Collateral damage. That's what well-heeled New York philanthropist Arden MacCarren is after her investment banker father and brother are arrested for masterminding a massive Ponzi scheme. Though she knew nothing about the fraud, Arden's left dealing with the fallout, despite being known as the weak one in the family. Looking for a safe space to hide from all the negative publicity, not to mention find a technique that will help her fight back against her increasingly debilitating panic attacks, Arden enrolls in a private drawing class. Having hot sex with the class's tattooed male model, a former marine, is just a way to help them both escape for a few moments from their own emotional wounds. Or is it? A story of two wounded warriors, both helping one another remember the fighter inside.
"You saved me," he said. "They saved my life so many times, but you saved me, too."
"I'm in good company, then," she said. When he looked back at her, one eyebrow raised, she added, "You taught me how."
"Families normally didn't happen in the same unit of the military. Hell, sex wasn't supposed to happen in the military at all—as if that made one lick of sense. Come on, people, corral a clue. Why would a career guy want anything less than a soldier babe?"
"No doubt you think you've got this all handled, Elisabeth."
That stops me. She never calls me by my full name.
"You think, Oh, hey, I don't need a man. And guess what? You're actually right about that."
I raise an eyebrow. It's not exactly what I was expecting her to say. I always assumed she disapproved of my lifestyle, that she wished I would settle down already.
"You're a confident, competent woman," she says. "Don't think I haven't seen that. and admired it. You take excellent care of yourself and you make your own path. I love that about you, Beth."
"Thanks, Mom, but—"
"And I'll say it again. You don't need a man."
"That's what I—"
"But you are allowed to want one," she interrupts. "That's not against the rules, you know."
"Do you love him?" Steven asked in a whisper.
"I don't think that's as necessary an ingredient as my mother would have me believe. Do all those men love the girls at Delilah's?" [the local whorehouse]
"Why are you doing this?"
"Why not? Why shouldn't I?"
"Anne, this is . . . shocking."
"Well, maybe I am shocking."
I am. I am very shocking, and no one ever noticed because I was so busy being invisible. And I love you. I love you so much and it hurts to be caught like this. Stuck like this with you. If I don't change things, they will never change.
I will be like this forever with you.
"Marriage is a very permanent step to satisfy curiosity," he said.
"Are you suggesting another arrangement?"
"Do you understand what you are asking?"
"Yes . . . . I am asking you, if my marrying Dr. Madison in order to satisfy my curiosity about sex bothers you so much—are you volunteering to be my lover?"