JADED

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CHAPTER 1

Los Angeles was haven for everything from posh elegance to recognizably world class and the downtown core pulsated with a mixture of money, glamour and raw life, and today was no exception. Kysia Saxon sat back in her parked, sleek black Lexus coupe – a company perk she’d leave behind when she left L.A. later that night. It didn’t matter that she was late; everyone who knew her knew to expect it. She took a long, deep breath and then reached for the rearview mirror checking her gloss plumb lipstick. She scowled at herself, but not because of her looks – never over her looks – and with slightly tanned olive skin, long straight black hair and dusky blue eyes, her appearance was one of the few things she felt very comfortable with. Her looks fit L.A. like a glove.

She glanced around La Brea Avenue. Kysia was going to miss it, along with only a few other aspects of her life in L.A. and yet, she definitely looked forward to going home. Leaning back, she nestled her head into the headrest and closed her eyes.

***

New York City was where Kysia had been born and raised until her departure at twenty-two, and it was hard to believe it’d been nearly five years already. She was strong-willed and independent even back then, making it easy to leave those years ago. But so much had happened in Los Angeles; things she wanted to leave behind.

When she made her request for a transfer, the New York office was ecstatic and while L.A. wasn’t pleased, they didn’t have a choice. Kysia Saxon had become an asset to the music label not to be lost – she held a position strong enough to make her demands and be catered to. Now Speck Music Entertainment’s New York division waited with open arms.

With only a high school diploma, she moved from mail room to meager assistant and then, all the way to senior creative executive. Now here she was, feared and sought after, and a coveted spin-doctor. Her career was her life and it came first above all else, always.

***

La Brea Avenue was a lively area – an absolutely urban and vibrant blend of fashion shops, art studios, bookshops and café’s – and the L.A. weather as usual was sunny and warm. In loose black silk slacks and a flowing, slightly revealing sleeveless vest that caught the soft breeze as she moved, Kysia walked up to the outdoor patio and Jessica waved from her seat. Composed and demure as always, Kysia ordered Fiuggi water with lemon before taking a seat across from her friend.

“Busy at work?” Unconcerned, Jess finished a text.

“Yeah,” she lied. The truth was, yesterday had been her last day and already impatient, Kysia looked around wondering where her water was and then ran a hand through her hair. It was always shining and straight with no definite part and every time she ran a hand through it, it always fell differently. On anyone else it might have appeared unkempt and wild, but on her it gave the air of natural sensuality, a gift she used well and often. Her body was naturally elegant and curved, her legs were often described as “endless” and she had a breath-taking smile that rarely appeared in full form.

The one passion both women had in common was their devotion to career. They met nearly a year ago at a Speck Entertainment business party. Jessica Evans, a striking mulatto woman with naturally curled brown hair that fell just past her shoulder, was a senior casting agent for their film division.

“I’m going home, to New York,” Kysia said bluntly.

Lost in thought, Jess watched pedestrians on the sidewalk. “Business?”

“Permanently.”

“Permanently?” Jess looked at her friend sharply.

Kysia’s stoic gaze said yes.

“You can’t be serious?”

Kysia tilted her head.

“When?”

“Tonight.”

The hurt was immediately evident on Jess’s face. “You can’t be fucking serious? How long have you known, Kysia? Days, weeks?”

“Three weeks.”

“You’ve known for three fucking weeks and you’re only telling me now?” The hurt turned to sarcasm, “I’m assuming Speck offered something bigger and better in New York?”

Kysia shrugged. It didn’t matter at this point who made the decision.

“That’s why you chose here, a public patio to spring the news…..cold, aloof Kysia Saxon, right? Wait till the last minute, pick a public place and pull the rug out….and hopefully no scene, no emotion to deal with, no long goodbyes.”

“You’re right.” Kysia shrugged again. “You’re a good person, Jessica and it’s me, I get that. I’m damaged, and I just don’t know any other way to be.”

“God, you cannot be serious? You’re giving the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech? Really? That’s it? This is what I mean to you?”

“I am being serious. I’m not you, and you’ve always known that. I’ve never understood why decent people want to hang out with me. You’re such a beautiful person, inside and out. And I’m fucked emotionally, I get that. But this is who I am.”

“So, you’re here to say good-bye,” Jess whispered.

Instinctively, Kysia’s hand swept through her hair again. “My family’s in New York. I’m from New York. I just think it’s time to go home.”

“That’s such bullshit. You’ve never been close to your family, and leaving L.A. won’t erase anything. You can’t outrun yourself.”

“I need a fresh start. I do.”

Jess dabbed at the tears that started to well up. “Well this certainly is your style. I don’t know why I’m surprised.” She shook her head, and then stood. “I’m gonna go. You did what you wanted to do. So good luck in New York, Kysia.” She could barely look at her. “I don’t suppose we’ll keep in contact?”

“I’ll send a Christmas card.” It was Kysia’s sarcastic sense of humor. Not to be mean, but to be light. She stood too. “Do you want a hug?”

The look on Jess’s face spoke volumes. “I just want to go.”

“I’m sorry….I am,” Kysia whispered.

With a quick nod, Jessica turned and walked away while Kysia watched for a moment and then waved over the waiter. She handed him thirty dollars, told him to keep the change, and then left too.

***

She took one last trip to the pier near her apartment after returning home. There were a few hours to kill before leaving for the airport and the beach felt like a perfect diversion until then. There was always activity here. Outdoor recreation was almost a way of life for many Angelino’s – there were bikers and roller bladers, swimmers and surfers, and even a very competitive game of volleyball going on.

Eventually Kysia sat at a bench, curled her knees inward and gazed thoughtfully out over the blue water.

Jess’s words played in her head as a gentle breeze tickled her scalp. Kysia held her face up toward the sun with her eyes closed, deeply exhaling with a sigh. It hadn’t felt good hurting Jessica truthfully, but dealing with the discussions and emotion for weeks leading up to today would’ve been worse. Kysia had a tainted heart and she owned it. Arms-length relationships were all she could manage. For her, it felt like the best way to avoid pain now – and she just didn’t want to deal with pain anymore.

***

Macgregor Haemon was an unusual name for an unusual man. He brought Kysia to L.A., and nurtured and cultivated her natural flair for power and sensuality. He introduced her to all the right people, even influential people; and he did love her in a perverse fashion, but he also owned her in some ways, or so he thought.

Unquestionably, he’d admit now that he underestimated her. He taught her too well and trusted her with too much, and now he was paying for that.

Nearly thirty years her senior, Macgregor had been enchanted with Kysia from their first introduction at a nightclub, and had quickly taken her in as his companion – yet he had no desire for marriage or convention. He was a good-looking, demure, self-made man, though not through legal means, and he adored Kysia’s prowess and confidence right from the start. To him she had been clay, ready to mold with incredible potential, and something he could use when it suited him.

For Kysia, he was the father figure she never had. He offered security and glamour. His world consisted of high rollers, money, power and connections – something any young, ambitious girl couldn’t refuse – and under his tutoring she bloomed into an arousing woman who learned to wield her looks, and sexuality, well – sometimes too well. She often became the perk for his business ventures and being a highly sexual person, she would gladly do it, all in the name of education and power. It was an addictive high and leverage that also helped propel her career with Speck up the ladder perhaps more quickly than it would have happened otherwise.

It became more and more difficult after a few years though, as her success with Speck Music had risen and she’d taken all she could from the experience. One morning she woke and decided she had had enough. It was time to end, but, Macgregor did not share her epiphany, and he beat her and hospitalized her to emphasize it.

Released from the hospital, she returned home as usual, with Macgregor. And he suspected nothing. She was as diplomatic and obedient as ever. Then in less than one week Kysia gathered as much physical evidence as she could – photocopies of documents, names, signatures, bank statements, anything – and along with her testimony, Macgregor Haemon was convicted of his syndicate crimes and sentenced to more than ten years in prison.

To her surprise, he didn’t appear as angry as she’d expected that final day in court. He was as finessed as ever. Cautiously, she neared him as he waited next to his attorney, “You should’ve just let me go,” she had said.

His eyes held hers. “My dear Kysia, you are my orchid. So beautiful.” He reached toward her and she allowed him to softly touch her face one last time. “Your life won’t be much different without me. I didn’t make you. I only nurtured you.”

That moment had been almost two years ago. She had come to L.A. with Macgregor, and now she couldn’t wait to leave them both behind.

***

She wandered back to her apartment for one last look around as the sun began to set. It wouldn’t be long now before her limo to LAX would be there.

Standing at the dining room window that overlooked Third Street Promenade, Kysia watched pedestrians busy entering and exiting the little shops below. While packing earlier she’d found some photographs and had tossed them on the dining table. Now she turned from the window and went to pick up the photos. Two were of Jess smiling happily at the beach, her hair pulled back sitting in her new BMW convertible. The last picture was Dr. Sydney Douglas – sitting on a bench, much like the one she had just spent her afternoon on – with her arms wrapped around herself. Kysia brushed a finger reflectively over the photograph.

Sydney Douglas was the physician who examined and admitted Kysia to the hospital the night of her assault. A young intern, Dr. Douglas was intelligent, angelic and organically attractive – and when Kysia refused counseling, she and Sydney started up a friendship. Then within several weeks, the friendship developed into something more.

Just less than a year later, Sydney was offered permanent residency in Seattle. In vain, she asked Kysia to follow her, and in confident sadness, Kysia had declined.

It was time, outside Kysia saw her limousine pull up. With a sigh, she placed the pictures back on the table and took one last look around. Then she grabbed her suitcase and walked to the door. Everything else would be sent separately. So, this is it. It’s time to go home.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

ONE YEAR LATER…

 

“Ms. Porter, can I get you something from the bar?” The steward waited patiently, admiring the glamorous, tall young blonde patron who’d hired the private 727 charter.

Jaden Porter sat looking out the window at a clear blue sky while lost in her own thoughts. It was the first day of summer and a perfect day for the flight.

“Ms. Porter?”

It was a one-way trip after a year of careful planning. The destination was New York City and a brand new, exciting future for Jaden.

“Excuse me, Ms. Porter?”

Hearing her name at last, she turned with a warm, apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, yes?”

“I was just wondering if you’d like anything from the bar.”

“Evian on ice will be perfect, with a little lemon if you have it. Thank you.”

“Of course.” Her sweet perfume filled the plane, and he took a deep breath before walking away.

***

Just over a year ago, Jaden left her condo overlooking the Toronto skyline on the shores of Lake Ontario to walk along Queen’s Quay. She stopped just before the busy shops and sat at a bench by the water. Confused and lonely, she had luxury and money, but what she wanted was a mentor. In fact, she needed one to help bring her dreams to fruition. She just had no idea how to even start on her own.

She watched the seagulls playful on the water, swooping and diving and riding the gentle waves, when Jaden overheard a conversation behind her – a man ordered a hot dog from a street vendor and then discovered he’d left his wallet at home. His embarrassment was obvious when she turned to look.

“Sorry man, no money no food,” the vendor was saying.

Without thinking, Jaden jumped from her seat and handed over the money. “I’ve got it.” It was a gesture that would change the course of her life.

“Please miss,” the man tried to stop her.

“I hate when that happens, don’t you?” The vendor was already passing back her change as she smiled at the self-conscious man. “Please, don’t worry about it.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Nonsense, it’s nothing. Enjoy.” She gently touched his arm, and then walked away and returned to her bench.

Shocked by such kindness, the man shrugged at the vendor, “You certainly don’t see that often these days, especially by someone so young.”

Antonio Castellaino was in his late fifties and still a desirable man – trim body with an eloquent manner and thick black hair peppered with silver – and considerable wealth of his own.

He decided to approach the young woman and introduce himself, and she asked him to take a seat.

“You know,” he said looking out over the water, “very little surprises me – but you surprise me. People just never do things like that anymore, so thank you.”

Jaden thought about his name – Castellaino – something about it seemed so familiar.

“You look too serious for someone your age,” he said.

“I really need to figure out what I’m going to do with my life, and how.”

“I certainly know what it’s like to make big decisions, and it’s a good sign that you’re trying to figure out a plan of attack first.”

“Well, I’m definitely going to need one to try to do what I’d like to.”

Antonio looked at her and laughed, “So you’re ambitious, are you?”

“You have no idea,” she laughed softly.

***

The Castellaino name was familiar because it’d frequently been mentioned in the newspapers – a powerful name in the syndicate world – “Tico” Castellaino as he was best known, was not only a seasoned boss, but his brother who lived in New York City was a well-respected don. Everyone knew it. And still, having realized this, it didn’t bother Jaden – but it did intrigue her.

***

It was Tico’s office high above Bay Street in Toronto where Jaden first met Bryan Rosfeld, one month after having met the infamous Antonio Castellaino.

“You two will make a perfect team,” Tico said before Bryan arrived. “Trust me, Jaden. This guy is young, very bright and almost genius at speculation and investments. He’s exactly what you want to gain the power that you need.”

“If he’s such a genius, why isn’t he working for you?”

Looking from his window, Tico watched the pedestrians below moving in flocks. They were nothing but tiny specks moving en masse from that height. “I have used him, unofficially. He could never be respected in my business.” He turned to her, “You understand?”

She shrugged, “I guess.”

“You have a lot to learn and you will learn, through Bryan. I think he’s exactly what you need. And you can trust him.”

“I don’t doubt that if he’s coming to me on your recommendation, Tico. You’re maybe the only one in this world I do trust these days.”

He smiled at with a sense of pride and admiration. “You’re the daughter I never had.” And he meant it. She had become a part of his family, adopted not only by Tico, but his wife Alicia as well. They’d come to love her and included her in everything.

On arrival, Bryan Rosfeld was ushered into Tico’s private office and he immediately had Jaden’s attention. He was a tall, muscled demigod with rich blonde hair, sporting an expensive, tailored, deep olive suit that only enhanced his defined, good looks. Simply, he was a stunning man to look at.

She cleared her throat nervously as they shook hands, then she shot a sharp glance at Tico, who responded with a quick shake of his head. He motioned for them both to sit. “So you two…..I’ll leave you alone to get acquainted. You don’t need me here. Bryan, all I ask is that you look out for her.”

“Absolutely.”

Jaden just smiled shyly from her seat next to Bryan. “I trust Tico, and how he feels about you.”

Tico’s assistant – a young, attractive brunette with a tight black skirt and very high heels – came in with a pitcher of iced water and filled two glasses with quick discretion, then left with a nod.

“So, are you married?” Jaden asked. Someone had to start the small talk after all.

“No.”

“Engaged?”

“No.” He reached for his water, and took a long sip.

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I’m just trying to make conversation.”

“I understand, but … since we are on the subject, I think there is something you should know.”

“Ok.”

“I’m gay, Jaden.”

“Does Tico know?” Awkwardly, it was her first thought and she asked it out loud.

“Yes,” he said with a short laugh.

Of course he does. Now it became clear. “That’s a big part of why he can’t use you.”

“Yes,” he nodded.

“You could have lied.”

“I could.”

Picking up her glass, Jaden used her finger to chase ice in her water. “I don’t know that I’ve ever known someone who’s gay.”

“I’m sure you have, maybe you just weren’t aware of it.”

“I know, weird right?”

He shrugged at her with a smirk.

“So, you and I don’t ever get to have sex, is that what you’re saying?”

“Tempting – but no,” he laughed. Instantly, Bryan liked this girl.

***

A few weeks later and alone in the hallway, Bryan stared at the large white door to Jaden’s apartment and wondered if he should even attempt knocking. He seriously doubted she’d hear it over the loud music. Then the door suddenly swung open and Jaden stood before him, looking casually pert in a plain, white T-shirt and torn jeans with bare feet. “Well?” she waved him in. “What are you waiting for out there? Get in here.”

The music got even louder as he walked into the apartment.

“Nice music,” he said sarcastically, “is that heavy breathing I hear?”

She laughed and led him into the living room. “I like it.”

“What about your neighbors? Do they like it?”

Walking over to the stereo, she lowered the volume, and then pulled her shoulder-length hair up and tied it in a messy knot with an elastic from her wrist. “I own this apartment. Besides,” she took his arm and steered him down a long hallway, “they should be glad I’m doing it in the afternoon. It could be midnight. In any case, this is your first visit here, so let me give you the grand tour.”

It was a nineteenth floor corner-suite, with cathedral ceilings and incredible, massive windows everywhere giving two different, breathtaking views over the skyline: the open lake and the downtown core of Toronto as it lined the shore.

“I can only imagine what the view looks like at night,” he said.

Considering her wealth, Bryan found the apartment modest. Her decor was simple – neo-classic with very modern art. The color was mostly ivory with rich color splattered here and there throughout the spacious three-bedroom condo. It was comfortable and yet obviously, not too comfortable. It just looked staged like a luxurious hotel suite to him.

They had become friends as well as business associates, and Bryan quickly understood what Tico and Alicia loved about this girl. Not only did Jaden give the Castellaino’s something that they longed for – while they had two grown sons, they had always wanted a daughter – they fulfilled something in her, and he could see it every time she was with them. She longed for their love and acceptance, and they fit like family. Now it included Bryan – brought into the family fold, he liked it, and Jaden was the center of it.

They had already registered a corporation name, a parent company for many to follow. To the world, Bryan had control over the investment corporation known as The Emerald Group. In essence, Jaden had control over Bryan.

When the tour was finished, Jaden took Bryan to the kitchen. He took a seat at the marble island. “We’ve acquired that lakefront property in Oakville,” he told Jaden. “The widow went for our second offer.”

Jaden fiddled with a coffee maker on the opposite counter, and then she turned to him, “Want a cappuccino?” In a hushed tone as though it were forbidden, she added, “I’m going to have one.”

“How do you handle all the caffeine you consume daily?”

“It’s my one vise. I’m addicted and not ashamed of it. Do you want one or not?”

“Of course.”

“You know I just seem to corrupt people,” she said with a sigh.

He laughed. Here, he’d just announced that they had acquired prime real estate – meaning that together with the neighboring properties they’d also recently bought, she could virtually name a price and perhaps as high as double her money for the land alone – yet Jaden appeared more interested in her cappuccino maker. Even so, he’d learned that very little escaped her.

After adding the milky froth to their steaming cups, they went to the living room where solid beams of sunlight dissected the entire room. Jaden curled into an Italian blue leather chair in the corner while holding her cup and Bryan took the leather sofa.

She gave him a big smile. “God, you’re so good-looking, you know that?”

He laughed. “So you’ve mentioned a few times.”

“You must get hit on all the time.”

“Not as much as you do I’m sure.”

“Haha.”

“Are we doing dinner tonight?”

“If you want.”

“Oh, I almost forgot.” She jumped up and put her cup down on a side table. “I have something to show you.”

“Oh?”

Smiling furtively, Jaden walked over to the sofa, her midriff inches from Bryan’s face, and began to undo her jeans. Her eyes never wavered from his as her fingers deliberately undid each button on her button-fly jeans. His mind raced as he watched her jeans drop to the floor. He instantly felt hot and uncomfortable with her there, so close, in a sexy pair of light blue, laced panties. Then her hand softly slid over is right shoulder and came to rest there. The situation had him blind-sided when her voice broke into his panic, “So…can you guess?”

He looked up at her. “Guess what?”

“Guess what I have silly?”

His mouth felt dry and all he could do was shake his head.

She moved her pelvis closer to him and pulled down the left side of her panties. When he was about to make some sort of protest, he suddenly realized what was happening. “A tattoo?”

“Isn’t it great?”

Feeling a little foolish, he looked closely at the fresh image of a heart split in two and dripping. It was surrounded by a very cool black scroll design, and all together the tattoo ran across her bikini line and down the front of her thigh. “It looks amazing, but why is the heart green?”

“Jade,” she corrected him. “The color is Jade. Do you like it?”

“Yeah.” His pulse was still racing and he was ashamed of what he’d been thinking.

“Are you O.K.?” She tousled his hair.

“Yeah.” Bryan still couldn’t look directly at her.

“Can you say anything else?” Then, it occurred to her. “You didn’t think…”

He looked up and rolled his eyes.

“I don’t believe you!” Jaden laughed. “Give me some credit.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? You make it sound unimaginable.” As odd as it seemed, he now wondered why she wouldn’t want him.

“Oh yes,” she sat next to him, still in her underwear, “what woman would want a six-foot-three, muscularly gorgeous man who also happens to be sensitive, caring and a whole lot of fun?”

“Funny.”

“If I thought, even for a moment, that you wanted me,” Jaden shook her head. “I guess I just thought that since you didn’t have any sexual feeling toward women, it’d be alright for me to treat you like one of the girls. I didn’t think seeing me in my underwear would affect you.”

“It didn’t affect me.”

She looked down at his lap, “Really?” Picking up her jeans, she asked, “Can I put these on in front of you, or should I do that behind you?”

“I’m sorry.” Bryan ran a hand through his hair.

“I didn’t mean to insult you.” She slipped her jeans on in front of him. “I guess I’m just getting too comfortable.”

“I like comfortable,” he said. He reached up for her, pulled her down on the sofa and held her close. “And I like what we have. Don’t ever change who you are.”

***

One mid-afternoon a few weeks later Bryan arrived at Jaden’s apartment. The weather outside was miserable as rain pelted down with vengeful force and the skies crackled loudly following impressive lightning displays. He noticed that her mood was unusually pensive, but he had to excuse himself to her home office to make some important phone calls.

Finished his calls, Bryan removed his tie as he headed down the long hallway to the living room and then, he stopped at the end of the hall.

Jaden was curled with her legs to her chest on the windowsill, and a book at her feet. He thought if he were a painter, he’d make his fortune by capturing that image. It was an exceptional glimpse of a female beauty clearly bound by emotion.

Her hand slid up the glass and her finger connected one raindrop to another as she faced the fog covered skyline. Bryan recognized the pain in her expression. He’d noticed it before. Always vaguely veiled, but it was there, hidden behind her exquisite two-toned, blue-brown eyes.

Bryan walked up behind her and slipped his arms around Jaden, looking out over the darkening harbor of the lake with her. The skyline had almost completely disappeared behind fog.

“Where do you go, when you get like this?”

“I remember.” She remembered falling in love for the first time. She remembered trusting him, and unfortunately she still remembered being lied to, cheated on and left in one fell swoop, without ever seeing it coming. She remembered being destroyed. “I can change everything,” Jaden said with a sob as her hand went to her forehead in frustration, pushing back her hair, “but my memory. How do I change that?”

Bryan rubbed her back.

“Outside is where all my strength is. Inside, I still see the illusion surrounding me, and I feel haunted by it.”

“He was a fool. You didn’t lose anything. He did.”

“I can still remember one night especially, after he’d left. Everything was closing in. I was terrified. There was so much to cope with and I felt so alone after he was gone. I hadn’t slept in weeks because of the anxiety.” She hesitated as her mind bordered between then and now. “I constantly felt sick and I had pain in my chest. There were so many nights I found it almost impossible to breathe. I honestly thought at times that it would just end, that I would just stop breathing and my life would be over.” Jaden started to cry.

“But, it didn’t.”

“No, it didn’t. But I can’t escape that pain.”

“It takes time. You can’t erase so many feelings in just one year. Someday, you’ll trust yourself to be loved by someone again.”

She wiped the tears away. “I have no interest in falling in love with anyone again.”

“You need time.” He pulled her close and cradled her head against his chest. “I love you.”

Her sullen gaze never left the window. “I couldn’t imagine my life without you. You’re such a precious gift.”

He wondered if she’d heard him, while Jaden was left wondering if he really meant what he’d just said.

***

With eyes closed, Jaden’s head twisted to the side as her back arched in pleasure, leaving her playmate to grin with pride as his final thrusts left her moaning softly. Frank Ferro owned a popular downtown bistro that she liked to frequent, and they had spent some time together over a few weeks.

He was lost in satisfaction, heavily breathing, when her words broke into the reverie, “It’s a shame this’ll be our last time together.”

With pulses still racing, and stunned by her statement and timing, he looked at her, “What are you talking about?”

Sitting up on the bed, Jaden ran her fingers through her hair matter-of-factly. “I’m leaving for New York in two days.” Sliding to the edge, she stood. The afternoon sun broke through her bedroom window, illuminating her perfect bare torso as she stretched. “Please don’t act surprised. You knew I intended to move there.”

Resting on his side, he watched her. “I didn’t know how soon, besides, I thought we’d still continue the relationship. New York isn’t far.”

Disappearing into her walk-in closet with a laugh, Jaden came out wearing a white bathrobe. “I don’t think so. I mean, this was never really a relationship.”

When she turned to leave the room, Frank leapt from the bed and spun her around by the arm to face him. “It’s not that simple. I care for you, Jaden.”

“Frank…I’m sorry if I ever gave you the impression that I felt that way.” Her brow was arched in defiance as she sharply pulled her arm from his grasp.

“I was falling in love with you!”

“You don’t even know me. Think about it. What do you know about me, really? What happened to make me this way? Why am I going to New York?” She was angry now and threw her arms in the air. “You don’t know. You know absolutely nothing about me, so how could you possibly love me? Good sex is not love, Frank.”

Jaden couldn’t tolerate men who used that word to keep what they wanted for the moment. And too many women were too quick to fall for it. Love is a painful trap.

“I’m going to take a shower. I’ll expect you gone before I finish,” she said.

“What about tonight? We had plans.”

“I made other plans for this evening, sorry Frank. It’s just better to cut it off this way.” Then she disappeared into the bathroom and locked the door behind her. She heard a loud bang – likely the bedroom door as Frank left making his hurt audibly obvious.

She turned on the bath water and still feeling a little shaky, she walked over to the vanity and leaned on it. Looking in the mirror, she whispered, “Love is an illusion.” Then she dropped her robe to the floor, looked down at the image on her pelvis and softly touched the crack that separated it in two.

***

Now here Jaden was, on a plane to New York City – she toyed with a golden lock of hair as she continued to look out at the blue sky from the private charter window. It was never easy saying good-bye, but now her life would truly begin again, and it felt worth it. Jaden closed her eyes against the light and melted into the sun’s warmth. She had a fresh start ahead, and the demons of the past were gone or at very least, nearly forgotten.

“Excuse me, Ms. Porter?” The steward returned.

“Yes?” Her eyes stayed closed.

“I have to ask you to buckle up. We’ll be landing in a few moments.”

Glancing at her watch, the gold Cartier flashed in the light. Time had flown by quickly while lost in her reverie.

“Thank you.” Turning back to her window, Jaden’s hand touched the glass. New York. All the clouds were parting as the plane descended and slowly, patches of the city became visible – buildings, suburbs, and stretches of road everywhere – and all lined by water. Suddenly, she felt lightheaded. This was the infamous New York City beneath – and now – her new home.

 

CHAPTER 3

 

The cab came to an abrupt halt and the driver turned to look at his passenger. “Couldn’ta asked for a better first day of summer, huh miss?”

Passing the fare over to him with obvious disinterest, she exited the taxi without waiting for change, and stepping onto Sixth Avenue – officially known as Avenue of the Americas, though no real New Yorker would refer to it as that – Kysia made her way across the crowded courtyard toward the impressive Speck Communications and Entertainment building.

She now represented many of Speck Music’s most powerful clients, and since returning to her hometown her tough edge had only intensified, which meant, that although she had a great deal of respect from those around her, not everyone liked Kysia. She’d proven too successful to overlook and due to that fact, she’d gotten used to treating people any way she chose.

Her day had already begun in full swing with a meeting at the Plaza Hotel to address a mess – a comment foolishly blurted by one of the artists under her wing during a recent interview with a prominent magazine.

“He’s out of control, and frankly, I’m getting tired of this,” Henry Griffen said emphatically.

Sipping her water, Kysia then slowly set the glass back on the table. “Henry, I…”

Without allowing her to finish, the stout, slightly balding editor cut her off, “Don’t. I don’t want to hear it. You realize that printing his comments ver batem would create a noteworthy scandal. And it would sell.”

A soft smile played on her lips. This was her life, and with the right price, she’d have her way. She always did. “You don’t want that.”

“Why would I opt, yet again I might add, to make your boy seem like the all-American nice guy you want him to be, when he isn’t?”

“You make icons, not tear them down. Fever is a tasteful, positive and tactful magazine.”

“You forgot powerful. People believe what we print, Kysia.”

“Which is why Speck is such a large advocate of Fever, and its’ interests.” She studied Henry. He was a solid cornerstone at Fever magazine, starting two years after its premiere almost twenty years ago, and he rarely granted private meetings with the exception of a handful of people.

It was her confident tenaciousness that won him over shortly after her return to New York, and the fact that he almost always accepted her phone calls and granted such private meetings had her peers overtly impressed, and even jealous. Fever dictated what was in vogue, hot trend and politically correct, from fashion and the arts, to the senate.

“I don’t need to be reminded of the support we get from Speck, and I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that this is a two-way street.”

“Are you agreeing to clean up the interview?”

Henry Griffen absently turned his water glass in a circle. There was something he wanted from Speck, and Dilibero’s abrasive interview was going to save him from calling in favors of his own. “I could.”

“And what will it take?”

“I want Holly Sutton for our next cover.”

“She’s scheduled for another cover, and it’s supposed to be an exclusive.”

“Yes, I know that. But, she’s had a baby, left her husband and she’s releasing her third album after a hiatus. It should be a Fever exclusive.” He knew it wouldn’t be an easy task even for the infamous Kysia Saxon. The other magazine she could handle, but it wasn’t a secret that Holly Sutton strongly disliked Kysia.

Her index finger tapped on the table as she thought about it. Next to Fever, Face To Face was another powerful magazine. They wouldn’t tolerate sharing a cover with a competitor when they’d already been promised the noteworthy exclusive. “I won’t be able to get her withdrawn from the cover, but I may be able to open the door on the exclusive.”

“I could live with that.”

“Good.” Kysia stood. “I’ll confirm in less than forty-eight hours.”

Before she’d arrived at the office, Kysia had already placed calls to start the process for delivering on her morning meeting promise. Jamie Dilibero was an angry, rebellious nineteen year old who managed to snag the world by the tail with his talented voice and boyish good looks. The problem was, Speck Music had marketed him as the All-American-boy-next-door, and he was turning out to be anything but.

“You’re late.”

Kysia was barely off the elevator when her assistant, Rena, confronted her. Ignoring the comment, Kysia headed down the corridor to her office.

“Mr. Gysman expected you an hour ago. He’s already called down twice.”

Another Speck associate, Matthew Travers stopped her before she could get into her office. “We need to talk. Dilibero has a live interview in L.A. in two days.”

“Not now, Matthew.” Walking around him, Kysia went into her office and slammed the door.

“I’m calling Mr. Gysman to tell him you’re on your way up,” Rena shouted at the closed door.

Matt stared at the petite blonde next to him. “You have guts.”

“Well, I can’t say I wasn’t warned when they hired me. You just can’t take her too seriously. As far as Jamie goes, I think that’s why she’s late, so I wouldn’t push it right now.”

Kysia’s phone rang before she even reached her desk. Allowing it to ring a few times, she slid into her chair and ran her hands through her hair before picking up the receiver, “What?”

“Get your ass up to my office now.”  It was Stan Gysman, president of Speck Music Group.

Before she could reply, the line went dead.

***

Jaden rolled the limousine window down, allowing the warm air to wash inside as they entered Manhattan. Overwhelmed with exhilaration, she took in every building, every street vendor and every pedestrian. The energy of it all was intoxicating to her.

Turning onto Fifth Avenue, the driver informed her they were moments from the hotel. Then finally the limousine came to a stop, when promptly the door swung open and a white-gloved hand extended toward her. “Welcome to the Plaza Hotel.”

***

“Christ!” The receiver slammed down into the cradle. Pushing himself back into his navy leather winged chair, Stan Gysman let out a sigh. “Honestly, I don’t know who’s more difficult. Kysia or the artists she represents.”

Richard Colangelo, executive in charge of finance, only shrugged as he sat in the matching chair adjacent Gysman’s desk.

Agitated, the president of Speck Music stood and began to pace. Located on the top floor of the Speck complex, his prestigious office had two full walls of windows, complete with a spectacular view. The sprawling office also had a conference room, an exercise room, full private washroom, full bar and sitting room. As he wandered around the large office, his hand would occasionally glide over a piece of mahogany furniture as Richard silently watched.

A handsome man of his age, Stan Gysman was fifty-eight years old. His once dark hair was now silver and his steely gray eyes still burned with ambitious authority, and while it might seem so now, his position did not come easy to the man who appeared so fitted for the helm of control over Speck Music. He began his climb at the age of eighteen as a part-time field rep while attending college, and from there, it was a nasty, difficult struggle.

Returning to his desk, Stan leaned against it before Richard.

“Have you seen this?” Richard held out a memo.

Retrieving reading glasses from his desk, Stan put them on and took the paper. “I think so. So what? People fight for our stock every day.”

Richard straightened in his chair. “It may not seem unusual to you, but we should definitely keep an eye on it. This corporation is an investment group, and they’re suddenly very interested in adding us to their portfolio. I think the question is, why?”

Just as his intercom announced her arrival, Kysia walked through Stan’s door, and it closed with a loud thud behind her. “Well?” In a fitted black Lycra dress, sleeveless and short, Kysia stopped defiantly in front of Stan’s desk. “You wanted me – I’m here.”

Clearing his throat, Richard stood. “We’ll continue this tomorrow. Just give it some thought,” he said before leaving. He still couldn’t believe the manner Stan allowed Kysia Saxon to use with him. No one else could ever get away with such behavior.

“Did you really think you could sneak into this building without my knowing? I expected you first thing this morning.”

“I had more pressing issues,” she said bluntly.

“Jamie?”

“You know about Fever?”

“Did you manage to straighten it out?”

“Check with me tomorrow morning,” Kysia shrugged.

He looked at her for a long moment as she tugged at one of her gold loop earrings and Stan wondered, as he had so many times over the last year, if the rumors were true.

“Well?” Kysia snapped impatiently.

“He’s becoming a public relations nightmare,” Stan said with a sigh.

“One I’m living as we speak.”

“We need to get a handle on him.”

“I will,” promised Kysia.

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