Excerpt © 2011 by Laura Resnick a.k.a. Laura Leone
Ryan stood before Sara, his stomach churning so badly he was afraid for a moment he’d be sick right in front of her.
Oh, that would be smooth.
The flickering lights of the candles cast subtle shadows across Sara’s face, bringing out those strong cheekbones which he’d often thought made her look a little exotic, as did the colorful clothes she wore, the artsy earrings she liked, and the rich darkness of her eyes.
Those curious, thoughtful, expressive eyes… which were gazing at him right now with such intensity and tender concern.
His heart contracted, just looking at her. He’d learned all too well by now that she could do this to him—make his insides quiver just by meeting his eyes.
“You’re not a model,” she said, trying to get the ball rolling. “Okay.”
Say it. Get it over with. Tell her.
She said, “Is that why you told me that your face doesn’t photograph well, that you only model below-the-neck stuff?”
He nodded. “I almost always include that in the story.”
“Because… you need a handy reason,” she said, “that no one ever comes across a photo of you modeling?”
He nodded again. Of course she would figure it out right away. He knew by now how smart she was.
She continued, “You could just say they had come across photos of you, but they didn’t realize it because—”
“My body looks like anyone’s body.”
“Not quite,” she said with a touch of dryness.
Rain continued drumming gently on the roof. Ryan’s gaze shifted to Sara’s mouth. Her lips were a little swollen now, and he realized how hard he must have been kissing her before. She looked so…
God, he wanted to kiss her again.
And once she knew the truth, she’d never let him do it again.
He shouldn’t have done it in the first place. That’s what she’d think, too, once he told her.
“Ryan?” she prodded.
Jesus, just tell her, would you?
Her thick, dark hair was a tangled mess now. From the rain. From his hands. From that sudden tumble to the floor he’d inadvertently given her when he realized what was happening and shot out of that chair and her embrace only seconds before he’d have taken off all her clothes and made love to her.
His body was still crying out for her.
“So if you’re not a model,” she said, “then what do you do for a living?”
Say it. Say it. Say—
“I’m an escort.”
Finally! Thank you.
“An escort,” she repeated.
His breath came rushing out. “Yes. I’m an escort.”
There. It’s out. Done.
He should have told her weeks ago. When he realized how he was starting to feel about her. When he suspected how she was starting to feel about him. He should never have let things go this far between them without telling her.
He’d wanted to slit his own throat when he saw how he’d hurt her tonight. Her tears and humiliation. The wounded look in her eyes before he’d explained himself. He didn’t deserve to live, hurting her like that.
And now he wanted someone to beat him up for the way he’d been unwittingly hurting her before this. She’d thought he didn’t want her? That she didn’t attract him? Christ, he’d been pacing his cage for weeks because of her!
He’d been going so crazy lately, unable to give her up and unable to try to claim her, it had turned him into an idiot. How could he, of all people, not have realized that she needed to know he found her desirable?
Maybe I was a little preoccupied with lying to her.
Or maybe he’d just been trying to avoid this moment as long as he could. He knew that once the lid was lifted on his desire, he couldn’t continue hiding the truth from her. That was the line he’d drawn for himself somewhere along the way: He wouldn’t touch her without her knowing exactly what he was. And since he didn’t want to tell her…
“An escort.” Sara shrugged, a slight frown on her face. “Like… a PR escort?”
He blinked. “A what?”
“A public relations, um, escort. You know.” When he just stared at her blankly, his blood pounding through his throbbing head, she elaborated, “When a writer gets sent on tour to promote a book, for example… Are you saying that you’re the person who would take her around to her interviews and autographings while she’s here in San Francisco?”
Shit. She didn’t understand what he meant.
“No,” he said hollowly, “that’s not what I do.”
“Then what do you do?”
She sat with her hands folded, looking patient, intent, and encouraging.
“Go on,” she urged.
“I spend time with people.”
“You spend time with people?”
“You spend time with women.” She still didn’t understand.
He looked away. “Maybe at a party, or a restaurant, or on a trip…” Come on, spill it. “Maybe in bed.”
“In bed? Are y…” Now her voice was uneasy. “I mean, when you say… Is this—”
“I get paid for it.” He took a breath, seized hold of his resolve to give her the honesty she deserved, and met her eyes again. “Usually by the hour or by the day. I get paid to be good company. In bed, out of bed, whatever the client wants.” Seeing her jaw drop slightly, he added, “That’s my job. To be whatever the client wants.”
She looked stunned, confused, a little upset. “You mean you… Women pay you to have sex with them?”
“Actually,” he mumbled, “they pay Catherine.”
“She’s, um… I guess you could say she’s my boss.” He shrugged. “Whenever my cell phone rings, it’s her.”
“Calling you to…”
“To schedule me for an appointment.”
“An appointment.” Her voice was faint. “To… have sex? With other women?”
“Sometimes. Sometimes, I just spend time with them.”
“Spend time,” she repeated.
“Being good company.”
“Yes,” he said, lowering his gaze.
“And you get paid for this.”
“I do.” He wished this conversation could be finished now.
“Paid by Catherine.”
“And they pay her,” Sara said. “They pay… to be with you.”
“With me. Or with someone like me.”
“Are you telling me…” Sara sounded like she was sure she must be mistaken when she said, “Ryan, that sounds like prostitution.”
“Oh, no,” he said ironically. “It’s only prostitution if you get paid for sex. If you just get paid for your time…” He met her eyes, wincing at the dawning shock he now saw there. “Well, then it’s all strictly legal.”
“You just… get paid for your time?”
“That’s how it works.”
“So… I mean, if you don’t want to have sex…”
“It doesn’t matter what I want. It’s whatever the client wants.”
“But… if you don’t want sex, and you do it because someone’s paying you… Then, well, they are paying you to have sex, and that is prostitution.”
“Yeah.” She understood it now, all right. He could hear it in her voice, see it in her expression. “It is.”
“You’re telling me… You’re telling me you’re a prostitute.” When he didn’t respond, she prodded, “Ryan?”
“Yes. I’m a prostitute.” And he was discovering that telling her made him feel even worse than he had anticipated. For no particular reason, he added, “A very expensive one.”
“Expensive?” she repeated weakly.
“Oh, yeah.” He sank onto the couch and rubbed his brow. “I’m a pricey item. Top drawer. A first-class fuck.”
“It’s true, Sara.”
“Don’t talk about yourself like—”
“I usually say ‘escort,’ because that’s what Catherine taught me to say.” He had to be candid with her, no matter what it cost him. “But it’s just a nice way of saying that I’m a high-priced whore.”