“You’re a true-blue prick, Reid Maxwell.”
“Finally, something we agree on,” I say, leaning back in my leather chair, the phone at my ear. A real estate investor who just lost his ass on the line. “And my client likes that I’m a prick. It works for him, not you. The thirty-day notice stands. We’re taking over that complex September first.” I hang up, my gaze lifting to the doorway to find my pain in the ass sister standing in the doorway, holding a garment bag.
“Forget it, Cat,” I say, tossing the pen in my hand onto the desk and leaning forward. “I’m not going to the party.”
“You have to go to the party,” she says, hanging the bag behind my door. “You’re being auctioned off for charity.” She stops in front of my desk, her dress a sparkling mix of pink and purple, while her blonde hair is draped over her shoulders. My sister is a beautiful pain in the ass. “Tonight,” she adds, stopping in front of me. “It happens tonight, and you’ve known about it for two months.”
“I said no about ten times.”
“This is me doing PR for the firm. It’s a big deal with lots of press. And you need good PR since our dear uncle and father got in all that legal trouble, because in case you didn’t know Maxwell, Maxwell, and Maxwell is a law firm.”
“That dear uncle, wasn’t our uncle, but a ‘friend’ of dad’s, he made us call him uncle as kids. And I use the term friend lightly, considering he committed crimes while working for us which is why he’s long gone and so is the scandal he created. And thankfully, since he recovered from his stroke, the only thing our father’s guilty of is being an ass.”
“Yes,” I agree without hesitation. “I’m an ass, but not like him.”
“Your own very special version of asshole,” she says. “Right. Check.”
I ignore that remark that. Where Cat is concerned, I deserve it and with growing regret. “Cat.”
“You write true crime novels and your ‘Cat Does Crime’ column. Exactly why are you heading this PR operation for a problem two-years old? You don’t work here. I tried to get you to work here, but you refused.”
“You tried to bully me into doing what you wanted, yes,” she agrees. “And I’m heading your PR efforts because obviously, you cannot. Asshole and PR are not two terms that fit together.”
“Well then, how does having me auctioned off help?”
“Women foolishly love arrogant asses,” she says. “You’ll get big bids and attention for the firm. Bids for charity which means good press. That means, we hope, good press about you and the firm. And since I know what motivates you, good press means more money for the firm and you. The biggest names in New York City will be present. I’ve already said all of this. If Reese wasn’t married, he’d do it for his firm, too. It’s the most eligible bachelor thing, and as you know, at thirty-eight, you’re still a bachelor.”
“I prefer most ineligible bastard, and as for Reese, I couldn’t give a shit what your asshole husband would do.”
“Is that right?”
I glance beyond Cat to find Reese standing in the door in a damn tuxedo that looks like a James Bond costume. Shoot me the fuck now. “If you don’t see asshole as the compliment I do,” I say, “you aren’t half the attorney I thought you were.”
“I’m a criminal law attorney,” Reese says, “not a corporate raider like you.”
“I don’t raid,” I correct. “I help those who do, and in the end, the companies become bigger and better thanks to my efforts.”
“Put your tuxedo on,” Cat says. “We leave in fifteen minutes.”
My brother, Gabe, appears in the doorway next to Reese, and of course, he’s wearing a tux. “Aren’t you pretty?”
“Prettier than you,” he says. “How about a wager to prove it? If I auction off for higher than you, I get that bottle of whiskey you’ve been hoarding. The Dalmore 50 Crystal Decanter.”
“That’s a twenty-thousand-dollar bottle,” I say.
“And?” Gabe presses.
“And bring it on,” I say, standing up and looking at Cat. “This is my last PR event ever.”
“It’s your first PR event.”
“Exactly,” I say. “Now all of you. Leave. I’ll meet you in the lobby in fifteen minutes.”
Everyone leaves but Cat. “The good press has already started.” She sets her phone in front of me, and I read the headline: The blond, thirty-something hunks of Maxwell, Maxwell, and Maxwell give it all for charity. I stop reading and look up at her. “Is this supposed to convince me to go or stay here?”
She laughs. “Oh, you blond hunk you. We both know you’re going.” She sobers abruptly. “Too bad dad won’t come.”
“If the idea is to keep the attention on us and off his misdeeds,” I say dryly, just as damn sober as her now, “then I think that’s smart. He’s not a dumb person. He had to suspect what his best friend, who was like his brother, was up to. I damn sure know what Gabe is into at all times.”
“Right,” she says, swallowing hard, and when I see the way our father affects her, I hate him more than I already do, but then, I’m just like him in her eyes. “You’re right, of course.” She waves a hand in the air as if wiping away her emotions. “See you in fifteen minutes,” she murmurs, turning on her high heels, gone in a blink, and pulling the door shut behind her.
My phone buzzes on my desk, which means it’s my secretary, who too often and too like my sister, doesn’t understand the word no. “Yes, Connie?”
“Carrie West is back on the line.”
That name grinds down my spine in a way few could. “Get rid of her,” I say, “but tell her she gets an A for effort. What is this now—the tenth call?”
“Eleventh,” she says. “She asked me to tell you that one way or another you will talk to her. Should I give you the rundown on her since she’s clearly not going away?”
“She is going away,” I say. “Make it happen.”
“She said to tell you that if you don’t take this call, she’ll be seeing you sooner than later. And I know. Make her go away.” And then in a tart final statement, she says, “Yes, master,” and disconnects.
Like that woman would let any man be her master, I think, rubbing the back of my neck and stepping to the window, overlooking a city now shrouded in darkness, while city lights mark the inky night. Carrie West is a potential problem, namely because I’ve promised to stay away from her. Not an easy task considering she’s the daughter of a man I’ve ruined, and while my reasons were not of my choosing, they were, in fact, necessary. The bottom line here is that a debt exists, and nothing Ms. West can say to me will change the fact that it has to be paid.
The event is in one of the many five-star Manhattan hotels, in a ballroom with diamond-drop chandeliers, ice sculptures, and waiters serving finger foods and booze. I’m in the middle of a good three hundred people, and yes, I’m in the damn tuxedo. For two hours now, I’ve been standing next to, or near, my brother and sister, all of us “mingling” as Cat calls it, while women fawn over me and Gabe, assessing us as bid-worthy. I endure. Gabe soaks in the attention, laughing and joking with every pretty little thing, and everyone in between, that we encounter. He gives off this façade of being one of them. He’s not. He’s just as fucked up as I am for some of the same, but many different reasons. He simply chooses to convince people he’s not. I don’t see the point. Why pretend to be what you are not? I am who I am and no one but me needs to have intimate knowledge of what that means or how it came to be.
I’m two whiskeys into the night, which is one more than I’d allow myself during a negotiation, but I already lost this negotiation or I wouldn’t be here. Cat won. And hell. It’s a children’s cancer foundation. I’m not such as an asshole that I can’t be softened for kids in need. I just prefer to do it in my own private way that involves my checkbook. An announcement sounds over the intercom, and it’s time for the “bachelors” to come to the stage at the front of the room.
I down the last of my drink and hand the glass to a well-timed waiter. A lady that must be about eighty slings her arm through Gabe’s and he lets her guide him toward the necessary direction. Cat steps in front of me and surprises me by kissing my cheek. “Thanks for being a good asshole tonight.”
I chuck her under the chin. “Just tonight.”
“Of that, I have no doubt,” she says, and while she’s smiling it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. We have a lot of damage between us and it’s starting to cut a little too deep.
She steps away from me and Reese wraps his arm around her shoulders. I work my way through the crowd, bodies parting as I close the distance between me and the front of the stage. One of the announcers, a pretty brunette in her thirties spies me, and she points. “There he is. Our second Maxwell, Reid Maxwell himself.” Clapping ensues because all of these people have had a great deal of wine and can’t wait to bid on a date with someone they do not even know.
I walk up the stairs and take my place with another half-dozen men, next to Gabe who leans close and says, “That bottle of whiskey is going to be oh so good.”
My lips quirk. “How many women did you promise an orgasm to drive up your bids?”
“Only the one I want to win,” he assures me with a laugh.
The bidding starts, and fuck me, I’m going to be last, which leaves me on this stage forever. “Opening bids are five thousand dollars,” the announcer explains. “This is for the children. And so, let the bidding begin.”
Bachelor number one goes for ten thousand. Number two for five. Lucky bastard number seven goes to the same eighty-year-old grandma that helped Gabe to the stage, and for a whopping forty-five thousand. “You should have promised her an orgasm,” I murmur to Gabe.
“Obviously,” he chuckles. “But if my woman of choice wins, I’ll let you keep the whiskey, with no complaint.”
“And now,” the announcer says, “the Maxwell brothers. Hunk number one, Gabe Maxwell. Do I have a five-thousand-dollar bid?”
“Twenty thousand,” comes a soft female voice, and my gaze lands on a pretty redhead in the front row.
“And there she is,” Gabe says. “Sold for twenty thousand.”
“Twenty-five!” comes another bid.
The redhead shakes her head. She can’t do it. Gabe looks at her and nods, telling her he’ll pay. She smiles and says, “Twenty-six!”
And that wins. Gabe is sold for twenty-six.
“You got your woman and it only cost you twenty-six thousand dollars,” I say.
“All to help the children,” he says, heading down the stage to claim his woman.
“And finally, our last man of the night,” the announcer says. “Reid Maxwell.” She runs down my stats. “Thirty-eight, six-foot-two, and two hundred pounds of pure hotness.”
I need another whiskey, and to throttle my sister, I think, as the woman adds, “A corporate attorney known as a killer in and out of the courtroom. Do we have a five-thousand-dollar bid?”
“Right here,” a woman proclaims, stepping directly in front of me, and holy hell, she’s stunning. I soak her in, her knee-length emerald green dress hugging every one of her perfect, slender curves, while her ample cleavage offers me one of her many distractions.
“Ten thousand!” someone shouts.
The woman in emerald steps closer and her eyes hold mine. “Twenty,” she says, speaking to me, not the announcer.
“Twenty-five,” someone else says.
“Fifty,” my little temptress retorts, and she is a temptress up to no good. I see it in her eyes. She wants me to see it, dares me to do something about it.
“Do we have a bid for fifty-five?” the announcer calls out.
There is a silent moment or two, or it could be ten. I don’t know. I’m too focused on this woman still standing directly in front of me, contemplating how many ways I can fuck her to figure her out, when I hear, “Sold to the woman in green for fifty thousand dollars, and the highest bid of the night.”
I don’t move, and neither does my new date. I have this sense I know her. She’s familiar and yet, she is not. This isn’t a simple auction and a donation to charity. This is a game of some sorts, and she’s confident enough in her ability to win to bid fifty thousand dollars.
I’ll win, but I’ll make sure she enjoys every second.