Ready for chapter 2 on the Radish app for HOUSE OF THE SATIN GLOVE? The first three chapters will be ***free,*** and if you'd like to subscribe to the entire book as it comes out chapter by chapter, you can do that. Chapter 1 ("Ingenue") is already posted. (Download Radish here!) This chapter is called "Rumors"...
Once we were back in the town car, Ebony undid her dark hair, letting it tumble over her shoulders, its blond streak catching the moonlight through the window. She pushed her gloved fingers through the mass.
After tonight’s successful gathering, would I get my own gloves and a name? And what would I be known as?
But I had even bigger questions in mind than that—and they were about the mystery shadow man who’d been sitting in the corner of the cellar.
Ebony beat me to speaking as Gerry put the pedal to the medal, leaving the mansion behind. “What would your mama say if she knew?”
I didn’t have to ask her to clarify. “The first thing she would’ve said was, ‘You mean those men didn’t want sex from you?’”
That’d been Mom—always practical and sunny-side up, even on the day a few years ago when she and Dad had driven away, never to come back after they were blindsided by a semi truck on the country route near our small heartland town. Dad had been happy-go-lucky, too, but he wouldn’t have understood the difference between a companion and a call girl. And my sister? Miss Married Perfection and Trying to Get Preggers? She would’ve shaken her head in disappointment with me, and that disappointment was so much worse than anything my parents could’ve dished out.
One thing Mom would’ve definitely asked about was the dark man in the corner, and before Ebony went any further, I said, “At the beginning of the night, there were more than five clients. I know that you noticed.”
A small grin drifted over her lips. “Did I?”
I almost gave her a light push because of her taunting, but then she shrugged.
“Ms. told me another client might be present, but she didn’t give me much information about him. She said that if there was a sixth, just to indulge the men and to ignore him.”
“And who is this ‘him’?”
In the front seat, Gerry and Nash were silent. Ebony put up the partition that divided us, and my stomach tumbled slightly. Why? Maybe it was because of the sudden hush. Maybe it was because I couldn’t stop thinking about that silhouette with the wide shoulders whose gaze had seemed to brush over me like invisible, sure fingertips. And the scar.
Ebony faced me, almost as if she wanted to get the full force of my reaction. “Ms. didn’t tell me his name, but the other girls have talked about a client who comes and goes, and I thought it might be him. Last I heard, he’d been banned by Ms. for some reason or another. Someone in the House said he took advantage of a girl named Lavender a couple years ago, and Ms. cut him off. Others say he left the country because of business.”
“Which is what?”
“The same as what the rest of these clients usually do: collect real estate, fool around with corporate raiding, practice high-powered law, make movies and loads of money… They’re all the same, aren’t they?”
“I’m slowly finding that out.”
Ebony raised an eyebrow. “You’re awfully interested in the sixth man, aren’t you?”
Her smile told me that she was only playing it cool. She was interested, even though she’d been trained not to show it.
“I also hear,” she said, “that he used to have so-called supper clubs designed to push his guests to their limits. That’s what Snow shared one rare night when she was off the clock, sipping wine in the kitchen and feeling friendly, so take that for what it’s worth.”
Snow had pure white gloves, and there wasn’t a more ironic name in the House. She was more like a wicked queen than a fairy-tale princess, her hair as red as blood, her eyes a dark, poisonous brandy color. She’d come to New York to pursue an acting career, but that hadn’t panned out. She’d been around the longest of any of us.
From what I’d guessed, companions didn’t have real long shelf lives. Not that this mattered to me, though. With the money we earned, I could pay off my debts and make enough good investments to set me up for my real purpose—the corporate world. With smarter choices and better luck, I’d be able to hire companions some day myself, if that was my thing.
“So Snow went to one of the sixth man’s gatherings,” I said.
Ebony rolled her eyes. “That’s what she implied.”
I still hadn’t gotten all the information I needed. “So that’s it? That’s all you know about him?”
“Feel free to ask Snow yourself,” she said with a little laugh. “Or Ms. I’m sure both of them will gush with the details.”
And that was that.
The rest of the way, Ebony reviewed my performance from that night, complimenting me on how I’d pulled off the quiet satin doll routine and quizzing me on the operas the men had briefly chatted about. By the time we arrived at the Fifth Avenue skyscraper that held our fifteen-room residence, the sky was starting to get pale, the city beginning to wake up.
Gerry and Nash walked us to the residence door, then murmured their goodbyes. That’s the most talk we ever got out of them, and on any other night, I’d be too tired to note it. But not now. I was keyed up, still thinking of Mystery Man, and I gave Nash a big old smile as he started to leave.
He looked confounded by that before he turned around and walked away.
Ebony shut the door behind us. “What was that, Ingénue?”
Oh, oh—she had her mentor voice on. “Just in a good mood.” I grinned. How could I help it when I was so intrigued by the events of the night? “I won’t ever engage a bodyguard again.”
She sighed, shaking her head, making her way through the marble foyer. I followed her, eager to go to the kitchen to make a cup of chamomile tea to key myself down.
How ridiculous was it to still be thinking about a man who was only a shadow? But even thoughts of him were powerful enough to send delicious shivers through me. The electric sensations seemed to take the place of my blood, pulsing and humming and gathering deep in my belly. From there, the buzzing turned into an aching heat that traveled even lower, between my legs.
Just because of a shadow.
As Ebony began to climb the grand, curved stairway that led to the upper floors, an ear-ripping sound tore through the air.
Something crashed and shattered, and then there were two voices tangling with each other.
Ebony paused on the stairs and leaned back her head, clearly knowing to whom one of those voices belonged. She turned around and descended, holding onto the wrought iron railing with one hand while lifting her gown with the other so she didn’t trip.
“Come on,” she said. “I might need some help.”
When we got to the grand parlor to find Snow and another ingénue whose real name was Jayne pulling at each other’s hair, Ebony went right for Snow, hooking her arm around the woman’s neck and pulling her off of the younger girl.
Right away, Snow pushed away from Ebony, going for her hair. Calmly, Ebony pushed her arm away.
“No you don’t,” she said, lifting a finger in warning.
Meanwhile, I’d pulled Jayne away. She was tiny, Filipino, and gorgeous. Her silk pajamas swallowed her up, and, at first, her long sleeves covered her hands. Then she held up a fist, the sleeve easing down as she opened her fingers to reveal a simple necklace with a heart pendant.
When Snow saw it, she moved toward Jayne so fast that her long red hair was a blur. “Give that to me. Ms. is going to kick your stealing ass out when she hears about this.”
“I found it there.” Jayne pointed to the Persian rug that covered the hardwood floor. A vase was in broken pieces, marking the spot. She looked up at me with those liquid dark eyes. “I didn’t steal anything.”
“Well, you had no business touching it, wherever you found it.” Snow made another move toward Jayne, who dropped the necklace and held up her hands.
“Have it then,” she said. “I was only going to ask around about it. I’m not a thief.”
Snow’s pale skin was flushed as she snagged the cheap jewelry from the floor. From the way she wasn’t saying anything else, I wondered if she’d dropped the trinket and was setting up Jayne to get kicked out. At any rate, she stomped off, holding the pendant closely.
All of us just stared at each other for a moment. Then Jayne spoke to Ebony.
“I didn’t snatch it from her. Honestly.”
“I’m sure you didn’t.” Ebony cocked her head and looked to where Snow had disappeared through the tall archway. “Whatever that necklace is, it either means a lot to her or she’s using it to make you look bad.”
See? Great minds think alike, but how could Ebony question if anything meant something to Snow? She didn’t seem to have a sentimental bone in her body.
Jayne started up again. “Do you think Ms. is going to—”
“No.” Ebony slowly tugged up one of her gloves, unmoved. “If anything, it’s Snow who’ll be asked to leave. But don’t get your hopes up. For some ungodly reason, she’s got a lot of repeat clients who happen to be our richest.”
“She’s a great actress. No one sees the real Snow except us.” Jayne turned to me, and it seemed that she’d already left the catfight behind. I wished I could let water flow off my own back like that.
“How was you appointment tonight?” she asked me.
“Great. How about yours?”
“Early ender. The host passed out drunk within the first hour, so his staff dismissed us.”
I snuck a glance at Ebony. Should I mention the excitement of our Mystery Man? Or was it one of those discreet things I should be clever enough to keep to myself? Ms. didn’t like gossip, and even though we did it anyway—I mean, come on, we’re human—this was business. This was one of those things we had to learn in order to be an effective companion.
Ebony gave me the slightest shake of the head, so I kept mum. Then she said, “I’m so proud of my ingénue. She knows how to watch and learn, and she did both well tonight. She’s going to earn her gloves very soon if I have any input.”
Jayne laughed at my grin. “Sooner than I will? Won’t that burn Olive.”
Olive was Jayne’s mentor, and the two of them were well matched with playful senses of humor. But Olive was also one of the older girls, and I had to wonder if Ms. was having her train Jayne to take her place someday.
Whose place would I be taking?
After I said goodnight to Ebony and Jayne, I made my way to the roomy, state-of-the-art kitchen. I carefully peeled off my ingénue gloves, setting them on a marble counter, then went about making my tea the old fashioned way—on the gas range. While I waited for the water to come to a boil, I felt a simmering in my veins, something like lingering interest. My ex Darius had left me so numb, and tonight was the first time I’d had anything but an anesthetic running through me…
At the howl of the kettle, I shut off the flame. Stupid fantasies. Whoever the shadow was, he was first and foremost a client. Unless he wanted to buy Ms. out to become my “patron,” there’d be nothing with him, only flirting and smiling and entertaining. That was all I wanted, anyway, because, after the number my ex had done on me, I wasn’t about to let anyone into my heart again.
And I’d be happy like that.
I was steeping the tea with a chamomile bag when I heard light footsteps on the floor. I looked over my shoulder to find a steel gray-haired woman standing in the doorway. Mrs. Banks, who was Ms.’s liaison. Behind her, another companion, Magenta, was watching me, wearing a slip. Right behind her was the third and last ingénue, Nika, also in her nightwear.
Both of their gazes were wide, and I got the feeling Mrs. Banks was here to deliver some kind of important news.
My heartbeat fluttered, my nerves quivering as the woman spoke.
“Ms. would like to see you.”
I'll be posting chapter 3 on Wednesday...