Madeline Roussoux has it all: money, a dozen houses, a private jet, a cruise ship, even a tiger. Everyone knows her name. Her every move is watched, absorbed, adored, and abhorred by the public. She’s a dazzling spectacle on the society scene—a beautiful, flamboyant poster child for American privilege and Hollywood celebrity.
And she's never felt more alone.
All the wealth in the world can’t make up for Maddy’s losses. Her father’s suicide and her mother’s ensuing breakdown left her orphaned as a teenager. She survived, but barely. From stints in rehab to a string of failed marriages, her dazzling smile hides deep scars. Finally, losing Sol DuMont, the one person she ever truly loved, has her wondering what is the point of being surrounded by people when you’re perpetually on your own?
Enter Darren Sanders. He’s a beautiful Texas boy with a big heart and a bigger smile; the type of man women go crazy for. Literally. When Darren’s ex stalks him and then makes an attempt on his life, circumstances find him off to New Orleans with none other than Maddy Roussoux. He thought he knew everything there was to know about her, but there’s more to the woman whose image graces the covers of magazines worldwide, and Darren finds himself drawn into a world of excess he never imagined possible.
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The Queen of Dauphine Street
THANKS TO THE tongue flicking at her fun parts, Maddy Roussoux was having a fantastic night. The blond girl whose face she sat on was petite, barely five feet tall, with softball-sized fake tits and a tattoo of a peacock on her tailbone. She’d been the cutest thing at Montgomery’s Bar and Grill with her short skirt and cowboy boots, so Maddy had done what Maddy did best, and two hours later they were in the Dallas Diamond Hotel, playing a rousing game of Who Comes First?
Spoiler alert: the blonde did.
But it was Maddy’s turn just then, and her brown eyes narrowed as the mouth worked her, laving back and forth. The girl had never fucked a woman before, but Maddy’s hands-on (or perhaps mouth-on was more accurate) instructions were detailed. The girl had learned fast. And well. And Maddy was edging closer and closer to a rather lovely come with . . .
Er . . .
What was her name?
Maddy’s head rolled back, her eyes fixing on the lovely patterned ceiling.
It’s a C-name.
Carlie? Candy? Cameron?
. . . Shit.
It didn’t matter so much now, but it would later, when the pillow talk happened. Either Maddy had to rely on her go-to nickname of “dove,” or she’d have to actually remember before she made any unfortunate gaffes that would let Blondie know she was just the result of too much champagne and line dancing.
I don’t know your name, but hey, thanks for the orgasm!
Orgasm. Right. I’m getting close.
Maddy’s breath caught in her throat; her nipples hardened. She murmured and licked her lips, grinding herself down on that pretty face with the off-kilter fake eyelashes and the Kardashian-esque contouring.
“Faster,” she hissed, grabbing that Texas-blond hair and balling it into a fist. She tugged on the girl’s soft tresses, hard enough that the girl’s eyes flew open. Maddy shifted her weight on her knees and whimpered. Higher, higher Maddy climbed, closing in on that perfect moment with the silicone-injected lips nestled right up against her clit. It was right there, right there, right there, and then . . .
Two seconds later she let loose with a howl as pulse after pulse rocked through her body. She humped down, drowning the girl beneath her in wet before slumping forward into the hotel headboard, musical giggles escaping her scarlet lips.
Maddy emerged from her penthouse suite resplendent in her strapless red Versace dress, Valentino heels, and patent-leather Gucci purse. Carmine had left hours ago—to get home to her husband, she admitted—which Maddy found delightful. Either they had an open relationship, or Miss Carmine didn’t think that infidelity counted because she was with another lady. It was only two fingers and a tongue, after all.
Maddy paused at the belly-high railing of the balcony on the top floor of The Diamond. It was a glittering hotel, all chrome and glass, with black-and-white marble floors topped by Oriental rugs and leather couches, and a fake fireplace along the back wall because Dallas never got cold enough for real fires. The check-in desk was centered before a two-story water feature, the cascading sheet of water skimming over a rough, faux rock wall with decorative lights. Cherubs with gilded loincloths adorned the corners of the room where ornate dentil-molding met.
Alex DuMont ran the place—her former brother-in-law—and she stepped into the elevator so she could pay the man himself a visit. When Maddy was married to Sol, Alex had been a constant source of entertainment, though not really by his own design. He was a good Catholic who went to Mass every week and could have advised the Pope himself on matters of Church doctrine. Maddy’s hedonistic lifestyle made him twitch; she flew here, there, and everywhere, eating, drinking, fucking, and snorting to her heart’s content.
She’d quit the last after the nosebleeds started, but there’d been a time, early in her destined-to-fail marriage to Sol, when they’d had a little too much fun.
Lately, her fun was more slanted toward poking Good Catholics with sticks and watching them writhe.
I’m such an asshole.
A lovable asshole, according to her best friend, Tempy, but an asshole all the same.
The elevator descended to the base floor, the doors opening with a perky chime. She sauntered toward the black lacquered check-in desk. Behind the counter, a woman in a charcoal-gray pantsuit and a black hijab was busily typing into a computer. Maddy could see herself in the reflection of the woman’s glasses and she leaned forward, elbows perched on the counter, chin nestled in her palm. She eyed the woman’s name tag: Najmah.
“Hello, dove. I’m looking for Alex DuMont.”
For a moment, it looked like Najmah wasn’t going to accommodate her—most requests to go straight to the hotel manager at high-end hotels were put to bed quickly and efficiently—but Najmah’s head tilted to the side and she smiled. “Miss Roussoux, yes?”
“Mmm-hmm. Alex’s former sister-in-law. He loves me.”
When he doesn’t want to exorcise me.
If he wanted to exercise me, that’s different. Alex is delicious. Too bad he’s such a fuddy-duddy.
Najmah nodded and reached for the phone. “I think Alex has a guest right now, but let me check.”
“Tell him I’ll wait until he’s free. And that I’ve rented his penthouse for the week and it’s his professional obligation to keep me happy so he can have more of my money.”
It didn’t take long for Najmah to get Alex live, and for a short but polite conversation to occur. Maddy gazed at Najmah the entire time, flashing all zillion capped, white shark teeth at the woman whenever they made eye contact. Najmah indulged her, matching the smiles, though Maddy was pretty sure in any other circumstance, Najmah would consider macing her, which wasn’t really unwarranted. Maddy, at five ten, tended to loom, and she was a massive flirt.
“Of course, Alex.” Najmah hung up the phone and motioned Maddy to follow behind her. “This way, Miss Roussoux. He does have a guest, but it’s a friend.”
“Oh goody, someone new. We like new.”
Najmah led her past the waterfall and to a glass door artfully tucked off to the side, the lighting done in such a way that only those who’d know to look for the entryway would find it. Najmah slid a card through the security lock and in they went, down a hallway with antique-looking rose print wallpaper and polished hardwood floors. Decorative rugs, small tables with flowers in vases, and tasteful art gave it a homey feel, which contrasted starkly with the ultrasleek, modern front of The Diamond.
“It’s a little bit country. How quaint,” Maddy commented, her fingers brushing over the wainscoting.
“Mr. DuMont had it redecorated recently. He prefers a more relaxed aesthetic,” Najmah said, guiding Maddy to the last door at the end of the hallway. It was an oak door, thick and wide, much like the man behind it, Maddy mused. Alex was perhaps the most solid human Maddy had ever met. He was built like an ox, all muscle and girth, and more than once, Sol had referred to him as Saint Viking.
Which was hysterical, considering Sol was tall and slim like a reed. He used to be able to wear Maddy’s panties when he wanted to . . .
Or when she wanted him to.
Ah, my misspent youth. Or well-spent, depending on who you ask.
Najmah stepped aside to let Maddy pass.
“Head right in.”
Maddy winked at her. “Thank you, dove. I appreciate your help.”
“Of course, Miss Roussoux.”
Najmah nodded but said nothing, ever so professional, ever so Not putting up with your shit, lady. Maddy respected that in a person. She was, as Tempy often put it, perennially irritating.
She tapped on the oak door and was immediately met with a, “Hello, Maddy.”
Alex had a deep, quiet voice—the kind that ought to make good music. Sadly, he was tone deaf. She’d found that out at a festive DuMont Christmas party where she’d played piano while all three DuMont boys tried and failed to sing Christmas carols. It had sounded like cats being fed to a paper shredder. Nash was particularly awful and ought not ever attempt music again, because his high notes could and would make the baby Jesus cry.
She swung open the door, ready for Saint Viking, only to find . . . an entirely different Viking. A very gorgeous Viking. Like, the most gorgeous Homo sapiens she’d ever laid eyes on, and that was saying something, considering her social circles of Hollywood greats and catwalk faces.
Who the hell are you and why aren’t I sitting and spinning on you yet?
He was so very tall. Hazel eyes, auburn hair cut just below his ears. She’d never been one of those people who ogled gingers, but oh, this one was worth ogling, with his square jaw, thin upper lip, full lower lip, long, narrow nose, and deep-set eyes. His brows had a perfect arch. His cheekbones were high and sharp and ought to be reproduced in clay. He had a worker tan, the kind that cut off at his elbows and neck from being outside all day. She only knew that because he extended a hand to shake hers and his T-shirt rose up enough to flash a hint of a tan line along the curve of his bulging muscle.
He smiled, the rascal. It was a lopsided show of teeth and enough to make her moist.
Fuck, I hate that word, but when it’s apt, it’s apt. I’m swimming right now.
“Darren Sanders. Hello,” he said.
Maddy blinked stupidly for a moment before swinging her gaze over to the mahogany desk in the corner against which Alex DuMont leaned, his arms across his chest, his legs splayed out before him. He was as thick as she remembered, his teal polo shirt stretched over his broad chest and shoulders, the color bringing out his eyes and the gold of his hair. His black slacks were pressed with a seam directly down the middle of the pant legs because Alex was anal retentive and anything off-kilter probably would have resulted in an aneurysm.
“Alex! I thought I was the only one to collect pretty things around here. Next thing I know you’ll be telling me you have a tiger, too.”
“No.” He shook his head, his gaze swinging up . . . and up and up. Darren had to be at least seven inches taller than him, and Alex himself was six feet. Maddy rarely considered herself short, but clasping Darren’s hand, she felt minuscule.
“Darren, this is Madeline Roussoux, heiress and poorly behaved human. Also my former sister-in-law,” Alex said with a wave of his wrist.
Darren smiled. “Ma’am.”
“Oh, ‘ma’am.’ He’s formal. I like that.” Maddy squeezed Darren’s hand while she drank in all of his marvelous personage. “The poorly behaved part is true, I fear. I’m the worst. Alex tolerates me anyway.”
“I somewhat tolerate you. Maddy, Darren’s one of my best friends. He also does a lot of work for me around here. The redesigned front foyer is his doing.”
“I’ll rent the penthouse for a year, then,” Maddy offered. “Your scenery is superior.”
Alex rolled his eyes, a small, reluctant smile playing around his mouth.
“Don’t mind her, Darren. She’s incorrigible.”
Darren chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s fine. So you’re that Maddy Roussoux? From TV?”
Maddy flashed the smile—not the genuine one, but the practiced one that had graced most glossy magazine covers over the past ten years, including a few of the naughtier ones.
“Guilty. I’ve made doing nothing but looking fabulous at doing it an art form.” She could have gone into her father’s contribution to building modern computers as everyone knew them. She could have talked about her company’s place in Silicon Valley, her father’s suicide, her mother’s hospitalization, and how she kept the family’s ship afloat, but it was simpler to be what everyone knew: the socialite. The party girl. The walking, talking poster child for American privilege.
It’s what he expects, so give it to him.
Darren cocked his head, his brows lifting so high she thought they’d graze his hairline. “I don’t think doing nothing gets you on a Forbes list.”
She didn’t know how to answer him because no one—literally, not one person in all her life—answered her go-to, blasé introduction with a Forbes mention. It was always a laugh, an offer for a drink, an invitation to an event, pleasant chitchat, and, “So what is X celebrity really like?” Darren blowing straight past the bullshit set her off balance.
“You read Forbes?” she asked, because that seemed safe. She crossed the room in three strides to pour herself a gin on the rocks at Alex’s sideboard. A glance at the clock showed ten thirty in the morning, and she hadn’t yet had breakfast, unless having Carmine twice counted.
To hell with it. It’s twelve o’clock somewhere.
“You sound surprised,” said Darren. “The way I figure it, if you want to do big business, you have to understand big business. Forbes is big business.” Darren shrugged his shoulders, which Maddy would have said were wide, but Alex was in the room, so all other men looked narrow by comparison, even gorgeous behemoths.
“Country boys can read, ma’am, even if them there letters are hard sometimes,” he added with a thick accent.
Maddy nearly spit out her drink.
“No! Oh no, dove. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insinuate—”
“I’m kidding! I’m kidding! Sorry, bad joke. I’m good at those.” Again, Darren rubbed the back of his neck. This time, it wasn’t as endearing, because she’d embarrassed him, and it was written all over his face, from the worry line in his brow to the flush staining his cheeks.
I was so busy assuming he’d underestimate me that I underestimated him.
“He really does tell awful jokes. Tell her the one you told me right before she showed up,” Alex said, reaching into his pocket to pull out his cell phone and glance at it.
Darren perked up. “Which—oh! Okay, sure. Ready?”
Maddy didn’t think it was rhetorical, not by the way he looked at her, so she nodded and stole another sip of gin, the alcohol burning her stomach like acid.
“Okay, okay. Want to hear a joke about construction? Wait, no, I can’t. I’m still working on it.” He paused. “Eh? Ehhhh?”
She stared at him.
And then she laughed, a big boisterous thing that filled all corners of the room. The joke was so stupid and yet so lovely, and she lifted her glass in a toast, draining it and shaking her head between giggles. Even Alex the Stoic cracked a smile as he pushed himself up from the desk and pointed at the door.
“We were just about to hit the hotel restaurant for brunch, Madeline. You should join us.”
“Oh, should I?” She winked over at Darren, abandoning the empty glass on the sideboard and smoothing her hair.
“Absolutely. How do you like your eggs?” Darren asked as he pulled open the door and motioned toward the hall.
“Nice! I prefer mine unfertilized.”
Maddy laughed again.
“Stop. Please stop.”
“Did you hear about the cheese factory that exploded?”
“There was nothing left but de Brie!”