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To avoid spoilers, the reader should complete the series through The Queen before starting The Scent of Winter. Not that Kingsley minded the lack of snow in New Orleans during winter.
There was something to be said for sitting on his back balcony in December and drinking wine with Juliette after putting Celeste to bed. But now that he'd been back in New York for two days, he found himself wishing for snow with the same fervor and longing he'd wished for it as a child, when a rare heavy snowfall meant maman might let him stay home from school.
From the window in Griffin's dining room, Kingsley studied the sky and found it empty of snow clouds. The sun hung down from the ceiling of the overcast horizon like a sad, low-watt light bulb. Winter in New York was a disappointment. The sooner he got back to New Orleans the better. Ah, well, it was a business trip anyway. Not in town for pleasure. Pleasure was back in New Orleans. Nothing in New York these days but paperwork.
Griffin brought two cups of coffee over to the dining room table where they'd been working. Kingsley had offered to sell his old townhouse to Griffin at below market value to use as a base of operations, but Griffin hadn't wanted to leave the apartment he'd shared with Michael for almost four years.
He liked the privacy of it, which Kingsley could appreciate. In the old days, people were always tramping in and out of Kingsley's townhouse on Riverside Drive for a dinner party or a music recital, an auction or an orgy. And not once yesterday either. He always sleeps for about three straight days when the semester's over. But he'll be up eventually.
He's earned it," Kingsley said, taking the coffee cup Griffin offered. Mick's mom is coming, too. That's weird, right? It feels weird. He was nervous, which Kingsley found endearing. Even if Griffin was the new King of the Underground, he still wanted to impress the old King of the Underground.
But where are the other books? I'm keeping the clubs on the up and up. The only nefarious behavior going on around here is on my sheets, not the spreadsheets. I hear congratulations are in order. Second, the date is not saved. The entire week is. Nora's house has been taken over with wedding planning books, and Juliette is already shopping for dresses for her and Celeste. Jules is unusually excited the wedding will be in Scotland, and I'm not sure I want to know why Who wouldn't be excited?
He was a man in love-and even better, a man contented. It was good to see. Kingsley, too, was a man in love. He wouldn't say no to a little more contentment, however.
Than me? Ah, I still hate English. Than moi. It's his birthday tomorrow, right? The big ? You two partying together? Picnic in the park? Pairs figure skating?
Karaoke night? He wanted to laugh but didn't quite have it in him today. Spending two straight days pouring over financial records did not do wonders for his sense of humor. Advent is a hectic time at the parish. Kingsley tucked his glasses and the handkerchief into his pocket.
If you're lucky, you'll be second. Mick's an ex-altar boy, but the only orders he takes are from me. Kingsley shrugged. I think I'm finally starting to feel it. You're sexier now than you were when I met you.
I'd fuck you in a New York minute. If I wasn't engaged, I mean. Doesn't matter. He'd fuck you too. Well, he wouldn't fuck you since he's a bottom. But you get what I mean.
You painted quite a picture. Sting's in his mid-sixties. He'd seen everything he needed to see. I'm impressed with your work. You're lucky I have pants on.
I kind of miss 'em. Don't get me wrong, you look damn good. Like one of those sexy Greek tycoons on those romance novels Mom's always reading. But it's kind of an adjustment seeing you look Griffin raised his hands in innocent surrender.
Not me. But these days, people were more likely to find him wearing something like what he had on today: I'm not quite ready to explain fetish-wear to my daughter. That's what her Tante Elle is for. When I'm at the clubs, I look the part. You set a high bar. I want to make sure I clear it. It's your baby. Opening clubs is the easy part.
It's like falling in love. Keeping them running is the real work. I wouldn't expand operations out west until you've turned a profit there two years in a row. Anything else? I put my realm into the right hands. Merci beaucoup. I feel like I've found my calling. Winter had hit New York hard this week. The temperature was barely scraping the bottom of thirty. Tonight's Bisexual Appreciation Night at the club. But I must get home. My girls miss me almost as much as I miss them.
Just had to ask. Let me walk you out. Kingsley almost inquired who the painter was so he could download one for his home in New Orleans when he saw the artist's name scrawled at the bottom-Michael Dimir.
Griffin stopped at the door to the master bedroom and cracked it open. I want to make sure he's still breathing," Griffin said with a wink. Michael lay on his stomach across Griffin's large platform bed, the sheets pulled up to his waist but no higher.
Red welts decorated Michael's pale back diagonally from shoulder to hip. The boy had been transformed into a human candy cane. Take the train. Take my car. I don't care. She'll be home on Monday, she said.
When the mood struck him, Zach could be merciless to an author about his or her book's shortcomings. The great writers took the criticism.
The hacks couldn't handle it. If he was hard enough on her, she'd beg for another editor. The argument now at a stalemate, Zach rose tiredly from the chair and with hunched and aching shoulders headed toward the door. A small cough stopped Zach before he could leave the office. Don't believe everything you've heard about her. The lady knows her hawks from her handsaws. Zach turned to leave again. You should try it sometime.
His assistant, Mary, had left Nora Sutherlin's manuscript on his desk along with a file folder. Zach flipped the file open and barely glanced at Sutherlin's bio. She was thirty-three, about a decade younger than him. Her first book had come out when she was twenty-nine. She'd released five titles since then; her second book, entitled Red, had created a minor sensation-great sales, lots of buzz.
Zach studied the numbers in the file and saw why J. With each subsequent release, her sales had nearly doubled. Zach ran through the little he knew of erotica writers in his mind. These days erotica was about the only growth market in publishing.
But it shouldn't be about the money. Just the art. Zach threw Sutherlin's bio and sales projections in the trash. He'd stolen his philosophy of editing from the old New Critics-it's just about the book. Not the author, not the market, not the reader,,,one judged a book only by the book.
He shouldn't care that Nora Sutherlin's personal life was rumored to be as torrid as her prose. Only her book mattered. And his hopes for the book were not high. Zach examined the manuscript with suspicion. Mary knew he preferred to read his books in hard copy versions. But she'd obviously had a little too much fun printing out this one for him. Across the scarlet-red cover blazed the title in a lurid Gothic font-The Consolation Prize.
Editors almost invariably changed a book's title, but he had to concede it was an interesting choice for a work of erotica. He opened the manuscript and read the first sentence: He brushed the sensation off and read the line again. The actual editing he loved, taking a novel with pretensions of greatness and actually making it great. But the politics he hated, the budget crises, having to let a brilliant midlister go to make room for a better-selling hack,,, And now here he was, hauling his arse into Connecticut to meet some loony smut writer who'd somehow convinced one of the most respected lions in publishing that she deserved one of the best editors in literary fiction.
Yes, some days he hated his job. Today he felt quite certain it hated him back. Zach parked J. He checked the address, his directions and stared at the house. Nora Sutherlin-the notorious erotica writer whose books were banned as often as they were translated lived here? Zach could imagine his own grandmother in this house forcing tea and biscuits on small children.
With a heavy sigh, he strode to the front door and rang the bell. Shortly after, he heard footsteps approaching-sturdy, masculine footsteps.
Zach allowed himself the pleasure of imagining that Nora Sutherlin might simply be the pen name for some overweight bloke in his mid-fifties.
A man did open the door. No, not a man-a boy. A boy wearing nothing but plaid pajama pants and a cluster of hemp necklaces, one dangling a small silver cross, stood across the threshold from Zach and regarded him with a sleepy smile. She just tells everybody I'm sixteen for the street cred. The boy shrugged his sun-freckled shoulders. Wesley Railey. Just Wes. I'm here to meet with your,,,employer? Zach entered the house and found it cozy and homey, replete with overstuffed furniture and bursting bookcases.
You're British? You don't sound like a native, either. But Mom's a Georgia peach so that's where I get this mess from. I keep trying to lose it, but Nora won't let me. Has a thing for accents. Zach noted the boy's slim but muscular frame and wondered why Nora Sutherlin bothered with the intern pretense.
A nineteen-year-old lover might be rather disgraceful for a woman of thirty-three but certainly legal. Wesley led him down an abbreviated hallway. Without knocking he pushed open a door. Easton's here. From all the rumors he'd heard, he'd expected some sort of siteian in red leather wielding a riding crop. Instead, he found a pale, petite beauty with wavy black hair barely contained in a loose knot at her nape.
And no red leather in sight at all. She wore men's style pajamas, blue ones covered in what appeared to be little yellow ducks. Her legs rested on top of her desk and she had her keyboard balanced across her lap. With quick nimble fingers she typed away, saying nothing and giving them only her beguiling profile. Go," she said, her voice both honeyed and sardonic.
Although irritated by her cavalier attitude and her unfortunate attractiveness, Zach couldn't help but scroll through his substantial mental thesaurus.
Goddammit, why are there no good synonyms for thrust? Bane of my existence. Although,,," She set her keyboard aside and turned to face him for the first time. She stood up and walked on bare feet to him. But she grasped his hand with surprisingly strong fingers.
He now regretted tossing her bio into the bin. At first glance her eyes appeared a deep green, but she blinked and they seemed to change to a black so dark they likely could not remember the green they had just been. He knew that she looked only at his face, but still he felt stripped bare by her penetrating gaze, torn open. She knew him. He knew it, and he sensed she knew it, too. Determined to regain control of the situation, Zach pulled his hand back. Sutherlin-" "Right. Zach glanced around her office and saw even more books than were in the living room: Easton," she said, dropping into her desk chair.
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