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Authors: Louise Bagshawe

Tags: #Romance, #Chick Lit

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BOOK: A Kept Woman
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I backed the right horse, Diana told herself, waving and smiling. Traffic slowed to a halt to let her carriage turn into St James’s and there was t.he church up ahead, a beautiful old Anglican pile of eighteenth-century honey coloured elegance, with a gratifyingly large posse of paparazzi parked right in front. Diana pulled her slim shoulders back and rearranged a few folds of chiffon and antique silk to give the best possible angle for the first shots. The light was going to be perfect, too. Everything

was going to be perfect.

She started to sing.

‘Going to the cha-pel, and I’m gonna get married…’

Chapter

Michael Cicero moved very slightly under his bedding. It was hard to move a body like his lightly. He was built for the boxing ring, not subtle ballerina-like shifts. But this morning he was motivated to try to shuffle lightly out of bed. For one thing, he had a hangover which was threatening to blow up his skull, and he figured that if he moved carefully enough, he might appease it. For another, there was a naked girl in his bed. On the face of it, that :was not too bad a way to wake up. The trouble was, he couldn’t remember her name.

He put his foot down gingerly on the bare hardwood floors of the tiny apartment. Glancing to his right, he saw two discarded rubbers about a foot from the bed. He grinned. One less thing to worry about, he thought, as he picked them up and threw them away. His place was minute, and not in the smartest area of town, but he kept it immaculately tidy. It was a matter of respecting yourself. Michael was big on respect; it was part of being Italian. He guessed it would be respectful to remember this chick’s name.

He scratched his dark head, but he still had no clue. What was the last thing he remembered? The Five Leafed Clover on Hudson, about 8 p.m., St Patrick’s Day and already a little buzzed. He must have picked her up there. Maybe she was Irish. The whole of Manhattan got a little bit Irish on March the seventeenth.

Michael padded to his bathroom, which was sectioned off from the rest of his studio flat by a dark wooden

 

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screen, and retrieved his robe. It was thick navy towelling. He did not like to be seen nude in the mornings by women he didn’t know in any sense other than biblically. Cicero wasn’t vain, and he had no idea how good he looked in the robe. The dark colour picked out his hazel eyes, a legacy from his French mother, rimmed with thick black lashes that were pure Italian. He would never be a pretty boy; his nose was crooked from where a Second Clan black belt had smashed up the bridge one Friday night, and he was big, too, with weightlifter’s arms and thick kickboxer thighs. The type of teenage girl who doted on Leonardo DiCaprio never looked twice at him.

But that was OK, because he didn’t like them, either. Michael liked women. Juicy, curvy girls like the one in the bed. Her face was buried in the pillow, but she had a nice handful of breasts and a gorgeous tight ass curving out of a flat belly. He felt his groin stir slightly. Even drunk, his radar for women was pretty good. She had dyed hair, which he normally didn’t like, but with a body like .that, he could excuse the lapse.

The dehydration started to kick in. Michael took a seltzer from the fridge and drank it straight down, barely pausing for breath. He felt slightly more human, and set the coffee pot to brew while he took a quick, quiet shower. The girl was snoring softly; she had probably been as out of it as he was. He shaved and looked at himself in the small mirror, then dressed in a white shirt and black suit. It wasn’t perfect, but it fit. He had six suits, all the same make and cut, three navy and three black. That way you didn’t have to worry about what you wore in the mornings.

Michael liked efficiency, especially when he had to get into work. It was his own firm, so nobody was going to fire him; but that was no excuse for slacking. He reported to the mirror, and Michael Cicero looked a tough boss. He was thirty and was going to make his business work,

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or drop dead trying. It might be small, but it was still his. He dressed and acted for what he wanted his publishing firm to be.

The coffee finished perking as he fixed his cuff links.

‘He got the shirts sent over from a woman in England, an old girlfriend, married to another man now but still a little in love with him. Michael preferred the European style of shirts, with holes in the cuffs for links to pull them together. He had to walk up six flights to his studio apartment, but his shoes were shined once a week, his hair was short, and his dress was as smart as it could be without any real money.

You didn’t mess with Michael Cicero, in his office or out of it. He poured two mugs of hazelnut coffee, black and steaming, and took one over to the woman, shaking her awske gently, holding the liquid under her nose.

‘Wake up, sugar.’ He grinned at his own foolishness. You really didn’t need a name at all. All girls had the same name. Sugar, aka Baby. It worked with everyone from old ladies to high-school cheerleaders.

‘Ohh.’ She groaned, and sat up, which made her small tits sway in a manner that almost made him decide to be late for work. ‘Where am I?’

Michael wrapped her fingernails round the mug. They were too long. He couldn’t stand the vogue for girls to have these take-your-eye-out monstrosities at the end of their hands. He was. scratched all along his back, the soap had stung this morning. Guess she had enjoyed herself.

‘You’re on Leonard Street, downtown between West Broadway and I-Fadson.’

‘Sure,’ she said, uncertainly.

Her eyes focused and she gave a little start, like it was coming back to her. Her nipples hardened into tiny pink buds, and she drew back her shoulders and tossed her long hair.

 

‘Oh Mikey, you were so great. I don’t think it’s ever been like that.’

He passed his rough hands over her skin, cupping her breasts, and kissed each nipple. Hell, it was only polite. She gave a delicious little shiver and threw back the cotton sheets invitingly. There was a nice curve to her leg, but her toenails were painted, which was a bad sign. She was the kind of girl who was great to fuck, but not to talk to.

‘You flung me over your shoulder and carried me right out of Mick Rooney’s!’ She giggled. ‘You’re very strong.’

Memory flooded back. Her name was Denise. Great. He hadn’t been wearing beer goggles last night, but looked like he’d had beer earmuffs on. She was giggling and pouting and she used a breathy, little-girl voice that was very annoying.

‘Thanks, Denise. You were great too.’

Her face fell. ‘It’s Elise.’

‘I said Elise. But drink your coffee now, baby. I’d love

to stfiy and play but I have to get to work.’ ‘Can’t you take the day off?’ ‘No,’ Michael said, bluntly.

He was remembering the sex now. It had been OK; he’d moved her around the room pretty good. She had clutched and moaned at him. At the time he had hardly noticed her scratching him.

Elise stood up and bent over, picking up her scattered miniskirt and ankle boots and tight vest and jean jacket. Michael moved closer to her and rubbed his hands over her ass. She had a great ass, definitely. She was eager and

thrust back against him while he played with her. ‘Can I see you again?’

‘Sure. Get dressed, and I’ll go get a pen.’

She obediently tugged on her clothes, not bothering to take a shower. Michael winked at her as he made a. big

 

12.

 

show of writing the number down, then walked her to the door, opening it firmly as she clutched at him.

Another ship in the night he never wanted to see again. He drank a second straight mug of black coffee, letting it ‘slightly scorch his throat to wake him up. He was late, and he fought back the queasiness from the toxins swimming around his system.

The early rush-hour traffic beeped and honked faintly six floors below him. Welcome to another morning in Manhattan.

 

Green Eggs Books was Michael’s dream. His father had a restaurant out on City Island, a popular place serving real southern Italian food, no Caesar salads, just herby bread and olive oil. He always left the bottle of Sambuca on the table with the espresso when his customers were done. It was a ral good business, and his gelati were famous enough that he was thinking of adding an ice-cream parlour to the trattoria. He could have used the help, but Michael had doggedly gone his own path, so doggedly that the old man had given up. He complained, but he was proud. He liked the kid’s bullheadedness.

The fact was that Michael Cicero, unexpectedly, unusually, liked books. He had never read any as a kid; his dad was big on softball but not so big on the local library. When Michael’s mother died of breast cancer, he was only four, and his father had struggled to bring up the boy and his two sisters and keep food on the table. They shopped cheap for the lagt cuts of chicken and meat that the stores discounted towards the end of the day, and Francesco cooked everything up in a few pots and the four of them dined like princes even though they lived like paupers. One day an aunt dropped by the apartment, and left a smoked ham and an old encyclopedia she didn’t want. Michael was bored, and he started to read. Within a few months he had soaked up most of it. He

 

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was like a sponge, and outpaced most of the kids at Junior High School 24, a mundane name for a mundane school in the Bronx. After that it was a scholarship to St Jacob’s and a mile walk with another on the bus, there and back, every day. Michael loved it. He was out of the apartment, and he really got a chance to read. He had a passion for stories. Ancient Roman histories, trarslations of Alexander the Great, fantasies, novels. He read Les Miserables in ten days straight, doing nothing but reading, staying up sometimes till z a.m. using a candle by his bedside instead of the flashlight which might have alerted his dad.

College would have been nice but Michael was white and male and free of obvious disabilities, unless you counted a disastrous haircut and a passion for Kung-Fu movies. He lost scholarship places to women with worse grades than his, and his natural sexism deepened. There were always enough girls hanging around for him to be cocky and arrogant; though he was bookish he was also tough. He didn’t enjoy team sports because he was too much of a loner, but he started curling his first weights at nine years old and never really stopped.

When he was thirteen Michael took up karate. There was no point wasting time with hockey and ball when the school gang beat him up for his lunch money every second day. Two months into his training, Michael kicked the hell out of the ringleader, and never got bothered again. He even beat up a few kids himself. If he ever looked back he might have been ashamed, but Michael didn’t waste too much time examining his conscience. That was then; that was life on the street. Kick or be kicked.

The girls spoiled him. They did his homework, and tidied up his room. He had a way of blunt speaking some chicks seemed to enjoy. He paid on dates, even if a ‘date’ consisted of a soda and a candy bar at the local Fiv.e and

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Dime, but he didn’t compromise. If a girl complained about his karate schedule, they broke up. It never bothered Michael, because there was always another honey right there to take her place.

He thought of women as weak and pretty, future wives and mothers. He didn’t mind if a girl was smart. In fact, he couldn’t stand stupidity. He wasn’t great at the bar pick-up game, because if a girl was stupid, Michael had an irresistible urge to tell her so.

Last week he’d hit some place on the West Side with his friend Big Steve who lived out in Westchester. Big Steve was still teasing him about the way the chick of the night had sat next to him, put her hand on his forearm and, gazing into his eyes, spilled out the story of her screwed-up life. Michael turned to her and said, ‘You know, I really don’t want to hear your sob stories. I just met you:’ She was offended. Too bad. He was no good at pretending to be interested in bullshit.

The fact that women took the scholarship places when they had lower grades made him angry, but he took it on the chin. Columbia offered him a place to read political science, but he hated the attitude of the professors, so he left. In the end he attended a local college, and worked four jobs to pay for his tuition. His father hung Michael’s diploma on the kitchen wall in his restaurant. It meant even more to Francesco than to Michael; his father had been a peasant from Naples right off the boat, and now his son was a Master of Arts. He backed off from the restaurant idea. His daughters, Maria and Sophia, had both made good marriages. Franesco was sure that Michael would do well, too.

Michael had taken out a bank loan and founded a tiny publishing company, for children’s books, operating out of the East Village. He had faith that there was a huge market for children that just wasn’t being reached. Kids like himself, kids who would love to read if only they gbt

 

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the opportunity, if they could be taught about letters by something other than Sesame Street. The market was out there for sure. He just had to find it.

He hired one assistant and talked to a friend from college, Joe. Joe’s father owned a printing press and agreed to put out a small print run if Michael could come up with something to print. That was the trouble. He advertised for writers in the Village Voice, and got flooded with rubbish, full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. It was a huge mistake. Michael got his phone number changed so he didn’t waste all day telling so-called children’s novelists why their stuff wasn’t going to make it.

After two months he had impatient creditors, a bored secretary, and not much time. The truth was, he knew nothing about publishing.

Francesco gave him the idea that saved him.

‘Sure, there’s good stuff out there,’ he said, considering it pretty hard for a man who mostly read menus. ‘It’s just mogt of the good writers are dead. They died hundreds of years ago. Nobody writes like that any more.’

It was the answer. Michael bolted from his seat and drove back to his office. He could re-issue children’s classics, and never have to pay the writers a cent. Edward Lear was as dead as a dodo, and after a while his stuff went into what was called ‘public domain’ - you didn’t have to pay for it. It took him a week to find Seth Green: a smart, gay kid at NYU with a mad talent for drawing. He knocked out a version of The Owl and the Pussycat in three days. Joe’s father gave them a break on the

BOOK: A Kept Woman
13.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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