The King of Bourbon Street
THERE WAS MONEY, and then there was Money. Sol DuMont had money—houses in Malibu, New York, Chicago, and New Orleans, six cars, four SUVs, and a chain of hotels he’d inherited when his father introduced his very tiny plane to a very large mountainside. It wasn’t James DuMont’s best merger: Mom had a nervous breakdown, Colorado got a cozy forest fire, and Sol and his brothers got years of therapy and a business legacy they were expected to maintain.
Madeline Roussoux had Money. Her father invented a computer processor thing—Sol never minded the technical details because Maddy’s bouncy parts and stash of cocaine were far more interesting—and she commanded an empire worth more than the GNP of some small nations. Sol wasn’t sure how many zeroes were attached to her estate, but again, he never paid much mind to the details. They were secondary to the woman.
And what a woman she was.
Sunlight glimmered across her shoulders like she’d been dipped in liquid pearls. Her black curls were loose, but not too loose, coifed perfectly and dancing around her elbows whenever the Gulf winds stirred. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes bright. Her chin was small and pointed and tipped a heart-shaped face.
He hadn’t seen her in a year, but her fabulousness had not diminished.
“It’s a pity, really.” Maddy puffed on an e-cigarette exuding vintage Hollywood glam, complete with a long onyx holder and silver filigree at the end. “We got along so well. If it’s any consolation, there’s no one else I would have rather been married to and ignored by.”
Sol tapped his spoon on the edge of the fine china, his green eyes traveling from Maddy’s hair to the arch of her brows and down to her rosebud mouth.
Dick-sucking lips, she’d said on their first date, before ducking under a table in Menino’s in New York to prove it. People waited six months to get into the place, and there was Madeline Roussoux sucking his cock with the city’s finest not ten feet away. To her credit, no one saw her stilettos poking out from under the tablecloth. To his credit, he’d never made a sound, not even when he came hard enough to shoot through the back of her skull.
“I’ve never been divorced on a yacht before.” He managed a smile about as genuine as the tits she’d bought herself on her twenty-seventh birthday. It was wistfulness, but not in a pining, “hold a boom box under your windows to woo you back with Peter Gabriel” sort of way. They’d split horribly, their final fight ending with Sol locked outside Maddy’s lodge in Aspen in the snow, wearing nothing but a hand towel on his dick and calling for a cab with a pathetic explanation for his nudity. But before the utter disintegration of their marriage, they’d done all right for themselves. Sol had found someone who could match his appetite for experience. They traveled all over the world. They knew all the fun people and went to all the best parties. They did too many drugs and ate too little food with the exception of a shared appreciation for sushi. And they fucked like rabbits.
Oh how they fucked. Sol had always done well for himself in bed, never wanting for partners or praise for his techniques, but Maddy surpassed him in all ways sexual, opening doors he hadn’t known he’d wanted opened. She liked kink. Sol found out under her tutelage (and by association the tutelage of the rhinestone-encrusted paddle she kept in her bedside table) that he did, too. She was a lover and a mentor, a corruptor and a co-conspirator.
He’d needed her once. Not anymore, but for a while, they’d been great together. He would remember their best years with fondness.
“I have! I think it was Eduardo last time? On this very deck, in fact. Yes, Eduardo. That blessed creature. That was the best weeklong marriage of my life.” She shrugged, the e-cigarette disappearing into the black patent leather purse slung over the back of her chair. “Can I assume Cylan’s been vomiting all over himself that we never bothered with the divorce paperwork? Silly thing. It’s not like I wanted anything of yours. I have a tiger. My tiger is vastly superior to some silly hotel chain.”
Sol glanced at the stack of papers by his left elbow. Two more signatures and it was done. He reached into his suit—white linen to combat the New Orleans heat—and pulled out the navy Montblanc with the twenty-four-karat cap. It had been his father’s. James had inked his first hotel purchase with it. Now it would separate Sol from the estranged wife he’d been ignoring along with everything else since his father’s death.
His fingertips skimmed the smooth page.
“I really should have tried for custody of the cat. I was a good tiger daddy.” So many papers to say such a simple thing: we’re done being married. He was fine with it, truly, but there was a finality to the deed that suggested he was on the precipice of the next thing in his life, and the uncertainty about his future was intimidating. He’d grown comfortable hiding behind his estranged wife as a reason to not venture too far beyond his doorstep.
He skimmed the page. Brutus had checked and double-checked the legalese, ensuring Sol would exit the marriage with all his preexisting wealth intact, but still he hesitated.
You gave up on her, the two kids, and the white picket fence a long time ago.
“My pussy is mine, dove. Hands off.” Maddy sipped her pinot with a devilish smile.
“As if you’d have it any other way.”
The wind picked up. Maddy’s dark hair tickled an expanse of cleavage so deep he could dive into it and never be seen again. He remembered what her breasts felt like on his face. Remembered their weight and softness and how they tasted.
I’m sorry I’m divorcing you, too, my old buddies.
I’d take you with me if I could.
A pointed shoe tip jabbed him under the table. He jerked up his gaze, away from the neckline of the cocktail dress that looked like it had been painted on. Maddy eyeballed him over a tent of steepled fingers, her nail polish flashing bloody. He reached into his other pocket—why did Andres have to put so many goddamned pockets in everything?—and pulled out his cigarette case. He chose a smoke, something red and long and “questionably imported,” and slipped it between his lips. Maddy swooped in with a lighter before he could collect his own.
“Do you remember the Venevia twins?” She swiped the flame under the tip until it glowed. Bitter, sweet smoke—apt, really—wafted on the air in purplish coils. Sol leaned back in his chair, ignoring the papers in favor of his pale company. “He liked you. Well, they both liked you, but he liked you more. Maybe you can look him up. You’re so pretty. He’s so pretty. It’d be like a pretty sandwich. Invite me over to play meat for old time’s sake.”
Sol’s eyes narrowed. Venevia rang no bells, but then, when he and Maddy had been wild, they’d been wild, and the names and faces tangled in his memory in a lurid blur. “Tall, brown hair, and the matching tattoos on their backs?”
“Mmm-hmm. I looked up that character, you know. I was right. It means biscuit. People really ought to check their Japanese before they get inked.” She took another sip of her wine, and he reached for his own glass of dry, fruity . . . dirt. Yes, it tasted like dirt. He eyed the bottle: a 2011 Bourgogne pinot.
“She’s in porn now,” she continued. “Things didn’t work out with that off-Broadway thing.” Again Maddy nudged him with her shoe. The goddamned thing was pointy as hell, and being impaled on it smarted. He shifted away, she followed.
She always did what she wanted. And you always did what she wanted you to do. It’s no different now, even when you’re divorcing her.
“But like I said, you should look him up.” She drained her glass and went back to the e-cigarette, turning her body so she could ogle the sun crawling past the horizon. It was more orange than yellow, red-tinged clouds standing sentry by its side. “You could use the fun. Xavier, by the by, so you don’t look like an idiot. I could have Patrice get you his number.”
“Is that an order?”
Maddy snorted, her attention fixed on the green waves and rippling miles surrounding them. “I’m not your mama anymore. I trust you to make big-boy decisions.”
He studied the end of his cigarette. It wasn’t as satisfying as it should have been, but few things were—hotels, twins with bad tattoos, even Maddy’s spectacular attributes.
“Sign the papers, dove.” The voice was low, nearly inaudible thanks to the splashing water, gull calls, and creak of the yacht, but the command was there. Her head turned his way, her beautiful face kind and hard at the same time. “Don’t waste my time. Or yours. It’d be charming if you still loved me, but we both know that’s not the case. So sign.”
Sol picked up the pen.
The Seaside was poorly named. It wasn’t on the sea at all, but rather occupied a perfectly manicured bank of the Mississippi River on the edge of the French Quarter. Four stories of Spanish architecture, and the exterior resembled a wedding cake with its peach clapboard and white shutters. The bottom three floors catered to high-dollar guests; the penthouse Sol’s and Sol’s alone. Well, Sol’s and Cylan’s, because you know you’re a hard businessman when your accountant lives in the flat next door.
“Tell me it’s done?” Cylan’s voice was as dry as gator scales and about as pretty.
Sol sprawled in the chair before Cylan’s desk, his long legs askew. He tossed his seersucker jacket aside, exposing a white shirt and a dove-gray vest. His blond hair was pulled back into a short ponytail gathered at the nape of his neck.
Cylan looked up. His skin was rich brown, his black hair shorn short, eyes so dark it was hard to see his pupils inside the irises, his frame lean. He looked like a living caricature: more than once Sol had said Cylan could stand in for Famine if the apocalypse ever needed a backup guy. He was handsome in spite of it, with razor-sharp cheekbones and broad features. An odd bend marred his nose thanks to a punch he’d taken in Sol’s stead at a frat party years ago, but it added character to his face.
College. Now that was fun. Lux et veritas.
“Good. And the next time you come in, knock first,” Cylan said, his laptop screen casting blue light across his gold-rimmed glasses.
“It’s my hotel, you know.”
“It’s my room. Or it’s not, and I’ll go find someplace else to live.”
“No you won’t. You’re too busy having fun here.”
Sol and Cylan were best friends and had been since prep school. Sol had been the flamboyant rich boy from New Orleans in the corner suite, Cylan had been the keep-to-himself scholarship kid from downtown Detroit the next door over. It’d been Cylan’s quiet intensity that had lured Sol in so long ago. Such a serious young man at barely thirteen was a rare sight, and Sol wanted to figure out what made him tick. Two decades later he was still trying to figure him out. Cylan rarely smiled or cracked jokes, but when he did, he meant them. He was also easy to needle and easier to ruffle. Sol delighted in both those things, relentlessly flirting with his oh-so-straight friend until Cylan would walk off or, at times, throw something at Sol’s head to shut him up.
Because Sol couldn’t help being a prick, the relationship was contemptuous as often as not. And yet when the cards were on the table, they legitimately cared for each other and watched the other’s back. When Cylan’s mother died and his scholarship fell through at college, Sol persuaded his parents to loan Cylan the money to finish his degree. When Cylan’s wife, a girl Sol had introduced him to freshman year, was killed in a car crash, Sol took a monthlong leave of absence from work to arrange Nia’s funeral and see to Cylan’s welfare.
In turn, when Sol’s father died and Sol crumbled to pieces, ruining his marriage, his body, and almost everything he touched, Cylan moved into The Seaside, dragged Sol to rehab, and, for a few months, drove him to therapy three times a week. He’d never intended to stay living there, but then Sol had offered him a lucrative job and he had no reason to go anywhere else.
They were life mates of a sort. Never romantic, not always on speaking terms, but where one was, you’d often find the other, and it was likely to remain that way until one of them had the good grace to drop dead.
Sol pulled out another cigarette, the fifth since he’d left Maddy’s boat. She’d offered a parting fuck for old time’s sake, but he made his excuses. It hadn’t been a real marriage since his father died. They’d separated within six months of the accident, Sol too wrapped up in his grief to give much of a damn about anything, including his wife. The residual guilt didn’t lend itself to fond, sweaty farewells.
“I’m not paid to be fun. I’m paid to turn your money into more money. Here, sign this.” Cylan shoved a document Sol’s way. Sol flourished the Montblanc without question.
“What if I gave you twenty dollars? Could you be fun for twenty dollars?” Sol paused his signing to offer Cylan a cigarette. Cylan eyed the case and licked his lips. He’d quit six times in the past three months, which translated to him taking the smoke and muttering curses under his breath.
“Sign the goddamned thing, will you?”
Sol signed the goddamned thing. “You’re not the boss of me.”
“And yet you sign.”
Sol glanced around the sterile office. It was decorated exactly how it had been the day Cylan moved in—boring brown furniture, brocade drapes, and an antique desk on ornate carved legs. There were no personal artifacts unless you counted four bookshelves of accounting ledgers. Even the picture frame had a stock photograph instead of a real one—some bland, smiling blonde sitting beneath a tree.
Sol picked up the frame, running his thumb over the model’s face.
“Your pretend wife’s pretty. How long has it been again?”
Cylan grunted, a chunk of ash falling from the end of his cigarette and plummeting to his keyboard. He brushed it away with a tut. “None of your business. How was Maddy?”
Sol sucked in a breath. Fake wife was returned to the desk, two inches askance from her original position. Cylan immediately adjusted it so it was equidistantly spaced from his day planner opposite the cup holding two black pens, two red pens, two blue pens, and two number-two pencils with extra eraser caps just in case.
“She looks good,” Sol managed.
“Is that all?” Cylan examined Sol from beneath a line of thick black brow.
“Yes, that’s all. Your eyebrows look like two beavers glued to your face. Get waxed.”
“Get bent. Do you need to talk about it?” Cylan leaned on his elbow, his chin cradled in his palm. The cigarette dangled from his bottom lip, precariously close to falling onto his suit jacket. He wore a skinny black tie again, which was so very irritating. Sol had given Cylan dozens of colorful ties over the years and he’d yet to see him wear a single one.
“What’s there to say? Talking about it isn’t going to change anything. We’ve been done with the marriage for a while. I’m grateful we’re friends, and that’s that. Also, could you please wear a decent tie for once? You always look like a pallbearer. Or maybe an extra from Reservoir Dogs.”
Cylan just puffed on the cigarette and stared. It wasn’t comfortable scrutiny, and Sol reeled in his lean legs, crossing the left over the right. He brushed a piece of lint off the toe of his polished shoe.
“She’s my past, and right now I want to look forward,” he continued. “I’m not sure what you want me to say. I don’t love her like that.”
“I know you don’t, but I guess my question is, what’s next?”
Sol managed a shrug. “I have no idea. I’ll consult the Magic 8 Ball and get back to you.”
Cylan shook his head and looked back down at his computer. “Asshole.”
“You bet, buttercup.”