Wednesday, April 20, 2016

HOUSE OF THE SATIN GLOVE excerpt


Here's the first chapter from my newest project--HOUSE OF THE SATIN GLOVE!
I've been writing this novel under a pseudonym (CrystalOh) for the Radish app, which you can download on your mobile device. This is something really new for me, especially since I've never written a serial before. I'll be uploading new chapters (the first three are free) two times a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and I hope you like this! (BTW, this story is designed for mobile reading, with short chapters and major cliffhangers.)
(You can check out Radish here!)
I would say HOUSE OF THE SATIN GLOVE is a combination of fan fiction (Kylo Ren and the awesome WILD ORCHID), VC Andrews gothic, and "dark billionaire romance." This isn't paranormal, but there's a lot of intrigue. Here's a blurb:
Deep in the heart of Manhattan, there exists a secret society of companions. They are not call girls. They are not fake girlfriends. They are sophisticated and adored escorts for the rich and powerful, and they all have one thing in common.
The satin gloves that give them their names.
Scarlet has just become a full-fledged companion, and when a mysterious billionaire hires her for an underground gathering, she’s intrigued. Who is this dark, wounded man of the shadows? And why has he chosen her as his most honored guest?
As she unravels his reasons—and his past—he pushes Scarlet to her steamy, erotic limits, daring her, and maybe even damning her as she enters his seductive world…
So are you ready for the first chapter...? (I apologize about the wonky Blogger formatting. It's way more beautiful on Radish. )
Chapter 1
Ingenue
We aren’t anyone’s playthings or girlfriends for the night. We aren’t prostitutes or property. And don’t you dare call us the American version of geisha, because in our House, Ms. will put you in your place faster than a soft, harsh slap.
We are not to be touched by our rich and bored clients, and when they invite us to their underground parties, we go as if we’re walking a red carpet, our hair sleek and styled, our glamorous dresses long and silky and showing just enough skin to tease, our elbow-length satin gloves on.
No one leaves the House without those gloves. Ever.
That’s why, on the night of my fourth gathering, I was wearing a pair of them, along with a backless halter gown that seemed to change colors—from beige to a slight bronze—whenever I was in the light. But the appeal didn’t come from the material itself; it came from the fit, the way the dress kissed my tall body, the way it flowed as I walked.
My nondescript gloves went with the gown perfectly, except for the thin, viney black design that twined around them like bare branches, showing that I was only a pupil. I hadn’t earned my House name yet, and that would come after Ms. thought I was ready to be a full-fledged member. But who knew when that would be? All I knew was that my gloves weren’t as bold as the ones my partner wore—a dramatic black.
They called her Ebony, because of her gloves, of course. The color belonged to her and her alone. As for me, people called me…Well, nothing right now. I was the new girl, the “ingénue,” but at least it was more exciting than being known by my real name, “Maryann.” Maybe my mom had been high on painkillers and watching too much Gilligan’s Island when she’d crowned me with that one. I wished she’d even left the naming to Grandma, who’d loved those old, classy movies and would turn to me during the ones with Ava Gardner to touch my thick hair. “You’re a sassy auburn brunette, too,” she’d say. “Someday, you’ll be a mankiller, just like her.”
Good thing Grandma hadn’t lived long enough to see what a man had done to me to get me into this situation.
Ebony and I were in the back of a town car that had made its way into Westchester and was now winding over a moonlit road that cut through acres of manicured grass. We arrived in the front of a mansion with only a lone porch light shining. We never went in through the back door. Ms. wouldn’t have allowed that.
Ebony tilted a gloved finger under my chin and inspected me under the car’s light. I checked her out at the same time: rosy/tan skin and big, dark brown eyes that our House makeup artist had applied Cleopatra eyeliner to. Her brown hair had a faint but mildly rebellious blond streak that swerved from her temple to her ear, but tonight, she’d pulled all that hair into a chignon, complementing a white dress that was belted just under her bust. I’d heard her real name was “Maria” and she was from an affluent Manhattan family and had joined the House for kicks. Must be nice.
She removed her finger from under my chin and nodded in approval. In the front seat, our two bodyguards got out of the car and softly shut their doors, leaving her to coach me one last time before we went in.
“Don’t be anxious,” she said in a prep school tone. “Remember, this gathering is a lot like the last one we went to, but smaller. It’ll be very tame, too—Milton Tillman’s events always are after he closes a big deal."
“Who—me, anxious?”
She smiled and acted as if my voice hadn’t shaken a little. I don’t know why the hell I wasn’t more confident, because I had a hold of this. In fact, we’d studied dossiers on the guests, and I was prepared for all mellow, tame five of them.
I wanted Ebony to know that I wasn’t going to be some kind of moronic disaster, so I said, “Who wouldn’t want a chance to laugh it up with some businessmen who’ve finished negotiating a multimillion dollar contract and only want to relax with some fine wines and sophisticated company while their wives aren’t around? We’re here to make them happy, and I aim to please."
“Bottom line—just make them feel important and you’ll have done your job. That’s all these guys really want. That’s all any of them want.”
Or, as Ms. had supposedly told one of the other girls in the House once, “You’re there to make them think they’re important.” Every woman from the House was a status symbol that came at a high cost, a social party favor that announced LOOK WHAT TROPHIES I CAN AFFORD!
I could do trophy real well.
Ebony wasn’t done with me yet. “So follow my lead like you did before. I do the talking and entertaining while you pour drinks and look…” She scanned me again. “Good. Very, very good, Ingénue.”
She had a sparkle in her eyes, as if every gathering was a challenge for her. Most of the women in the House would’ve loved to find themselves a rich man among the clientele to settle down with, but Ebony? I thought she genuinely enjoyed the company—or maybe only the idea of running into a couple of her family’s rich friends someday and causing quite the "scandale."
I grinned. “I haven’t disappointed you yet, have I?”
“You keep doing me proud, and I’ll take care of you. No one in the House can ever say that they have a better mentor.” She winked. “Remember that, too.”
She rapped on the window with her gloved knuckles, and her bodyguard, Gerry, opened the door. My guy, Nash, was right behind him, practically blending into the night with his own tight black sports coat, T-shirt, and trousers. They took each of us in turn by the hand and helped us out of the car, fading behind us as Ebony and I walked to the front door. It was already open, a valet standing by with his head down in apparent respect at the price his boss was paying for our company. After he shut the door, he wordlessly led us through the foyer and directly to another door. He opened that one, a dim light barely illuminating a winding stairway.
I traded a glance with Ebony, because it looked as if we were being led into a cellar.
Great—wouldn’t it be my luck to find myself shackled in a dungeon? But that’s not how Ms.’s business worked. My first three gatherings had been in an abandoned warehouse in Brooklyn for a hipster tech billionaire’s birthday, then a penthouse where we’d lounged with a tycoon who missed his younger years, and then on a tiny, private island where several of us girls had been flown to entertain a movie star with, shall we say, tastes that ran to the exotic when it came to imagining that he was Ava Gardner. But men have different tastes like that, no matter how expensive or cheap. My ex sure had: He’d been the one who’d told me about the House in the first place—his hedge fund-loving boss had supposedly hired the services of Ms.’s women only once, before she’d threatened his ass with damages for breaking a non-disclosure clause in a contract all her clients signed. But I thought my ex—Darius the donkey—had been joking about this secret society of companions, just as I’d thought he’d been fooling around when he’d taken off one morning without a word, my accounts cleared, my valuables gone. The bastard had even run away with the diamond bracelet Grandma had given me.
There was one thing he hadn’t stolen from me, though: this path he’d set me on, one that’d led to the House, where a college grad who’d majored in global business, spoke four languages, and couldn’t find a job that could pay off all her debts quickly enough could start her life over again. Maybe, someday, I’d even save up enough money to hire a PI to track Darius’ pathetic self down.
Now, at the head of that staircase, Ebony smoothed one of her gloves, then glanced behind her to Gerry and Nash. Gerry went in front of her, holding out a palm. She placed her hand in his as he followed the valet down the stairway. Nash had me do the same with him, and my heart drummed in my ears, blood thudding in my veins. I didn’t want to be a bad pupil, didn’t want to disappoint Ebony or especially Ms., who was rumored to toss new girls out all the time.
I needed the money. Badly.
I could be good at this.
The stairway was lit by lanterns that flickered on the stone walls, and the lower we went, the cooler it got. I wished I had a wrap, but, come on—I wasn’t here to be covered up by another layer of material. And when we got to the bottom of the steps, I was glad that I’d suffered for beauty.
The nearly empty room opened up to a silent gathering of the five men I’d studied. I smiled like a good ingénue as I saw that they were sitting on a woven mat that held a selection of foods: cheeses, artisan breads, grapes, sliced apples, charcuterie, and nuts. The men, mostly gray-haired with their ties undone on their designer suits, reclined against lux pillows and were drinking wine. Vaguely, I noted that their fine Italian leather shoes were lined up against the far stone wall, where I could see an opening to another room that held wine racks, armies of bottles, toys for people who didn’t know what else to do with their paychecks.
But bitter? Not me.
Their faces had already lit up at the sight of us, and even if we had bodyguards who’d already gone to the corners of the room, I felt safe. Actually, I felt worshipped and appreciated as our clients’ gazes took in our gowns and hair and gloves. Ms. screened her clients thoroughly, promising her women that the gatherings would be harmless, and as I told myself this, all my Maryann fears of cellars and dungeons went poof.
But, after I took everything in, I noticed something strange about this gathering. There was another man in the room, and, suddenly, my hackles went up again.
He wasn’t with the others as he sat in a chair in another corner. Darkness swallowed everything but the glow of his cigar as he held it between his fingers, watching us. A bodyguard? An unexpected guest who hadn’t been covered by a dossier? Whatever he was, the other men weren’t paying any attention to him, and it was almost as if he were a dark ghost, lingering, enjoying us as much as the others were.
A rogue shiver danced up my skin, almost like fingers on piano keys playing a few discordant notes. But Ebony was giving me a firm mentorlike look, and I gathered myself, sidling up behind her, my hair falling down to cover one of my eyes. Untouchable, a companion, a trophy for the night. I’d ask Ebony later if she’d been informed about a sixth man.
One of the clients on the mat struggled to his feet. Clearly, he’d made best friends with the wine already and he felt at ease enough to greet us.
Mr. Milton Tillman, our host.
“The goddesses arrive.”
The other clients had followed his lead, and Ebony acknowledged all of them with one, smooth nod.
“A standing ovation already,” she said, amused. “What should we do for an encore?”
They laughed, and the host motioned to a large sitting pillow next to him. There was another one opposite him on the far end of the mat, and I supposed that was for me, but, first, I had things to do, places to see, people to meet. As Ebony swiveled her way toward the honored spot by the host, I watched how she moved—sexy, but not too sexy, just enough to catch the eye with her subtle wiggle. I’d been practicing, too, and from the way those men looked at me with hungry yet respectful gazes, I thought I nailed it.
Had the silhouette in the corner noticed, too?
I wasn’t sure why that mattered when I’d been warned to never get close, never lock gazes with any client too long or give him hope for the things our contracts didn’t call for us to do. So I took up the nearest wine bottle and poured enough in a few glasses to keep the men drinking—but not too much. Fine wines weren’t meant to be slugged down as if we were in a Williamsburg bar.
Ebony folded her legs to the side so they were covered by her dress, showing only a little bit of ankle and polished toenails above her strappy, rhinestone-studded pumps. I tilted the wine bottle’s label toward her so she could see it. Ms. had a sommelier who educated us in wine every week, and those lessons were about to pay off once again.
“Domaine Leroy Musigny Grand Cru,” Ebony said. “It looks like a Pinot Noir night for the gentlemen."
The host looked proud of her acumen—or maybe his bank account—as he poured her a glass. There were a few bottles lined up on the side of the mat, empty. “It’s also Pinot Noir for our femme fatale guests. Extremely fitting.” He paused, then said, “Just as fitting as those.”
His eyes were all over Ebony’s gloves, caressing them, asking her to slip them off, to stay awhile, to make him the only man who’d ever gotten one of us to take them off.
But Ebony merely slid him a playful look that silenced him. The gloves would stay. Taking them off would be like removing a mask or an extra layer that kept us at a distance, reminding our clients of their places and our places.
She began to chatter about the wine, lifting the tension, and I locked gazes with the man to my right, expressing clear appreciation for a bottle that cost thousands of dollars. He gestured, obviously asking me if I’d like a glass. I went ahead and carefully poured a splash for myself, now that I’d been invited.
I raised it to him in a toast, but in my peripheral vision, I saw that the mystery guest in the corner had leaned forward, his forearms braced on his thighs. A slant of light caught him, and I sucked in a breath. I didn’t see his face as much as I saw…
Was it a scar on one side? A long slash of red?
Then there was no light, and all I could really make out was a silhouette with broad shoulders and longish hair and the circle of cigar ash flaming. That odd feeling trilled over me again, a gentle run of music over my nerve endings, confusing, totally out of place. It felt as if I was hitting a bunch of wrong notes during the piano lessons I took at the House.
Ebony’s banter didn’t register as I listened to the men laughing at her wit, her sly jokes. I only kept filling glasses and plates, looking pretty for them, as I was hired to do.
Wanting, for some reason, to look pretty for that intriguing shadow in the corner most of all.
I tried not to glance at him again—really, I did, because if we showed favor to anyone, it was to the host—yet…
Yet there I was, battling not to peer over to that corner.
He’s not different from any of them, I thought. Just do your job and then go back to the House to count your money for this month’s credit card bill.
I sipped my wine, leaving a lipstick mark behind, turning the glass so one of the men next to me could see the sensuous mark. I smiled at him again, lowering my gaze at just the right time. But then…
I couldn’t help myself.
I looked.
Only to find an empty space where the shadow had been.

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