The fall from grace wasn’t as swift and gentle as it sounded. It was plummeting through a dark tunnel, being slammed against the sides until you were spit out, splattered on the pavement, and left picking pebbles and dirt out of scraped open knees and scratched up palms.
And once you landed, two choices were available: Lie down, give up, and wait until something else comes along to finish you off.
Or two, the decision I made: Pick yourself up, bandage up the scars and scrapes and wait for the bruises to heal, and move on.
No way in hell.
In my case, I chose to run instead of casually move on.
I was the daughter of the infamous Judge Keith Townsend. Born and raised in designer shoes, private boarding schools, and bottomless bank accounts, I was set for life. I wanted for nothing and had everything handed to me.
That all changed when it was revealed my father was involved with, as the least of his crimes, illegally backdating a marriage certificate on behalf of Alton Fitzgerald, a man whose empire crumbled before his eyes. My life of privilege came to an abrupt halt.
If I listened hard enough, I could still hear the screeching tires of my life colliding into a cement wall.
Or perhaps it was the echo of the bullets that rang out when my father couldn’t live after the scorn and he not only took his own life, but my mother’s first.
Two months after their funeral, I dug the last remaining pebble out of my now forever bruised and damaged palms and headed for New York, leaving Savannah in my rearview mirror.
What I hadn’t expected was that my Aunt Karen would have an apartment and a job lined up for me before I stepped foot off the train at Grand Central Station.
Instead of taking me to her own apartment on the Upper East Side, she had her driver take us to the Upper West Side, handed me a set of keys outside Apartment 1212, a beautiful, old building with ornate architecture and slightly crumbling brick, but included a doorman, and said, “Welcome to your new home. Information on your new job is on your kitchen table. I’ll let you rest and we’ll get together tomorrow for dinner.”
After brushing both my cheeks with air kisses, she waltzed away, leaving me staring after her.
I wasn’t offended. Karen was my mom’s sister and I hadn’t seen Karen since I was five. She and my mom never really got along and certainly weren’t close.
In the last month since I’d been working for her, I also learned she wasn’t trying to be rude. She’s just really, really busy with her career. I didn’t think I’d seen the woman smile yet. Nothing but a mere tip of her lips to show her pleasure.
Which explained why she was close to fifty years old and didn’t have a single wrinkle.
She was beautiful and blunt, always dressed in a tailored suit and skirt combination. She was more than intimidating.
She was actually slightly terrifying and I rued the day I made a mistake at my job as her temporary assistant while her other one was out on maternity leave.
She’d needed someone for three months, and I needed a job before I could find something permanent.
It was the perfect solution and I was grateful. Until I realized how much the employees who were paired with Infidelity’s exclusive clients made, how much their lives changed, and then I started wondering, “Could I do it, too?”
Which was what brought me to Karen’s office, sitting in front of her.
“This wasn’t why I hired you,” Karen said. She peered at me with a neutral expression.
“I know that. But I’m interested, and I want to know if it’s a possibility.”
Her head tipped to the side minutely. “Why?”
Why? It was the thousand-dollar question. Or the two-hundred-and-forty thousand dollar question. Every employee made twenty grand a month, plus living expenses and incidentals. Essentially, I was asking my Aunt Karen to turn me into a paid whore, despite her insistence over the last month that Infidelity didn’t sell sex, they sold companionship. But since my trust fund was currently tied up in a fiasco I didn’t care to try to unravel, this was my best option for long-term stability.
In a rare moment of emotional vulnerability, I blinked away tears already forming in my eyes. “Because I have nothing else to offer, Karen. I have a worthless degree and only a temporary job. I need to do something, and we both know I’m not qualified for much.”
“When I agreed to let you move here, and help you get on your feet, this isn’t what I expected, or planned.”
“I know.” Rolling back my shoulders, I straightened my spine and clasped my hands in my lap. “But I also have the background and lifestyle to make you, and Infidelity proud.”
God. Was I selling my selling myself for this? Everything I said was true, yet it still tasted like sludge in my stomach.
Sure, I had the upbringing to be a pretty piece of arm candy and the intellect to handle any appropriate conversations with some of the richest men in the country, but I wasn’t naive. I was also offering to sell my body.
A body that’d been essentially untouched.
Now, what did it matter? What did any of it matter? I needed money, and no one was going to take care of myself except for me.
Karen picked up a pen and tapped it on her desktop. “Take your lunch break. Give me time to consider this.”
“That’s all I ask.”
I gave her a brief nod and stopped at my desk to grab my purse before heading to the elevator. The entire time, I tried to push down the butterflies raging war in my stomach. I offered to sell myself, knowing it could potentially mean my body as well, and I never passed second base in high school or college. But what else was I supposed to do? My degree in British Literature wasn’t worth much. I wasn’t expected to get a B.S. or a Ph.D., I was expected to get an MRS., produce heirs, the same as any other respected, wealthy woman in Savannah’s elite society was supposed to do.
I wasn’t a virgin for lack of desire or high morals, mostly it was because I grew up always too worried about disappointing my parents. There were a lot of expectations, but there was also love.
At least, I’d always thought so.
That all blew apart the day my father blew his brains out.
I’d grown up thinking I had everything, more than what money could buy. I’d had a mom and dad who gave a shit about me. Parents who spent time with me, which was much more than I could say for several of the friends I grew up with. Their parents were too concerned about who was traveling where and working where and who they were wearing to care about helping kids with their homework, watching their dance recitals, or going on family vacations where families actually spent time together.
Mine were different. At least, I’d thought they were. Now, except for Karen, who I barely knew, I had no one.
What else was I supposed to do?
The familiar, and hated, rush of emotions hit me as I descended in the elevator, only to jolt me out of the memories slashing against my brain as the doors opened in the lobby.
The doors dinged and I stepped off them as soon as they opened, staring at my phone when suddenly, I walked right into a large mountain of muscle.
“Oh!” My phone went flying and I bounced back, and fell flat on my backside.
“Oh, shit.” I heard and looked up.
And found myself staring directly at Liam Allistor. His handsome face, his sexy as sin smile, his heart-stopping black eyes and panty-melting muscled body on display, even if it was hidden underneath his skintight Johnny Cash T-shirt.
Hot damn. He was a thousand times sexier in person than he was on stage, and I’d seen him perform there plenty.