- Author: Roslyn Hardy Holcomb
- Genre:Multicultural, Holidays, Contemporary
- Cover Artist: Croco Designs
Having been burned by his father's betrayal, real estate tycoon Trip Wakefield has no interest in love or relationships. Until he meets Arietta, a struggling, sultry, blues singer, in his favorite club. Seduced by the silken velvet of her voice, he pursues her with a single-minded purpose----Arietta in his bed, at any cost. He offers her a deal; if she will be his mistress she can have anything she desires, except his heart.
A woman who knows her own mind and goes for what she wants, Arietta decides that she wants him and his heart so she takes the ultimate gamble and agrees to become his mistress. But when the stock market crashes Trip loses everything. Knowing that he can’t keep up his end of their bargain he tells Arietta it’s over. Arietta takes another gamble and moves in with him and gives up everything she owns to help him rebuild his wealth. In a gift worthy of the Magi she offers him everything she has: herself.
- Note:This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Anal play, exhibitionism.
“Phenomenal, isn't she? Now you see why I've been trying to get you down here for over a month.”
Trip looked up into the face of Pink, proprietor of the eponymous blues club. When he glanced over at the singer again, he was annoyed to discover that she was no longer looking at him but had tilted her head to look down at the piano keys as she picked out the opening notes of “Stormy Monday.”
“Hell, man, you didn't tell me you'd hired the most amazing singer ever. I've never heard anything like her. What the hell is she doing here?” he asked, his accompanying gesture encompassing the club's less-than-elegant interior.
Pink placed the beer he was carrying on the table and took a seat across from his friend. “Are you implying that my establishment is not fit for talented musicians? I've had plenty come through my door, and you goddamned well know it.”
Trip nodded, never taking his eyes off the singer. “I've been coming here for almost twenty years, Pink, and you've never had anyone like her. What's her name?”
Pink sighed. “I told you that in the dozens of voice mails I left for your ass.”
Trip shrugged. “I told you, I've been busy. Money doesn't make itself, you know.” He snagged Pink's beer and took a long sip before the other man could protest.
Pink gave him an annoyed look, then signaled a passing waiter. “You're paying, fucker. I hadn't even tasted it yet.”
“Her name, Pink. What's her name?” Trip asked his eyes still focused on the stage.
“Arietta, Arietta Hathaway. She just moved here from Alabama. You know, the usual story. Wants to make it big in the city.”
“So she's singing in a hole-in-the-wall in the Old Fourth Ward?” Trip gave him a disbelieving look.
Pink bristled in defense of his club, a gesture made even more intimidating by his impressive height and bulk. “I run a respectable joint, and I've got a good ear. You know the record companies send their artist and repertoire people through here to scout talent from time to time.”
“Hey, I didn't mean to insult you, but this is hardly the kind of place I'd expect to find a woman like her. Her stage presence is incredible; she has everyone in here, including me, in the palm of her hand. She just oozes sophisticated elegance. This place is many things, but even you can't call it sophisticated.”
“I got plenty of classy clientele. You're not the only member of Atlanta's elite to hang out here.”
Trip abandoned the argument as Arietta launched into another song, this time accompanied by a talented young trumpet player he'd seen before. She stood alone on the stage, her luminous almond-toned skin glowing in the illumination of a single spotlight. Unfamiliar with the tune, Trip listened to the tale of a woman who had gone off seeking fame and fortune and now only wanted to return to her man's loving arms. When she finished and turned to leave the stage, he looked at Pink again.
“I've got to meet her.”
“Contrary to popular belief, I'm not a pimp,” Pink said with a snide look.
“Yeah.” Trip picked up his stolen beer and took another long sip. “Somehow I don't think your rap sheet would hold up under scrutiny. Anyway, what gave you the idea my interest was sexual?”
Pink snorted under his breath. “I've been around a minute, son. I know when a man's on point. Besides, I doubt there's a heterosexual man alive who's heard that voice and not wanted to hear it in his bed. She's been here for a few months, you know.”
Trip sat up, giving Pink his undivided attention. “Other guys have been meeting her?”
Pink spread hands the size of catchers' mitts in a gesture of supplication. “Some have tried. She's not interested.” He rolled his eyes at Trip's crestfallen expression. “No, she's not into chicks, though I'd pay money to see that.”
Trip refused to acknowledge that he would too.
Pink shrugged. “Word is from Gabriel. You know, the trumpet player?” Trip nodded. “She's a small-town girl who's wary of these big-city macks. I doubt she'd be interested in you, even though you are one of Buckhead's finest.”
Trip gestured toward the stage, where Gabriel was now playing a solo set. “Look, I'm not trying to get into the girl's knickers.”
“Yeah right,” Pink said.
“Okay, I'm not only trying to get her in bed. She's a beautiful woman, but she's an amazing musician. I would like to meet her. Get to know her.”
Pink apparently decided to take pity on him. “Look, she'll be singing another set tonight.” He glanced at his watch. “In about thirty minutes. After that I'll introduce you, but no fucking around, man. I mean it. She's a real moneymaker, and I plan to keep her that way. You fuck with her head and she's liable to run back to Alabama, and then where would I be?”
“Nice to know you've got your priorities in order, old man.”
Trip narrowed his eyes. “You know I'm not a player, never have been.”
Pink returned his glare, then nodded before heaving his bulk up from the table. “I'll see you after she finishes singing.”
* * * * *
Trip watched as Arietta sang her last song. It was another unfamiliar tune, and he wondered if she'd written it. She wore her hair in a sleek pixie cut cropped to her elegantly shaped head. With her head tilted toward the piano, the nape of her long, graceful neck looked vulnerable and inviting. From time to time, she would close her huge, doelike eyes as though caught up in the emotion of the music she was making. It was then that he couldn't help but notice the succulent lips forming the words that sent shivers down his spine. When her eyes were open, they so dominated the delicate lines of her face, it was almost impossible to notice anything else. Studying her mouth, he felt an instant surge of lust as he imagined the voluptuous contours of her lips against his, the gazelle-like lengths of her arms and legs entwined with his, their rich darkness outlined on his pure white Egyptian cotton sheets.
He was so caught up in the fantasy, it took a moment to realize that she'd opened her eyes once again and was staring directly at him. He smiled, and her lips curved upward in response; then she looked over at Gabriel, the trumpet player who had accompanied her earlier. She began an encore, accompanied by the muted wails of the instrument. When she finished this time, Trip stood with the rest of the standing-room-only crowd to give her a much-deserved standing ovation. She and Gabriel gave a series of bows, and then she spoke her thanks into the microphone and introduced her accompanist. Her speaking voice was deeper and somehow even richer than her singing voice, Trip noted.
When the house lights came up, he signaled to the waiter for another drink, then stared in shock as Arietta approached his table. He'd always known Pink could get things done when he wanted to, but this was quick even by his standards. He wondered when his friend had had a chance to talk to her.
“Hello, I'm Arietta,” she said, extending her right hand.
He took her hand, enveloping its fine-boned softness in his own. “Hello, Arietta. I'm Stanton, but everyone calls me Trip.”
“What did you think of the show, Trip?”
“Like everyone else in here, I thought it was brilliant. Can I buy you a drink while I tell you all about it?” he said smoothly.
She nodded her assent and took the seat Pink had abandoned earlier. She requested water from the hovering waiter. Just then Pink bustled over to their table.
“Wow, man, you're a fast worker,” he said cheerfully as he approached.
“Actually she came over to me,” Trip said.
Pink gave Arietta a puzzled look. “Really? That's surprising.”
“What's surprising about a singer approaching a record-label rep?” Arietta asked.
“I'm not from a record label,” Trip said with a puzzled frown.
“You mean you're not the A-and-R guy from Blue Note?” she squeaked.
“Uh, no. I'm in real estate,” Trip replied. He'd never in his life wished more fervently that he were an A&R man--or anything else she wanted him to be.
Arietta stood up, almost knocking over her chair in her haste. “Oh my God. I'm so embarrassed. Pink said I'd gotten some label buzz, that someone might be here tonight, and you're the only person I didn't recognize here tonight. I thought you must be the guy. You must have thought I was crazy just coming over to you like that.” Her words tumbled out of her mouth as though suddenly released from captivity, her embarrassment making the task of forming sentences almost impossible.
“Actually I thought I was the luckiest son of a bitch in the world. Sorry I'm not who you thought I was. Won't you at least finish your drink? You must be thirsty. It's never a good idea to parch the instrument.” He nodded as the waiter placed her drink on the table. He continued in a stage whisper. “You know the money-gouging bastard who runs this place does a helluva markup. I'm probably paying ten bucks for that bottle of Fiji.”
“Five fifty,” Pink grumbled at him. “I'd think you would be able to mack a pretty girl without insulting me.”
Arietta laughed and visibly relaxed. Trip realized that she probably felt more comfortable with her boss there. He gave Pink a pointed look as she returned to her seat. Pink lifted his empty glass to indicate that there was a price for his continued cooperation. Trip groaned inwardly as the waiter returned and took Pink's order for a very expensive boutique bourbon. Bastard.
Arietta took a thankful sip of her drink. Much as she appreciated the work--and she really did, considering that she had been only a few days from eviction when Pink hired her--the long sets he required were hard as the dickens on her throat. As Trip continued bantering with Pink, she took the opportunity to study him undetected. He was somewhat taller than her five-nine, which put him at six feet or a bit over. Of course, Pink was half a head taller and probably a hundred pounds heavier, which made it more difficult to judge the man's size. Next to Pink, everyone looked tiny. Trip was long and lean; she was pretty sure that was no optical illusion. He looked healthy and in shape but not bulky. Although the conservative lines of his suit would indicate otherwise, she could tell he didn't spend all his time behind a desk. He was either a runner or a swimmer, though she supposed he might have been a tennis player as well if his lightly tanned skin was anything to go by. Despite his gunmetal gray hair, she guessed he was younger than forty. There was something youthful about him, though she couldn't pinpoint what it was. Everything about him, from the perfectly tailored navy blue suit on his back to the Italian loafers on his feet, said money in the discreet way that old money did. The lines of his patrician face were kept from being perfectly classical by a nose that was just a bit too large and by the sensuality of his lower lip. Just when she drifted into speculating how that lip would feel against her skin, she realized that he had been covertly watching her the whole time. He smiled as though he'd read her mind, and she couldn't help but smile in return. When he excused himself to use the facilities, she immediately turned on Pink.
“What on earth is going on? Did I hear you say that Trip wanted to meet me?”
“He did. He asked me to introduce you. I was going to do it, but then you--”
“Made an ass of myself.” She frowned. “Why did he want to meet me? I thought he said he's in real estate.”
Pink gave her a chiding look. “Why does every heterosexual male who comes through those doors want to meet you? I know you're from a small town, but presumably they have mirrors even in East Bumfuck, Alabama.”
Arietta waved her hands dismissively at his exaggeration. “Come on, Pink. Even I can tell that guy is some type of real-estate tycoon. Why would he be interested in meeting me? I hope you told him--”
“That you're not that type of girl? Sure did. If this were any other bloke, I'd be concerned, but Trip's always been a straight shooter. He's never tried to hit on any of the singers before. I've known him for a long time, and I'm pretty sure he's not a player.”
Arietta refused to succumb to a sigh of relief. So he didn't make a habit of hitting on the singers in this club. Who knew how many clubs the guy hung out in? After all, despite his reputation, Pink couldn't know everything about the man.
Besides, she wasn't interested in the guy... Okay, she refused to lie to herself. Of course she was interested, but nothing could come of it. Arietta frowned at her boss, deliberately distracting herself. Not for the first time she noted that, though he had the accent and demeanor of a Southern good old boy, something about the man was slightly off. Well, something besides the incongruity of a man the size of an oil tanker going by the name Pink. Certainly his appearance, including a shaved head, bulging biceps, and numerous tattoos, seemed straight out of central casting. The hubcap-sized Confederate battle flag belt buckle pretty much ended any speculation to the contrary, but every now and then his accent changed to something more Artful Dodger than Billy Bob. This was especially true when he used words like bloke. All in all, it left her wondering just who he was.
Trip returned to the table and resumed his seat. “I'm a big blues fan, but I hadn't heard some of the songs you sang tonight. Are they original compositions?”
Arietta nodded. “Yes, I've written a lot of songs over the years. I try a few out in each set. I'm trying to put a demo tape together.”
“Over the years? How long have you been singing?”
“I've been singing professionally for more than twenty years.”
“This is unpardonably rude, and my saintly mother would be appalled, but either you're considerably older than you look or you began singing when you were still in diapers,” Trip said.
“Darn near. I come from a large family of gospel singers. I started singing with them when I was five. I'm thirty now.”
His brows shot up. “Gospel?” He looked around the club's less-than-sacred confines. “You're a long way from home.”
You don't know the half of it. “Yeah, I'm the black sheep of the family.” Might as well make it a joke.
“You, the black sheep? I can't imagine you doing anything scandalous,” he said, but the look he gave her was an open invitation to do just that.
She couldn't help but respond to his flirtatious tone, and the frankly male appreciation in his cobalt blue eyes. “I'm a good girl, and I try to stay out of trouble,” she said with a coy glance from beneath her lashes that would have done Princess Di proud.
“Hmmm, maybe you should tell that to whoever wrote those songs you were singing, because some of them were decidedly...naughty.”
The soft way he purred the word sent a pool of moisture directly to her panties. “Well, you know the blues. Naughtiness is par for the course, but you shouldn't believe everything you hear.”
“I don't make a habit of doing that, and somehow I don't think I'd be disappointed,” Trip said.
Pink stood up and gave both of them a disgusted look. “You two need to get a room,” he said as he walked away.
Trip threw back his head on a bark of laughter, and Arietta couldn't restrain a giggle as well.
“Look, I'm not usually this direct, but you throw me off my game.”
“I do?” Arietta said.
“Yeah. I'm hoping you'll have dinner with me.”
“When?” Arietta asked, trying to give herself time to recover from the shock.
“I want to say tonight,” he said with a derisive twist of his lips.
She glanced down at her watch. “It's nearly midnight. If I start eating this late, I'll need a new wardrobe.”
He gave the formfitting black sequined gown an appreciative look. “That would be a tragedy. If you insist, tomorrow.”
“I suppose that's okay. You have Pink's stamp of approval.”
He raised his brows. “Oh really?”
“You seem surprised.”
“You work for the man. You know how contrary he can be. I'm not exactly easygoing myself.”
“Is it wise to tell me that right before a date?”
“Full disclosure is the only way to go. So can I get your number?”
She pulled a business card out of her purse and passed it to him across the table.
He studied the plain white card in the dim light of the club. “You teach?”
“Yes, piano and voice. I have a degree in music and my teacher certification. I taught back home, but most schools are canceling arts programs. I'm lucky Gabe hooked me up with an agency, and I've been able to pick up lots of private clients since I got here. Mainly kids, but most of my voice students are adults. I'm hoping that an adjunct position as a local community college will open up this fall.”
He secreted the card into his inside jacket pocket.
“Hey, Arietta, you ready to go?” Arietta looked up and smiled at Gabriel.
“Sure.” She stood, watching as Trip did the same. “Trip, this is Gabriel. Gabriel this is Trip.” She watched as they sized one another up. She didn't know why she felt compelled, but found herself explaining. “This neighborhood can be a little rough. Gabriel always walks me to my car.”
Trip inclined his head. “Of course. I'll walk out with you.” He moved back to let her pass, then deftly moved between her and Gabriel to follow her out. She paused, surprised by the alacrity of his move, but there wasn't anything she could do about it without making a big deal of it in the crowded room, so she continued walking. The crowd was gradually dispersing, but there were still quite a few people milling about in the club's tiny space, eliminating any chance of a quit getaway. Several stopped with an appreciative word or a desire to chat about her performance. This was a common occurrence, which was why she usually left through the stage entrance.
Finally they emerged into the sultry evening air. Even at this late hour the temperature was hovering in the low eighties with matching humidity. Such a heat wave was unusual during the spring, even in Atlanta, and she wondered grimly if the weather would break before she was forced to dry-clean her stage clothes after each wearing. That would put a considerable dent in her already one-meal-a-day-tight budget. The short walk across the small parking lot was nearly unbearable in her slim-fitting evening dress. She glanced back at the nondescript red-brick, building that housed the nightclub. There was not even a sign to indicate there was entertainment to be found there. Pink developed his clientele strictly by word of mouth.
When they reached her car, she turned to her two escorts with a smile. From Gabriel's smirk, she knew she'd never hear the end of this. “Thanks, guys,” she said, opening the door of her ancient Corolla. She'd had it since college and wouldn't be replacing it anytime soon.
“I'll call you later today about our date,” Trip said with a pointed look at Gabriel.
Arietta gave Trip an exasperated glance. Much more of this and they'd be sniffing each other's asses.
Gabriel, troublemaker that he was, said, “What's your morning like? Want to do breakfast?”
Damn him. He had no interest in her that way; he just wanted to get her goat. “I'm teaching almost all day tomorrow,” she said sharply, annoyed by his troublemaking, but he was a good friend, if a bit twisted, so she relented. “But if you want to go by the Flying Biscuit and pick up a scramble and coffee around seven, I won't kick you out.”
Gabriel grinned at her; then apparently deciding he'd pushed his luck as far as he could, he took his leave of them, strolling over to his own vehicle parked just a few feet away. She always appreciated the way his decrepit Honda somehow made her car look almost showroom new.
Arietta resisted the urge to explain that there was nothing between her and Gabriel. She'd just met Trip; she didn't owe him any explanations. “I've got a long day ahead of me tomorrow, and I'm bushed. It was nice meeting you.”
“Nice meeting you too. See you later.”
He stood in the brightly lit parking lot, his arms crossed over his chest as she started the car and backed out. She wondered if he did it out of chivalry or for fear that her car wouldn't start. She sighed in relief when it started, though she knew the ancient air conditioner wouldn't kick in until long after she reached her apartment a few blocks away. She forced herself to give him a casual wave, which he returned with a smile. Somehow she had a feeling her life was going to be a lot more interesting, and that was probably not a good thing.
Copyright © Roslyn Hardy Holcomb
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