Temptation, страница 1
An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication
ISBN # 1-4199-0738-7
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Temptation Copyright© 2006 J.C. Wilder
Edited by Sue-Ellen Gower.
Cover art by Syneca.
Electronic book Publication: September 2006
This book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.
The following material contains graphic sexual content meant for mature readers. This story has been rated S-ensuous by a minimum of three independent reviewers.
Ellora’s Cave Publishing offers three levels of Romantica™ reading entertainment: S (S-ensuous), E (E-rotic), and X (X-treme).
S-ensuous love scenes are explicit and leave nothing to the imagination.
E-rotic love scenes are explicit, leave nothing to the imagination, and are high in volume per the overall word count. In addition, some E-rated titles might contain fantasy material that some readers find objectionable, such as bondage, submission, same sex encounters, forced seductions, and so forth. E-rated titles are the most graphic titles we carry; it is common, for instance, for an author to use words such as “fucking”, “cock”, “pussy”, and such within their work of literature.
X-treme titles differ from E-rated titles only in plot premise and storyline execution. Unlike E-rated titles, stories designated with the letter X tend to contain controversial subject matter not for the faint of heart.
To Molly Bolden—your friendship
means more to me than you’ll ever know.
Dano—For always coming to my rescue when I really need you. You are a true friend, or a sucker for punishment and I won’t speculate on which it is!
Beth, Donna, Carol, Rosemary and Bonnee—Thank you for being there and constantly pushing me to improve. You guys are the best!
And a huge thanks goes out the Westerville Division of Police, specifically to Detective D. Dietz, Corporal K. Featherling, Officer A. Moran, Officer D. Staysniak and Sergeant M. Tussey. You guys are always so willing to share your knowledge and talent even when I ask the silliest of questions—I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Any mistakes I’ve made or liberties I’ve taken are completely my own.
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Baby Glock: Glock, Inc.
Chanel: Chanel, Inc.
Fendi: Fendi Paola & S.lle S.a.s. composed of Paola Fendi, Anna Fendi, and Frances Fendi, all Italian citizens
Gucci: Gucci America, Inc.
Heckler & Koch: Heckler & Koch GmbH
Kendall Jackson: Kendall-Jackson Vineyards and Winery
Killian’s: Brasseries Pelforth
MP5: Heckler & Koch, INC.
Prada: Prefel S.A.
Sig Sauer: S.A.T. Swiss Arms Technology AG
Stuart Weitzman: Weitzman, Stuart
Tiffany: Tiffany and Company
Velcro: Velcro Industries B.V.
Victoria’s Secret: V Secret Catalogue, Inc.
Western Union: Western Union Holdings, Inc.
“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”
~ Oscar Wilde
Los Angeles, California
Vivian Carrington was the last remaining mourner in the cemetery. The rain falling from leaden skies had pasted her black Chanel suit to her body. Her hair was flat and her makeup long gone. Her high-heeled Stuart Weitzman shoes sank into the saturated earth as she approached the newly constructed mausoleum for her best friend, Melanie Reynolds.
The last few days had been a nightmare beyond compare. When word had come of the boating accident that had ended Mel’s life along with that of her husband and five others in her entourage, Vivian had been enjoying her requisite two-martini lunch with her assistant, Pamela. She remembered running though the posh Manhattan restaurant, her cell phone clutched to her ear as she prayed she would make it to the ladies room before her liquid lunch made an encore appearance.
Ever since that horrible afternoon, she’d been coasting on adrenaline and espresso while trying to oversee the myriad details that accompanied the funeral of an international movie star. The seating, flowers, service, music and public memorials all had to be attended to as well as security and police escorts for the dignitaries who wished to pay their last respects.
In the end, police barricades had held back the crowds as dozens of white limousines carried funeral attendees to the services and ultimately to the cemetery. As the cars passed, thousands of mourners had lined the streets, tossing flowers as the matching pearl-pink hearses drove by.
Lavish to the extreme, Mel would have loved every second of it.
Vivian stepped into the dubious shelter of the narrow entrance of the rose-colored marble mausoleum. The cramped interior was lit by dozens of white candles in brass holders, their glow dancing across the matching bronze caskets laid side by side on a low dais. An undertaker was inside the mausoleum arranging the floral tributes before sealing the entrance for all eternity.
Dizziness assailed her and she reached for the cool marble to steady herself. The scent of rain and too many flowers hung heavy in the chilly air. Her throat tightened as the distinct perfume of carnations swirled around her.
Regaining her composure, Vivian tossed an irritated glance at a sprawling arrangement of the offending blooms. Why did people insist upon sending carnations to funerals? Because they were cheap? She despised carnations and there was no way she’d allow her friends to journey into the hereafter with wilting carnations sealed in the darkness with their mortal remains.
“These arrangements are to go on top of the coffins.” She pointed to matching arrangements of multi-colored roses, lilies and baby’s breath. “And leave those outside.” She nodded at the towering arrangement of carnations. “No carnations are to be sealed in here.”
The undertaker nodded, then did as she bid before making a hasty exit with an armload of the offending blooms. Vivian turned her face away when the offending flowers were carried past. All of her life she’d associated carnations with funerals, especially her mother’s. At nine years old, to be surrounded by hundreds of carnations, she’d felt as if she were suffocating in their sweetness. Now she couldn’t bear to be near them.
Left alone, she stepped to Mel’s coffin, her fingertips grazed the chilly metal and a shudder ran through her.
“What am I going to do without you?” she whispered.
The hushed sound of falling rain was her only answer as a cool breeze swept through the entrance and caught her words only to swirl them among the petals of the arrangements covering the coffins. The candle flames flickered then stilled when the breeze faded.
The last time she’d spoken to Mel had been only a week ago. They’d been making plans for Jennifer’s birthday, an all-girl weekend at an exclusive resort spa in Mexico. Three decadent days of massages, facials and pedicures, not to mention a case of champagne and a vast selection of taste-tempting morsels prepared by a five-star chef to pacify their appetites.
Now Mel was gone and Jen’s birthd
But this year there was no party for Jennifer. No joined laughter, no cocktails and all-night gab sessions under sticky facemasks. No painting each other’s toenails as they shared their most intimate secrets.
No more Melanie.
Vivian loved all of her friends. They’d become her family since she had very little left of her own. But she and Mel had been especially close, like the sister each had been denied.
Since Mel had married Ray a few years ago, Vivian had become aware of the emptiness of her life. She had two pathetic ex-husbands, neither of whom she had any contact with now, and scads of friends. Though only a few were really there for her. She had money, piles of it, more than any one person would ever need. Consequently, she would never have to worry about making a living.
Only once in her life had she held a paying job and that was back in college almost twenty-five years ago. Her trust fund had covered her education, but she’d enjoyed the novelty of actually working for money. She smiled as she remembered the thrill of depositing her pitiful check into the bank, keeping only twenty dollars for the ensuing week. Back then, she’d lived the life of a struggling college student. At school, surrounded by new friends, no one had known or cared that she was cursed with the Carrington millions.
Now it was all she had left. The money.
Vivian plucked a blood-red rose from Mel’s coffin arrangement. She lived in a sprawling penthouse in New York City—she owned the entire building, of course—and she donated the majority of her time to various charities in and around the city. Not that she actually worked with the people she strove to help, heaven forbid a Carrington actually get their hands dirty. That had been pounded into her head from the moment she’d been born though she chose to ignore it on many occasions.
Most of her time was spent on the phone, soliciting donations from the multitude of companies that dealt with Carrington International. She took great pleasure in helping those less fortunate, but every night she was alone in her apartment. No man in her life, not even a cat to keep her company.
This didn’t mean she was celibate as she wasn’t at all. Her lovers were like her. Sleek, sophisticated and knew the score. They were welcome to stay the night, taking pleasure in her body as she took pleasure in theirs. But they had to leave early the next morning. As long as they amused her, they were welcome to share her bed and certain parts of her life. But the moment she detected any sentimentality they were kicked from her bed and her life posthaste.
Only a few months ago Mel had teased her, saying that she was more like a man than a woman in her dealings with the opposite sex. Silently, Vivian acknowledged the truth of her friend’s statement. She lifted the rose to her nose and inhaled the sweet fragrance. When had that happened? She hadn’t always felt that men were a means to an end. True, her father had been a difficult man to deal with, but her view of men wasn’t completely warped. Scott, her father’s assistant, had been kind to her and allowed her to tag after him while he’d run errands for her father. He’d even taught her how to balance a checkbook and write a check.
A handy piece of knowledge if ever there was one, writing a check that is. Much to her ex-husbands’ delight, she’d learned that lesson well. It had become obvious after the weddings that they’d only been interested in the Carrington millions and the lofty vice presidencies that had accompanied marriage to the Carrington heiress.
Once Vivian had caught on to her father’s schemes, she’d put an end to those unfortunate arrangements.
All her life she’d been choked to death by the money and the men who’d wanted to control her and it. In reality, they hadn’t given a damn about her, they’d only wanted the cash—she’d simply been the icing on the cake. The great Bradford Carrington’s daughter and the keys to the kingdom were a package deal.
After Bradford’s betrayal, she’d set out to be as cold and heartless as the men surrounding her, taking lovers when it suited her and casting them aside with little thought to their feelings. It wasn’t about them—it was about her and her pleasure. Rather than allowing them to take what they wanted from her, she’d turned the tables on them, determined to never allow anyone to use her again.
Finally though, she and Bradford had forged an uneasy peace after her second divorce, that had existed until his death six years ago. Then his vast estate had been divided with her receiving the lion’s share as his only blood relative and the rest going to his second wife, Felicity, and her four children. Vivian knew they eyed her portion of the wealth with great avarice, not understanding why one woman should have so much when they had to split their share five ways. Other than Stephan, the oldest brother and Vice Chairman of Carrington International, she rarely dealt with them and that was how she meant to keep it.
Now she had two great pleasures in life and one was spending her considerable wealth, donating great portions of it to charities she knew would’ve set her father’s teeth on edge. She took a perverse enjoyment at the image of him forever twisting and turning in his grave.
Her other hobby was men and she’d known a great many of them over the years. There was a time she’d changed lovers the way some people changed hairstyles. Dozens of men. All ages, shapes and sizes. Nameless, faceless men who’d satisfied her physically but were never allowed to touch her ice-encrusted heart. Of late she hadn’t taken a lover though several had interested her. She didn’t know what had initiated her sudden disinterest in men but she didn’t feel the need to take them into her bed or her life anymore. Consequently, she’d almost become a recluse.
But had she done herself a disservice by not allowing intimacy in her life? Who would mourn her ultimate passing? Her friend Shai would, as would Jennifer and Erihn. Some professional acquaintances would make an appearance in the hopes of being named in her will…but other than that, who would mourn her?
She shuddered as a trickle of foreboding whispered along her spine. She was staring forty-four down and Mel’s death had brought home the fragility of life with a terrifying sureness. Now, as Vivian stood by her best friend’s coffin, the rest of her empty life before her, what was she going to do with it? Yes, she’d accomplished a great deal for others with her money. She’d set up foundations to help the homeless and the poor, but what had she done for herself other than indulge in emotionless relationships and shopping binges?
Her shoulders slumped. She’d become everything she’d despised in college, a Caligula-like creation of money and power, wielding credit cards and Gucci bags with a vengeance. A shallow, pleasure-seeking creature who mocked the idealistic young woman she’d once been. The woman who’d wanted to make a difference in the world with her bare hands was no more.
Vivian ran her fingers over the chilly bronze. Even though Mel had been considered Hollywood royalty, she’d lived in the real world for the most part. She’d worked and clawed her way to the upper echelons of the studio system. She’d received dozens of marriage proposals from men far more powerful than Ray, but she’d never given them a second thought. She’d married for love and never compromised her beliefs, opting to remain firmly connected to her roots and her family back in New York.
Did Mel ever know how blessed she’d been in life?
And what about Vivian? What was next for her? Did she continue on as she had been, seeking pleasure wherever it suited her? How many Fendi bags did one woman need? What had happened to the idealistic college girl she’d been? When had it gone so terribly wrong?
Vivian straightened. She was healthy, intelligent and resourceful, and maybe it was time to finally answer those questions.
“I’ll miss you every day of my life, Mel.” She gave a watery laugh. “In fact, I don’t know what I’ll do without you. Thank you for the friendship, the l
Outside the rain had stopped and the sun was struggling to peek through the thick bank of clouds. Vivian straightened her ruined jacket and walked toward the sleek white limousine, eager to begin the journey of discovering the woman she was meant to be.
New Orleans, Louisiana
With his bare feet propped on the edge of his desk, Sinjin leaned back in his chair, ignoring the sore muscles that screamed in protest as he squirmed into a more comfortable position. Resting his head against the back of his chair, he closed his eyes and allowed the comforting silence of his office to sink into the very pores of his skin.
For the first time in months his club, Chat Noir, was quiet. Not since he’d opened the place in late December had he closed at such an early hour. Who would have dreamed he’d be closed on the final night of Mardi Gras? This should have been the biggest moneymaking night of the year and, instead of working the bar as he usually did, he sat alone in his office savoring a solitary drink.
The Chat Noir was probably the only business on Bourbon Street to have its lights out, the windows shuttered and the doors barred to the masses streaming down the street. Then again, having dead bodies and broken furniture strewn through his club was liable to have an adverse effect on business. Humans didn’t like to party in a place where Death had paid a visit.
He opened his eyes and reached for the black demitasse cup sitting on his desk. Next to it was a black stoneware carafe perched on a coffee cup warmer. On the base, a small red light glowed, indicating the warmer was functioning. He lifted the cup to his nose and inhaled the aroma of warmed were-blood. The scent shot a shiver of awareness through his nervous system and set his mouth to watering.