“There’s been hundreds,” she confided at last year’s board meeting, wedging an entire powdered donut into her mouth as I watched closely, as interested at the prospect of her choking as I was in the discussion of Sharp’s sex life. “My driver’s brother is a doorman at his downtown condo and said the girls show up all hours. Beautiful girls, but clearly prostitutes. He never leaves with them, and they only stay for a few hours.” I nod, half-believing the words. It would explain why he’d never been photographed with a woman. The man appeared to not date, a fact that drove the women of San Francisco mad and had sparked occasional rumors of homosexuality. The rumors never went too far… too many women who had met the man, worked for the man, dissuaded them. I liked the idea of prostitutes, of the man unleashing holy hell on a woman of the night in the privacy of his home.
The funds mean a great deal. He didn’t respond to the comment, and it hung between us. I took a sip of champagne. “I’m surprised to see you here.”
“Why is that?” The laser focus of this man was unnerving. When he stared at you, there was no wavering, no doubt that he would listen to your words and process them accordingly. I tried to relax, the pressure of an intelligent response high, the knowledge that I was in the presence of brilliance a heavy concept. I’d never been a woman to find intelligence sexy, four years in the nerd-fest that was Stanford curing any woman of that misconception. But this man… maybe it wasn’t his intelligence. Maybe it was the combination of that intelligence with confidence and intrigue, mixed in a martini glass of striking looks.
I shrugged. Took another sip of liquid courage. Wished for something stronger than champagne. Noticing that he had moved closer, I had the unnatural urge to lean into him and sniff. Test the waters by placing my hands on his tux’s lapels and tugging. Would he hold the eye contact? Would he step back? Or would he drag me somewhere private and f**k me senseless? My reckless confidence of earlier wavered in the presence of this man.
I swallowed. Tried to bring my mind back to the conversation. “You’ve never come by the campus. Or attended a board meeting. I just assumed that the spring fundraiser would also be skipped.”
“Thomas Yand is on the guest list. I’m hoping to speak with him. He’s been avoiding my calls.”
“Ahhh…” I stepped closer. Lowered my voice. “So this is an ambush.”
“That was the plan. A conspirator would help.” He playfully raised his eyebrows at me, and every feminine bone in my body came to attention.
Yeah, definitely not g*y. I could understand why his female employees rushed to this man’s defense. I’d spent two minutes in his presence and my body had had about nine spikes of arousal. I swallowed. Painted an offhand expression on my face. “What do you have in mind?”
He didn’t need a conspirator. He was one of the wealthiest men in the world. As powerful as Bill Gates in terms of the tech community. But we played our roles well. Flirted over cheese trays and whispered over champagne. Celebrated with conspiratorial smiles when Yand was cornered—me on one side, Brant on the other. I let their conversation take off, then stepped away. Retreated to the other side of the room, where Anne Waters, a bleach-blonde with double D’s, accosted me, licking crab cake off her fingers and diving into a long tale of her spring shopping in the city. I nodded politely while my mind wandered, my resolution to live a different life strengthened with every unladylike lick of her fingers. I snuck a glance at Brant, saw deep focus as he nodded at Yand.
Inside me, there was a flicker of want, a pull that surprised me. I had certainly expected to respect the man—it’d be impossible not to respect a man whose intelligence doubled mine, whose annual donations were the blood that kept half of the city’s charities’ hearts beating—but my expectations, had I ever envisioned meeting the reclusive man, were that I would dislike him.
Reason #1: He was impossibly wealthy, had lived that lifestyle since he was a teen, been waited on and fawned over every day of his adult life. It was a tried-and-tested recipe for an ass**le.
Reason #2: He was impossibly intelligent. I would have expected the ego to match the brains, creating a pompous, arrogant nerd. One who expected submittal in the form of worship. One who’d spout off uninteresting facts while staring at my br**sts.
He was everything I didn’t expect. Quietly confident. Unassuming. Gorgeous. Intense interest that didn’t play games.
He glanced away from Yand for a moment, his eyes pulling to mine, and everything stopped as our gazes held. His eyes broke contact, and I watched him extend a hand, perform a perfunctory shake and then move, dismissing Yand with a polite smile, his legs carrying him in my direction. Again, our eyes locked, and I wanted to look away but couldn’t. Could only watch as he stalked across the room in smooth strides until he was before me, a smile entering his eyes as I tried my best not to swoon.
His presence halted the conversation. Realizing the silence, I glanced at Anne. “Excuse me, please,” I murmured, taking advantage of the opportunity to flee. Brant pulled out my chair, nodding politely to my tablemates, whose watchful eyes followed every movement, a circle of vultures ready for their next meal. Together, his hand leading the way, we escaped toward the rear doors.
“Thank you for your help with Yand,” he said softly, his head lowered slightly to me.
“Thank you for saving me from those women,” I whispered back, smiling politely as I passed Nora Bishop, a woman I was fairly certain had spent most of the nineties on her back beneath my father.
It took twelve steps to reach the doors. Twelve steps during which I realized how much I wanted this man. I thought of the stories—the prostitutes—then the heat of his hand moved, from my back to my elbow, gentle but pressing. He controlled with courtesy. And I wanted more. Needed more. Then our bodies were outside and alone on the balcony, the warm summer night bringing a balmy breeze that smelled of ocean and summer. There, his hand left my elbow, and I was able to have a moment of clear thought.
I rested my elbows on the rough balcony ledge, the cut of concrete comforting against the finery of ridiculous wealth. All of this a show. We spent all year fundraising for children who would cry over the prospect of new sneakers, then shelled out a hundred thousand dollars on a party. I turned and looked back at the full-length windows that rose three stories and showcased the entire production in all of its false glory. Then I glanced at Brant, handsome elegance cased in tuxedo black, a picture that belonged to this world combined with a man I felt was above it. “Was it worth it?” I nodded at the party and glanced over at him, his profile strong, his eyes on the horizon, the flickering glow of exterior torches lighting the dramatic shadows of his face. “Dealing with these vultures for a chance at Yand?”