“Scotch, straight up.” Nathan Trainor settled into the leather chair and yanked the end of his bow tie loose. Ripping the black silk out from under the collar of his tuxedo shirt, he tossed it on the brass-topped table in front of him. One of the things he liked about the Bellwether Club was that the dress code was relaxed, no ties required.
“Here you are, Mr. Trainor.” The waiter set a cut-crystal glass filled with golden-tan liquor in front of him and disappeared back behind the bar.
Nathan tossed it back, all of it. It was a twenty-year-old single malt and should be treated with more respect, but Nathan was soul weary. The scotch spread a welcome pool of warmth in his gut.
He held up the empty to the waiter, who arrived with a freshly filled tumbler. Sipping it this time, Nathan stretched out his long legs and glanced around the room. Not surprisingly for the late hour, it was virtually empty. However, he spotted another tuxedo-clad patron in the far corner, nursing his own glass of forgetfulness. He’d seen the man at the club before, of course. The membership was highly exclusive, so he suspected he had seen almost every member at some point.
Nathan frowned as a stronger sense of familiarity nagged at him. His fellow drinker was blond and took up a lot of space in his chair. Maybe an athlete. The Bellwether Club included a few, since they tended to be men who’d started with nothing and had succeeded on their own merits, one of the requirements for admission.
The other requirement was to have a net worth in ten digits, so the man must be a world-class athlete with some hefty endorsement contracts or he wouldn’t have that kind of money. Nathan had neither the time nor enough interest to waste it on following spectator sports.
The mahogany door swung open to admit a third man, also wearing a tux. He had dark hair and walked carefully, as though he had to think about where to put his feet. Nathan had seen him drinking at the club more than once before tonight. The blond athlete glanced over and nodded politely to the newcomer. The man nodded back and headed for the bar, sliding onto one of the tall, leather-topped stools. “Bourbon, no rocks,” he said into the silence.
After the bartender placed the glass in front of him, the new arrival swiveled on the stool and lifted it to the room. “To my fellow late-night tipplers. Bottoms up!” He tossed back the bourbon and turned to plunk the glass down on the counter for a refill.
Nathan took another sip of scotch and wondered if all of them had been at the same fund-raiser that night. That reminded him of Teresa Fogarty, and he finished his drink in a single gulp. The waiter materialized beside him with another glass. “Bring the bottle,” Nathan said. “It’ll save you steps.”
He’d thought Teresa might be different. She wasn’t a model or an actress. She was a lawyer, close to making partner. She didn’t need Nathan or Trainor Electronics to succeed. They’d met at a charity dinner like the one he had just escaped. Her beauty was undeniable, but it had been her intelligence that intrigued him . . . and the fact that she hadn’t known who he was when they both reached for the same canapé—her long, slim fingers brushing against his. Or so he’d believed until tonight.
They’d played a little game where neither introduced themselves, deliberately hiding in a corner of the balcony outside the party room. The attraction was electric. He had bribed a waiter to bring a table and their dinner outside to keep the bubble from bursting too soon. Only at the end of the night had they exchanged names and phone numbers.
Tonight one of her friends had overindulged with champagne and described how carefully Teresa had engineered the meeting, right down to the subtly sexy shade of nail polish she’d chosen for that moment when their fingers touched. The friend had treated it as a joke, now that Teresa and Nathan were a couple, but Teresa had sensed his disgust. She’d drawn him out onto the terrace behind the ballroom and wound her arms around his neck. “Melissa’s exaggerating,” she said. “I was kidding around with her about meeting you.”
“You claimed you didn’t know my name,” he said.
“Because I was afraid you’d think I was just another woman throwing herself at you,” Teresa said. “Does it matter how we met? We love each other now.” She stretched up on her toes to touch her lips to his.
He put his hands on her waist to set her away from him. “You might have told me yourself.”
“I was embarrassed.” A shadow of concern crossed her face. “You do love me, don’t you?”
“The first words you said to me were a lie,” he said, wondering how many more were. He released her. “You can take the Rolls home.”
She’d made a small sound of distress, but he was already halfway to the exit leading out to the anonymity of the New York City streets.
Too many people said only what they thought he wanted to hear these days. He didn’t need his lover doing the same thing. She could have told him about the ruse of their meeting and he would have laughed about it. But she’d kept it a secret.
Now he wondered whether she’d been after his money or his influence.
His glass was empty and he poured himself another one. The scotch was beginning to seep into his brain.
“At this hour of the night, I’m betting it’s a woman.”
Nathan looked up to see who the man at the bar was talking to.
“I know what his problem is.” The barfly tilted his head toward the blond man in the corner. “He threw an interception with five seconds to go against the Patriots.”
The alcohol had lubricated the connections in Nathan’s brain, so with that hint, he could identify the broad-shouldered drinker as Luke Archer, longtime quarterback for the New York Empire. You couldn’t go anywhere in New York City without seeing his face on a billboard. Archer ignored both of them.
The bar stool occupant took another swig of his bourbon and brought his gaze back to Nathan. “So am I right?”
“I don’t see that it’s any of your business,” Nathan said.
The other man laughed. “Everything’s my business. I’m a writer.”
Nathan scowled. The last thing he needed was to appear as an item in some gossip column. He relaxed when he remembered this was the Bellwether Club, where the dress code was laid-back but confidentiality was strictly enforced. A lot of high-level business deals got done within the thick walls of the club’s tall brownstone. Probably a lot of government deals too, but he wasn’t privy to those. Didn’t want to be.