Excerpt for When She's On Top by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Perception. Reputation. Powerful women are still held to a higher standard when it comes to sexual escapades, making it risky business for them to be unlucky in love.



That’s where the Hirsch sisters improve the odds with their companion compatibility service. Introducing philanthropic heiresses and female executives to honorable, educated, hard-working men willing to act as sophisticated arm candy to supplement their wages becomes a shared passion project for the three sisters because their wealthy mother killed herself after being scammed by their father. So they created The LuxeLinks Club--No fortune hunters. No gold diggers.



~



When She’s on Top was a 2004 IPPY Awards Finalist in the category of Erotica/Sexuality





KUDOS FOR WHEN SHE’S ON TOP



In When She’s on Top by C. X Brooks, the LuxeLinks Club--No fortune hunters. No gold diggers--was set up to provide safe escorts for busy, professional, and wealthy women without the threat of scams and gold diggers. The book consists of several short stories, each one involving one of the main characters and their escort/protector, with underlying subplot of an evil man seeking revenge. Both erotic and suspenseful, the stories blend mystery and intrigue with hot sex and romance. What more could you ask? ~ Taylor Jones, The Review Team of Taylor Jones & Regan Murphy



When She’s on Top by C. X Brooks is the story of wealthy, powerful women and the men who love them. The women portrayed in the book are all professional, intelligent, and driven, and as a result, are the target of evil men, who want to destroy them and everything they have built. Devastated by the suicide of their mother after their father’s betrayal, the Hirsch sisters have formed the LuxeLinks Club, where heiresses like themselves can meet men who are not after their money. Told in a series of short stories, the book focuses on the relationships of powerful women with the men in their lives, strong men who are not threatened by an equally strong woman. Each woman is forced to deal with an unknown threat by a man bent on revenge, determined to bring her down. An erotic romance, whose plot has some teeth, with excellent character development, showing strong but realistic women of color, and plenty of spicy sex scenes, When She’s on Top is one both erotic romance and romantic suspense fans should love. ~ Regan Murphy, The Review Team of Taylor Jones & Regan Murphy





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS



Thank you to Lauri, L.P., Arwen, Jack, and the entire Team BOB. Neither Mother Nature nor plague of flu stopped them from launching When She’s on Top into the readersphere when Murphy’s Law kicked into full effect. Special thanks to editors extraordinaire Reyana and Faith.



The members of the BOB Authors’ Yahoo Group educate, inspire, encourage, and challenge me to strive for more every day. Their generous camaraderie lifts my spirit with each exchange.



My parents, who’ve shown me how healthy loving relationships look, feel, and sound by their example, will celebrate fifty years of marriage this year. My deepest gratitude to them for laying the foundation for my life. Many thanks to my family and friends for loving me and understanding that my communications silences aren’t ghosting.



Last, and most certainly not least, thank you to readers who support small and independent publishers and the authors whose voices might otherwise remain unheard.



May the love you give return to you tenfold,



C. B.




WHEN SHE’S ON TOP



The LuxeLinks Club Stories



C. X BROOKS



A Black Opal Books Publication

Smashwords Edition



Copyright © 2018 by C. X Brooks

Cover Design by C. X Brooks

All cover art copyright © 2018

All Rights Reserved

EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-626948-94-5



This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.





DEDICATION



To powerful women and the men

who are strong enough to love us




TOC

Chapter 1 (This Mark Changes the Game)

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11 (This Mark Evens the Odds)

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20 (This Mark Leaps Into the Abyss)

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28 (This Mark Flips the Script)

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

About the Author




CHAPTER 1



This Mark Changes the Game

The LuxeLinks Club Story 1



Twenty Years Ago:



“Send in my next visitor, please, Nancy.”

Estate planner and family trust attorney Jaime Lowenthal straightened his silk tie after using the intercom on his fancy new office phone system.

Glancing around at the freshly painted space conservatively decorated and minimally furnished with a few cast-off collectible antiques from his grandparents made him glad that he had opened his own practice instead of joining his papa’s firm.

The closed door that separated his office from the short hallway to the small reception area glided open silently.

“Here we are, Miss Hirsch and Mrs. Brown,” his secretary said as she guided a young girl wearing a plaid school uniform, and an older woman in a denim shirt and overalls into his office. Nancy introduced the child as his prospective client, Miss Margeaux Carr Hirsch of the New England department stores Hirsches, and her chaperone as Mrs. Janet Brown.

Nancy waited for them to be seated before she backed out of the office and closed the door softly.

“How may I be of service to you, Miss Hirsch?”

Solemn brown eyes framed by thick lashes, much darker than the cap of toasted brown curls atop her head, stared directly into his eyes for several slow blinks. She nodded once then reached into her Wonder Woman backpack and pulled out a silver piggy bank, which she balanced in her lap.

“Daddy stole all of Mommy’s money and divorced her to run off and marry a gold-digging tramp. Then Mommy killed herself because she was so sad. Now we’re going to live with Daddy all the time.” She paused until her lower lip stopped quivering. “Mr. Lowenthal, I need to hire you to protect my trust fund and the trust funds for my little sister, Julianna, and our baby sister, Chloe.”




CHAPTER 2



Present Day:



The padded envelope was small, three inches by five according to the pre-printed details on the back just below the pull tab. She flipped the package again, and again read Alexa Davis Spencer in uniform block type above her residential address rendered in the same bold font on the shipping label. The return address was an unfamiliar post office box. The postmark was local.

She frowned as she tested the weight of the parcel on the palm of her hand. She hadn’t ordered anything, and even so, she always shipped her deliveries to her workplace to guarantee someone was available to sign for them.

She pulled the tab. Inside, an unassuming black thumb drive with a “play me” sticky note tempted her curiosity beyond her willingness to resist. Repeated warnings from her company’s mandatory quarterly seminars, about security protocols and personal safety measures, cycled through her brain while Alexa headed toward her home office at the back of her secluded residence in an exclusive suburban gated community. She located her tablet, which she used primarily as her e-reader. If the drive was infected with a virus that her high-end computer security software couldn’t handle, she wouldn’t lose anything that couldn’t be recovered.

She curled into the window seat as the video file automatically opened. A sunny scene filled with clear blue skies and citrus trees tapped into her memories of her recent long weekend getaway at the Seaside Enclave in Florida with her secret boyfriend, artist Beckford Gallegas. When the focus swung to an ornately scrolled iron fence with the letters S and E worked into the design, Alexa’s breath hitched with a sudden spike of anxiety.

The image faded to black, then dissolved into the setting of an exquisitely appointed bedroom suite. The king-sized bed held her attention, not only because it dominated the space, but because it was occupied by a woman and a man--by Alexa and Beck.

That moment of recognition split her consciousness into two levels of awareness. Horrified shock and anger and fear at the irrefutable evidence of the violation of her personal privacy, of Beck’s personal privacy, rolled through her in nauseating waves. At the same time, she recognized how sensual and loving the two bodies locked together looked in the moving image. The absence of sound made their embrace appear even more explicit.

Alexa had never recorded herself having sex or permitted anyone else to record her. She had never understood the appeal of doing so. Until this moment. From the wavy fall of her disheveled hair atop her tipped back head to the rise and fall of her full lips and open mouth, down her rounded chin to the long curve of her exposed neck drawing the eye to her breasts, prominently displayed to heaving advantage encased in a pale yellow confection of lace and satin, the undulations of her body broadcast the joys of carnal abandon. Stretched along the upward curve of her deeply arched back, her softly padded ribs and her stomach contracted and expanded up and down, in and out with Beck’s driving thrusts unimpeded by the crotchless panel of the lace and satin matching bottoms between her bent and spread legs.

With the soles of her feet propped against the low foot rail and one of Beck’s arms coiled across her lower back to hold her perfectly angled to receive him from tip to root, Alexa watched the video and remembered every stroke. So did her body. Her nipples ached. Her clitoris ached, and the crotch of her leggings was already soaked as she watched Beck use the strength in his straight arm braced against the mattress to keep them elevated while he pivoted on the balls of both feet planted firmly on the hardwood floor.

Watching the video transported her back to that physical place and head space. The way her glutes, her thigh muscles, and calf muscles quivered from the strain of being folded and spread to cradle his pumping hips. The slick, sweaty slide of his skin over hers and the squelching squish of his erection as his balls smacked her butt. His sweat. Her sweat. Their commingled scents. On the window seat, Alexa pressed her thighs together as tightly as she could manage while dragging her sopping wet crotch against the tufted cushion for stimulating friction. Doing so aggravated her much more than it helped.

In the video, Alexa’s hips rocked forward and back in opposition to Beck’s rapid thrusts, slapping their sweaty flesh together. She watched herself unraveling as the strong hand clasping her hip moved to push into the back of her lacy bottoms to delve between the crease of her buttocks. One long, callous finger breached her, making her whole body jerk at the titillating discomfort. Beck sped the pace and force of his thrusts while screwing his finger deeper into her bottom until she felt on the verge of splitting apart from the overwhelming pressure of fullness.

As she observed her past pleasures, Alexa stretched one leg along the window seat and the other with her foot on the floor, spreading her legs and leaning back against the window. One hand held her tablet. The other reached under her running t-shirt, into the waistband of her leggings and used two fingers to penetrate the gushing wetness of her vagina while her thumb stroked her clitoris.

In the silent video, it was clear from their facial expressions and body gyrations that she and Beck were uninhibitedly vocalizing the escalation of their imminent orgasms.

Alexa remembered Beck’s hot breath in her ear. His grunts and groans and incoherent exclamations as he’d forged deeper and harder into the heart of her desire had loosened her own grunts and cries when he worked another big finger into her tight anal chute and launched her into screaming, shuddering orgasm.

In that moment and in this, she felt her internal muscles clamp down hard on the thickness between her legs, squeezing tighter and tighter while her clitoris pulsed with each glancing stroke. The gateway to her womb contracted and released, milking Beck’s hard erection in the past and her two fingers in the present. Then and now, she creamed hard as she writhed and panted in sexual ecstasy.



***



Alexa paused the video playback to change her clothes, to spot clean her body and the seat cushion with a little mild soap and water, then she got comfortable sitting in lotus pose on the floor of her home office.

Masturbating had taken the edge off her excitement, allowing her to watch the remaining fifteen minutes of imagery with a measure of clinical detachment. There was still no audio, and the camera angle appeared fixed to cover the length of the bed from headboard to a little beyond the foot rail, from only a few feet above the mattress to the floor.

“Focus on the details,” she whispered under her breath when watching Beck as he collapsed atop her, but kept thrusting while executing a slight pushup and a tilt of his head to put his mouth at the perfect angle to suckle one of her breasts nearly derailed her attention away from the practical aspects. Remembering the hot, damp suction of his mouth pressing soft lace and satin against her stiff nipple threatened to lure her into more self-pleasuring, but Alexa forced herself to maintain a two-handed grip on the tablet, even though watching him turn his head to suckle her other breast flashed the sensation of beard stubble dragging across the soft mounds of her heaving breasts.

“Focus, Alexa,” she whispered again.

The video ended after running for a total of thirty minutes before fading to black. While the runtime counter kept ticking off seconds, Alexa sorted her thoughts. Her observations about the fixed camera angle and limited scope in addition to the short duration of this recording of what she knew had been their first intimate encounter as soon as they checked into their isolated bungalow suggested a motion-sensor trigger to start recording.

“Alexa Davis Spencer, CEO of Universal Tapestry Group, a Fortune One Hundred company,” a computer-generated voice spoke calmly from her tablet. The screen remained black except for the runtime counter.

Knowing she was alone in her house didn’t stop her from looking around while the altered voice continued.

“Publicly announce your intention to resign from your position and name a male successor within the next forty-eight hours or this video will be sent to the chairman of the board then posted online. Do you want the world to see you like a black bitch in heat receiving stud service from the man paid to please you and to indulge your dirty whorish desires? We think not. Going to the authorities or consulting with your colleagues will result in the immediate exposure of your shameful nature, which violates the morals clause in your employment contract. You have until eleven a.m. Eastern Time on Monday to comply.”

Complete silence. The screen blanked.

Slowly, Alexa lowered her tablet to the floor in front of her before her trembling hands could drop it.

She breathed in through her nose for five counts and out through her nose for five. Again. And again. Her eyes welled with furious tears, but she didn’t cry. She refused to cry. She needed to plot a strategy. She needed to see Beck.



***



Beckford Gallegas removed his welder’s mask and set it on its stand on the long metal work table while he turned his head from side to side, then rolled his shoulders once his hands were free from holding the torch, the mask, and wearing his welder’s gloves. He hooked the protective apron on one of the iron pegs hammered into the edge of the work table.

Seeing the finished metal sculpture pleased him greatly, but it wasn’t the source of the spontaneous grin he felt stretching his scruffy face. His unexpected muse was. Alexa Davis Spencer fascinated him, challenged him, inspired him, pleased him. She often confused him. She always made understanding her worth his effort.

He’d almost passed up on the opportunity to meet her seven months ago. Financially precarious circumstances had forced him to accept the unsolicited offer from the exclusive LuxeLinks escort membership service that catered to a refined female clientele. Each member’s liquid assets totaled at least fifty million dollars to qualify for an invitation to join. Escort candidates were exhaustively vetted through medical and psychological testing, criminal and credit background checks.

Beck made decent money as a tenured elementary school art teacher during the regular school year and as a freelance children’s book illustrator, muralist, and mixed-media artist in his spare time. Not really much spare time between supporting his widowed mom stricken with ALS, and ensuring that his significantly younger twin sisters had money for college text books and supplies and everything their academic scholarships didn’t cover as they completed their sophomore year.

The LuxeLinks director had said that his character and his finances made him the perfect candidate as a potential escort: his need to support his family. All the escorts were required to have college degrees or equivalent in life experience and a documented history of gainful employment in addition to three personal and three professional references. Their slogan was No fortune hunters. No gold diggers. And their rigorous selection process and mandatory confidentiality agreements honored that pledge.

LuxeLinks paid a monthly retainer for escorts to remain on-call to act as arm candy on evenings and weekends, or for longer assignments during his spring, summer, and winter school breaks. The contract specifically stated in bold underlined text highlighted in bright yellow that LuxeLinks facilitated introductions and platonic companionship, not sex. If consenting adults decided to engage in sexual acts, those were private decisions unrelated to LuxeLinks. The club, the members or the escorts could terminate the contract at will without prejudice. Beck had terminated his contract after his second companion assignment with Lex. When he met her for coffee the next day to tell her what he’d done, Lex had pulled out her cell and terminated her membership with a provocative smile on her face while he listened.

They had been monogamously committed to each other ever since that day six months earlier.

Each month since, the gallery that sold his work on consignment requested more and more of his newer works in his “Defiant” series. Paying the second mortgage and for full-time in-home nursing care for his mom no longer required him to subsidize his calorie intake by eating leftover cafeteria breakfast and lunch at school during the week to stretch their grocery budget as far as possible.

His twin sisters claimed that they sincerely preferred living at home and commuting rather than being on campus because doing so made the money from their part-time jobs go farther. If his finances kept improving, maybe he could afford to convert the half-bath in the basement into a luxurious full bath. Then Portia and Lindsey wouldn’t need to share the one in the upstairs hall with their mom--or with him, too, whenever he spent the night. Their family home was his official address and the one on his driver’s license, but he really lived here in his studio in a renovated warehouse in a blighted part of the city that had once been a thriving industrial district. The city had sold him the structure and its half-acre lot for the cost of a few thousand dollars in cash for back taxes owed by the previous owner. Its location offered plenty of space and peace and privacy. It was his sanctuary. Storage units and auto repair shops were his neighbors.

The chime of an old-fashioned doorbell rang throughout the cavernous space just as his phone vibrated in his front pocket. He pulled it free as he walked toward the smaller door set into the cinderblock wall next to the double loading bay doors of corrugated steel.



>I’m @ your door.



He read Lex’s text from the phone cupped in one palm while his other hand cranked the mechanism to retract the full-length bolt from its slot in the thick wall barring the solid steel door from swinging open.

“Lex--umph,” he said as she propelled herself over the threshold and into his arms, which automatically closed around her. Both of their phones dropped to the polished cement floor.

“Hey now, hey, Lex, what’s wrong?” he crooned, turning to kick the door closed while she trembled in his embrace. “Are you hurt, Lex? Lex?”

He pushed back to hold her at arm’s length with his hands cupping her shoulders. His eyes started a visual inspection at the wild mane of dark waves falling from a zigzagged center part and stopping at the soft curve of her chin. Her dark eyes stared at him through a glossy sheen of unshed tears. Her smooth brown skin looked as lickable as ever, but there was the shadow of an uncharacteristically sallow undertone.

Beck released her shoulders in favor of claiming her hands to tug her toward the lounging area in the corner farthest from his designated work area. “Talk to me, Lex,” he said when they were seated on the queen-sized day bed arranged between two leather recliners all facing a huge curved-screen television, the flashy new centerpiece of his impressive home entertainment media setup.

Her delectable breasts rose and fell with her sigh before she shrugged the vermillion tote off her shoulder and down off her arm. She reached in and pulled out her tablet and a black thumb drive.

“This was delivered to my house today, Beck.”

Lex’s body tightened up as if she were bracing herself to absorb a hit as she inserted the drive into its slot and held the screen so he could see.

Seeing the sunny blue skies, citrus trees, and entrance gate would have made him smile with fond memories of the most satisfying sex of his life, if Lex’s trembling body were not so rigidly held beside him. As soon as he saw the familiar bedroom interior, his arm embraced her shoulders and pulled her into his side, tucking her more delicate frame against his larger, stronger body. After watching the first minute in real time, Beck fast-forwarded to the last image.

“Wait, Beck, there’s a message for me,” she said when he moved to lay the tablet on the nearest end table he’d crafted out of discarded glass and scrap metal struts.

“Alexa Davis Spencer, CEO of Universal Tapestry Group, a Fortune One Hundred company, publicly announce your intention to resign from your position and name a male successor within the next forty-eight hours or this video will be sent to the chairman of the board, then posted online...

“You have until eleven a.m. Eastern Time Monday to comply.”

He let her remove the tablet from his clutching grip and place it on the end table while he marveled at his ability to feel sexually aroused and thoroughly appalled at the same time.

Lex hadn’t looked him in the eye since she’d started the video playback.

Beck shifted, pushing toward Lex until gravity had them lying across the day bed with Lex flat on her back. He hovered above her in a low plank pushup. “Tell me how you want us to fight this, Lex.”



***



Meeting his fierce dark gaze directly was very difficult--almost as difficult as inhaling deeply to speak the words she needed to say next.

“Beck, I can’t give in to these people. First, because it’s just wrong. Second, there’s no guarantee that they won’t release the video anyway.” She took a deep breath that nudged her breasts against his muscular chest. “I don’t want your reputation to get smeared with mine.” Looking deeply into his eyes, Lex very softly said, “I think we should take a break until this is resolved.”

Beck was already shaking his head. “No, Lex,” he grumbled. “Not just no, but hell, no, Lex,” he whispered before his mouth claimed her parted lips.

He dropped his weight upon her from chest to crotch, settling into the cradle of her splayed thighs and dry humping her as if they were horny virgin teenagers.

Between carnal kisses, he asked, “Do you know why that video got you soaking wet?” His tongue licked deeply into her open mouth while he angled his hips to grind his hard penis covered in worn denim against her mons, her clitoris, and her vulva. He raised his head. “Do you?” he rasped.

“Yes,” she moaned, using her double-fisted grip on his thick hair to drag his mouth back down to her lips.

He used his tongue to fill her, to stroke her, to invade her senses through penetrating her mouth while his strong hands wrestled with her clothing until the rip of tearing threads and rending fabric preceded the rush of air between her splayed thighs.

Beck looked up from her drenched folds, framed in shredded material, to hold her motionless in his feral gaze.

“You’re primed to go off with one stroke, aren’t you?” he asked as he unbuckled his belt, loosened the top button of his waistband, then unzipped his fly to push his jeans and briefs down until his erection and sac spilled free. “Do you want me?” he asked, firmly gripping the base of his erection in one hand and sliding forward to trace the tip up and down her labia before prodding her stiffly protruding clitoris.

They both cried out at the jolt of the tip to tip connection.

“Do you want me, Lex?”

Her hands reached between her legs to guide him into her vagina. “Yes, Beck, I want you now, tomorrow, always.” She screamed the last word as he plunged forward and continued thrusting until her voice was reduced to hoarse whispers of demand.

Finally, the rushing warmth of his orgasm flooded her, and his full weight collapsed upon her with a deep, sighing groan.



***



Soft cursing accompanied gentle tugging on her lower body. When Alexa opened her eyes, she saw that Beck was all tucked away and covered up again and had worked the remnants of her destroyed leggings down to her knees, but he seemed stumped about how to get them over her calves pressed flat against the mattress without waking her.

“I’m awake,” she said, drawing his frowning gaze from the bunched up leggings to her face.

He smiled. “Good.” He jerked once, and the leggings rolled down her calves, over her ankles and off her bare feet. He must have removed her leather ballet flats.

She couldn’t remember kicking them off.

Beck reached toward the floor and straightened up with a large metal bowl in one hand. With the other he grabbed one of her ankles and pulled, dragging her closer, sliding her bare bottom across quilted cotton and making her fitted knit shirt ride up until she was exposed from plain black cotton bra to painted toes.

Beck’s eyelids drooped, and his nostrils flared, suggesting the imminent start of another round of debauchery. Instead, he dipped his hands into the metal bowl to squeeze the excess water from a wash cloth, which he used to clean gently across her inner thighs and at the apex between her legs.

“Here, Lex.” He reached behind his back and offered her one of his white dress shirts after he rubbed his hands dry on his jeans. “Lindsey and Portia have some clothes here if you want to borrow some pants or a skirt to wear home,” he spoke softly while his eyes tracked her every movement as she tugged her shirt down to her waist, then shrugged into his shirt and buttoned the bottom four buttons. She rolled each sleeve cuff several times until her wrists and forearms remained visible.

His relaxed pose didn’t fool her. Beck was ready to fight.

“Loan me one of your solid neckties to use as a belt, and I’ll just wear this as a shirt dress.”




CHAPTER 3



Beck watched the woman he loved finger-comb her thick hair while she waited for him to respond when all he wanted to do was to drag her astride his lap and fuck her until she acknowledged that they were a permanent, for better or for worse, couple. No breaks. No timeouts. No handling things on her own to protect him. Their age difference didn’t give her the right to treat him like a child. She wasn’t old enough to be his mother.

“Lex, you know that I go to flea markets, yard sales, Dumpster diving, and junkyards to find materials and interesting objects to integrate into my art,” he said, pulling on the chain around his neck strung with his father’s military identification tags.

Lex stopped fussing with the arrangement of her clothes to step closer, standing between his spread legs while Beck looped the chain over his head to unfasten it and remove the item he had added to it last week.

“Its shape caught my attention when I saw it among the debris in the junkyard last week. It was black and green, dull from oxidation and tarnish, but I liked its shape and its balance. Took it to a jeweler who’s bought a few of my pieces over the years and asked him to clean it up.”

The ring lay in the palm of his hand.

“It’s a perfectly round, cultured pearl surrounded by brilliant round diamonds. The entire configuration is supported by a gallery of intricately woven, thin sterling silver strands to create a basket that’s been melded at the base into the simple sterling silver band. There’s no maker’s mark or inscription or insignia of any kind beyond the designation of silver content, but the jeweler believes its materials, form, technique and craftsmanship date it somewhere between the mid to late 1800s.”

Still seated, Beck pulled Lex closer with his free hand at her waist. They were almost nose to nose.

“I’ve loved you for months now, Lex. Please marry me.”



***



So many doubts bubbled up to the surface of her thoughts. Issues they had discussed months earlier swirled into a discordant chorus of indecision. She was eleven years older than Beck. She didn’t want to give birth to children or adopt or foster parent. She adored her nieces and nephews and mentored high school and college interns at work because she enjoyed spending time with smart, ambitious young people and she owed it to her mentors to do for others what they had done for her as a UTG intern years ago.

Beck’s vasectomy was more than five years old, so she believed his claims that being more of a father to his twin sisters than a big brother, plus spending most weekdays with hundreds of elementary school kids left him grateful for a private life that didn’t include conventional parenthood.

Beck was a grown man who knew his own mind. He was asking her to marry him because he wanted her to marry him. She wanted the same.

“Yes, Beck, I’ve loved you for months, too” She leaned into him and pressed a kiss to his lips. “Yes, I’ll marry you.”

He smiled against her mouth as he slid the ring onto her finger. It fit just right.



***



An hour later, after using a new prepaid cell phone to call the chairman of the Universal Tapestry Group Board and to give the LuxeLinks director a heads-up, Alexa and Beck were on their way to the airport to fill two vacant seats on a private charter flight to Las Vegas.



***



Against both families’ strenuously voiced objections during an earlier Sunday afternoon conference call, only Alexa stood at the microphone with Beckford’s vibrant presence at her back. The UTG image consultant had signed off on Beck’s wardrobe choices of his father’s distressed cognac leather racing jacket over an untucked, faded black T-shirt with Artists make the world more beautiful hugged across his torso in faint white script. Relaxed fit, straight-legged jeans in midnight blue slouched across the tops of his battered dark gray, paint-splattered steel-toed construction boots.

The image consultant had asked Beck, “What message do you want your clothes to send?”

“That I’m a sensitive artist who will kick the ass of anyone who threatens Alexa or me or anyone we love.”

The image consultant’s glance had swept over Beck from his thick, dark, wavy hair brushed straight back from his widow’s peak, across two-plus days of beard scruff, down the length of his neck and chest and body to his widely spread feet. “Mission accomplished,” she’d said.

After spritzing Alexa’s face with a finishing mist to set her makeup and eliminate any unflattering shine, the consultant had taken a final three-sixty look at her client from her beautifully defined natural waves of thick, dark hair, modest pearl studs in her ears, minimal cosmetics on her face. The sleeveless V-neck sheath in a pattern of pale watercolors edged in thin black piping at the seams ended an inch below her knees. It was one of the garments hastily purchased at a high-end fair trade goods boutique en route to the airport yesterday before catching their Vegas flight.

Sky high heels displayed her toned legs and hydrated brown skin.

Alexa felt prepared and strong. She felt ready, and the consultant’s nod indicated that the other woman agreed.

“Call me if your man has a single brother or cousin or uncle or best friend, Alexa!” she’d whispered before leaving them in the green room a few minutes before the scheduled start time for the press conference in the adjacent UTG headquarters press room.

Now, with eighteen hours until the extortionists’ deadline, Alexa’s gaze scanned the crowd of fidgeting business journalists and smiled.

“Thank you all for coming in on a Sunday evening on such last-minute notice.”

“Is Universal Tapestry Group building another solar-powered textile factory in a contested location?” someone shouted from the back of the crowded room.

“A new micro-to-macro financing coalition?”

“More book exchanges?”

“Leadership academies?”

“Indigenous people’s trade alliances?”

Alexa shook her head and waved in a non-verbal command for silence.

“Our programs are all thriving and spurring development from one motivated individual up to grassroots and beyond.” She always managed to work the slogan for their philanthropic division into every business speech. Sometimes her colleagues teased her about making it into a drinking game.

“No, we’re gathered here today to announce my very recent marriage to the artist, Beckford Gallegas.”

Alexa caught a whiff of her new husband’s heady scent and felt the heat of his nearness along the back of her body from head to heels. “Over the past several months many of you have seen us together at professional and social gatherings as friends. Some of you know that we met through an invitation-only introduction club.

“Someone wants to use that fact to force me to resign as CEO of UTG and name my successor. By refusing to do so, anonymous extortionists have threatened to release an illegally recorded video of my husband and me during intimate moments in a private vacation residence.

“The chairman and the board voted unanimously to support my decision. They will continue to endorse my leadership as long as UTG’s growth continues under my command.

“Now I’ll take questions.”

“How were you contacted, Ms. Spencer, or are you Mrs. Gallegas now?”

“A thumb drive sent via US Mail,” Alexa said, then smiled. “I remain myself as Ms. Spencer, but I’ll answer to Mrs. Gallegas if Beckford’s mom isn’t nearby.”

“Which authorities are investigating?”

“The FBI, the Post Master General, and the SEC. Extortion is a Federal crime, and they used the US Mail to do it. The authorities suspect this is a ploy to exploit personal vulnerabilities for the purpose of corporate espionage. UTG is a publicly traded stock. Manipulating me equates to manipulating the company, and ultimately, the market.” She and Beck had made an abridged copy of the video for the investigators to watch and to keep despite being pressured to surrender the full-length original.

Alexa answered all of the journalists’ questions and ignored thinly veiled references to her being a cougar, or a sugar mama, without pause until someone in the front row asked, “How do you know that your new husband hasn’t done this to coerce you into a marriage that instantly ups his public profile and his private net worth?”

In the absolute silence of shock and anticipation, she said, “Beck, I’ll ask you to answer that.”

When she moved to step aside, his right arm hooked around her waist as he leaned down and to the left to speak into the stick microphone. His left hand rested on the edge of the podium in clear view for everyone in the room to see his shiny platinum wedding band.

“Secretly recording people without their knowledge or consent is a cowardly act committed by ball-less, impotent, creeper peepers without honor or courage.

“There’s nothing shameful about anything Alexa and I were doing with each other in that video, but it was sacred. It was private time for us to deepen our connection as a couple. And some anonymous smucks violated our privacy with malicious intent. If that video is released, everyone will see that my wife is hotter than fire and people will understand why I used this situation to convince her to elope to Vegas as quickly as possible yesterday rather than waiting.

“Let me state the obvious for the public record that Alexa is more than smart enough and strong enough to protect herself and the company, but I will not allow threats against my wife to go unchallenged.”

Alexa didn’t think Beck realized how much his right arm had tightened around her waist with his splayed fingers and broad palm pulling her closer against his bigger body.

She reached forward with her left hand to cover his left hand where his fingers were digging into the edge of the podium. Light bounced off the shiny platinum of their matching simple wedding bands and the luminescent pearl and diamonds of her engagement ring.

“Alexa has given me her whole self and her sacred pledge to build a life with me. With that, she’s made me the richest man in the world. When the authorities catch the gut-less smucks behind this failed attempt to bully Alexa out of the CEO position she’s earned through dragging UTG from the edge of bankruptcy and successfully taking it public, the world will know I’m not guilty. For now, Alexa loves me and trusts me, and her opinion is the only one that matters to me.”

Releasing his tight grip on the podium, he took a short step backward and used his right arm around Alexa’s waist to shift her directly in front of his body, making it easier for her to speak into the microphone again. The warm strength of his right hand stayed at her waist.

“Thank you again for coming. This concludes the press conference. Goodnight.”

Alexa turned and stepped toward the edge of the platform. She felt the drag of Beck’s right hand across the side of her waist, down her hip and away from her body while her left hand reached back until his long, rough fingers snagged hers as they stepped off the small stage and exited the room amidst a barrage of shouted questions and camera clicks and some flashes.



***



“You and Alexa were breaking news tonight, Beckford!” Portia squealed as he and Lex entered the crowded living room in his family’s home. Since the three minutes younger twin seldom felt the need to speak unless she was asked a direct question, Beck knew she was really impressed by their sudden notoriety.

Alexa’s parents, Matthew and Luccia Spencer, popped up from their seats on the doily-dotted sofa near the archway into the dining room with a speed and agility that belied their senior citizen status.

Matthew, Jr. and his wife Charlotte approached from standing in the far corner of the room with their tween sons, Charles and James.

After multiple rounds of handshakes, hugs and kisses, and a lovingly stern command from Beck’s mom’s computer-generated voice for everyone to have a seat, Luccia said to Alexa, “Your sisters made me promise to conference call them once you arrived, sweetheart.” She looked down at her phone as she continued. “You know Marie, and Davida and her wife, Elaine, will pitch a fit if they miss one word.”

A few minutes later all three women were joining in the conversation.

“One anchor called you the CEO Beauty and Her Fierce Beast. I think she was drooling,” Marie said, making no attempt to disguise her amusement.

“I know!” Davida chimed in. “Even I got a little tingly, Beckford, when I saw that final warning glare you swept over the press as you let Alexa drag you out of the room. You looked ticked off and ready to rumble.”

“Hey, no flirting with our new brother-in-law, baby,” projected faintly into the living room in the alto pitch of Elaine’s voice as if she was not very close to her wife’s phone.

“Appreciating from afar is not cheating, E.,” Davida said.

Everyone laughed, except the young boys, whose eyes and attention were glued to their phones.

The conference call ended with vague references to planning a second ceremony at Alexa’s dad’s and brother’s church and an official wedding reception, then with overlapping I love yous, which led Matthew, Jr. to say privately to Alexa, “Really proud of you, Bigger Sister. Someone tried to punk you, and you didn’t flinch,” as he hugged her in preparation for his family’s departure.

“Whoever they are might still post the video just for spite, M.J.”

He shook his head. “Probably not, Al. Your husband labeled that as a smuck move. Beckford also called you hotter than fire, so now everyone’s dying to see you in action. Check. Mate. Game over for the extortionists.”

“I hope you’re right.”



***



“You said she would comply.”

The older man shrugged. “Her father and brother are the most senior ministers of a Christian mega church. She’s CEO of a company that conducts more than thirty percent of its business with Islamic countries. She should have resigned for fear of tanking UTG’s stock value and ruining her professional credibility.”

He and the younger man shared a look.

“No one respects or trusts a woman who thinks with her twat,” they said in unison.

The younger man said, “Maybe if she had been sucking his dick or on her hands and knees while he was sodomizing her--or if the camera had caught all of their bedroom activity during the entire weekend instead of malfunctioning that first night, the threat of posting the video would have been effective against her.” Then he asked, “Will you release the video anyway?”

The older man snorted a negative huff. “Can’t, now that the young stud she’s married to all but dared me to and has everyone thinking ‘sleazy creeper peeper and smuck’ if I do. Did you see the look on his face when he called his wife hotter than fire? That phrase is already trending worldwide. So no, as much as I’d personally enjoy having the whole world see prim and proper Alexa Davis Spencer taking it deep like a professionally trained working girl, it’s time to move on to the next target with a different approach.

“I’ve destroyed the Spencer video. I refuse to give the salacious masses what they so desperately crave. We’ll need to discredit the LuxeLinks Club members in other ways. Having all those rich, powerful hetero and QUILTBAG women dictating terms and demanding that their escorts meet such high requirements is not the natural order of traditional civilized society. It’s a rebellion that needs to be crushed before the grand opening of their private beach club for unnaturally powerful women.”




CHAPTER 4



Margeaux Carr Hirsch smiled through her second viewing of Alexa’s press conference. Julianna and Chloe had gone back to their respective apartments in their jointly owned renovated Harlem brownstone after their brainstorming session about who was targeting LuxeLinks members.

None of the attempts had been successful. Yet. The repeated attempts and escalating menace of each one were cause for serious concern. First, “I know you pay to play.” emails to a couple of members, then still photos of innocent meetings at coffee houses and cocktail parties mailed to two other members as they conversed with their chosen escorts. No explicit threats or demands included in any of those four incidents. The jump from that to this near-miss with Alexa alarmed Margeaux and her sisters. They needed to get proactive to protect themselves and their LuxeLinks Club membership from these unknown adversaries who had probably bribed the Seaside Enclave housekeeper in charge of preparing Alexa and Beckford’s cottage. The woman had not reported for work at the Florida resort since the week after the couple’s stay.

The grand opening of their private LuxeLinks Beach Club in Oyster Glen Cove, Maryland was two months away. Finishing touches on the bayside dock, boat slips, and half-mile of sugar sand beach along the Atlantic Ocean were scheduled for completion at the end of next month for final code compliance inspections along with the central structure, guest cottages, and PWGA golf course.

Opening their own private resort would allow LuxeLinks to guarantee their members’ privacy and security because the property was isolated and their hiring process for all staff included deep background checks that rivaled what was required for top security clearance at the Pentagon.

She was surprised Uncle J. Lo hadn’t called. Jaime Lowenthal remained as protective of the Hirsch sisters now as if they were still the same scared little girls he’d first met 20 years ago when he’d requested a three-dollar retainer in exchange for protecting their financial interests.

Margeaux picked up the handset on her desk phone and dialed his home number.



***



Beck easily swung Alexa up into his arms after he unlocked the door to his warehouse studio. He stared down into her eyes as their bodies crossed the threshold.

“Yesterday, you left here as my intended, Lex. Tonight, you’re my bride.”

He hip-checked the door closed, then leaned his back against it before letting her legs swing free to the floor and pulling her to stand between his spread legs. Standing chest to breasts, he laid his lips on her mouth while his hands at her waist lifted her to the tips of her toes in her sky high heels.

His mouth on hers, his chest against her breasts, and the prod of his erection in her stomach ratcheted up her desire to make love with him now that the weight of her worries about the press conference was gone.

She moaned and tilted her chin when his mouth drifted to her cheek and down the side of her neck. She felt one of his hands leave her waist while his torso twisted slightly before she heard the lock bar slide into place across the door.

In the next instant, she was airborne as Beck swung her into his arms again and carried her through the dark space filled with the looming shadows of his works in progress and newly finished pieces.

His heavy tread up the open fretwork metal stairs to his sleeping loft echoed.

Alexa kissed his neck and his chest, wherever she could reach with her arms looped around his neck for leverage and security, drowning her senses in his taste and his touch, his scent and his strength. At the top of the stairs, the layout of the generous loft space was softly illuminated by the glow of the exterior security lights affixed to each upper corner of his building. A previous owner had filled in the adjustable ventilation grate near the roof line with two rows of block glass.

“Do you want me to lower the shades?” Beck asked as he lowered her feet to stand on the plank floor that had been repurposed from a decommissioned barn. He looked toward the highboy chest where the remote that controlled the automatic window coverings was stored in its designated cubby.

She shook her head. “No, I want to see you,” she said, shrugging out of her black silk baseball jacket with a pastel watercolor lining. She let it drop to the floor and stepped forward into his body to reach up and push his leather jacket off his shoulders.

When his arms embraced her, she laid her cheek to his chest and hugged him around his waist. The impression of his dad’s military I.D. tags pressed her temple through the soft cotton of his T-shirt. She felt his hand tug the tab high between her shoulder blades and heard and felt the zipper descend.

His fingers lightly traced the skin he’d exposed. “I kept staring at this smooth patch of skin just below the nape of your neck, and I wanted to lick it,” he whispered, “then bite it.”

His other hand coasted lower, tugging up the hem of her dress to expose her skin and lingerie. He palmed her butt and squeezed. The friction of his toughened skin sliding over the smooth silk of her plain white bikini panties made her shiver.

“I wanted to lift your skirt, bend you over that podium, spread your legs--” He stepped back to work her unzipped dress off her shoulders, down her arms and over her hands until the fitted frock draped her hips, leaving her upper body in only a sheer, plunging lacy white bra to accent her nakedness. His glittering eyes devoured her.

“While you were standing tall and strong, talking smart, and looking like the embodiment of sophisticated command, Lex, I was so proud of you. I was thanking God for the privilege of being your man. And I couldn’t wait to see you like this again.”

Beck reached up and over to pull his t-shirt up and off before letting it drop to the floor.

His broad shoulders and muscular arms perfectly framed the depth of his chest as it tapered to his ribcage, then narrowed to his tight waist belted in black leather with silver grommets running its length. The glint from the loop of thin metal chain and two rectangular tags winked in the subdued lighting, tugging her gaze back up to his chest.

Alexa grabbed his belt buckle and loosened it by feel as she looked up higher into his fierce gaze. “Being your woman, Beck. Having you with me today made me feel invincible because no matter what might happen, you love me as much as I love you.” She nudged aside the dangling ends of his unfastened belt while she unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans, then she slid one hand into his briefs.

“I need you, Beck.”

His abdominal muscles rolled against the back of her hand.



***



Beck panted to avoid ejaculating all over her delicate hand, which tantalized with just her soft touch. She wasn’t even squeezing. If he were to put his hands on her right now, her clothes wouldn’t survive. He already owed her a pair of leggings.

“Will you strip for me, Lex?”



***



Alexa felt the hard thumping pulse in his erection echo the rhythm of his heavy panting breath.

“Yes.” She slid her hand free of his jeans and stepped backward. “After you strip for me, Beck.”

The flare of surprise that flashed in his eyes made her smile as she inched backward, hopping up to sit on the edge of his king-sized bed set atop the high platform Beck had constructed from scrap metal and reclaimed wood.

She watched his eyes move from her anticipatory grin to her lips to her breasts before his gaze dropped to track the movement of her legs as she crossed them at her knees, which halted the swinging motion of her feet.

“Fast of slow, Lex?”

She leaned back on her elbows without breaking eye contact. “Your choice, Beck.”

He laughed.

Beck turned sideways and folded over at the waist, the jingle of his loose belt and pocket change his only music. She watched him pull up one pants leg to unlace his boot before twisting slightly to repeat those moves on the other side.

For Alexa, it seemed as if it took forever for him to rise again to his full height. He stared directly into her eyes while he heeled off one boot, then the other and kicked them aside before turning his beautifully defined back to her, but keeping his gaze locked with hers until he was looking at her over his shoulder.

His hands rested loosely near the waistband of his jeans. With a flick of his wrist, his belt snaked free of all the denim loops with a jangling swoosh and clanked to the floor.

Now, in addition to the brand name on the elastic band of his briefs, she could see the firm upper curve of his very fine butt. Alexa laughed when he shook it from side to side.

“Tease,” she whispered.

His amused gaze stroked over her from head to shoes in her provocative pose. “Takes one to know one, Lex.”

Instead of dropping his jeans, Beck folded over at the waist again, mooning her while he tugged off his socks, revealing his strong, square feet.

This time when he stood up, Beck didn’t look at her over his shoulder. He tucked his fingers into the waistband of his jeans and pushed, slowly revealing more of his utterly delectable glutes wrapped in pale gray cotton. Once the denim cleared his hard, muscular thighs, he let the pants drop to his ankles before he kicked free of them.

He turned his head to catch her gaze with his. “You ready, Lex? You’re licking your lips like you see something you want.” His body slowly rotated toward her. “You’re gasping for breath. Your licorice drop nipples are poking the lace of your bra.”

When he completed the turn, the prominent bulge between his spread legs captured her entire visual focus.

He stepped one long stride forward, then another. The third step brought him within touching proximity.

“Is this what you want, Lex?” he asked, hooking his thumbs into the sides of his briefs. His deep inhalation lifted his pectorals. “Your scent tells me you do.”

He pulled the elastic waistband down until his glistening erection and sac were free, then he stopped, leaving his genitalia balanced along the stretchy material as if it were a sling. He let his hands dangle freely at his sides.

“Take what you want, Lex. Finish stripping me bare.”

Alexa barely controlled her impulse to jump him. She wanted to ravage him. Instead, she uncrossed her legs. She spread them as much as the hiked up hem of her dress allowed. It gave her enough range of motion to maneuver the tip of one spiked heel under the leg band at his hip. She carefully executed the same move with her other heel on his other side, bending her knees and drawing them toward her chest to bring him closer.

“All this just for me, Beck. I’m flattered.”

Licking her lips after she said it must have been one tease too many because her heels popped free when Beck jerked his briefs down and off before he grabbed her waist and flipped her onto her stomach.

“Here’s your flattery, Lex,” he rasped against her ear as his hands pulled one of her legs straight down to the floor and arranged her other leg bent at the knee with her thigh propped against the edge of the mattress.

Cool air across her thighs and hips made her shiver when Beck shoved the material of her dress higher up around her waist. There was the sound of tearing fabric accompanied by feeling the drag of silk and fibers on her skin before her low-cut bikini briefs disappeared, baring her butt and her legs of any coverage other than her spiked heels and the muscular blanket of his hot body.

The abrupt addition of his heavy weight against her from shoulders to thighs crushed her upper body between the soft, silky duvet and his fragrant hard body.

“This is what I was thinking while you were standing firm in the face of adversity, Lex.”

His erection trailed wetness down the cleft of her buttocks.

“I was wishing we were somewhere private so I could do this.”

That was her only warning before he gathered his momentum on a deep breath that rubbed nearly three days of beard growth against the side of her face and ended on a hard thrust that shoved her off her only stabilized foot. Metal chain and tags lightly scraped her spine.

Beyond grunts and cries and whispered profanities, neither of them spoke another coherent word while, despite being inside the cage of Beck’s arms, Alexa got her hands under her shoulders with her palms braced flat against the mattress as the clenching muscles of her sex yielded way to accept each hard stroke from tip to root again, and again.

The power behind each thrust slapped her flesh with a titillating sting heightened by the sound of taut, sweaty naked flesh hitting softer, sweaty naked flesh.

Her elevated feet gave her no leverage for pushing back to meet him measure for measure. She was obliged to lie face-down under his weight and take it hard and long as he drilled her and claimed her and worked her mons and clitoris against the edge of the mattress.

Beck pushed balls-deep, then held still for a moment before rocking his hips.

“Does this help, Lex?”

A sobbing cry was her only reply. She let her head hang as she panted, then screamed a high-pitched scream when Beck lifted and bent her straight leg to mirror the other.

She could move now. And she did, angling forward to raise her hips to make space for her to reach one hand back between her legs to brush her fingertips over her clitoris, launching her body into orgasm as she frantically pumped her butt.

Beck took the hint and started slam stroking nearly all the way out, then all the way in, dragging and pushing her squeezing muscles to milk him harder until he filled her with the hot, wet rush of his orgasm.

She felt his tongue lick the patch of skin at the top of her spine before he opened his mouth wider and nibbled.


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