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Advertising For Love







Elisabeth Roseland

Dedication

To Christian, for being my Happily Ever After.

To Christa, for being my life raft and pulling me from the slush.

To Aunt Jeanne, for being my unwavering support. I miss you.

Chapter One

Tanya slid the black business card across the table. The gold script lettering glistened enticingly in the sun—Ebony Nights.

“You are out of your damn mind.” Aisha crossed her arms and refused to touch it.

“Take it.”

“No.”

“Take it.” Tanya tapped the card with her manicured nail.

“No.” Aisha shook her head. “Didn’t your mama teach you anything?”

Tanya sat back in her chair and laughed. “She sure did. She taught me to go after what I want and to always help a friend in need.” She took a sip of her latte.

“Tanya.” Aisha leaned across the table and lowered her voice. “I can’t call them. It’s illegal!”

“Technically, it’s not illegal. They are simply a service that provides women with companionship for social events.” She winked. “What you do after that event is over is up to you.”

Aisha groaned. “How do you even know about them? I can’t believe that you’ve actually used an…” she looked at the crowded tables around them and whispered, “…escort service.”

Tanya smiled. “Renee hooked me up.”

“Wait, Renee has called them?”

Tanya rolled her eyes. “Yes, girl. In fact, I think you’re the only one who has not partaken of their services.” She paused. “Except maybe Sherri. It would look bad for a deacon’s wife to get a little paid action on the side.” She smirked. “But then again, stranger things have happened.”

Aisha picked her jaw off of the floor and sat back in her chair. “I can’t—”

“Stop.” Tanya held up her hand. “Let me break it down. First, you need someone—a male someone—to go with you to Hansen’s black tie gala on Saturday. Because if you don’t, you’ll look like a loser with no social life, and you won’t be able to keep that asshole Phil away from you, despite the fact that his wife will be there, probably throwing back martinis at the bar. Correct?”

“Hey!” Aisha objected. “Only half correct. Asshole Phil, yes. Most definitely, yes. But I’m not a loser.”

“Whatever.” Tanya took another sip of her drink. “You know I love you anyway. Second.” She ticked the point off on her finger. “This place offers a smorgasbord of brothas.” Aisha laughed. “Seriously. Whatever you’re into, they’ve got it—dark, light, tall, short, muscular, slim.” She paused, raising her eyebrows. “Big. Bigger.”

“Tanya!”

“I’m serious. It’s like shopping online. Choose your features and click ‘buy it now’. Besides, when was the last time you got some?”

Aisha paused before answering. “It’s been a while.”

“‘It’s been a while’. Uh huh. That’s what I thought. Not since that loser…uh…what was his name? You know, the one with the fucked-up car.”

“Jamal.”

“Jamal!” Tanya snapped her fingers. “That’s right. He had the nerve to drive you around Chicago in that sputtering piece of shit. I’m surprised the hubcaps and mufflers and shit didn’t start falling off of it when he got up to forty-five on the Drive. And really, I’m not one to be all up in your business, but if a man drives a car like that, can he really kick it into high gear between the sheets?”

“Okay, okay. You’ve got a point.” She took a sip of her coffee. “And to answer your question. No. He didn’t know how to handle business in the bedroom, which is just one of the reasons why we broke up.”

“That and the fucked-up car.”

“The fucked-up car, the fact that he was about to get fired from his job, his mama issues—too many problems to list. But this?” She gestured toward the card still sitting on the table. “I don’t know if this is the answer.”

“This is not a dating service, Aisha. This is an escort service.” Tanya finished her latte. “You aren’t buying a boyfriend. You’re buying a bit of arm-candy for your company’s event and a little after-hours action. Look.” Tanya sat casually back in her chair. “I don’t know why you would have a problem with this. You outsource half of your life anyway.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, let’s see…” Tanya paused when the El train rattled past them on the tracks overhead. As they waited for the din to subside, Aisha crossed her arms. Tanya simply smirked. The clatter quieted and she continued, “You hire someone to clean your house. You hire someone to plan your vacations. You take your clothes to the dry cleaners. Hell, you even get your groceries delivered.”

“I hate grocery shopping,” Aisha said defensively. “Besides, this is not the same thing. This is a person.”

“This is a person providing a service, just like your cleaning lady. No difference.”

“Huge difference. I’m not paying my cleaning lady to have sex with me.”

“Well, maybe you should. It would probably be better than Jamal.”

Aisha couldn’t stop herself from laughing. “Have you seen my cleaning lady? She’s like sixty-five and four feet tall.”

“So? We’re all the same height in the bed, and with the lights off, we can be as young as we want to be.”

“Yeah, but can turning the lights off make you male?”

“Girl, anything in possible in the dark.”

Aisha snickered. “You’re crazy. You know that? There’s medication for people with your condition.”

“This right here”—she picked up the card—“is the only medicine I need.” She put it back down on the table in front of her. “And you need to call them to cure what ails you.”

Aisha still refused to touch it. “And what ails me?”

“Do you need a list? Let’s see. Number one, you’re a workaholic. Number two, you’re commitment-phobic. Number three, you’re a perfectionist. Number four—”

“Hold on, hold on. I’ll give you the first one, sure. But the rest? No way. Commitment-phobic? Perfectionist? If those were true, then how do you explain Jamal?”

“Oh, that’s easy.” Tanya reached into her purse and pulled out her sunglasses to shield her eyes against the bright spring sun. “You knew from the get-go Jamal was wrong for you. That’s why you went out with him. You didn’t have to worry about getting emotionally involved with a guy who never stood a chance anyway. Plus, your relationships never last because any guy that makes it over to your place only has one thought.”

“And what’s that?”

“Damn. What does she need me for?”

Aisha stared at her. “What in the world does that mean?”

“Oh, you know what it means.” Tanya dismissed her question with a wave of her hand. “Your place is hooked up. That view of the lake is fantastic. Plus, you drive a nice car and generally have your shit together. Most men take a look at all that and say, ‘Damn, she’s got all this? What am I bringing to this party?’”

Aisha raised one eyebrow. “So what you’re saying is that men are intimidated by me?”

“Yep.” Tanya punctuated her statement with a sharp nod of her head. “That’s exactly what I am saying.”

Before Aisha could protest, her cell phone rang. “Hold on, I have to take this. It’s Sandra.” She touched the Answer button. “Hello?”

“Sorry to bother you, Aisha. I know you’re on your break but…” Sandra hesitated.

“That’s okay. What is it?”

“Well…” Aisha could hear her nervousness. “Mr. Weinstein just called and he’s still unhappy with the logo revisions. I tried to tell him he needed to talk to you about it, but he started yelling about how the design doesn’t fit his image of the brand, and I told him I’m just the administrative assistant and I’d get in contact with you but he—”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it when I get back.”

“Okay.” Sandra sounded relieved. “Thanks.”

Aisha hung up the phone and turned her attention back toTanya, who raised her eyebrows. “Problems?”

“Nothing I can’t take care of.”

“You go ’head and handle your business. Told you that you were intimidating. Oh, speaking of which, when will you know if you got that promotion?”

Aisha sighed. “I don’t know. A few weeks maybe. You know, I’ll be pretty pissed if I don’t get it, considering that last year I brought in the most revenue dollars—”

“And the economy was down.”

Aisha nodded. “Right. And it would be really bad if they promoted Phil over me.”

“Oooh, yeah. That would be bad. Like lawsuit bad.”

Aisha shrugged. “I don’t think it would get to that level, but—”

“But give a man some power over a beautiful woman, and watch him abuse it.” Tanya pointed at her for emphasis. “Phil’s already walking a fine line now with his behavior and how he looks at you. If he gets to be your boss, forget about it. You’ll need to get a lawyer.”

Aisha watched people jostle past each other on the busy street. On any given day in Chicago, the crowds were shoulder-to-shoulder but the first warm spring day of the season had turned the sidewalk into a traffic jam as everyone enjoyed the weather after months of oppressive winter.

Tanya’s purse began ringing. She dug inside and pulled out her cell phone. “It’s the office.” She slid her finger across the phone’s screen. “Hello?” She paused. “Okay, I’ll be there in a minute. Tell him to hold on.” She hung up. “I gotta go. The courier is there to pick up some papers I have to sign, and he’s having a fit because they’re not ready.” She tapped the business card one more time before getting up. “Call them. They can’t fix your intimidation problem, and they can’t fix your Phil problem, but they can fix everything for Saturday night. Let them know I gave you their number. They’re very exclusive and won’t talk to you without a referral.”

“Tanya, I don’t know if—”

“Call them!” Tanya squeezed Aisha’s shoulder before tossing her cup into the trash. “You won’t regret it.” She waved as she joined the steady stream of people on the sidewalk and scurried quickly down the street.

Aisha looked skeptically at the card for a moment before picking it up. She flipped it over; on the back was a phone number. No other information. She ran her finger thoughtfully over the edge of the card before slipping it into her purse.

Chapter Two

“Bill, it’s Aisha. How are you doing today?” She adjusted her headset as she got comfortable in the desk chair.

“Aisha, I’m not happy with those logo revisions.” Bill launched into the conversation without a greeting. “The spire is gone. We talked about the spire. It’s been in the logo since my father started the company fifty years ago. It’s a symbol of strength. People want to feel like they’re dealing with a strong company and—”

“Bill, if I may stop you for a moment.” Aisha could hear him breathing heavily on the other side of the phone. “You’re right. However, the spire is also a symbol of a rigid hierarchy—of an institution—and in today’s climate, Americans no longer trust their institutions and feel as though they’ve been betrayed by people in power. Companies like Enron, Lehman Brothers and Fannie Mae have all undermined Americans’ faith in institutions, so while your father’s logo may have worked in the past, it needs to be revamped to attract modern-day customers.”

Bill paused. “Okay, I get that. But the circle? I don’t know if the circle—”

“The shape of the circle evokes inclusiveness and unity. It gives people the sense that we’re all in this together. Your company, sitting down next to the customer, helping to guide his or her financial decisions as opposed to sitting across a cold desk telling the customer what to do. Isn’t that the image you want to portray to the general public?”

“Yes. Yes it is.” Bill paused again. “Okay, I trust that you know what you’re talking about, and I’ll go along with it.”

“Great. You won’t be disappointed. Oh, and one more thing.” She had been waiting for the right moment to make her pitch. “I really think you need to add at least one TV commercial to your package.”

“I don’t have the—”

Aisha didn’t give him the chance to object. “I know you said you’re working with a limited budget, but a thirty-second spot shown during the six o’clock local newscast will hit millions of your target consumers. Combine that TV spot with the radio spots we already have planned, and the number of people you reach will increase exponentially.”

“Aisha, it’s just not in our budget.”

“Okay, just think about it.” She pulled up her email and attached a file before pressing send. “I’m sending you some numbers to look over.” She then readjusted her headset to make sure Bill heard the next thing she said. “And I do want you to know I have it on good authority that Welden and Sons out of Indiana is making a move into the larger market over the next couple of months, and their ad campaign includes radio spots, two thirty-second TV commercials to run concurrently and several billboards.” She paused. “I thought you might want to know.”

Bill fell silent. “Okay. Thanks for that information. I’ll look over those numbers and get back to you.”

“You’re welcome. It was a pleasure speaking to you. As always.” She hung up the phone and removed her headset. She then printed out a copy of the email she sent him and stood up to file it in her filing cabinet.

“Knock knock.”

Aisha turned from her paperwork and groaned silently to herself. “Hey, Phil. What’s up?”

Phil stood in the doorway of her office. As usual, beads of sweat dotted his forehead. His watery blue eyes bounced up and down Aisha’s body, lingering a bit too long on her breasts.

“Hi, Aisha.” He leaned against the doorframe in an attempt to look casual. “I was wondering if you were going to the gala on Saturday night.”

She nodded sharply and then sat down at her desk. At least she could hide her long legs from his hungry stare. “I am. Are you?”

“Yes, I’m going.” He grinned. Aisha grimaced at his crooked, coffee-stained teeth.

“That’s nice. I’m looking forward to seeing Karen again.”

“Oh, she can’t go.” Phil put his hands in his pockets and moved them up and down, jiggling his change. At least, Aisha hoped that was all he was jiggling. “She’s taking the kids to Wisconsin to see her mother for the weekend.” He paused and then smiled again. “So I’ll be there by myself. What about you? Are you going alone?”

Aisha watched as a bead of sweat coursed down the side of his face. His eager eyes awaited her answer. “Um…no.” She faced her computer. “I’m bringing someone.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. I was hoping I’d have someone to stand in the corner with. Maybe have a dance partner.”

She kept her eyes glued to the screen. “No, sorry. My dance card is full.”

“Oh, okay.” She could hear him breathing as he continued to stare at her. She shot him a sideways glance and then went back to her computer. “I’ll…uh…see you later then.” He walked out.

“See ya, Phil.”

She slumped back in her chair and stared out her window. From thirty-five stories up, she had a breathtaking view of downtown. The sun reflected off the majestic skyscrapers—an eclectic mix of early twentieth century stone and concrete and modern-day glass and steel. It had taken her many years of hard work and absolute commitment to her job to attain that view, the office and the position that came with it. Thanks in no small part to her, Hansen Advertising secured several new clients in the past year. She had gotten accolades from her boss, a large bonus and a feeling of job security, but… She sighed as her eyes darted about her impersonal office. Workaholic? Commitment-phobic? Perfectionist? Unlike most of her colleagues, there were no family pictures, no kids’ scribbling masterpieces and no cute Mother’s Day cards. There were some Certificates of Appreciation on the wall, her Employee of the Year award on the bookshelf and a paperweight her nephew had made for her on the desk.

Aisha reached down in her purse and pulled out the sleek, black card. Ebony Nights. The words tempted her. She got up from her desk and closed her office door. On the back of the card, the 312 number dipped and curved elegantly. Somewhere in the Loop, perhaps within walking distance of Aisha’s office, men were waiting to be chosen. What did Tanya say? Pick your features? Just “buy it now”? Aisha laughed quietly at the memory. Besides, I only need a date to the gala. I’m not ordering a prostitute. I’m getting some Phil repellent. I’m not buying sex from a stranger. That would be too weird.

She picked up her cell phone and dialed the number before she could change her mind.

“Hello?”

“Um…hello. Is this Ebony Nights?”

“Yes, it is.” The woman’s crisp and professional voice immediately impressed Aisha. “Who referred you?”

Tanya’s comment about exclusivity came to mind. “Tanya,” she replied. “Tanya Roberts.”

“One moment, please.” Aisha could hear typing. After a few moments, the woman seemed to find the needed information. “Yes. How can we help you?”

“I…uh…” Aisha struggled to find a way to ask for what she was looking for. “I have an event I need to go to and…I…um…”

“When is the event?”

Aisha exhaled, grateful to be answering an easy question. “Saturday night.”

“Formal or casual?”

“Formal.”

“Business related or personal event?”

“Business.” Aisha could hear typing as she answered the woman’s questions.

“Thank you.” More clicking. “Now. I’m going to ask you a series of personal attributes questions.”

“Okay.”

“Age. Twenties? Thirties? Forties? Fifties? Sixties?”

Sixties? There are sixty-year-olds working as escorts? Aisha shuddered at the thought. “Thirties.”

“Preferred height. Five-nine to six feet? Six-one to six-three? Six-four or taller?

“Um…Six feet to six-three.” Aisha began to get excited. At five-eight herself, she could wear her killer heels and still be with someone taller. That was most definitely not the case with short Jamal—yet another one of his issues.

“Skin color—light, medium, dark or no preference?”

“No preference.” All of them sounded perfectly fine to her.

“Hair—bald, short, long, dreads.”

“Um, either bald or short. No dreads.” Aisha immediately thought back to her high school boyfriend. His dreads were one of the things that had attracted her to him. Then again, it had been the nineties.

“Languages—English only, English and Spanish, or English and French?”

Wow, this is getting specific. “English only is fine.”

The click of the keys echoed in Aisha’s ear as the woman typed. “All right. I have input your preferences. A few notes about our policies. Our rates are two hundred dollars an hour or five hundred dollars for five hours. Please note the contract entitles you to the company and conversation of one gentleman for the agreed upon time. Ebony Nights does not condone or encourage anything that goes beyond the boundaries of the contract. Is this understood?”

Aisha blinked at the legal disclaimer. “Yes.”

“Good.” More typing. “We guarantee the gentleman will be on time, courteous, respectful and discreet. If, for some reason, you are dissatisfied with your experience, we offer a 100% money back guarantee. We take Visa, Master Card and American Express. Which one will you be using?”

A 100% money back guarantee? Very professional. Perhaps Tanya was right. Dry cleaners, grocery delivery, cleaning lady and now, professional escort―add another item to the list of things that can be outsourced. “I’ll be using American Express.” She opened her wallet and eagerly gave her information to the woman over the phone.

Chapter Three

Saturday night, Aisha stood in her bedroom surveying her clothing options. A short red dress, a low-cut black gown and a black, sleeveless sheath lay strewn on the bed. One highlighted her legs, one brought attention to her breasts and the other was the conservative option. She thought about Phil’s roving eyes and the possibility that the escort might be a psycho and made an easy decision. “Conservative,” she muttered. “Definitely conservative.”

As she dressed and put on her makeup, she plotted out her evening. Greet him with a handshake, introduce him as a “friend”, stick to talking about the weather and the crappy economy and by all means, keep it professional. Aisha applied her dark red lipstick and softly rubbed her lips together. What kind of man becomes an escort anyway? Is he even attractive? Can he put two sentences together? Is he addicted to drugs? Aisha stopped brushing her hair. “Damn it,” she whispered. In her desire to quickly purchase Phil repellent, she hadn’t even thought of that possibility. “If he shows up high,” she said to the empty room, “I’ll ‘escort’ his ass right out of there.” Thank God for the 100% money back guarantee.

She swept her hair up into a twist and secured it with bobby pins. For the formal event, she had experimented with her makeup and chosen smoky eye shadow and dramatic blush that complimented her dark brown eyes and caramel skin. She stepped into her sheath dress, zipped it up and slipped on her three-inch heels. Aisha took a step back and admired herself in the floor-length mirror. “You look good.” She put her hands on her hips. “Even if you do have to resort to buying your dates.”

She gripped the steering wheel as she whizzed down Lake Shore Drive. What if he gets drunk and embarrasses me? What if he makes inappropriate comments? She chuckled. If that happened, no one would bat an eye. Getting drunk and being inappropriate was par for the course at every Hansen social function. She thought back to last year’s event. Her boss and some of the other vice presidents had started a conga line on the dance floor. One of the women had stepped on the dress of the woman in front of her, and half of the line had crashed to the floor. Fortunately, Aisha had refused to be part of the spectacle and stood in the corner nursing her pinot grigio while trying to pretend to enjoy Andre’s company. She leaned back in her seat as she eased up on the accelerator. Andre was another dating mistake—insecure because he never finished college and because she made more money than he did.

As she approached downtown, Aisha could see the moonlight reflecting off of the dark, churning waters of Lake Michigan. The soaring skyscrapers were outlined by thousands of lights from quiet offices and late night workers; their illuminated antennae flashed red warnings into the night.

Greg. That’s all she knew about him. His name was Greg, and he fit her specifications—six foot to six-three, in his thirties, bald or short hair. Not much information to go on, but it filled her order. She shook her head. How did I let Tanya convince me to order a person?

She weaved her way through the downtown streets before arriving at the hotel. Hansen spared no expense when it came to their galas, and they were always held in a ballroom of one of the most elegant hotels in the city. The driveway sparkled under the light of hundreds of bulbs. As Aisha pulled up, one of the valets ran out to open her door.

“Are you going to the Hansen gala, ma’am?”

“Um, yes.” Aisha’s stomach suddenly flipped over. She swallowed hard. “I am.”

The valet held out his hand to help her out of the car. Hers trembled as she reached for it, almost slipping out of his grip. Get a hold of yourself. You don’t actually have to talk to him. Just sit there and eat, drink your wine, listen to the presentation and watch people get stupid on the dance floor. Talking is not necessary. Not talking to him is better than being alone and fighting off an increasingly drunk Phil all night. She took a deep breath, stepped out of the car with renewed confidence and walked into the hotel.

Her eyes scanned the bustling lobby. Some of her coworkers breezed by dressed in silk, satin and sequins. She tried to look casual and nodded and waved as they headed toward the ballroom, however her eyes constantly scanned the room for six feet to six-three, in his thirties, bald or short hair.

“You must be Aisha.” A deep baritone voice surprised her from behind. She turned and came face-to-face with sparkling eyes and a perfect smile.

“Greg?” Aisha’s butterflies immediately disappeared. His skin was rich and brown, the color of milk chocolate, and his hair was close cut and neat. He towered over her despite the fact that she wore her three-inch heels, and she took quiet pleasure in having to tilt her head up to look at him. Dressed in a formal tux, Greg looked like he belonged at the party and would fit right in.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He leaned in and gave her a soft, gentle hug. Aisha caught a whiff of his cologne—fresh and clean. As he lightly squeezed her, she wrapped her arms around his broad back. The formal clothes were hiding a powerful, solid frame. She sighed. Perfect.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you as well.”

“Nervous?” A slight grin crossed his face.

“Not anymore.”

“Ah, you were worried I’d be an inappropriate hot mess who would completely embarrass you at your company’s function.” His brown eyes twinkled mischievously.

The room suddenly felt warm as she shyly glanced down at the floor. “Okay, I have to admit I had some concerns.” She looked back up at him. He stared at her intensely with a hint of a smile on his face. “I’m glad to see, however, my fears were unfounded.”

“Well, I’m pleased I’ve met with your expectations.” He took her hand and wrapped it comfortably around his forearm. “Shall we go in?”

With the gentlemanly move, Aisha’s butterflies returned. “Okay.” And the two of them entered the ballroom.

The music from the live band filled the room and mingled with the laughs and loud conversations of already tipsy partygoers. Aisha went to the main table and checked in.

“Aisha! So glad you could make it,” Jennifer squealed from across the table. Despite the emotion in her voice, Jennifer’s face barely moved. She must have spent the day in her plastic surgeon’s office getting a few touch-up injections. “And who’s your handsome date?”

“Oh, this is Greg. Greg, this is Jennifer.”

Greg extended his hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Jennifer.”

She clasped his hand with both of hers. “Oh, no, the pleasure’s all mine.” Jennifer’s eyes remained glued on Greg. “No fair, Aisha. You’ve been holding out on us.”

“Ha. Funny.” Aisha quickly glanced around and spotted the nearest vacant corner. “Okay, we’ll talk to you later.” With a wave of her hand, she headed out of the crowd and retreated to a quieter spot.

Greg followed her to the corner of the room and stared at her for a moment before speaking. “You don’t particularly enjoy these things, do you?”

Aisha rolled her eyes. “Is it that obvious?”

Greg smirked. “Yes. Yes it is.” He stepped in front of her, blocking her view of the overcrowded dance floor. “Then why go? Why not spend the night at home or go out with your girls instead?”

“Because.” Aisha glanced around Greg. She caught a glimpse of her boss dancing a bit too closely with the head of IT. “I have to be here. To show my face. To be a team player. I’m up for a promotion, and well…it’s better if I attend these things.”

Greg nodded. “Shall we get a drink?”

“Yes, please.” He took her arm again and graciously led her through the crowd to the bar.

“What would you like?”

“A glass of pinot grigio.”

Greg turned to the bartender. “One pinot grigio and one glass of soda water please.” The bartender poured their drinks. Greg handed Aisha her wine. “Salud.” He lifted his glass and touched hers.

“Salud.” She smiled and took a sip. Greg did the same. “So.” Aisha pointed at his glass. “You don’t drink?”

He smiled. “Not while I’m working.”

Aisha laughed quietly and lifted the glass to her lips, enjoying the dry, smooth taste as it slid over her tongue. “Hey, you know, I just realized I don’t even know your last name. What is it?”

“It’s Williams. And yours?”

“Anderson.”

“Anderson.” He paused. “Aisha Anderson.”

She held up her hand. “Yeah, yeah, I know. AA. I’ve heard all the jokes. Hey, AA, you working the twelve steps?”

Greg laughed. “Actually, I was going to say that I like your name.” He took a step closer to her. “Aisha Anderson. It’s very alliterative.”

Aisha’s heart beat furiously in her chest. Their eyes met. She averted her gaze back to the dance floor. “Thanks,” she mumbled and took another sip. The lead singer of the band made the dinner announcement, much to her relief, and she and Greg pushed their way through the crowd to find their assigned table.

“Carl. Mandy. Good to see you,” Aisha greeted her coworkers at the table as she sat down.

“Hey, Aisha.” Mandy leaned in and gave her a quick hug. “I’m so glad you’re sitting next to me. We have to catch up. It’s been forever. You remember my husband, Doug? I can’t believe the numbers I’ve been seeing from your team. Unbelievable. I know Phil must be shitting in envy.” She tilted her head back and gulped down the last few drops of her red wine. “Hey, who’s your date?”

“This is Greg. Greg, this is Mandy. She works in accounting.”

Greg leaned across Aisha and extended his hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Mandy.”

“Greg.” Mandy shook his hand. When he sat back in his chair, she whispered to Aisha, “He’s gorgeous. Who is he? Where did you meet him? Why haven’t I met him before?”

“Well…”

“Excuse me, ladies.” The waiter placed their salads in front of them. Aisha exhaled. She hadn’t come up with a cover story. “Shall I refill your glasses?”

“I thought you’d never ask.” Mandy winked at the waiter. “Red, please.” The burgundy liquid swirled around the glass.

“White for me, thanks.” The waiter poured Aisha’s wine and gave the bottle a twist when he finished. “So how are things down in accounting?”

Mandy picked up her fork. “Oh, you know. Same old, same old. We had to cut two admin assistants, and everyone’s biting their nails over who’s next.” She took a bite of her salad. “So I hear you applied for Vicki’s job.”

“I did.” She lifted a wilted piece of lettuce drenched in dressing and skeptically took a bite. “What else have you heard?”

“Well,”—Mandy glanced at her—“you did hear the rumor about why she quit, right?”

“Yeah, something about not feeling like the other vice presidents took her ideas seriously. So she got an opportunity at another company where she thought she could really contribute. We only had a brief conversation in the hallway about it.”

“Well, it was a little more than that.” Mandy took another sip of her wine. “You know Eva and Vicki are friends, and Eva told me Vicki said that when all the vice presidents get together it’s awful—dirty jokes, sexual innuendo, that kind of stuff. Not directed at her. Not anything too blatant, but enough to make her feel very uncomfortable.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. You know she’s the only woman VP. Or, at least she was.”

Aisha exhaled sharply. “Yes, but I had no idea that kind of stuff was going on.”

“But I’m sure you’ll be fine,” Mandy said with a wave of her hand. “You’re no push-over. I’ve seen how you handle the toughest clients. It’s damn impressive. Plus, your only competition is Phil, and no one can stand that perv. Have you seen him tonight?”

“Thankfully, no.”

“Stay away. He’s hitting on every woman in the place and generally embarrassing himself and being an ass.” She took another sip. “As usual.” Aisha chuckled. “So…” Mandy leaned across Aisha, almost ending up in her lap. “What do you do, Greg?”

Aisha almost choked on a tomato. “He…uh …”

“Well, I used to be an investment banker,” Greg answered calmly. “But you can imagine how far that career took me.” Mandy laughed. “So after I left that field, I decided to go to culinary school.”

“Oooh, so you’re a chef?”

“Yes, although currently a chef with no restaurant. I’m in the process of opening my own.”

“Aisha!” Mandy nudged her playfully. “You didn’t tell me your boyfriend is a chef.”

“Uh…he’s not my—”

“Excuse me, ma’am.” The waiter reached from behind her, took her uneaten salad and placed in front of her a chicken breast swimming in sauce. Two dried-out potato wedges and a spring of something that may or may not have been rosemary sat on the corner of the plate.

“Wow. Looks delicious, huh?” Mandy said sarcastically. Aisha attempted to cut into the chicken. She struggled to get the knife through. Mandy held up a withered potato on the end of her fork. “I know most of the money from the tickets went to the homeless shelter, but you’d think that dinner could have been halfway decent.”

“Classic catering mistake.” Greg took a small bite of the chicken. “Chicken is tricky. It has to be well done, or else you risk some serious gastro-intestinal distress. And when serving chicken to a group as large as this one, you really have to be careful because mishandling food could lead to ruining your reputation at best and a lawsuit at worst So some caterers think the only way to ensure food safety is to cook the hell out of it. Although,”—he scooped up a bit of the sauce with a spoon and tasted it—“the sauce isn’t bad. But I would’ve used a chardonnay instead of a moscato. It’s less sweet.” He tasted it again. “It could also use more lemon and salt.”

Aisha stared at him, unable to speak. He flashed his perfect smile at her and winked. At a loss for words, she simply shook her head and took another sip from her glass. She then remembered Tanya’s insinuation that a little after-hours action could also be purchased, and despite her earlier reservation, Aisha began to consider the possibility.

“Aisha,” Mandy said a bit too loudly, her most recent glass of wine apparently kicking in. “Where did you find this guy?”

Aisha took another drink, furiously trying to come with something. “I…uh…”

“Oh, we go way back.” Greg slipped his hand underneath the table and gave her knee a firm squeeze. “We’re old family friends.”

Aisha felt the warmth from his hand resting on her lap. She had the urge to take it and guide it upward to between her legs. The wetness grew between her thighs as she looked at him. His brown eyes, full lips, perfect smile, smooth skin—everything about him radiated intelligent, sexy confidence. Greg read the expression on her face. He raised one eyebrow slightly and slowly moved his hand up her leg.

“Well, thank God for family,” Mandy yelled. “Speaking of, you wouldn’t happen to have any brothers, would you?”

Greg continued to stare knowingly at Aisha before turning his attention to Mandy. He also removed his hand, much to her dismay. “No, I’m sorry. I don’t.”

Mandy banged her hand on the table, causing all of the plates to rattle. “Isn’t that always the way? I’ve got a single sister, but the good ones are always taken.” Aisha glanced over at Doug, who disappeared more and more into his chair as his wife’s volume increased. He also signaled the waiter to bring him another beer.

“How is Alison, by the way?” Aisha attempted to redirect the conversation.

“A mess. You know she lost her job, right? So she had to move back in with my parents out in Palos. Oh, and her car got repoed. And the day they came to get it she had been in an accident and…” Mandy continued her rambling tale, but Aisha wasn’t really listening. She couldn’t stop focusing on Greg’s touch. Where he had placed his hand pulsated with energy. She wanted his hands to touch her in other places. His mouth too.

A bland and unfulfilling dessert concluded the meal, and when the presentation part of the evening began, Aisha gratefully turned her attention to the CEO. He presented slides outlining the company’s achievements over the last year, which included donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to charitable organizations, launching a green initiative and securing several new, lucrative clients.

“…and she doesn’t know I’m about to do this, but I would like to acknowledge the woman who helped to ensure Hansen Advertising stays ahead of the competition—Aisha Anderson.”

Aisha’s hand froze while in the process of bringing her glass to her lips. Her face flushed as everyone clapped for her.

“Stand up, Aisha.”

She set her glass back down on the table and reluctantly stood, quickly acknowledged everyone with a slight wave of her hand, and then sat down. The room felt twenty degrees warmer.

“Congratulations,” Greg whispered in her ear. He then put his hand on her shoulder, squeezed it gently and slowly rubbed her back. Aisha leaned into him.

“Thank you. I had no idea he was going to do that. I’m so embarrassed.”

“You handled it well.” His face mere inches from hers, Aisha had the urge to kiss him, to feel his soft lips and his warm, wet tongue. She held his gaze for a moment before forcing herself to turn her attention back to the CEO. Greg put his hand back on her shoulder and pulled her into him. With his leg pressed firmly against hers, she found it impossible to concentrate on the remainder of the presentation.

Once the CEO finished speaking, the band retook the stage. Mandy gave Aisha an awkward, off-balance hug and tripped her way to the dance floor, pulling a reluctant Doug behind her.

“So.” Greg’s eyes twinkled. “Single-handedly responsible for the success of Hansen Advertising.”

With his arm on the back of her chair, he slowly stroked Aisha’s bare shoulder. It gave her goose bumps. “Well, maybe not ‘single-handedly’, but perhaps double or triple-handedly.”

Greg chuckled softly. The deep, sensual sound made her want to rip his fine tux right off him. She forced her hands to remain in her lap. “Hmm. Smart, successful, beautiful and funny.” He brought a hand up to the side of her face and stroked it. He leaned into her.

“Hey, Aisha.” Phil’s voice tore her gaze away from Greg’s approaching lips.

She sighed. “Hello, Phil.”

Phil glanced at Greg before turning his attention back to her. “Congrats on all your good work this year.”

“Thanks.” She flashed what she hoped passed for a genuine smile. “But you know, we all made our contribution.”

“Hmm.” Phil nodded slightly in response and then again looked at Greg.

After a moment, Aisha said, “Oh, this is Greg.” Greg got up from his chair. Aisha did the same. “Greg, this is Phil.”

“Nice to meet you, Phil.” Greg was several inches taller, and Phil shrank back as Greg shook his hand.

“Uh, yeah, nice to meet you too.” He shifted from one foot to the other and then took another sip from his beer. As he did so, he stared at Aisha’s breasts from over the rim of his glass. “Um, Aisha, I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but you look beautiful tonight.”

Aisha’s eyes narrowed as she watched Phil’s dirty mind devour her body. Before she had the chance to say anything, Greg slipped his arm around her waist and hugged her close. “I was just telling her the same thing.”

Phil’s gaze left Aisha’s body and snapped up to meet Greg’s glare. Greg said nothing and simply stared at him in quiet confrontation. Phil swallowed hard. “Um, yeah, well, congrats again. I’ll see you later.” He then scurried off.

“Bye,” she called after him and then turned to Greg. “You’re terrible, you know that?”

“What?” He raised his eyebrows. “What did I do?”

“Sent him off running with his tail between his legs.”

Greg put his other hand around her waist and pressed himself against her. Aisha could feel the hard contours of his body, and her pussy tingled with pleasure. “I don’t like that guy.” He stared off in the direction of Phil’s exit before gazing back down at her. “Be careful around him.” He frowned. “Better yet, stay away from him.”

Aisha placed one hand on his firm chest. She wanted to slowly undo all of the buttons on his starched shirt and stroke his bare muscles with her fingers as she kissed him. Instead, she patted him gently. “Oh, don’t you worry.” She tilted her head up to him. “I avoid Phil like the plague.”

“You better. Hey, would you like to dance?”

“I would love to.”

Greg slipped his hand into hers and led her to the dance floor.

As they danced, Aisha could not stop wondering how his moves would translate to more horizontal activities. His rhythm and timing during the fast songs were perfectly coordinated, and when the band began to play a slow number, he pulled her into him. Aisha gasped when he wrapped his arms around her and swayed in tune with the music.

“So did you have a good time tonight?” He whispered in her ear.

“I did, yes.” She smiled up at him. “Thank you.”

“The pleasure was all mine. I had a great time as well.” He took her hand in his and brought it up to his chest, and shivers of desire ran up and down her spine.

“Well, I think I’ve had enough corporate socializing for one night.” Aisha glanced over Greg’s shoulder to see the entire human resources department huddled in a circle, swaying off-beat to the music. Someone slipped and three people almost fell to the floor. Aisha looked back up at Greg. “Yes, most definitely enough corporate socializing for one night.”

“Understandable.” Greg’s other hand trailed its way down to the small of her back. She wanted him to move it lower, pull up the hem of her dress and slip his fingers inside her. She bit her lip softly at the thought of it and quickly turned away. “So tell me.” Greg bent down so his lips were almost touching her ear. “What would you like to do now?” His warm breath caressed her neck.

“Well.” Aisha paused, just for a moment. “We could go to my place, if that’s okay with you.”

The look on his face made her hungry for him. “That’s fine with me.”

Chapter Four

They both got into their cars, and Greg followed Aisha back to her condo. During the short ride back, she thought about what she was going to do. It didn’t feel like prostitution, but she had to admit to herself that it was. Places on her body still throbbed with energy from Greg’s touch—the small of her back, her bare arm, her thigh. She had to have more. Whatever his price, she’d pay it to have that mouth kissing hers, to feel those hands touching her skin, to have his hard naked body pressed up against hers. She squirmed in her seat at the mere thought of it.

“So this is it.” Aisha opened the front door.

“Very nice.” Greg looked around. “Beautiful view.” He walked toward the balcony overlooking the lake.

“Thanks.” Aisha closed the front door and set her keys and purse down on the table. When she turned around, Greg grabbed her and pulled her to him.

“You are absolutely beautiful.” He touched the side of her face, leaned down and kissed her.

His tongue parted her lips. Aisha returned his warm, wet kisses and wrapped her arms around him.

“Mmm.” Greg broke the kiss and looked deep into her eyes. “I’ve been wanting to do that since I first saw you in the lobby.”

Aisha giggled, slightly embarrassed. “So have I.” Suddenly shy, Aisha couldn’t bring herself to look at him. “So what do we do now?”

“Whatever you’d like,” he whispered.

Heat radiated from his body. “I…uh…don’t know how you normally handle these things.” She cleared her throat. “Do I… I mean how much extra…” She couldn’t bring herself to finish the question. In fact, she didn’t know what question to ask.

“Let’s do this.” Greg put one hand on the side of her face. “Let’s see how things go and then talk money afterwards.” His deep brown eyes scanned her face. “Is that okay?”

“Yes. That’s okay.”

“Good.” He put his other hand on her hip and grabbed her firmly. Even through his suit, Aisha could feel his solid and powerful body. She wanted it on top of her. He bent down and slowly kissed her again, his lips teasing hers. As his kisses grew hungrier, Aisha grew wet with excitement.

She could feel him stiffening, his erection rubbing enticingly against her thigh. He continued to kiss her as he removed his jacket, allowing it to fall to the floor in a soft heap. He wrapped his arms around her and gave her ass a firm squeeze. She allowed her hands to wander down to the front of his pants and massaged his cock. He grunted at her touch, and slid his hands up to unzip the back of her dress. As it slipped off, Greg directed his skillful kisses to her neck and with one hand stroked her breasts through her black lace bra.

He then pulled back. “Shall we take this to the bedroom?”

Aisha smiled and led him down the hall. As she walked in front of him, she was hyper aware of the fact that she only wore her underwear and heels. Normally, she wouldn’t have felt comfortable in such an obviously sexy get-up, but the way Greg looked at her as they headed for the bedroom made her feel completely at ease. His gaze consumed her body as they danced over her full breasts, round hips and long legs.

“Mmm, Aisha. You are sexy.” Aisha squealed as he pulled her into him, rubbing himself slowly against her ass. His cock was like a rock through his pants, and she was eager for him to take everything off so she could see if it looked as good as it felt.

Once in the bedroom, she faced him. He kissed her softly again, and she slowly began to undress him. Aisha loosened his tie and unbuttoned his shirt, smiling with pleasure at his muscular arms. She pulled up his sleeveless, white undershirt and let her fingers dance over his skin. Every inch of his torso had been chiseled in stone. She ran her hands over the hard contours and Greg’s breath quickened.

He grabbed her and kissed her again. With one hand, he unsnapped her bra. Aisha shuddered as he squeezed her breasts and rubbed his thumb over her nipples until they responded. She took off her underwear, tossing it to the side with a small kick. She then slipped off her heels, and with both hands eagerly undid his belt and loosened his pants. As they fell to the floor, she slipped her hands between his boxers and his powerful thighs and pushed them down as well.

The sight of his large cock standing at attention made her mouth water. She wrapped her hand around it and stroked it softly. Greg groaned, led her to the bed and lay her down. Once horizontal, he planted a kiss on her neck, licking the soft skin right above her collarbone. Aisha closed her eyes and ran her hands down Greg’s broad back.

“Now. I just have one. Question. To ask. You.” Greg punctuated each word with a kiss as he made his way down her body. He stopped at her breasts, took her left nipple into his mouth, and sucked and pulled gently. The gentle pressure of his teeth and the roughness of his tongue made Aisha writhe beneath him.

“What’s that?” she croaked.

“How many orgasms do you want to have?” Greg took her right nipple into his mouth and sucked and pulled again. Aisha’s breath caught in her throat, rendering her speechless. “And I have to tell you there’s a two orgasm minimum.”

“What did you say?”

Greg slid up to face her and his body rubbed against hers. She wrapped her right leg around him, enjoying the feel of his soft skin, the taught muscles flexing and contracting underneath the surface.

“I said.” A smile played at the corner of his mouth. “How many orgasms do you want to have? You must have at least two. Those are the rules.”

“Really? And whose rules are these?”

“Mine.” The grin made its full appearance. “But it’s at least two. If you’d like to have more, I’d be happy to oblige.”

Aisha laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Two orgasms? You mean tonight? As in before you leave?”

“Yes, of course. Don’t tell me you’ve never had two in one evening before.”

She snorted. “I don’t always have one, let alone two.”

“Well.” Greg placed his finger directly on her clit and pressed down gently. Aisha gasped. “We’re going to have to change that.”

“Okay, two it is then.” She pushed the back of her head deep into the pillow and lifted her hips in response to Greg’s touch. He removed his hand, and Aisha bit her lip in anticipation as he slowly worked his way down her body with his tongue. The wetness traced its way down to her belly button. He tickled it with his mouth and she giggled. She looked down to see Greg grinning up at her as he approached her pussy. The mere thought of his tongue caressing her clit was almost too much, and she wanted to tell Greg to hurry up and lick her. But he took his time, rubbing his face into her dark, course hairs and kissing the insides of her thighs. His breath caressed her sensitive skin, and inside her body screamed that it wanted him now, but Greg took his slow, delicious time.

Finally, he parted her lips with his fingers and ran his tongue up her juicy folds. Aisha arched her back and moaned. Greg explored the opening to her pussy, rimming it before pushing his tongue inside her. She shuddered. Glancing down, she could only see the top of Greg’s head, so she closed her eyes and concentrated on the sensations. He wriggled his tongue inside her with an undulating rhythm that made Aisha grip the sheets. Slowly at first, before increasing his delicious tempo to a speed that made Aisha’s breath falter. With his hands, he pushed on the insides of her thighs, and she became aware that she was practically crushing Greg’s head between them.

Her eyes flew open. “Sorry,” she wheezed, finding it difficult to speak.

“Hey, no problem.” Greg lifted his head. “That just means I’m doing a good job.” He bent down again and gave her pussy a quick lick from bottom to top, stopping briefly at her clit to tickle it with the tip of his tongue.

Aisha let out a sound halfway between a grunt and a yell, and her hips jerked upward. Greg slipped his hands underneath her and gripped her ass, repositioning her pussy close to his face. This time, he licked her with the full surface of his tongue, and Aisha could feel its roughness caressing every inch of her. He moved from south to north again, over and over, each time stimulating her from the opening of her pussy to her clit. Aisha felt herself grow wetter and wetter with each pass of his tongue, and the sound of Greg devouring her filled her ears and sent shivers down her spine.

“Don’t st—” was all she could get out before she came, arching her back so violently that Greg had to grab her ass even more firmly to hold her in place. Her orgasm rushed through her like a current, setting every pore ablaze. Greg kept stroking her with his tongue as she came, and the sensation soon became too much as her senses went into overload. “Enough.” She grunted. “That’s enough.”

Greg let her go, and as he sat up, she could still feel the imprint of his hands on her ass from where he struggled to restrain her. She kept her eyes closed as the residual shockwaves rippled through her body. Every inch of her felt alive.

“Good?” Greg’s voice whispered in her ear.

Unable to speak, Aisha simply nodded.

“Good. That’s just number one.”

Number one lit her whole body on fire. Number one hit her like a brick wall. Number one was enough. “No.” She forced herself to speak. “No more. One is enough.”

“Oh, no.” Aisha still had her eyes closed, but she could hear the glee in his voice. “I’ve got a reputation to uphold. Two orgasm minimum, remember?”

“No.” Aisha still couldn’t open her eyes, but at least she could talk a little better. “I’m good.”

Greg chuckled softly. “We’ll see about that.” She heard him get up from the bed. She forced her eyes open to see him rummaging around in his discarded pants pocket.

“What are you looking for?”

“This.” He held up the condom in his hand.

“I don’t think…” Aisha let the shaking of her head finish her sentence.

A spark lit up in Greg’s eyes. “Oh, I think you can.” In an instant, he was on top of her again, kissing her neck and rubbing his thumbs over her nipples.

Her body jolted, and an unexpected moan escaped from her lips. She grew wet again as his hard cock rubbed against her leg, and she couldn’t stop the words from tumbling out of her mouth. “Inside me, now.”

Greg slipped on the condom, grabbed her left leg, hitched it up around his back and entered her. Aisha arched her back as his cock slid inside. “Damn woman, mmm.”

His rhythm was slow and sensual, just like his dance moves. He interlocked his fingers with hers, pushed her hands above her head and ran his tongue slowly down her neck. Aisha cocked her legs back, allowing him to penetrate her deeper, and they both groaned with pleasure. He bent down to kiss her, and Aisha could taste herself on his lips. His talented tongue explored her mouth, and Aisha relished the opportunity to devour him—his soft mouth, his full lips, his hungry kisses. She let go of his hands and wrapped her arms around his back, digging her fingers into his tight skin and pulling him close.

“Faster,” Aisha whispered, and Greg’s hands made their way down to her hips and held them firmly. With strength and power, he rammed himself into her. Aisha held on tighter as she took in his entire cock, groaning with each of Greg’s thrusts. The intensity and speed increased, rocking the bed back and forth and making the headboard bang noisily against the wall. Orgasm number two caught her by surprise. It started between her legs and then radiated up and down her body. Powerless to stop her convulsions, she could only sigh as the waves of pleasure overtook her. As they began to subside, Greg’s body shook with his own orgasm. He grunted for a few moments, his firm, brown chest only inches from hers. With one hand, she stroked it as he came, until he finally rolled off of her, collapsing onto the bed.

Aisha couldn’t speak. She struggled to catch her breath, and sweat dripped off her body. Every pore tingled. She could hear Greg’s belabored breathing slow down next to her.

“I told you that you had number two in you,” he said with a voice hoarse from exertion.

Aisha stared at the ceiling. “I didn’t believe it was possible.”

Greg inhaled deeply and then exhaled, now in control. “What I can’t believe is that a beautiful woman like you sometimes has sex with a man and doesn’t come at all. I hear that all the time. How can you let men be so selfish?”

Aisha shrugged and glanced over at him. “I don’t know. Sometimes you don’t really feel like it. Sometimes you’re in a hurry, and he won’t quit bugging you so you just give him some so he’ll be happy. Sometimes he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, so you just encourage him to finish so you can do something else.”

“Do something else?” Greg raised his eyebrows. “Like what?”

“Like watch TV. Or get something to eat. Or go to sleep.”

Greg laughed heartily. “Really? Watching TV is better than having sex?”

“Sometimes, yes. It depends what’s on.” The echoes of their laughter filled the room before they both fell silent. Aisha took a deep breath, contentment washing over her. She then glanced at the glowing clock on her nightstand. Her five hours were almost over.

“Okay, so there really is no way to tactfully say this, so I’m just going to ask. How much?”

Greg simply looked at her. He said nothing. For a moment, Aisha wondered if she’d offended him in some way. The expression on his face, however, was not one of anger. In fact, he seemed a little nervous.

He finally spoke. “Um, actually.” He paused and looked away. “Um, please don’t think this is a line or anything, but I would really rather have your phone number instead. I’d like to take you out on a date. I mean, like, a real one.” He looked back at her. “I completely understand if you say no. I mean, this is rather unusual. And honestly, I’ve never asked a client for her phone number before. Actually, I could lose my job for doing this.”

Aisha blinked in shock, but the expression on his face was sincere. She thought about what he was proposing. She had to admit to herself that she’d had a great time with him—even beyond the sex. Greg’s charm and intelligence had easily won her over, not to mention his handsome face and chiseled body. But he was an escort. Women paid him to take them out. And to have sex with him.

“I’m sorry.” Greg’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Asking for your number was really inappropriate. I should go.” He began to get out of the bed.

“No, wait.” Aisha touched him on the shoulder. “I’ll give you my number. I would love to see you again.”

Greg’s smile lit up the dim room. “Great.”

They both got dressed and exchanged numbers. Greg promised to call the next day; Aisha found herself hoping he would. As she closed the door behind him, she sighed. “I hope I’m not making a big mistake.”

Chapter Five

Around 11:00 a.m. the next day, as Aisha pored over a report in preparation for Monday’s meeting, her cell phone rang.

“Are you hungry?” The sound of Greg’s voice took her back to the previous night’s activities. Activities she wanted to repeat.


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