THE NEW YEAR is here.
I’m celebrating the fact that I’ve finished the next installment of The Beltway Series…. Book 2, which will be out in May 2017.
The cover reveal is on January 28, 2017, so mark your calendar.
Book 3 will be out in the fall of 2017. It’s a big book year around here that will also include more freebies, so sign up if you don’t want to miss them.
My podcast series, “Between the Sheets,” returns next week.
It’s exciting that so many people are signing up to download my FREEBIE, “Slave to Love and Romance – Discovering Alex Gantry,” which describes why my heroine is who she is.
“Slave to Love and Romance – Discovering Alex Gantry” is a terrific primer for the kinds of strong women you’ll find in The Beltway Series books.
As a surprise added bonus, here’s snippet of Below the Beltway – The Beltway Series, Book 1, which is 99 cents on Amazon right now.
From “Opposites,” which is Chapter 2
COPYRIGHT, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
… Berkley called from the bar across the patio. “Alex, come here for a minute.”
“What’s wrong? Mason not your type?” Berkley said. “I thought you liked older men.”
“Oh, fuck you. The guy had to be 70.”
“There’s someone I want you to meet,” Berkley said, walking Alex over to a handsome woman who was obviously older, though it was hard to tell her exact age, because she appeared almost ageless, which meant cosmetic procedures weren’t only for Hollywood types. One of the untapped stories was how many women and men had work done, because today there were so many options beyond the knife. Standing behind her was a gorgeous man who stood well over 6 feet in height. He was clearly ripped, and he was watching her like a bird of prey.
“Hello, Phyllis. Great party,” Berkley said, kissing her on one cheek and then the other.
“They did outdo themselves today, didn’t they?” she replied. The hot young man standing next to her was perusing the crowd instead of paying any attention to the conversation. Was he her date or her bodyguard? Hard to tell, but maybe he was both.
“Phyllis, I’d like you to meet my new partner,” Berkley said. “She also happens to be a dear friend of mine who recently moved to the area. Phyllis Lawrence, Alex Gantry.”
“Nice to meet you, Ms. Lawrence.”
“Phyllis, please. Welcome to bedlam,” she said. “Phyllis isn’t a fan of Washington’s favorite sport,
politics. Don’t get her started on Congress,” Berkley said. “I’m positively venomous,” Phyllis said.
“Ah, put me in your corner, Phyllis. Congress drives me crazy,” Alex replied.
“They’re all a bunch of worthless eunuchs and pygmies,” Phyllis Lawrence said. “I wouldn’t give you a dime for most of our politicians. J.F.K. was certainly a philandering womanizer, but at least the man had style and vision. Today—no, I’ll stop,” she said, laughing. “I’ll spoil my martini buzz if I talk politics. A verbal brawl about such things at my own party is so boring and wholly beneath me.”
This woman knew how to give a performance. Alex found it fascinating that she didn’t bother to introduce the man with her.
“Just wanted to say thank you so much for thinking of me, Phyllis,” Berkley said.
“Oh, stop, Berkley. I always enjoy seeing you. Nice to meet you, Alex. I hope we have an opportunity to talk sometime. I’m always curious about someone who drops into this swamp out of nowhere,” she said, with the most mischievous grin on her face.
As Phyllis and her man shadow walked away, Alex grabbed Berkley’s arm.
“Who was that?”
“My dear, that woman is the queen bee of D.C., and she also happens to be our hostess today, not to mention an initial investor in Banks & Associates. There’s no one anywhere who is more generous to women entrepreneurs, no one. Phyllis Lawrence is legend and her parties are, well, fabulous, sometimes even scandalous. She’s slept with senators, ambassadors, and movie stars. She’s a real seductress, and could still have almost anyone she wants,” Berkley said.
“She’s gorgeous. How old is she?”
“Dame Lawrence is 60-something, looks in her 50s, but nobody is quite sure,” Berkley replied. There was a mixture of respect and awe.
“Who was the guy with her?”
“Oh, that’s Ben. This is all D.C. dish, mind you, but after her husband died suddenly years ago, Phyllis started showing up at events with a different and much younger man every time. Turns out she was using an upscale companion service, exorbitantly high-priced…”
“Rich widows paying hot men for their company. I love it.”
“There’s no harm in wanting a gorgeous man in your bed, no matter your age. Phyllis is my hero,” Berkley said.
“I want to grow up to be her,” Alex replied.
“I’ve heard that Ben Cates, the guy with her today, was a graduate student when they first met.”
“No shit.” Alex was marveling at the fierceness of a woman over twenty years older snagging a younger man and doing it without apology.
“He’s loyal to her and she’s been seeing him, I don’t know, for a long time, over five years, I think. I’ve met him and talked with him. He’s quite fascinating, actually. He’s a seasoned yachtsman and Phyllis bankrolls his passion for regatta competitions. He’s a black belt, came from nothing… His family is from Pennsylvania. Blue collar types,” Berkley said.
Alex was discovering a world rivaling Hollywood. La- La Land was unabashedly liberal and proud of it, so there was little that could shock anyone there. But Washington, D.C., masqueraded as conservative propriety complete with a traditional mask. Underneath throbbed a tied and bound consciousness that, when exposed close up, revealed the shared lasciviousness that humans all long to tap into as a release to how people have to act with their clothes on.
“Berkley, can I speak with you a minute?”
The man approaching Berkley caught Alex’s eye immediately. If he was an example of the available men in D.C., then she wanted one.
“Hey, T.J., sure,” Berkley replied.
“Don’t want to take much of your time or get double billed since it’s your day off,” T.J. said, chuckling, “but just wanted to confirm that we’re good to go for—”
T.J.’s cell phone rang.
“Can you hold on a second?”
He answered his phone. “What? Shit, okay,” T.J. said. He ended the call and turned his attention back to Berkley.
“Anyway, about what we discussed on the phone yesterday, everything’s good for the fundraiser?” he continued, obviously distracted.
“Absolutely. And as long as you’re here, let me introduce you to my new partner. This is the woman I’ve been telling you about. Cutting-edge coaching that could really help your company. Alex Gantry, T.J. Gale,” Berkley said.
“Hi, nice to meet you,” T.J. Gale replied.
He barely acknowledged Alex, continuing the conversation he had begun with Berkley.
I don’t think so, pal. He evidently hadn’t heard, or maybe it hadn’t sunk in, that Alex was Berkley’s new partner.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Gale,” Alex said, interrupting him. She couldn’t keep the edge out of her voice, but she didn’t care. In two seconds, this guy had hit Alex the wrong way
“I’m looking forward to working with you and your team. I’ve got some terrific tools that will really help…,” Alex said.
“I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” T.J. said, interrupting Alex.
“Alex Gantry,” she replied, over-enunciating so he might remember.
“Look, my team is made up of top environmental minds. They’re grownups, professionals. I don’t think doing group therapy seminars is worth the money I pay them. No offense,” he said.
Alex stared at him. Bluntness is one thing; being rude is quite another. The problem was that, by meeting his gaze, she felt him reach inside her, a flash of heat following. The involuntary response from her body was complicating what she was about to say to him. Her mind said fuck you; her body said please.
“Really? After completely insulting me and belittling the cutting-edge tools I’ve used to help corporations a lot larger than your little startup? Wow. Of course. No offense taken,” Alex said.
That was exactly the response he deserved after acting like such an arrogant ass. Alex would say that he was sexist, but that was too easy. Alex’s brain was all business, but her body was thinking dirty thoughts. Geez, how long had it been since she had gotten laid?
T.J. turned to look at Alex. His face showed that he had gotten the message. But the messenger, who was she? Alex could see it in his face, in the long pause he took. Nobody talked to him that way, and he loved it.
Why was he smiling at Alex? Jerk, but what a wickedly handsome man. Whoa. Get ahold of yourself, Alex, she told herself
Oh, for fuck’s sake, he still couldn’t remember her name?
“Gantry. Alex Gantry. You know, I’ve got some exercises that can help you remember people’s names, especially those you’ve just met,” Alex said. She hated to be snide, but she was going to get his attention.
“Yes, nice to meet you, Alex.”
And back to Berkley he went, without blinking an eye. Asshole. Wow, Alex knew that she hadn’t even made a dent. This one was going to be rough.
A gorgeous blonde approached, walking up to T.J. Gale’s side.
“Berkley,” was all that the blonde said. She was 5’10” and strutted like a woman worth millions who could have anything she wanted if she could only decide what that was.
“Hello, Mrs. Gale,” Berkley replied, with enough ice in her voice to eradicate humidity.
“Oh, please, call me Lisa,” Mrs. Gale said.
“What are you doing here?” T.J. snapped, taking Mrs. Lisa Gale by the arm and abruptly walking away.
“What the hell was that?” Alex asked.
“How much time do you have?” Berkley replied. “Not enough, obviously. He’s full of himself.”
“T.J.’s a good client. I thought I was going to have to
play referee. Play nice, Alex.”
“Tell him that,” Alex replied.
“I want another cocktail before the fireworks start,”
Berkley said. “Coming?”
People had begun to congregate closer to the water,
Alex following along behind her friend, but she couldn’t shake what had just happened. She’d never felt so small, ever. No man had treated her like that, coming right out and dismissing what she did. It was worse than asking her age, as far as she was concerned. She made an economic difference in all the companies where she contracted. It took a lot to get her this worked up, but this man had done it, which she wouldn’t soon forget.
Alex couldn’t help noticing the little scene playing out nearby between Mr. and Mrs. Asshole.
“I asked you, what are you doing here?” T.J. said to his wife.
“Honey, come on, it’s a beautiful Sunday, let’s enjoy ourselves,” Lisa Gale replied.
“Let me make this clear since the first seven times didn’t sink in. We’re done, Lisa. Finished. So chase me around all you want, but you’re wasting your time. You are not going to make a fool of me anymore,” T.J. said.
“T.J., I’ve done everything I can to make things right. I’ve apologized. You know I could have told Page Six about your little secret a long time ago. Your buttoned- down clientele would be quite interested, don’t you think? I can inflict real pain, sweetie, but I haven’t,” Lisa replied.
“Do it. I don’t fucking care anymore. All I want is you out of my life. I’ll survive, because people know who I am and I’ve got a track record,” T.J. said.
“I can and I just might. I’ll enjoy it, too,” Lisa said.
“Well, I’d be very careful if I were you, because I’m better at payback than I am at taking shit,” T.J. said. He abruptly left Lisa standing all alone.
“I haven’t even gotten started,” Lisa said under her breath, walking in the opposite direction.
Barge fireworks were a regular sight in Annapolis, Maryland, on the Fourth of July, which was still a week away. Tonight’s display was much smaller and a rare sighting, but Phyllis Lawrence had a passion for them and whatever she wanted she made happen.
Nothing rivals fireworks in Washington, D.C., which could be seen from the National Mall, a cruise on the Potomac, or by copping a squat along the banks of the river on the Virginia side, provided you planned ahead and got there early. There was no parking along the George Washington Parkway, so people parked at Reagan International Airport or along Old Town and Alexandria streets, and then walked along the gorgeous winding path that paralleled the GW for 18 miles, from George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate to Theodore Roosevelt Island.
It was always a mob scene along the Washington Mall, but Independence Day was a big holiday in the Beltway, and the colored-light explosion above America’s national monuments was a sight to behold that was worth all the effort it took to get a view.
The only thing that came close to rivaling it was cherry blossom season, where pink-blossomed trees along the tidal basin were tucked among the memorials for Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Jefferson, and F.D.R. The trees were situated along the walk weaving around the water, and their blooms burst in a beautiful contagion that lasted for weeks.
“Are you having fun yet?” Berkley asked.
“Yes, very much, it’s a whole new world. I’ve got a question for you. Who’s T.J. Gale, beyond being our client?”
Berkley lowered her sunglasses, raised her eyebrows, and locked her eyes on Alex as her smile broadened.
“T.J. Gale is a hot, 30-something genius investment banker that walked away from a big paycheck to start a clean energy and environmental company. He’s got a staggering I.Q. and is considered quite the ladies’ man,” Berkley said.
“Yeah, he’s all charm,” Alex replied.
“Not surprised you two locked horns. He’s as blunt as you are, but he’s also got a wide blind spot that’s costing him money. He expects his people to work 24/7 without understanding what that can do to them over the long haul. He’s very ambitious, but he’s under the delusion that people automatically understand his company’s importance, all of which is causing a lot of casualties among the ranks,” Berkley said.
“Assumptions, not surprised from what I just saw. His wife is a piece of work.”
“Oh, you don’t know the half of it. Word has it they’re on the ramp to divorce. She and T.J. met during college from what I’ve heard,” Berkley said.
“What does she do?”
“Mostly? Bitchcraft,” Berkley said.
“Technically she’s some type of international
business consultant, but, in reality, she targets things she wants and uses Dalaney Enterprises and any means necessary to get them. All sorts of tabloid gossip about other men. Mrs. Lisa Gale is a dark force. She’s wickedly smart and works for her father, Davin Dalaney, who’s from an old, very sketchy family. His granddaddy was some famous bootlegger.”
“Interesting. T.J. Gale doesn’t look the type to put up with that,” Alex said.
“Oh, he’s not and Lisa is finding that out the hard way. He’s been distracted for months and Page Six made sure everyone found out that his marriage is the reason why. He could have the Beltway by the balls, but most of Washington is still stuck in the 20th century on renewable energy. He’s ahead of the curve and knows it, but shoving gets you nowhere in D.C. I’m orchestrating his company’s big summer fundraiser bash, which means you are, too,” Berkley said, smiling.
“He’s a client, I get it. I’ll play nice.”
“It won’t be that hard. He’s hot, right?” Berkley said. “Oh, yeah. He’s also married and an asshole,” Alex
“That marriage, baby, is past its expiration date,”
Berkley said. “And don’t give me that. I watched you with him.”
“Not my type.”
“Why? Because he’s going to make you work for it? Oh, wait, he’s in his early 30s, so that means he’s younger than you. Can’t have that, right?” Berkley said.
“God, you are relentless.”
“Follow your own advice. A guy being younger doesn’t matter if you’re hot, too.” Berkley said. “Which you are. If there’s chemistry, don’t deny it; enjoy it.”
“Well, then I’m safe, because there’s absolutely no chemistry between me and T.J. Gale. Besides, he’s a client and that always ends badly, believe me.”
“Brian Marks was all wrong for you, Alex. His age isn’t an issue. Brian is a control freak, which I’ve always thought would end up being trouble. Have you heard from him?” Berkley asked.
“No, and I’m a bit surprised, actually.”
“Good riddance,” Berkley said.
Alex was hoping that Brian was out of her system.
She had acted that way, which was the only way she could have left. She had never reached out to him, so, unless he called her, Alex had a chance to make the break permanent. She was sure as hell going to try.
The fireworks on the water started exploding, and everyone began walking toward the show.
Alex was a voyeur in the ultimate amusement park of personalities. As wondrous as the day had been, she was pretty sure that it was the tip of the whip.
Alex Gantry was her own woman, a rare beauty who had landed in a place where authenticity goes to die. Joining a game of strange, she would be reminded that, wherever capitalism rules, and image and artifice play dominatrix, no human is able to escape succumbing to the forces in power if she or he wants to survive. It meant that, when the masks come off, the energy unleashed could be lethal if uncontrolled. It wasn’t like Alex was unfamiliar with swamp creatures or the habitat in which they swam. She’d just never been prey before.