When Dominique Lowe turns forty-five, her husband of fifteen years divorces her for a younger model. Oh, she’d more than love to take him to the cleaners, completely and totally, but when she meets a woman who calls herself a “courtesan,” Dominique finds the perfect revenge. She becomes a courtesan herself, to show her husband that she’s desirable, gorgeous, and far more woman than he could ever handle.
Now she’s high-priced, with even higher standards, and the most sought-after escort at Courtesans, and it becomes a badge of honor to pass muster with her. But when Gabriel Price refuses to pay her worth, he becomes the man she must have. But can she give up her new-found freedom to get him?
Now Dominique learns that power can’t buy happiness, but the love of a good man is worth everything.
“Jasmine Haynes is simply the best if you’re looking for hot, hot, hot romances!” 5-Star Review
© 2016 Jasmine Haynes
Dominique Lowe had been with Trevor McDowell exactly one and a half hours, but she had him pegged. He didn’t fork over five hundred dollars a plate for a benefit dinner because he was a philanthropist. He did it so people would believe he was. And to make sure they knew he had more than enough money to fund a worthy cause.
The worthy cause, however, was Trevor’s own ego.
“She’s got to be at least ten years older than he is.” Trevor shook his head as if he were mystified instead of just snotty. “What the hell can he possibly see in her?”
Dominique wondered what any woman could possibly see in Trevor McDowell.
Festooned with valentine hearts and cupids dangling from the ceiling, the hotel ballroom was alive with laughter, chatter, and the clink of glassware. Hopefully Trevor’s rude remarks couldn’t be overheard by the couple fifteen paces away. Still, wearing stilettos that gave her two inches up on Trevor, Dominique turned her head slowly to gaze straight down her nose at him.
He interpreted the stare. “Her fifty years are way different than your forty-five, my sweet. Not even comparable.” He looked her up and down. “Especially in that hot dress.”
“Thank you, Trevor.” Her shoulders bared, the red satin showed off Dominique’s generous curves, fitting snug over her breasts, tummy, and behind, then cascading to the floor. Despite the compliment, he was fast losing points with her. It wasn’t the woman’s age that bothered Dominique. It was Trevor’s need to nitpick a quarter of the ballroom’s two hundred fifty occupants in the hour since they’d arrived. Dominique didn’t tolerate rudeness well in her escorts.
“A woman at fifty,” she said with a slight edge, “is coming into her own. Someone your age”—he was mere baby at thirty-five, and she gave him the same up-and-down perusal he’d given her—“would benefit from helping her to release her inhibitions.”
She surveyed the ballroom, sipping her cosmopolitan. In celebration of Valentine’s Day, the pink drink flowed from the mouths of Cupid-shaped fountains.
“You’re coming into your own. But her . . . ?” Trevor shrugged, leaving his critique at that. “She’s got to be paying him.”
The “him” in this case was definitely delectable. Fortyish, six feet, he was trim and sexy in a black tux with a charcoal shirt. His dark brown hair was long enough for a woman to run her fingers through but short enough to be neat. Dominique had never been the long-hair type. She glanced at Trevor. His black hair brushed his shoulders. While probably all the rage with a teenybopper crowd, it didn’t do much for her.
The handsome gentleman’s date? She was matronly, true, with a thickening waistline, but when she smiled, she literally shone. Obviously a magnificent smile meant something to this man. That, in her estimation, raised him far above Trevor.
Trevor was too young or too self-absorbed—or both—to appreciate a smile. “Come on, Dominique, admit it. He’s damn hot, and she’s”—he shrugged and quirked an eyebrow—“not.”
Odd. Men didn’t generally call other men hot, but Trevor wasn’t gay, at least not as far as Dominique knew. After all, this was a sex date set up through Courtesans. If he impressed her, she’d allow him to have sex with her. If he wanted to impress her further, he would bestow upon her a gift of high value, be it cash or jewelry. She adored jewelry.
So far, though, he wasn’t making a good impression. They hadn’t mingled, instead standing by themselves as he muttered catty remarks like a teenage girl. She didn’t have high hopes that she and Trevor would make it to the sex or gift stage.
Not for the first time that evening, the tall stranger’s eyes flicked toward them. Either he was checking her out or he sensed he and his female friend were being watched. Evaluated. Dominique decided it was the latter, and she hating making people think they were the subject of gossip, especially since she’d been the victim of it herself. Enough to last a lifetime.
“Stop staring, Trevor. Didn’t your mother teach you it’s rude?” His mother hadn’t taught him manners at all. He was your typical rich, disdainful playboy, totally uncaring of anyone else’s feelings. In addition to that, at five-seven, he had a bad case of LMD, commonly known as Little Man’s Disease, in which he tried to make up for his lack of height by being an ass. Why Isabel thought they’d be a good match, Dominique hadn’t a clue. She liked her men handsome, fit, intelligent, humorous, and respectful. Trevor was the first two, but a malicious wit was neither smart nor funny. And forget about courteous.
Seating for dinner would begin shortly, and after there would be dancing. A string quartet was setting up in the corner for some light music during the meal. She’d give Trevor the length of dinner and dessert before she made her final decision. There was always the possibility he’d redeem himself. After all, just because she’d been dumped on by her ex-husband didn’t mean all men were bad. She refused to color them all with the same bitter paintbrush. She was not a man-hater, but since joining Courtesans, she did make sure her escorts knew whatever happened between them was only by her good grace.
And wouldn’t it tweak her ex’s nuts to know how much some men were willing to pay for what he’d thrown aside like trash?
“I’m going to powder my nose,” she told Trevor. She needed a break. Dinner, dessert, coffee, then, if he was still uncivilized, she’d take a taxi home. Even as a courtesan, when she went on a date, sex was a gift she gave, not something a man could expect.
Trevor waggled his fingers at her.
Unlike the warm, stuffy ballroom, the mezzanine was cool, the scent of fresh rain rising from the open doors down on the lobby level. She loved the smell of rain and the shush of the car tires on the wet concrete. It always reminded her of playing in warm summer storms when she was a child back in Michigan.
She turned toward the restrooms.
And pulled up short, her pulse thrumming in her ears.
It would have been so much easier if she could have said he’d gotten fat and bald since the breakup, but lounging against the wall, Edward was still as lean and handsome as he’d been that day a year ago when he’d told her he wanted a divorce. If possible, at fifty-one, he was even better looking than when they’d exchanged vows sixteen years ago.
“Hello, Edward.” She didn’t care anymore, of course. Her heart had picked up speed at the unexpectedness of the meeting. For eight months, since she’d found Isabel and Courtesans and given up fighting the divorce, she’d been expecting to see him at every function she attended. In the beginning, there’d been a few sightings, but they hadn’t talked. Dominique didn’t know whether Edward had actually heard of Courtesans, and she certainly didn’t want to know if he’d ever utilized their services, but she had run his particulars by Isabel to make sure there was never an accidental match. After the divorce became final, Edward seemed to disappear from the social circle they’d frequented together. Dominique had let down her guard.
“You’re looking well.” He did not look at her dress or her cleavage, just her eyes.
“Thank you, Edward. So are you.” So polite, so careful. She didn’t want to reveal a smidge of her inner anxiety, yet her breath seemed to come faster, harder, and a headache began to nudge at her temple. How to get away? Simply walk past him to the ladies’ room? Easy enough. Her feet wouldn’t move. Her high heels made her ankles ache.
Then the blonde turned the corner out of the restrooms. “Okay, sweetie, I’m done.” She slipped her hand into Edward’s, and he laced their fingers. Her gold wedding band and two-carat diamond engagement ring glittered.
Dominique wanted to die.
“Oh.” The blonde’s smile died, and her hand went to her belly. Her very pregnant belly.
“This is Dominique.” Something flickered in Edward’s eyes.
Dominique interpreted it as pity and hated him. She wanted to hate the blonde, too, a Barbie look-alike, but her Ken doll was old enough to be her father. “And this must be Francine.” Dominique extended her hand smoothly, forcing the girl to shake. “I’ve heard all about you.” The gossip had made the country club circuit. All those whispers behind her back that she’d heard nonetheless. Dominique knew Edward had remarried right on the heels of the divorce. She knew his young wife was pregnant. And that was all she could take knowing. She’d pretended it wasn’t true and hadn’t been back to the country club in months.
“It’s so nice to meet you.” Francine smiled, but in her eyes the flicker was very clearly fear. She rubbed her belly like a talisman. Pretty, long blond hair, perfect blue eyes, thirty-two years old. And at least seven months pregnant.
Yes, Dominique had known, but actually faced with it, the impact was far greater than she’d expected.
Half the country club believed Edward was cheating long before he asked for the divorce. The other half claimed he wasn’t. Dominique didn’t know, and she’d tried so damn fucking hard not to care. She was desired by many men. She was special enough to command whatever price she asked. She didn’t need a husband. She didn’t need a baby. She was long over that desire, that want. She’d truly accepted life without children. So many other things had fulfilled her.
“You look lovely in that dress.” It tore her apart to give Francine the compliment, but she managed to say it with a stone face. In fact, Francine did look lovely in her maternity wear, a simple yet elegant drape of sky blue with spaghetti straps and a bodice that molded to her breasts, then flared to encompass her child.
“Thank you so much.” Francine looked down, then reached out to flare the skirt even further. “I was embarrassed coming out looking like such a cow, but Edward assured me I look fine.”
“You don’t look like a cow,” Dominique offered. Partygoers flowed around them, to the restrooms, the lobby, mingling. Though aware of them, she couldn’t actually hear them, as if she were trapped in a bubble with Edward and the pregnant wife.
“Of course you don’t,” Edward concurred, a fond, indulgent smile lifting his features.
Francine looked like a Madonna, so beautiful it hurt to look at her, her cheeks glowing with health; fresh, dewy, young, motherhood personified. Dominique’s eyes ached. At Francine’s age, she’d dreamed of motherhood. Her body wouldn’t cooperate. She’d had the fibroids removed, and with them, the doctors took her uterus. They’d talked adoption, but Edward said they were fine as they were. She thought he’d forgiven her the hysterectomy because they had each other. As she got older, she believed he saw past the wrinkles and the sagging flesh to the woman inside. She thought he loved her. Until a year ago when he announced he was filing for divorce. No discussion, no question.
He wanted young, he wanted fresh, he wanted a child. He had it all now.
“I’ll leave you two, I have to pee badly.” She giggled and didn’t care how ridiculous she sounded. Edward would know he’d affected her, but she couldn’t care about that either.
If she had to stand here one more second, she would die. Or worse, she’d burst into tears.
* * *
Gabriel Price lounged by the railing overlooking the lobby. He sipped his Scotch neat, the froufrou drinks served in the ballroom too sweet for his taste. He’d left Brenda schmoozing with the other guests. She was a great chum, and he always gave in when she asked him to attend one of these things. Currently a city supervisor for one of the smaller Peninsula bedroom communities, she was launching a campaign for state assembly next year. Which was why she liked a man on her arm instead of her preferred gender. With a career in politics, she feared coming out of the closet. Gabriel believed it could actually be in her favor, working for gay rights, but she was old school and her private life was simply that, private.
Normally he found these events tedious, but tonight he’d hit the jackpot. He’d followed the lady in red to the lobby. She’d stopped to talk with a couple, the wife noticeably pregnant.
There was something there, the lovely slope of her shoulders tense, her back ramrod straight, her hands behind her back, fists clenched, then open. She’d laughed, a brittle sound, whereas in the ballroom, her laughter had carried a musical quality.
That’s how he’d first noticed her, her laugh. He’d met her eyes several times across the room. She was interested. He was interested. Her lush curves in that stunningly red dress drew his gaze. Her red hair should have clashed with the dress, yet the gorgeous tones blended perfectly. She was with a man, but he was young, and the look she gave him spoke of boredom, morphing to downright disdain. Gabriel didn’t think they were together, not in any meaningful definition of the word. The man was like a mouse to her tigress. She batted him down with an elegant paw.
When she left the ballroom, Gabriel drifted after her. While she spoke with the couple, he observed her. And he learned two things. This man meant something to her. He’d bet on either an ex-husband or an ex-lover. And the pregnant woman was a slap in the lady’s face.
No. A slap was too mild. This was a harsh blow. Within minutes she extricated herself and entered the ladies’ room.
The couple argued, not loudly, but soft, a shake of his head, a brief slash of her hand in the air. The man took the girl’s hand, kissed her knuckles, and ran a finger down her cheek as if he were wiping away a tear. Then they made their way to the ballroom.
Oh yeah. Bad scene. Though he was sure he was the only one who noticed the exchange. There’d been no histrionics, no heated words. But the devastation left in its wake was evident just the same. Oddly, the hint of vulnerability he’d witnessed attracted him. It made the woman human. Real. It made him want to touch her, hold her, offer the comfort of his arms. In the business settings through which he navigated 90 percent of his time, women sported a bigger set of balls than most of the men. They had to or end up as hyena bait, torn limb for limb. Corporate environments weren’t for sissies. Yet that very fact of life gave him a yearning for something softer.
Gabriel waited for the lady in red to return.
* * *
In the stall, Dominique blinked until the pain at the back of her eyes receded. She did not cry. She hadn’t cried since the week after Edward announced his intention to divorce her. She would never cry for him again. It was just seeing that pregnant girl, and the reminder of how badly Dominique had wanted a child. But you grow up, you come to terms with your life, enjoy the things you have instead of forever mourning what you’ve lost. The same was true of Edward. She’d gotten over her need to punish him. In the beginning, she’d wanted to take him for everything they owned. Then she’d met Isabel through a mutual friend, learned about Courtesans, and found a better payback. On the arms of rich, handsome men who paid a fortune to have her.
She might not have seen much of Edward since the divorce was finalized, but she knew he’d heard all about her active social life at the country club. A different handsome, attentive man at every event.
Isabel and Courtesans had saved her. She’d proven she was hot, desirable, special, and not the vengeful bitch he once accused her of being. She was also stoic. Having finished business, she yanked the stall door open, washed her hands, and proceeded to powder her nose and repair her lipstick.
No one would see a single sign of her encounter with Edward and his beautiful, young, and very pregnant wife. She was so over that little burst of emotion.
Her game face back in place, Dominique strolled across the mezzanine, a seemingly unconscious sway to her hips. It came from feeling sexy. Before the divorce, she hadn’t had a clue how to sashay. Since finding Courtesans, the delicious little wiggle had become as much a part of her as breathing. Sex permeated her life. She fantasized. She’d bought herself a vibrator. She adored shopping for lingerie.
She loved making a man wonder what lay beneath the dress.
Like the gorgeous man in the charcoal shirt and black tux, from the ballroom. Trevor was right. The man was definitely hot. Leaning against the railing as she passed, he watched her, his gaze like a gentle caress down her spine, a warm breath, a tingle of anticipation.
Too bad all she had to look forward to was Trevor McDowell.