They liked to call me names. Manwhore. Slut. Player. But I make wrong look so right…
He’s a flawed perfectionist…
I can read women better than any blueprint. I understand their thoughts and feelings, their secret desires and insecurities, and I know how to get rid of them once I get off.
But all bets are off when Tiel Desai slams into my life. She redefines what it means to be friends, and she makes it sound like the filthiest thing I’ve ever heard.
I can’t read the gorgeous conservatory-trained violinist, but she’s the only one keeping me from shattering by small degrees, and I can’t let her go.
She’s wildly independent…
My past—and New Jersey—are far behind me, and now my life is blissfully full of music: playing, teaching, and lecturing, and scouring Boston’s underground scene with an annoyingly beautiful, troubled, tattooed architect.
I’m defenseless against his rooftop kisses, our nearly naked dance parties, the snuggletimes that turn into sexytimes, and his deep, demanding voice.
I have Sam Walsh stuck in my head like a song on repeat, and I’m happy pretending history won’t catch up with me.
The one thing they have in common is a rock-solid disregard for the rules.
They find more in each other than they ever realized they were missing, but they might have to fall apart before they can come together.
It’s the wrongs that make the rights come to life.
I never thought I’d die in an elevator.
I always figured it would have something to do with my brother Riley leaving the gas stove on all night, killing us softly in our sleep.
Or gin. Chances were good that my liver was well on its way to pickled.
Or doorknobs. Touching those things was like licking the goddamn plague.
But today was headed for the fires of hell, and it was all Shannon’s fault.
“Hi, you’ve reached Shannon Walsh. Leave me a message and I’ll get back to you soon.”
Fucking voicemail. Again.
“I don’t know where the fuck you are, Shan, but I’ve been waiting at the Commonwealth Avenue property for a goddamn hour. I thought we were trying to make a cash offer today, but I can’t very well do that without you here.”
Ending the call, I wet my lips and wiped the sweat from my brow. This heat wave was in its ninth day, and if I had even a lick of common sense, I would have hitched a ride to Cape Cod with my brother Matt and his wife Lauren for Labor Day weekend.
But no, I wanted to see the unit that just came available in the one-hundred-and-thirty-year-old French Revival hotel-turned-condo building in Boston’s Back Bay. Specifically, I wanted my sister Shannon—the one who held the firm’s purse strings—to buy that unit. I wanted to spend the long weekend drafting plans to demo it down to the studs and then restore the unit to its original beauty. I wanted to lose myself in lines and materials, things I could control.
And I wasn’t up for third-wheeling it with the newlyweds.
I also wanted to be alone.
I could handle industry crowds and clients any day of the week and twice on Sundays, and I did it so fucking well they were willing to drop unreasonable amounts of money for my services. I was beginning to think I could finger-paint my designs and still collect six-figure commissions.
But I hated small talk. Bullshit conversations about weather or sports or politics held no appeal for me. I mostly stared at tits and asses until I was getting head in a coatroom or a drink thrown in my face.
And I was in a strange place these days. It was an odd in-betweenness; I wasn’t sick but I certainly wasn’t well. Not suicidal, but far from happy.
I’d been sliding further into this rut for months, and letting my work keep me too busy to notice. But while I was restoring everything I could get my hands on, the bottom was falling out on me. It was gradual, an evolution too small to notice without stepping back and examining from a distance. It was better this way. I didn’t want anyone noticing.
So I was flying solo this Labor Day.
To me, alone didn’t mean hunching over my drafting table all night, or skulking around the ancient Fort Point firehouse I called home.
No, alone meant drinking myself numb while some nameless young thing sucked the stress right out of me. There was nothing one hundred dollars pressed into the palm of the right maître d’ and a good cocksucking couldn’t soothe.
But let’s be clear: blowjobs didn’t solve problems.
If we were talking solutions, we were talking about my dick in someone’s ass, and I didn’t have the enthusiasm for that right now.
I needed a steady stream of gin, a blonde who knew her place was on her knees, and an otherwise interruption-free evening.
Go ahead: call me a manwhore.
For all the disgust packed into those words, they were always tied with a fine, shiny thread of admiration. I did what everyone else wished they could, and I made it look good.
And I’d heard far worse. Someone always had some name to call me, and some of those names were hard to shake. For the better part of this year, I’d been replaying my last conversation with my father. The record was stuck on repeat in my mind, scratching and skipping back to the raw, awful parts.
My younger brother, Riley, had been leading a walk-through at a property in Bunker Hill—a string of decent row houses that my miserable bastard of a father Angus bought and dumped on us to restore—with Patrick, Matt, and me.
We were almost finished when Angus showed up, and I knew the minute he walked through the door that he was drunk. He’d been various shades of drunk since my mother died, and that day, he was cruel drunk.
And that was the day I refused to ignore his bullshit. I didn’t want to walk away that time. It wasn’t rolling off my back. I’d absorbed decades of his hatred, and that tank was long since overflowing.
He attacked everything that I was—my sexuality, my work, my relationship with my mother and my sister, Shannon—and told me I was a mistake. That I was too fucked-up to be alive. That I shouldn’t have been born.
That was Angus’s gift. He could hear every dark, twisted thought I had, and he knew how to sharpen them into daggers. Ten months later, I couldn’t stop hearing those words.
I walked through the unit one last time, photographing what was left of the original design elements and noting restoration ideas. In the hallway joining the twin penthouse units, I texted Shannon to reiterate my annoyance. Then I hit up the manager at the new whiskey bar in the South End to reserve my preferred booth.
Tapping the corner of my phone to the elevator call button, I watched a woman emerge from the other unit. I stared at her, all summery and happy in her long yellow skirt and sleeveless magenta top, with a face like sunshine and a jingling ankle bracelet announcing her approach.
No one was allowed to look that pleased with life when it was too hot to exist.
“Hi,” she said with a smile, her thumb beating a rhythm against the call button. Dark, shoulder-length hair fell across her face as she leaned forward. “This thing being slow again? It was slow last week, too. I guess that’s part of the deal with old buildings, right?”
She was too much and too loud, and I dug in my pocket for some hand sanitizer. I’d come in contact with enough germs for one afternoon. I glanced up from her ankle and stopped attempting to extrapolate a good reason why any civilized person would wear a noisemaker, and shrugged.
She laughed, and said, “Okay then.”
She started humming, and then shaking her ankle with the tune, and I looked for the stairwell. I couldn’t stand in this hall with a chattering music box much longer, and sharing an elevator with her would require a sedative.
Despite my penchant for the high-end bar scene, I preferred quiet. Growing up with five siblings who made Attila the Hun’s crew look like a chill group of guys who enjoyed churning their own butter meant I had to find that quiet for myself. Noise-canceling headphones, soundproofed insulation in my office, and enough space so that my brother Riley and I could go weeks without seeing each other in the firehouse we shared.
Noticing a doorway at the far end of the hall, I gestured for her to step aside. A humid stairwell was a reasonable price to pay for serenity.
“Hey,” she said, her hand grabbing my elbow. “It’s here.”
I met her eyes for the first time since she jangled into my personal space, and as much as I wanted to scowl at her invasion, her smile was too warm, her hazel eyes too bright. She was pretty in a way I couldn’t comprehend—maybe it was her shortage of rail-thin, blue eyed blondeness, or the fact she wasn’t made up, blown out, or put together, or that she wasn’t simply looking at me but she was seeing me—and her smile transformed her whole face. Soon, I was smiling too.
Like a fucking lunatic.
Then I felt the first spasms of panic stirring my stomach, squeezing my lungs, making my skin too tight.
My instincts told me to walk away from Miss Music Box, pop some pills to cage the ugly green anxiety monster, and hike down eleven flights of stairs.
I always listened to my instincts. Beyond my siblings, they were the only things I could trust in this world.
But I stepped into that elevator anyway, gazing at her light eyes, and within ten seconds of the door closing, I was hurtling to my death.
Kate Canterbary doesn’t have it all figured out, but this is what she knows for sure: spicy-ass salsa and tequila solve most problems, living on the ocean–Pacific or Atlantic–is the closest place to perfection, and writing smart, smutty stories is better than any amount of chocolate. She started out reporting for an indie arts and entertainment newspaper back when people still read newspapers, and she has been writing and surreptitiously interviewing people—be careful sitting down next to her on an airplane—ever since. Kate lives on the water in New England with Mr. Canterbary and the Little Baby Canterbary, and when she isn’t writing sexy architects, she’s scheduling her days around the region’s best food trucks.
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