I paid them a mouthwatering rate, tipped them well, was always clean, gracious, and polite, and contributed to the European economy. These escorts weren’t down-on-their luck single mothers or poor girls who came from broken families. They were top-tier university students, aspiring actresses, and aging models of middle- to upper-class families.
They traveled first class, lived in lavish apartments, and were picky about their decamillionaire clientele.
I hadn’t used my family’s private jet for my trips to Europe since being appointed CEO. Leaving a carbon footprint of Kuwait to get laid was too wicked, even for my conscience.
Fine. I had no conscience.
But if the media ever found out, my career would be as good as dead, and death was a specialty I’d left for Hunter’s brain cells.
Which was why I was slumming it in first class on a commercial flight, quietly enduring the presence of other humans on my way back to Boston from Monaco.
There weren’t many things I hated more than people. But being trapped with a large number of them on a winged bus and recycled air was one of them.
After settling into my seat on the plane, I leafed through a contract with a new contractor for my Arctic oiling rig, pushing away all thoughts of Hunter’s approaching fatherhood and the Penrose sister who barged into my office last week begging for a loan.
I told her I didn’t recognize her, which drove her mad and drove me into a state of a constant hard-on.
But I remembered Persephone.
Well and clear.
On the surface, Persephone Penrose ticked all the boxes for me: hair like spun gold, cobalt blue eyes, rosebud lips, and a petite frame wrapped in romantic dresses. A declawed, defanged preschool teacher, easier to tame than a kitten.
Wholesome, idealistic, and angelic to the bone.
She wore handmade frocks, watermelon lipstick, her heart on her sleeve, and that lamb-like expression of a Jane Austen character who thought dick was nothing more than a nickname for men named Richard.
Persephone wasn’t wrong with her assumption to come to me. With any other acquaintance of mine, I’d give them the money just to watch them sweat while paying me back.
Only in her case, I didn’t want my life tied with hers.
Didn’t want to see her, hear from her, and endure her presence.
Didn’t want her to owe me.
She’d been infatuated with me before. Feelings did not interest me unless I found a way to exploit them.
“Ouch.” A squishy toy squeaked behind my seat. “Cut it out. Swear t-to God, Tree, I-I will—”
“You will what? Tell Mommy on me. Snitch.”
Tree? The people sitting behind me named their child Tree? And decided to travel first class with two kids under the age of six?
These parents were the reason serial killers existed. I popped two ibuprofen, washing them down with bourbon. Technically, I wasn’t supposed to drink with the medicine I was taking daily for my condition.
Oh, well. You only live once.
“Quit fussing, Tinder,” the mother snapped behind me.
I officially found parents worse than my brother would be. I was ninety-one percent sure Sailor wouldn’t let Hunter name their child Pinecone or Daylight Savings. The missing nine percent was due to the fact they were nauseatingly blinded by love, so you could never know for sure.
“H-e he always does this!” little Tinder bellowed, managing to kick the back of my seat even though it was about four feet away. “Tree is a s-stinky face.”
“Well, you’re ugly and weird,” Tree retorted.
“I’m not weird. I’m special.”
Both hellions were insufferable, and I was about to break the news to their equally diabolical parents before remembering I couldn’t afford another headline of the Cillian-Fitzpatrick-eats-babies-for-breakfast variety.
CEO of Royal Pipelines shouts at innocent children on flight back from his escorts.
No, thank you.
And just for the record, I’d never consumed human flesh in my life. It was too lean, too unsanitary, and entirely too uncommon.
Mentally tapping my foot until takeoff, I cracked my knuckles.
Once we were in the air, I stood and walked around, making notes on the contract with a red Sharpie.
When I returned to my seat, it was taken.
Not just taken but taken by my archenemy.
The man I’d expected to resurface from the shadows the minute I’d been appointed CEO of Royal Pipelines. Frankly, I was surprised it had taken him so long.
“Arrowsmith. What a terrible surprise.”
He looked up, beaming back at me.
Andrew Arrowsmith was a good-looking bastard, in a local news anchor sort of way. Identikit haircut, bleached white teeth, each the size of a brick, tall frame, and what I was seventy percent sure was a chin dimple transplant. Once upon a time, he was in my social sphere. These days, all we shared was a rivalry going back to our time at Evon.
We both attended the same schools until we didn’t. Until his family went bankrupt, and he fell off the social ladder, so low he entered another dimension, full of trailer parks and canned food.
“Cillian. Thought it might be you.” He stood, offering me his hand. When I made no move to take it, he withdrew, running the same hand over his Keith Urban hair.
I hadn’t seen the man in over two decades and was perfectly content to spend the rest of my life forgetting his pretty boy face.
“Tough crowd. My family.” He gestured to the row of seats behind me, where a bleach-haired woman in full Lululemon attire practiced deep breaths to save herself from a mental breakdown, two snotty kids on her lap, at each other’s throats. “This is Joelle, my wife, and my twin boys, Tree and Tinder.”
It didn’t escape me that Andrew, who was the same age as me, had a wife and kids. The invisible noose was tightening around my neck.
I could lose my job.
My golden, grand vision.
I needed to start reproducing, and fast.
“Who picked their names?” I jerked my chin toward the little monsters.
Joelle perked up, waving a hand as though I asked who found the cure for cancer.
“Moi. Aren’t they darling?”
The names or the children? Both were awful, but only the names were her fault. I turned back to Andrew, ignoring his wife’s question. I never lied. Lying would imply I gave a damn what people thought.
“Heading back to Southie?” I inquired. Last I checked, he lived in the worst part of Boston where his family barely made ends meet, thanks to mine.