But I’d never touched them.
I’d never touched a woman I hadn’t paid for, if I was being honest.
Which I wasn’t, with anyone.
Anyone but Persephone.
Even two days later, I still wasn’t sure what made me tell her about my preference to pay for sex. I deliberately left out the part where the women I’d seen weren’t prostitutes, per se. Waited to see the revulsion on her innocent face. But she was too occupied with mentally beating me with her purse for ridiculing her feelings to let the small details register.
Paying for sex was my way to give conventional relationships the middle finger. I’d taken care of the women I’d seen, both in bed and out of it, but I’d never offered them more than a good time. Dates, presents, phone calls, feelings—those were off the table.
My partners came with a detailed list of dos and don’ts, and the only thing they expected from our encounters was a large tip, a complimentary orgasm from yours truly.
My first time with a working girl was at age fourteen.
My father had visited me at Evon, not long after Andrew Arrowsmith unearthed my secret.
We held a private dinner at London’s Savoy. I wore a long-sleeved shirt even though it was summer to hide the cigarette burns and bite marks. Athair asked me how many girls I’d slept with, spooning Royal Beluga on a small toast. I curled my index finger to my thumb, making a zero sign. I didn’t think much of it. Not only did I attend an all-boy school but I also had bigger fish to fry than getting my dick wet.
Gerald Fitzpatrick choked on his caviar. The next day, he decided to rectify my dire situation by hurling my skinny ass onto a plane and taking me on a trip to Norway, where he was scheduled to visit one of Royal Pipelines’ oil drilling rigs.
Maja, the Norwegian woman who relieved me of my celibate status, was in her early thirties, about a head taller than teenage me, and comically confused when I nearly threw up in her lap. I didn’t want to lose my virginity. Not at age fourteen, not to a stranger, and definitely not in a high-end brothel on a side street in Oslo. But doing things to appease my father wasn’t a strange concept for me.
It was just another Tuesday in the Fitzpatrick household where Athair dangled the kingdom’s keys in front of me to get what he wanted.
Do not misspell a word, fall off a horse, display less than pristine table manners, or look your father in the eye.
And so, I’d put on a condom and paid my dues.
When I’d gotten out of the room, Athair clapped my back, and said, “This, mo òrga, is the only thing women are good for. Opening their legs and taking orders. You’d be wise to remember that. Try to upgrade your mistresses often, never get attached to any of them, and when the time to settle down comes, make sure you find someone manageable. Someone who wouldn’t ask for too much.”
Athair did as he preached.
Jane Fitzpatrick was quiet, coy, and lacked anything resembling a backbone. That, of course, didn’t stop her from cheating on her husband. Both my parents committed adultery, often and openly.
I grew up looking at the worst possible example for matrimony, took notes, and was expected to follow in their footsteps.
My baby brother had apparently been absent for the Women are Evil lecture. Hunter married for love. Not only that but he also wedded the most difficult girl he’d ever laid eyes on.
Shockingly, he seemed happy.
Then again, that meant nothing. Hunter possessed the intellect of a Lab puppy. I was pretty sure bone-shaped cookies and licking his own balls would make him content, too.
“Earth to Kill?” Hunter snapped his fingers in front of my face. “I asked why Minka. Why now?”
I opened my mouth to tell him to mind his own business when Petar, my estate manager, stormed into the room. His hair was damp from rain.
“You have a visitor, sir.”
I didn’t look up from my cards even though something weird and unwelcome happened in my chest.
The chances of it being Persephone were slim to none. Even if it was her, she missed her chance, and there was nothing to be done about it now.
“Who is it?” I barked.
I could feel Hunter’s gaze darting in my direction, burning a hole through my cheek.
“I’m busy.” I motioned to the table.
“Sir, it’s late and raining hard.”
“I can read the time and look through the window. Call her a cab if you feel so inclined to be a gentleman.”
“There’s a storm. Lines are down. Taxi apps aren’t working,” Petar countered, hands behind his back, each word pronounced slowly and measuredly. He knew I did not appreciate being slighted. I was always trigger-happy to get rid of unruly staffers. “She is soaked to the bone and seems pretty upset.”
Hunter opened his mouth, but I raised a hand to stop him.
“She has five minutes. Bring her in.”
“You want her to come here to this room?” Petar glanced around. A rancid cloud of cigarette and cigar smoke hung above our heads, and the sour scent of stale, warm alcohol soaked the walls. The room smelled like a brothel.
She was a damsel in distress, and I was inviting her into the lion’s den.
But Persephone turned down my offer. If my ego took a beating, then hers could use a few spanks, too.
I met Petar’s eyes with a vacant stare.
“It’s my way or the highway, and as far as my knowledge goes, Mrs. Veitch can’t afford a car. Send. Her. In.”
Not a minute later, Persephone was ushered into the drawing room, drenched and tattered. A thin trail of water followed her, her shoes squeaking with every step she took. Her eyes, blue and bottomless as the pit of the ocean, looked feverish. Yellow hair framed her temples and cheeks, and her holed windbreaker was tangled around her willowy body.
She stopped in the middle of the room, graceful as a queen who’d allowed her servants the time of the day. I saw the minute it really hit her. When she took in her surroundings. The soft lighting, refreshments, and charcuteries.
This life could have been yours. You turned it down for love.
She drew herself to her full height—which, granted, wasn’t much—took a breath, and honed her gaze on me.
The two simple words exploded in the room.
Watch that pulse, Cillian.
“I beg your pardon?” I raised an eyebrow.