Single Mom Romance to make you blush…
Every courtesan has secrets. But when those secrets get out, sometimes there’s hell to pay… or heaven to find.
Single Mom Cleo Carpenter hasn’t had the best of luck, not in jobs and not in men. Until Walker Randall, a frequent patron at the restaurant where she’s a waitress, asks her out on a date. Though Cleo always wondered about the parade of women he takes out to wine and dine, she gives him the benefit of the doubt. He makes her feel special, desirable, like a sexy woman. Then she learns the truth about those women. Walker is a paid courtesan, as in sex for hire. Is she always destined to fall for the wrong kind of man?
Walker Randall isn’t a courtesan for money. Tired of the rat race as a stock broker and realizing that money doesn’t buy happiness, Walker left it all to do what he loves best: have sex and make women feel good about themselves. The best way is to let them think they’re in charge, that they hold all the power. But Walker never counted on falling in love with Cleo. Can she ever accept the things he’s done, enough to let him into her life?
“If you enjoy sexy romance, look no further than Jasmine Haynes—she is quite simply the best.” 5-Star Review
The Wrong Kind of Man
© 2016 Jasmine Haynes
Cleo Carpenter rubbed her temple. Her head throbbed with an ache that hadn’t gone away since Heidi had turned fourteen. Was that some magical age where all mothers and daughters went from being BFFs to mortal enemies overnight?
Heidi’s room looked like a hurricane had blown through, tossing clothes, shoes, purses, books, makeup, and school papers over every surface. Cleo wasn’t even going to tackle that messy subject.
“You don’t trust me,” Heidi said, eyes narrowed, hands militantly on her hips.
That was true. She’d caught her daughter in more than one lie. But say that aloud? Not. “I still want to check with Cat’s mom to make sure the sleepover is convenient.”
She so did not have time for this. With exactly one and a half hours between her day job as a receptionist and her evening gig as a waitress, Cleo barely had time to eat, change, brush her teeth, put her hair up, and make the half hour drive from Palo Alto to the restaurant up on Skyline overlooking Silicon Valley. God, she was tired. But dammit, she needed to make sure there really was a Halloween slumber party.
“Fine.” Heidi thrust the cell phone at her. “Call her.”
Cleo couldn’t afford the extra cell phone for Heidi, but she’d found her daughter had gotten in all sorts of trouble when she could use the well-if-I’d-had-a-cell-phone-to-let-you-know excuse. Now Heidi had a cell phone, and she still got into trouble.
Cleo prayed for patience. Actually, she wished she’d never let Heidi go to public high school in the first place. Heidi had fallen in with the wrong crowd, fast boys and loose girls, and after the first six months of her freshman year, Cleo yanked her back to the private Christian school she’d attended through eighth grade. Heidi absolutely hated her for it.
“I want her mother’s number,” Cleo enunciated, her teeth gritted, “not Cat’s number.”
“Oh, fine.” There was such derision in the word. Heidi stomped to the computer to check her online address book. Cleo had purchased the used PC when she realized that sending Heidi to the library to do her Internet research for this anthropology essay or that history paper meant all sorts of excuses for staying out past her curfew.
Booting up was slow as molasses, or that was how it felt. Cleo couldn’t keep up, couldn’t make ends meet. Private school was killing her. They lived with her mother in the three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house Cleo had grown up in, which, thank God, was paid off. Cleo, however, took care of the maintenance since her mom was on a fixed income. The house was more than fifty years old. Everything was breaking down. She’d wanted her mother to sell. In Palo Alto, it was worth a fortune, but Ma claimed she wasn’t leaving until they carried her out in a box.
Heidi finally came up with the phone number. “Here.”
“Thank you.” Cleo took the scrap of paper and punched in the call. “Hi, yes, it’s Cleo Carpenter. Heidi told me about the party.” Heidi glared at her, daring her to say she was checking up. “Well, good, I’m so glad.” Yes, Cat’s mom had agreed, this was a supervised sleepover. “Would you like me to send her over with some snacks or something?” Cleo offered. Listening, Heidi rolled her eyes. “All right, well, I’ll drop her off in a few minutes. What time shall I collect her in the morning?” Heidi glared at the timetable. “Yes, wonderful, thanks. Bye-bye.”
Cleo rang off and snapped the phone closed.
Heidi held out her hand. “Satisfied?”
“Excuse me, but I don’t like that tone.” Her daughter had never been a rude child. But over the last few months, she’d picked up the nasty habit from somewhere.
“I’m so sorry, Mother,” Heidi said sweetly. “I’m very happy that you checked up on me so now you know I’m not lying or making up stories or sneaking out with boys.” Then she turned on her heel and stomped to her vanity to trowel on more eyeliner.
Heidi would be such a pretty girl without all that black makeup. A couple of inches taller than Cleo’s five foot six, she was statuesque but waiflike. Cleo worried about what she was eating. She had Cleo’s black hair, but hers was silky, falling to her waist. Yet more often than not, Heidi wore it pulled back in a messy, unkempt, and unattractive ponytail.
Cleo had never felt so helpless in her life. Nothing she said or did was right. “Be ready in ten minutes. I’ll drop you off on my way to work.” She’d probably end up being ten minutes late at the restaurant, but it couldn’t be helped.
“Was I that bad?” she muttered to herself once she was in her own bedroom. The answer was probably yes. She remembered a lot of the same fights, not to mention when she told her mother she was pregnant. Barely out of high school, she’d had dreams of college. That was all they were now—dreams. But she had Heidi, and Heidi was the absolute most important thing in the world.
Cleo didn’t want Heidi to make her same mistakes. She wanted her to have good grades in high school so she could get a scholarship. The meager amount Cleo managed to save in the college fund probably wouldn’t last more than two quarters.
Cleo closed her eyes, put her hand over her mouth. She was so tired, and the worry was murder on her. But dammit, she’d made her bed more than sixteen years ago, and, as tough as it was right now, she would not let Heidi down. She would work two jobs, do whatever it took to make sure Heidi had the life she deserved. They’d just hit a rough patch, that was all. She would make things better.
* * * * *
Walker Randall flipped his wrist to glance at his watch. His date was half an hour late. At seven thirty on Friday night, Bella’s was full and buzzing with conversation. Flower boxes of bright fuchsias separated the two halves of the restaurant’s large dining room. The floors were hardwood, the ceiling raftered, and a fire blazed in the hearth. In the fall and winter, Walker requested a table with the fireplace as a backdrop. He liked the warmth and the cheery crackle. Being a regular at Bella’s, he always got what he requested.
This was a first. He’d never had a Courtesans’ date do a no-show on him. Isabel prided herself on making the perfect match, with everyone going away satisfied. Perhaps Estelle, his date, had gotten cold feet. Walker signaled the busboy for more water. He didn’t want to drink too much champagne before Estelle actually arrived.
It was Cleo who returned with the pitcher. She was a large part of the attraction of Bella’s. The continental cuisine was superb and the drive up through Woodside along Kings Mountain Road relaxing though winding, but Cleo was the icing on top of his cake. He felt very proprietary about her, in fact. He always made sure he was given one of her tables.
“Have you been stood up, Walker?” With a barely there teasing smile, she tipped her chin down, gazing at him through long, lush lashes.
Her startlingly blue eyes reminded him of a mountain lake, though tonight he noticed a slight shadow in them and dark circles beneath. Tired? Worried? Both? He didn’t like his Cleo being sad, but at least she could still manage a smile for him. She’d pulled her long black hair into its usual neat bun at the back of her neck. Her black pants hugged her behind, and she had one too many buttons undone on her white blouse. Perhaps it was an oversight, but it afforded Walker a view of her magnificent cleavage. Cleo was deliciously curvy.
“I’ve called her twice,” he admitted. “Perhaps she got lost on the way up.” The mountain road was tricky. He’d offered to pick Estelle up. She’d wanted to make her own way.
Estelle typified most of his clients, women who wanted to prove how independent and capable they were. Beneath the bravado, their self-confidence needed shoring up. That was Walker’s specialty. He loved women, loved pleasuring them and empowering them. Every woman needed to believe she was a goddess.
But Cleo Carpenter actually was. It would be so much better, though, if he could banish that shadow from her eyes. A fight with her daughter? She didn’t dump her problems on him, but sometimes a detail or two slipped through in their brief conversations. If Cleo was wearing a shadow, it usually had something to do with Heidi.
“Wishful thinking,” she mocked sweetly, waggling her fingers as she moved on to another table.
He knew she referred to his date being directionally challenged, but Walker had certainly done his fair of wishful thinking where Cleo was concerned. He’d never asked her out, though. He was extremely content with his life as it was. Most women, Cleo included, wouldn’t understand what he did for a living.
Three years ago he’d been a stockbroker, and well on his way to a hardening of the arteries, both medically and figuratively. So instead of cashing in his life’s chips, he’d converted his stock portfolio to gold and struck a deal with Isabel of Courtesans. She set up his dates, and he made the women happy.
He didn’t take money—or the expensive gifts—from women because he needed or wanted it. He took it because they needed to give it. Money was power, and when they paid him, they reveled in their own supremacy. The amount didn’t matter. The transaction was more about how much a woman needed to pay to get the most bang for her buck, so to speak. In other words, what was the price that made her feel the most powerful?
His cell phone vibrated in his pocket. Surreptitiously, Walker popped his Bluetooth in his ear and answered quietly so as to cause the least disturbance to the other diners around him. “Hello.”
“I can’t do this.”
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t wish to, Estelle. But I have the champagne iced, and we can enjoy a quiet dinner. No strings attached, nothing required. My treat, no obligations.”
While ultimately, he was the one who received payment, Walker usually took care of the incidental bills such as drinks, dinner, cab fare, et cetera. While he provided women empowerment, he also provided pampering. Though some ladies did prefer the power play of paying for everything. When that was the case, of course, he obliged them. Whatever the lady wanted.
“No, no, I can’t do that, either.” Estelle’s voice wobbled.
“Did something happen?”
She sniffed. “I can’t talk about it.”
He didn’t know her circumstances, whether she was married, partnered, or single. He’d noted a certain hesitancy on her part, but this felt like far more than mere cold feet. “Where are you? I can come there and make sure you get safely home.”
“I’m at home.”
Well. That could be bad. “Shall I ask Isabel to give you a call?” Perhaps she needed a woman’s shoulder.
Isabel was particular. She didn’t match women who were not fairly comfortable with what they were doing.
“No, no, I’ll call her.” Estelle sniffled.
“Good. But if you need me, you have my number. Please call anytime.”
Estelle didn’t even say good-bye. He immediately called Isabel, got her voice mail. Unusual, too; if Isabel was unavailable, she had a receptionist. He wondered if Estelle had immediately dialed in. He left a message, gave Isabelle fair warning about the alteration in plans and Estelle’s flighty manner.
Damn. He had tickets to Fright Fest, an outdoor showing of three cult classic flicks over at the local community college. It was an unusual date venue, to be sure, but it was Halloween, and he’d planned something different, exciting even. Estelle was supposedly partial to the unexpected.
Well, hell, he’d go on his own. But first, he’d enjoy a glass of champagne and a fine meal.
As if she were a genie he’d summoned, Cleo suddenly stood before his table, a hand on one hip. “So?”
He realized she’d been watching him. It gave him a bit of a kick start. “I’ll be eating alone.”
“Poor Walker,” she sympathized, shaking her head sadly.
“I had a special event planned, too.” He had the glimmer of an idea. Something that might very well make Cleo smile for real, no shadows lurking behind it. But really, he shouldn’t. There could be complications.
She tipped her head, raised one brow. “But you still want to order dinner, right?”
He wanted more than dinner. The glimmer was growing brighter. He wanted it. To hell with complications. “Do you like classic movies?”
Her eyes slid left to right, as if she thought she’d actually see the ball flying at her from out of left field. “I guess.”
“I have tickets to an outdoor movie marathon and no one to go with now.”
She swallowed. “I’m working.”
“They don’t start the first movie until eleven.”
He detected a pulse beating at her throat. She blinked before she spoke. “It’s probably not a good idea.”
No, it wasn’t. But the idea had planted itself firmly, and Walker wasn’t about to uproot it. It was just a movie—well, three movies that would play well into the early-morning hours. He had blankets and wine and cheese.
Now all he needed was Cleo. “Say yes,” he said softly.
Cleo tapped her pen on her pad. “I don’t get off till ten.”
“I’ll have to go home and change.” She pointed vaguely behind her as if her house were that way . . . somewhere.
“Where do you live?”
“Palo Alto,” she said slowly.
“We can still make it in time from there.”
She huffed out a breath.
Walker let women make their own decisions. He asked instead of ordered. He cajoled instead of demanded. With her, he nudged hard. “Say yes, Cleo.”
Finally, after forever, she whispered, “Yes,” then held her pen poised. “Now, what do you want for dinner?”
He ordered the duck in olallieberry-bordeaux sauce. Cleo would be his midnight treat.