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The costly scents of the finest imported champagne and custom-blended cologne fill my nostrils as I straddle his prone figure on the big bed. I love these beds at the Beverly Wilshire—plush and lovely, with soft Egyptian cotton sheets. Only the best for Enzo Alighieri. Including me.
"Fuck me now, my Valentine," he says, his elegant, Italian-accented voice rough with desire. "You know just how to do it, mi tesoro."
"Ah, Enzo . . ." I sigh in pleasure as I lower myself onto his erect cock.
I have always loved Enzo's cock. The skin is a deep gold, as it is all over his body, which is still fine and beautiful, no matter his age. He is strong, well muscled. And he has the stamina of a twenty-year-old. Which is the only way he manages to please his wife, his mistress, and me. And he does please me.
I squeeze the walls of my sex around his cock and he moans a little. Pleasure is swarming my system already and I smile down at him, moving my hips, grinding onto him.
"Touch me, Enzo."
He reaches up and takes my breasts in his hands, plumping them, kneading them, playing my hardened nipples between his fingers.
"Oh, yes . . ."
I reach back and slip my hand between his thighs, caressing his balls. He loves this. He loves my every touch, to hear my panting breath, to watch me come. Oh, yes, I know exactly what he loves, what he needs. It's my job to know. And I am nothing if not a perfectionist.
He pumps up into my body, shafts of pleasure filling me, spreading, making me shiver. One of his hands has snaked down and is teasing my clit, tugging, rubbing, pinching. He knows how to make me come. After all, we've been together nearly a decade, Enzo and I. My mentor, my friend. My client.
Why is that the most important part? But I don't want to question it as his thrusting hips take on a more urgent rhythm. His breath is a panting gasp now, and I feel him tense beneath me.
"Ah, just another moment, Enzo. Give it to me . . . I know you can do it."
"You will be the death of me, Valentine," he says, his voice rough.
But he does it, pistoning into me, his clever fingers never leaving my throbbing clit, my swollen nipple, until I'm coming in a flood of heat onto his thick, lovely cock.
"Oh, yes . . ."
I throw my head back, let it wash over me. And he tenses beneath me, cries out, his hands going to my hips, his fingers digging into my flesh.
And I catch that scent I adore, the scent of arousal, the scent of come, beneath his expensive cologne. And underlying it all, the scent of money.
I learned about something called suspension of disbelief a number of years ago in one of my English lit classes. This is when a writer must make the reader buy into the unusual long enough to be drawn in and believe in the world the writer has created.
It's something like that with my line of work. Our clients must suspend their disbelief long enough to believe the girl likes it. My particular "talent," if you want to call it that—my particular perversion, really—is that they don't have to do that with me. The truth is, I love it.
This is my dirty little secret. Because this is supposed to be taboo among the professionals of my world. Call girls. Prostitutes. Hookers. It doesn't matter what you call us. The fact is, I get paid for sex. And it's the only kind of sex I can get off on.
Who knew a nice Jewish girl from the Valley could end up here? Well, half Jewish, anyway, my father being a lapsed Catholic. And maybe I've never been all that nice.
I grew up in Van Nuys. Van Nuys is possibly the most generic, boring place on earth. Middle class, cardboard-box houses that all look the same, block after block. The entire area looks as though a dull film has settled over it.
My family was at the lower end of the middle class. Not that we were poor. We always had a roof over our heads, food on the table. My father, a construction foreman, worked a lot, but he spent his money anywhere but at home. My mother never did much other than drink. Strange that he wasn't the drinker. Jews don't tend to be drinkers. Not that it ever stopped my mother. But my life has been a combination of the utterly dull and the most perverse, in every way, on every level. Classic hard life story, I know, but that's my story. Or it was. Too fucking bad.
I make a lot of money. Enough to keep me very comfortable in my Hollywood Hills home. Enough to pay for the expensive clothes I buy at Barney's and Kitson, my weekly facials and massage at the spa. Enough to pay for the breezy little Mercedes I drive, if it hadn't been a gift from a happy client. This is why I do it.
Actually, that's a lie. It's what I tell myself when I'm not in the mood for the kind of deep, soul-searching honesty that keeps me up at night. How I justify it in the most basic, simple terms.
The truth, or part of it, anyway, is that I began in this business because I needed to distance myself from what I was before. From that lower-middle-class Jewish girl from the Valley whose mother was always passed out on the couch, surrounded by a sticky puddle of whatever she was drinking on the floor, the overflowing ashtrays. Repulsive. I won't even allow my clients to smoke around me. If they don't like it, they can find another girl. I'm at a point in my career where I can make a few demands of my own, and I do.
I am someone else entirely now.
I look different. I am different. No one from my old life would even recognize me. And truly, I wouldn't care if they did. My life before this is almost in another dimension, in my mind. I like it that way.
I don't look like the average girl from the Valley. My one gift from my mother is a fine-featured, beautiful face. I don't mean to be vain; I am beautiful. People who pretend not to know these things are full of crap. I have long legs, a great body, hard and tight, even this close to thirty. My brown hair, highlighted in gold and caramel, hangs in layers almost to my waist. Most men prefer long hair on a woman, so I rarely cut it. My eyes are green, without the colored contacts the other girls wear. High cheekbones, a full, lush mouth. My ass is superb. I've been told so often enough. But what really gets them is that I love what I do. I love sex. I don't care who I'm doing it with. I just like to fuck. I like to suck cock. I love the anonymity of these men not knowing who I really am. I get off on it.
But there's one catch. I have to get paid.
I have never had an orgasm with a man unless he's paying to have sex with me. My first trick was like an epiphany. The moment he handed that wad of cash over into my greedy little hand, my body started to heat up, my legs began to shake, and I was coming almost as soon as he touched me. That's when it became magic for me.
Which brings me to Italian film producer Enzo Alighieri.
He was one of my first clients. Enzo found me at this cheap call girl outfit where I got my start. And he knew right away I was different from the other girls there. He told me I was too beautiful, in his lovely Italian accent. I adored him on the spot. Not the way a normal woman might adore a lover. It was never that complicated. I liked him the moment he walked into the room. So sophisticated. Elegant. And he's sexy. He really is, even at nearly seventy now. He has that commanding air about him; I'm sure everyone else in his life kowtows to him. Everyone but me. He lets me get away with anything.
I understand perfectly well that I'm nothing more than a sort of pet to him. A project. And a priceless piece of ass. He often tells me so. But it was Enzo who took me under his wing, got me out of that dump of a whorehouse in Hollywood, and made me go to school.
Yes, school. Because if you're going to be what amounts to a modern-day American geisha, a 21st-century courtesan, you must be well educated, just as the geishas are. Just as the old Venetian courtesans were.
In addition to having studied history, literature, business, and political science, I now know how to play golf and tennis, although not too well. Men prefer to win, don't they? I read the Wall Street Journal and Forbes. I've studied massage therapy, I know wine. I've learned to speak German, a little French and Italian, and even a few words of Japanese and
Arabic, both of which are a necessity in my line of work.
The Middle Eastern rich have tons of money. More than the usual wealthy do, and they aren't at all shy about spending it on whatever brings them pleasure. I admire that in a person. They're the ones who fly the girls to Miami for a week, to Europe, even. Give us entire wardrobes of designer clothes. They like to have a lot of girls at once. I don't mind. We all get paid, regardless, and it makes the workload a little easier. And the food is always superb. Unfortunately, I'm thinner than most of them like, so I don't get those dates the way some of my friends do. But once a man is with me, he'll always come back for more.
They can always tell, my clients. Even the most selfish, the most dense. They know right away that I'm into it, that my orgasms are the real thing. And these men are the sexual sophisticates of the world. They've had first-class ass in every corner of the planet: the pros in Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin.
I know I sound crude when I talk about these things, but this is a crude world. I'm not bitter, I swear it. I see the beauty in the world, too. I've spent far too much time around the rich and privileged to be blind to beauty, not to appreciate it. I love the ballet, could watch it for hours. I could wander every museum on earth and never get enough. My current obsession is art history, and I've been taking classes off and on for the last few years, soaking it all up. This is something I do purely for me. I may be a classless kid from the Valley, but I've learned about the rest of the world, seen enough to develop a real appetite for the finer things in life. And for me, art has become a necessity.
There is the gritty side to my lifestyle, of course. Even the girls at the top of this food chain can get into trouble. There was Trina, a gorgeous girl, new to the business, who was kidnapped and taken to some godforsaken place in Southeast Asia and never heard from again. These things happen, and when they do, when we working girls hear about it, it scares us, even if we pretend it doesn't. This job, as luxurious as it is, is not entirely without risk. But we keep doing it anyway, don't we? Some sick part of me gets off a little on the cheap thrill, I'll admit to that.
I don't like fast cars, in particular, and you'll never catch me climbing a mountain. My thrills are all of a sexual nature. Which makes me the perfect woman for this job. I am embedded in this life for the long haul. It suits me to a T. It makes having a "real" relationship entirely impossible. But the circumstances of my life since childhood have made that impossible anyway, so I've never minded. What other sort of life would I have? What would I even want? No, I'm perfectly fine right where I am.
The sun is beginning to lower in the sky as the cab exits the freeway and turns onto Grand Avenue. I love this time of day: the pale light turning the sky an ethereal shade of gold, like an iridescent film over the deepening blue. It's even lovelier now, in the fall, when that bit of moisture in the air, that first hint of the coming cooler weather, adds a pearly glow to everything. But it's difficult to really enjoy it; it's after seven and I'm running late. I hate being late, especially to meet a client. It's unprofessional. But the traffic was horrible, as usual in Los Angeles.
We pull up in front of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and I pay the driver. My cell phone goes off as I step out into the warm evening.
"This is Val."
"Val, it's Bennett. I'm not going to be able to make it tonight. A problem at the office."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. Shall we meet later?"
"No, no. This is going to keep me busy all night. But you shouldn't waste the tickets. It's opening night."
"I do love La Traviata."
This opera is the story of a prostitute. Why wouldn't I love it? And I've become a huge opera fan, thanks to Enzo's expert guidance.
"Enjoy it, then. I'll call you to reschedule in the next week or two."
"I hope you will, Bennett. I'm so sorry you have to work tonight and miss this."
"You can tell me all about it when I see you. Ah, there's my other line, I have to go."
I flip my phone shut, turn it off, and get my ticket at the will-call window, feeling a lovely sense of freedom at having the night off. Being able to enjoy the opera without having to be "on."
Of course, this also means no sex for me tonight. But for once, spending the evening on my own sounds even better. I realize I've been craving some time away from work lately. Strange for me. But I have been doing this most of my adult life. I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise. When was the last time I even took a small vacation-three years? Four?
Inside, the theater is cool, lovely in its stark modernity. The lights are bright, making me blink. I really would love a cocktail, but nearly everyone is seated already; I'd hate to be locked out of the first act.
From the Trade Paperback edition.