Publisher: SP Press
Publication Date: August 18, 2015
Taylor Allerton’s speakeasy is one of the hottest nightclubs in Manhattan. Young, rich, and beautiful, she can have any man she wants–and usually does.
Namir Adeem just became the youngest partner at one of the most prestigious accounting firms in Manhattan. His determination to bring honor to his family leaves no time for any relationship.
When Taylor discovers just how sheltered Namir is, she takes it upon herself to give him the education he deserves.
Some things can’t be taught in school…
I rolled over, fumbling in the dark for my phone. Next to me, someone mumbled in their sleep before snorting out a yawn. Tamping down my annoyance—both at my bedmate and the fact I couldn’t remember who the fuck they were—I grabbed my cell on the third ring. “What?”
“Taylor Anne, is that any way to talk to your absolute most favorite person ever?”
The hangover kicked in without any warning and I winced, closing my eyes and rubbing my temples. “What do you want, Kennedy?”
“Well, if you’re going to keep talking to me like I’m some chore, I’m going to want an apology.” Her sniff was full of indignation and hurt feelings and I smiled against my will. “You said to make sure you were awake in time for lunch with your parents. Since I’m almost certain you’re going to need an hour long shower to scrub off the smell of the bridge-and-tunnel crawler, you’re going to want to get out of bed now.”
“Careful, Ken—your elitist tendencies are showing.”
“I don’t think it’s elitist to prefer to engage in bedroom activities with individuals who can correctly pronounce sauvignon blanc.”
My wince this time had nothing to do with the pounding in my head and everything to do with the memory rising up through my mental haze. “Oh, God. I’d forgotten about that. Why did you let me get in a Towncar with him?”
“First, you didn’t take a Towncar—you took an Uber.” She paused for a moment and when she spoke again, her voice was full of wicked amusement. “Second, by the time I realized who your Prince Charming for the evening was, you’d already been spirited off in your pumpkin.”
“I’m going to remember this the next time you get wasted on Tequila Tuesday.” I sat up and sighed, raking a hand through my tangled hair and examining the ends. Thank God I had an appointment with Maurice after lunch. The slightly grown-out highlights and lowlights were bad enough. Adding split ends to my hair sins was too much for words. “Thanks for the wakeup call. Am I seeing you tonight or no?”
“Right now, I’d say no—I’m so hungover I can barely drink this Bloody Mary—but who knows what’ll happen once I get some food and some sleep.” She made an exaggerated kissing sound before laughing. “Have fun with the ‘rents, Tay.”
I hung up without answering, tossing my phone back on the nightstand. Looking over my shoulder, I studied the snoring man, sprawled out so wide he was taking up almost half of the king-sized bed. Huffing out a breath, I reached over and shook him. “Hey.”
Frowning, I shook him harder. “Hey. I got things to do. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”
He let out a long, high-pitched, whistling fart before sighing and snuggling in to the pillow.
I stared at him, horrified beyond words, until the stench reached my nostrils. Then there were words—plenty of them, in a few languages, and every last one of them guaranteed to earn me a look of disapproval from my parents. Waving my hand in front of my face, I scrambled off the far side of the bed, gagging as I backed toward the bathroom.
Julia could deal with the loser from Brooklyn.
I’d give her a raise.
When he passed gas again, I stumbled in to the bathroom and slammed the door shut.
A big raise.
“You’re late, darling.”
“Traffic.” I exchanged the requisite air kiss with my mother, somehow managing to not hit myself in the face with her enormous sun hat. Even though we were sitting underneath the awning and she had no doubt slathered herself in sunscreen from head to toe, Babette Allerton wouldn’t be caught dead during the daylight hours without a protective hat. As she was fond of saying, fighting back time was a full-time job. “Where’s Daddy?”
“Oh, he saw one of his friends from the club and so he abandoned me to talk about golf and cigars and God knows what else.” She rolled her eyes as she leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. The pale blue sundress matched her eyes perfectly, just as the white belt matched her hat. “As if I don’t hear enough about golf at home.”
“Mother, you love golf.” I settled myself in my seat, adjusting my oversized sunglasses before shrugging out of my lightweight sweater and draping it over the back of my chair. When my mother sighed, I closed my eyes for all of two seconds and prayed for strength. “What, Mother?”
“Darling, you know you look beautiful in everything you wear–.”
“—but this is Cookshop.” She leaned toward me and lowered her voice, her inflection implying a level of reverence most people would have associated with a church and not one of the most popular restaurants in Manhattan. “And you are wearing jeans and a tank top.”
“With Louboutin heels and a bag from Hermes.” Mimicking her posture, I fake whispered, “And the underwear is by La Perla.”
“I see you’ve already started the portion of breakfast where sartorial choices are criticized.” My father dropped a kiss on my head before taking his own seat, unbuttoning his coat and straightening his tie. He looked me up and down before pursing his lips. “That yellow does make you look a little washed out.”
“That’s probably more the hangover than the color.”
“Ah, yes, I should have remembered.” Even though it was doubtful Andrew Allerton had ever forgotten a single thing in his life, he still went through the motions of snapping his fingers and looking apologetic. Smoothing down his still full and dark hair, he winked at me. “Which of your little friends got engaged this time?”
“I’m sure Marilyn would be heartbroken to hear you still refer to her as one of my ‘little friends’.”
“I still can’t believe Marilyn Worthington managed to land Joseph Rothschild.” Mother took a sip of her mimosa and shuddered. “I still can’t believe her parents named her Marilyn.”
“Careful, Babs, your snobbery is reaching epic levels.” Father whipped his napkin off the table and on to his lap, fussing with the folds for a moment before turning his attention to me. Fixing his dark eyes on me, he asked, “How are things at Whisper?”
“Good. Busy.” I smiled at the waiter as he set a mimosa down in front of me. “Sales are still trending upward at a steady rate.”
“Thank God you opened your little place before the entire speakeasy, Prohibition nostalgia phase began.” Mother eyeballed the server, the corners of her mouth turning down in the tiniest of frowns. Since his gaze was still firmly locked on my cleavage, he missed her disapproval. Something told me Thomas was about to lose his position as our preferred server. “If you had to break in to the market now, it would be almost impossible.”
“I think it would be more than a little difficult but not even close to impossible.” I leaned back in my chair and shrugged. “Even though Whisper is obviously an homage to a bygone era, it’s also still very much a modern bar with modern amenities.”
“I’ll admit, I didn’t think your little venture would last longer than six months, maybe a year.” Father raised his tumbler of whiskey in a mock salute. “And here you are, getting ready to begin the planning for your second anniversary bash.”
I didn’t bother to correct him with the information I’d started planning for the party two months ago. For one, he wouldn’t believe me. For another, even if he did, he’d be so drunk by the end of brunch he’d no doubt forget.
After all, as both he and Mother were so fond of saying, booze and brunch starting with the same letter was not a coincidence.
“I was so worried you were wasting your trust fund, especially in this dreadful economy.” Mother finished draining her champagne flute, setting it down and picking up the menu. “Not that you wouldn’t have had the ones set up by your other grandparents, but I know how close you were to Grandmother Hester. I’m sure you would have felt horrible if things had turned out differently.”
“Indeed.” More so because Grandmother Hester had been the only adult in my family who didn’t think my decision to actually use my degrees was ridiculous than because the club would have failed. The only time I’d cried in the last ten years had been when she died. Shaking my head sharply, I cleared my throat and said, “Did you hear the news about Peter Braxton?”
“Oh, poor, poor, stupid Peter.” Father clucked his tongue and took a sip of his drink. “He really should have known better than to fool around with his secretary. Especially one who was so young.”
“Well, after three decades of being married to Cynthia, can anybody really blame him for taking up the girl on her offer?” Mother tapped one perfectly manicured fingernail on the menu and glanced around the patio. “Where is Alex? I have no idea why the service today is so dreadful.”
“Don’t be so dramatic, Mother—Alex is doing the same wonderful job he always does.” I knew as soon as he brought her a fresh mimosa—which no doubt was why he wasn’t hovering behind us—all would be forgiven. “Anyway, thanks to the scandal, Peter is being forced in to early retirement, which means I have to find a new accountant.”
“I know exactly who you should hire.” Father set his tumbler down and leaned forward. “He was just made a partner at Blackstone, Ferguson, and Sweeny—youngest one ever, if I’m remembering correctly. Very driven, very focused.” He nodded and arched his brows. “He’s been handling Eliza’s accounts for almost two years now, which should tell you everything you need to know.”
“Anyone who is able to put with Eliza for more than a month at a time should petition for canonization by the Catholic church.” Rolling my shoulders, I mulled the idea over for a moment. Truth be told, I didn’t have any decent leads of my own and there was no way I could run either the club or my personal financed without an accountant. Finally, I sighed and shook my head. “Okay. I’ll call Uncle Jamie and see about setting up a meeting with Wonder Kid.”
“His name is Namir Adeem.” When I choked on my mimosa in surprise, Father nodded solemnly. “Exactly. Now you understand why the news about his continued employment with Eliza is even more shocking.”
“Considering the fact she still uses the word ‘colored’ to describe anyone who isn’t white? Yes.” Finishing off my drink, I picked up my menu and studied it, even though I already knew what I planned to order. “Anyone who can put up with Eliza and her persistence to remain rooted in the eighteenth century should be able to handle me.”
Mother barked out sharp laugh. “Darling, you’re so adorable.” Opening her purse, she rummaged through the depths for a moment before finally pulling out her sunglasses and slipping them on. “As horrible as Eliza is, she can’t even begin to compare to an Allerton woman. Your Grandmother Alma ruled the Upper East Side with an iron fist until the day she died.”
“And now I rule over the Meatpacking District—or at least the club and bar scene portion of it.” I sighed and rolled my eyes dramatically. “It’s a hard job being so popular but I’m more than willing to carry the burden.”
“Of course you are, princess.” Father rattled the ice in his tumbler and smiled wryly. “Now, let’s order, shall we?”
Later that afternoon, I gripped the railing of the third floor balcony, tapping my nails on the polished wood. Two stories below, Ella was vocalizing, warming up for the evening. Reynolds was fiddling with his drum set, adjusting some small thing, while Gregory, Walt, and Teddy huddled over sheet music, their heads so close together they reminded me of Hades’s guard dog. I tried for a moment to recall the monster’s name before giving up. It’d come to me while I was in the middle of something else.
“The new password for the week has gone out via email and text and the doormen have it as well.” Next to me, Geoff continued down the Sunday checklist, swiping his finger over the iPad screen. “The bartenders are all up to date on the weekly drink special–.”
“What did we decide on again?” I already knew but I wanted to see if my assistant manager was as on top of things as he seemed to be. I glanced over at him, arching a brow. “Geoff?”
“The White Lady.” He smiled slightly. “Did I pass?”
“I suppose I’ll allow you to continue working for me for another week.” Shifting my attention back to the first floor, I nodded at one of the newer servers. “How’s she coming along?”
“Deidre?” He tapped the screen a few times and sighed. “Well, she passed the food and beverage test with the absolute lowest score we allow.”
“Some people aren’t good test takers.” I studied her as she went through the pre-shift duties—turning on the globe-shaped electric candles, checking the tablecloth hems for stains, wiping down the backs of chairs. “How’d she do with her practical exam?”
“Better, but still not stellar.” He held the tablet out to me, crossing his arms once I took it from him. “The guests gave her high marks for efficiency but also said she wasn’t quite as personable as the rest of the staff.”
“Hmm.” I scrolled through her evaluations, all four—trainer, head server, head bartender, and secret customer. They all said some variation of what Geoff had just told me. Still, there had been the tiniest of sparks in her eyes when I interviewed her. Handing him back the iPad, I said, “I want her to work the VIP rooms tonight.”
Geoff blinked. “Why?”
“A theory.” When he continued to stare at me, I widened my eyes. “Oh, I’m not sharing the theory. You wanted an explanation, I provided one.”
“Okay. You’re the boss.” He tapped the screen a few times before powering it down, flipping the cover in to place and tucking it under his arm. “Adrienne and Talia aren’t going to be happy.”
“If they want to stay in the VIP section and not go back to working the general floor, they’ll pretend they are.” I rolled my shoulders in an attempt to relieve the stress knot I could feel forming. “Deidre will do fine. You’ll see.”
“Like I said, you’re the boss.” He ran a hand over his hair, smoothing down a few stray bright red locks. “Speaking of bosses, Mario is very insistent you join us for dinner later this week.”
“As long as he doesn’t expect me to rustle up a date.” I sighed and raked a hand through my own hair, freshly colored, highlighted, lowlighted, and trimmed. It didn’t take a lot of work to enhance the chocolate colored lengths I’d inherited from my father. It did, however, take a lot of work to make it seem as if it took a lot of work. “We’ve got about two hours until we open, yes?”
“A little less.” He glanced over at me, his lips curving in a smile bordering on a smirk. “Do you want me to send Reynolds up to your office?”
“If he has a few minutes to spare.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’ll find a few minutes.” Geoff chuckled as he turned toward the staff elevator, his polished wingtips clacking gently on the hardwood floor. I watched, waiting until the doors slid closed silently behind him before spinning on my heels and heading to my office.
I was sitting on my desk, leaning back on my hands, when a single knock sounded on my door maybe five minutes later. It opened without me answering and Reynolds slipped inside, closing it behind him and leaning against the wood. “You wanted to see me?”
“If you had a few minutes.” I straightened, trailing one hand over my exposed collarbone and sliding the hem of my dress up with the other. “I know you’ve got to warm up for tonight.”
“Not for another hour or so.” He glided over to me, a dark shadow in the barely lit room. He nudged my hand away from my dress, his fingers grazing over my inner thigh. Stepping between my knees, he grasped my chin and tilted it up. “You did something with your hair.”
“Thanks for noticing.” Not that I’d believed he wouldn’t. Reynolds was nothing if not observant, especially when it concerned a woman. He’d have to be in order to keep his roster straight. I ran my tongue over my lips, smiling when he sucked in a shallow breath. “What about the dress? It’s part of my friend’s new vintage inspired collection.”
“Very flapperesque.” He finished pushing my dress up as he leaned in, sinking his teeth in to my lower lip. “Do you trust me not to ruin it?”
I chuckled as I ran my hand down his torso, cupping his cock through his pants. “Do your worst.”
“You look gorgeous, Taylor.” Courtney Axelrod, heiress to a chocolate fortune of some sort and my primary nemesis since boarding school, gave me a set of air kisses before stepping back and looking me over for a second time. “Retro is such a good look for you. There aren’t a lot of people who can pull off something so old-fashioned.”
“Well, you know I’ve always liked a challenge.” My smile was just as fake as hers, although I was secretly pleased to see she was already showing signs of crow’s feet and wrinkles—and she wasn’t even thirty. Affecting a worried expression, I brushed an imaginary speck from her bare shoulder. “Darling, are you still going to that salon over in Midtown? I’ve told you, you really need to switch to my place.”
“I’ve been trying to get an appointment for months now but they are completely booked.” Just as I’d known she would, she began scrutinizing her dress for dandruff. Her normally shoulder length blonde hair, complete with nearly two-inch dark roots, was tucked up in a faux bob which swung against her chin. I always found it amusing how much more concerned she was with the dandruff than with her roots. She pouted at me and batted her lashes. “Do you think you can pull a few strings?”
“Oh, I doubt that.” I wrinkled my nose and shook my head. “I always have to book my own appointments at least two months out.” Not true in the slightest but Maurice would kill me if anyone knew the preferential treatment he gave me. “You’ll just have to keep trying. If you’ll excuse me, I think I see the newest little cub reporter for The Volstead Weekly.”
Before she had a chance to respond, I slipped past her and her escort, slinking my way between tables and chairs until I reached the bar. Settling myself on an empty barstool, I nodded at the closest bartender and turned to Sergio. “What’s the latest gossip?”
“Your dress is wonderful, the newest appetizer not so much.” He ran a hand over his gelled and slicked back hair, he twisting his neck one way and then the other as he studied his reflection in the mirror. As usual, he reminded me of nothing so much as a more handsome Hispanic Bugsy Siegel. “I don’t think it’s going to take off the way you wanted.”
“Give it a few weeks.” I already knew from studying the introductions of previous menu items that it took between two and three weeks for a new item to be accepted. The patrons of Whisper did not do well with change, even in small doses. I nodded at Max when he placed the bone dry martini in front of me. “Anything else interesting?”
“The new girl is doing really well in VIP—better than anyone thought, actually.” He took a sip of his own drink, which looked and smelled like a mint julep. Sergio had excellent taste in many areas—alcohol wasn’t one of them. “I think I actually saw her smile.”
“You’re hilarious.” I sighed and raked my hand through my hair, tousling it ever so slightly. “Who did you choose for your spotlight piece this week?”
“Katherine Holt. She’ll get a kick out of being fictionalized as a gun-toting dame who refused to take crap from anyone.”
“You are right about that.” Something in the mirror caught my eye and I stared, watching the reflection for a moment before turning to get a better look at the actual person. “Oh, my.”
“What?” Sergio glanced over his shoulder, immediately zeroing in on the same individual. He whistled and nodded. “Oh, my, indeed.”
“Enjoy the rest of your night, Serg.” Leaving my barely touched drink on the bar, I eased off my seat and walked toward the very gorgeous and very confused man attracting more than his fair share of attention. I tapped him on his shoulder, sliding around him as he turned toward me, the combined movements almost a dance. “Hello.”
“Hello.” He blinked slowly and I simply stared, fascinated by the length and luxuriousness of his lashes. “I’m not certain I’m in the right place.”
“I can almost certainly promise you that you are.” I trailed my fingers down the lapel of his suit jacket, confirming that he was, in fact, wearing linen. Off hand, I couldn’t think of a single person in any of my social circles who would not only dare to wear linen but look amazing doing so. “Is this your first time at Whisper?”
“Yes.” He smiled slightly, his perfect, even teeth brilliantly white against his bronzed skin. The light glinted off his jet black hair, cropped close to his head in a style more suited to a member of the military than the jet-set. “I suppose it’s rather obvious.”
“Only a little.” I continued to play with his lapel, smiling up at him. “Since this is your first time, I feel compelled to take advantage of you.” I let my words hang in the air for a moment, studying the flow of emotions over his face, before asking, “What do you think of my dress?”
“Your dress?” He blinked again, even slower than before, giving me the opportunity to truly appreciate the rich almond brown of his eyes. Taking a half step back, he looked me over, taking his time before meeting my gaze again. “It’s quite lovely.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I suppose a better question would have been what makes it lovely.” I flicked one of the jet beads decorating the bodice, not surprised when his gaze dropped from my face to my breasts. That was, after all, the point. I was surprised when he didn’t linger—surprised and just a little charmed. “Is it the material?”
“That is one factor.” Lifting one hand, he brushed a loose curl back behind my shoulder, his fingertips not even grazing my skin. “It’s also the color—it’s quite wonderful against your complexion.”
“Thank you.” Although I enjoyed a round of flattery as much as the next woman, this wasn’t quite going the way I’d imagined. Smiling a little brighter, I said, “You strike me as a whiskey man. The bartender does a wonderful Manhattan.”
“As delightful as that sounds, I’m afraid if I were to take you up on your offer, it would make a bad impression with my future employer.”
“So you’re here for a business meeting.” Now I really was puzzled. Whisper didn’t see a lot of legitimate business meetings, due in no small part to the music. Shifting my weight to my back heel, I crossed my arms and studied him closer. “With who?”
He pulled a small slip of paper from his pocket, unfolding it with exquisite precision. “A T. Allerton.”
“Really.” For once, the surprise in my voice was unaffected. “Who are you?”
It was his turn to study me, his eyes narrowing slightly. “Namir Adeem.”
“You’re the accountant.” It wasn’t often I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me to save me from embarrassment but this was definitely one of those times. “I wasn’t expecting you to show up unannounced.”
“Ah.” The single syllable carried a wealth of meaning. He nodded slowly. “And you would be the business owner.”
“Yes, I would.” Squaring my shoulders, I offered him my hand. “Taylor Allerton.”
He took my hand, gripping tight and shaking slowly. “Charmed.”
I smiled. “Not yet.”
About the Author:
L.M. Pruitt has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember. A native of Florida with a love of New Orleans, she has the uncanny ability to find humor in most things and would probably kill a plastic plant. She knows this because she’s killed bamboo. Twice. She is the author of the Winged series, the Plaisir Coupable series, Jude Magdalyn series, the Moon Rising series, and Taken: A Frankie Post Novel.