“So what's this I been hearing about you givin' up women? All the ladies tonight are talkin' about it. They're feeling neglected, you know what I'm sayin'?”
No use trying to explain to a twenty-two-year-old kid with freshly minted hundred-dollar bills stuffed into every pocket that the chase had gotten old. “I've been busy.”
“Too busy for pussy?”
Sean looked so honestly dumbfounded that Heath laughed. And, face it, the kid had a point. Everywhere Heath looked, ripe breasts spilled from plunging necklines, and tiny skirts cupped soft, sweet asses. But he wanted more than sex. He wanted the ultimate prize. Someone polished, beautiful, and sweet. He imagined his silver spoon wife, lithe and lovely, the calm in the center of his storm. She'd always have his back, keep his rough edges smoothed down. She'd be the woman who'd finally make him feel as though he'd achieved everything he'd dreamed of. Except playing for the Dallas Cowboys.
He smiled at his boyhood fantasy. That one he'd had to let go of, right along with his teenage plan to nail a different porn star every night. He'd gone to the University of Illinois on a football scholarship and played first team all four years. But as a senior, he'd accepted the fact that he'd never be good enough to be more than a third-stringer for the pros. Even then he'd known he couldn't dedicate his life to being anything but the best, so he'd turned his dreams in another direction. He'd gotten top marks on his LSATs, and an influential U of I alum had pulled the political strings that got him into Harvard. Heath had learned to utilize his brains, his street smarts, and his ability to camouflage himself so that he could fit in anywhere: a tenement, a locker room, the deck of a private yacht.
Although he made no secret of his country boy roots— flaunted them when he needed to—he didn't let anybody see how much dirt still clung to those roots. He wore the best clothes, drove the best cars, lived at the best address. He knew wine, even if he seldom drank it; understood the fine arts academically, if not aesthetically; and didn't need a reference book to identify a fish fork.
“I know what your problem is,” Sean said, mischief in his eyes. “Chicks here don't have enough class for Mister Ivy League. You rich guys like your ladies with big fancy monograms tattooed on their asses.”
“Yeah, so they match up with that big, fancy Harvard H I've got tattooed on mine.”
Sean started laughing, and the women drifted back to see what was so funny. A few years ago, Heath would have enjoyed their predatory sexuality. From the time he was a kid, women had been attracted to him. When he was thirteen, he'd been worked over by one of his father's girlfriends. Now he knew it had been sexual abuse, but at the time he hadn't understood, and he'd been so panicky and guilt stricken that he'd thrown up for fear of the old man finding out. One more sordid episode in a childhood filled with them.
He'd put most of the remnants of that childhood behind him, and the rest would disappear when he found the right woman. Or when Portia Powers found her for him. After spending the past year looking on his own, he'd realized the woman of his dreams wouldn't be hanging out in the clubs and sports bars where he spent his so-called leisure time. Still he'd never have thought of hiring a matchmaker if he hadn't seen a glowing article about Powers in Chicago magazine. Her impressive connections and formidable track record were exactly what he needed.
Annabelle Granger, on the other hand, wasn't. As a professional hard-ass, he didn't usually let himself get suckered in, but all that desperate earnestness had gotten to him. He remembered
her awful yellow suit, her big honey-colored eyes, those flushed round cheeks, and flyaway red hair. She'd looked as though she'd tumbled out of Santa's bag after a bad sleigh ride.
He should have kept his mouth shut about his wife hunt around Kevin, but how could he have known his star client's wife, Molly, would have a friend in the matchmaking business? As soon as Heath sat through the introduction he'd promised, Annabelle Granger and her screwball operation were history.
A little after one in the morning, Dean Robillard finally made his way to Heath's side. Despite the club's dim lighting, the boy still wore his Oakleys, but he'd ditched his sports coat, and his sleeveless white silk T-shirt showed off the Holy Grail of football shoulders—big, strong, and unmarred by arthroscopic surgery. Dean propped one hip on the empty bar stool that opened up next to Heath. As he extended his leg for balance, he revealed a tan leather cap-toe boot Heath had heard one of the women say was from Dolce & Gabbana.
“Okay, Champion, your turn to suck up.”
Heath set his elbow on the bar. “My condolences on your loss. McGruder was a good agent.”
“He hated your guts.”
“I hated his, too, but he was still a good agent, and there aren't a whole lot of us left.” He studied the quarterback more closely. “Shit, Robillard, you been bleaching your hair?”
“Highlights. You like 'em?”
“If you were any prettier, I'd want to date you.”
Robillard grinned. “You'd have to stand in line.”
Both of them knew they weren't talking about dating.
“I like you, Champion,” Robillard said, “so I'm going to tell you up front. You're out of the running. I'd be stupid to sign with the agent who's at the top of Phoebe Calebow's shit list.”
“The only reason I'm on that list is because Phoebe's cheap.” Not entirely true, but this wasn't the time to go into the complexities of his relationship with the owner of the Chicago Stars. “Phoebe doesn't like the fact that I won't roll over and play dead for her like everybody else. ”Why don't you ask Kevin if he has any complaints?"
“Yeah, well, Kevin happens to be married to Phoebe's sister and I don't, so the situation isn't exactly the same. The truth is, I already piss Mrs. Calebow off without even trying, and I'm not going to make it worse by hiring you.”
Once again, Heath's dysfunctional relationship with Phoebe Calebow was getting in the way of what he wanted. No matter how hard he tried to fix things with her, his early mistakes kept coming back to bite him in the ass. He never let the pressure show and only shrugged. “You gotta do what you gotta do.”
“You guys are all bloodsuckers,” Dean said bitterly. “You take two, three percent off the top, and for doing what? For pushing a few papers around. Big fucking deal. How many two-a-days have you sweated through?”
“Not as many as you, that's for damn sure. I was too busy getting As in my classes on contract law.”
Heath smiled back. “And just so we're straight… When it comes to those big endorsements I've been landing for my clients, I take a hell of a lot more than three percent off the top.”
Robillard didn't blink. “The Zagorskis are guaranteeing me Nike. Can you do that?”
“I never guarantee what I don't have in my pocket.” He took a sip of beer. “I don't bullshit my clients, at least about anything important. I also don't steal from them, lie to them, or disrespect them behind their backs. There's no agent in the business who works harder than I do. Not a one. And that's all I've got to offer.” He rose, pulled out his money clip, and slapped a hundred-dollar bill on the bar. “If you want to talk about it, you know where to find me.”
* * *
When Heath got home that night, he pulled the smudged invitation from his dresser drawer. He kept it lying around as a reminder of the gut-wrenching pain he'd felt when he'd first opened it. He'd been twenty-three.
You are cordially invited to attend the marriage of Julie Ames Shelton
Heath D. Campione
The Silver Anniversary Celebration of
Victoria and Douglas Pierce Shelton III
The Golden Anniversary Celebration of Mildred and Douglas Pierce Shelton II
East Hampton, New York
The wedding planner had sent him the invitation by mistake, not realizing he was the groom, which spoke volumes all by itself. For the first time he'd discovered his marriage to Julie was just one cog of a well-oiled family production. All his securities came crashing in. He'd known it was too good to be true, Julie Shelton falling in love with a guy who was grubbing his way through law school by cleaning out septic tanks.
“I don't see why you're so upset about this,” Julie had said when he'd confronted her. “The dates just worked out that way. You should be happy we're keeping up the tradition. Getting married on Valentine's Day is good luck in my family.”
“This isn't just any Valentine's Day,” he retorted. “Golden anniversary, silver anniversary . . . What would you have done for a husband if I hadn't come along on schedule?”