But even without Kara, I’d have no interest. Courtney wasn’t my type. She needed a himbo she could drag around to different socialite events. She didn’t need any man for his money, that was for sure. She just needed some man candy who could pose for the cameras. There had to be a long line of interested candidates. I just wasn’t one of them.
In the dark hallway she started talking real low so I had to lean into her. She faked picking something off of my lapel so she could touch me. I found it annoying, but didn’t really get pissed off until she planted one on me.
Usually I would have seen it coming, ducked it like a punch in the ring. I knew how women like her worked. Usually, I had my guard up.
But being with Kara had made me soft. I felt all smiley and shit, like I’d start humming any minute, my heart light. And so Courtney got her three seconds in heaven. Until I grabbed her around her boney shoulders and pushed her away, firm and clear.
“Not going to happen.” I shook my head no.
She looked too pleased as she said, “Suit yourself.” Shrugging, she walked off like getting rejected was no big deal. She was up to something, but I honestly didn’t have time for her games. Maybe I’d gotten off easy and she’d lost interest. Maybe she was off to find some other cowboy to ride for the month.
It was time to stand up and address the guests, me and the rest of the philanthropic moneybags. I still found it funny to be counted as one of them.
I’d figured Kara would have arrived by then. I remembered she didn’t have a lot of experience attending these sorts of events. She must be nervous. I cursed myself. I should have made arrangements to meet her. But there wasn’t time for that now.
I got up on the podium, took the mic and said a generic word or two about the importance of the cause, the necessity of funding and improving services for children in the foster care system. I praised the event organizers and thanked all of the guests. Public speaking didn’t phase me. Easy as pie.
What phased me was that I couldn’t see Kara. I kept searching for her face amidst the throng, but no luck. Afterwards, I had to work the crowd, shaking hands with this Rockefeller and that Astor, drinking a high ball with a DuPont and discussing bow hunting in Montana with a Vanderbilt. New York really knew how to pull out the old money. You could always tell, too. Old money never looked as done up as new money. The pearls looked slightly worn, passed down over the generations. The older women might let themselves go grey. The younger ones never, ever flashed even a bit of cleavage. New money had giant fake boobs and perfectly veneered teeth, and new money was out to have a good time. They wanted to write you a big check right then and there in front of everyone. Old money would head home early. But the next day you’d get an even bigger donation, requesting anonymity.
One classic old-money, silver-haired gentleman with a slight British accent spoke to me with a sense of urgency about the cause. He clutched his cane with his thin hand and pierced me with his startling blue eyes as he talked about the plight of foster children and how many slipped through the cracks. He looked frail and somewhat sickly, but he spoke with passion. He wanted to know about my background and what had driven me to become such a generous supporter.
Normally, I’d have given him more time. I appreciated the man coming out, especially since he honestly looked like he needed to be resting at home in bed. But it hit 10 o’clock and I had to excuse myself.
Where the hell was Kara? She wasn’t responding to her cell phone and she definitely wasn’t at the party. I knew because in-between all the glad-handing and chitchat I was prowling the premises like a panther. I called Vladimir and he confirmed that he’d dropped her off almost two hours earlier. Sometimes you needed to stay and host the huge gala benefitting your charity. And sometimes you needed to quit it and hit the road to make sure everything was OK with the one you loved.
Almost at the door, another socialite shark cornered me. I could really use some sort of danger/warning system, maybe something that could cue the Jaws soundtrack so I could prepare myself prior to attack. In alcohol-soaked, breathy tones, she clasped a boney claw to my bicep and told me she wanted to make a very special gift to my foundation. She wanted to discuss the terms in private. I’d heard she had recently finalized a divorce with husband number two. With a sigh and a few shreds of remaining protocol, I managed to steer her toward a more interested party so I could finally slip away into the night.
I jogged the six blocks to our hotel. I doubted a single attendee at the Met would have considered such physical exertion. A punishing workout with a personal trainer in top-of-the-line athletic gear, sure. A jog on city blocks in a tuxedo, not so much. Rich people tended to get soft. Not me.
I knew my driver Vladimir could be there for me in minutes, that I might not even be saving any time on foot. But I couldn’t sit in the back of a car at traffic lights, not when I didn’t know what had happened to Kara. She was such an innocent, so naïve and I’d only showed her the glittering lights of New York City. Much darker dangers lurked around every corner and Kara would attract a criminal like a moth to a flame. Only she’d be the one to get burned.
Had she chickened out at the door? She must have felt intimidated. I’d been an idiot. I should have made arrangements to meet her outside so I could walk her in to the party. If I hadn’t been so out of it when I’d said goodbye to her at the hotel room, I would have planned better. I’d been running late, which I never did, confused and unfocused and wanting nothing more than to get back into bed with Kara. It had made me careless, sloppy, and I hadn’t told her to text me when she got there. I could have walked her up the steps, arm in arm. I could have shown her around, introduced her, made sure she felt comfortable. Instead I’d been stupid and now who knew where she’d disappeared to. She probably didn’t even bring her cell phone with her to the party. She had no way to get in touch with me if she needed help.
Heart pounding in my chest, I burst into the hotel room.
“Kara?” My voice seemed to echo in what immediately became clear was an empty hotel room. “Kara, where are you?” I played out the part in every horror movie, the idiot who continues calling out and searching even though everyone including him knew she wasn’t there. She was gone.
On the counter I saw a note. Something cold gripped my gut. This wasn’t going to be good.
Someone else has come through for me to help with the ranch. I don’t need you anymore. I’m terminating our contract a day early, so I do not hold you to your end of the bargain. You don’t owe me anything.
I looked up. My fingers kept pinching the note tight and bloodless. I walked over to the bar and poured myself a drink, a strong one. After a long, hard swallow of liquor, I read the note again.
“Someone else has come through for me.” Had she been trying to cut my heart out of my chest cavity with a jagged knife and no anesthesia? Had that been her intent in writing the note? Because if that’s what she’d been trying to do, she’d done a real bang-up job.
In one long gulp I finished my drink, the burning heat punishing my throat as it slid down. With a smash I threw the empty glass against the wall. It hit with such force it shattered, spraying bits and shards across the room. It would require a hell of a clean up job, but I’d pay for it and some poor SOBs would come in here with rags and vacuums. Before the end of the day tomorrow it would look good as new.
How about this fucking mess I found myself in? How the fuck would that get cleaned up? I still held the poisonous note. “I don’t need you anymore.”
“Fuck!” I bellowed into the empty hotel room, wishing I were outside or at the gym, somewhere else where I could channel everything into the physical. This sea storm of emotions rioting through me, I didn’t do this. I did control. I governed. Not this, a tornado of fury and pain whipping through me.
“Fuck!” I swore again, grabbing the entire bottle of Jack Daniels and tipping it to my mouth. Who the hell was she with? Who had bailed her out
? How hadn’t I known about it? I took another swig, needing the burn and please God the ensuing numbness.
I’d been such an asshole. Played like a fucking piano. How had I not seen this coming? How had I let all of my defenses down, let myself become such a chump? She’d always been in this for the money, nothing more. She’d come to my office with bills to pay and asked for my checkbook. Somehow I’d lost sight of that. It was always about money, hadn’t I learned that enough times? That’s what it had been about the first time around, when Harlan had run me off his land and away from his daughter. I hadn’t had enough money.
Funny thing, now I had so much and it still wasn’t enough. Someone else had come through for her.
From deep in my chest, I let out a roar, a great bellow of pain and anger. I wanted to kill the man who won her, the highest bidder. But most of all I wanted to kill that soft part in myself, the part that had been about to declare eternal love. At least I’d been spared that humiliation. How much more raw would this feel, had I bent down on one knee and asked her to be mine?
She’d said it, earlier that evening. She’d said she loved me. I took another swig out of the bottle of whiskey. Easy lies, tripping out of her pretty mouth. She’d probably said that to a dozen men, maybe more. I’d been about to say it to her and I’d never once said it to another living soul.
My gaze darkening, I looked out over the hotel room but didn’t see it. Deep down, I’d always known this would happen. I didn’t believe in happy endings. This shit, this base betrayal, I believed in that. This fit with my worldview. The basics of supply and demand. Once what I had to offer was no longer needed, once she found a better supplier, everything else burned.
I bet it was Bruce. That fucking twit. Tilting the bottle up, I made quick work of it. Bruce with his football jersey and college degree. The fucking hometown hero. He’d texted her the other day. He’d probably sweetened the deal, paid her bills, given her a sure thing. Bird in hand, as the saying went.
I’d been about to help her. I was going to do everything for her, buy her anything she wanted, do everything I could to make her happy. I’d do it now for her if I still could. In fact, maybe if I rushed, if I called her and told her I’d wire her some money, maybe she’d come back?
Oh, hell no. I closed my eyes. This wasn’t going to happen. I wouldn’t get pathetic, wouldn’t become the sucker who cried his eyes out when he got left behind, begged to not be left alone. I was Declan Fucking Hunt. When someone betrayed me, I got even. And the best way to get even in this situation would be to not care at all.
And what would Declan Hunt, entrepreneur playboy bachelor do if he didn’t care at all? He’d head out to a club, the kind that served his basest needs.
If I was the beast in this story, the bad guy the girl didn’t ride off with into the sunset, I might as well play the part. Drink. Fuck. Send myself into mindless oblivion. When you couldn’t be happy, at least you could forget.
“How may I serve you tonight, sir?” A girl kneeled at my feet, her luscious breasts out and exposed with nothing but pasties on her nipples. She wore a collar with an empty latch, seeking a master to clip his leash to her and force her to do his bidding. In this New York BDSM club, anything could happen.
I sat with my drink in hand, considering my options. I could trace those plump, moist lips with my thumb, maybe make her take my cock out and suck it there in the main room where anyone could come see. A small crowd would gather, watching her go down on me, hungry and needy, while I forced her head onto my engorged prick. That might get me off, her wet, hot mouth on me while others watched. I bet she’d like it, too. She’d like me using her that way. Many subs craved public humiliation.
She liked awaiting my commands. I could see it in her breathing, could tell in the way her nipples peaked with pleasure simply from being at service. Just offering herself up to me turned her on. I brought my hand to her hair, smooth and shiny. I could picture cupping her head, forcing her down, the people around us watching. Another dom might take advantage of the scene I created, forcing his sub to touch herself as she watched my cock get sucked. Another might make his sub kneel and take his dick, too. Or a separate side-show might start, two girls playing with each other, sucking each other’s tits, rubbing each other’s clits for everyone to watch.
I could see all of that play out in this woman kneeling before me. She stayed there awaiting my orders, her eyes downcast in true sub fashion, not even looking her master in the eye. She knew how to play the game with the utmost of expertise.
“Not tonight,” I growled. I withdrew my hand. Disappointment flickered through her pretty face. She’d wanted to get used by me. But she kept her eyes downcast as she stood up and left me alone.
I had every reason to throw myself into this scene, grind myself into the physical, whip and torture and force submission. The coiled tension inside me was so palpable I practically had steam rising off of my back. That sub could probably sense it and desperately wished I’d take it all out on her.
But I didn’t want to do it. You couldn’t do what you couldn’t do. As much as I wanted to prove to myself that there was more to life than Kara, that she wasn’t my one and only, this wasn’t how I was going to do it. Sitting there, unable to assume my typical role, was only making it worse.
So I left, alone, cloaked in restless, unsatisfied anger.
There was only one thing to do. I needed to get on a plane. I had to know, had to see her with him. Maybe if I saw her in his arms I could sear the image into my brain, use it like a brand to burn through all my memories. Maybe then I could walk away.
But this wasn’t over yet. I needed it to end, but not like this, not with a note and a whimper. I would head to Montana. This needed to end big.
Private planes rocked. Last-minute coach travel via multiple flight legs including a red-eye and long layovers sucked. It took me the better part of 24 hours to drag my sorry ass back to Billings. Airplanes and airports, waiting in endless lines and trying to doze on hard chairs, I had a lot of time to reflect on how far I’d fallen and how fast. Not to mention the flights cost me about a thousand bucks I didn’t have. To sit in the middle seat the whole way.
On the final leg, reality returned full-force in the form of a screaming baby. I didn’t know which I found more upsetting, the way that she never stopped, just ratcheted up her distress to ever-higher-pitched octaves. Or the way that she reminded me of how stupid I’d let myself get over Declan. It had only taken me one week, just one week of nasty, no-holds-barred sex, and I’d gone stark raving mad over him. I’d foreseen our whole future together, practically named our grandkids. I was surprised I hadn’t started picking out our wedding china, maybe even taken the liberty of sending out “save the date” cards for our nuptials.
When I took the shuttle bus from the airport to The Stanyon, Declan’s hotel in Billings, I barely breathed the whole ride. My hellish trip home had taken so long, he might already have arrived via private jet. No luggage lines for him, no delays, just Declan in hot pursuit. I practically tiptoed to the valet kiosk out front to request my truck.
I couldn’t have felt stranger standing in the lobby, liked I’d just dropped down from Mars. So much had happened since I’d met Declan at the restaurant there a little over a week ago. The mundane nature of the scene around me only made it feel more surreal. A lazy Sunday afternoon with a man checking in at the front desk and a couple of people reading or tapping into their phones on richly upholstered chairs in the lobby, no one paid me any mind. Nothing unusual here. It was as if I’d totally made up the past nine crazy days.
I saw Declan around every corner, felt his breath at my neck from behind. But he didn’t appear. A valet brought Bessie around and I tipped him with the last few dollar bills I had in my wallet. I climbed in and drove off with fat, stupid tears welling up over how smoothly it had all gone. Instead of rational relief, I felt torn up and dumb all over aga
in. Of course Declan hadn’t been standing there waiting for me, rending his hair and gnashing his teeth asking why, oh why had I left him? He was probably glad I’d gone. It saved him money and a bit of trouble, too, having to get it through my big, thick scull that he’d really meant it when he’d offered me a one-week bargain. One week meant one week.
I guessed I should feel glad that at least I’d been spared that humiliation. Had I not seen him kissing another woman, I’d have spent the night with him, then turned to him the next morning full of expectation and hope. He would have sneered and rejected me and, who knew, that might have felt even worse than this? Hard to imagine that, though.
The drive back to the ranch only made me feel more and more ridiculous. Passing acre after acre of land, wild grasses and cattle, dilapidated sheds and make-shift fences with barbed wire and weathered stakes, I saw a wasteland. How had I fooled myself into thinking Declan and I could live happily together in the same world? Once upon a time he’d been a lowly ranch hand, but since then he’d shot out into the stratosphere of wealth and power. I’d stayed behind in Montana where we ran neck and neck with Wyoming for least populated state in the continental US. Compared to a place like New York City, it looked like a bad joke.
My hometown didn’t even have a population of 3,000. No, we tapped out at 2,700. The diner I worked at was a 35-minute drive away from my ranch. And that was our local diner. With new eyes, I laughed at myself, but not kindly. After the hustle and bustle of New York, the culture, sophistication, anything and everything you could ever dream of available 24/7, no wonder no one wanted to live out where I did. I’d been exiled in Siberia my whole life, grinning like an idiot about it because I didn’t know any better. I knew better now.
That night, you’d still think I could have slept. All that emotional upheaval plus long hours of insane travel should have knocked me right out. Instead, I lay in my bed listening to the crickets chirping so loud it sounded like they were lying there in bed with me instead of outside in the middle of a hot June night. Even with the window open, no breeze fluttered my curtain. Just the clatter of the crickets. It felt like prison.