight at the light."

He struggles with the gear shift, snarling curses at the car. You want to point out it's not the car. The car is amazing. But him as a driver? Not so much.

He pulls into traffic, popping the clutch, making the car lurch forward while the tires squeak. You grab the oh-shit handle to keep from jerking into the seatbelt. He mumbles an apology while struggling to find second gear.

It would be cute if he wasn't ruining the car. You catch quick glances at him. Actually, he's cute in his ineptitude. He's trying so hard. You wonder how long he's been driving the Lotus, because he sucks at it. Which is typical for someone who has a lot of money but not a lot of skill. Sometimes, that same principle can be applied to their skill in bed.

The traffic light ahead turns red, and you sigh in relief as you let go of the handle. He brings it to a rough stop and sighs as well.

"How's it like bein' a hooker these days?" he asks.

You know exactly what he's referring to. Everyone thinks you have AIDS these days, either from turning tricks or shooting up. "I always use condoms, okay? And I get checked every month at the clinic." You drum your fingers on the window ledge. "Look, not only am I a better fuck, I'm probably a safer one."

"You got business cards that say that?"

You meet his smiling eyes in the red light. "Why would I need 'em?" you reply as you wave a hand down your posed body.

His gaze follows your hand, and he wets his bottom lip. "I see your point."

Maybe he'll be getting more than directions before the night is through.

He clears his throat. "So, what's your name?"

"Whaddya want it to be?"

He gives you a look that is at once amused and exasperated. You grin with a shrug and tell him the truth. He seems pleased by it, or at least he seems to believe you.

You point out the light has changed. He wrestles to get the balance between gas and clutch to make the car move. You watch his long thighs shift and realize he might need a distraction.

You ask, "What hotel you stayin' at?"

"The, uh…" He gets the car rolling. "Regent Beverly Wilshire."

"Right at the next light."

There's twenty-or-so more minutes of drive-time, and you're not sure the poor car is going to make it. While it might be a high-performance vehicle, it can only take so much. You admire it for a second, knowing this is probably the only time you'll ever sit in one.

"Doesn't this thing blow your mind?" you ask him. "It's gotta corner like it's on rails."

"What?"

"This is only four-cylinders, baby."

"How you know that?"

"Road and Track. Grew up around gearheads. They bought 'em cheap and fixed 'em up. I paid attention."

He grinds into third gear, and you grimace.

"I think you left your transmission back there." You thumb behind you. "You're not shifting right. This is a standard 'H'."

"Like I know what the fuck that means," he grumbles.

You laugh and are about to offer to teach him—for a price, of course—when he pulls over.

"You ever driven a Lotus?"

You scoff at the idea of a person like you driving something like this. "No."

"You're gonna start now." He unbuckles his seatbelt and checks the side mirror before opening the door.

You're left gawping. "Are you kidding?!"

"Nah, it's the only way to get you off my coat." He gets out of the car.

You notice his nice slacks, his silk shirt, the shine on his belt. You scramble out of the car and walk around the rear to switch places. As he passes you, he gives you a little wink. He towers over you, all broad-shouldered and handsome. You tell yourself the little happy flutter in your gut is because you're about to drive a Lotus Esprit.

You get into the driver's seat and pull it forward so you can fully depress the clutch. After buckling yourself in, you adjust the rear-view mirror. It's heady being in control of such power. You can feel the hum of the engine through the steering wheel and shifter. This car can hit its top speed in under eight seconds. It's incredible.

"Fasten your seatbelt," you say. "I'm gonna show you what this car can really do." You put the car in first gear. "Are you ready?"

"Very."

"Hang on."

"'Kay."

You check the traffic to find it sparse enough to pull out. "Here we go."

You whip the car into traffic, smooth as glass. The transmission doesn't feel worse for wear. You quickly shift through the gears until you're cruising in fourth.

You glance over to see him watching. You offer a smile. "This car has pedals like a race car," you tell him. "They're really close together, so it's probably easier for a woman to drive—because we have smaller feet."

When his says nothing, you hold out your arm. "Did you know your foot's as big as your arm from your elbow to your wrist?"

He smiles.

You ask, "Did you know that?"

"Nah."

"Just a little trivia." You shrug as you take the car out of gear and let it coast to the red light ahead.

After a beat, he asks, "What kinda money you girls make these days?"

"Can't take less than a hundred."

"A hundred dollars a night?"

"For an hour."

"You make a hundred dollars an hour and you got a fuckin' safety pin holding your boot together? Ya gotta be shittin' me."

"I don't joke about money," you reply.

"Neither do I. Jesus, hundred dollars an hour? Pretty fuckin' stiff."

You snake your hand into his lap and touch the soft mound of his cock. "No, but it's got potential."

"Yeah, and my potential's gettin' ideas."

You smirk and return your hand to the shifter as the light changes to green. "Sounds dangerous."

"You got no idea."

The rest of the drive is a comfortable kind of quiet. You softly point out some good places along Santa Monica Boulevard, and he hums in acknowledgement. Not that you've ever visited at any of them, of course, but johns talk.

He points out his hotel as you make a right onto Wilshire. It's stories high with a carved stone exterior and black-and-white awnings over the expansive first-floor windows. You would've missed it if he hadn't directed your attention to it, honestly. Because it's on the other side of the street with no sign.

It's like everyone should just know what it is.

There's a treed median separating the opposing lanes in front of the hotel, and you slow the car down to pull a quick u-turn around the median. The Lotus handles just as you thought. It hugs the road and comes to an easy stop in the pull-off lane for the hotel.

A valet rushes to the passenger side and opens the door. "Good evening, sir! Will you be needing the car anymore tonight?"

Your john unfolds himself from the car with a bark of laughter. "Shit, I hope not!"

With a grin, you turn off the car, leaving the keys in the ignition. You're pretty sure no one's going to be stealing it in this neighborhood. As you get out and walk around to the sidewalk, the valet gives you a once-over.

Ah. Yeah. You're definitely not dressed for the neighborhood.

You slink your jacket on as you meet your john on the very clean sidewalk. "So, ah…" you begin and idly finger the hem of your skirt. "You're here."

"Yeah, thanks," he replies and studies you for a few seconds. "You'll be alright?"

"Yup!" You gesture behind you because it's obvious he's not going to invite you inside. "Gonna grab a cab with my twenty bucks."

"Go back to your office."

"Yeah, my office," you laugh. "Yeah."

"Well, thanks for the ride."

"My pleasure," you warmly say and look at his striking face one last time before turning.

The john that got away.

"'Night…"

There's a bus bench a couple yards ahead. The bus is a cheaper option than a cab. Lord knows, you need to save every penny you can right now. You perch on the bench backrest and wonder if Kit's had any luck.

As you tuck your jacket around your middle, you hear:

"No taxis?"

It's the john that got away.

You pivot in his direction and smile. "No, I like the bus."

Maybe he isn't the one that got away.

"You know…" He sidles over, a lightweight trenchcoat draped over an arm. "Shit, I was thinking…" He shrugs. "Did you really say a hundred dollars an hour?"

You tap the soles of your boots on the bench seat. "Yeah."

"Well, if ya got nothing else to do, I'd like it if ya came in."

"Yeah?"

"Hell yeah."

You smile, and he returns it. "You got it," you say as you bounce to your feet.

You walk next to him for a few steps before asking, "What's your name?"

"Pale."

You laugh at what has to be an alias. "Wait a minute!" you tease, calling him out on his bullshit. "You gave me this look when I didn't tell you my name right away, and now you're offering Pale as yours?"

"It's Jimmy—James," Pale says with a pout, pausing before the main entrance.

"But you prefer Pale?"

He nods.

"Yeah, okay…" You watch as he shakes out his trenchcoat. "Pale it is..." You frown in confusion as he holds it open to you. "What're you doing?"

"Put this on."

"Why?"

"This ain't the sort of establishment that rents rooms by the hour."

"Ah." You get it. You obviously look like a hooker with your short, tight dress and shiny thigh-high boots.

Between the two of you, you get the trenchcoat on. It smells like crisp, expensive cologne. The fabric flows like water as you wrap it loosely around you to belt it closed. It has to be silk, or a silk blend. It probably costs more than your whole wardrobe.

Just like the interior of the Regent Beverly Wilshire probably costs more than the whole neighborhood you live in. It's white marble, crystal chandeliers, dark wood, and huge bouquets of flowers. There are rugs on the floor that have to be real Persians or Orientals or whatever fancy-ass rugs rich people own. Everything is hushed like a museum.

Your heels clack on the polished floor as you follow Pale to the reception counter. He struts through the lobby like he owns the place. You feel every set of eyes on you as you lean against the wall to wait for him. You look down to make sure nothing is exposed.

Except for your painted face, that is. You went ham with the eyeliner and red lipstick when getting ready. With a survey of the lobby, you realize no other woman has such dramatic makeup. It's just you. Looking like a streetwalker.

Which you are. But still...

Pale speaks with the receptionist as you struggle to just maintain. You don't want to gawk. However, that's impossible. Your eyes feel as big as saucers as you notice the high ceilings and the gilding at the top of each column throughout the lobby. Everything is so beautiful. Everyone is so refined and speaking in soft tones.

You glance at Pale to find him watching you as he waits on the receptionist. He gives you a little grin and nod. You struggle to return the grin, but manage to nod back.

The receptionist gives Pale a few messages just as a middle-aged woman walks past you, giving you a snooty look. You eye her right back and straighten to your full height. You will not be cowed by some self-important bitch in a shapeless suit.

When Pale finishes at the reception counter, he takes your hand, leading you to a bank of elevator doors. His hand is large and warm in yours. You remind yourself that no one will judge once you two are alone.

However, you will be judged until then. Because the self-important bitch is waiting for an elevator with her pot-bellied husband. She gives you such a look of disdain, you have to roll your eyes. On the other hand, her husband looks at you like you're dessert.

Beside you, Pale presses the lit "up" button for the elevator a few times. You angle yourself and cock your hip, giving the husband a wink when the bitch is looking. She faintly scoffs and knocks her padded shoulder against her husband's.

The elevator doors open, and you let go of Pale to step forward first. There's a padded bench at the back of the elevator. Along with an elevator attendant operating the controls.

You exclaim, "Well, color me happy! There's a sofa in here for two!" You sit on the bench and kick up a heel onto it. "Or maybe three…?" You beam at the husband and watch him turn beet-red.

Pale smirks at you and says, "Big Aerosmith fan—just heard…" He waves a hand. "Fuckin' 'Love In An Elevator' on the way over."

Nobody buys it, of course. The bitch and her husband awkwardly titter, staying where they are. Pale steps in to stand next to you, and the doors close on the strained faces of the couple. The attendant gets the elevator moving a second later.

"Sorry," you say, though you don't really mean it, and stand. "Couldn't help it."

"Nah, I get it. Buncha assholes."

"Did you catch the look she gave me?"

"Yeah, like her shit don't fuckin' stink." He shakes his head. "Don't worry about broads like that. They're dime-a-dozen."

Somehow, you get the feeling he's saying you're not dime-a-dozen. You've had johns tell you how special you are before, of course. But they said that to make themselves feel better about using your body. This didn't feel like that.

The elevator dings, and the attendant announces, "Penthouse."

You give Pale an impressed look as the doors slide open. "Oh, the penthouse!"

You step into the hallway which only has a double door at either end. Pale tells you to go left. You wait by the door, watching as the attendant leans into the hallway to smile at you.

Pale steps out and turns to him. "Don't get any ideas, bozo."

You duck your head to hide your smirk. It's kind of adorable the way Pale's almost possessive. Guys look at you, eat you up with their eyes, all the time. Some ladies, too. It stopped bothering you a long time ago.

The elevator closes as Pale pulls a keycard from his trouser pocket. There's a brief struggle with the lock, and he lowly curses at it. He seems to do that a lot: cursing and doing battle with technology or machinery.

When the door opens, he stomps into the already-lit suite, turning on an extra lamp at the corner. You follow, closing the door behind you. The suite takes your breath. It's gorgeous in a different way than the lobby. But still huge. Not only is there a big sunken living room, there's a dining room on the left that seats six. Along the back wall is a series of French doors open to a stone terrace.

There's a vaguely Asian twist to the decoration and furniture, which is in shades of rose and mahogany. The lighting is mellow, golden. The carpet squishes underfoot.

"Impressed?" he asks as he passes you with his messages in hand.

"Are you kiddin' me? I come here all the time." You step down to the living room. "As a matter of fact, they do rent this room by the hour."

He crosses to the modest desk between two French doors in the living room. "Sure they do," he says with a joking snort as he turns on the desk lamp.

This far up, the city is quiet. You pass through the open door behind Pale. You've never seen LA's lights twinkle like they do now. You could almost forget what it's like down there.

"I bet you can see all the way to the ocean from out here," you say over your shoulder.

"I'll take your word for it, I don't go out there."

You come back in through the next door. "Why not?"

Pale is sitting at the desk, dwarfing the chair. He looks up from the small stack of papers piled in front of him. You shrug off your purse and nudge it under the footrest of the bergere armchair between the next two French doors.

He replies, "Don't care much for heights."

"So, why're you in the penthouse?"

You unbelt his coat and take it off as you walk around the living room.

"Wasn't my idea. I didn't book it."

Draping the coat over the arm of one of the plush sofas, you ask, "Well… Now that you have me here, what are you going to do with me?"

In the wryest tone, he says, "I thought I'd recite some, ya know, sonnets I wrote about birds."

You laugh and shrug off your tuxedo jacket, making your way to the bergere. "What kinda birds?" you ask and toss the jacket on the footrest.

"All kinds. Not discriminatory over here."

"Good to know."

You put a hand on your hip and watch him study you. His downright pretty brown eyes glint in the lamplight. He seems at once defensive, yet warm. Not cruel, but you can see his stubbornness. There's grim determination and a touch of simmering frustration. Maybe loneliness, too. He's no lonelyheart, though, that much you can tell—he's no open book, either.

"You gotta nice set a tits," Pale finally says.

You bark out a laugh. "Thanks!" You subtly arch your back. "They're hoe-made."

He laughs then. Really laughs. The defensiveness you saw disappears. You smile and saunter around the desk, watching him relax in the chair.

"You know," you say. "You could pay me. That's one way to break the ice."

"Shit. Yeah, fuck, of course. Cash good?"

"Cash is king."

He leans forward, pulling his wallet from his back pocket. "Don't fuckin' remind me," he grumbles good-naturedly as he slaps two fifties on the desk.

You slide the fifties in your boot and perch on the desk. You know it can take your weight and possibly the fucking you're about to receive.

"You're on my fax," he points out.

You purr, "Well, that's one I haven't been on before," then cross your legs away from him and lean to the side.

"Cute." He grins, tugging the papers from under your ass. "Veeery fuckin' cute, thanks."

You chuckle and unzip the top of your other boot to pull out a few condoms. "Alrighty, pick one: I got red, I got green, I got yellow. I'm out of purple, but! I do have one gold circle coin left." You take out the gold foil packet from your boot for him to see. "The condom of champions. The one and only. Nothin's gettin' through this sucker." You raise your eyebrows. "Hm, whaddya say?"

"It's a fuckin'... buffet a safety."

You shrug and flourish the condoms in your hands. "I'm a safety girl."

Pale wets his lips and stands. You drop the condoms on the desk before reaching for his belt to undo it. Only to be thwarted when he places his big hands on top of yours.

He gruffly murmurs, "Lemme get you a drink first."

"A drink?" He's got you for an hour, and he wants to waste time with booze? You reason it's his money, and he can do what he wants with it. You shrug and say, "Sure, a drink."

Right then, a mellow chime rings through the suite. You stiffen in surprise, ready to do something. Like hide or run or plead the fifth.

"What's that?" you ask, tugging your hands from his.

"Champagne."

Before you can ask what the hell that means, the chime sounds again. He steps away and heads for the main door. You zip your boot closed, realizing the chime is a doorbell. It's the fanciest sounding doorbell you've ever heard.

He lets in a room service attendant, who greets him. The attendant carries a silver tray holding a champagne bucket, covered dish, and a red rose in a slender vase. Your eyes bug out the same time the attendant's do. It appears neither one of you was expecting the other.

"Good evening!" the attendant says to you, keeping up appearances.

You reply with a "hi" and slip off the desk.

Pale directs the attendant to the small, four-seater bar in corner. After the attendant sets the tray on the bar, Pale tips him five dollars. You blink at him tossing around money, willy-nilly. Five bucks would feed you the whole day with snacks and everything, and here he is, just giving it to a guy for doing his job.

Though, you remember desperately needing tips when you worked at The Big A before you met Kit. But that was valet work, this is simply carrying stuff.

You check yourself, asking if there's any difference. Service is service—a line in which you still work. And you love when johns give you an extra ten on the side.

The attendant discretely thanks Pale and wishes you both a nice evening. You cross the living room as the attendant sees himself out. Pale moves around the bar, hauling the champagne bottle from the bucket as he goes.

You sit on a bar stool and lean an elbow on the counter. "So, you got a wife? Girlfriend?"

"Both," he grunts as he expertly pops the cork on the bottle.

"Where are they? Shopping together?"

"My ex-wife's in Miami with the kids." He puts a champagne flute on the bar and drops a sugar cube in it. "My ex-girlfriend, Anna, 's in New York, packin' my shit as we speak."

You hadn't taken him for a father. He doesn't have that air of fatherhood. He doesn't appear old enough, either. Unless the kids are pretty young. You want to ask after them, but that's way too personal. You're only here for another forty—or so—minutes. At least, that's what your internal clock says.

He uncovers the dish to reveal it stacked with beautiful strawberries and slides it in front of you. He pours a jigger of bitters over the sugar cube as you pick a strawberry. As you bite into it, he fills the flute the rest of the way with champagne.

"Ain't no orange twist to pretty it up, but this should be decent," he states and offers you the cocktail.

It is good, and you make a happy sound of approval. He preens behind the bar as you sip at the drink between bites of juicy strawberry. They really do pair well.

Nevertheless, you're antsy to get the show on the road, but it's never good to pressure a john too much.

Pale gets a snifter and curvy bottle of caramel-colored cognac from below the counter, filling the glass a quarter way. He holds up the snifter, telling you, "This is how I got my nickname."

"Making drinks?"

"Nah, this—" He taps the cognac bottle. "See, VSOP." He points to the letters on the label. "Very Special Old Pale."

You lean forward to read. "This says 'Very Superior Old Pale.'"

He smiles. "I'll take it!"

You raise your flute with an answering grin. "Here's to superiority," you toast and lightly tap his snifter.

"And pretty women."

At the compliment, you huff a laugh through your nose and take a sip. "So tell me, Pale, are you in town for business or pleasure?"

"Business…" He looks at your lips. "Until now."

"Hmm." You hide a grin, knowing you can now maneuver him into what he's paying you for, and finish your drink. "Well… Thanks for the drink, Very Superior Old Pale." You set the delicate flute down. "I appreciate the scene you've set for me, too, but—uh…" You wipe your palms on your thighs and give him a coy look. "I work on an hourly rate, so…?"

He straightens to his full, imposing height. "How much for the night?"

"Stay here?" You glance around with a private snort and just know he's going to be offended by the price you'll quote. "You couldn't afford it."

"Try me."

"Five hundred dollars."

"Done," he announces and plucks the flute off the counter. "Now we can relax." He holds it up. "Want another?"

You nod in shock, watching him place the flute in front of himself.

Kit can pay off Carlos tomorrow night. You'll be able to cover rent for this week and next. It's a miracle—if he's sincere.

"Are you sure you want me for the night?" you ask.

He smiles down at the jigger he's pouring. "Hell yeah." He glances up. "Unless you got something better to do."

"No, I got no one better to do."

Pale snorts in amusement and tips the full jigger into the flute.

You ask, "Ya mind if I take my boots off?"

"Make yourself at home. I'll get the money in a minute."

You go to your purse and stuff the fifties he gave you behind the tatty lining. He doesn't seem the type to rip you off, but you can never be too careful. You sit on the footrest to unzip your boots and roll down the old thigh-high stockings.

Once barefoot, you wiggle your toes in the thick carpet. It's nice, fluffy—feels expensive. You stand to head to the bar and realize you have to pee.

"Where's the bathroom?" you inquire and discreetly pick up your purse.

Pale points to the open doorway on his left. "Straight back."

The carpet continues through the doorway, which leads to a bedroom that has to be the same size as your apartment. The ensuite bathroom is lined in peachy-pink marble. Because, of course. All the fixtures are gold. Naturally. At the head of the swimming-pool size jetted tub is a cut-glass oval window.

Jesus fucking Christ.

Maybe you should've asked for more money.

You close the door and plop your purse on the sink counter before using the facilities. Even the damn toilet paper is luxuriously thick. The maid had folded the end into a neat point, too.

After flushing, you wash your hands and check your teeth in the mirror to see a few strawberry seeds. You sigh as you fish out the spool of floss from the toiletries bag in your purse.

Before you can cut a length to use, a knock sounds and the door opens. You don't know why you do it, but you hide the floss in your fist. Pale pops his head around the door, and you spin to face him with your hand behind your back.

"Hey, I…" He frowns. "Whatcha got there?"

"Nothing!" you promise with a grin. You just know he'll think you're being so prissy about your teeth.

His look darkens as he stomps into the room, approaching like a thundercloud. "Now look, I don't do that shit no more." He grabs your upper arm. "And I don't want anyone doin' drugs around me."

"I don't do drugs, alright!"

You attempt to wiggle out of his hold, but it's like iron as he steers you to the door. That five hundred dollars is slipping away because of goddamn floss! He snatches your purse in his other hand.

"No, wait, please!" you beg and open your damp palm. The spool sticks to your skin.

He looks down and blinks. "Is that fucking dental floss?"

His grip loosens, and you pull away. "Yeah, so?" You turn the little spool in your fingers, showing him it's just normal floss. "There were seeds between my teeth, okay?" You hold it up. "And you shouldn't neglect your gums!"

He stills for a tense second.

"No, yeah, sorry," he grumbles and waves a hand. "Continue."

You turn to the sink, pulling a length of floss out and cutting it loose. You meet his gaze in the mirror as you wind one end around your finger. "You gonna watch?"

"No," he says, looking contrite, and holds out your purse. "Here."

"Thanks." You take it, placing it right where it had been.

"And, uh—" He pulls a thin fold of bills from his pocket and extends it to you. "Here."

You take the bills and slide them temporarily in your bra. "Thanks."

With a relieved sigh, you get a good hold on the floss and bring it to your mouth. You feel him staring, though, and you look over your shoulder to say:

"You're watching."

"I'm going," he replies before stepping out of the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

You floss and rinse, hide all the money deep in your purse, and return to the living room. Pale's turned off a few lights, making the room softer and more intimate. He lounges in an armchair, snifter on the side table, a stack of papers at his elbow. His long legs stretch out, sock-feet crossed on the floor. In the mellow light, his dark eyes glitter and his wavy hair shines. He really is quite handsome—probably one of the best looking johns you've entertained in a while.

"I gotta make some calls," he says, then gestures to the entertainment curio in the corner. "Feel free to watch TV, or whatevah."

You nod and set your purse on a barstool. Your refreshed cocktail is still cool and bubbly, so you take a sip. It's as delicious as the first one. There's also a basket full of small bags of pretzels, chips, and candy on the counter.

"Got out snacks from the bar—if you're hungry." He adds, "Or there's room service."

This must be his way of an apology. Which is endearing, actually. You remind yourself it's always good business to meet your client at least halfway.

"Snacks are good, thanks!" you chirp and check the selection.

You load up on the salty stuff—because it's been hours since you last ate. From the minifridge behind the bar, you grab the squattest bottle of Pepsi you've ever seen.

You survey the dark dining room, since you don't want to disturb him. However, you don't want to eat there. You haven't eaten at a dining-room table in ages. There's no room for one at your place. You usually sit on your bed when you eat and watch the evening news. It was what you'd done tonight.

That leaves the living room. You ask if he's sure he doesn't mind if you camp out on the floor in front of the television. He reassures you he doesn't as he picks up the handset of the telephone on the side table.

You dump the bags and bottle on the carpet before going back for your cocktail. While you're at the bar, you pick up the wine bucket with the champagne, too. It would be such a shame for it to go to waste.

After opening the curio and finding the remote, you settle on the floor. As you flip through the TV channels, Pale argues—or is simply loud—with someone about Rex Two. You have no idea what that means, but it's none of your business, anyway.

You perk up when you find The Arsenio Hall Show. You hardly ever get to watch it. Kit always talks about going to a show. Plans were never made, though, but it would be fun to skip a day to do it.

Once he ends a second call, you turn to him. He jots something down on a paper. You assume it's one of the messages he picked up at the reception desk.

He meets your gaze, giving you a little grin.

You offer, "Would you like something from my little carpet picnic? Or I can refill your drink?"

His voice is soft as he replies, "Nah, honey, I'm good."

He goes back to his notes, and you pour yourself more champagne. It really is good and goes well with the potato chips. Who knew? Warmth spreads across your cheeks from the alcohol. Your limbs feel watery and languid. It's the most relaxed you've felt in months.

You roll onto your stomach as Arsenio comes back from commercial. The guest is unfamiliar, but funny. Him and Arsenio roll through quips and call-back jokes. You put a hand over your mouth to muffle your laughter. Pale's on another call, with staccato answers and forceful corrections.

At a commercial break, movement catches your attention as Pale stands sans phone. He must've ended the conversation while you were distracted. You watch him pad around you to settle on the nearest sofa.

He watches you as he spreads his arms over the sofa back and closest arm. There's something like an invitation in his movements. You sit up, and he relaxes more.

Yeah, you decide, you're reading him right.

You get on your knees and crawl to him. His eyes darken as he bites his bottom lip. Wordlessly, you maneuver his knees farther apart and skim your hands over his firm thighs.

He murmurs, "Show me what's under that dress."

You slip the top of the dress down to reveal a lacy bra. His eyes dart to look at your breasts, the way they fill the cups of your bra. You sweep the dress down your hips, uncovering equally lacy underwear—which doesn't match the bra, but are the same color.

You discard the dress, leaving it in a pile by his foot, and inch closer. He slumps on the sofa and spreads his knees. You lean in with every intention of unbuttoning his shirt, but the roar of laughter from the television distracts you. You smile at him in apology and haul yourself to your feet to get the remote.

Once muting the television, you return to kneel between his legs and rest your upper body across his. His torso is solid under you. His faint cologne entices you to get closer.

"You got a hot body," he says as he brings his hands down to touch your sides.

"So do you."

You begin unbuttoning his shirt, taking it slow. Each inch of chest revealed is only further confirmation of his attractiveness. His skin is creamy smooth and unblemished, dotted with beauty marks. A thick, flat gold chain snakes around his neck. It could be tacky, but it's not.

You kiss the skin right below the chain before whispering: "What're you into?"

"Whaddaya do?"

"Everything... but I don't kiss on the mouth."

"Yeah," he declares. "Neither do I."

With a grin, you lean close to kiss the side of his neck. He tilts his head with a breath. He slides his warm hands over your back and into your hair. He tastes clean with a hint of salt. You nuzzle under his jaw to kiss his thudding pulse.

Pale subtly rolls against you. His belt buckle digs into your belly, but so does his growing erection. You reach between your bodies to undo his belt and slacks.

He directs your head away from his neck before you get far. You think he's going to try to kiss you, but he doesn't. Your eyes meet, and his burn.

"Gonna show me what that pretty mouth can do?"

You grin. "Yeah."

He smooths his hands down your shoulders to your upper arms, thumbs catching on the straps of your bra.

"Show me," he growls.

You wet your lips and begin kissing a line down his torso. His breath catches every time you add a little teeth. You nip at his skin, peppering him with faint pink marks until you reach his loosened belt.

Sitting back, you undo his slacks. His cock tents the fine fabric, spreading the open fly. You run your palm over the bulge of it and feel its heat and heft. He's not small—just like the rest of him.

You scoot his slacks off his hips, and he lifts himself to help. Together, you get him stripped from the waist down.

There, you pause.

You don't consider yourself a cultured person. The only times you've been to a museum was during school. However, you know if a classical sculptor had seen Pale, they'd want to immortalize him.

His cock rests in the crook of his hip, thick and flushed. His thighs are gracefully corded and covered in fine, dark hair. His balls are plump and tight.

You spread his legs, running your hands up his smooth inner thighs. His dick jerks, and a little dribble of precome trickles around the crown. You gather saliva on your tongue and lick him from the seam of his balls to the tip of his cock.

He groans as you hold his erection away from his torso and do it again. The male musk of him coats your tongue, fills your nose. It's clean and salty. You smear the wetness of his precome over your bottom lip.

In response, he put a hand on the nape of your neck.

"That okay?" he murmurs.

"Of course, baby."

You steady the thick shaft of his cock and wet your lips. You want more of him, the taste of him in your mouth, the heft of his dick on your tongue. Taking the head in your mouth, you suck and swivel your head around so he feels all of you.

His breath catches once more as his head falls back. "Fuck…"

The hand at your nape tightens, but not with a threat. It certainly doesn't thwart you from getting more of him. You take him deeper and moan around his cock, receiving an answering groan.

It all felt good—the heat of him, the taste, the weight of his hand, the knowledge that you were giving him something he needed. You work his dick, using all your skill to give him something amazing. His hands shove their way into your hair and hang on—not to force you down, but to steady himself.

Pale moans as he rolls his hips, pushing his cock farther into your mouth again and again. It's like he can't help it, so driven by need. You don't mind the minute thrusts; your fist encircling the base keeps you from choking and gagging helplessly around his cock.

Maybe later you could take all of him. Deep-throating was something you were still learning. But you imagine him backing you against one of these fancy walls and fucking your mouth until he came down your throat. Your lips would be so puffy and wet and sensitive from his thrusts. His come and sweat would be all you could taste.

Your cunt clenches at the thought.

His hands fist your hair and pull you away. You pop off his cock with a gasp. His dick jerks in your hand as you meet his eyes, which are deep and dark. Like the hungry ocean. His chest heaves, and you pant out of sync.

"Get up here with that fuckin' mouth," he says, breathless, drawing you to your knees with one hand at your nape and the other on your shoulder.

When you're close enough, he grips you under your arms to haul you onto his lap. For a second, it looks like he's drawing you in for a kiss. You stiffen, but he dips his head to kiss under your jaw. You relax and tunnel your fingers into his lush hair.

His kisses are sharp and furious with lust. His hands are all over you, sweeping over your back, gripping your waist, clutching at your ass. It's easy to forget you'd only met him two hours ago. Not that he's familiar in the traditional sense, but because it's easy to relax around him.

You rise up, leading him to your breasts. You want his hands cupping them as he kisses them. He rests his forehead at the hinge of your jaw, smoothing his palms up your sides to your breasts.

"Fuck, these tits."

He massages you through the bra, his thumbs tracing the top edge of the fabric. Your nipples harden at the surprisingly delicate touch, and you push into his hands.

"Yeah, like me touchin' ya like this, princess?"

You nod, biting back a whimper.

Pale reaches behind you for the clasp of your bra. He tugs at it, fumbles for a moment. The band bites into your ribs. You take mercy and lean back, folding your arms behind your chest to help.

"I ain't no good with this shit," he gripes as he lets you undo the bra.

You smile. "I wouldn't expect you to be. It's not your bra."

He laughs and holds your ass. His eyes glued to your chest.

You undo the bra and hold the cups steady as you shimmy on his lap. He groans and thrusts against you. Your underwear clings between your legs as his dick rubs you just right. You're tempted to grind against him, but you don't know how much teasing he can take.

He murmurs, "Lemme see 'em."

You arch your back and use the cups to lift your breasts. When the cups start sliding up, you hold them for a suspenseful second before releasing your breasts. They bounce and jiggle as you lift your arms, tossing the bra onto the pile of your dress.

"Shit, lookit these fuckin' tits. Knew you'd be pretty."

He holds the sides of your ribcage and draws you in kiss your chest. You put your hands in his hair again.

God, it's gorgeous.

As is his mouth. He nips at the side of your breast and then takes a nipple in his mouth. He sucks at it, and the tension goes right between your legs. You angle into it, mewling and squirming as his touch gets firmer, rougher.

You lean on him, holding onto his shoulders. He curses against your skin and moves to the other nipple. His hands are back at your ass, squeezing and spreading your cheeks. You don't know which way to press because it all feels good.

He feels good.

Then he yanks down your underwear. Your body rocks with the force of it until he's gathering you close and slipping his fingers between your legs. You yelp and stare down at the top of his dark head. Johns don't usually bother with this step.

You breathe, "Wha—"

"So fuckin' wet, baby," he groans, resting his chin on your sternum. "Such a good girl."

His fingers feel huge as they slide in your slit, teasing you the whole way. He spreads you, and your pussy flutters. You push out your ass, wanting him to touch your clit.

When he does, your mouth drops open.

"Yeeeah, that's it. That's what you need." His free hand grips one cheek of your ass. "Isn't it?"

"Yes, Pale," you whisper.

After a couple of strokes over your clit, he withdraws his fingers. You cry out in protest, but quickly put a hand over your mouth. This isn't about you. If he gets sick of playing with your body, that's fine. You're not here for your own pleasure.

"Don't worry, I ain't done," he says with a pat to your ass. "Stand up and bend over this couch arm."

You pull up your underwear enough to not hinder yourself before sliding off his lap. Standing in front of him, you let your underwear flop to the floor. As you kick them away, he stares at your body, wrapping a hand around his wet cock.

"Lemme see that ass."

You turn and stretch your arms up, cocking a hip to the side to pose for him. You want to indulge him. He's been so sweet with you. You let your hands float down to your hips as you look over your shoulder. In a bold move, you run your hands over your ass, bend a little, and spread your cheeks.

It's only a tease. You know he can't really see anything. But that's the point.

He purrs. You hear the wet schlick as he gives a few pumps to his dick.

"Like showin' me what ya got, don't ya, ya little slut."

The way he calls you a slut makes heat bloom all over. He says it the same way he called you princess—all affection and dark delight. Like he just discovered something new in you. It almost makes you laugh. Being a slut is part of the job.

You snicker as you straighten and turn, giving him a smile. "Your little slut."

"That so?" He stands as you nod, and says, "I like my sluts bent over and ready for my dick."

"Like over the arm of the couch?" you playfully ask.

He smirks as he approaches, his open shirt the only clothing covering him. With one arm around your waist, he draws you in and brings a hand to cup your cheek. His thumb traces over your bottom lip as his gaze dances over your face.

"Yeah," he murmurs.

You kiss the pad of his thumb in reply. Pale then takes hold of your hips and forces you to turn. His cock smears across your ass and nestles in the cleft when he pulls your back to his front. He purrs again, burying his face in your neck, as he walks you to the sofa.

You drag your feet a little, whispering, "Condom."

"I didn't forget," he replies as he urges you over the arm.

The soft sound of fabric hitting the carpet is all you hear before Pale squeezes your ass around his heavy, spit-slick cock and ruts against you. It's such a tease. You want it in you, filling you, and you know it'll feel wonderful.

You move counter to him. The underside of his dick rubs over your asshole. Just a little more and the head will catch on your rim.

"Please, Pale…"

He growls, "Please, what?"

You bite your bottom lip and close your eyes. "Fuck me."

He sounds pleased when he says, "Gotta get ya ready first."

You want to scream you're ready. You've been ready.

He pulls back, steadies your hip, and slides two thick fingers deep in your juicy cunt. All slow and easy. You moan, writhing towards him. It feels better than you thought. He twists his hand, and his fingers rub every alighted nerve inside you.

Then his thumb is on your clit. He strokes you inside and out. You lean heavily on the sofa arm, bracing yourself on the hard frame. Your knees quake and belly tightens. You try to keep your sounds to yourself, but it's impossible. They keep spilling out.

He leans forward, his bare chest at your back, to kiss your shoulder. You cat into it, laying your temple on his. His cock—feeling huge—presses against your ass.

"You're gonna come on my fingers, princess," he says. "And then on my dick."

You groan with a nod. You could do that.

He strokes harder, faster. You gasp out a curse as your body stiffens. He tells you he can feel it. You can, too. The pleasure converges between your legs. It's bright and tense and so good and too much. Yet you give in to that too-much, letting it flare white through you.

Little by little, it burns away at you. Your pussy throbs as heat courses through your whole body. Sweat gathers under your breasts and on your forehead. Slick drips down your inner thighs.

You moan when Pale withdraws his fingers. He shushes you before asking if you're okay. You huff in amusement.

Are you okay? Are you okay?

You haven't been this okay with a john in a long time—if ever.

"'M great," you answer.

He kisses your skin again and steps away. Over your shoulder, you watch him pick out the green condom from the pile on the desk. He rolls it on and adjusts it so it conforms around the ridge of his cockhead.

"My dick looks like the Jolly Green Giant."

You laugh. It's really not that green. "It's certainly big enough!"

The condom has a green tint, sure, but it doesn't look like a cucumber is sprouting from his crotch. He's just being dramatic.

"Oh yeah?" He grins and holds his erection. "You like 'em big?"

"I like yours."

He pads back to you as he says, "And I like your little pussy."

"Oh yeah?" you repeat his words. "Why doncha show me?"

Pale doesn't reply as he grips his cock. You face front again and arch your back. The smooth head runs between the drenched folds of your pussy. It bumps your sensitive clit, and you can't stop the mewl of his name.

"I know, baby," he whispers. "Me too."

Then his dick pushes inside you. The girth of him makes you groan and spread your legs. He takes his time, grinding the full length of that big cock of his inside you.

He puts an arm around your waist and kisses your neck. His breath tickles in the best way. With each shallow inhalation, your cunt relaxes around him. He's a lot to take. It feels like he fills every available space inside you.

As your breathing deepens, he snakes his large hands over your ribcage to cup your breasts. He fondles you, flicking your nipples with his thumbs.

"Like my dick deep inside you?"

"Yes, Pale."

His hips flex, rocking his dick inside you. As much as you're able, you move counter to him. You attempt to get that delicious friction that'll have you coming again.

"Want more, princess?"

"Give it to me."

And he does. He holds your hips to pump his cock deep inside your cunt. He finds a wild rhythm that has you close to breathless. Each inward stroke fills you completely and pushes a pleasured whimper from you.

It spurs him on until you're bracing yourself with one hand on the back of the sofa while the other grips his hip.

He adjusts his stance. His cock is suddenly angled perfectly; he's pressing you against the sofa arm perfectly. If he keeps going like this, you're going to come. You moan and try to hold your position. It feels impossible, each thrust jostles you forward.

He growls and puts a searing hand around your throat, pulling you back to his chest. His fingers compress the veins on the sides of your neck.

"God, so fuckin' tight," he snaps. "So wet."

Your vision swims. Your pulse is everywhere. You sob as everything boils down to the pistoning of his cock. All you feel is him driving you to this gleaming pinnacle with each savage thrust.

"Come on, baby, lemme..."

You choke out, "Yea—"

Pale works his dick, fighting and sweating and snarling and fucking you, until you scream in ecstasy. Orgasm blinds you, like staring at the sun. It flows in turbulent waves, flooding you until you're gushing around his cock. Over and over, you're pulled down until you live in the pleasure he gives you.

His lips press to the top of your head as he changes his grip to simply holding your throat. He cradles your jaw, panting into your hair. His hips stutter, and his cock feels so big in your fluttering cunt.

He crashes into you a handful of times, and your body shakes with every thrust. Without warning, his muscles lock up when he's tight against your back and deep inside you. He brokenly moans into your hair, drowning in pleasure alongside you. His dick throbs as he fills the condom.

For the first time, you wish you could feel it.

Chapter Text

The dim bedroom you wake in is confusing; too cool, too quiet, sheets too soft, mattress too cushy. Your mouth is gummy. And you're very naked. You roll over, feeling every delicious ache from a good fucking.

That's right. Pale. Hotel room.

He's not in bed with you. You hear his voice, though. He's probably on the phone again.

You creak into sitting, smoothing your hair away from your face. On the nightstand is the squat bottle of Pepsi. You crack it open and take a few sips as you wipe the sleep from your eyes.

You suppose you shouldn't linger. Pale paid for the night, he got his night. In all likelihood, he'll want you to disappear so he can get on with his day.

After a few stretches, you totter into the bathroom. The oval window above the tub is dazzling in the morning light. You use the toilet, wash your hands, and splash cold water on your face. It wakes you like nothing else does.

On the back of the bathroom door are two terry-cloth robes. You slip one on, belting it around your waist, before padding out to the living room.

Pale sits at the head of the dining table, back to the living room and phone at his ear. "—about that car a yours…" He pauses a few seconds as the person on the other end speaks. "It corners like it's on goddamn rails."

You duck your head to smile. You didn't think he'd remember you saying that.

He ends the call, and you clear your throat.

"Hey," you softly greet him.

He pivots in his chair, face pleasant yet neutral. "Morning."

The table is covered in papers and covered dishes. There's a teapot and matching tea set on a trolley behind him. Pale's dressed for business in navy slacks and light-gray oxford shirt. The matching suit jacket and tie hang on a side chair.

"I can see you're really busy." You gesture back to the bedroom. "I'll be outta your hair in a minute."

"No—" He stands. "No rush." He takes a step towards you. "Are you hungry?" His look turns sly. "You gotta be."

You grin. "Know that from personal experience?" you ask, moving to the table.

He puts a hand at the small of your back as he says, "Worked up quite the appetite," and flicks his other hand to the trolley-side of the table, where two dirty plates are stacked.

Your grin transforms into a full-fledged smile as you sit. You're glad he had a good time last night. You certainly did.

Pale uncovers two dishes closest to you. One plate has croissants arranged in an artful spiral, the other a mound of scrambled eggs, a few strips of bacon, and a cup of cut fruit.

"Thought you might like somethin' more substantial than coffee." He gestures to the plate. "Protein. Voila."

"Like I didn't get enough meat last night."

He plops down in his seat and picks up the delicate tea cup to toast. "New Jersey bred and raised, doll."

"They all like you in Jersey?" you tease and draw the plate of eggs and bacon closer.

"Nah, one of a kind."

"That's right: Very Special Old Pale."

"And superior, apparently."

"I'll say," you agree and give him a wink.

He appears pleased by that and offers you tea. He tells you it's English Breakfast. You've never had that variety, but you do like tea. You ask for sugar, and he drops two sugar cubes in the steaming tea.

"There should be milk," he states as he places the tea next to your plate. "But this place don't understand ya gotta have it warm."

You gently blow on your tea before taking a sip. It's very good—different than the iced tea your mother makes. Pale watches your reaction.

You nod with a smile. "It's delicious."

He nods back. "Good."

He shuffles some papers around. You squint to try to read them. It doesn't really help. There are a lot of graphs that don't make much sense upside down.

"So…" you begin as you pluck the fork off the table. "Did you sleep much?"

He shrugs. "A little. Had some shit to do." He picks up a thin stack of papers to indicate the shit he had to do. "You?"

"Great," you reply between bites. "Too good, actually." You take another sip of tea. "Forgot for a second where I was."

"Occupational hazard?"

You snort. "Yeah."

It's awkward sitting at a table to eat. You tuck your foot under your opposite knee. That makes it feel a little closer to normal. Everything's so fancy, though. The silverware is heavy. The cut glassware sparkles. Your tea cup is so delicate the sunshine streaming in from the open French doors illuminates the china, making the tea glow.

"So…" you begin again. "You don't sleep much. You don't do drugs anymore. You know plenty about tea. What do you do, Pale?"

He relaxes in his chair. "I'm workin' as a buying agent for Mani Bianchi."

"What're you buying?"

"A restaurant. Maybe two. He don't know yet."

"Like, just a restaurant? Like real estate?"

"Nah, he wants to buy an assembled restaurant."

"And do what?"

"Rebrand. Expand his chain."

"How many does he own now?"

"Three: two in Jersey, one in Philly."

"Nothin' out here?"

"Nope. Told me he wants move the wife and kids to California." Pale leans in. "I think he's wantin' to escape some mob shit."

"Hate to break it to ya, but the Mob's out here, too."

"I know—ain't my problem."

The phone rings at the table, and he picks up. As he talks on the phone, you finish your breakfast and tea. You grab a croissant and head out onto the terrace.

It's a beautiful morning. Down on the sidewalk, grounds crew clean the pavement and prune the potted plants. Traffic is sedate. The few pedestrians carry multiple shopping bags and shade their eyes behind huge sunglasses. As you tear off bites from the croissant, you wonder how it would be to live a life like that.

"Hey, dollface," Pale says to get your attention.

He stands in the doorway, fussing with his tie. The knot is crooked.

"I gotta motor." He frowns at his chest as he attempts to fix the tie. "Realtor has some properties for me." He growls, "Fuck."

You leave the croissant on the balustrade and wipe your greasy fingertips on your robe. "Let me."

He sighs as his hands drop to his sides. You loosen the front tail at the top of the knot and adjust the back tail. You feel him watching you, but you concentrate on his tie. Once it's lying flat and straight, you back off with a friendly nod.

"There. Perfect."

"Thanks," he murmurs and smooths a hand over the silk. "Where you learn that?"

"Well! I screwed the debate team in high school..." you joke as you retrieve the half-eaten croissant.

He laughs and steps back from the doorway.

As you pass him, you tell the truth: "I had a grandpa. Liked ties on Sundays." You toss the croissant on your dirty plate. "Mind if I take a swim in your tub before I go?"

"Not at all. Just stay in the shallow end."

The phone rings again. He rolls his eyes, but goes to answer. You don't linger to eavesdrop. That huge bathtub is calling you.

You grab the Walkman from your purse and untangle the headphones as you step into the bathroom, placing it within reach of the tub. Leaving the door ajar, you run a bath and pour the sample of bubble bath into the filling tub.

The fragrant steam coming off the water fills the room with the scent of honey and lavender. It clings to your hair and the mirror over the sink. You untie your robe and hang it on the hook by the glass shower stall.

In the other room, Pale's still on the phone. It sounds like he'll be there awhile.

As you lower yourself into the swirling water, you grin. The tub is deep and would probably fit three adults comfortably—though probably only two Pales. You fold a towel on the lip of the tub by the faucet, ease back, and turn off the water. You slip the headphones on and hit the play button. Prince's "Do U Lie?" is ending, and you close your eyes as you groove to the jazzy song.

Then your favorite cut, "Kiss," starts and you fist-pump. You sing with Prince's falsetto as you sway in the warm water. You kiss into the air at the song's bridge.

You open your eyes to see the bathroom door open and trail off. You quickly glance to your left, seeing Pale sitting on the tub ledge. His suit jacket hugs his torso perfectly. Giving him an apologetic grin, you slip off the headphones. He smiles in return, affectionate and relaxed.

"Don't you just love Prince?" you ask to break the silence, dropping the headphones on the ledge.

"More than life itself."

You hide your hands under the water. "Did I interrupt your call?"

"Nah, it's fine."

That wasn't a no.

"I gotta—" He cuts himself off to adjust his seat on the ledge. "A business proposition for ya."

"What is it?"

Your mind races. You wonder if he wants another night. You'd be just fine with that. More than fine. He's good company and fucks like a champ. He's a beast, actually.

"I'm in town for the next week. I wantcha to spend it with me."

You smile, not believing what you're hearing. A whole week? You didn't know he liked you that much.

"Really?"

"Yup, I wanna hire you as an employee," he announces. "Can ya put up with me for a week?"

You laugh and almost sit up before you remember you're naked in a bathtub. Not that he hasn't seen it all. Still, you'd like to keep a little modesty. Though, you realize that's ironic coming from you.

Pale adds, "I'll pay you to be at my beck and call."

"I'd love to be your 'beck and call' girl, but you're a handsome guy. You could get a million girls for free."

His cheeks pinken. "I don't want a million girls. I want a professional."

"If you're talkin' twenty-four hours a day, it's gonna cost ya."

He stands and crosses his arms over his chest. The sleeves of his jacket strain.

"Hit me." His accent turns a little New-York when he says, "Ballpark figure. How much?"

You lick your lips, trying to quell the jittery feeling in your gut. "Six full nights—days, too." You do a little mental math, coming up with a thousand a day. "Six thousand."

"Six nights at five hundred is three thousand."

You point out, "You want days, too."

"Four thousand," he fires.

You counter, "Five thousand."

He grins. "Done."

Holy shit. Holy shit. "Holy shit!" you laugh before sliding under the water.

You want to scream. Five thousand dollars! Through the water you hear Pale say your name. He asks if that's a yes. You nod, but realize he can't see you for all the bubbles.

You sit up, laughing and wiping the foam off your face. "Yes!"

He gently bops you in the face with a fluffy towel, and it makes you laugh harder.

"Yes!" you say again before splashing some non-foamy water in your face.

He chuckles and hands you the towel. "I got some money for a down payment. That good?"

"Down payment?" you tease as you dry your face.

"Hey, I can't expect you to stay on my word now, can I?"

"I guess not."

He nods, more to himself than you. "Finish your bath. I'll get the money."

You rise to your knees and hold out a hand to him to help you stand. He takes it, secure and strong. The bubbles trail down your body, feeling like a caress, as you get to your feet.

He holds out your arm to stare at your foam-covered body and lowly curses. "Ya make me wanna forget this meeting I got."

"Think of it as incentive to get home quick."

"Even if I do, honey, we gotta leave right after."

"Why?"

"Business dinner. Tonight. You and me."

Jittery for a new reason, you say, "I don't have anythin' for somethin' like that."

"I know," he assures you, steadying you as you step out of the tub. "You can buy some clothes today." He retrieves the robe from the hook and holds it open for you.

You want to protest as you turn to slip your arms into the robe. You can't afford a new dress. Especially a fancy one.

He continues, "It's on me. You keep 'em."

He brushes the collar of the robe aside and kisses your neck. Just like last night. Your quip about him keeping the dresses for himself dies on your lips. His hands rest at your waist. Your mind swims with all you'll have to do before tonight.

It's doable, but so much.

You touch his smooth cheek and whisper, "Okay."

"Okay," he whispers back and then pulls away.

He strides out of the bathroom. The suit jacket emphasizes his broad shoulders. His hair just skims the collar. You don't know how to pick a dress that will compliment you and his style.

You tie the robe closed and follow him into the bedroom. He stops by his side of the bed and gets something from the nightstand. It's a flat wallet. He turns and hands you a stack of bills, saying this is for the day and new clothes. You can't believe he just walks around with so much money in his wallet.

"You know," you begin as you fold the stack in half and slip it into a robe pocket. "You really should think about traveler's checks."

He good-naturedly scoffs and tucks the wallet into the inner breast-pocket of his jacket. He jerks his head to indicate you should follow him before returning to the dining room.

"We'll be going out at night," he says over his shoulder. "Get good dresses. Maybe something long. I don't know. Dealer's choice."

"I can do that."

"Nothin' too flashy, yeah?"

You know "flashy" means a dress like the one you wore last night. Like you would shop at The Stockroom for a fancy dress to go to a business dinner.

Pale tucks all the papers into a briefcase that now sits on the table. It must've been hidden on a side chair earlier.

He tacks on, "Like conservative."

"Boring," you say.

"Sophisticated." He secures the briefcase and straightens, turning to you. "Somethin' pretty like you."

You smile. "Baby, I'm gonna treat you so nice, you're never gonna wanna let me go."

"I'm only here for six days, baby. I gotta let you go," he states and heads for the front door.

You watch him with a smirk. No longer is he the john that got away. He decided to keep you for a week and pay you more than you've ever gotten from a single trick.

After he closes the door behind himself, you murmur, "But I'm here now."

With money in your pocket and thousands more to come.

You screech and run for the bed. It's a fucking miracle. You make a flying leap onto the bed and roll around on the mussed sheets.

"Five thousand dollars!" you howl and spaz out.

You need to call Kit, though. She needs to know what's going on. You sit up, shake the hair out of your face, and haul the bedside phone onto the mattress.

The line rings and rings before Kit answers with a groggy hello.

"I called and called last night," you reply, which is true. While Pale was in the shower, you phoned the apartment, and no one picked up. "Where were you?"

"Ma?" Kit croaks.

"It's me."

Kit groans. "Out late. Had to party. Where are you?"

"Oh, man. You ready for this? The guy? The Lotus?" You sit up, crossing your legs in front of you. "I'm in his hotel room in Beverly Hills. The penthouse." You gesture around the suite though Kit can't see you. "His bathroom's bigger than the Blue Banana!"

"Do I have to hear this?" Kit drily asks.

"Kit, he wants me to stay the whole week." You lean forward. "And you know what he's gonna give me? Guess—you'll never guess." Kit slurps a drink as you pause a beat. "Five thousand dollars."

"Bullshit!" Kit exclaims, sounding excited.

"I swear to God." You raise a hand. "And extra money to buy clothes."

"Ah, man! I'm bummed I gave that guy to you!" There's a rustle. "Five thousand? Really? Is he twisted?"

You lay on the bed, propping your feet on the padded headboard. "No."

"Ugly?"

"He's good-looking."

Kit asks, "What's wrong with him?"

"Nothing."

"He give you the money yet?"

"End of the week."

"That's what's wrong with him."

You roll onto your side. "He gave me five hundred for last night. I'll leave some at the front desk for you. I want you to pick it up." Kit grunts, and you hear her brushing her teeth. "I'm at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. Write that down. Are you writin' it down? You'll forget it. Write it down."

The brushing stops for a second, and Kit mumbles, "Reg. Bev. Wil."

You scoot to sit at the side of the bed. "Hey, one more thing: Where do I go for clothes? Good stuff—on him."

"In Beverly Hills?" she says all slinky and playful. "Rodeo Drive, baby."

You end the call shortly after, telling her to take care of herself. She tells you the same. You get your purse, pull out four hundred dollars, and pad out to the desk in the living room to search for an envelope. Once you find one—paper thick and the color of unbleached silk—you stuff the bills inside, seal it, and write Kit De Luca on the front.

After rinsing off the bath residue, you change into your clothes from last night. You repack your purse, tie your jacket around your hips, and find the spare keycard by the door. The elevator attendant isn't the same as last night's, and he doesn't give you a second look.

In the light of day, the lobby is just as grand. Sunlight streams in from the glass doors. The white marble floor gleams. It's a lovely, mild day. You can already tell. It's going to be a great day, too. You have almost a thousand dollars in your purse and only one thing to do: spend it.

No one stops you as you walk to the reception desk, either. The clerk greets you with a smile and doesn't question your instructions with Kit's envelope. She promises not to open it, calling you ma'am. You almost laugh at the title.

You walk out of the hotel, and it's the polar opposite of the Boulevard. The sidewalks are so clean. The scent of green things—the potted hedges and flowers, the trees—and wet soil dominate anything else.

You mentally tick the first thing off the to-do list and spy a pharmacy just down the street. You purchase plain condoms, lube, grooming supplies, and some makeup. The cashier doesn't look you in the eye as she accepts your money. She pushes the glossy paper bag across the counter and wishes you a pleasant day.

She put enough stank on it to make her meaning clear: she wants you gone.

You try not letting it get to you as you leave with head held high. It's nothing new. And who cares about some judgy-ass cashier? You got bigger fish to fry.

Rodeo Drive is lined with designer storefronts. There are no rip-off stands or Chinese bootlegs. Prada, not Praba; Louis Vuitton, not Louie Vuibon. You window-shop, enjoying the jewelry displays and pretty clothes. Nothing pulls you in, though.

As you cross the street at a light, a woman coming the other way gives you the stink eye. You stick out your tongue at her and keep walking. You're allowed to be here. It's a free fucking country.

At the corner is a pretty boutique. In the window is a gorgeous cream-toned dress with bold, alencon lace overlay and handkerchief hem. You could see yourself in it, and you think Pale would like it. It's not too fussy—just elegant and feminine.

You hear him say "soPHisticated" in that Jersey way of his as you stare at it.

Inside, the boutique is Southwest-themed with potted cacti and a terracotta floor. It feels casual, but the clothes are super stylish. You make a bee-line for the dress in the window. The back of the dress is just as lovely as the front. You want to touch it—see if the lace is as luscious as it looks.

You're intercepted by an overstyled saleswoman, who asks if she can help you. You reply you're just checking things out. You don't want to appear desperate or unprepared. She hums and asks if you're looking for something in particular.

"Well… Uh, yeah." You smooth the knot of the jacket arms around your waist. "Something conservative?" You bite your lip. "Sophisticated."

She eyes you, coolly saying: "Yes."

You touch the shoulder of a jacket next to you. It's silk. It has to be. "You got nice stuff."

"Thank you."

In a moment of panic, you ask her how much the jacket costs. A second saleswoman joins the first. They both look at you like you crawled out of the sewer.

"I don't think this would fit you," the first saleswoman states.

Ah.

"Well." You wet your lips. "I didn't ask about the fit. I asked how much it was."

She turns to the second saleswoman. "How much is this, Marie?"

The second saleswoman—Marie of the white-blonde-glacial-eyed persuasion—shakes her head and replies, "Oh, it's very expensive."

The first one turns to you and repeats Marie's words. There's something about the way she tilts her head that's condescending. Like you don't know what you're doing. Like you must be lost. Like you're polluting the room with your inferiority.

"Look, I got money to spend in here," you say and walk around a well-dressed mannequin to stop at the center of the sales floor.

"I don't think we have anything for you," the first saleswoman says, lingering beside the mannequin. "You're obviously in the wrong place." Her voice goes hard as she says, "Please leave."

Marie comes up next to her, and they both stare you down. You look at them with your heart in your throat. You want to show them your money to prove you weren't in the wrong place. You only wanted a dress. You weren't going to fuck their boyfriends or take a shit on the shop's couch.

It was pointless, though. They'd made their minds up about you.

You walk out of the boutique with as much dignity as you can muster. Outside, a few people gape at you. Fuck, you think, has everyone been doing that? Were you really so abhorrent?

You untie your jacket and slip it on as you walk back to the hotel. You can't hide your boots, but it'll have to do. Pale's going to be so disappointed, you realize. You can't accompany him to dinner. And if you couldn't do that, were you really worth paying at all?

Luckily, the doorman doesn't stop you from entering the hotel. You tell yourself to hang on until you get back to the penthouse. Then you can lose your shit and regroup. There's got to be something you can do to buy a nice dress.

You're almost at the bank of elevators when a man comes out of nowhere.

"Excuse me, miss," he asks as he catches up with you. "May I help you?"

You really don't need this now, but you reply, "I'm going to my room."

"You're a guest here? Do you have a key?"

The man is in a flawless black suit. His salt-and-pepper hair is styled to perfection. He's so dignified and proper and stiff you wonder if he'd say "shit" with a mouth full of it.

"Yeah—uh..."

You stop to fish out the keycard from your purse. You know you put it in there. You silently plead with the universe to help you find the stupid fucking keycard, promising you won't ask for another thing for a month.

To stall for time you say, "I'm with a friend."

The man hums. "And who would that be?"

"Pale…" You realize Pale never gave you his last name. "I mean, he goes by Pale—" You exclaim, "Jimmy!" as you remember his given name.

The man looks less than impressed.

"James… He's in the penthouse..." You rack your brain for a last name. "James—uh…"

Didn't you see his last name on any of those papers he had lying around? Why didn't you look?!

Behind the man, the elevator dings and opens. You see the elevator attendant from last night.

You point to him. "He knows me!"

The man turns to the elevator, beckoning the attendant forward. "Dennis."

As Dennis galumphs over, the man—obviously his boss—asks, "Did you just come off night shift?"

"Yes, sir."

The man adjusts Dennis' uniform and refastens the high collar as he asks if Dennis knows you. Dennis swallows with a stiff nod and whispers something to the man that you don't catch. Before they finish, you ease away and head for the open elevator.

You make it in and press the PH button. The doors don't even start to close before the man is in the doorway.

"Oh, God!" you cry. "What now?"

He steps next to you, taking hold of your elbow.

You bristle at his touch. "What? What?!"

"Come with me." He crowds you out of the elevator to usher you away. "We'll have a little chat."

"What is with everyone today?!" you ask over him.

He walks you through the lobby. Instead of pushing you out onto the sidewalk, he takes you to a tidy manager's office—with dust-free wainscoting, serene landscape paintings, and the blinds half-drawn. His office, apparently. He orders you to sit as he closes the door after himself.

You're tempted to take the chair behind the desk, but it's best not to push it. You don't want Pale getting in trouble, or yourself arrested. You take a seat in one of the wingback guest chairs, clutching your purse and pharmacy bag to your lap.

"What's your name, miss?"

"Whaddya want it to be?"

He gives you a stern look. "Don't play with me, young lady."

You huff and tell him.

His face softens as he thanks you. Maybe he's not as bad as you thought. He goes to the sideboard under the window and waters the plant there.

"Now, things that go on in other hotels don't happen at the Regent Beverly Wilshire." Which is bullshit, you think. "Of course, customers who stay in the penthouse are special guests. And we consider our special guests as friends." He turns to you. "As a customer, we would expect him to sign in any additional guests, but as a friend, we're willing to overlook it."

As he sits on the edge of the desk, he leads, "Now, I'm assuming you are a…?"

He dips his head with an expectant look. You mirror him as you work out he wants an answer.

He finishes, "Relative…?"

You nod and grip the closed lapels of your jacket.

He grins. "I thought so. Then you must be his…?"

Again, he dips his head with the same expectant look.

This time you reply, "Niece?"

"Of course." He takes a breath and crosses his ankles. "Naturally, when your uncle leaves, I won't see you in this hotel again. I assume you have no other family members here."

You can't believe he's reprimanding you yet has no problem with Pale inviting a hooker into this fine establishment. Everyone's such a goddamn hypocrite. You can't buy a dress—that you only wear on special occasions. You're not welcome in a hotel—that rents room by the day.

Like, how is any of that different from prostitution?

You shake your head, though.

"Good!" he says and straightens. "Then we understand each other. I would also encourage you—" He motions down your seated figure. "—to dress more appropriately." He takes a small step to you, holding out an arm towards the door. "If that'll be all..."

"No, that's not all. That's what I was trying to do." Your voice starts to quake. "I tried to go…" You pull your purse forward. "Get a dress on Rodeo Drive." You show him the stack of cash. "And the women wouldn't help me. And I have all this money now and no dress."

Your chin quivers, and you hate it. "Not that I expect you to help me, but I have all this, okay?" You try to clear your throat, but it's no use. "I have to buy a dress for dinner tonight. And nobody will help me."

The first tear slips down your cheek. The man frowns and offers you a handkerchief. You put the cash back in your purse to take the handkerchief and blot your eyes.

He steps around the desk to pick up the phone.

Fuck. This can't be good.

"Oh man, if you're calling the cops—" you rasp. "Yeah, call the cops. That's great. Tell 'em I said 'hi.'"

That would be the absolutely perfect way to end this bullshit excursion.

He says nothing as he dials and waits. You zip your purse closed, ready to make a break for it.

Then he says, "Women's clothing."

You look up at him in confusion.

He asks for Bridget. After a pause, he introduces himself as Barnard Thompson. Evidently, he's known because he's cut off mid-introduction. He smiles, though, looking bashful, and asks for a favor. He looks at you as he says he's sending over a special guest. He says you're the niece of a very special guest.

The next thing you know, you're on the other side of the hotel and in a glamorous store. Plush carpet and chandeliers overhead. You had no idea this place was here, nor how big the hotel actually was.

You wait for Bridget by a display counter in the women's department. Behind the glass are rows and rows of gloves, colorful scarves, and lapel pins. You check yourself out in the stand mirror on the counter. Your eyes aren't too bloodshot or puffy.

"Hello?" a friendly female voice interrupts you.

You look up to see a cute brunette in tailored, classic clothes. She looks so unostentatious and cordial that it puts you right at ease.

She smiles and holds out her hand. "You must be our special guest. My name's Bridget."

You shake her hand as you introduce yourself. "Barney said you'd be nice to me."

She chuckles. "He's very sweet." She lets go of your hand and asks, "What're your plans while you're in town?"

"We're gonna have dinner."

She nods. "You're gonna go out? Have dinner? Well…" She sunnily smiles. "You'll need a cocktail dress!"

She takes your arm like an old friend. "Come with me."

Together, you walk to the stairs at the center of the department. She correctly guesses your size. You ask how she knows that. She laughs and tells you that's her job.

Midway to the second floor, you confess Pale isn't really your uncle.

She smirks and leans close. "They never are, dear."


Two hours later, your new cocktail dress, and all that goes with it, hang in the bedroom walk-in closet. You fold a few extra things Bridget insisted you'd want in the drawers for later. You then unload the pharmacy bag on the bathroom counter. The suite has been reset—as if you hadn't taken a bath, slept in the bed, or had a carpet picnic last night. With a sigh, you collapse on the sofa.

Bridget was great—as was Barney.

You hadn't seen him on your trek back through the hotel. However, you wanted to thank him. You cross the living room and pick up the phone on the side table to call the front desk.

After asking for him, you wait. He picks up after a minute, and you identify yourself. He asks what he can do for you, sounding so formal.

"Nonono, I don't need anything. I'm sorry for interrupting." You twist the phone cord around a finger. "I just wanted to say Bridget was… She was really great. Thanks, Barney. You're cool."

"You're most welcome," he warmly replies. "I hope you have a splendid evening tonight."

"Hey, if I do, it'll be because of you!"

There's a grin in his voice as he says, "It was my pleasure to help."

"Okay, well—bye, Barney! Thanks, again!"

"Goodbye."

So prim and proper, you think with a smile and hang up.

A minute later, the phone rings. You answer, expecting Barney or someone from the front desk.

"Never pick up the phone," Pale says in lieu of a greeting, a lilt of amusement in his tone.

You grin. "Then why're you callin' me?"

"Did you buy clothes today?"

"I got a dress—cocktail one."

"Good, I'll be in the lobby about seven-forty-five."

"What? Not coming to the door?"

"This ain't a date. It's business."

You hum. "Where're we goin', anyway?"

"A restaurant called Rex Two."

You recognize that name from last night.

"Alright," you sigh in mock exasperation. "I'll meet you in the lobby, but only 'cause you're payin' me to."

You hear the smile in his voice as he says, "Oh, well, thank you very much."

He ends the call before you can reply. You wait by the phone with a feeling he's going to call again.

The phone rings.

You laugh and answer, "Hello?"

He attempts seriousness: "I told you not to pick up the phone."

"Then stop callin' me," you drily say.

He laughs and ends the call.

You grin with a whispered, "Weirdo."

There's a couple of hours before he's due. That's plenty of time to shower, shave, and do something with your hair. You decide to keep the makeup simple with the focus on your eyes.

By seven-forty, you're slipping on your new black heels. The sheer black stockings you wear are so fine and soft, you barely feel them. You hope Pale likes your outfit. Bridget insisted this was the little black dress for you. She had recommended you wear your hair away from your face to show off the unique neckline. It also gave space for the pretty gold earrings with faux-ruby teardrops.

You try not to fidget on the way down to the lobby. You don't want to accidentally ruin the dress by poking a finger through the lace overlay or stretch out the line of lace on your shoulders that holds the off-the-shoulder neckline in place. This dress is too nice to fuck up with your nervous habits.

In the lobby, your eyes meet Barney's. His face transforms from serene blankness to pleased disbelief. It could be insulting, but you know what you look like—before and after.

Barney comes to you, taking your gloved hand. "You look wonderful."

"Told ya: Bridget was great!"

"Shall I call you transportation?"

"Aw, no thanks! I'm meeting Pale here. Can you tell him I'll be at the bar?" you ask and gesture to the lounge off the lobby.

"Absolutely."

You thank him again before heading into the mostly unoccupied lounge. There's soft piano music and brown velvet club chairs. You hope this is a good setting for your big reveal.

You sit at the center of the bar and order a lime seltzer, tipping the bartender a dollar. While you're tempted by something stronger, you don't want to start the dinner drunk. So, you sit and sip your drink.

It's almost eight when you hear someone enter the lounge. The tread is clearly that of a man, and you think you know who it is. You pivot on the bar stool to see Pale standing just beyond the inner archway.

He glances around, not noticing you. He looks as good as he did this morning. His suit isn't rumpled, and his hair is just gorgeous.

You straighten on the stool and watch him, willing him to see you. He turns right then and does a double-take when he meets your gaze. He stares at you for a suspenseful moment before striding over.

Sliding off the stool, you gather your clutch and smooth your dress over your hip.

"You're late," you lightly point out when he's close enough.

"You're beautiful."

You chuckle, privately delighted. "You're forgiven."

He grins and offers his elbow for you to take. Side by side, you walk out of the lounge. He puts his other hand over yours on his bicep as if you'll sprint off. Or someone will steal you away.

"Goddamn, you're lucky we're not upstairs," he says, sotto voce.

You ask equally as softly, "Why's that?"

"'Cause I'd be layin' you out on the bed right now. Messin' up that lipstick."

"Ah, ah," you admonish. "No kissing."

"I didn't say I'd be kissing that pretty mouth a yours."

You grin, feeling your face heat. Even the mild evening air does nothing to cool your face. That is, until you see a gray limo waiting at the curb.

"Is this for us?" you ask.

"Yeah? Why?"

The driver is a burly guy in a suit that almost matches the limo. He opens the passenger door with a soft "good evening." You glance at Pale, seeing him unconcerned, before greeting the driver and getting in.

The ride is uneventful. Pale orders you to stay on your side of the bench seat. He says he doesn't want to be enticed.

The restaurant has a lush Asian-colonial flare in black lacquer chairs with woven cane inserts, fishing basket pendant lights, potted banana leaf plants, and crisp white tablecloths. High overhead, a glass ceiling lets in all the creamy red-orange light of a typical LA sunset.

Pale didn't have to introduce himself at the hostess stand. She knows him by sight and leads you to the chef's table in the kitchen. Shortly thereafter, a petite man in a linen suit comes to the table, shakes Pale's hand, and introduces himself as Giang Tu Tuan.

"Like the singer," he adds, though you don't know to whom he's referring.

Nevertheless, you smile and shake Tuan's proffered hand as Pale introduces you as a friend. A porter comes to the table and pours you both wine. As Tuan tells you about what you'll be served, fusion French-Vietnamese, the chef himself steps beside him.

There's a brotherly snark between them, which is delightful. The chef, Tran Hung Tuan, teases Giang about overloading his guests with information.

"I don't want them to be surprised!" Giang insists.

"Surprise is the point!" Tran ends with an obvious insult in Vietnamese.

Giang snips back and then gives you a wink.

Tran turns to Pale, saying: "Thanks for coming by. I appreciate Mr. Bianchi's interest in partnering with us." He shakes Pale's hand, then yours. "It's an honor to host you for the evening."

Something twists in your gut when you hear the word "partnering." Pale said this morning Bianchi was looking to buy an assembled restaurant to add to his franchise. You didn't think Bianchi was interested in being a silent partner with the brothers.

Pale nods and replies, "It's my pleasure, gentlemen."

Tran and Giang leave you two alone when the expeditor announces—in French—orders are ready.

You lean close to Pale. "Partnering?"

He shakes his head.

"What's going on?" you ask. "Don't they know?"

With a name like Bianchi, you have to assume he isn't serving anything even close to Vietnamese in New Jersey or Philadelphia.

He gives you a look that's half-stern, half-pleading. "Not here."

You take off your evening gloves and offer your hand to him. While there might be some subterfuge, the look he gives you speaks to something deeper going on. Regardless, you're here to support Pale.

He places his big hand over yours, thumb stroking your skin.

The first course—goa cua—starts tense, but as the wine flows and Giang charms, the atmosphere lightens. You're thankful Kit taught you how to use chopsticks, and you mention you're newly acquired skill to Giang and Pale. Giang compliments you, calling you a natural. Pale asks you to adjust his grip on his own chopsticks.

You come around the table to help Pale, though you catch him looking down your dress as you straighten.

However, you're not much of a natural when it comes to escargot. The little tongs are weird. It's hard to get a grip on the shell. The two-pronged fork keeps catching on the shell.

In one jerk of your fork, you launch an escargot, the first airborne mollusk, into the kitchen. The expeditor catches it with a laugh, salutes you, and plucks the meat right out with a toothpick.

"On the house!" you call to him.

He laughs again.

You look over at Pale to see him smiling at you.


On the ride back to the hotel, Pale is quiet. You make conversation with the burly driver—whose name is Darryl—to diffuse the renewed tension. Pale remains quiet on the walk inside and the elevator ride, too.

He disappears into the bathroom while you kick off your heels and unload your clutch. When he comes out, his tie is hanging around his neck like a noose. His jacket drapes over his forearm limp and weary. He looks so tired.

"Here," you softly say as you pad over and undo the knot of his tie.

You take the tie and jacket to the closet to hang them up. He's gone when you step out. For a moment, you don't know what to do. There are so many possibilities. You wonder if you should go to him, offer a blowjob or a shoulder rub—or both.

Before you can do either of those things, you must deal with your full bladder. While you're in the bathroom, you strip off your stockings and take down your hair.

You find Pale sitting in a bergere armchair he's moved to straddle the threshold between terrace and living room. His sleeves are rolled up, and a couple of shirt buttons are undone. He stares into the night as if there are answers to be found in the light-polluted sky.

"I thought you said you didn't come out here," you say as you walk closer.

He glances down at the floor. "I'm only halfway out."

You ease around him and prop your elbows on the balustrade. "You didn't say much in the car. You thinkin' about dinner?"

He shrugs a shoulder.

"The food was great. Giang and Tran are amazing…" You gnaw at your lip for a second. "I think you like them and their restaurant—as it is."

"Don't matter if I do."

"Can you help them?"

He snorts. "Ain't got that kinda money."

"No, I mean, like, business management."

"Like a fixer?" He snorts again. "I already done that kinda shit. No fucking thank you. Three hours a sleep a night. Sometimes not even that. Fuck, and goddamn coke everywhere. Couldn't take a shit without seeing it on the counter. Fuckin' bloody tissues all over the goddamn place. Sometimes needles." He pointed at you. "Un-fuckin'-sanitary."

Rex Two didn't seem like that kind of place, but you don't know much about restaurants. They were busy, though, and had a full house the whole time you two were there. Before you and Pale left, Giang reminded him about the polo game they were catering the day after next.

Rex Two was doing well by your estimation. You didn't know why they were selling, or why they wanted a partner from the east coast.

"Well… What if Giang does the fixer stuff while you do more business things?" you offer.

Pale hummed noncommittally.

You want to add you understand that Pale works for Bianchi, that backing the brothers would be tantamount to double-crossing him. However, there are plenty of restaurants to buy. Bianchi doesn't need this one.

You flounder for a second, not knowing what to do. You can tell he doesn't want to talk about the restaurant business anymore.

"Hey, I got an idea," you say as something comes to you and kneel next to him. "How about we veg out in front of the TV for the rest of the night?"

He grins. "Veg out?"

"Yeah, ya know, be still like vegetables. Lay like broccoli."

He rises to his feet, and you hope he'll offer his hand. You're not sure why. Maybe it'll mean you hadn't overstepped. He doesn't appear offended, though.

He delicately cups your chin, more tender and controlled than you thought him capable.

He says, "I'll be back. We'll do broccoli tomorrow."

You straighten as he turns away. "Where're you going?"

"Downstairs—for a while."

It's not an invitation, so you watch him leave the suite. You flounder again, wondering if you've fucked it all up. Perhaps you should've offered to blow him right there. Then he could've fisted your hair and forgotten all about Rex Two for a time.

Too late for that now.

You right the bergere chair before heading to the bedroom to undress. You change into one of the extra things Bridget had sent you away with: a slinky black silk nightgown. It's almost a slip—or maybe it is one, but you've never seen a slip this pretty.

You think Pale will like it when he comes back.

You set yourself up in the living room, getting a glass of water and flipping on the television. You fluff your hair and get comfortable as you find something to watch. You stop at a movie channel with a yawn. Opening credits are just starting, and you want to see what it is.

The end of a movie—one you didn't start with—wakes you. You squint at the cut crystal clock on the side table and can't believe it's almost three in the morning.

You straighten and look around the suite, not seeing or hearing Pale. You pad around to confirm he's not there. While you could play hide-and-seek in the hotel for the rest of the night, there's an easier solution:

You call the front desk and ask if they've seen Pale.

They have, and tell you the elevator attendant, Dennis, would know where he is. After thanking them, you pull on a hotel robe, grab a keycard, and head out to the elevator. Dennis is waiting for you with a coy look.

He escorts you to a set of ajar double-doors on the main floor. Piano music drifts out, flowing and nocturnal, full of trills and dreams. Inside, only wall sconces light the intimate ballroom. Banquet tables crowned with chairs fill the floor. There are a few workers bagging soiled table linens. Two are sitting at a table off to the side, smoking and talking softly.

On the band dais, Pale sits at the shiny grand piano. He doesn't see you as he plays. His body sways as he follows his hands along the keyboard. He is magnetic and moving, rendering you speechless.

When the song comes to its conclusion, the workers stop and subduedly applaud. You join them. Pale thanks the room and turns as if to ask for requests. He sees you and stops; not quite deer-in-headlights, but surprised, nonetheless.

You give him a smile and walk to the side of the piano. "I didn't know you played."

"Only for strangers."

You wonder if you count as a stranger or not.

"I was gettin' lonely upstairs," you comment as you round the corner of the piano.

His look changes from guarded neutral to hungry. You recognize that look, knowing what it means.

You're about to reach for his hand to take him back to the penthouse when he requests the workers leave. You watch as no one hesitates. No arguments. They all pack up and file out, like worker ants.

"People always do what you tell them to do?" you ask, half-curious.

Pale doesn't reply as he puts his hands at your waist and tugs you in front of him. Your ass drags over the keys; discordant noise to go along with the jerky movement.

He rests his forehead against your stomach, and you automatically tunnel your fingers into his hair. You don't know what's wrong, but there is something amiss with him.

He looks up at you to meet your eyes. You hold the back of his head, your thumbs below his ears. His dark eyes are deep enough to drown in. He loosens the knot of your belt and spreads the two sides to reveal your nightgown. He stares at your body and kneads your hips, making you roll with his movements.

Abruptly, he stands to crowd you against the piano. He holds your ass, studying your face and reaction.

You look at his full lips and wonder how it would be to kiss him right now. You think he'd take charge, nipping at your bottom lip and tongue. Invading you, tasting you.

At the moment, you understand why everyone obeyed his request.

"I guess so," you murmur.

He picks you up, placing you on top of the piano. Your feet hit the keys, another jangle of notes filling the air. The robe slumps down your upper arms to pool at your elbows. He smooths your hair from your face and moves in to kiss you.

You smell the whiskey on his breath. You lean away and have to do it again as he holds the back of your neck and tries a second time. You can't kiss him. If you do, you'll ruin it. You'll fall. It's too much.

You tuck your face under his jaw to kiss his neck. You know it's hardly what he wants, but he tilts his head just the same. You kiss to his ear and suck at the lobe.

He lowly groans and maneuvers between your legs. He pulls you tight to him and sweeps his hands up your ass, taking your nightgown with him. The cool air draws goosebumps over your bare skin.

Arching your spine, you hang onto his shoulders. He eases you onto your back and jerks your hips down to grind against you. You briefly hold his forearms, feeling his tendons roll under the skin.

He trails his palms over your torso, caressing your breasts, pushing the nightgown out of the way. You close your eyes as he bends to kiss your lower belly. His mouth is so hot, branding you. His hands are huge and strong.

He hooks those huge, strong hands under your thighs and shoves them up. You cry out in surprise, but don't protest. You know you're clean. He can do whatever he wants; you're here for his pleasure.

Pale growls, eager and starving. He pushes his tongue in your slit to lick up your pussy. Again, you cry out in surprise. Your hands scrabble over the sleek surface of the piano and find nothing to grip.

He laps at you over and over, taking your cry as encouragement. Then he swirls his tongue, groaning as he goes. He finds your clit and cups it with his tongue. He's fierce and merciless and relentless as he sucks at it.

You squirm against his mouth, in his hold. It seems to drive him on and on until your gasping out yeses and pleads.

The pleasure swells. Your body suddenly locks up. You grit your teeth and keen. It's too much. You're going to snap. But you don't. That growing tension rolls over you, surging like the ocean. Your cunt thrums again and again, and your heart pounds. It eclipses everything. Orgasm drains you of strength, leaving you with only breathless, throbbing ecstasy.

Then he pushes a thick finger inside you.

You moan and curl to look at the top of his head.

"You're gonna give me another," he darkly demands as he pumps his finger.

You bite your lip with a nod, shuddering at how good that felt. He pushes another finger in you and crooks them up. Your mouth drops open as new heat radiates from your chest.

"Yes, Pale," you whisper and sink into it.

His tongue is on you again, licking your tender clit. He presses against the walls of your wet pussy.

You don't mean to, but you make a needy, guttural sound you've never heard from yourself before. He replies with one of his own. You don't know what he's doing, but you never want him to stop.

Because there's a new kind of tension now. It's urgent and taut like a clenching fist. You writhe on the piano and mewl. You don't know if you want more or if it's too much.

Pale sheathes your clit with his searing mouth. His lush, wet lips feel incredible. He adds a delicious pressure inside and out that has you crying again. You fight the iron hold he has on your thigh. You curse and shake your head, covering your mouth with a hand.

A primal scream builds up from somewhere deep in your gut.

Then the heat overtakes your body. Your hair sticks to your damp forehead. The terry cloth scratches against your sensitive skin.

Everything stills for a knife-edged second before you're engulfed. You can't move, can't breathe. You burn—there in the hotel ballroom. Pale holds you down, controlling your twisting body as he laps at your dripping pussy. The blaze inside eats away at you in pulsating flare-up until you're nothing but a smoldering residue of yourself.

From the static void of waning pleasure comes the clink of a belt buckle. He lets your legs down. Dissonant non-music rings beneath you as your heels land on the keys. You attempt to prop yourself on an elbow, but Pale's heavy hand on your breastbone pushes you flat to the piano.

"I'm gonna come all over you," he promises.

He spits into the palm of his hand, the one that had been inside you, and reaches into the open fly of his slacks. He's mean and vicious with himself, twisting his hand around the tip of his cock.

His glossy lips curl into a snarl. His dark eyes glow with want. His face is a mask of frenzied lust as he pants.

You reach for his blushing face. You need to touch him, caress his cheek. He curls into it, kissing your palm, sucking at your thumb. Sloppy and ardent.

"Pale," you breathe.

He groans and curves over you. His hair curtains his face as he puffs. His knuckles bump your belly. He suddenly lets out a drawn-out "fuuuuck." Warm, thick liquid stripes your stomach. You smell the salt of his come mixing with yours.

You lazily smile at him, sweaty and worn out.

"Fuck," he chuckles as he catches his breath. He kisses your palm again. "Let's go to bed."

Chapter Text

You wake to a wall of heat against your back. The wall moves as something soft gently and repeatedly pecks at your neck. There are hands, too. You know the feeling of hands. There's one cupping your breast while the other is smoothing over your thigh.

You realize you're being held. In bed. With the covers over your shoulder.

With a sleepy whine, you wiggle into the embrace. You're still wet from the previous night. And the soothing touch of those big hands is making you wetter. The hard line of an erection rests at the crevice of your ass.

You're mildly shushed before the hand on your thigh angles you back. Your eyes fly open when fingers edge between your legs. You recognize that touch:

"Pale," you breathe.

He hums in confirmation as he strokes your clit. You move with him, putting a hand on his forearm. His cock slides against your ass, slow and easy. He dips his fingers into your cunt to wet them. You gasp. It feels so good. It makes you want and ache.

"Please, Pale…"

His voice is gravelly when he asks, "Please, what?"

"Please, fuck me."

He kisses behind your ear in reply and rolls onto his back, fumbling for a condom. He pulls his arm from underneath you. You offer to help, but he declines as he rips open the little wrapper.

"Just stay put," he orders.

You adjust your position on your side with a stretch and push your pillow towards the headboard. He slots behind you, hand on your hip. His lips return to your neck and shoulder.

He murmurs, "Couldn't help myself—you're too pretty."

You smile and reach back to pet his disheveled hair. "I don't mind."

He reaches between your bodies, positioning himself. You arch your back to offer yourself. The smooth head of his cock pushes into your slit. His knuckles at the base press between your legs.

You rock together, teasing each other. He tenses each time the tip of his dick glances off your opening. You bite your lip and brace yourself against the bed.

You make a needy sound he echoes as you try to catch him at the right angle. When you do, it's like a piece perfectly sliding into place. He eases right in, feeling huge and so hot. He places a hand on your hip to draw you back until your pussy is full of him.

He groans and gathers you in his arms. He nuzzles at your neck, fondles your breasts. He strokes the undersides, tracing the curves.

Pale mumbles something that sounds like your name.

You nod and touch the back of his hand. He kisses your neck one more time before gripping your hips. You steady yourself against the mattress.

He begins slow with a rolling of his hips. While his cock doesn't move much, it's deep. Then his hold on you tenses. He buries his nose in your hair and breathes out a groan like he can't stop himself. He pulls you back roughly, fingertips digging into your flesh.

If he continues like this, you'll have bruises.

You find you don't mind.

Your ass bounces off his pelvis with every thrust. You attempt to hold still. You want to get him as hard and deep as you can, and whine when you can't.

He suddenly pushes you onto your stomach, and the covers go with you. His cock slips out, and you gasp at the empty feeling. He knocks the sheets away before straddling your upper thighs. His weight presses you into the mattress.

You prop yourself on your elbows and push your ass back. He leans forward to rest against you, kissing between your shoulder blades. With his thumbs, he spreads your ass and then slides his cock right in your slit again.

"God, so fucking wet, princess," he growls.

You close your eyes, undulating against him. "Only for you."

"Damn right," he says and grips your jaw.

His thumb draws down your bottom lip, and you lick the tip. He slips his finger in your mouth and kisses your cheek as you suck at it.

He whispers in your ear, "You want my dick, don't ya?"

You nod with a whine and try to get him inside you.

"Tell me," he says, sliding his finger out of your mouth.

"I want it—want you."

You quiver and clench your thighs together, but it's not enough. You need it so badly.

He rubs his cock between your folds, strokes your sensitive clit. You whine again as your slick cunt throbs.

In an act of mercy, he rises up and guides his cock inside you. You moan at the feeling of fullness. He feels so big, too much, and you shock yourself by wanting more.

He groans before wrapping his hands around the tops of your hipbones. He settles fully, lazily rocking his pelvis, grinding his cock—feverish and thick—in your pussy. You push back to egg him on.

Within two pumps, he's using his full weight to fuck you. The head of his cock strokes the front wall of your cunt as obscene, rhythmic squelches punctuate each thrust.

You try to squeeze around him, give you both something more, but you can't. He's too much. You stretch under him, locking your knees to brace yourself. You're on the cusp of something akin to climax.

He spits out curses, puts his hands at the small of your back. It forces your waist into the bed, and he fucks you faster. The bed squeaks, sharp and metallic.

The new angle has you crying out. Something about it ratchets you further into pleasure. Your peaked nipples drag against the smooth sheets. You let your head hang between your arms and moan.

"That's right," Pale pants. "Takin' it all—such a good girl."

He jackhammers that big cock of his deep. Your body locks up, quaking and needy. You're so close, but you know he's closer. And you want him to come, want him to fill you up.

He tugs your hips back, so you meet him right in the middle of each hard thrust. He seizes abruptly with a drawn-out moan.

"Fuck!" he grits.

His cock gets impossibly harder, and he pumps his hips, tough and intense. It's almost too much, and it drives the air right out of your lungs. His dick throbs, and you know he's filling the condom.

You wish you could feel it filling you instead. You bet you'd feel each spurt hit your cervix. It would be primal and so satisfying—to be claimed in such a way by him.

Pale sags on an elbow and reaches between your bodies to steady the condom as he pulls out. You bite back a whimper—you're not ready to be empty so soon. He kisses your shoulder, the side of your neck, as he drops the used condom on the floor. He pushes his nose under your jaw to mouth at your galloping pulse.

The ghost of his hands linger on your hips. Your wetness and the condom lube ooze down your slit, heavy and syrupy. You smell his fresh sweat and the sleep in his hair.

He murmurs, "Ya know, good girls deserve rewards."

"Pale, it's—"

He shoves a damp hand between you and the mattress before you can finish. He cups your mound and slithers two fingers through your sopping folds. With a press against your clit, your cunt pulses in need. You choke on your words and fist the sheets.

He murmurs a little encouragement as he strokes your sensitive clit. He quickly finds a luscious tempo that makes you squirm and gasp his name. He controls your body, forcing his hips and chest to your back. You're trapped and surrounded by him as he drives you to orgasm.

You reach for his hand on the bed, and he tucks it under you. He holds your ribs, cradles a breast. You lean your head on his shoulder as you let everything go, let him take care of you.

The warmth of oncoming climax floods your spine. Your thighs clench around his hand. You dig your toes into the bed and hump his fingers.

"That's right, baby," he purrs as he strokes your clit faster; his fingers press on either side.

A whimpery groan stutters out of your mouth. Then orgasm hits you, all heat and pulsating pleasure. The hotel room disappears. You can't hear Pale's voice. It's just you and the overwhelming thrum of ecstasy.

And he doesn't stop. He continues to touch you. Each stroke earns you another throb of orgasm. It goes on and on until you mewl in oversensitivity.

Finally, he relents. He splays his hand on your belly and kisses your shoulder, then your temple. You smile and lean into it as you catch your breath.

After a tranquil moment, he rolls to the side and stretches out like a big cat. You meet his dark, sleepy eyes and pet the whiskers on his chin.

With blushing cheeks and gleaming eyes, he grins. "G'mornin'."

You grin back. "Good morning."

"You ready for more shopping?"

Shopping. You can't stop yourself from scrunching your nose.

"What?" he asks with a frown and heaves onto his elbows.

"It wasn't as much fun I thought."

"Yeah? I'm surprised you didn't buy more."

You shrug. "They were mean to me."

His eyes narrow. "Mean to you? Who the fuck was mean to you?"

"Just ya know…" You look away, not wanting to relive the embarrassment. "People."

"Who?"

"Salespeople on Rodeo."

He gently cups your chin to make you meet his eyes. "Who?"

"Pale…" You cover his hand with yours. "It was just some snotty women. It's nothin' new."

"Not on my fuckin' watch." He pulls away and sits. "Ain't no one shittin' on you. I won't fuckin' have it."

"Maybe it'll be better today?"

You highly doubt it, but you don't want him to get worked up over it.

He gives you a look as if he can read your mind. "Bullshit." He combs his hair away from his face. "I'm comin' with ya."

"But what about…?" You gesture to indicate all the business he has to accomplish while in town.

"Don't matter. Nothin's going nowhere without me."

"I don't—"

He stops you. "Hey, no more arguin' or obfuscatin'. Get cleaned up, we're going out." He kisses your forehead, sees your doubt. "There somethin' wrong with me comin' with?"

You shook your head. "Of course not. I don't wanna bore you."

"If I get to watch you, I ain't bored."


A long shower and one shared breakfast later, Pale says:

"You cannot fuckin' wear that, honey."

"It's all I got," you reply as you adjust the strap on your white-and-blue dress.

You know the dress is what got you in trouble yesterday. You don't know what else to wear, though. The cocktail dress is too fancy to go shopping in. You certainly don't want to get it dirty or snag the lace on a hanger.

You wonder if wearing it would make it more or less obvious you don't belong.

Pale hums in thought as he finishes tying his shoelaces. You stand there barefoot, maroon jacket in your hands.

He looks at you and then to the closet.

"I got an idea," he says as he stands. "Get those heels on from last night."

As you slip your feet into the plain black pumps, he pulls out a crisp white oxford shirt. He holds it out for you, and you slide your arms into the sleeves. You're not sure it's better than your jacket, but you say nothing as you turn to him.

You catch a glimpse of yourself in the closet mirror and snort. You look like a kid playing dress-up. The sleeves are way too long. The hem almost touches the edge of your skirt.

He holds up his hands. "Alright, I know it's a little big."

"A little big?" you tease and flap the ends of the sleeves in the air.

He grins. "Hey, I'm workin' with limited provisions here, okay."

"I know, thank you."

He cocks his head, looking a bit bashful. "Gimme an arm, princess."

From there, he rolls up your sleeves until you can take over. He has you fasten a few buttons in the front and tie the tails at your waist. Between you both, you get the shirt looking halfway decent. It's big and blousy, but cute. You look like arm-candy with your bare legs and short skirt.

You pick up your purse, but he stops you.

"No. I pay. You shop. Got it?"

"Well, let me put a few bucks in my bra."

"Fine, but I don't wanna see it. That's for emergencies."

"Shopping emergencies?"

"Exactly," he agrees like he knows he's being ridiculous.

The phone rings, and he sighs. As he takes the call, you fold a few bills in your bra and then wedge your purse under the heavy armchair in the corner. You don't want to tempt housekeeping with your belongings.

Once he's finished on the phone, he takes your hand and leads the way. You get very different looks on the way out of the hotel and on the street. They're still judgy, but not because you're a hooker.

Pale doesn't seem to notice as he walks with you down Rodeo. He looks handsome in a double-breasted charcoal-gray suit and black tie. If people look at him, it's because he's striking and imposing. He has this presence you can't explain.

You comment, "People are staring at me."

It's like they know you don't belong there. You expect the saleswomen from yesterday to point you out and tell everyone what happened.

"They ain't lookin' at you," he returns. "They're lookin' at me."

"These stores aren't nice to people…"

Like me, you think.

"Stores aren't nice to anyone. Stores're nice to money."

He stops in front of a shop—named V—with low planter boxes full of groomed boxwood hedges. Cream-colored awnings shade the tall display windows. You know you passed V yesterday. The matte-black mannequins wear lovely, yet casual clothes. It wasn't what you'd been looking for.

"No one's gonna fuck with you," he assures as he opens the door to V.

Inside is cool with air-conditioning and lit by the reflected sun. The atmosphere is completely different than the boutique from yesterday. You're greeted, but allowed to wander.

Pale offers you his hand again and leads you to a rack of spring-colored dresses. You mention the polo game tomorrow, and he nods.

"I don't know what ladies wear to somethin' like that, but they got nice shit here," he says as he pushes back the arm of a hanger to look at a two-piece pink dress.

You look at the dress, too. It's the opposite of the black, lacy one you already own.

"Well, obviously not a fancy cocktail dress."

"Nah—"

"Excuse me," a man in a brown suit interrupts. "I'm Mr. Hollister, the manager. May I help you?"

Cold dread tightens your chest. It's going to be like yesterday. They've figured you out, seen you for what you are, and want you gone.

Pale lets go of you, turns to Hollister, and holds out a hand as he introduces himself. Hollister shakes his hand and smiles at him, then you. You see no judgment there, only eagerness.

"You see my girl, here?" Pale asks and presents you.

You step forward, and Hollister looks at you, but not for too long.

"Yes, sir," Hollister answers.

"You got anything as beautiful as her?"

You try to hide your glee as Pale puts an arm around your waist. His thumb sneaks under your shirt—his shirt—and caresses your skin. You lean against his side with a smile.

"Oh-ho, yes—" Hollister's eyes go wide, and he puts a hand in his suit-pocket. "Oh, no! Nononono, I'm saying—" He holds up a pointer finger. "—we have many things as beautiful as she would want them to be. That's the point I was getting at..."

Pale takes a hold of Hollister's shoulder as Hollister continues to babble and leads him a few steps away. You sneak behind them.

"You know what we need here?" Pale rhetorically asks, and Hollister gamely shakes his head. "We're gonna need a few more people helping us. I'll tell ya why: We're gonna be spendin' an obscene amount of money in here. So, we're gonna need more people suckin' up to us, yeah?" He smiles and throws a wink at you. "That's what we like."

"Sir, if I may say so," Hollister says. "You're in the right store and in the right city, for that matter!"

"That's what I like to hear."

Hollister turns to you and leads you to a sofa in the middle of the sales floor. He gives you a hardback catalog with a smile, telling you anything you see in it, they can do. Next thing you know, salespeople are surrounding you with beautiful clothes.

They show you dresses and hats, belts and scarves. They smile at you, compliment you, and help you find colors that bring out the best in your skin tone.

You tell them about the polo game and dinners out. You describe the cocktail dress you have and how much you love it. They nod and reply as a group: "romantic, but not fussy," "eleganante," "chic," "timeless and smart."

You nod, not knowing if they're describing you, your style, or the dress. They must sense you're overwhelmed, because they lead you to a big dressing room. One of the saleswomen—Mary Kate? Mary Francis?—Why do so many of them have two names? They sound like nuns—hangs a sleek red dress with black trim on one of the pegs.

You change into it and step out. In the big three-panel mirror, you check yourself out and meet Pale's reflected gaze. You turn to him and silently ask him if he likes it. He makes a "so-so" gesture, and the same saleswoman offers you a black, wide-brimmed hat. When you put the hat on, he points to it with a pleased look.

Hollister walks Pale to the sales counter and offers the shop's cordless phone to him. You watch Hollister ask something before swooning off, looking halfway in love with Pale when he gets a reply.

You turn away a fluttery lilac dress you know Pale won't like. You do accept an espresso, though. Hollister brings it to you, asking how everything is going. So far, you have a hat, but there is a line of salespeople with options.

You're offered jackets and slacks and more hats, and shown to the dressing room again—where there are more clothes waiting for you. When you come out in a gray shirt-dress, Pale is there with credit card in hand.

"Gotta get back, because, apparently, I'm in-fuckin'-dispensable." He rolls his eyes and hands you the card. "You're lookin' great. I'll see you tonight." He leans in. "If shit goes sideways, call the hotel."

You nod, though you don't want him to leave.

"Hey," he murmurs and tilts your chin up with a knuckle. "Ya got this."

You nod again and say, "Okay."

He gently tweaks your nose before walking away. It makes you smile.

"She has my card," Pale says as he strides to the front door.

"And we'll help her use it, sir!" Hollister chirps.

Do they ever.

The stack of clothes behind the sales counter grows by the minute. There are silk dresses and stockings, trousers, vests, embroidered jackets, shirts and light-weight sweaters in a multitude of colors. You're encouraged to put in special orders for evening gowns. You pick and choose lingerie and peignoir sets—of all sorts.

Your old clothes and Pale's shirt are bagged and sent to the hotel for you. You don a comfortable white dress with black details to wear for the rest of the day.

Hollister escorts you to V's sister store for shoes and bags. The salespeople there fawn over you. They sit you down in an armchair with another coffee. You mention you're hungry and really in the mood for pizza.

One of the salespeople rushes to the phone before you can specify.

Hollister remembers everything you've purchased thus far and makes sure you have the proper accessories. You try on heels and flats and sandals; pick out clutches and shoulder bags.

When one of the salesmen, Todd, comes back with a few boxes of shoes, you notice his tie. It's just right for Pale: silvery gray silk with a twisting, golden snakeskin ribbon printed on it. You mention how Pale would love that tie.

Before you can even ask where Todd got it, Hollister says, "Give her the tie."

Todd looks down. "The tie?"

"Yes, the tie."

You go along with Hollister and comment, "Pale would go nuts for that tie."

Todd gives you a surprised look. "The tie!"

He drops the boxes and unknots the tie.

Right then, the pizza arrives, steaming and smelling like heaven. It's like a birthday pizza-party. Someone turns on the radio as you choose shoes and eat pizza. You make Todd take a load off and have a slice.

After the whirlwind of V, you have most of your purchases sent to the hotel. You decide to carry a hat box and the accessory bag. You wear the black hat Pale liked, and match it with a black patent-leather clutch and kitten heels.

As you walk down Rodeo, you feel like a spy—the happiest, most beautiful spy, but a spy nonetheless. No one knows what you really are under your respectable costume. A driver waiting in front of Balenciaga smiles at you. You return the smile and keep walking.

It's strange to see the world from the other side. It's funny how an expensive dress can change the way others treat you.

As you come to the corner of the block, you see that Southwest-themed boutique from yesterday. The cream-colored dress with the alencon lace is still in the window. You know Pale would like it, but you won't deign to give his money to those bitches.

You grin as you think of sweet revenge and walk into the boutique, a spring in your step. Marie is by the front door, wearing a big-shouldered white blazer. Her red lipstick makes her eyes look even more glacial.

She eagerly asks, "May I help you?"

"No, thank you!" you cheerfully reply.

Seeing the first saleswoman, the one who told you to leave yesterday, you sashay over. She's as overstyled, over-accessorized, today as she was yesterday.

"Hi," you say when she meets your eyes.

Hers light up like Christmas morning. "Hello!"

"Do you remember me?"

"No, I'm sorry..."

"I was in here yesterday." You slowly circle around her and the display she's assembling. "You wouldn't wait on me."

"Oh, goodn—"

"You work on commission, right?"

"Uh, y-yes?"

"Big mistake." You hold up the large bags in your hands, wishing you had the rest to show how much you'd bought. "Big. Huge!"

Her mouth gapes like a fish.

You announce, "I have to go shopping now!"

You channel Pale as you stride out, powerful and confident. Forget those hypocritical bitches. You had value yesterday, and you have value today. And they aren't getting a single cent or second more of your time.

The sun shines vibrant and clear as you walk back to the hotel. The yellow-and-white awnings of Giorgio Beverly Hills blaze against the backdrop of a cloudless sky. The green shade of narrow trees twinkle in the breeze. It feels like everything is slotting into place.

That feeling continues as you're greeted in the Beverly Wilshire lobby by a bellhop with a luggage trolley piled with your bags. He calls you ma'am and asks how your day has been. You give him the bags you carry as you answer and follow him to the penthouse.

Once alone, you flop onto an armchair and stare at the mound of garment bags, hat boxes, and shopping bags obscuring the sofa across the room. You toss your hat onto the collection and wiggle off your shoes.

You wake half an hour later in the same position. You remind yourself there's plenty to do before Pale comes home. As you hoist yourself to your feet, a plan for the night starts to form.


You sit naked at the dining table and look over the carefully arranged covered dishes. Only candlelight illuminates the room. The rest of the suite is dim. The French doors are open to the mild night, though the curtains hardly move. Everything looks perfect, mellow and soft.

The main door opens, and you lean back in the chair. Crossing your high-heeled feet on the corner of the table, you toss the tails of the new tie tied around your neck over a shoulder.

Pale steps down into the living room, distracted by the newspaper in his hand.

"How was your day, dear?" you wryly ask as you finger the tie.

He turns to you. His face transforms from private scowl to blank surprise.

With one hand, you slowly pull the tie in front of you, letting it drape down your bare torso. He watches the movement. It's like being stared at by a lion.

"Nice tie," he says.

You shrug a shoulder, relaxing in the chair. "I got it for you."

"That right?" he asks and drops the newspaper before prowling to you.

You nod and run your hands over your smooth thighs.

"Why dontcha stand up and let me get a better look at this new tie."

You gracefully lower your feet to the floor and stand. The cool silk of the tie tickles your belly. He holds out a hand. You grin at him before placing the tails of the tie in his palm.

He examines it before meeting your eyes and giving the tie a little tug. You step closer until your front almost touches his suit.

"Thank you," he says.

"You're welcome," you return and slowly drop to your knees.

His eyes burn, dark and intense. He says nothing as he keeps hold on the tie.

You unbutton his suit jacket, open it, and run your hands over his firm waist. He towers over you. His shaggy hair shadows his eyes as he watches you.

You lean forward to grip his leather belt with your teeth. You pull the end of the belt free of the buckle and undo the rest with your hands. His hips subtly push closer as you slide the belt free of the loops on his slacks. You can see the bulge of his swelling erection.

Like a cat, you graze that bulge with your nose and lips. It's warm through the thin layers of fabric. The tension in the tie increases, pulling you closer.

You look up at him as you rub your chin and cheek against his cock.

"You gonna be a good girl for me, baby? Show me some appreciation?"

"Yes, sir," you reply with a grin.

He loosens the tension on the tie, and you sit back to unzip his fly. Before you draw his cock out, you grab the last unlubed condom from under your chair. While you'd love to feel him come down your throat, you have to be safe.

Pale doesn't seem to mind when you fish his erection from his briefs and roll it on. You lick your lips and tease his big cock, stroking it with just your fingertips. The latex at the tip darkens as precome wets it.

You wrap your fist around the base and gather saliva on your tongue before licking the underside. He sighs and rests his hand on your shoulder. You take the head of his dick between your lips to suck as hard as you can.

His reaction is instantaneous: he groans, pulls you forward by the tie, and thrusts. Luckily, you can take it. You're beginning to think you can take all of him. Shit, you want to.

Like a well-oiled machine, you work together. He fucks while you swallow. His cock is thick and hot in your mouth, slick with spit-wet latex. You stroke it with your tongue, kiss it, moan around it. It feels good.

Finger by finger, you loosen your fist at the base of his cock. You concentrate on swallowing and timing your breathing and not clenching your teeth with the occasional gag. The musk of him fills your nose. Tears roll down your cheeks from gagging, but you don't care. You hold his rocking hips, guiding him even as he uses the tie as a leash around your neck.

You can't go anywhere. You're his—to use, to fuck, to enjoy.

He growls, "Gonna come in that pretty mouth."

You brokenly moan, wanting it so badly. You wish to tell him you want his come, his sweat, his—

Oh fuck, you want him to love you. Kit would be horrified, but she's not here. You're here with him. Only him.

You close your eyes, lashes heavy with tears, chin wet with spit. His cock becomes harder, his thrusts get choppier and deeper. You grip his thighs as you relax, breathing shallowly, and suck his gorgeous cock.

His voice is tight as he snarls, "So fuckin'— Goddamn—"

You want to agree, but he thrusts deep. Your nose drives into his pelvis, and your throat spasms as your air is cut off. He moans as his cock throbs. His thighs quiver under your hands. His hand cups the back of your neck, more of a caress than a stranglehold. The tie goes limp around your neck.

Easing off, you hold the condom in place. You wipe off your chin as you try to catch your breath. You look at his face, beautifully flushed with luminous eyes like dark amber. Your throat is raw, lips tender.

Pale gives you no respite. He grips your upper arm, hauling you to your feet. He licks up one side of your damp chin and comes so close to your lips. All you have to do is turn your head just a fraction.

But you don't.

You pant and let him kiss your cheek, your jaw, your neck. He touches your breast, strokes the heavy underside, pinches the nipple. That little hurt sends a frisson down your spine. Your cunt clenches, and you feel then how wet you are.

He sits you at the corner of the table and kicks your feet apart.

"Touch yourself for me, honey."

You reach between your legs to find your slit sopping wet. Pale takes hold of your jaw and forces you to look into his glimmering eyes. You can't stop glancing at his pink lips as you stroke your clit. You know what his mouth can do, remembering what he did to you last night.

Pressing harder against your clit, pleasure swells like a rising tide. You gasp and shake as you move against your hand. You fist the back of his suit to stay upright, and he gets closer to wrap an arm behind your ribs.

"Oh fuck…" you whimper.

"So close, princess—you can come."

You nod. You can't stop it, anyway.

Pale drags a thumb over your sensitive bottom lip as he croons what a sweet girl you are. Orgasm starts slow and builds and builds until you're drowning in it. Brutal and sublime. You give in until you can't hold yourself up anymore.

He holds you as you put pressure on your clit, and your pussy clenches. You bury your face in his shoulder and groan when his hand joins yours between your legs. However, he doesn't do much except entwine his fingers with yours.

He kisses the top of your head and holds you for an indeterminable amount of time. Slowly, he sits you upright, making sure you're stable before he steps away. He pulls the condom off his cock, deposits it in one of the metal dish covers, and zips his fly.

Pale comes back for you a second later. He steadies you onto his lap as he sits and loosens the tie from around your neck. He asks if you're good, and you nod. You feel great and say so, though you don't want to ruin his trousers with your come.

"Pfft," he replies as he slides your plate next to his. "We got dry cleaning for that."


You suggest a shared bath after dinner. You want to pamper him just a little. Also, you're pretty sure he's never bothered with the suite's tub. Part of it is to make sure he relaxes, but there's another part that simply wants to hold him. You don't think he gets much of that.

He gives you a look like it's a ridiculous idea, like he doesn't understand why you'd want that with him.

You give him a challenging smile. "C'mon. It'll be nice."

"Alright, princess, fine. Ya got it. I'll sit in a pool of my own filth."

"No," you correct. "We shower off the filth and then luxuriate."

"So, ya want me to shower with ya, too."

"That so bad?"

"Nah, that ain't so bad."

And it isn't. You wash his back. He washes yours. He takes extra care with your ass, kneading your flesh and running teasing fingers down the cleft. You soap up his flushed chest and flat stomach. His arms are defined, but not overworked. And those strong hands of his—big paws that could easily crush your throat. But he's gentle as he rests them on your hips.

Not that they stay there for long. He turns you around and fondles your breasts. You lean against him as he touches you, pressing your ass against his groin.

He groans. "Shit, I'm so goddamn old."

You turn to cup his cheek. "You don't look old to me."

It's true. You can't really tell how old he is. His hair is completely dark. There are the faintest of laugh lines around his eyes. He has one or two shallow expression lines on his forehead. He's no child—a glance down at his dick confirms that—but it feels impossible to gauge his age.

"Hey, don't lookit me like that."

His cheeks are pink, and you don't know if it's from the warmth of the shower or something else.

You ask, "Like how?"

"Like ya need it from me again."

"Is that bad?"

"Well, yeah! Not when I can't get it up again!"

You laugh at his confession. "I don't care about that right now!"

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, baby. I just like bein' close to you."

"Aw, shit!" He ducked his head. "Don't say shit like that, either."

You grinned. "Why not?"

"'Cause it's givin' me ideas."

"I like your ideas."

Especially if they involved going out together, or sharing a meal and a shower, talking like this, or him making you a fancy drink.

"Well, I think we oughta get to the tub before I become a complete fuckin' prune," he says and holds up a hand to show how wrinkly the pads of his fingers already are.

"Okay, okay—Very Superior Old Pale!"

He snorts and lets you step back to turn off the shower. You sluice the excess water from his shoulders and chest as he gives you this indulgent look. You shrug a shoulder. Who could blame you for wanting to touch him?

You step out of the shower stall first and head for the tub, unconcerned about the trail of water you leave behind. It's so hedonistic to not care about water on the floor or dirty dishes or an unmade bed.

He pads to the sink to comb his wet hair as you prepare the bath. When it's halfway full, you sink in and melt against the side. He turns to you, and you beckon him with a crooked finger.

He smirks and sits on the tub edge to swing his long legs over the side. He attempts to settle at the opposite side of the tub, but you won't have it.

"Lie against me," you tell him as you open your arms and legs.

"I ain't crushin' you."

"You're not gonna crush me."

He huffs before slowly turning and scooting back to you, each movement squeaking awkwardly. You wrap an arm around his chest when he's close enough and ease him against you, guiding his head to rest on your shoulder. He's heavy in the best way, comforting and warm.

Pale remains stiff until you tell him you can breathe just fine. Incrementally, he relaxes. You let your knees loosen until they rest on the tub walls. He finally sighs and lets you take his weight.

When the water level hits the overflow drain, he turns off the faucet for you. Together, you bask in the hush of the suite. A few droplets slip off the faucet in a leisurely arhythm until it stops altogether.

It's quiet for a moment before he asks, "You got a big family?"

"No. You?"

"Seven of us… Well, six now."

"What happened?"

"My brother Robbie died."

"Shit, I'm sorry."

"He was the youngest, ya know." He minutely shakes his head. "Fuckin' boating accident—can you believe that?"

You kiss the rim of his ear, not knowing what to say.

"That's how I met Anna."

"The one who's moving out?"

"Movin' me out, yeah. We had a good run, but I was never home. Then she was busy."

"What she do?"

"She's a choreographer." He twirled his hands through the water. "That's how she met Robbie. They were both dancers."

"Were they good?"

"I dunno—never saw 'em." He sighs, and there's something desolate in it. "Anna said he was great, worked really hard. I wasn't into that kinda shit." He half-glances at you. "Arty, gay shit, right? But I saw somethin' she composed for him, and it was…"

He went silent for too long. You stroke his chest and lean your head on his temple.

He tightly whispers, "And, uh, ya know— He was just… Gone."

You know all about people just being gone. It happens all the time. Sometimes girls disappear, and no one cares. Or even comments. You can't report it to the police for obvious reasons. They don't care about dead hookers, anyway, unless one dies in an unfortunate place.

Pale continues, "I was wrong about his arty, gay shit. Wrong about every-fuckin'-thing. She told me one time how I had missed him. Like, yeah, he was gone, but I hadn't been there in the first place."

"How do you mourn someone you never knew?" you softly offer.

"Yeah, that's a fuck of a question, ain't it."

You hug him tighter. He puts a hand over your forearms.

"Learned a lot about him bein' with Anna." He sighs. "Can't really regret any of it."

"Maybe you and Anna meeting gave Robbie's death meaning?"

"Yeah, maybe. I dunno. Would've rather learned this shit from him, ya know?" He gesticulates, slopping water around the tub. "But wouldn'ta been possible with the way we were, though."

"So, it happened how it happened."

"Yeah."

You say, "And now you're here with me."

"Talkin' to ya like you're the sexiest shrink I ever fuckin' saw."

You smile. "For the bargain price of five thousand dollars."

He barks out a laugh before lifting your hand out of the water to kiss.

Chapter Text

"Pale, I don't know about this," you say as you close the car door behind you.

Beyond the copse of trees, where Darryl parked the limo, is the polo field. Country-club-looking people schmooze and politely titter near the white picket fence surrounding the field; all dressed in pastels and soft shades, like pallid vultures.

Pale is handsome in a dove-gray suit and the necktie you'd gotten him. He steps in front of you, blocking the view, and asks:

"What's wrong?"

"What if someone recognizes me?"

"Un-fuckin'-likely." He offers you his hand. "I doubt anyone here spends much time on Hollywood Boulevard."

"You did."

When you don't take his hand, he steps closer to put his hands on the wide belt at your waist.

He points out, "You think I'm like them?"

"No, of course not."

"So, we're both fish outta water. So what? They ain't gonna say shit."

You sigh and shake your head. People like them can sense when someone's out of place. Within ten seconds of meeting you, they'll be able to tell how low-class you are.

He adds, "And we ain't here for them." He gives your waist a gentle squeeze. "Right?"

You nod.

"Okay. Gimme your hand." He steps back and offers his hand once more. "You look beautiful. We're gonna have a good time."

You take Pale's hand with a grin, and he leads you away from the limo. You're glad you're wearing gloves because you're sure your palms are sweaty. As you walk behind him, you struggle to keep your heels from sinking too far into the grass.

Ahead is a canopied platform for the game announcers. The female announcer seems to sense Pale's approach and pivots in her chair to him. Her lean, tan calves draw your eye as she arranges her white skirt and crosses her legs. A woman standing by her turns, and you can tell they're closely related.

You're suddenly thankful you took the salespeople's advice yesterday. You fit right in with your tan polka-dot silk dress and matching hat.

The standing woman smiles and greets Pale, holding out a hand for him to take. He has to let go of you, but you keep at his side as he introduces you to the two women: Gwen and Gretchen Olsen.

He says to you: "I got to know 'em this past Saturday at Phil's."

He must've met them right before you, then. Maybe at a party? You hadn't asked where Pale had been earlier that night.

"These two know everything about everybody." He winks. "Gotta watch out for 'em."

Gretchen, the standing Olsen, laughs and good-naturedly waves a hand.

"Pale," Gwen says, a tone of admonishment in her voice.

Something or someone catches his eye. "Be right back," he says and touches your bare upper arm before walking away.

When he's out of earshot, Gwen says to you, "So, you're the one he settled on, hm?" She gives you a smug, disdainful look before returning to her announcer duties.

Ah, you think, so that's the score.

"Oh, don't mind her," Gretchen says, evidently not caring if her sister overhears. "She failed to land Pale at the party."

"Well," you begin, matching Gretchen's volume. "I'm not trying to land him. I'm just using him for sex."

You grin at a shocked Gretchen and throw a look at Gwen's back before walking away. You meet Pale midway between the spectator chairs and catering tent. He offers you a glass of white wine and a smile.

"Didn't want to hang around the Olsen sisters?" he asks.

"Nah, too much good breeding for me."

He snorts, and you both amble over to watch the match. The seated couple in front you calls out "well done!" as a player does something well. Pale repeats the praise.

"Well done!" you shout and whoop a few times, pumping your fist in the air.

A moment later, an air-horn sounds and the announcer says, "That's the chukker, ladies and gentlemen. Falcons, seven. Gems, four."

You take a sip of wine. It's surprisingly dry and not at all fruity. You're sure it's expensive, but you don't like it. Before you can pour it in the grass, someone calls out to Pale.

A short, plump man in a glen-plaid sport coat and black aviator glasses waves Pale over. Dixieland jazz starts over the PA system a second later. Pale takes your hand, leading you to him.

You're introduced to Philip Stuckey, Bianchi's west-coast lawyer. Next to him is his wife Elizabeth, who's clearly disappointed you're not Anna. Her gaze snags on someone walking past, and her eyes go wide.

"Oh, my God!" she exclaims. "It's Tate Whitley Wallington!" She darts away, trilling, "Tate!? It's me, Elizabeth, from Workout World!"

Philip says, "My wife, the aerobics queen. Feel the burn!" He sighs and offers to refresh your beverage.

"Oh, no, thank you! I'm fine," you reply and take the tiniest sip of the horrible wine.

Philip plucks Pale's wine glass from his hand. "I brought better stuff." He affably cuffs Pale on the arm, but asks you, "Can I steal him for a minute?"

"Sure, I'll check out the catering while you two get the good stuff."

"You okay?" Pale checks as Philip begins walking away.

"Yeah, I wanna say 'hi' to Giang and Tran, anyway."

With a nod, Pale says, "See ya in a few."

The moment you step into the shelter of the delicious-smelling catering tent, Giang calls you over. He comes around the pick-up counter and embraces you, kissing you on both cheeks.

"How are you?" he asks and takes your wine glass, setting it aside. He quickly adds: "Are you hungry? Where is Pale?"

You blink at the questions. "He's with Philip."

Giang hums and gives you a sly look. "Philip, what a shark."

"He seems okay."

"For an American lawyer." He waves a hand to dismiss the topic. "How are you? You look lovely, as always."

"Thank you! I'm good?" you reply and glance around. You think you're blending in well enough and holding your own.

"Me too," Giang sighs.

Something about the way he says it makes you perk up with a smile.

"Oh?" you lead.

His eyes are full of mirth, and he bites his bottom lip. "Would you like to meet one of the players and his horse?"

"Absolutely!"

You've never been close to a horse before. You wonder if you'll be allowed to feed it and pet it.

He takes your elbow and steers you out of the tent, giddy like a kid. His excitement is contagious, and soon there's a bounce in your step. He takes you over to where the horse trailers are parked in the shade.

The player Giang walks you to is tall with curly dark-blond hair and a cigarette between his lips. When the player sees the two of you, he brightens and jogs over.

"This is Daniel," Giang warmly says.

Daniel tosses his cigarette away and offers his hand as you introduce yourself. It's obvious Giang has a crush. Daniel most likely reciprocates, especially with the way he can't look at Giang for too long.

He also indulges any and all requests. His horse—Belinda—is presented to you within a minute of Giang's asking. You're given carrots to feed her. She's gentle and friendly, allowing you to stroke her strong neck and the blaze on her snout.

You grin at Giang when Daniel oh-so casually mentions where he'll be after the game. You're about to ask where Giang will be when a male announcer asks for the audience's help.

Gwen agrees, "Yes! We need you to help replace some of the divots out here on the grass." There's a smile in her voice when she says, "So come on out now!"

Daniel encourages you both out onto the field. You laugh and walk onto the bright field, Giang close behind. There are mallet divots scattered across the grass.

The male announcer continues, "Come on! Come on, folks. You heard her. The stomping of the divots."

Many of the spectators dip under the ribbon barrier, champagne flutes in hand. You find a divot, roll it over with your foot, and press it into the ground.

"This is a time-honored tradition, ladies and gentlemen!" says the announcer. "As old as the game of polo itself."

Around you, people laugh and stomp on the divots.

"Kings and queens used to do this!"

Pale steps from behind a large tree to your right and calls your name. You smile at him, beckoning him to join you. He hightails it to you. His cheeks are pink, and his eyes gleam in the sunshine.

He stops a step away, puts his hands on his hips, and pitches his voice into bass to boom, "Ho! Ho! Ho!"

You laugh, recalling his reaction to that green condom, and sing the jingle, "Green Giant!"

Without warning, he wraps an arm around your waist and lifts you off the ground. He twirls you around, and you squeak, holding onto him as he spins.

After a few rotations, he lets you slide down his front. The skirt of your lightweight dress catches on his slacks, but you don't mind. He beams and fondly pats your hip. You want to kiss him so badly. Instead, you take his hand and shepherd him to a divot. Together, you stomp divots, teetering and laughing the whole time, until the air horn is blown.

As you walk off the field, you notice you've scuffed one of your heels and bemoan it to Pale. Giang joins you and greets Pale before you show him how you've ruined your new shoes.

Giang tsks at your luck and then holds up a finger. "I believe we have something in the van that will polish that out."

"Oh, you're a life-saver," you exclaim and turn to Pale. "I'll be back in a minute."

"Alright," Pale says and kisses your temple as he lets his hand drift down your ass.

You give him a grin before walking to one of the Rex Two vans with Giang. There, Giang takes your shoe, cuts a lime in half, and rubs the scuffs out with it. After that, he scoops the smallest dab of coconut oil on his finger and polishes the leather.

You thank him and marvel at how your shoe looks brand new again. Giang tells you he needs to bring a few supplies back to the catering tent. You offer to help, but he refuses, telling you to have a good time and stop by for suon nuong and a banh uot before you leave.

You thank him once more before returning to the field. The day is beautiful with wispy clouds stretched over a soft blue sky. An easy breeze ruffles your dress, and you steady your hat.

Pale's not in sight, but you find a place under a birch to watch the game. You're sure he'll find you soon.

However, he doesn't find you—Philip does. He swaggers over, spinning his sunglasses. You smile at him in greeting, and he asks if you're having a good time.

"Oh yeah, I'm having a great time," you reply.

He feels off—different from an hour ago. Maybe he's showing you who he really is since Pale isn't around. Nevertheless, you continue to smile.

He sniffs. "Must—uh— Must be quite a change from Hollywood Boulevard, hm?"

Your stomach churns at the mention of the Boulevard. "What?"

"Yeah, Pale told me," he says, laid-back, but there's something sharp in his eyes. "But don't worry, your secret's safe with me." He gives you an oily grin. "Listen, maybe…" He runs the edge of his sunglasses down your upper arm. "You and I could get together sometime… After Pale leaves."

You numbly stare out at the game, hardly seeing it, and pretend to consider.

"Yeah, sure," you finally answer, glancing at Philip. "Why not?"

You silently pray he'll walk away, but he doesn't.

He purrs, "Yeah, we'll do that. Make a night of it," and touches your shoulder, stroking your skin with his thumb.

You look at him to see how blown-out his pupils are. Then you think of Pale with blushing cheeks, rushing for you and picking you up and touching your ass. Not a care in the world. Practically blissed out. You wonder why you hadn't detected anything amiss.

In the distance, Elizabeth calls for Philip. He smirks and strides away, leaving you dazed and shaking.

Over the PA, Gwen says, "Hi, tailgaters, I'd like to mention a couple of our silver sponsors…"

You look over your shoulder to catch sight of Pale. He's laughing with Tran and a few others. You don't watch him long enough to see if he notices.

As you cross your arms, you think of how Pale said he didn't do drugs. You recall him saying how he didn't want anyone to treat you poorly, either. It now feels naive to have believed him, to have actually thought he could care about you.

You thought you had better instincts than this.


On the return trip to the hotel, Pale attempts to lure you to his side of the limo. You shake your head and try not to look at him. You'd made nice in public, but you don't want to be nice now. You're not sure you're capable of it.

"You okay?" he asks.

"I'm fine."

"Hey, if you're not feeling good, ya can tell me."

You shake your head again. "I'm fine."

You see Darryl glance into the rearview mirror before the partition rises. You quickly scan Pale to see his hands on his thighs, a knee jumping at a fast pace.

"Are ya hungry? You didn't eat much at the game."

You hadn't eaten at all, actually. While the food smelled incredible, your stomach was in knots. The champagne he gave you might as well have been vinegar for all you tasted of it.

"No, I'm fine. Thank you."

"Dammit, ya gotta talk to me."

"I am talking to you. I said I'm fine."

He fidgets until he's facing you. "No, my grandma is fine, and she's been buried for a decade. What the fuck is wrong?!"

"I'm…" You search for an excuse, only to come up with: "Tired." You sigh. "I'm fine. Really."

He huffs and scoots closer. "Is it tired or fine?"

"Can't I be both?" you say to your knees.

"Why ain't ya lookin' at me no more?"

You draw in a breath and look him in the eye. You raise your eyebrows in defiance.

"I'm fine," you bite out.

"You're fine—"

The limo pulls in front of the hotel and the door on your side opens. You jump out of the car and walk into the lobby. Your heels click on the stone floor. You feel Pale a step behind you.

He pushes the call button for the elevator before you can. He waits beside you, twitchy hands in his pockets.

You don't know what to do. You want to yell and stomp your feet. You want to cry. You want to punch Philip in his smug, stupid face. Hell, you want to punch Pale, too. You want to leave this sham of a world and go back to Hollywood Boulevard.

The elevator dings when it arrives, and the doors open. You walk in, keeping silent. The operator asks which floor, and Pale tells him the penthouse.

But most of all, you want Pale.

And it's dumb to want him.

When you arrive at the top floor, you step out first and wait for him to open the suite door. He whispers curses and fights with the keycard. It should be endearing, but it feels impossible to think like that right now.

He gets the door open and holds it for you. You thank him and place your hat and gloves on one of the narrow console tables in the entryway. He closes the door behind himself. The clank of it reminds you of a cell door.

"So, now that we're alone, you gonna tell me what's wrong?" he asks.

"I said I'm fine," you say and walk into the living room.

"That's, what? Seven, eight, fuckin' fines since we left the match."

You shake your head as you stomp into the bedroom, throwing your purse on the bed. You want to get out of this ladylike dress and kick off these stupid heels.

Pale calls after you, "Can I get another word, please, Pat Sajak?"

"Asshole!" you yell. "There's a word."

He marches to the bedroom doorway. "Why am I the fuckin' asshole here?!"

"You know what?" You pull off your shoes and point with them. "Tell me one thing: Why did you make me get all dressed up?"

"Well, for one thing, the clothes were appropriate."

"No, I mean, if you were gonna tell everybody I'm a hooker, why didn't you just let me wear my own clothes?"

"I didn't tell—"

"You told Philip! And he probably told everyone else in some coked-out frenzy!"

They all knew. They had to have known. They must've been laughing behind your back, humoring you by the end. You wonder if Giang and Tran know by now.

Pale's features darken.

You continue before he can even open his mouth: "You know, in my own clothes, when someone like Philip comes at me, I can handle it. I'm prepared." You throw the shoes on the floor. "And don't tell me you weren't blowing rails with him! I can tell, Pale! You did. You're a cokehead, and I'm a hooker! At least be honest about it!"

"I ain't no fuckin' cokehead!"

"Says the asshole still high on cocaine!"

"Says the hooker in a two-hundred-dollar dress!"

You screech and rush for the bathroom. If you stay in this room with him, you're going to lose your shit. You need distance and a barrier. He's right behind you, though, blocking the bathroom door with his shoe.

He growls, "Don't you walk away from me."

You push the door against his foot. "God, what are you, my pimp now? You think you can pass me around to your friends? I'm not some fucktoy!"

"Fuckin' what? No, you ain't a fucktoy!" He forces the door open. "You ain't a toy. Phil thought ya was passing info to Rex Two. Or you was some kinda spy for another buyer. I dunno, he got paranoid."

You back away from the door. "And why would I need to pass info to Giang, huh? Is something fishy goin' on?"

"That ain't nonna ya business."

"But I'm being blamed for may be sabotaging your business."

He bellows, "I ain't gonna fight with ya for the next three goddamn days!" He rages into the bathroom, face red and eyes blazing. "I'm fuckin' sorry! End of the fuckin' discussion!"

You stumble over the corner of the tub to get away. You don't know what he's capable of when like this. He's huge, broad-shouldered, and so strong. You brace yourself on the shower-stall door, heart in your throat.

His eyes go wide, and he straightens. "Woah, hey, I ain't gonna hurt ya." He holds up his hands. "I'd never hurt ya. I'm sorry. I mean it."

Your vision blurs, and you shake your head because he already did.

Pale eases out of the bathroom and takes off his jacket, leaving it on the bed.

You make sure he's left the bedroom before sneaking to the closet. You gather what you can in your arms before shouldering today's purse and yanking your big one from under the armchair in the corner. You manage to get your heels on, swallow around the lump in your throat, and walk into the living room with as much dignity as you can muster.

"I want my money," you say. "I wanna get out of here."

He turns from his place by the desk and studies you. There must be something about your face that screams you're serious. He gives you a wide berth as he goes into the bedroom. When he comes out, he places a stack of money on the side table by the sofa and then walks to the closest French door in the dining room.

You stare at the money. All hundred-dollar bills. You need to take it and go. You tell yourself that over and over: Take it and go.

However, you don't want any more reminders of him. It'll destroy you to stash it away and count it out to pay the bills. Every time you touch one of his banknotes, you'll see his smile, his generosity—and his betrayal and lies. It's not worth your heart breaking each time.

You leave the money and hurry out of the penthouse before you change your mind. You press the call button for the elevator a few times.

"Come on," you hiss, your voice breaking and eyes flooding with tears.

The penthouse door opens rather than the elevator's.

You brace yourself and stare at the elevator, hugging the clothes in your arms.

Pale walks into the hallway, calm and somber. "I'm sorry, alright? I fucked up—" Got fucked up, you mentally correct. "—and did somethin' stupid." He sidles closer. "I don't want ya to go. Stay with me—for the week."

"Why'd you tell him?"

"Thing's got outta control, and Phil was gettin' paranoid." He shifts his weight and grumbles, "And I saw ya with that polo player."

You softly scoff. "He's gay, and we were just talking."

"I didn't like it."

You were about to tell him all about Daniel and Giang when the elevator finally arrives. The doors open to reveal Dennis. Shift change must've just happened.

"Down?" Dennis asks, looking hopeful.

You sigh and stare into Pale's dark eyes. You see remorse and sincerity. Though he might be a jealous prick, you sense he hadn't meant to hurt you. You know he wouldn't have gotten so worked up if he didn't care. And that realization makes your chest tight for a wholly different reason.

You look at Dennis and shake your head, because your voice is gone.

Dennis ducks back into the elevator, and the doors hush closed.

"You really hurt me," you croak, your eyes swimming in new tears. "Don't do it again."

He agrees with a bob of his head and takes a few steps closer. You turn from the elevator and meet him halfway. Wordlessly, he ushers you into the suite, lifting the purses off your shoulder.

He remains quiet as he helps you re-hang your clothes. When you sit on the bed to take off your shoes, he does the same. It's still for a moment before he offers his hand.

You look at it for a second before sliding your fingers between his. His callused thumb strokes your skin. You look at him to find him already gazing at you. He feels so much different than fifteen minutes ago. He feels different than your previous johns, your one-nighters, your exes.

You murmur, "First guy I ever loved was a total loser." You huff through your nose. "Second was worse." Shit, was he ever. "Mom called me a bum magnet. If there was a bum within a fifty-mile radius, I was completely into them. It's how I got here: followed bum number three."

Pale's toes curl into the carpet, but he remains silent.

"So there I was: no money, no friends, no bum."

"Then ya chose this for a profession?"

"Parked cars at wrestling. Couple fast-food places." You shrug. "Couldn't make rent, couldn't go home." You grin at him. "Then I met Kit. She was a hooker and made it sound so easy... So one day, I did it."

You stare at your joined hands. "Cried the whole time." After wetting your lips, you say, "But I got some regulars and, you know…" You make a whatever gesture with your free hand. "It's not like anybody plans this. It's not, like, your childhood dream."

He softly points out, "You could be more."

You hum to yourself. "People put you down long enough, you start to believe it."

"Yeah, well, fuck 'em."

You smile as you say, "The bad shit's easier to believe, though. Ever notice that?"

"You shouldn't believe that horseshit. I ain't never met someone like you. You're…" He shakes his head. "Incredible."

"So're you."

You stare into his eyes, study his handsome face. This should be when you kiss him. You want to kiss him. You want everything with him.

Pale makes the decision for you by moving in to kiss near your ear. You lean your cheek against his and angle closer as he kisses down your neck. He untangles his fingers from yours and holds you, easing you down onto the bed.

You roll closer to throw a leg over his, hiding your face against his neck. He wraps an arm behind your back; his other hand holds your hip. In reply, you suck on his earlobe, hear his breath catch as you give it a nibble. He pulls you closer and gets his hand on your ass.

The collar of his shirt is in your way, so you attempt to tug the knot in his tie loose. The angle's all wrong, though. You push yourself up and slide onto his lap.

From your new vantage point, you look at him, letting your hands sweep down his firm chest. His nearly-black hair fans out across the bedspread. Those high cheekbones of his are flushed. And his eyes. His eyes eat you up as he rests his hands on your hips.

You open your mouth to speak, but stop yourself and grin instead.

There's nothing you can say that should be said.

You unknot his tie and slowly draw it from around his neck. You toss it to the side and begin on the buttons of his shirt. He lets you do what you wish, and it feels like communication. It feels like trust.

You tug his shirt-tails from his slacks and push his shirt open. Underneath is a thin white undershirt and his gold chain. You feel his heat radiating from underneath the thin shirt. You tug it free as well and sweep it up his torso.

His skin is silky soft under your palms. You tease his nipples, feel them harden as you circle them with your thumbs. He arches into your touch, biting his plump lip.

You bend to tease one of his nipples with your tongue. His skin tastes of salt and sun. You suck at the petite peak and draw your teeth up to the tip. His fingers shove into your pinned-back hair. It hurts—a minor pain—and urges you on. You turn to his other nipple and nip at it.

He gasps as you kiss his chest. He clings to you as you mouth your way down his abdomen.

He whispers, "Take your dress off, princess."

"In a minute," you promise and unbuckle his belt.

His crotch of his slacks is tented with his growing erection, and you frame that big bulge with your hands. He's so hot against you, like he's swallowed the sun.

You undo his slacks and kiss the sweat-damp skin above his briefs. As you sit back on his thighs, you notice the color of his briefs and laugh before you can stop yourself.

They're hunter green.

You hadn't seen him dress this morning, and you had no idea how they didn't show through his slacks. But you love it just the same.

He smiles and puts his hands under his head. "Ho, ho, ho."

You hold his hips and duck your head to laugh again. This explains so much.

"You got somethin' healthy for me under these?" you ask as you meet his sparkling eyes.

"You know it."

You tease, purring, "Something fresh and delicious?"

"And all for you," he replies, playing along.

You wiggle his slacks and briefs down just enough to expose his flushed cock. The musk of him makes your mouth water. You kiss down his treasure trail and lick at the base of his erection. His hands find a place at your nape as you run your tongue up his hardening cock.

He murmurs, "So good to me, princess."

You delicately suck at the underside of the tip, letting his thick precome wet your lips further. You take it in your mouth to roll your tongue around the sensitive ridge. He bucks into your mouth, but you don't mind—you're ready for it. You bob your head with his small movements.

Just as you're losing yourself, he pulls at your hair. You go with his fist and lick your lips as you catch your breath. You meet his gaze, and he smirks like a predator.

"So hungry for my dick, ain't ya, princess?"

You nod and swallow.

"Shit, I'm lucky to have found such a cock-hungry, little slut like you." He drags a thumb over your bottom lip, and it goes right to your cunt. You suck his thumb and watch him crumble.

Pale's voice is hoarse when he says, "So gorgeous, princess." He caresses your cheek. "Take off that dress for me, honey."

You scoot off the bed and unbuckle your belt. You let it fall to the floor as he unbuttons the cuffs of his shirt. He sits up as you cross your arms to draw your dress up your body. You let it, too, fall to the floor in a puddle of silk.

He curses as you stand there in bra and underwear. You notice his cock throb where it rests against the rumpled fabric of his slacks. He whips off his button-up and undershirt with eyes locked on you.

"All of it. Lemme see those tits."

You undo the hooks of your bra and flick the shoulder straps away. As you lower your arms, your bra follows. You catch it with one hand and then drop it onto the dress.

"Jesus fuck…" He fists his dick. "Ya think I'd wanna pass ya around?"

With the way he looks at you now, your previous accusations seem foolish. No, you don't think he wants to share you.

"Get those panties off," he orders.

"Yes, Pale."

You watch him kick off his slacks and briefs as he watches you wiggle your underwear down. He yanks off his socks by the toes and throws them to the side before scooting back towards the headboard. You step out of your underwear and knee-walk over the mattress to him.

He snares you with an arm around your waist and lies back, pulling you down with him. He holds you and tucks his face under your jaw to kiss and suck at your neck. His searing-hot hands slide over your back, cup your ass. He kneads your flesh before smacking one buttock.

You moan as your pussy clenches.

"Like that?" he asks.

You nod and arch your back.

He spanks you again, and your skin heats. He smacks the other buttock—hard. You groan and writhe, clutching at his shoulder and the blanket. He squeezes your ass and uses his grip to haul you up his body until your breasts bump his chin.

He nuzzles your breasts with a groan, kissing the valley between them. He spanks your ass with both hands one more time before holding your ribs and maneuvering you.

All you can do is yield—yield to the fever under your skin, to his lust and the pleasure he gives you.

He sucks at one of your nipples, and you feel the tug of it like a taut cord connected between your legs. You squirm against him as you're barely able to support your weight. Though you hardly need to—he controls your upper body with ease.

"Please—" you whine. "Please, Pale."

He drags his chin over your breast. "Ya wet for me, princess?"

You nod. "Mm-hm."

You're so slick and hot and wired. You need to move, need him deep inside you. Just the thought of having his thick cock filling your cunt has you writhing again.

"How 'bout ya get a condom for us and show me whatcha can do."

With shaky limbs, you crawl to the nightstand and retrieve a condom. His hand lingers on you, trailing down your hip and thigh and calf to rest at your ankle. When you turn to him, you find him watching you with fathomless dark eyes.

You should kiss him. Fuck what Kit said. You should. His lips are flushed and swollen, and he's looking at you like he wants you to.

But then you remember you only have three more days with him. It's going to hurt to leave already. And you know if you take that last step, it's going to be worse.

You concentrate on opening the condom as you shuffle back to his side. You roll the condom down his erection, adjusting it for the perfect fit. His dick jerks in your hands, and you give him a glance before rubbing the condom over his glans.

He grunts and thrusts before biting out, "Get on my dick."

You swing a leg over Pale's hips, balancing yourself with a hand on his chest, and steady his cock with the other to rub your dripping slit on the tip. You don't know who it teases more. Each stroke has you panting as he rocks with you.

"Fuck, that feels so good," he whispers.

You nod with a whimper, but you can't wait any longer. It's apparent neither can he.

"C'mon, honey, ride me."

You give him a coy grin and say, "Yes, Pale," before nestling his cock at your vagina.

He goes rigid, looking between your bodies. You relax and release a breath as you slowly lower yourself on his big cock. He fills you, stretches you. It's exquisite—almost too much, but you need it.

You let go when you're halfway down and brace yourself on his chest. His hands go to your hips.

"All the way. I know that sweet pussy can take it."

And you do—you take him deep inside. He fills the emptiness, warms you from the inside out. You groan as you settle, taking a moment to adjust. He minutely pulls at your hips so you sway on his lap. The motion is just enough to alight your nerves further.

You bite your lip as the swaying becomes rocking becomes full-out riding. You lean forward on your hands, spread your knees, and bounce on his cock. He clutches at your hips and brings you down hard with a growl.

With a bend of your elbows, you find that perfect angle. You fuck yourself on him, moaning with every thrust. You push your quivering cunt down on him over and over as sweat breaks out on your inner thighs and chest. He's sweating too, panting and yearning.

He gives you no warning as his huge hands clap down on your ass. The sting jolts through you. Your pussy clenches, and you moan as you almost orgasm from it. He does it again, right on the same spot. It scalds and shocks and ratchets you closer.

"Oh fuck…" you moan and let your head flop back.

"C'mon," he hisses. "Come on me."

You grit your teeth and push yourself to ride faster. Your thighs burn, but it doesn't matter. His dick, the drag of its thick length, feels so good. You can't get enough of him.

You suddenly lose your hold on his sweaty chest and catch yourself on the bed above his shoulders. He wraps his arms around your middle and thrusts up, fucking a startled moan out of you.

He repeatedly jerks you down as he moves up, encouraging you to let go and calling you baby. He rams deep as he kisses your chest, licks at your sweat. You claw at the bed as your body quivers and tightens. You can't stop the noises you make as he fucks you.

Pale answers you until you can't hear him anymore. You know it's over, that you're about to come. You can't fight it, and you don't want to.

Then you seize. Orgasm is scorching heat that suffuses your belly. Your vision whites out. Your cunt throbs as you gush around his big, pistoning cock. It's devastating and intense and wonderful. You fall onto him, into him. All you smell is his cologne and sweat.

The world spins. The blanket presses too-warm and almost gummy at your back. Pale crushes you to the bed as he rams deep, forcing his dick all the way inside. You hang onto his shoulders, fingers catching on his necklace, and moan as your climax weakens.

He takes you in a frenzy, cursing with the pumping of his hips. You cling, feeling your pussy give another throb. He holds you tight as he gives you a handful of near-violent thrusts. It's too much, but you don't want to get away. You want it all—all of him. He brokenly gasps your name and tenses, his dick pulsating in your dripping cunt.

After a still moment, you rest your head on the bed and try to catch your breath. His soft lips trail down your neck, and he licks at the dip of your collarbone. His breath tickles your sensitive skin. In reply, you comb his sweat-damp hair away from his fever-hot face.

He rasps, "Jesus Christ."

You grin, huffing in agreement.

He steadies the condom and pulls out with a groan. You whine, not wanting to be apart, but release him just the same. He flops on his side next to you; his body a muscled mass of humidity. You straighten your legs, ignoring the gooey feel of come and lube. The sweat on your torso starts to evaporate.

You reach out to touch his cheek with the back of your hand. He lets you stroke his cheekbone with a gentle knuckle. He's serene and beautiful, all tousled hair and pink skin, and you realize you want to see him like this every day. You want him happy.

You wonder if this is what love feels like: tender and warm and quiet. Is that love? Like something soft-edged yet crystalline blooms in your chest. Is love looking into his eyes to see understanding and kindness? Or is that just affection? A post-coital haze?

No one's ever looked at you like he does, though.

He brings the back of your hand to his lips and kisses it. His eyes twinkle in the evening light; they smile before his mouth does. And you can't help smiling back.

The hush is broken by your stomach growling, followed by his a second later. You both chuckle, and he kisses your hand once more.

"Food," he says.

"Shower," you retort.

He surveys your body before smirking. "Yeah, shower sounds damn good right now."

Chapter Text

Before leaving this morning, Pale had told you he was taking you someplace fancy tonight. He hadn't elaborated, though you'd tried to cajole him into revealing his plans. He resisted, smirking and insisting it was a surprise.

He'd left shortly thereafter, The New York Times crossword puzzle untouched and his kiss cooling on your cheek.

You hadn't bugged him over dinner, either. You didn't want to annoy him. Instead, you talked about a big wreck that happened on the 405 that afternoon. Pale wondered out loud how no one in the city could drive.

"Except for me, of course," you teased.

"Well, yeah. You're gonna have to teach me to drive stick one day."

Your stomach had swooped. "Sure, it'll be on the house."

"What's that one quote?" he asked as he pushed his empty plate away. "If ya good at somethin', never do it for free."

You laughed. "I don't know if I'm that good. I'm just better than you."

He drew out an "oh" and put a hand over his heart. "Ya wound me, princess."

"Do I need to kiss it better?" you ribbed before eating the last bite of caponata.

His eyes had gone half-mast. "I dunno if kisses are enough to assuage how devastated I am."

"Very Sore Old Pale," you crooned and padded behind him.

You massaged his firm shoulders, and he'd slumped with a groan. His muscles were tight, but they gave after a few minutes. You ran your hands down his chest as you leaned forward.

You whispered, "Better?"

"Almost."

You nuzzled under his hair and sucked on his earlobe. He smelled nice. With a quick intake of breath, he'd put his hands over your forearms and arched. You peppered the rim of his ear with kisses and moved to his neck. You couldn't get enough of him.

In an unexpected show of will, he'd said, "Best cool it, honey, we gotta get ready."

"When do we leave?"

He checked his watch. "Little under an hour."

Your eyes went wide, and you straightened. "Oh shit."

You'd had your makeup to finish. Your hair needed a little more work. Your dress was ready to go, but you sure weren't in it.

With less than ten minutes before you two had to leave, you slip on the red heels. They perfectly match your chiffon evening gown. You pick up the rhinestone clutch before walking out to the living room, where Pale waits by the bar.

You stare at him, hardly feeling your feet hit the carpet. He leaves you speechless. You thought he'd wear a suit, but he's wearing a black double-breasted tuxedo. The lustrous satin of the jacket's lapels emphasize the broadness of his shoulders. His pocket square is the same black satin. His wavy hair just skims the collar.

"Woah," you say the same time he says, "Holy shit."

You look down at your gown: off-the-shoulder, bodice smooth and tight, and red like a rose. You even the top of your white opera-length gloves to keep yourself from reaching out to him.

"Do I… Do I look okay?" you ask.

"You're a long ways from 'okay,' princess." He saunters around you. "But somethin's missing."

You huff and put a hand on your stomach. "Well, nothing else is gonna fit in this dress, I'll tell you that."

He goes to the bar, picks up a slim velvet box, and turns to you.

"Now don't get excited, alright?" he says as you focus on the box. "I borrowed this."

He opens the lid, and inside is a necklace of rubies set in diamond hearts. There are matching earrings tucked into notches in the lower corners of the box. The jewels glint like nothing you've ever seen before.

You peek at him to see him watching. You can't believe they're for you—even if just for tonight.

You reach out to touch a flawless ruby, but before you make contact, the lid snaps down on your fingers. You laugh in shock as you snatch your hand back. He beams at you, eyes sparkling so much like the diamonds in front of him.

"Let's get these on you," he says as he places the box back on the bar.

The earrings are clip-ons, so they're easy. You don't even need to see your reflection to get them aligned, but you look and adjust anyway. They shine on either side of your face, catching the light.

Pale moves around you as he unclasps the necklace. In a graceful move, he loops the necklace around your neck and deftly fastens it. The gold quickly warms, heavy and precious.

You examine your reflection in the mirror behind the bar. The jewelry is perfect. You meet his gaze in the mirror as he brushes a knuckle down your spine.

You whisper, "Thank you."

He seems pleased and bends to kiss the side of your neck.

He asks if you're ready, and you nod. You still have no idea where he's taking you, but it must be awfully posh. You have a feeling it's going to be better than the polo match, too.

Once in the elevator, with Dennis again manning the controls, you ask:

"So, where are we going?"

"It's still a surprise."

You quietly sigh to yourself. "Well, if I forget to tell you later, I had a really good time tonight."

"Thanks," he says and smiles at you.

Darryl is waiting with a black limo in front of the hotel. He greets you both and opens the passenger door for you. Inside is caramel leather and polished mahogany. You scoot across the bench seat and smooth your gown over your legs. Pale settles next to you, meeting your eyes as dusk fans across the clear sky.

The ride is quiet. You watch as WeHo's rainbow flags and sleepy Melrose trundle past the limo. When the signs change to Spanish around Hi-Fi, you think the destination must be somewhere downtown.

A few minutes later, you say as a set-up: "I know where we're going."

"Yeah, where?"

You grin and lean on the hump in the middle of the bench. "We're going grocery shopping at Ralphs!"

He grins back. "Damn, ya just ruined your surprise. Now we can't go."

With a groan, you ask, "Well, what's the alternative?"

He glances at your chest. "You tell me."

"I don't know much about this side of town."

"Neither do I," he replies and traces the notch in the gown's neckline with a gentle finger.

Over his shoulder, the massive, boxy Music Center comes into view. The limo pulls into the drop-off lane beside the plaza. The big fountain is lit; the soaring windows of the Center beyond glow a tawny gold.

You look to him to see him watching you.

"Is this where we're going?"

He nods. "Welcome to the opera, princess."

"Opera?!"

"Yeah, opera."

"Holy shit," you murmur as the limo comes to a stop.

Pale tells Darryl he's got it and opens the door. You smell the water in the air as you scoot across the seat. He offers a hand to help you stand, and you take it.

You confess, "I've never seen an opera before. Will I get it?"

"This one's in Italian, but it ain't difficult to get," he says as he closes the car door behind you. He thumps a hand on the roof to tell Darryl to go.

You're not sure you'll understand. You almost bite your lip, but remember your lipstick before you do. You've never heard Italian spoken outside of The Godfather.

He offers his arm to you, and you latch on. Together you ascend the few stairs. The plaza is almost deserted, save for two boys who sit on the inset stairs surrounding the fountain. Pale pays them no mind, even when they gawk.

"Are we late?" you ask.

"Nah, it's opening night. Shit never starts on time."

He opens the door for you and ushers you inside. The airy entrance hall spans the front of the vast building. The white balconies for the upper floors curve around the hall as if embracing the open expanse. The biggest crystal chandeliers you've ever seen hang from mirrored starburst motifs on the ceiling. Their blurry reflections gleam on the gray terrazzo floor.

You take Pale's arm again as he crosses the hall to offer tickets to the attendant by the wide carpeted stairs. She tears the tickets, telling you where to go, and offers program booklets.

You climb the stairs, higher and higher. The sound of musical instruments warming up fills the air. It leaves you aflutter in anticipation.

Another attendant meets you and Pale on the second landing and shows you to a box right by the stage. You want to ask the attendant if he's sure he's got it right. A glance at Pale confirms this is where you're supposed to be.

You let go of Pale's arm and walk to the balustrade. Below, people in fancy clothes mill about in the aisles. Sequins and beading catch the light, glittering like water. Their voices are a din to go along with the orchestra.

"Pale," you say over your shoulder. "You gotta see this."

"I'm good," he replies and drags two of the padded chairs to the balustrade.

"If you don't like heights, why'd you get seats up here?"

He grins and plops in a chair. "They're the best."

You grin as you sit beside him, and he hands you a program.

"Only the best, huh?"

He scooches closer. "You know it."

He drapes an arm over the back of your chair. His thumb rubs the corner of your shoulder. It makes you grin as you page through the program.

You sense you don't have much time to read, but you do catch the opera, La Traviata, is about Violetta, a courtesan, and Alfredo, who's in love with her. A chime sounds through the theater as the lights flicker. It appears to be a signal, because everyone quiets and shuffles to their seats.

As the lights dim, Pale murmurs, "People react to opera from the gut. Ya love it or hate it."

You hum and tuck the program under your clutch on your lap. It's obvious he loves it and wants you to love it, too.

The stage curtain draws up as the orchestra begins to play a soft overture. The stage suddenly lights up as the music jumps into an exhilarated gallop. People in colorful velvets and silk bustle and dance across the stage. A party scene.

You're immediately pulled in. You root for Alfredo when he's teased by fellow partygoers. It's obvious he's got it bad for Violetta. They sing and toast to something. Violetta swoons, and everyone scatters. Alfredo stays behind, tending to her. You think he confesses his love. She appears touched by his compassion and gives him a flower before sending him away.

She sings alone, and you know exactly what she's singing about. Though Alfredo has given her hope for a future filled with love, she still wants her glamorous life. She wants him, his love, and his warmth, but wants her freedom, too.

The push and pull goes on, even when she runs away with him to the countryside. Pink roses and white marble surround the lovers. His father confronts her when Alfredo is called into the city. Somehow, the father talks her into leaving. Like what? Alfredo returns to find Violetta's supposed betrayal.

Next, Alfredo makes a scene at a masquerade ball, where Violetta has come with a new lover. She's dressed with a peacock motif, green/blue taffeta and iridescent feathers in her hair. Alfredo condemns her in front of the flock of masked people. He throws the money he'd won at the card game during the ball at her. Holy crap. After being chastised by his father, Alfredo is challenged to a duel by Violetta's lover.

The stage lights go dark before the house lights slowly brighten. You put a hand to your chest and let out a breath. This is more dramatic than any soap opera you've ever seen. It's so lush and colorful.

"Whaddya think?" Pale asks.

You angle in your seat to look at him. "It's great!" you say and put a hand on his thigh.

He smiles. "You want a drink?"

"No, I'm okay." You give his thigh a little squeeze. "I'd rather sit with you, anyway."

"That right?"

His arm wraps behind your shoulders and pulls you closer. You're practically on his lap when he tucks his face in your neck. He kisses your skin, trails his lips to your ear. You put a hand on his chest and breathe his name.

He whispers, "If I didn't want ya concentrating on the stage, I'd have ya riding my dick."

You shiver and hold onto his jacket. Your stomach swoops at the thought of being filled by him while that beautiful music surrounds you. You wonder if anyone would be able to see into the box when the lights went down. Would your cries be drowned out by the arias?

"You're so pretty, honey. I dunno how long I can hold out."

You pull back to cup his cheek. His eyes are hypnotic, full of something that goes beyond lust. What you wouldn't give to kiss him. You understand Violetta's earlier dilemma keenly, though no promises have been made. Your life isn't glamorous like hers, either. But something about the way he looks at you makes you question your acceptance of your circumstances. He'd said you were incredible, that you could be more than a hooker.

Seeing him now—like this—you can begin to believe it.

You softly say, "Pale…" because you don't know what else to say.

He shakes himself and takes a deep breath. "I gotta take a leak."

You ease onto your chair and center your program and clutch on your lap. He leaves the box, and you page through the program without really seeing it. Your words from days ago ring in your ears:

"Baby, I'm gonna treat you so nice, you're never gonna wanna let me go."

They seem more applicable to you now. He's been so good, even with yesterday's hiccup. You begin to fear you can't go back to your old life with Kit. You don't want to let him go nor forget how he makes you feel. Because for once you feel like a valued, respected, seen human.

He returns seconds before the chime rings through the theater. Once he settles, you find his hand in the dark and entwine your fingers. He fiercely holds your hand as you both watch the action on the stage.

Violetta is sick now, past simply swooning. She's dying and in pain, bedridden and alone. She's heartbroken. You wonder if it's because Alfredo is dead. How unfair would that be, you think. Her doctor can do nothing for her.

She receives a letter, and you recognize Alfredo's father's voice—obviously the letter writer. He's filled with remorse, but Violetta brightens at the end. You hear Alfredo's name in her song. He must be on his way.

Beyond her bedroom window, the city celebrates some festival. The streets are crowded and rowdy. You worry Alfredo won't make it on time.

But he does. Of course he does. He kneels by her bed and takes her hand. They sing so beautifully together, and you still think it's unfair. Because you know deep down his love can't save her. She's in bliss with him at her side, though. Her pain fades with the strength of his adoration. Nothing matters, only Alfredo.

With a final high, clear note, she cries out as joyful death takes her. She collapses in his arms, resplendent and angelic. The wide neck of her dressing gown slips down her shoulder. Alfredo kisses her shoulder with love, in gratitude and a tender farewell.

Your vision blurs, and you swallow around the lump in your throat. Thunderous applause fills the theater as the stage goes dark. You release Pale's hand to clap. He strands and moves his chair away.

You give him a watery smile, pivoting to him. He shakes the pocket square from his jacket and offers it. You take it to dab at the corners of your eyes as you rise to your feet.

With a hand at the small of your back, he walks you out of the box and down the stairs. People trickle out of the theater in twos and threes. They're as speechless as you, if the quiet is anything to go by.

Outside, the night is balmy. The susurrus of the fountain fends off any other noise. However, as you walk beside Pale, the world slowly opens up. Cars roll down the street. Excited voices and laughter bubble from people at the crosswalk.

You don't know if your revelation can survive in the real world.

Darryl waits by the limo, a folded newspaper angled towards the streetlight in his hand. When he sees you and Pale, he shoves the newspaper under his arm and opens the door. You give him a smile and thank him before slipping inside.

Pale follows and has the partition rise before Darryl's in the driver's seat. You glance at it, then him. He angles himself in the corner of the bench, languid with knees spread and an arm resting on the window ledge.

"C'mere, princess."

You set aside your program, the pocket square, and clutch before sliding across the seat. He puts an arm behind your back to reel you close until you're half-lying on him. The limo starts moving, and you balance yourself with your forearm on his chest, your hand close to his shoulder.

He softly asks, "How ya feelin'?"

"Good." You smile and nod. "Great."

He grins. "That's what I like to hear."

He rests his hand on your upper arm, right above the glove.

"Did you have a good time?" you ask.

"Eh." He shrugs a shoulder as his eyes twinkle. "Coulda been better. Coulda had your tits in my face."

"But then you wouldn't have been able to see anything."

"Oh, I'd be seein' plenty. I mean, lookit 'em."

You look down at your chest to see a display of cleavage. The neckline only enhances the way your breasts pillow on his chest.

"You wearin' anything under that dress?"

"No, Pale."

There wasn't really room for anything. You hadn't wanted pantylines, either.

His head flops back as he groans. "You're gonna give me a fuckin' heart attack," he says to the ceiling.

You grin, feeling impish. "I thought giving you a hard-on would be better."

You smooth your hand down his chest, between the set of jacket buttons to graze his groin. He's half hard. You snake your hand under the jacket hem to cup his balls. His thighs part, and he jerks into your touch.

"Don't start nothin' you can't finish, honey."

"Who said I wouldn't finish it?" you retort and slide your knee over his leg.

He growls, "I ain't gonna be done with ya in twenty minutes," and grabs your ass.

You push into his warm hands, arching your back.

You ask, "Why didn't you tell Darryl to drive around?"

"Why didn't you?" he retorts.

He tugs you up his torso until you can't reach his groin. You opt for holding onto his shoulder and the seat headrest. He kisses the swells of your breasts, the cleft between them. The skirt of your gown slinks up your calves, your knees, your thighs.

Then his hands are on your bare skin. The touch makes you still. He cups the back of your thighs, caresses his way up until he holds the underside of your ass.

He says, "Fits just right."

You sink into his hands just a little and bite the inside of your lip. He replies with a squeeze and spreads the globes of your ass. The cooler air flashes between your legs, and your pussy clenches.

You lean on him, running your hands through the back of his hair.

"You like me doin' this, princess?"

"Yes, Pale."

And it's the truth. His touch warms you. It's like he transfers a bit of that passion he feels for everything to you. You want to add to it, give it back, have him feel what you feel. You want to fill him until he's overflowing, until he can't take anymore.

He hums, sounding pleased, as his fingers creep between your legs. They nestle in your slit to tease your pussy. He kisses your chest again, rubs his lips right above the neckline.

The limo bounces over uneven concrete. You're jostled against him, and his fingers slide between your dampening folds. You make a startled sound at the dart of pleasure and hang onto him.

He chuckles. "Yeah, you want somethin' in ya, don't ya?"

His callused middle finger circles your opening. You roll with it, needing so much more.

"Whaddya want, honey?"

"You."

"Ya got me."

He tilts his head to leave open-mouthed, sucking kisses at the top of your breast. Between his fingers and his mouth, you don't know where to go. He's making you wetter by the second.

He murmurs, "Whatcha need from me?"

You shimmy, attempting to silently get more. You're torn. You want him now, but you're halfway to the hotel.

"Is this—" He pushes his thick finger inside you. "—what you need?"

You nod with a whimper and touch his cheek. His skin is hot and smooth. The penetration is minimal, but enough to put you on edge. He looks up, and you meet his gaze. Even in the tinted-window murkiness, you can see how his dark eyes glitter.

"Can't wait to get my dick in this sweet pussy," he says and slowly pumps his finger.

You nod as you feel his saliva dry on your chest. "Want you."

"Yeah? How 'bout ya show me."

You cradle his face and begin rocking with his finger. He eases another one inside. You groan. It's almost enough. His hand is unyielding, fingers rigid. His other hand holds your ass, helps you move.

"Gonna give it to ya hard, I promise, princess."

"I can't wait."

"Yeah?"

You nod as you continue to rock. "You fuck me so good, baby." You lean in close. "Best I've ever had."

You try not to stare at his wet lips, though you can't help it. He's so gorgeous like this, painted in shadows. To keep yourself from kissing him, you drag a thumb over his bottom lip—so lush and yielding.

He curls forward, lips parting. His breath ghosts over your lips. It's warning and temptation. You duck to the side and kiss his cheek. You move his hair back to suck on his earlobe.

He pants as he eases his fingers out of you. You softly protest in his ear, but he whispers the hotel is coming up. His hands skate from your ass to your upper back regardless, like he's hanging onto you.

Clinging to him in reply, you rest your forehead on his temple. Through the passenger window, the street becomes familiar. Graffiti-free buildings line the street and clusters of palm trees tower like leggy sentries over the broad sidewalks.

You roll off his lap, fabric sliding down your thighs, and sit on one hip to keep from dampening the back of your gown. He straightens with a sigh, adjusting his jacket lapels. You watch him gnaw on his bottom lip as if he's eating words.

When Darryl pulls into the hotel's drop-off lane, Pale opens the door before the limo stops. He hops out as the valet rushes forward to hold the door. Pale offers you his hand a second time. You grab your things, take his hand, and climb out.

In the golden light from the display windows and sconces, your lipstick kiss is a bloom of red-pink on his cheek. You chuckle and tell him to come closer.

"What?" he asks with a grin, though he steps closer.

"There's lipstick on your cheek."

You fold the pocket square and bring it to his face.

He leans forward and drily says, "I wonder how that got there."

"I have no idea," you agree, wiping at the lipstick.

With a few swipes, he appears relatively unmolested. There's probably lipstick on his ear, but his longer hair covers it easily enough. You nod when you're finished and stuff the pocket square in your clutch. He turns towards the hotel and reaches back for you.

You take his hand and walk beside him into the tranquil lobby. You stare straight ahead, hoping you look as neat as when you left. In all likelihood, you don't, but you silently dare anyone to say anything.

No one does.

Not even Dennis, who is still working one of the elevators. Though, the way he wishes you and Pale a nice night as you step out of the elevator says it all. You glance at Pale to see him grimly determined. He remains silent as he struggles with the keycard.

He's even quiet when he opens the door for you. You make it to the middle of the foyer when he's at your back, his arm around your middle. The door thuds shut behind him as he steers you to the console table with the big mirror above it.

You knock into the console, and everything on top wobbles. You drop your things beside the neglected phone messages to steady yourself. His lips are hot on your neck. His hands glide over your rib cage until he cups your breasts.

In the mirror, he is a black-silk shadow. You reach back to run a gloved hand through his hair. He digs his teeth into your skin, right where shoulder meets neck.

You gasp and writhe, unsure if you want to lean into it or not. It hurts in a delicious way. You scratch at his scalp, and he growls. He squeezes your breasts as he kisses the indents from his teeth. He looks a little vampiric with his mouth on your neck as he meets your gaze in the mirror.

"Pale, I…"

He shushes you as he curls his fingers in the neckline of your gown.

Unexpectedly, he folds the neckline down, and your breasts pop over the fabric. Your breath catches in your throat as your nipples pucker from the cool air. The fabric around your upper arms tightens, and you place both hands on the console to keep from ruining the seams.

He cups your breasts again, thumbs flicking over your nipples. The rubies and diamonds around your neck glint in the light from the lamp next to you.

He murmurs, "Fuck, lookit you."

He pinches your nipples. You whine and push into his hands, needing more.

"Jewels suit ya, princess."

"Maybe because they're from you."

He grins, full of promise, as he studies you. "I got somethin' else to give ya."

You smile. "Is it sometimes green?"

"Only once in recent memory!" he laughs.

You warm at the sound of his laugh. You feel he doesn't do it enough.

He tucks his blushing face in your neck and kisses up to your ear. At the same time, his palms trail down your torso until he can begin gathering up your gown.

You press your ass to his groin and give a slow roll of your hips. He exhales as he moves with you. The mound of his growing erection nestles right in the cleft of your ass.

He breathes, "Such a good girl for me."

"Mm-hm."

Pale makes enough space between your bodies to ruck the skirt of your gown at your lower back. Then he's tight against you once more. The heat from his hands is almost a shock on your hips. The sleek fabric of his trousers slink against the back of your thighs and ass.

"Please," you whisper and put more of your weight on your hands as you lean forward.

"Please, what, honey?"

"Please touch me."

His hands round your hips, fingers gentle at the top of your thighs. You spread your feet and push your ass back.

"Want me to touch your pussy?" he asks. "Should I make ya come?"

"Yes, please!"

He hums. "Yeah, gotta get ya ready for me, don't I?"

You nod and say, "Fuck me, please."

You watch him bite his lip. "Shit, love how ya beg for it—little slut."

"Your slut."

"Goddamn right."

His hands push between your legs. His fingers spread your wet slit, and you moan at the teasing pressure. He holds you tight, controlling your movements.

"Look at me," he orders.

You stare into the mirror. His gaze bores into you, hot and wild, as he touches your clit. You whimper and struggle to keep your eyes open.

He strokes your clit with fingers on either side of it. His thumbs press at the top of your sex. It's unrelenting and too much. You quiver, jerking in his hold.

"That's it," he purrs.

His strokes speed up, and you cry out. Your body tenses as you rise on tip-toe. Your heart hammers in your chest. You can't stay still.

"Open your eyes."

You swallow a whine and look at him in the mirror. There's no hiding how desperate you are for him. But it doesn't matter. Let him see.

"Come on, baby, come for me."

You claw at the console, gloves padding your nails. You can't catch your breath, can't move, as everything stops for a second. The second suddenly snaps like a taut string and pleasured heat rushes from your clit to your cunt to your gut.

Your head falls back as you moan. Your pussy throbs, and you brace yourself with shaking arms. Pale murmurs something as he messages circles over your slick, sensitive clit. Each pass makes your cunt clench.

You choke out, "Please…"

You reach for your clutch with clumsy fingers. You'd packed a condom just in case. Pale supports your hips with one hand, damp fingers pressing into your belly, while the other helps you open the clutch. You find the condom, offer it back to him, and he takes it.

In the mirror, you watch him unbutton his jacket. His hair flops over his forehead as he unzips his trousers. His cock smacks your ass, leaving a syrupy smear of precome. He thrusts into the crease of your ass. He pulls the cheeks together as he ruts.

You rock back as you stare at his reflection. His high cheekbones are rosy, as are his lips. His skin glistens with sweat.

"Pale," you whisper.

He stills and looks into the mirror.

"Fuck me."

He grits, "Yeah," and tears the condom open.

You arch your back, presenting yourself, as he rolls the condom on. He claps a hand down on the side of your ass. You groan as your skin warms further and your ass jiggles. You glance at your reflection to see your bare breasts heave. The glittering necklace lying on your chest is a refined juxtaposition to how you feel.

"Get a knee on the table, princess."

You right yourself, push the papers and your clutch to the side, and rest the side of your knee on the shallow table. Your nose almost touches the mirror. You place a hand on the mirror frame to keep from knocking into it and relax.

He steps close, and the smooth head of his dick slides between your spread, dripping folds. You're not sure it's a good position until he eases that fat cock of his inside. He feels perfect in you, stretching and filling your pussy.

He curses and grips your hips as he bottoms out. Then he's against your back. His cock presses on your g-spot. You breathe deep even as your cunt flutters.

"God, so fucking hot," he says as he cups your breasts, studying your reflection.

"Pale, I can't—"

Your cunt flutters again, making you groan.

"Me neither," he agrees, grasping your hips, and drags his cock halfway out.

You whimper in protest—you don't want him to leave. But he doesn't. He plunges deep inside you, making your eyes roll back in pleasure. His cock glides against every singing nerve.

He pants, "That's what ya need, ain't it?"

You nod and tilt your pelvis to get him as deep as you can. The heavy crank of his hips knocks the air right from your lungs. Your breasts bounce. He forces his dick all the way inside you—over and over. The tip of his cock keeps glancing off your g-spot, making you jolt in shocked pleasure.

His reflected gaze meets yours, and you can't look away. He gnashes his teeth and fucks you harder, faster. His grip on your hips is bruising, but it doesn't matter. You want to wear his marks.

He minutely changes angles, and his dick hits your g-spot. You wail and struggle to keep still, holding onto anything for support. If he keeps going, he's going to make you come again.

"Fuck yeah," he growls and holds your jaw in a humid hand. "You're gonna gush all over my dick."

You wordlessly whimper as something straining and dark unfurls in your belly. His strong hips crash against your ass in a tight rhythm. His cock pistons like a machine until you can't take anymore. You yell and fight through an orgasm that feels better, more, than you've ever had. It robs you of your senses and strength. It defeats you, leaving you breathless and shuddering and your cunt pulsing.

Pale has his arms around your middle, holding you upright. His hot breath flows over your nape with his sweaty forehead glued to your neck. His softening cock shifts inside you in little pulses as if he's attempting to alleviate some hurt.

The inside of your straight leg is drenched. You huff in amusement, because he definitely got you to gush all over his dick. And everything else. You hope you hadn't soiled the carpet.

Pale makes a questioning sound and kisses your shoulder. You sigh and shake your head as you get the gown's neckline back in place. It doesn't matter now.

Next to the mirror, the hefty lamp leans against the wall, looking as wrung out as you feel. You right it, but don't bother adjusting the crooked shade.

He helps you down. Your legs tremble like a fawn's under your falling skirt. Luckily, he keeps you stable as he pulls off the condom. He dumps it on top of the papers before tucking himself away. You know this is when you're supposed to walk to the bathroom to clean up, but you can't. Your high heels don't help, either.

"Hey," he softly says. "Y'okay?"

"Yeah, sure, just…" You shake off a shoe and almost trip on it. "Just give me a sec."

He bends to the side. You open your mouth to call him back when he puts an arm around your back and behind your knees. He lifts you off the floor, and you make a noise somewhere between a squawk and a croak. You wrap an arm behind his neck as he hoists you higher.

You insist he doesn't have to carry you, because you must be heavy, but he looks pleased and not at all strained.

He slyly points out, "You're in this condition because of me, ain't ya? Seems only fair."

You snort and kick away your remaining shoe. "You sound kinda proud there."

"You would be, too—if ya was me," he says as he walks out of the foyer.

In the bathroom, he has you flip on the lights before depositing you on the tub ledge. He shrugs off his jacket, laying it on the counter, and undoes his cufflinks.

As you draw off your gloves and unclip your earrings, you observe him tug the knot in his bowtie loose. You think of how rarely he laughs or indulges himself—outside of sex, that is. He seems to do both with you, though. And you want him to take it easy. Didn't he hire you to show him a good time?

"Hey, why don't you not go into work tomorrow?" you offer, fiddling with the earrings.

It's not because you selfishly want to spend time with Pale. It's not because you only have two more days with him, either. No, of course not.

"Me, not work?"

"Yeah!" You smile. "Take the day off with me."

His forehead pinches with thought, as if he'd never considered it before.

"I ain't played hooky in months…"

Chapter Text

You wake to Pale's muffled voice. Blindly, you run your hands over the bed, touching nothing but warm, rumpled sheets. You sigh and look around the dim bedroom to find yourself alone.

You hope he's just calling in. He'd promised he'd take it easy today.

It goes quiet before Pale pads into the bedroom, wearing only a pair of navy-blue briefs. He sees you watching him, and he gives a little grin. You push the blanket down and pat the bed in reply.

He good-naturedly huffs and sits. Before he can face you, you urge him onto his side and scoot close. He slides his legs between the sheets as you press against his back. His skin is hot on your cheek.

You put your arm around him, holding him like he's a giant teddy bear. He rests his hand on your wrist. You feel the languid rise of his ribs.

When you wake again, you're alone. It's quiet and close to noon. You lie there for a minute and then hear the crinkle of a newspaper. You smile to yourself, because Pale's still home. You hurry to put on a robe and use the bathroom. Who knows how long he's been waiting for you.

You stop at the bedroom doorway to stare at him lounging on a sofa. His drying hair is finger-combed away from his fresh face. His cream-toned shirt is unbuttoned to mid-chest with the sleeves rolled up. Those long legs of his are wrapped in faded black denim. On the carpet, his scuffed cowboy boots cross at the ankle.

He notices you, and his expression softens. He lets the newspaper section in his hands go limp. "Hey, princess."

"Hi," you say, feeling almost bashful. You really like him looking casual. "Have you been waiting long?"

"Nah, just got to—" He checks the section he's holding. "—Finance."

"Cool, let me clean up and we'll go to lunch."

"Ain't no rush," he says as he flaps the newspaper vertical.

As you turn, he adds, "Gotta drop somethin' by the bank before we eat."

There's no point in arguing about doing something work related on a day off. This is probably taking it easy for him. You say "okay" and head for the bathroom. You take care of your teeth, hair, and face. In the walk-in closet, you choose a black-and-white gingham dress, flats, and a wide-brimmed hat. You pack a compact cross-body purse, zipping it closed as you return to the living room.

Pale tosses the newspaper on the sofa when he sees you. He wipes his hands on his thighs as he goes for a manilla folder on the desk. You can't help but notice the way his jeans hug his body when he crosses to the front door. It's distracting. He hooks a pair of sunglasses on his shirt before opening the door.

"You look nice," you comment as you wait with him for the elevator.

"I ain't the only one."

You smile and glance at him, catching his eyes trail down your body. Maybe you weren't the only distracted one here.

Darryl waits for you and Pale in front of the hotel. The limo is gray again. After you climb inside, you want to ask Pale what kind of paperwork he's dropping off. However, the likelihood of hearing about Philip Stucky has you staying quiet. It really is better to remain ignorant about his business.

You stand on the sidewalk with Darryl as Pale runs the folder into the bank. You discover Darryl lives in Hawthorne with his girlfriend and her son. You ask if he's ever driven around famous people. He chuckles with a shrug, admitting he took Don Henley to Chateau Marmont last month.

"Holy shit," you laugh.

"He was an asshole—" He quickly holds up an apologetic hand. "Pardon me—but…" He shrugs again. "He tipped me fifty bucks."

"Well, it's not like he can't afford it."

Darryl snorts. "I know dat's right."

Right then, Pale comes out sans folder. He slips on his sunglasses and greets Darryl as you get into the limo. They discuss logistics for a minute before Pale joins you.

"So, this Langer's a decent place, huh?" Pale asks as the limo slides into traffic.

"Yeah, Kit swears it's a good deli. She says it reminds her of home."

She'd taken you there once with an insistence on teaching you a thing or two. The meal had been great. Over beef stew and cheese blintzes, you'd learned how to handle johns like a pro.

He says, "And Kit's from Long Island."

"Originally, yup."

"How the hell she get out here?"

"She doesn't talk about it much. She's mentioned a high-school teacher." You make a face. "Her mom kicked her out."

He hums in thought and is quiet for a moment before he says, "Been thinkin' about pastrami ever since ya mentioned it last night."

"Well, they got plenty of pastrami, baby."

There is a teasing tone in his voice as he says, "Enough for someone like me?"

"Like someone with a big appetite?" you retort with a grin.

"Yeah."

You bite your bottom lip. "I hope so."

A few minutes later, the limo pulls next to the bus stop beside Langer's. Pale tells Darryl he has the door. The scent of roasting beef and caramelizing onions flood the car as Pale opens the door.

"Fuck," Pale whispers to himself as he gets out.

He offers his hand to help you stand, and shuts the door behind you.

"I didn't think shit like this existed out here."

You smile. "Surprise!" you exclaim as you take his hand and lead him to the entrance around the corner.

He follows, and his reflection in the wide windows looks delighted. That alone makes the trip worth it.

The restaurant is loud with multiple conversations and busy with servers bustling between tables. You're shown to the last available booth by the window. The table is a wood-printed formica, shiny with age and multiple cleanings. The springy seats are brown, tufted naugahyde. Brown-shaded chandeliers hang from the drop-ceiling. It's so unpretentious, just like you remember, and it puts you right at ease.

The waitress—an older woman with dyed-dark, teased hair rolled into a twist—asks what you both want to drink. Pale skims the back of the menu, lights up, and orders an egg cream. With a grin, you ask for a cream soda.

When she comes back with your drinks, you both order, with him getting a nineteen combo and you a ten. He requests a side of knish and potato salad, and you order cheese fries.

You ask about the egg cream, wondering if it has actual eggs in it. It doesn't look like it does. It looks like frothy Nestle Quik.

He sticks a straw in the glass and slides it to you. "Try it."

It's bubbly chocolate milk, sweet and creamy and light.

You make an appreciative noise and slide the glass back to him. He takes a sip and comments they didn't use Hershey's. That seems to please him.

"You know a lot about drinks," you say.

"Well, yeah, I was a bartender."

"Like in Cocktail?"

"Fuuuck no!" he laughs. "Started as a busboy during school—fuckin' disgusting job. When I looked old enough, they stuck me behind the bar. Shittin' clueless me makin' drinks for these asshats that didn't know a mint julep from grass clippin's." He waves a hand in the air. "Oh, but they'd bitch, though!

"Anyway…" He takes a drink of his egg cream. "Got married after school, and her father got me a job at a fuckin' golf course." He gives you an incredulous look, and you agree. You can't envision him at a golf course.

He continues, "Mint julep central, I swear to Christ. The restaurant had this policy that bartenders don't take orders on busy nights: Fridays, Saturdays. Keeps folks clean at the tables, right? People get their drinks sooner with the servers puttin' in the orders on those nights, too, but that's beside the point.

"So, I'm workin' Saturday night. The old lady just had our second, and we're both draggin' serious ass—"

He's interrupted by the waitress with your sandwiches and sides. The pastrami on the diagonally-cut sandwiches are piled thick.

He lowly whistles. "Lookit that. Holy shit."

The waitress laughs.

Pale rotates his sandwich and says, "That's a thing of beauty."

She's grinning when she tells you both to enjoy and that she'll be around later.

He wastes no time in picking up one half of his sandwich and taking a huge bite. He groans as his eyes roll back. It looks almost orgasmic for him.

You're now certain you've done well by bringing him here. You tuck into your sandwich, and it is totally groan-worthy. The pastrami is so tender, and the swiss cheese is a perfect complement.

"This is sacrilege," Pale says after swallowing. "But this pastrami might be better than Katz's." He takes another bite and mumbles, "Holy shit."

You both finish half your sandwiches before you prompt: "So, Saturday night at the golf course."

"Yeah, second kid. I'm tired as shit, but ya know, maintainin'." He wipes his hands on a napkin and drinks half his egg cream. "There's this table full of rig workers. Usually, I ain't one to judge. Everyone's welcome to get shitfaced at my place, ya know?

"At the first, they're cool. They ain't harrassin' nobody. They're drinkin' an' eatin' an' shit. After they all get a snootful, they start comin' up to the bar," he says as he picks up the rectangular knish, gives it a little pinch to open the side, and squeezes brown mustard inside. His voice goes nasal as he says, "They want shots. They want another starter..."

He bites into the knish and gets a surprised look. "This whole time, the other bartender's been turnin' 'em away." He silently offers you the knish to try. "Like, I'm busy makin' pina coladas—no time for that bullshit."

You take a bite of the knish, and it's delicious. Inside the thick crust is mashed potato, some kind of grain, and meaty mushrooms. The mustard is the perfect amount of sharpness. You nod in delight and hand it back.

"Finally," he says before taking another bite of knish. "King a this table of dipshits gets loud. King Dipshit. He's yellin' for service. The whole dining room's twitchy. People are lookin' to leave, which ain't no good for business.

"Now their server's a pro, so she comes out and tells 'em about the policy and that, ya know, she's happy to run interference for 'em. They wave her off, all 'whateva, toots.'

"They're makin' my ass hurt by now." He puts the knish down. "They've been makin' my ass hurt. So, I come around the bar and tell 'em the policy's the fuckin' policy. Ya know, let your server do her fuckin' job, right? The fucker wants an exception—of course. Like he's a regular, which he was not.

"Dipshit gets in my face, threatin' to get me fired. 'You'll be sorry.'" He makes his hand a moving mouth. "Blah, blah. Then he calls the server a nasty skank bitch." He cuts through the air with the same hand. "Last straw. I grab him by his Kmart sport jacket and haul his ass to the parking lot."

"Oh my god," you interject and stab a soggy, cheese-covered french fry.

"Yeah, he's flailin' around like fish and yakin' away—pissin' me off." Pale imitates him by wiggling in his seat, making you smile. "Insists he's friends with the manager. I'm like, ain't no one friends with that prick. So, I drop the dipshit out front. He's too drunk to brace, and blam—" He claps. "—chin, nose, everything, hits the concrete. Blood every-fuckin'-where."

From anyone else, this would sound like bragging. But the way he's telling the story, it just sounds like another day in the life of.

"Now he's groanin'. His buddies are bookin' it. I'm yellin' for 'em to take their king with 'em. Two come around, get the fucker to his feet. He pushes 'em away, spins to me, and tries to clock me in the nose."

Your eyes go wide. "Did he hit you?"

"Oh yeah, he got me. Too slow to dodge, too goddamn tired. Anyway, right in the chin. I get him back—right, left. There's your exception, Your Majesty." He shakes his head, looking proud for a second. "Fucked up my wedding ring." He holds up a bare left hand. "Got blood on my work shirt. Jesus Christ, what a fuckin' mess."

"Were you fired?"

"Nope! Not a peep. The server had one of their cards for the reservation. She charged that one for the whole table, because if the till came up short, we'd all be toast—and broke."

"That's shit."

"Yeah, I lined up another job after that. Back of house. Got sick of those hoity-toity assholes." He pointed. "They were shitty tippers, too!"

"What did your wife say about the ring and the blood?"

He wryly says, "Nothin', though she sure noticed a lack of tips!"

"But not your chin?"

"Maybe? She didn't say nothin'."

You grunt at your fries, not wanting to bad-mouth someone you didn't know. You'd like to think you'd notice—and want to take care of—your husband if he came home with bruises on his face, though.

"Eh." He picks up the remaining half of his sandwich. "I wasn't the one with a baby on my tit and a toddler crawlin' up my leg."

He did have a point, and you say, "I guess so…"

You both eat in silence until he explains, "We married young, like juuust legal. By the time the kids were in school, she was done with me. I mean, she prayed for me, but what the fuck good did that ever do?"

You snort and meet his gaze. "Yeah, I've had people pray for me, too."

He looks at you for a moment. Really looks. You wonder if you have mustard or grease on your face, but it doesn't seem like he sees something amiss. His expression morphs to something completely warm. The corners of his eyes crinkle before his lips turn up for a private grin.

"I bet."


You take Pale's hand as you pass the Santa Monica Pier sign. There isn't a huge crowd seeing as it's a weekday afternoon. The wind strengthens as you walk, and the brim of your hat flutters. Indistinct music comes from the cars rolling past, and gulls cry overhead. The scent of saltwater and hot pavement fills your nose.

Ahead, the soft horizon of blue ocean stretches from the Palisades onward. As you crest the rise of the pier road, the parked cars below shimmer like a desert mirage. The golden beach beyond teems with people. The hippodrome stands stolid on the pier. In the distance, the ferris wheel slowly turns.

You glance at Pale, but his expressive eyes are hidden by black Ray-Bans. He feels relaxed as his shirt ripples in the breeze. Some part of you can't believe you'd talked him into visiting something so touristy. He doesn't seem the type, but he'd relented when you mentioned the old-fashioned arcade.

Your excitement grows as you take the first step onto the wood deck of the pier. Your steps match the pace of the canned salsa music coming from a restaurant on your left. He easily keeps up as you pass umbrellaed carts selling screen-printed t-shirts and cheap sunglasses.

A guitar-playing busker begins strumming The Doobie Brothers' "Listen to the Music". Pale leads you around the crowd surrounding the busker. People part for him like he's Moses with the Red Sea.

He pauses to ask where to go, and you point to the vaguely old-western building down the promenade. Above the building's colonnade are signs for foosball, air hockey, skee ball, and a shooting gallery. There was more than that, though. They had Street Fighter II, Pac-Man, pinball, and other games you'd never seen before until setting foot inside.

In the shelter of the arcade, Pale exchanges five-dollars worth of tokens for each of you. You dump your coins into your purse and look around the open area.

"C'mon," you say and put a hand around his upper arm. "Skee ball."

He scoffs, "Skee ball," but lets you tug him back to the line of machines.

"What? Afraid of my skee-ball prowess?"

"Oh, you got ball prowess alright, princess. I ain't disputin' that."

You laugh as you choose your machine. He sets up next to you as you fish a couple of tokens from your purse.

"Wanna make it interesting, handsome?"

His eyes sparkle at the challenge. "Whatcha got in mind?"

"The one with the most tickets gets to be the boss tonight?"

He hums in thought as he sways to you. You try not to linger too long on the gold chain resting in the triangle of his exposed chest. Or the way his jeans cling to his hips.

He tilts your chin up as he purrs, "Ain't I always the boss, honey?"

"Well…" You bite your bottom lip. "Maybe not tonight."

"Oh-ho!" he chuckles. "Whaddya gonna do to me?"

With one hand, you reach around him to squeeze a cheek of his ass. He jerks forward, and his eyes go hot. He wets his lips. And fuck, that's so distracting.

You murmur, "I guess you'll just have to wait and see."

"Ya kinda makin' me wanna lose over here."

"You know no matter what, I'll take care of you, baby."

He stares at your lips. "Y'always do."

You back away and slip two tokens in the skee ball machine, feeling Pale's eyes on you the whole time. He steps in front of his machine and loads in two tokens. You give him a wink before you roll the ball down the ramp.

At the end, you both do well. You pocket your tickets and tell him to pick the next game. He goes for the shooting game, Jungle Hunt. You make him go first and enjoy watching him handle the fake rifle. Before his time is up, you press against his back and settle your hands at the top of his fly.

"Hey, no cheating!" he half-heartedly complains.

You rub your breasts on his back. "I'm not cheating. I'm supporting. You have to keep your torso tight."

He misses his last shot and groans. "I'm turnin' ya over my knee tonight."

"That's if you win!" you say and step around him to pick up the rifle.

He harrumphs as he tears off his tickets and folds them into his back pocket. You put in your tokens and take aim. You're not bad, but the targets are fast.

Pale doesn't help when he ducks under the brim of your hat to kiss your neck. His lips feel sinful as they lightly trail over your skin. He digs his teeth into where your neck meets shoulder, and your knees quake.

Your ticket count from that game isn't great.

Next, is Whac-A-Mole, and you both hip-check each other while talking smack. On and on, you go around the arcade, competitively teasing. When the tokens are gone, he gets more. You play Duck Hunt, Baseball Pro, and this weird Feed Big Bertha hoop game.

By the end of the third round of tokens, you're both under pressure at the last game: Frogger. You snarl and stomp as you try to get your frog safely across the swamp. You don't know why you want to win so badly, but you're invested.

Next to you, he growls and gnashes his teeth. "I'm gonna fuck ya so fuckin' hard, you'll feel it next week!"

You don't know if he's talking to you or the frog on screen. You bite back laughter as you focus on getting your frog to the finish-line. Time runs out on the game before you make it, but you think you were closer than him.

"Fucker, fucker, fucker!" Pale hisses at the screen, cheeks flushed.

The tally shows you'd earned more points. Tickets trundle out of the slots on the front of the machine as you have your victory dance. Your string of tickets is longer.

"Alright, let's count out," he grumps and tears off his tickets. "Fuckin' game."

"Hey, either way we're winning, right?"

"Yeah, you're winning this dick tonight."

You collect your tickets and then look him in the eye. "I sure am."

His mouth quirks as if he's attempting to hide a grin. You give him another wink just for the hell of it. He smiles as he turns to the line of air hockey tables.

As you follow him to an unoccupied table, you watch him move. You can't help but remember him last night: looking so refined in a tux, yet whispering such filth in your ear. Then there was the way he took you. There were faint bruises on your hips, and you could still vaguely feel the hard fucking he'd given you.

He dumps his tickets on the table and begins counting. You unload the accordioned stacks of tickets from your purse to count. In the end, you beat him by four. He's surprisingly gracious. You pool your tickets together to trade them for a Batman pencil case and a handful of candy.

Pale snatches a generic grape sucker from the sampler bag and pops it in his mouth. You tear open the pouch of Pop Rocks and pour some on your tongue. Kids dart around you as you walk away from the prize counter.

It's a shock to see how low the sun is in the sky when you step outside. You didn't think you'd been playing long. The crowds are different now, as are the buskers. One of the buskers plays some kind of xylophone. It's soothing against the backdrop of ocean waves.

You point with the bag of candy further down the pier. He nods with a grunt, sliding his sunglasses over his eyes. In the distance, the delighted screams from the amusement park fills the air. While it would be hilarious to see Pale on a ride, you won't force him. You know how he feels about heights.

You walk past caricature artists and a line for funnel cakes as you finish your Pop Rocks. There are carts selling painted shells and handmade sandals and personalized name jewelry. The farther you walk, the more fishermen you see. Finally, you find a vacant bench facing the Palisades and lead him over.

You sit and place the bag of candy on the bench between you. The breeze ruffles his hair as he roots around in the bag, and he pushes his sunglasses into his hair. You rest your feet on the guard-rail in front of you and sigh, asking him what he's looking for.

He holds up a mini Abba-Zaba bar and says, "This."

You smile and find a tiny box of Runts in the bag. As you eat a banana-shaped candy, he asks:

"If you're the boss tonight, what're ya gonna do with me?"

You hum. "I haven't given it much thought, actually."

He razzes, "Like a typical boss."

"Oh, so you had a plan?" you laugh.

"Damn right—" He pulls at a bite of taffy with his teeth. "I had a plan."

"Tell me about this plan."

"Well, it doesn't matter now," he says as he chews. "I ain't the boss."

"Aw, c'mon, tell me. As the boss, I insist."

He gives you a sidelong glance, looking pleased with himself.

You prod at him with an elbow and coax, "C'mon."

"Alright, fine." He puts an arm on the back of the bench. "First things first, you're naked."

"Do I undress for you?"

"Of course, gimme a little show."

"Maybe a lapdance?"

"You ever done that?"

"A time or two," you reply and lift a shoulder.

You'd had a few johns want you to gyrate on their laps and rub your body on them. Those were fun and usually quick tricks. You'd push your breasts in their face and slide your hands down your torso to tease. Sometimes, you'd reverse-cowgirl and roll your ass up their body.

You'd like to do it for Pale. Maybe you could do that tonight: tie him to a dining chair and show him a few moves. You bet he'd curse and growl delicious threats and strain to fuck you. But you'd ride him how you want, use him for your pleasure.

He says, "You'll have to demonstrate some time."

"I will."

He looks at you like he's imagining it. You wonder what he's thinking. He shakes himself out of it before you can ask.

"Anyway, you naked," he states. "On the bed, on all fours, 'cause ya been teasin' me."

"And it's your turn now."

"Well, I ain't gonna tease ya. I'm gonna punish ya." He glances down your body. "Yeah, been askin' for it all day."

"You can't blame me when you're all…" You wave a hand at his chest.

"When I'm all…?"

"Sexy. In jeans." You struggle to articulate your thoughts. "Your shirt's all..." You flap your hands near your neck. "There's a lot of skin, okay?"

"A lot of skin? Sweetheart, your tits have been a—a-a spectacle all day! And this shit—" He points to your bare legs. "Been wantin' them clapped around my fuckin' head since ya came out!"

You laugh at him getting so worked up. He's still for a second before he ducks his head and snorts at himself. You lean into him, resting the top of your hat on his shaking shoulder.

His head lolls back, and he asks, "Can we please go home so I can give it to ya good!?"

You sit up. "I thought I was the boss."

"Yeah, but I wanna get to work."

You shake your head in amusement. "Okay, let's go home."

You stand, roll the bag of candy closed, and shove it in your purse. Pale straightens and offers his hand.

As you stroll back towards the now-lit pier sign, you catch sight of a photo booth. You perk up and tug him to it. You can't believe you'd missed it earlier.

"We gotta!" you say as you turn to him. "I haven't seen one in ages!"

He reluctantly agrees, but insists you sit on his lap. Like you could fit beside him in that cramped stall.

Once the plastic curtain is closed and you're sitting on Pale's lap, you wrap an arm behind his neck. The booth beeps a countdown. You make sure your hat isn't in the way and smile at the flaking "look here!" sticker surrounding the lens. The flash goes off, and the countdown starts again. Before that last beep, he cups your breasts. Your mouth falls open in surprise just as the flash blinds you.

You pivot slightly on his lap and cup his cheek, an admonishment on your tongue. He wraps his arms around your waist and grins, looking mischievous and rendering you mute. You smile back right before the flash goes off again.

He pulls you in and mouths at your jaw. You lean on him and angle back, staring at the sticker with half-lidded eyes. The flash goes off one last time, and the booth beeps "ta-da!"

He kisses the hinge of your jaw once more and pats your hip. With a sigh, you push the curtain open and clamber out. He unfolds himself from the stall and waits with you as the photos develop.

After a minute, a mechanism inside the booth whirls. The photo strip drops into the metal slot on the outside of the booth. Pale snatches the strip and studies it for a moment. You ask him if they're good, and he nods.

"See for yourself," he says and hands it to you.

The photos are everything you wanted them to be. You smile at them before slipping them inside the new pencil case for safe keeping. In the meantime, he fishes a couple of quarters from his pocket. He tells you he's going to call Darryl and heads for the bank of payphones around the corner.

You peek at the photos as you wait. If you didn't know any better, you'd think the couple in them was very much in love. Though with the way he looks at you, talks with you... You minutely shake your head and put the photos away. It's easy to forget you're just a hooker.

You've heard of the girlfriend experience, but this is messing with your head now. You're attached—stupidly so—and you can admit you never want this to end with him. You hear an internal Kit snort at your confession. It makes you remember tomorrow is it. He's returning to the east coast the day after.

There's nothing you can do to change that. It will end. He's leaving.

You swallow around the lump in your throat.

New York is so far away.


The line rings as you sip at your Diet Coke. You don't think Kit would've left for the night already. You pray she hasn't done something drastic. And that Carlos hasn't decided he needs the money right away.

Kit is smart, though, and tough like an alleycat. You know she can survive.

You press the switch-hook button on the phone to end the call and then dial the front desk. When the clerk picks up, you identify yourself and ask if Kit De Luca has picked up the envelope left for her. The clerk puts you on hold. It's an agonizing minute before they come back to report the envelope is unclaimed.

You thank them and hang up. The envelope still being there doesn't have to mean anything bad, you think. Kit's allowed to be busy—it's not like she can have a night off—and it would take a while by bus to get over here. Also, she could have forgotten which hotel you're at.

You shouldn't be bothering her, anyway.

From the bedroom, Pale calls, "Hey, boss, where ya want me?"

You leave your drink and walk to the bedroom, a grin spreading over your lips. Pale stands in the bathroom doorway, naked save for a towel around his hips. The tips of his hair are damp, and his chest is flushed.

"It's a surprise," you answer. "Just get some underwear on and relax."

He appears caught off guard, like he has questions, but he nods and heads to the closet.

You don't want him to see what you're going to change into, so you occupy yourself by unpacking your purse. Once he's done in the closet, you walk in and choose a dove-gray silk pajama set. The loose wrap-front pants tie at the front, just like the matching sleeveless top. It came with a cropped kimono jacket that belts high at the waist.

The salespeople at V had talked you into it. They said it was sexy on you. The rich silk clung where it needed to, yet left something to the imagination. You took their word for it, since you were used to showing off the goods all the time.

You roll the pajamas and tuck them under your arm before slipping into the bathroom. There, you wash the pier off your body and fluff your hair. You floss and rinse out your mouth.

You hope the people at V were right as you dress. You want him to like it, and you need enough to take off for a tease.

When you come out of the bathroom, it's quiet. Pale lounges against the bed's headboard, a pillow wadded behind his bare upper body. One leg is folded under the other; his hands limp at his sides.

Eyes closed.

You pause for a moment to watch him. His chest steadily rises and falls. You smile and breathe, "He sleeps."

Pale's usually so full of energy, so fiery. You've never seen him like this. Oh sure, you've slept next to him, but he's always awake before you. Yet here he is, sleeping and peaceful.

You softly pad around the bed to see him better. He looks like a napping god with his wavy hair framing his face. His dark eyelashes fan above his cheekbones, and his full lips pout just a little. In the mellow lamplight, his charming moles and freckles fade a touch.

You want to kiss each one. You want to kiss him. You dare not.

You ease onto the bed next to him, a leg tucked under you. He looks younger with all his usual tension melted away. You place a kiss on your finger and press it to his unmoving lips. They're soft, plush, and give under your fingertip.

With him asleep, he'll never know you'd done that. He'll never know if you really kissed him, either. As you lean in, you tell yourself it's only this once. You need to know and then you can let it go.

You kiss his cheek as an experiment, but he doesn't stir. His skin is hot against your lips. He smells like soap. You kiss near his mouth, and still no response.

You pull back enough to make sure he's not playing possum. It doesn't look that way, so you take a deep breath and move in. The first tentative brush of your lips on his makes you want more. You gently kiss his motionless lips, imagining what it would feel like if he was awake. You wonder if he'd be aggressive or tender.

When you tilt your head to leave one last kiss, he sharply inhales. His eyelashes flutter. You're too close to act like nothing happened. He peers at you with slitted eyes. You expect him to say something, but he doesn't. He closes his eyes and leans in.

You shouldn't do it, but you can't help it. You kiss his lips again, shaky and anxious. This time, he responds. It's as if something cracks in your chest. Maybe it's your heart—you don't know—but you can't stop.

He begins kissing you in earnest. He kisses your mouth open, his tongue glides over your bottom lip. He cradles your face in his palms to hold you near. His nose presses into your cheek as he kisses you again and again.

You sink into it and hold onto his shoulders. You flick your tongue over his, but he takes control. He sucks at your bottom lip, then grazes his lips over yours in a tease you feel all the way to your toes. You whimper and rest against him.

Pale wraps an arm behind you and then the other. His fingers go into your hair as he kisses you hard. That crack in your chest becomes a fissure, and your heart floods. Floods enough to drown in.

You put your arms around him and let the deluge take you.

He lays you diagonally across the bed to rest half on you. He tastes you with lips and tongue. He nips at your bottom lip to open your mouth how he wants. He runs a hand over your side to cup one of your breasts.

You arch into it and pull him closer. He halts, skating that same hand up your body until he reaches your cheek. He holds your face and stares into your eyes. There must be something there he'd been searching for, because he gives you a look that is raw and loving and relieved.

He smooths hair away from your temple before he dives in to kiss you once more. You angle to him and curl a leg over his hip. The split in the leg of your pants slink open, so you feel his skin directly. He groans deep in his chest, pushing a hand under your ass to draw you up.

"God, ya feel so fuckin' good," he murmurs against your lips.

You reel him in for another kiss. You want to devour him, make up for lost time. Tunneling your hands in his hair, you give him open-mouthed kisses. You suck on his tongue, and his hips jerk against your thigh. The mound of his cock practically burns through the thin layers between you.

He breaks the kiss as he moves his hand back down to your chest. He looks between your bodies and plays with the silk.

"Whatcha got on?" he asks.

"Pajamas. I thought it would be good to have enough on to draw out—" You shrug a shoulder. "You know, a lapdance or something."

He hums and tugs the belt around your waist loose. Putting a little space between you, he spreads the jacket and spans a hand over your ribs. You want him to touch you more, kiss you again, and get between your legs.

He ducks in to kiss your neck as he cups your breast. The silk top slides over your skin, your nipples. You're keenly aware of how your nipples tighten. With his soft lips on your throat, you're caught in indecision on where to go. You want him everywhere.

You bring his face to yours and kiss him again. He groans as his thigh inches higher between yours. You make an approving noise, pulling him further on top of you. He nudges your legs apart and gets between them.

Pale's hips press you into the bed. His cock is a fervid ridge digging into your belly. You rock under him and pant against his lips. He ruts with you, kissing your cheek, your jaw, your neck.

He continues down your chest until he reaches the vee of your top. He grins at you as he pulls the first tie loose before kissing the newly bared skin. The damp imprint of his kiss cools on your skin as he goes for the second. He kisses your chest and stomach as he flicks the top open.

"Fuck," he growls.

He sucks at your skin, trying to get your taste on his tongue. He moves up and up until he can lick the underside of one of your breasts. You still and push your fingers into his hair as he mouths at the outer curve. His big hands steady your ribs and arch you off the bed.

Your breath rushes from your lungs when he finally takes a nipple in his mouth. He sucks hard, making you cry out. His teeth pinch, and you jolt from the pleasurable pain. You feel it down in your cunt as your muscles clench.

He moves to your other nipple and tweaks it, pulls at it with teeth and soothes it with his tongue. You beg him for mercy or more, but doesn't matter. You only want this with him to keep going. He drags his teeth over the side of your breast, and it doesn't matter if he bruises you.

You whisper his name, and his liquid eyes dart to yours. You stare at each other as your chest heaves below his chin. He quickly slithers up your body, his pelvis slipping into place against your pussy, and catches your lips.

His chest rubs over your peaked nipples, and his arms push under your back. You're captive under his firm body—he's ensnared by your strong limbs. His skin feels as good as the silk of your pajamas, and you feel his muscles work underneath.

You already feel taken as he licks into your mouth. He overwhelms your senses, makes you breathless and dizzy with desire. He makes you laugh and feel valued. He's strong and vulnerable and secretly kind. He's so generous with you—and all you want to do is give it right back to him. You want to give him every good thing possible.

You are already taken and drowning in love.

"Please," you whisper and smooth the hair away from Pale's forehead. "I want you." You look into his dark-amber eyes. "I want this."

He nods as his chest stutters. "Okay, honey, I gotcha."

He rears onto his knees to untie your pants. He slides them down your hips and off your legs. You lie there, letting your legs bracket his thighs. You want to pull him on top of you just like this, have him thrust his bare cock in you.

You realize then he's staring between your legs. He throws your pants off the bed before swooping down to kiss your belly. You almost ask what he's doing, but you choke on the question as he curls his arms under your legs and slides down the bed.

And then his velvety tongue licks a thick stripe up your wet slit. His five-o'clock shadow scratches at your skin. You groan and let your head fall back.

He answers with a moan and wastes no time finding your clit. He flutters his tongue around it, ending in gentle suction. You push your hips towards his face as you blindly reach for his forearms. You want to tell him he doesn't have to be gentle now, you can take it, but you can't form words.

He forces you to the mattress with hands on your hipbones and buries his face in your pussy. Placing your hands on top of his, you let your knees fall open and rock against his mouth. You plead for him in half-formed sentences, begging him to continue. You quiver as you strain, your muscles tight.

He's ruthless as he laves your clit and rhythmically sucks at it. You curse, telling him you're close. Because you're stretched to the limit. He doubles his efforts with eyes closed and nose pressing into your mound.

His talented mouth works, hot and wet, between your legs until you're wrenched into orgasm. Your mouth falls open, heels digging into the mattress, as your cunt throbs. Climax runs like quicksilver through you, flashing up your spine and warming your thighs. Your heartbeat thuds in your ears as you gasp in pleasure.

You tremble and grip his hands as he draws circles over your clit with the flat of his tongue. It's too much, too good, making you jolt with each whirl. You whine his name and pull at his hands.

Pale slides his hands to your sides and licks up your folds one more time before showing mercy. You swallow through a dry throat as you look down your torso at him. He meets your gaze and sucks your come off his lips.

You touch his pink cheeks, stroke his cheekbones with your thumbs. His skin is feverish.

"C'mere," you breathe.

He grins, wipes at the lower half of his face, and crawls over you like a predator. You pull him down to kiss him again, not minding the taste of yourself in his mouth. He smells like you—all tangy and salty.

You push back the hair that's flopped over his forehead and look at him. It would be easy to get lost in studying his features. His allure, especially like this, is overwhelming.

You trail your fingers and gaze down his body. He still wears briefs, which are tented with the heft of his erection. You cup his cock through them, the cotton damp with precome.

Above you, he shudders as his cock pulses on your palm.

You meet his eyes once more and give him a squeeze. "Fuck me," you murmur.

Instead of going for a condom, he kisses you fiercely. You moan and hold his waist as you return each hard kiss. You don't care if either of you bruise.

He gets ahold of your wrists one at a time and shoves them to the bed. You arch up to keep kissing him, but he evades to kiss your throat. You throw your chin back as you writhe.

"Taste so good," he says between kisses to your neck.

He noses the pajama jacket out of the way, leaving searing kisses on each inch of skin he uncovers. He adds teeth in sensual threat. You rub your inner thighs against his legs just to touch him back. He suddenly digs his teeth into your shoulder. It hurts—sharp and thrilling and clear, like you can discern each of his teeth. It makes your soaked pussy clench. You gasp in want, tilting your pelvis up.

"Please, Pale! Please!"

He whispers, "Love it when ya beg for me."

"And I love it when you fuck me," you retort.

He chuckles and kisses the bite on your shoulder. He kisses all the way back to your lips. You deepen the kiss automatically. You put how much you want him into the kiss, how you can't get enough. You want all of him, all that he'll give you.

He sags onto his elbows, his hold loosening. You don't try to get free, though. Getting away the furthest thing from your mind.

He breaks the kiss with a "fuck" and rears back onto his knees. "Get the shit off."

"Yes, Pale."

As you shrug off the jacket and top, Pale gets a condom from the nightstand. You toss the garments away and lean on your elbows to watch him wiggle out of his briefs. His cock springs from its confines, almost smacking his abdomen.

The luscious color and perfect curve of it has your mouth watering.

He steadies his cock as he returns. You draw your legs up and open, and he takes his place between them. He kneels there, a condom packet held between his teeth, and strokes his dick a few times. Milky precome glosses the tip, and you can hardly glance away.

Without preamble, he tears the condom packet open and rolls it down his erection. You look at his face to find him already staring back.

You lie back, and he takes it for the invitation it is. He braces himself on one arm and then the other, creeping over you until he lowers himself. You run your hands up his solid arms and over his flexing shoulders. His hair tickles the back of your hands as you stop at his nape.

He slips an arm under your back and leans in to kiss you. This time it's not hard or demanding. It's not soft, either. There's something powerful and purely Pale behind it, and it takes you by surprise.

You need him now and stop the kiss. He makes a hungry, greedy sound and kisses the corner of your mouth. You reach for his cock to guide him down. He spreads his knees, getting into position.

The first touch of his dick over your sensitive folds has you biting back a whimper. You roll your hips just to feel the smooth, spongy head rub your clit.

"Don't— Don't fuckin' tease me no more, baby."

You meet his intense gaze. "Sorry, Pale."

His dick jerks in your hand.

"Lemme in," he says through gritted teeth. "Lemme fuck that sweet pussy."

"Yeah," you agree and direct his cock where you're desperate for it.

He nudges at your opening, and you let go to place your hands at his waist. He slides deep inside you in one unrelenting push. You're so wet, he glides right in. Like he was made for fucking you.

The thrust forces a short whine from your chest. Your cunt pulsates around his thick cock. His head drops next to yours with a groan as his cock jerks again.

He pants, "So goddamn good, baby."

You nod and skate your hands up his flanks. "Kiss me."

Pale does, licking into your mouth. He kisses like an invasion: conquering and leaving you speechless. He holds your jaw in more of an embrace than to control.

He widens his knees, his dick sinking deeper, and propels your legs further apart. You moan against his mouth, and he rocks his hips. You move with him, encouraging.

He holds you steady as he begins thrusting. Each time your bodies meet, he grinds and fucks pleasured whimpers from you. His grip on your shoulder tightens, and he orders you to look at him.

When you do, he digs his knees into the bed and cranks his hips. Your mouth falls open, and you claw at his damp back. He growls and thrusts faster, harder, going deep. His big cock strokes every sensitive spot as his dark eyes stare into yours.

"Tha's it, you're gonna come on my dick, aren't ya?"

"Y-yes, Pale."

"Such a good girl—God, your fuckin' pussy…"

His hips slap against yours with each powerful thrust. There's no stopping the tensing of your body, of how you strain under him. You know the release building inside you will be devastating.

"Don't stop," you whisper. "Please, don't stop."

And he doesn't. He gives you everything. He rams his big cock inside you in an unyielding rhythm. He thrusts into you over and over until you keen and writhe. Heat and sharp pleasure rush through you, making you moan in shock and still. Your pussy throbs and you can't catch your breath and it's too much.

Pale keeps fucking you, ratcheting you into such a delirious state that everything dissolves around you. You only feel his fast breath on your lips, his humid hands on your body, the drive of his strong hips pushing his cock deep inside you.

"Oh God, fuck—so fuckin' good, so fuckin'—" He groans. "—tight!"

And all yours, you think.

I love you.

His eyes widen in surprise as his breath catches and cheeks go red. He thrusts in one powerful time, sheathing himself fully and knocking a winded groan from you. He holds you tight and grinds you into the mattress while making these broken, wounded noises that half-sound like your name. His cock gets impossibly harder as it pulses and pulses.

When he calms, you hold his sweating face. His brow is furrowed, lips kiss swollen, and eyelashes clumped together with moisture. He's beautiful like this.

You smile and agree with yourself. You do love him. There's no denying it now. It's the best and worst thing that could happen.

Pale stares back, his eyes a wellspring of unvoiced emotion. You kiss him and kiss him, wrapping yourself around him, and never want to let him go.

Chapter Text

The morning light bouncing off the polished coffee table nearly blinds you as you come out of the bedroom. You blink and avert your eyes as you walk to the dining room. Pale sits in his usual spot at the head of the table, his back to the living room. He wears a perfect white oxford shirt and inky black vest and trousers. His suit jacket hangs on the chair to his left.

You want to touch him, run your hands through his hair. Maybe kiss his cheek and hug him from behind.

"G'morning," he says before taking a bite of his breakfast.

"Morning," you return as you come around the table to see a dirty plate and an open section of the newspaper in front of him.

He holds a bowl of boring granola in one hand and a full spoon in the other. On his right, is a place setting clearly for you with a covered dish and upside down teacup. The rest of the newspaper lies at the other end of the table, a thermal carafe of tea beside it.

You feel him watching as you pluck your teacup from the saucer, add a sugar cube from the bowl by the carafe, and pour yourself tea. It's vaguely floral, that much you can tell by the steam. You ask him the variety before taking a sip.

"Jasmine green."

You nod, then sift through the different sections of the newspaper. You decide on the front section, bringing it back to your seat. You sit and lift the dishcover to find a muesli bowl smothered in berries and drizzled in honey.

"That okay?" he asks.

"Yeah, great." You smile. "Thank you."

He softly grunts and returns to his granola. You don't know what to say to start a real conversation, so you eat your muesli and drink your tea. Some part of you wants to bring up the kissing from last night. It was a misstep, though you don't regret it.

Kissing him was amazing. He's a great kisser. You want to do it again—right now, actually—even if you shouldn't.

Pale sets his now-empty bowl on the dirty plate and angles to you. He clears his throat while rubbing a palm on his thigh. You dab at your mouth with your napkin and look expectantly at him.

"I'd like to keep seein' ya," he states.

A tension you hadn't realized that had been in your chest evaporates, and you smile. "You would?"

Was he coming back to town after wrapping things up in New York, then? Would he be managing the place Bianchi purchased? Or, would he take you back to New York with him?

"Hell yeah." He brightens. "I was thinkin' I could arrange to get ya a legit job. Nothin' fancy, just a hostess gig."

You suspect he means a job here in town. Not in New York. You wonder if he'd lied to you about Anna. Would you be a sidepiece?

He continues, "Maybe I could, ya know, wire some money every month."

Your heart sinks. You rest an elbow on the table and rest your head in your hand. Your gaze dances from thing to thing on the table, not really seeing any of it. Yes, he wants to keep seeing you on the side. Wiring money to you implies he wouldn't be in town at all. It was dumb to think there could be any more. He wouldn't want anything serious with a prostitute.

"Anything else?" you ask. "You gonna leave some cash by the bed when you pass through town?"

"It ain't like that."

"Then how is it?"

"Well, firstly, it gets ya off the street."

He's talking about you being some kind of pet project or his kept woman. Mainly, it sounds like he wants exclusive rights to your body. So, you go from working for yourself to working for him. No love, or a possibility of it, only an arrangement.

You say, "That's just geography."

With your stomach roiling, you leave the table and walk out onto the sunny terrace. The sky is a sapphire blue, not a cloud in sight. Birds coo from the roof. You place your hands on the warm balustrade and observe the bustling street below, at all the lives carrying on.

Pale comes to the doorway. "Whaddya want, then?"

You want something different, something real, not just a debt you'll owe him.

When you don't reply, he demands, "Whaddya want from me? Us?"

You like him saying "us," but you're not sure there will be an us if this is what he thinks. This isn't what you want from a partner.

You recall what you had wanted as a kid and grin at the memory. "My parents fought a lot when I was young," you begin. "Yelling, slamming doors, breaking things. I used to hide and pretend…" You take a deep breath. "I would pretend I was trapped in a big crystal cave with two awful dragons. And then this knight with magic armor would come charging in and draw their sword." You lift your arm as if you wielded that sword. "And I would run to them." You smile at remembering the relief you'd felt in the dream and let your arm drop. "And together we would defeat the dragons and leave the cave."

You turn to Pale, finding him focused on you. You walk towards him and say:

"But never in this dream did the knight say to me, 'C'mon, baby, I'll get you a sweet position in the kitchen.'"

You'd wanted to be a knight, too.

And you bet Pale wants you to drop everything and call into work just to blow him when he unexpectedly comes to town.

The phone rings from the living room, interrupting his reply. He sighs, and you think he's about to ignore it, but he doesn't. He strides into the living room to answer the phone.

You cross your arms over your chest and stand by the doorway. He nods and asks questions. You get the impression that whatever the call is about is urgent.

"Hey, if they wanna meet, we should do it now. Before it gets outta hand..." He pauses as the caller says something. "Jackie— Jackie, I know, alright. We'll meet 'em at Stuckey's."

You repress a shudder.

Pale ends the call, grabs his jacket, and returns to you. "I gotta go." He slides on his jacket. "I heard ya, alright, but I can't give that right now."

You straighten his tie. "I know." You smooth it down his chest. "It's a really good offer for someone like me."

"You ain't just a hooker. I ain't been treatin' ya like a hooker. I mean what I offered." He kisses your cheek and starts for the front door. Over his shoulder, he says, "I'll see ya tonight."

As the door closes behind him, you huff through your nose. He hasn't treated you like a hooker?

"Buddy, you just did."


The phone rings as you stand in the closet trying to choose an outfit. You rush to the phone on the nightstand and answer with a "hello?" You know Pale said not to pick up the phone, but no one calls when he's not around.

The caller replies, "Pardon the interruption, Miss. It's Barnard Thompson here."

You smile. "Hey, Barney!"

There's new warmth in his voice when he says, "Good afternoon. Could you come down to the front desk, please? There's someone here who wishes to speak with you. She says her name Miss De Luc—"

You perk up just as he's cut off. Kit. There's a muffled exchange you can't make out. You listen closely and hear "—just lemme talk to her."

Suddenly, Kit purrs over the line, "Yo, babe, would ya come down here? The sphincter police won't let me through."

You cackle. "Yeah, I'm comin'!"

"Okay."

You hang up and race to the closet. You opt for a coral suit and white sleeveless shirt. You find the door keycard, slipping it in your pocket as you wrestle your feet into a pair of nude-toned heels.

The elevator takes forever to reach you. Luckily, the ride down is quicker. Barney meets you in the lobby and ushers you to the front desk. There, Kit leans on the counter next to her folded jean jacket, wearing a tight leopard-print crop-top and black miniskirt.

You understand why Barney had such an issue with her sashaying through his lobby. Kit's barely-covered ass sways as she talks with the clerk. There is an elderly man to the side gawking at her.

"Kit!" you call to her and open your arms.

She turns, conversation forgotten, and screeches your name. You laugh as she gallops to you, her black heels clicking on the floor. She hugs you tight, and her back-combed hair tickles your face.

Barney gives you both a wide berth as he heads for the front desk. While you ask Kit if she's been taking care of herself, he fetches her jacket and brings it to her. Kit snorts, sounding like she has a tale to tell, and you release her. You take the jacket from him with a low "thanks" and hold it open for her.

She wiggles into the jacket without comment.

You offer, "How about we go sit by the pool?"

"Oh, they got a pool?"

Barney interjects, "Yes, indeed. Past the elevators, to your right."

You grin and thank him again before walking with Kit through the lobby. She hooks a friendly arm around yours, and it feels like old times. It's so good to see her. Though it's only been a week, it seems like longer.

You steer through corridors to the outdoor pool. Kit groans at the sunlight as she pushes open one half of the double glass doors. She pauses, making you wait for her, and gets on her sunglasses.

As you walk down the pebbled ramp towards the pool, you say, "I've been calling you."

"Yeah, I figured. You call the Banana looking for me?"

You had a couple days ago. Pop reported he'd last seen her with you.

"Yeah, you were supposed to come by right after I called you and left the money at the desk."

"I was hiding out from Carlos."

You lead the way around the pool to a cluster of vacant tables. "Well, if you'd picked up the money, you wouldn't have to hide."

"Hey, I was busy, okay? I have a life. Nino got beat up. We had to visit him in the hospital. Rachel got arrested. It was a mess." She waves the envelope with the money. "Anyway, I got the money. Thank you very much for saving my ass. Now Carlos can get off it."

You point to a table near a row of flowering hedges.

Kit shakes her head, saying, "No, something with shade."

You head for a table under the big umbrella near the middle as Kit continues:

"I heard he was talkin' about you last night. He would—" She releases your arm and mimics an explosion with her hands. "—bust something if he saw you in this outfit." She waves the envelope at you. "I was afraid to hug you up there, I might wrinkle you!"

You laugh as you dip under the umbrella. Kit tosses her sunglasses on the table and sits. You take a seat diagonal from her.

She says, "You look really good," and affably nudges your calf with the side of her shoe. "You clean up real nice. Sure don't fit in down on the Boulevard looking like you do—not that you ever did."

"Thanks, but it's easy to clean up when you got money."

She grumbles, "Yeah, no shit," as she stuffs the envelope under the waistband of her skirt. "So, when does he leave?"

You don't want to think about Pale. However, if you try to avoid the handsome topic, she'll be on it like a duck on a bug.

You reply, "Tomorrow."

"You get to keep the clothes?"

"Yup, Pale asked me if I wanted to see him again, but I think…" You shake your head and pick at a nonexistent spec of lint on your leg. "I think definitely no." You shrug, because you don't want to be his kept woman, anyway. "I mean, it was just for a week, right?"

You glance at her to see her angling to get a better look at your face.

"'Definitely no.'"

You nod, trying to keep a resolute facade. "Yeah."

"Oh no," she says with a shake of her head.

"What?"

"I know this look."

You tsk and recline. "Oh no, you don't!"

"You fell in love with him."

"No, Kit, please."

She leans in and puts a hand on the arm of your chair. "You've fallen in love with him."

"Kit, stop."

"Did you kiss him?" She clarifies, "On the mouth?"

"Uh—yeah." You squirm. "Yeah, I did."

"You kissed him on the mouth!"

"I did," you confirm and shrug a shoulder. "It was nice." And it was. Really nice.

"You fall in love with him and you kiss him on the mouth." She puts her hands on her chest. "Did I not teach you anything?"

You roll your eyes. "Look, I'm not stupid, okay? I'm—" You brace yourself and say, "I'm not in love with him. I just…" You think of Pale smiling at you and telling you about himself, of him holding you and kissing you. "I like him."

Kit squints. "You like him?"

"Yeah."

"You definitely like him." She sits back in her seat. "Well, he's not a bum, right? He's a rich, classy guy."

Who is out of your league. Who only thinks of you as some kind of employee. Who would only keep you around for sex.

"Who's gonna break my heart, right?"

"No! C'mon! You don't know that... Hey, he asked you, right? Maybe you guys could, like, uh—" She swirls her hand around. "You know? Get a house together. Like, buy some diamonds and a horse."

You laugh at the mental image despite knowing Pale isn't loaded like that.

"I don't know! It could work! It happens!"

"When does it happen?" you ask and wet your bottom lip. "When does it really happen? Who does it really work out for? Did it work out for Skinny Marie or Rachel?"

Just as you say "no," she points out, "Those are very specific cases of crackheads."

"I just wanna know who it works out for. Give me one example of somebody that we know that it happened for."

Incredulous, she asks, "Name someone?"

"Yeah, one person that it worked out for."

She gestures between you. "You want me to give you a name or something."

"Yeah, I'd like to know."

"Oh God, the pressure of a name," she mutters and presses her fingers to her temples.

She sighs and frowns in thought. You raise an eyebrow at her, because it has never worked out.

Kit holds her hands out and beams with pride. "Cinder-fuckin'-rella."


You walk the packed hat box to the chair by the foyer. That's the last of your bags. And there is a heap of them. Between the multiple garment bags and shopping bags, and now the hat box, you have a lot to boss around when it's time to go.

The door chime sounds, and you frown. Kit's gone home, you hadn't ordered room-service, and Pale has a key. You go to the door and look through the peephole to see Philip Stuckey in a dark suit holding a briefcase.

You're tempted to not answer, but maybe something's happened to Pale.

"Well, well," Philip says when you open the door, his face a mixture of condescension and frustration. "Hello, again. I'm looking for Pale."

Alarms sound in your head. "Pale's not here. I thought he was with you."

"No," he huffs and shuffles through the doorway uninvited. "Pale's definitely not with me."

Behind his back, you gesture he should come right in. It's not like it's rude to just waltz in or anything.

As you close the door, you realize you should've slammed it in his face. Because it feels like Philip is revving up.

"No, if Pale was with me." He sets his briefcase down by one of the console tables in the foyer. "When. When Pale was with me, he didn't undermine a half-a-million dollar deal."

You wonder if that has anything to do with Rex Two as you follow Philip. He heads directly for the bar and finds a tumbler. You stay as far away as you can without appearing like you're trying to stay away.

He points at you with the tumbler. "I think that Pale's with you. That's what I think." He unstoppers the decanter of whisky and pours himself three fingers. "Mind if I have a drink?"

"No."

He holds up the half-full tumbler as an offer.

You shake your head. "No, thank you," you say and head to the sofa.

"Well, I'll just wait."

You drag forward the fresh notebook and pen you'd left on the coffee table as you sit. You'd started a to-do list earlier, and it gave you something to distract yourself while Philip was here.

"Pale will be back soon," you state as you pull the notebook onto your lap. "Any minute, he'll be home."

With pen in hand, you open the notebook to read over the few points.

"You know…" He chuckles to himself and steps down into the living room. "This is not home. This is a hotel room."

You stop reading, but dare not look at him.

He comes around the sofa, jacket unbuttoned, tie loose, and tumbler nearly empty. "And, uh, you are not the little woman." He takes a seat next to you, plopping the tumbler on the coffee table, and leans his elbows on his knees. "You're a hooker."

You sneak a look at him to see him watching you.

"Maybe you're a very good hooker, you know?"

You place the notebook and pen by the tumbler, mentally berating yourself for opening the front door. You should know better than that. You do know better than that.

"Maybe if I do you—"

Your gut clenches, and you fist the seat cushion.

"—then I wouldn't care about losing money." He scoots a little closer, and you angle away. "Because I have to be very honest with you right now…" He leans in, whisky strong on his breath. "Right now, I really do care. I really do."

You fold your arms around yourself and bring your knees tight together.

"And right now I am really pissed, you know...? Right now, I am just freaking out," he says and strokes your leg above the knee with the side of a finger.

You jerk, glaring at him.

Like a shark smelling blood, he pursues, "So, maybe if I fuck you, huh…" He slides his hand over your thigh.

You grip his wrist and throw his hand off.

He comes back more determined. "Take you to the opera—" He takes hold of your inner thigh. You try to push him off, but his fingers dig into your flesh. "—then I could be a happy guy! Just like Pale!"

You push at his forearm and break his hold. "Hey, get off me!"

He snatches your wrist and wrenches it away. You snarl, punching his side with your free hand. He catches your other wrist, squeezing the bones. He tries to control your movements with pain as he gets to his feet.

You heave away in an attempt to get free, but he pulls you to him. All you see is the front of him. You smell his cologne and sweat and whisky. You yank your arms down, drawing him near. The meaty part of his hand below his thumb gets close, and you bite down as hard as you can.

He pulls free with a grunt. He scans the bite, and his face screws up in fury. You clamber back, but you're not fast enough. His palm cracks against your cheek, sending you tumbling onto the floor. Your head bumps something hard as your knee smashes into the side of the coffee table.

Then he's on you. "Come on!" he shouts as he pins you under his body.

"No! Get off me!" you shriek and thrash.

He throws his full weight on you. "Come on, I'll pay for it!" He struggles to grab your flailing arms.

You buck and scream in his face,  "Get the fuck off me!"

"How much is it?" he presses, a crazed look in his eyes as he grapples your arms. "Twenty? Thirty?" He traps your arms to your chest.

It feels like you're suffocating, but you keep kicking. "Get off me!"

You can't stop fighting. He won't get you easily.

"Fifty!?" he bellows in your face, spittle hitting your cheek. "You a fifty-dollar whore?!"

Philip shoots off you before an arm goes around his throat.

"You son of a bitch!"

You recognize Pale's voice.

Pale wheels him around by the lapels of his jacket and punches him in the mouth. Philip stumbles away, holding out a hand to fend Pale off. You crawl onto the sofa as Pale prowls after Philip.

With bloody lips, Philip says, "She's a whore, man!" He points at you, and Pale races forward. "A goddamn whor—"

Pale punches him again. There's a crunch this time. Philip groans and falls to his knees.

"Get up!" Pale shouts as he stalks behind a crawling Philip. "Fuckin' piece of shit!"

He grabs Philip by the jacket again, hauling him to his feet.

Philip nasally whines, "I think you broke my nose!"

"It's an improvement!" He pushes at Philip's shoulder. "Get the fuck outta here!"

Philip holds his bleeding nose as he trips over the stairs into the foyer. "What is wrong with you?! I know you ruined the deal! A deal we've been on for months!"

"There'll be more fuckin' deals," he growls and kicks over Philip's briefcase with his foot. "Just not with Mani." He punts the briefcase out the open door. "Now go!"

When Philip doesn't move, Pale fists the fabric at his shoulder and shoves him towards the door.

"Get out!" he roars, and you jump at the volume.

You come around the sofa to watch Philip limp into the hallway. Pale slams the door behind him. He bends his head and stands with his hand on the doorknob for a moment.

Your knees start to feel rubbery. Your struck cheek is tight and hot. You try to take a deep breath, but it stutters high in your chest. You open your mouth to say something, but nothing comes. You want to be unflustered, but you're not.

You take a step back—to go where, you don't know—and Pale's head snaps up. Raising a shaking hand, you keep backing away. You can't face him like this, can't imagine what he thinks of you now. You'd been so stupid, and now you're losing it. You know you're losing it. Something in your gut is about to boil over.

And he doesn't need to deal with that—probably doesn't want to, either.

The back of your calf knocks into the crooked coffee table. You wobble with a squeak and bend forward to catch yourself on the sofa arm. A great hiccuping sob bubbles out from you with no warning.

There are rapid footsteps and then Pale is there. "Hey," he softly says as he puts an arm around your back. "Hey, it's okay. He's gone."

Feeling the first tears roll over your cheeks, you rasp, "I-I shouldn't have let him—"

Your throat tightens, cutting off your words. You want to tell him you hadn't let him in, not really, but he'd just walked in, and there was nothing you could've done about it.

Maybe you should've called the front desk. You hadn't thought of it until just now.

Pale gathers you to him as he shushes you, evidently uncaring if you get his suit wet with tears. You sniff as you wind your arms around his waist and rest your non-injured cheek on his chest. For an indeterminable time, his heartbeat thuds in your ear like the most comforting lullaby. He kisses the top of your head.

"If he comes back," Pale murmurs. "I'll kill 'im."

From anyone else, you'd think it an exaggeration, but you know he can do it.

You croak, "If he does, I'll help."

"Yeah? Gonna help me pour a new patio?"

You huff a laugh, though tears still slide down your cheek, and sniff again. He gives you a squeeze in reply and smoothes your hair. The lump in your throat diminishes, and you finally take a deep breath.

"How's that cheek?"

"Not too bad."

He grunts like he doesn't believe you. "How 'bout ya sit anyway."

You nod, and he guides you to the sofa Philip hadn't sat on. Once you're settled, he goes behind the bar, ditching his jacket and rolling up his sleeves. Ice clatters into a container. You wipe at your damp cheeks, shrug your jacket off, and sling it over the sofa arm.

He leaves the full ice bucket on the coffee table and heads to the bathroom. He returns with a few washcloths. You then see the red, swollen knuckles of his right hand.

You reach for his hand. "Pale, you need ice, too."

"Doncha worry about me, princess," he says and sits next to you.

He spreads a washcloth on the coffee table, mounds a few ice cubes in the center, and envelopes them. He brings the bundle to your cheek, and you flinch at the cold. You support the bundle from below, telling him you have it.

Instead of making himself an ice bundle, he lays his knuckles directly on the ice. You protest, because that can lead to further damage, and put a cloth over the ice before returning his hand to the bucket.

It's quiet for a few minutes. Pale places a hand on your knee. His thumb rubs circles over the joint, like he's brushing Philip's touch away.

"Philip said you undermined a deal?" you softly prompt.

"I, uh, got the bank to take another look at Rex Two's loan."

"That's what you were dropping off the other day."

"Yeah, Stuckey's a friend of a loan officer there. They'd jacked up the interest rate just in time for Mani to swoop in with a peach of an offer. Don't get me wrong now, Rex Two's spending's been fuckin' stupid, but I got 'em in touch with a finance-advice guy." He lifts a shoulder. "Who knows what the hell's gonna happen with 'em, but they ain't lookin' for partners."

"Isn't your boss pissed?"

"Not really." He briefly examines his knuckles and lays them back on the covered ice. "There're two places still up for grabs, like available and clear. They ain't as nice as Rex Two, but Mani's place ain't gonna last, either. Everyone knows it.

"I can still get ya that hostess job, though—if ya want it."

You don't know what to say to that. While you wouldn't mind working with Pale and making an honest living, you don't want his arrangement. You want him—completely. Not only when it's convenient for him.

He mutters, "Or maybe not."

You set your ice bundle on the table. "I gotta get going."

"Yeah, saw you're packed." He glances at the garment bags. "Why're ya goin' now?"

"There'll always be some guy, like Philip, thinking he can treat me like crap, that it's allowed. What're you gonna do? Beat everybody up?"

He snorts. "That ain't why you're leavin'."

"Look—"

He cuts you off, "Stay for dinner, at least. I was gonna call Mani, get Stuckey booted."

You want to, but you stand anyway.

"Look, you made me a really nice offer. A few months ago, no problem." You shake your head. "But everything's different now. You did that." You hope your gratitude is clear even as you put a hand on your stomach to quell its flutter. "I can't go back. I want more."

"How much more?"

"I want the fairy tale."

He pops to his feet. "That's fuckin' impossible."

With you.

"Yeah, I know," you whisper as you reach for your jacket.

"Every goddamn relationship's so fuckin' difficul—!" His voice breaks, and he clears his throat. "I'm so sick of this shit." He stomps around the coffee table. "Ya wanna leave!? Fine!" He heads for the bedroom, grumbling, "My hair's goin' gray because of this bullshit."

Numbly, you slip on the jacket and go to the garment bags, where you'd left your heels and clutch. You get on your heels and wait for him to come back with the money. When he does, his eyes are red-rimmed. You want to comfort him and give in, but you can't. That arrangement isn't for you. It would always be wrong.

He holds out a neat stack of money. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," you reply and take the money without looking at him.

On top is a white business card.

Pale explains, "If ya need anything—dental floss or whatever—gimme a call."

You nod with a grin and tuck the money in your clutch. You loop the shopping bags' handles over your forearm. He picks up the hat box as you gather the hangers at the top of the garment bags.

"Lemme get a bellboy," he says.

"No, I got it."

You manage all the bags. With your arms full, he walks ahead to open the front door for you. He stands to the side, holding the door. As you approach, you finally meet his eyes. There's something raw there, like the new skin under a scab.

"I had a good time," you say and manage a grin.

"Me, too. Real good."

You take the hat box from him, and you're about to tell him good-bye, when he closes the door.

"Stay," he insists. "Stay the night. Not because I'm payin' ya, but because ya want to."

And you want to, but it'll only ruin your resolve.

"Pale, I…"

He bends and kisses you, desperate and hot. His lips are silky, tongue slick. It's last night all over again. Your heart wrenches and your stomach swoops. It makes you want to drop everything to leap into his arms. You can feel your resolve start to crumble.

"No," you gasp just in time, pushing him away with the garment bags draped over your arms. "I can't."

He hides his face and murmurs a curse. You couldn't agree more.

He opens the door again. "I'll see ya around, then."

"Yeah." You nod, even though he's not watching, and walk to the threshold. "You're so special, you know. Superior. I'll never forget you—ever."

He bobs his head, but doesn't look up.

When he remains silent, you step into the hall. The door quietly shuts behind you.

Calling an elevator and riding down to the lobby is a blur. You can barely focus on breathing as you watch the floor numbers get smaller—as you move farther and farther away from Pale.

In the elevator vestibule on the main floor, a bellboy rushes over with a luggage cart. He takes the bags from your arms and deposits them on his cart. You walk with him through the lobby until you see Barney kneeling with an attendant. You ask the bellboy for a minute before walking to Barney.

"—must delegate authority," Barney tells the attendant.

"Yes, sir," the attendant replies.

When they see you, they stand and smooth down their clothes. Barney is as stylish as ever in a dark suit and maroon tie.

You smile at them and greet Barney. He dismisses the attendant with a "thank you" and stands at the ready.

You say, "I just wanted to say good-bye."

"Ah, I gather you're not accompanying your uncle to New York."

"C'mon, Barney, you and me live in the real world." You offer a wry look. "Most of the time."

His mouth quirks into a grin. "Have you arranged for transportation?"

"I'm gonna call a cab."

"Allow me," he says and beckons someone over. "Darryl."

You turn to see Darryl, and he gives you a friendly nod.

"Darryl," Barney says. "Please take this very special guest anywhere she wishes to go."

"Yes, sir."

As Darryl walks away, you hold out your hand to Barney. He takes it in his and brings it to his lips, lightly kissing the back of it. You've never had someone do that. Oh, you've seen it in movies, but never in real life. Despite the circumstances, you feel flattered by his gentlemanly behavior.

He then shakes your hand and says, "It's been a pleasure. Please, come and visit us again sometime."

You smile and bop him on the arm with your clutch. "Stay cool."

He gives you a grin and releases you.

Darryl waits by the gray limo, opening the back door when he sees you. The bellboy is gone, and you assume your bags are in the trunk. You give him your address and try not to feel embarrassed by it. However, he gives no indication he's disturbed by it.

You get in the limo and stare at your lap. You snap your clutch open and closed. If you look at the hotel, you'll try to catch a glimpse of the penthouse. You know Pale won't be out there, but it doesn't matter. You'd look for him just the same.

The limo pulls away from the drop-off lane, and your heart sinks. A small part of you had hoped he'd come down to stop you. Which is silly. This is the real world, and fantasies like that don't happen.

You have to concentrate on your future now. You had begun a list…

That you left in the penthouse.

Shit.

You'll start another one. The first point was leaving Los Angeles. You wonder if you can talk Kit into coming with you. She deserves better than working the streets. She'd mentioned cosmetology a few times. Maybe she could go to a beauty school.

And you could go to school, too. Maybe a vocational school. You'd have to get a brochure.

Something taps your chest and rolls under your shirt. You look down and wipe at your skin to find water. Then you realize your cheek is wet.

Are you crying over brochures now? Is that what you're doing? Or is it because you plan to leave LA?

It certainly couldn't be because you just walked away from the first man you loved; the first man who treated you so well and indulged you and defended you and called you "princess" and ordered the whole breakfast menu because he didn't know what you'd prefer.

And the way he touched you. You can still feel that last kiss. You'd always feel that last kiss.

But you deserve a real life, too. Not be some beck-and-call girl who happens to play hostess until her sponsor comes to town. You want something on your own terms. Even if those terms didn't include him.

Chapter Text

Thunder rolls in the distance, earlier than predicted by the weatherman. Across the desk, Donna, the travel agent, ohs and gives you an eager look.

It doesn't rain often in Los Angeles.

You offer her one back and fiddle with a brochure on San Francisco she'd given you. San Francisco was the first city to come to mind last night. Even after Kit had scoffed at you moving there, the idea persisted. You know it isn't like it is in Vertigo or Bullitt, but the city has its appeal. It isn't Los Angeles, and it isn't that far, and that's all that matters now.

Donna had been confused when you'd come into Gateway Travel asking about relocating. Usually, she'd said, travel agencies didn't handle moves. However, you explained your censored circumstances. You'd asked about boarding houses or hostels or just cheaper long-term accomodations. She'd brightened, her brown eyes sparking, and led you to her desk.

"Okay, hon, I have two places I think are right for you," Donna says while staring at her computer screen. "I got one by the university—which isn't as quiet as I'd like, but it's still budget-friendly. The other is between the financial district and Chinatown. You'd probably have to share a room with another girl…" She glances at you to gauge your reaction. "But there's secure storage and breakfast every morning. Communal showers and kitchen, but clean."

"I'll take that one."

"Are you sure? There's no privacy."

"That's fine."

You don't need privacy. You need a fresh start. There's five thousand dollars in your pocket to help you with that. You can get a job as a clerk in the mailroom of some corporation, or whatever, and plan your next steps.

She hesitantly says, "Well, okay then. It's one-thirty a week. I can book you for a week, starting tomorrow."

"Sounds good."

You'd called Greyhound when you woke to learn there was one bus going to San Francisco this evening. It was an overnight trip, so you'd arrive before morning rush-hour. You like the thought of watching San Francisco come alive for the day through some diner window.

You pay for the room and Donna's fee with cash. She slips the receipt, printed directions to the hostel, and a few brochures into a manilla envelope. She says you have twenty-four hours to cancel the booking. You don't think that'll be necessary, but you thank her all the same.

She hands the envelope to you just as the first heavy raindrops hit the pavement. The light beyond the blue-and-yellow awning at the front of the building turns murky. The smell of concrete and cool, moist air wafts in through the open door as the pattering speeds.

"Do you have an umbrella?" she asks.

You reply you don't with a shake of your head. She hums and holds up a manicured finger, saying there might be a spare in the back. She disappears for a minute and comes back with a clear umbrella. The agency logo printed on the canopy is dated and faded. You offer to return it, but she waves it off.

"You'll need it in San Francisco!"

You laugh before thanking her for everything and leaving the agency. Luckily, the umbrella is big enough to shield you from most of the rain. You're more concerned about keeping the envelope dry than anything else.

When you reach your place, the rain slows to a steady downpour. The super, who is arguing with someone on the telephone, doesn't notice you shaking out the umbrella and ascending the stairs to the third floor. In the apartment, Kit stands at the kitchenette sink, elbow deep in soapy water.

"Hey, house ho," you greet her as you take the dripping umbrella to the bathroom.

She sunnily replies, "Fuck you, babe!" as you pass behind her.

You walk the envelope to your bed and take off your jacket, tossing it between the stacks of clothes surrounding the big half-packed duffle. Earlier, you'd cleaned out the bathroom and your dresser; stuffed your dirty laundry in a trash bag and gathered all you'll need in plain sight. All that was left to do was fold the last of your clothes, find the old school folder with your documents, and pack.

Kit finishes with the dishes and dries her hands with a thin hand towel. She walks to the vanity table by her bed to perch on the mismatched chair.

"You want any of these photos?" she asks as she slips her jean jacket on. She always did run cold.

You look over to see the ones she means. There are Polaroids of you and her inserted under the frame of the vanity mirror. At least two of them were taken at the Banana. One was from a shawarma place that had closed three months ago. The photo you especially like was taken at a Danger Dog cart that had parked near the Chinese Theatre one evening, and you ask for it.

Kit grins and tugs it from the frame. "We look so dopey."

That's why you like it. It had been a good night.

As she brings it to you, she says, "San Francisco's not that great, you know."

You stash the photo in the big purse you're going to travel with.

"Bad climate," she adds. "It's foggy, unpredictable."

You turn to her. "I'll wear a sweater." The Mom is silent, but discernible.

She goes to her bed, hugs her teddy bear to her chest, and plops at the foot of the bed.

"What're you gonna do there?"

"I don't know. Get a job?" You rummage between the mattress and box spring of your bed, thinking you'd secreted the school folder there. "Maybe go to school?" You find the folder and place it on a stack of clothes. "I got pretty good grades in high school."

"Yeah, I can see that about you. I could see that."

You study her for a second, watching as she absentmindedly rubs her chin on the top of the teddy bear's head. It's a guileless thing to do. You're going to miss her so much. She notices you watching her and raises her eyebrows in a silent question.

"Sure you won't come with me?"

Kit sardonically surveys the messy apartment. "And leave all this?" She laughs. "Not in a million."

You nod in understanding. This is what Kit knows. And while you get that, you can't do it anymore. You can't stay. There's too much temptation to revert to a person who'd be grateful for any scrap offered—no matter how bad it tastes. No, you have to aim higher.

"Come here," you say.

As Kit tosses her bear to the side and stands, you pluck a few hundred dollar bills from your wallet. You fold them between your fingers and tuck them in the breast pocket of her jacket.

"Whoa!" she says as she watches your hand. "Whoa, what is this?"

"It's part of The Very Superior Old Pale Scholarship Fund." You bite your lip to keep from crying and clap your hands together. "We think you got—" You tug at her jacket with each rasped word. "—a lot of potential, Kit De Luca."

"You do?" she asks, sincere. "You think I got potential?"

"Uh yeah!" You keep your eyes wide to stop the tears from falling. "Don't let anybody tell you different, okay?"

Kit's eyes go glassy, and she nods. "Okay."

You take your hat—a cute newsboy cap you'd found at the thrift store—from the peg rack on the wall and place it on her head.

With a grin, you say, "Take care of you."

"No, I can't, I can't!" She pulls it off with a giggle, leaving her hair a fluffed mess. "It's your favorite!" She shoves it at you and turns away.

You play with the hat, and Kit plods to her bed.

"What time's your bus?" she asks as she situates her bear against the pillows.

With a glance at the clock on the microwave, you report, "I gotta leave in an hour."

You drop the hat onto your bag and don't know what to do with your hands.

"Okay, yeah, well, I gotta split, 'cause good-byes make me crazy." She rushes for you with shoulders hunched and face hidden, tackling you with a hug. "So, take care of you," she mutters into your shoulder

"Whoa," you whisper and wrap your arms around her.

You smooth her thick hair down as you rock from side to side. She smells of coconut conditioner, lipstick, and apple-scented dishwashing liquid. You realize you'll probably never smell this combination ever again.

She suddenly releases you, grabs her purse from the bed, and dashes out of the apartment. You wobble as the door snaps closed. You sag, feeling as if the threads holding you up have been cut, and blunder your way to Kit's vanity chair.

Despite the clock ticking down, you need a moment. You sit until the tears stop and you feel steadier. You go to the bathroom to wet a washcloth with cold water. You pat your overheated face and then dry off.

After wringing the washcloth out, you go back to packing. You fold and roll and stuff until the duffle is packed tight. You stow the travel envelope, school folder, and your wallet in your purse. Your knuckles knock into something hard at the bottom. You nudge your wallet to the side to see the Batman pencil case. You forgot you'd thrown it in there last night.

For a second, you wonder if you should leave it.

Your throat tightens. No, you can't leave it. You and Pale had won it fair and square.

You zip the duffle and place your purse on top. There's about fifteen minutes before you need to catch the metro going downtown. You get your jacket on, and the apartment key clinks in a pocket. It's the only key you have, but you don't need it now.

You set the key on the kitchenette counter and go to the window looking out onto the street. The rain slows to a drizzle, then a sprinkle, until it dissipates altogether. Within two minutes, it's sunny again. Thin steam rises from the pavement, softening the bitter edges and almost hiding the garbage in the gutter.

Distant honking mars the unusual quiet that had descended upon the block. You open the window and lean out to see through the trees a white limo barreling down the street. It looks like one from the hotel, but it couldn't be.

The limo honks and someone pops through the open moonroof. You think you recognize that someone, and your heart skips a beat.

That someone yells, "Yo, princess!"

You almost don't believe it, but the voice is Pale's.

The limo honks again until it comes to a stop at the curb. With nothing obscuring your view of the limo, there's no denying it is Pale. He's here for you.

He sees you in the window and throws his arms up. "Princess!"

You laugh and wave to him with a shaking hand.

"Get your ass down here, baby!"

You duck inside to go to the bigger window that leads onto the fire escape, continuing to laugh until your eyes water. You open it and step onto the landing.

Pale looks at you from the sidewalk. "Had to be the top floor, huh?"

"It's the best view," you reply and flick away tears.

"Alright, I ain't waitin'—I'm comin' for ya."

Before you can tell him he doesn't have to scale the side of the building, he's pulling the ladder down and climbing. You hurry around the railing towards the steep stairs. Through the slats of the landing you watch Pale inch to the stairs, his back tight to the building.

You take a few steps down as Pale makes it to the foot of the stairs. He death-grips the railing behind him. When he sees you, he holds out his arms to you. His eyes sparkle, the skin at the corners crinkles as he smiles—radiant and hopeful.

You chuckle with a shake of your head at his bravery and descend a few more stairs. He meets you halfway, holding on to the bannister with a white-knuckle hold. Now eye-to-eye and him pressing his front to yours, you can truly breathe again.

"So, what happens after they leave that cave?" he asks.

"They go find one of their own."

He grins, enjoying the idea, and tilts in to kiss you. You put your hands at his waist as your lips meet. You kiss him, tasting the last traces of his mint toothpaste. His lips are as soft as you remember. His nose presses into your cheek like it did the other night. A hungry, loving purr comes from his chest as he deepens the kiss. His tongue slides against yours, all hot and silky. You move with him, like you've been doing it for years instead of days.

It feels like an answer, a mutual rescue, and a promise.


October - New York City

Your first midterm is tomorrow, and it's after one in the morning. You should've already taken a shower. Hell, you should already be asleep. Yet here you are, still sitting on the couch in your sweatpants and trying to drill the last of your Sociology notes in your brain.

The deadbolt on the apartment door clicks. Keys jingle and a paper bag crumples as the door opens.

You set aside your notes and go to the entryway. Pale whispers curses as he attempts to pull his keys from the lock. You clear your throat, and he starts.

"Jesus Christ," he mutters as he faces you.

"Nope, just me."

He snickers as if thinking smart-ass, but then frowns. "What're ya doin' up?"

You step forward and take the bag from him. "Studying," you reply as you carry it to the kitchen.

He yanks his key free of the lock, closes the door, and hangs his leather coat on the wall hook. He doesn't admonish you for still being awake. Instead, he comes into the kitchen and presses against your back, arms braced on the counter. You freeze with your hand on the loaf of bread at the top of the bag. He noses aside your hair to kiss your neck. His belt buckle digs into the small of your back.

You'd missed him all day, kept thinking about him after he left for work.

"Sorry I'm late," he softly says. "Stopped at the bodega down the block."

"You didn't have to do that. I could've picked up a few things after school."

"Nah, I'm gonna make ya breakfast tomorrow."

You grin, because you love when he cooks for you. "What's on the menu, chef?"

"Eggs in a basket, side of sausage, fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt."

You turn in his arms and rest your hands on his chest. Stubble peppers his chin. Signs of tiredness are all over his face, but his eyes are very much awake. His hair is getting shaggier, too, and he'll probably want a trim soon. Of course, you'll try to talk him out of it as best you can.

"Thank you," you say and raise yourself on tip-toe to kiss him.

He kisses harder than you expect. An arm winds around your waist as his other hand cups your ass. You stretch against him and push your fingers into his lush hair, tasting beer when you suck on his bottom lip.

He groans and holds you tighter. His hips roll, and the bulge of his growing erection pokes your belly. You smile into the kiss. Evidently, you weren't the only one who'd been yearning all day.

"What?" he asks as he breaks the kiss.

"Let's go take a shower."

Pale's expression turns predatory. "Fuck yeah."

He releases you, grabs the paper bag, and shoves it wholesale into the fridge. You laugh, reversing out of the small kitchen, only to have him seize you by the backs of your thighs and hoist you off your feet. You squeal as you hang onto him.

He kisses your throat. "Looked so cute in bed this morning." He marches around the corner to the dark bathroom. "Couldn't fuckin' stand it."

"I really missed you."

"Well, I'm here now."

He lets you slide down his firm, broad body until your feet touch cool tile. He holds your face to kiss you again. You fumble for the lightswitch as you kiss him back.

Once you find it, and the bathroom floods with light, he straightens and coaxes you to face the mirror above the sink. His hands glide up your upper arms to pull your cardigan off your shoulders. He drops the cardigan and guides the hem of your t-shirt up until you have to raise your arms.

He follows the bottom band of your plain bra with his hands before cradling your breasts. He kisses your shoulder as he tweaks your nipples through the fabric. You arch into it, breath catching. Your nipples tighten, and he hums in approval.

"Love how sensitive ya are, baby."

You reach over your shoulder to touch his cheek. He kisses your palm and fondles your breasts, squeezing and caressing them.

He whispers, "Love these tits."

"Keep going."

His eyes glitter in the mirror. He presses against your back, his growing erection nestled in the seam of your ass.

"I'm gonna get ya wet and touch ya everywhere." He unhooks your bra, and you wiggle it off. "Gonna fuck ya 'til ya can't walk," he promises as he returns to cradling your breasts. "Get ya all messy, then clean ya up."

The thought of him coming in you has you squirming against him and nodding.

"Want that, princess?"

"Yes, Pale," you sigh.

His hands sweep down your torso to push your sweatpants and underwear down to the tops of your thighs. He doesn't bother going further as he rests his chin on your shoulder. He teases you with hands on your thighs, his fingers dipping between. He strokes your slit, finding it wet, and chuckles darkly.

Your toes curl at the sound.

"Yeah, ya like that, dontcha?"

You meet his eyes in the mirror and repeat, "Yes, Pale."

"That's my good girl." He kisses your neck and holds your hips. "I'll take care of ya."

He releases you, and you choke back a protest. You thought…

You thought he was going to finger you, fuck you, and clean you up.

"Get undressed and start the water for us," he says as he steps back.

You bite your lip and nod. You push your pants and underwear down the rest of the way. He takes off his watch and chain, leaving them in a pile of gold by the soapdish. You propel the mottled-glass shower-door open and turn on the showerhead. The water that jets out is icy, but it'll warm quick enough.

One at a time, Pale props a foot on the toilet seat and unties his black Derbies. He tucks his hair behind his ears before pulling the shoes off along with his socks.

Just as he reaches for his belt, you step to him and place your hands over his. "Let me."

"Ain't I supposed to be takin' care of ya?"

You retort, "Don't you want my hands on you?"

He raises his eyebrows to cede the point and smiles. You grin back and unbuckle his belt. As you slide it from the belt loops, he asks:

"How's the studying?"

You let out a breath. "I… I don't know. I think I get it? It's just so much already, and I dread finals, and..." You shake your head and drop the belt. "I don't know…"

"Hey, hey, hey," he croons and tilts your face towards his. "NYU don't let in dummies, right?"

"Right." Though, you don't exactly believe it. You definitely fooled the admissions board.

There's a thread of steel in his voice when he says, "Hey."

You square your shoulders and try not to pout.

"I don't love dummies, either. I got good taste."

Warmth flows outward from your chest until your eyes burn with tears. He finally said it.

"Aw, shit—don't cry, baby. Ya can do this. I'm sorry." He gathers you into a hug, and you press your cheek to his chest. "You're smart and talented and pretty. Ya got so much on these snots ya go to school with."

You hang onto him as you soundlessly laugh, tears soaking into his shirt. He curses some more and smoothes your hair away from your temple. You look at his face to see him worrying at his lip.

"I love you, too."

He freezes for a second before meeting your gaze. "Yeah?"

"Oh yeah."

"Good. Help me get these fuckin' clothes off."

You grin and focus on unzipping his slacks. He undoes his cuffs and a few buttons before reaching behind his neck to yank his oxford shirt over his head. You fist his undershirt and draw him in for a kiss.

He doesn't hesitate as he kisses you fiercely. His slacks fall to the floor as he reels you in with hands at the small of your back. You grip his biceps when his tongue slithers into your mouth. He groans, and you know it means he can't take not being in you for much longer.

He pulls back to order you into the shower. You playfully whine and kiss his lips again. He leans into it for a moment like he can't help it.

A sudden spank on your ass makes you jump. The sting and heat has your cunt clenching on nothing.

With a smirk, he says, "Shower."

"Yes, Pale," you say and amble backwards to the shower, trying to keep the grin off your face. Two can play at that game.

You step under the spray without closing the door. The nearly-too-hot water sluices down your body, and you follow it with your hands. You don't look at him when you circle your nipples, luxuriating in the warmth and the feel of your own hands, but you know he's watching.

The only warning you get that Pale's coming for you is the stomping of his big feet. The shower doors rumble in their tracks, and then he's against your back. His hard dick prods at the cheek of your ass as he crowds you to the tiled wall. He runs his wet hands down your sides, over your hips, even going as far as your thighs.

He delicately kisses his way up your spine. You cat into it as you whisper his name and push your rear out. Water streams over your shoulder, down your back and ass. It runs in rivulets between your legs until he stops it with his hips tight to your behind.

His shaft rides in the cleft, heavy and feverish. You rub yourself against it, rolling your hips and biting your lip. It's not enough.

He growls, "Want my dick in ya?"

You nod.

"Want me to come deep inside ya?"

Again, you nod.

He hums, pleased. "Gonna fuck ya so good, princess."

"Promise?" you ask.

He slides an arm around your waist and turns your head with his other hand. He kisses you, and it's off-center, but it doesn't matter. His lips are soft, puffy, and wet. You suck at the side of his bottom lip, and he thrusts against you.

Then his hand is between your legs. He massages your clit with two fingers. You groan and squirm, caught between his clever fingers and damp torso. It almost alleviates the aching in your cunt.

"Please," you whisper, pressing your chest to the steamy wall. "Want you."

The palm holding your face slides to your neck. He urges your head back and kisses your shoulder. All the while, his fingers work your body until you writhe and jerk in his embrace. Climax looms like a stormcloud.

Pale stops, and his touch becomes feather-light. You whine for him, for orgasm, for his cock—anything. You need him.

He sweetly shushes you and leaves sucking kisses on your neck. His hands glide over your hips and stomach, the undersides of your breasts. You rub yourself against his erection to get him to move.

He stills you with hands on your undulating hips. "Can't get in ya if ya keep movin'."

You halt and tilt your pelvis, bracing against the wall. His hips pull back, and he guides the smooth head of his cock to your dripping pussy. You breathe deep as he slides, inch by inch, inside you. He fills you up, making your breath catch at how his dick stretches you.

Even after months of taking him raw, the perfect feel of him never gets old.

He bends over you, resting his damp forehead on your shoulder. His fast breath warms your back, and your cunt throbs around his girth. His hands go to your waist, holding you as if to center himself. His lips move over your skin, and it feels like words.

Over the sound of water, you catch: "Never get enough of ya."

You rest your temple on his hair as your stomach swoops.

Leaving a hand at your waist, he spreads the other low on your belly. He begins to move, thrusting in a smooth, short rhythm that you desperately want to keep still for. Your ass jiggles with every push of his strong hips. It adds a wet, slapping beat that's unmistakable and obscene.

He surrounds you with strong arms and towering height. Protective and possessive. The tips of his increasingly wet hair drags across your skin.

Just as you think to reach between your legs, he does it for you to circle your clit again. You don't know if you want to squeeze your legs together to keep his fingers against you or spread to make it easier for him. He works your body, stroking in time with his thrusts. His fingers feel so good—as does his big, pistoning cock.

Your mouth drops open as climax pounds through you. It overtakes you, and you only feel the pulse of orgasm. Your cunt clenches strongly enough to make your hips jolt forward over and over.

He groans and doesn't stop, doesn't slow. He's merciless as he fucks you through it. You hold onto the slick wall as much as you're able and push back. He growls in your ear, and the hand at your waist clamps down.

You gasp "oh fuck" as your body tightens. Your cunt clenches again on his thrusting dick. Your knees quake when the dam of orgasm breaks for the second time. It's too much. You're flooded, brimming with seizing ecstasy.

"Please—fuck!" you cry. "Come in me, please…"

He goes faster, fucking moans straight from your chest. You don't know how much more you can take—you're so sensitive—but you'll take it all from him. You want it all.

A broken groan echoes in the shower stall as his thrusts slow. He rams deep and intense until he goes taut. He moans as if in pain as the first spurt of come hits your cervix. His cock pulses with each delicious surge.

Your eyes go half-mast as you relish the feel of Pale filling you. His hot mouth pants against your neck as he grinds against your ass. He kisses any of your skin he can reach.

Once he stills, he hugs you and rubs the bridge of his nose down your shoulder.

"So fuckin' good, baby." He punctuates with a kiss. "Love fuckin' ya." A kiss. "Love this pussy." Another. "Fuckin' love ya. Never wanna pull out."

But he does—easy and slow. The warm gush of his come dribbles down your legs. You want to reach down and feel it. He does it before you can and offers a glazed finger. You suck it clean before turning on shaky legs to kiss him. You share the thick taste of tangy-salty-bitter.

He groans into the kiss and maneuvers you both under the spray. With gentle hands, he soaps you up and rinses you off. He shampoos and conditions your hair. He kisses your collarbones and jaw, the lobe of an ear and your lips. You kiss him and kiss him, savoring each one. You cradle his blushing face in your palms and stare into his bewitching eyes.

No one has ever loved you like he has. You don't want anyone else to, either.

He grins like he knows.