Read The Fifth Favor Online

Authors: Shelby Reed

The Fifth Favor

THE FIFTH FAVOR

An Ellora’s Cave Publication, June 2004

Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.

PO Box 787

Hudson, OH 44236-0787

ISBN MS Reader (LIT) ISBN # 1-84360-968-1

Other available formats (no ISBNs are assigned): Adobe (PDF), Rocketbook (RB), Mobipocket (PRC) & HTML

THE FIFTH FAVOR © 2004 SHELBY REED

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission.

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. They are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.

Edited by
Kari Berton.

Cover art by
Syneca
.

THE FIFTH FAVOR

Shelby Reed

Shelby Reed

Chapter One

Billie could see the heading now:
An Afternoon with a Real-Life Gigolo
. No, too tabloid.
Face-to-Face with Fantasy
. That was better.

She’d never been assigned an article like this one. She’d never met a male prostitute, or visited a private club catering to women’s sexual fantasies. And what surprised her most of all was that she liked the idea. Its lurid excitement. The thought that a woman could walk into this elegant space and choose her type of man for her type of pleasure.

Shifting her briefcase to her other hand, she glanced at a plush brocade sofa in the lobby’s sitting area, thought about making herself comfortable, and decided against it.

The weirdness of the situation wobbled her usual confidence. She felt restless and self-conscious, the same squirrelly discomfort she’d experienced the first time she went to bed with a man.

She felt like a virgin.

A few feet away, the owner of Avalon stood at a reception desk with a phone tucked between her ear and shoulder, speaking French into the receiver, her passionate delivery sprinkled with bursts of husky laughter. In the short introductory conversation Billie had shared with her before the phone interrupted them, Azure Elan had divulged that her clientele spanned the globe. She understood what women wanted, and she delivered…at a thousand dollars an hour.

But a reporter like Billie Cort could wait, apparently, and all morning, too. The phone conversation showed absolutely no sign of drawing to a close, and now Billie wished she hadn’t killed herself to get to Avalon so early.
Be on time
, her editor had ordered when she made Billie’s appointment a week before. Avalon didn’t invite back visitors who weren’t prompt.

Repressing a sigh, Billie let her gaze sweep the lobby while she waited. It was a study in neoclassic elegance, monochromatic shades of sedate ecru and ivory.
Trompe
l’oeil
cherubs smiled benignly from the ornate plaster ceiling, their fat arms embracing lush, naked nymphs. Somewhere beyond the fresco, in the rooms lining four floors of a century-old townhouse, people had sex. Regularly. All night long, engaged in the most expensive, erotic pleasures imaginable. The club’s clientele consisted of the wealthiest women in the world. Its “companions” were rumored to be the most exquisite male specimens, representing every country, every culture, every female’s ideal.

Outside the heavily draped windows, traffic sailed by on Connecticut Avenue, a silent film of Monday morning rush hour in Washington, D.C. Inside Avalon, the absence of noise draped the perfumed air, rent only by faint, tinkling notes of Mozart.

4

The Fifth Favor

Billie felt as though she’d stepped into a different dimension, where only beauty and ecstasy and fantasy existed.

A far cry from the black hole her own personal life had become.

Restive, she moved away from the window, briefcase clutched against her thighs.

A door squeaked open somewhere nearby, followed by a resounding click. Curious at a new sign of life in the hushed building, Billie wandered across the marble tile to peer down the long, chandeliered passage that led off the lobby. A man in a white Nike T-shirt, shorts and running shoes had slipped through a back door marked “Fire Exit”

and started in her direction. He used the towel around his neck to wipe the perspiration from his face as he approached the lobby.

Billie squinted at him. An employee, maybe? Azure said the club employed over twenty male escorts, all young and extraordinarily attractive.

The man approaching her was more than attractive. Tall, muscular, he moved with the liquid ease of someone totally confident within his body. He drew closer, and when his dark eyes met hers, he smiled and let the towel fall against his shoulder.

She politely returned his smile and cast a look over her shoulder at Azure. The slender club owner gave her an encouraging nod as if again bidding her to wait, all the while murmuring into the receiver.

When the man reached the lobby, he paused and glanced at Azure, who snapped her fingers, pointed to Billie and mouthed, “That’s her.”

“Good morning.” He continued toward her, still breathless from exertion. “You’re the reporter from the women’s magazine?”

Billie nodded, disconcerted. He couldn’t be her interview, could he? Nora Richmond, her editor at
Illicit
, had purportedly retained the services of the infamous Adrian once, and described him as sleek, polished. Billie had pictured elegance and suave sophistication, three-piece suit and expensive Italian shoes, the stereotypical gigolo. But this man, twenty-something with a healthy, glowing charisma, could have been a student jogging around one of the nearby college campuses.

“I’m Billie Cort.” She extended her hand when he reached her. His fingers wrapped around hers and squeezed gently, sending a frisson of warmth up her arm.

“I’m Adrian,” he said. “Please excuse my appearance, Ms. Cort. I run to work most mornings. If you have a few minutes, I’ll catch a quick shower before our interview.”

“That’s fine.” Billie’s voice sounded brisk and confident, but inside, she quivered. In thirty-three years on the planet, she’d never come face-to-face with a man quite like this exquisite creature. His olive complexion and black gaze spoke of an exotic heritage. His ragged attire did little to disguise his raw male beauty. The cotton shirt clung to his chest, damp with perspiration. Sweat slicked his strong brown thighs, wetted his black, short-cropped hair, sparkled on his upper lip.

It wasn’t until she looked into his eyes at such close proximity that she understood.

Promises of ecstasy glittered there, diamonds in an obsidian sea. In that instant, all his 5

Shelby Reed

youthful exuberance slid away and exposed the wild, worldly creature she’d expected.

He was Avalon’s favorite son for a reason, and the reason was written in that black, black gaze.

He hadn’t yet released her hand. His fingers burned her knuckles. If he tugged even a little, she’d collide against his hard, damp body.

“Forgive me, Ms. Cort,” Azure said as she hung up the phone and walked around the reception desk. “I see you two are getting acquainted.”

Glancing past Billie’s shoulder, Adrian exchanged some sort of silent communication with the raven-haired proprietor and relinquished Billie’s hand. “Give me fifteen minutes to get ready.”

“Of course,” Billie said, her attention volleyed between the dark demigod and his employer. “Take all the time you need.”

He backed away and disappeared up the stairs that curved behind the reception desk, taking two at a time with effortless grace.

“He cleans up beautifully,” the club owner said wryly, stopping beside Billie to gaze up the staircase. “Normally, I wouldn’t introduce you to a companion in such an indisposed state. But it’s my understanding that you’re only interested in an interview?”

“That’s right.” Billie clutched her briefcase like a shield. She knew Azure’s kind.

The woman’s blue eyes were cold, discerning, framed in an ivory, angular face that spoke of shrewd determination. No doubt she could sum up a person’s character in a single glance. Right now Billie was the subject of Azure’s laser scrutiny, and she didn’t like it. As a reporter she was accustomed to being the observer, to detecting vulnerability and ulterior motives in body language, facial expression, the steadiness of a gaze. But Azure stripped her down with those chilled blue eyes, touching vulnerable places Billie had thought well defended.

Never let them see you sweat
. Shaking her hair back from her face, she straightened her shoulders and returned the club owner’s unwavering look.

After a tense moment, Azure glanced away. “I’m so sorry for the telephone’s interruption.” She spoke with just a hint of an unidentifiable accent, laying one slender, manicured hand on Billie’s forearm to lead her to the sitting area. “Tell me about the article while we wait for Adrian. What do you think your readers want to know?”

Billie chose the nearest damask sofa and sat, posture arrow-straight. “The usual things to begin with. What exactly does a companion at Avalon do? Besides the obvious, of course. Many women have no idea such clubs exist.”

“Many women can’t afford such a club.”

“I know I couldn’t.”

“Then you’re most fortunate to have this assignment, aren’t you?” Azure smiled as she seated herself on a Queen Anne settee. “I’m sure you’ll find the experience enriching.”

6

The Fifth Favor

“No doubt.” Billie bit her lip, then ventured, “I’d like to know how Adrian got into this business.”

“He was born for this business.” Azure’s hand mindlessly caressed a bronzed sculpture that graced the table beside her. Two lovers entwined, their limbs meshed like vines. “He’s not just a pretty face. The average Avalon client seeks intelligent conversation, companionship, culture. Sex for some isn’t a necessity—although few turn aside the chance with a man like him.” Her incisive gaze drilled into Billie. “How long will it take you to get what you need?”

“It depends on how he answers my questions.”

“And that depends on how you pose them, Ms. Cort. Adrian will tell you everything you need to know about his position here at Avalon. He’ll tell you about the life of an escort in excruciating detail…he has no shame. But he won’t divulge the names of his clients, so don’t bother to ask. He’s sworn to secrecy. And he won’t answer questions about his personal life. He protects his privacy most fiercely.”

“I can be persuasive,” Billie said evenly. If she couldn’t get personal details, details that marked the man as human and attainable, it wouldn’t be much of an article.

“Adrian has a will of granite.” Azure’s slender finger drifted along the sculpted buttock of the statue’s male figure. “Push him too far, and he’ll show you the door.”

“But it’s my job to push for information.”

“He won’t have it. There are others here who’d be happy to tell you their personal stories.”

“No—it has to be Adrian.” Billie frowned at her own declaration. Where had that come from? Technically the article didn’t have to be solely about him. Nora Richmond may have sampled him and found him the crème de la crème, but Billie didn’t have to limit her research to him. And now that the club owner had given her free rein to speak with more than one of the escorts…

Ah, hell
. It didn’t matter. She already knew the article belonged to Adrian. She’d seen his face, heard his quiet voice, looked into his seductive eyes. The unexpected yearning he’d instantly stirred in her deepest femininity would pack her article with the punch that promised to make her one of the most successful writers in
Illicit’s
history.

“Let me rephrase. I’d like to start with Adrian,” she said firmly, “and if I hit a brick wall, I’ll shift gears.”

“As you see fit.” Azure’s feline smile didn’t quite reach her crystalline eyes as she rose to her feet. “He’s all yours until one o’clock this afternoon, and then you must let him go. His schedule is full, as is his waiting list.”

Billie hesitated. “What if I need more than one day?”

Azure moved toward the hall, her attention clearly elsewhere now. “Talk with my secretary, Maria, and we’ll see what we can arrange.”

“I don’t have to monopolize his working hours,” Billie said quickly. “Maybe I could meet with him on his day off.”

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