Secrets of a Shoe Addict

Beth Harbison

St. Martin's Press

SECRETS OF A SHOE ADDICT (Chapter-1)

Loreen Murphy hadn't meant to hire a male prostitute in Las Vegas. It was all just a big, stupid, expensive misunderstanding.

The night had started out pretty normal. There was no visibly strange alignment of stars, no static electricity in the air, nothing to warn anyone that things were about to turn so weird.

She, along with other parents--mostly mothers--of the Tuckerman Elementary School band members from Travilah, Maryland, was in Las Vegas, where the kids were competing in a National Battle of the School Bands. Loreen, as the PTA treasurer, had been instrumental in working out a deal with the airline and several Las Vegas hotels so that parents and siblings could attend the contest.

And everything had gone fine, right up until they tucked in the little third place-winning musicians and handed their trust over to a hotel babysitter who looked a little like Joan Crawford but was able to produce identification to prove she was employed by the hotel.

So, confident that their kids would be fine, Loreen and her fellow PTA officers--Abbey Walsh (vice president of the PTA and wife of the local Methodist minister) and Tiffany Dreyer (president of the PTA)--went down to the casino and spent a little time playing the nickel slots and sipping free margaritas from the hotel bar.

For Loreen, life began to veer off course with the idea of taking a break after an hour of slot machines and free drinks to get up and move around so she didn't get slot machine elbow or whatever you'd call a repetitive-motion injury from playing the one-armed bandit for too long.

Besides, she'd allocated twenty-five dollars to gambling, and according to the slip the high-tech machine had just spit out at her, she had only ten dollars left. When that money was gone, she'd decided, the evening was over for her.

"Are you sure you don't want to come look around with me?" she asked Tiffany, Loreen's friend since both their kids had eaten a container of paste in Mrs. Kelpy's first-grade classroom and thrown it up in the cafeteria line half an hour later.

"No way." Tiffany kept her baby blues fastened on the machine in front of her. "I've invested almost two hours in this machine. It's going to hit the jackpot. I can just feel it."

"This is how gambling addiction starts, you know."

Tiffany nodded and lifted her drink to the one Loreen was taking with her to the bar. "I think alcoholism starts this way, too."

"Touché."

Loreen made her way through the crowd--hundreds of people she'd never know. The feeling of freedom was exhilarating. Jacob was safely with the sitter upstairs, and Loreen, who was a month away from her final divorce decree, was a "bachelorette on the loose" for the first time in eleven years.

Robert, her soon-to-be ex, thought she was a control freak who focused too much on her child and not enough on her life. Well, she was going to change that tonight.

The lobby of the Gilded Palace was crowded with people, marble columns, and large potted palm trees. There was Muzak playing through some distant speakers, adding just enough vague ambience to make it feel like this was someone else's life and she was free to do whatever she pleased with it.

That's when the trouble started.

When Rod--that turned out to be his name, or at least the name he gave--first sat down and started talking to her, her first thought was that it must be on a dare from one of his drunk friends, who were undoubtedly hiding behind one of the gold Corinthian columns or enormous potted palms somewhere.

But if he had drunk friends with him, they were hiding for a really long time. And besides, Loreen wasn't unattractive enough to make a dare like that funny to a bunch of assholes. She was just . . . she looked like a mom.

Not a MILF, just a mom.

Her dark hair had lost some of the luster of youth and was cut in a sort of hopelessly plain brown variation of Prince Valiant. No matter where she went to get it styled, and no matter what pictures she took with her, she always seemed to leave with the same schlumpy mom look.

And the stylists' advice that "You have a different face. I can't make you look like TV actress X, movie star Y, fill-in-the-blank, but this is the same basic haircut. . . ."

In other words, You're never gonna be that hot, honey. Give it up.

It was true, too. Loreen was also suffering a little from post-childbirth spread. Nine years post-childbirth. Her butt was considerably wider than it had been the last time she'd been single. Her high-waisted jeans kept everything sucked in pretty well--someone trying to identify her across the room wouldn't call her "that fat woman over there"--but she wasn't exactly what you'd call buff either. And there was a telltale balloon of flesh below the waistband that she just couldn't seem to get rid of. At least not without a steady diet of carrots, celery, and Pilates.

But Rod looked at her as if she had just stepped off the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

Upon reflection, that in itself probably should have made her more suspicious.

"Margarita, huh?" He nodded at her glass and smiled. The way his mouth curved, showing white-white teeth, made him look like a real-life movie star. "Pretty lady like you deserves something more special than that."

It was such a lame line and she knew it, but she got a kick out of it anyway. "Well--" She swallowed a burp and hoped he didn't notice. "--they put a Grand Marnier floater on top."

"Ah. So it's got a touch of class, like you." He smiled again. "I'm Rod, by the way."

"Loreen Murphy." Not only was it nuts to give her last name to a total stranger, but she held out her hand like a total dork. "Nice to meet you."

He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed the back of it, keeping eye contact all along, just like Leonardo DiCaprio did with Kate Winslet in Titanic. "Where are you from, Loreen?"

"Is it that obvious I'm not from here?"

He laughed. "You look way too happy to be from here."

"I'm from Maryland."

"And what do you do in Maryland?"

"I'm a Realtor." And a PTA treasurer, and a mom, and a soon-to-be ex-wife, and a whole lot of other easy-to-pigeonhole labels.

He looked impressed. "Keep your own hours and cream the top off every deal made. Good gig."

She shrugged. "It's feast or famine."

"What about tonight? Is it feast or famine tonight?"

"Feast." She smiled. It really was. This letting-go stuff was pretty good. Maybe Robert had been right. A little bit, anyway. "Tonight, it's all feast."

Rod chuckled charmingly and gave an approving nod. "Are you looking for company tonight, Loreen?"

For a crazy moment she was ten years younger, one impending divorce lighter, and free to be a flirt. It felt awesome. She took another sip of her drink. "Well, I don't know. Are you offering?"

"As a matter of fact, Loreen, yes. I am."

She could not believe this gorgeous hunk of man was coming on to her! This never happened at home!

Take that, Robert.

Just last week Jacob had told Loreen that Robert had a girlfriend who came over for dinner.

So, with that little piece of icky news in mind, what the hell? Rod was a gift from God as far as she was concerned. As for why he would be interested in her--well, why not? No, she wasn't a supermodel, but she wasn't a dog either. In her day, plenty of guys had come on to her. It hadn't happened for a while now, but maybe this was the first time she'd been relaxed enough--and anonymous enough--to put out an available vibe.

"Sounds good to me," she said with a laugh. Females all around them were looking on with clear envy, and Loreen liked it. "So you can tell all these other women you are taken."

A nod. "Consider it done."

She'd worried he wouldn't get the joke and would think she was seriously jealous already, so she was glad for his response. "Well, I'm honored."

Robert had moved on. So would she.

Even if it was for only a few minutes.

"The honor is mine." Rod lifted a perfect brow over one pale blue eye. Actually, his brows were so perfect that she concluded he had to wax them, which was a little troubling. But then again, one look at his whip of a smile and it didn't matter anymore. "Do you like champagne, Loreen?"

"Depends what you mean by champagne. I've never had the good stuff." It was true. Her experience was limited to the sort that tasted like melted Popsicles and could be used to sweeten coffee. But tonight she'd had enough tequila to lubricate her confidence and fuel her awkward flirting. "Does it come with the deal, Mr. Rod?"

"Of course, if you like. The menu is always à la carte." He signaled the bartender with one breezy motion and said to him, "Piper." Then he turned back to Loreen. "So you're a fine champagne virgin. And I get to break you in."

She smiled. In fact, she damn near trilled. "Be gentle with me."

"Whatever you like." He smiled, and the bartender set two tall phallic flutes on the bar and poured bubbling gold liquid in.

"Thank you, Piper," Loreen said to him.

Rod chuckled again. "You"--he clinked his glass to hers--"are adorable."

"So are you!" she gushed, a little too enthusiastically. Then, in a misplaced effort to regain the cool dignity she was going for, she said, "For someone so young, I mean." Oh, that was dumb. Really clumsy. And it didn't seem like she was going to be able to stop herself anytime soon. "How old are you anyway?"

He looked at her very seriously. "About the same age as you, I'd guess. I'm twenty-four."

"Smooth, Rod. That was really smooth."

He looked at her guilelessly. "What do you mean?"

"I'm not twenty-four," she said, downing the rest of her champagne. "And you know it."

"Twenty-three?" he guessed, then furrowed his brow in mock consternation. "Younger? Tell me I didn't just buy a drink for an underage Lolita."

"You're good. You're really good." Loreen smiled and took a sip of the champagne. It was sort of blah as wine went. Like unsweetened ginger ale. But, hey, if this was the drink for celebrations, she'd go for it, because this was a celebration. "This is great."

He gave a nod and looked deeply into her eyes. "So what are we going to do next? Or should I ask when?"

It would have been the perfect opportunity to say something sophisticated and witty, but apparently Myrna Loy wasn't available for channeling right then. "I--I'm . . . not sure."

"Obviously we could use some privacy."

Mmmm. His voice could melt butter.

As a matter of fact, his voice--or maybe his long-lashed baby blues or perhaps that shiny mop of dark hair that her fingers were just itching to run through--was melting something deep in Loreen's long-chilly nether regions.

And he wanted to be alone with her!

This was a night she'd never forget.

"Privacy would be nice," she said, then giggled as the champagne bubbles actually tickled her nose, just like all the bimbos in old movies said it did.

"I have a room upstairs unless . . . you'd prefer your room?"

She pictured meeting the babysitter and all the kids at the door and laughed. "Let's go to your room."

"Of course." He held a hand out and helped her off her stool. "Send the bottle up, please," he said to the bartender.

"You and Piper seem to know each other."

He looked puzzled for a second, then smiled. "There you go again. Yeah, Roger and I have worked here for a long time."

"Ah." She hadn't realized Rod worked there, but she'd already said so many dumb things that she didn't want to add to it by asking what he did, just in case it was somehow obvious. "How long have you worked here?"

"The hotel or the town?"

"Um . . . I . . ."She didn't really care either way. "The hotel."

"Oh, about a year and a half now."

Only a twenty-four-year-old could think that was a long time. "You like it?"

"It allows me to meet beautiful women like you. How could I not love it?"

She could have gotten stuck on that plural--beautiful women--but since this wasn't a real relationship in any sense of the word, she let it slide and just took the compliment. "You're quite the flatterer."

"No, I mean it." He stopped her and looked her in the eye. "Sincerely."

She felt the heat climb into her cheeks. "Thanks."

He pushed the elevator button, and they glided upward to a suite on the top floor. One entire wall consisted of windows that overlooked the aurora borealis-like glow of the Las Vegas strip. It was enchanting.

Loreen was standing in front of the window, looking for the big guitar they always showed in movies, when Rod came up behind her and put his arms around her. "Like it?"

"I love it. I could look at this view every night for the rest of my life." As soon as she said the words, Loreen had the horrible feeling that maybe this handsome stranger was a serial killer who was about to murder her, and, though he would be the only one to know, her final words would echo ironically through time.

There was a knock at the door, and Rod went to get it, murmured some things, and came back into the room with an ice bucket, a bottle, and two champagne flutes.

As he poured the champagne, Loreen noticed the label: PIPER-HEIDSIECK. Oh, shit. Rod hadn't been calling the bartender Piper; he'd been asking for the champagne.

But then, like an idiot, she'd proceeded to call the guy "Piper" and, worse, feel really clever doing so.

Fortunately, Rod seemed to think she was joking, and even said she was adorable. So . . . she'd go with that.

"That was nice of Piper to send up some more Piper," she said, knowing it was pathetic, but at the same time at a complete loss about what else to say.

Rod moved over to Loreen and smoothly took the glass from her hand and set it on the end table by the sofa. "I can't wait any longer to do this," he said, then lowered his mouth down onto hers.

He didn't give her time to work up some nervousness. He just went for it.

Never--never--had she been kissed like this. Everything in her tingled, from her head right down her spine and into the center of her being. Rod undressed her slowly, so slowly that even the fabric running across her skin felt like a caress.

He was an expert at touching a woman, pushing buttons she didn't even know she had, bringing her to the crest of ecstasy over and over again, then backing away just long enough to make her nearly scream with need.

By the time he finally got down to business, she wanted it more than she'd ever wanted anything in her life.

She couldn't say how long it lasted. Maybe an hour, maybe five, but the time Loreen spent with Rod was so intense that his abrupt withdrawal at the end of it came as a shock.

"Oh, shit."

It wasn't exactly the romantic conclusion she was expecting. "What's wrong?"

"The fucking rubber broke."

"What?"

"I said the fucking--rubber--broke." Suddenly Rod sounded like a seven-year-old who'd struck out at bat.

So much for ol' Rico Suave.

But Loreen's first reaction was one of relief. The "Oh, shit" wasn't because he'd just realized what he'd done, with whom, and regretted it. "The rubber broke?" she echoed, trying to get a grasp on what he was actually saying.

"Yeah." He threw up his hands. "Fuck."

She swallowed the urge to say, I believe we just did, and instead asked, "Are you sure?"

He nodded. "I've done this enough to know when there's a problem, and this is a problem."

A moment of heavy silence dropped between them.

"Have you been tested?" Loreen asked, her former relief replaced rapidly by panic as she realized the implications. She'd just had sex with a stranger and the condom had broken, spilling all kinds of potential diseases and bacteria right into her most vulnerable parts. Short of slashing open her wrist and rubbing it on a petri dish, she couldn't do something more bacterially dangerous.

"I'm tested every month," Rod said. "What about you?"

"I haven't had sex in about a year."

He nodded like that was unsurprising. "Yeah. But have you been tested?"

That yeah was insulting. "My doctor did that test," she said, "along with every other medical test, last year when I couldn't shake the flu. It was negative."

His shoulders lowered slightly with relief.

She waited a moment, then, when he didn't volunteer the information, prompted him with "And your tests?"

He waved the question away like it was silly. "Negative on all counts. We have a really good doctor here who checks us out really thoroughly."

"Heck of a medical plan you have."

"It's the law." He shrugged. "What about pregnancy? Are you on anything?"

For the past year? On the remote chance that she'd have sex with someone without taking the time to plan? Not likely. Good thing she couldn't have more kids. "After my son was born, I had my tubes tied," she lied. It was easier than explaining that she just wasn't able to get pregnant, that a couple of years of trying with Robert had proved that beyond a doubt, and that it made her hang on to her only son's childhood like it was a life raft in the ocean.

"Good thing." Rod gave a dry laugh. "I'm sure the last thing you need is a pregnancy."

"Right," she agreed, because she was polite. But . . . what did he mean by that? The last thing she needed? Even though it was true, what was it about his words that sounded distinctly detached? No, they didn't know each other, and no, she definitely wasn't going to get pregnant from this, but still. . . . What a dick.

Nah, she was probably reading way too much into this. She'd had a weird night--a one-night stand! The first time in her life! That was so unlike her. And she was still out even though it was--she looked for the green glow of the digital clock by the bedside--11:36 P.M.

Good Lord, she had to leave. Everyone was probably wondering where she'd disappeared to.

"I've got to run," she said, meaning it literally. She threw back the sheets and started running around the darkened room, collecting her clothes.

"Are you sure? I'm still available for a few hours. And I had a great time with you," Rod said, and back was the mellow, sexy tone that had drawn her to him in the first place. Then he grabbed her wrist, pulled her to him, and kissed her deeply. If it weren't for the time, she would have fallen right back into bed with him.

"I did, too," she said, wishing she could come up with something more clever--more memorable--than mere agreement.

"Maybe next time, then." He ran his hands down her back, sending tingles along the trail of his touch.

"I don't come here often," she said to him as she pulled back. She had to get dressed and leave, no matter how great his hands felt on her.

"Well, if you do," Rod said, pulling up his jeans and turning to her with the button tantalizingly undone, "you know where you can find me."

She nodded and gave a laugh. "At the bar downstairs?" She was joking.

He nodded. He was not joking. "Unless I'm already working."

"Oh." Okay, so he hung out at the bar all the time? And he could say, absolutely, that he'd be there at some nebulous time in the future?

Something here wasn't adding up.

"You can just leave the money on the dresser, sweetheart." He was buttoning his shirt, and didn't have so much as a hint of a smile when he said it.

But Loreen laughed. Because . . . it had to be a joke.

"Shouldn't that be my line?" She was trying to keep the mood light, but still . . . ew. She didn't like this joke. It wasn't really funny, no matter who said it.

Rod looked at her, confused. "I'm sorry?"

"Oh, nothing, I was just kidding." Too.

Right?

He gave a vague smile and gestured with a hand that suddenly seemed a little limp. Something less masculine than it had seemed just a couple of hours before. "Yeah. So, the dresser right over there." He gestured and went into the bathroom. "And tag on a hundred and forty for the champagne."

Oh, God. He wasn't kidding. He was . . . She'd just . . . Oh, God, she'd just hired a male prostitute. How the hell had this happened? She thought back over their conversation, trying to figure out just where the breakdown in communications had occurred.

Are you looking for company tonight, Loreen?

What had she said? Oh. Are you offering? An innocent question. Flirty. Not really a proposition.

Yes, as a matter of fact, I am.

What an idiot! How had she not seen this before?

"Loreen?"

She snapped back to attention. "Yes?"

"Is something wrong?"

"No!" She said it too quick. "I was just . . . I just realized we didn't discuss . . ."

He narrowed his eyes at her. Suddenly he didn't look so sexy. "We didn't discuss what, Loreen?"

"Price." It sounded like a question. From a tiny little person. She could barely eke the word out.

His brow relaxed fractionally. "Right. When you didn't ask, I thought you were a regular, and that for some reason I just didn't remember you."

Great. Not only had the whole flattery thing been a game, but he actually thought she seemed like someone who regularly paid for sex.

From him.

The guy actually thought he'd fucked her before--perhaps more than once--and forgotten. And he thought that didn't really matter. Like . . . her feelings wouldn't be hurt?

She felt sick. "No," she said coolly. So much for looking at her like she was a swimsuit model. But it was stupid to be upset with a prostitute for not telling little white lies to be polite. This was all so confusing.

She had to get out of here.

"It's one g." He put Rembrandt Extra Whitening on his toothbrush and started to brush vigorously, presumably to remove all DNA traces of Loreen so he'd be fresh and clean for the next pathetic loser who came along.

"I'm sorry, I don't . . . How much is that?"

He spit a foamy toothpaste mess into the sink, then swished water in his mouth and spit again. Less attractive by the second. "A thousand dollars," he said, taking the hand towel from the chrome rack and blotting his face. "Plus the champagne, like I said."

Her heart leapt into her throat. A thousand dollars.

These three hours were going to be $333 an hour. She hadn't had a therapeutic massage since Mother's Day six years ago because she couldn't pay the sixty bucks an hour. There was no way she was going to have to pay $333 an hour, times three, for having sex with this guy. Good Lord, she'd even gone down on him.

He had to be kidding.

But this wasn't a guy who was into kidding around.

He was a businessman.

And somehow she had to come up with a thousand bucks quick.

SECRETS OF A SHOE ADDICT. Copyright 2008 by Beth Harbison