“I have a plan.”
Jenna Blunt’s green eyes were bright with excitement as she spoke. She practically bounced when she entered the tiny living room a second before.
Hayley Denton frowned, tapping her pencil on her sketch notebook. “A plan for what?” she said.
“Oh you know,” Jenna said breezily as she walked over. “A plan for us to get the money for rent.”
Their apartment building had been sold to a developer a few months earlier. Their lease was ending in a month, but the developer had offered them a new one but at almost twice the rent. They couldn’t afford it, and were unable to find another one within a reasonable proximity to Jenna’s parents’ place. It was extremely important that Jenna be close by to her parents, as they required a lot of care and assistance in their advanced age. The only solution was to find the money to pay the rent somehow. That meant one or both of them getting second jobs, or new ones.
“Did you get a new job?” Hayley said. She herself hadn’t any luck finding part-time work. And it had to be part-time. She couldn’t afford to leave the job she already had.
Jenna gave a dismissive wave of her hand, before plopping down on a well-worn armchair. They’d picked it up off the street two years ago, where someone had abandoned it. “Nah,” she said. “I have something better.” She pointed her phone she was clutching to Hayley’s open laptop sitting on the coffee table. “You didn’t get my email, did you?”
“Huh?” Hayley felt a twinge of alarm. Jenna sent her an email? An actual old-fashioned email? Not Twitter or Facebook or any of a million other social media accounts she managed?
“Go on! Open it!” Jenna was bouncing in her seat. Obviously annoyed at her friend’s slowness in opening her email, she moved to sit beside Hayley on the couch.
“Okay, okay.” Hayley opened her email. “What’s this?”
“It’s an invite. I got it an hour ago. I’m allowed to bring a friend, although we have to pay for two tickets.”
“Sugar Rush?” Hayley scanned the email. It looked like some kind of party. For people looking for arrangements. “Is this a business networking thing?”
“No, no. It’s a party for sugar babies.” Jenna lowered her voice mysteriously. “And sugar daddies.”
“What?” Hayley almost shouted. She didn’t know what a sugar baby was. But a sugar daddy — she knew what that was.
Jenna nodded, ignoring her friend’s obvious alarm. “We’re going as sugar babies. Obviously.” She giggled. “I’m gonna get me a rich millionaire boyfriend.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Hayley shook her head. “No way am I going to this. No way you are, either.”
“It’s practically prostitution, Jenna.”
Jenna held her hand up. “It’s called sex work, okay. The word ‘prostitute’ is a derogatory word created by men to uphold the patriarchy. Have some respect.”
“It’s doing something you don’t want to. For money.”
“You think I’m taking Carlton’s shit every day because I enjoy it?” Jenna threw up her hands. She worked as an assistant to a marketing executive Carlton Moore, a thoroughly unpleasant man who would work her sixteen hours a day if he could get away with it. “Most people hate their jobs. But they do it because they need to make rent.” She pointed a finger at Hayley’s laptop screen. “We need to make rent.”
Hayley frowned. The way her roommate was making sense was … unexpected. “But sweetie,” she said. “You really want to date an ugly old man for a few hundred dollars?”
“Ewwwww.” Jenna made a face. “God no. I’m getting a hot guy. Someone under thirty. Thirty-five at most. And I’m not getting out of bed for less than a thousand at least.” She giggled. “Or getting in bed.”
“Sure.” Hayley rolled her eyes. “A hot millionaire under thirty-five. I’m sure L.A. is just swimming with hundreds of men who fit that description.”
“I don’t need a hundred millionaires. I only need one.” Jenna unlocked her phone and pulled up a photo. She shoved her device in front of Hayley. “This one.”
Hayley caught her breath. Blond hair, razor-sharp cheekbones, smoldering blue eyes. The guy in the photo was gorgeous, she had to admit. All she could manage to say was, “Wow.”
“I know right?” Jenna pressed the phone to her chest. “Danny said he was going to the party.”
“You know him?” The man didn’t look familiar. Although Hayley wouldn’t be surprised if he was a film star or supermodel.
“I can’t believe you don’t know Reinheart Klatten. He’s worth almost half billion dollars. His mom owns a German company that makes airplanes.” The redhead had stars in her eyes. “He just broke up with Emma Stone a couple of weeks ago.”
At the name of the famous Hollywood actress, realization dawned on Hayley. “Oh my God. You think he’ll like you because …”
Jenna flicked the tip of her sleek ponytail. Her eyes twinkled confidently. “Except in my case the carpet actually matches the drapes.”
Hayley snorted a laugh. “If he’s as hot as that, I don’t think he needs to pay anyone to go out with him.” She got up. “You want dinner? I made some Cajun chicken and rice with the instant hot pot.”
“Danny says he’ll be there. He’s absolutely sure of it. Do you need help?”
“Nah, I got it.” She walked to the kitchen. When she checked, the chicken and rice was still warm. She started spooning the dish into two bowls. “Danny Stohl?” He was an old college friend of Jenna’s, and now was also Hayley’s friend. “How would he—”
“He works for the company that throws these parties,” Jenna said. “How do you think I got an invite? These things are super exclusive.”
“I’m not going, Jenna.”
“Yes you are!” Jenna said cheerfully.
Hayley walked over and handed her a bowl. “No.” She sat back down on the couch and picked up a fork. “Good luck snagging your German, though.”
“You’re coming with me.” Jenna had a smug grin. “You won’t let me go alone. Because you love me.”
Hayley rolled her eyes. ”It says here they do a background check on every guest.” She pointed her fork at her laptop. “And I never…” Hayley’s voice trailed off. No, that wasn’t accurate. The invitation said they already did a background check. “Oh my God, Jenna. Did you give them my social security number?”
“Of course not. Danny vouched for us.” Jenna frowned at her, shoving a forkful of chicken in her mouth. “Honestly, I’m insulted that you’d think I would do that,” she said, her mouth full. “God this is really good.”
“I’m not going, Jenna.”
“Yes you are.”
Sunshine warmed Gabriel’s skin. He dragged his eyelids open to see a grinning face above him.
“Reinheart,” he muttered, and closed his eyes again.
“Wake up,” his best friend said.
“Fuck off.” Gabriel kept his eyes closed. His head throbbed, hurting like it had been through a meat grinder. His throat was dry as dust, but as much as he wanted a drink, his body refused to move to get it.
“We’re going out.”
He felt the sheets roughly yanked off him. With a groan, he rolled over until he lay on his stomach.
“Gabriel. Do I need to carry you to the shower?”
He lifted a hand, the middle finger raised. Then dropped it to pull a pillow over the back of his head.
“No meetings today, huh?”
My God, the man was persistent. It was a trait that was both amusing and useful when they were younger, but at that moment it was just annoying.
“Look, it’s been a week,” Reinheart said. “You need to go out. Get laid.”
“No.” Sex was the last thing Gabriel needed right now. Not in his current state of mind. If he got close to a woman, he was likely to fall back into his old ways. Because it was familiar, and the easy way out. Which is why he chose to drown his pain in vodka. And scotch. A lot of scotch.
Fuck his head hurt.
He felt one side of the mattress dip. He groaned inwardly. Reinheart thought he was going to stick around.
“Gab, I have come to a decision,” Reinheart said. When Gabriel kept the pillow over his head and didn’t reply, he continued. “I’ve been dating the wrong women. Don’t get me wrong. Emma was… well, she was perfect. I wasn’t too happy we broke up. But now I think I need a change.”
Gabriel did care. He kept his eyes closed under his pillow, trying to go back to sleep.
“I need a break,” Reinheart said. “I need a relationship with all the benefits and fewer demands. Do you know what I mean?”
Gabriel’s headache wouldn’t let him sleep. Reinheart’s words drifted through the pillow and Gabriel couldn’t keep them out.
“What I need is someone who will agree to see me on my own time. On my terms. Someone fun to be with, in and out of bed. Someone who likes me but will be happy with whatever attention I am prepared to give her.”
What woman would agree to that? Gabriel wondered.
As if answering his unspoken question, Reinheart continued, “And in return, I give her an apartment. A lot of cash. Jewelry. I miss a dinner, she gets something shiny from Buccellati. Everybody wins.”
“You’re thinking about a prostitute,” Gabriel said, his voice muffled by the mattress.
“They’re called sex workers. Have some respect. And no, I’m talking about an arrangement. A nice relationship of convenience. She gets money, I get the perfect girlfriend.” Reinheart sighed in satisfaction.
The perfect girlfriend.
Gabriel suspected he was even more hungover than he thought because his friend’s argument was beginning to make the oddest kind of sense.
If he had someone like that, well, she’d definitely be easier to keep happy than someone like Tallah. He had a lot of money, more than he knew what to do with. She could keep him from slipping off the monogamy wagon. He could see her anytime his work allowed it. They’d have to have chemistry, of course. And it would definitely be a temporary arrangement. Maybe a month or two. Until he got his equilibrium back. Until he got over Tallah.
The memory of his ex-girlfriend’s perfect heart-shaped face and glossy curls gave him a dull ache in his chest. But his curiosity got the better of him. He peeled the pillow off his head, and rolled sideways to look up at Reinheart.
His friend was sitting beside him with his legs crossed. His arms were raised on the headboard, head resting on his hands, looking more cheerful than Gabriel had ever seen him in a long time.
“So, what’s the lucky lady’s name?” His voice came out in a croak.
Reinheart shrugged. “No idea. That’s what tonight is for.” He got off the bed and straightened the cuffs of his light grey blazer. “But first, we get lunch.”