The plot thickens
|Illustration Credit: Nathy-Marisson from DeviantArt
Chapter Song: Chris Isaak - Wicked Game
Chapter 11: The Interview
Once inside the suite, Seto ushered Joan into a shower, gingerly removing his trench coat and what remained of her clothes and testing the temperature of the water before granting her privacy. He then paced for a minute while he figured out his next move. He spotted the silvery shell of his laptop and decided that would be a good place to start. He knew her name was Joan now, but he still didn't have a last name. His fingers dumbly typed it into his private internet browser's search bar. He stared at meaningless results until he realized there was a better way to narrow his parameters.
Seto logged into his personal financial management system and typed her first name there. Bingo! Joan Saunders. He went back to the search bar, typing in the full name this time. Again, there were still too many results. He added Michael and hit the search button again. Both names, apparently, were all too common. What if she didn't even take his last name? Seto thought with a shred of hope.
Seto began poking around Facebook. He hadn't navigated Facebook since high school; his social media manager did that for him to keep the gold diggers at bay, but it couldn't be too hard to find her, right? Mokuba's friend list had no Joan, so he went to Marc Aurelio's page. Marc's friends list was private. Laura's friends list was private. He could probably hack into Facebook to figure out what he wanted, but his fingers felt leaden and he couldn't decide which route to attempt first. Seto shut the laptop in frustration and sat with his head in his hands.
"Thanks," Seto looked up to see Joan wrapped in a plush Hyatt bathrobe, her hair damp and dripping, "for what you said about the vultures. That helped a lot."
Seto pushed his chair away from the desk and stood. "Joan . . ." Her name felt cumbersome on his lips, too formal for someone he'd fucked.
Joan detected the awkwardness and let it hang in the air a moment before saying, "I liked it better when you called me whore."
"Whore." Seto's lips widened as he reclaimed the familiar word. It represented every scrap of gratification he'd had in recent years, something he fervently wanted with her but hadn't quite managed to attain.
Joan stepped forward and slung her arms around the back of his neck, pulling him in for a kiss. She savored it for several seconds. The feeling of a warm, honest mouth that had paid for her presence. Then she remembered that she was actually on the clock for Mokuba, not Seto. And Mokuba was outside placating reporters. "This night is so fucked up," she whispered as she rested her head on Seto's shoulder.
"Come to bed," Seto said softly.
"No," she matched his subdued tone, "Mokuba paid for me tonight."
Relief washed over Seto. The sensation of long-held tensions releasing its grip caused him to tremble. What was this?
Joan felt the tremors ripple through him. "Let's sit down."
She led him to an armless couch and they sunk into the light gray upholstered surface. She held him close for several moments before a knock sounded from the door. Seto took in a deep breath and got back up to answer it, peering through the peephole first. He deemed it safe and opened the door.
Mokuba stood there with two Hyatt security guards and a petite woman with olive skin and glossy black hair. She wore a midnight blue blazer and pencil skirt over a crisp white shirt. "Wait outside," Mokuba told the others before stepping inside and closing the door.
"Who the fuck is that?" Seto asked.
Mokuba ignored Seto and walked over to the couch, plopping down beside Joan. He took one of her hands between both of his. "Are you doing OK?"
"Yeah," Joan responded.
Mokuba continued, "I'm sorry all this happened, but there's no way out of the publicity at this point. The best way forward is for you to take control of how the story is told."
Joan took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "What have you told them so far?"
"Only the truth. I told them that we both contracted you as an escort, but Seto thinks it's funny to call you a whore."
Seto crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. "It's not funny. She likes it."
"I do," Joan confirmed.
Mokuba sighed. "All right, but can you stop using that word in public, please? The last thing we need is you two getting arrested for prostitution and solicitation."
"Screw that law," Seto growled.
"If it means that much to you, you can dabble in California politics later," Mokuba said. "Right now we need to focus on damage control."
Seto scowled. "Since when did you become my PR manager?"
Mokuba ignored Seto's rhetorical question. He could only help his older brother as far as Seto accepted the aid. "Are you ready for this?" Mokuba asked Joan.
"I think so," Joan replied.
Mokuba gave Joan's hand a squeeze and got up to let in the reporter. The guards entered as well, maintaining professional silence and standing against the wall. Meanwhile, Seto reclaimed his seat beside Joan.
"Hi! I'm Tricia Varma and I work for the San Francisco Chronicle." Tricia extended her hand and Joan stood briefly to shake it. Tricia struck Joan as young and earnest, excited that Mokuba had picked her out of the crowd as the one to get the full scoop.
Seto remained seated as he glared at the newcomer, ankle on his knee and arms stretched across the back of the couch. Mokuba pulled a chair over for Tricia and then sat on the other side of Joan.
Tricia pulled out a tablet and gave it a few pokes and swipes to initiate her note-taking app. "Joan Saunders, was it?" Tricia asked.
"Yes," Joan agreed.
"And Seto Kaiba?"
"Obviously," Seto stated.
"We have received statements that your bodyguard fired his weapon at an unarmed group of men in an Oakland night club less than two hours ago. Would you please give me your account of the incident?"
Joan and the Kaibas clarified how Roland shot through the ceiling, how vicious the unarmed men in question had been, and how a drunken story based on a rumor had incited it all. Joan let herself re-live the violation and cried in front of Tricia while Mokuba rubbed Joan's back and spoke soothing words.
"Now Seto, for your part in all this, what motivated you to call Joan a whore in front of all those rabid men?" Tricia inquired.
"Not a whore, my whore," Seto clarified.
"What were your exact words?" Tricia pressed.
"Mokuba, what are you doing with my whore," Seto recounted.
Tricia's chocolate eyes bored into his blue ones. "And what motivated you to say those words at that time?"
Seto paused. His heart thudded as the moment flashed back to him. He hadn't expected to see her there. She'd left him wanting, craving more but too weak to do anything about it. He needed her services again, but the way he'd seen Mokuba using her had shaken him. Mokuba was tender, protective. If Mokuba hadn't been paying her in money but rather the way Marc paid her, the way her husband probably paid her . . . the scattered pieces snapped together in Seto's mind.
Tricia watched the color drain from Seto's face with fascination. Joan flicked away tears and took stock of the situation. Something swirled in Seto's oceanic orbs, something she recognized all too well. Joan gasped.
"Seto was being playful," Mokuba covered.
"I want to hear it from him." Tricia pointed her stylus at Seto.
"Because I didn't want to be left out of the fun," Seto managed to say.
"What's your definition of fun?" Tricia persisted.
"I think we're done here," Mokuba stood and showed Tricia to the door. "Thank you for your time."
Tricia glanced back to see Joan and Seto angled towards each other, hands connecting. Then her eyes met the solemn ones of the Hyatt security guards and she hurried out the door before they decided to use force. Once all three were out, Mokuba closed the door.
Mokuba walked back toward the couch, shaking his head. "Maybe that wasn't the best idea aft-" he froze. He saw magic happening in front of him. Not the evil Shadow Realm type of magic but something pure and fresh. "Seto . . ." he searched for fitting words but found none. "I can't help but ask . . . what are you doing with my whore?"
Girlish giggles spilled out of Joan.
Seto's eyes snapped to Mokuba. "You actually bought her tonight." As much as he hated to admit it, Mokuba had done more than that to earn her as well.
"Yep. You can ask Roland," Mokuba replied.
Roland. Joan stopped giggling. Who knew where he was right now. "Let's call the Oakland Police Department," Joan suggested.
Seto rose and strode towards the laptop to look up the number. He needed to think, needed space, needed the one person he could actually admit to loving to handle the one he couldn't. "I'll do it. Mokuba, you go have fun with your whore."
Mokuba stood there like a lost puppy until Joan got up, took his hand, and guided him into the bedroom where she had fucked Seto. Maids had removed all evidence of Sunday night's activities, leaving nothing but a pristine vision of luxury.
Joan shut the bedroom door and looked at the clock. It was far past an acceptable time to disturb Michael, or Marc for that matter. She'd told Michael that she might or might not come home after the club anyway, that it all depended on how long Mokuba wanted to keep her on the clock. She wondered if she should charge more for the violation she endured or cut out the time Mokuba spent smoothing things over with reporters. She decided the simplest answer was to leave the Clockify app running, not that she even had the means to stop it at this point.
"I didn't really plan for this. Not at all, actually," Mokuba said.
Hoping they'd come in handy but not seriously expecting anything, she'd added some of Seto's favorite condoms to her purse just in case. Mokuba didn't need to know that, though. "Relax. I don't have any plans either. We should get some sleep."
Joan walked into the adjoining bathroom to urinate and scrub her teeth with the corner of a washcloth while Mokuba stared blankly at the bed. Once back in the bedroom, she dropped her robe to the floor.
Mokuba gaped at her fully nude figure. "You're just going to . . ."
"Yep." Joan slipped between the sheets. "You're welcome to join me. Either way, could you get the light, please?"
Mokuba flicked the switch and let his eyes adjust to the darkness. City lights from across the bay illuminated enough of the room for him to see his way around. Mokuba made his way to the bathroom and showered, letting the day's events replay in his mind. It was all too much noise, too much everything. Exhaustion set in. Mokuba toweled off and, before he could think too hard about it, climbed into bed with Joan.
Detecting a warm male body in bed, Joan instinctively cuddled up to it. It responded with a hesitant caress as its arm encircled her. This was a man, not a vulture.
Chapter 12: The Headline
Mokuba awoke to an unfamiliar number with a 510 area code lighting up his phone. He picked up. "Hello?"
"Dude, what the fuck happened last night?" a masculine voice raged.
"I'm sorry, you are?" Mokuba asked.
"Joan's husband, dumbass. Michelle." Sarcasm dripped from Michael's pseudonym.
"Shit." Mokuba sat bold upright and shook Joan's shoulder to wake her.
"Shit is right, you crazy motherfucker," Michael agreed.
Mokuba fought rising panic. "Joan's here. I'm putting you on speaker." Mokuba deftly tapped the screen and held the phone level between himself and Joan.
Joan sat up and yawned, breasts popping over the covers. "What's up?"
Michael's voice filled the room. "Marc called me. Said he couldn't get ahold of you. Facial recognition software or something has you plastered all over Facebook. And there's this big headline: CEO Falls in Love with Whore."
"Ugh." Joan fell back against the pillows and stared at the ceiling.
"First of all, is it true?" Michael asked.
"He didn't say it in so many words, but yeah, it was written all over his face," Joan admitted.
"Shit." Michael fell silent for a moment. "We could both lose our jobs over this. I don't want to have to beg my mom for money again, and I'm sure your mom is going to explode when she finds out. Are the rich boys still paying you?"
"Yes." Joan's cheeks flushed as she met Mokuba's eyes, realizing she'd assumed before asking.
"Definitely," Mokuba confirmed. Not wanting to get between Joan and her husband again, he went mute and merely observed the beautiful woman he'd shared a bed with. No rings adorned her fingers. How was he supposed to know that she was married? Did it even matter? Michael hadn't threatened Mokuba, but he had issued a crude insult. While technically Seto was the crazy one, under the circumstances, Mokuba couldn't argue.
Michael took a deep breath and let it go with a shudder. "All right. We'll get through this. We'll be fine. Are you still doing Seto tonight?"
"Yeah, I think. Um, I need some things. Do you think you could make it out here?"
"Shit, Linda was going to pick me up from work, but this whole thing . . . are you OK? Do you need me right now?"
Joan searched Mokuba's face. There was comfort but not familiarity. "Kinda."
"I can ask Linda to make a detour. Wait, that's probably going to be way later than you have in mind."
Sensing an opportunity to make a good impression, Mokuba broke his silence. "We can send the limo out to you."
"Very cute, rich boy," Michael commented, "I guess it's the least you could do."
They exchanged logistical ideas until they found a satisfactory compromise. In lieu of Roland, Mokuba would pay handsomely for two Hyatt security officers to fend off reporters on their travels. Joan would wear some of Seto's clothes until Mokuba bought her a new dress, or five, as Michael suggested. They would then drop by the club, where Joan could retrieve her purse and Mokuba could retrieve his car. Mokuba would then drive his car home, leaving Joan to forge on without him. She could spend some time with her husband and then collect her things from home.
After everything had been settled, Mokuba emerged from the bedroom to grab Seto's clothes. "What, I can't see my whore naked?" Seto grumbled as Mokuba passed a black silk shirt, a pair of leather pants, and a KC belt through the bedroom door.
Joan attempted to wiggle into the tight leather pants and found they couldn't compete with her hips. "Damn Seto, how do your balls not get strangled in these things?"
Seto shoved the bedroom door open and looked down at Joan, now trying to pry the leather off her thighs. "Because they were designed to impress, not dress, whores like you." He smirked as she struggled.
"A little help here?"
"I thought you'd never ask." Seto kissed Joan and then pushed her backwards onto the bed. He played with the edges of the leather before yanking it off.
Before Seto could re-establish a grip on her, Joan leapt up and darted to a corner of the room.
Seto chuckled and approached slowly. "What's the matter, little whore? Nowhere to run? Why don't you just stop running and stay in bed with me all day?"
A little thrill ran down Joan's spine. The prospect tempted her, but she had already made up her mind to see Michael. Joan saw possibilities branching before her. Now that she knew how Seto felt, should she use that to her advantage or stick to her job description? What if Seto changed his mind about paying her and tried to make her his girlfriend? Both brothers were so hot that she didn't think she could argue with that proposition if either or both presented it to her. She needed more options.
"I can hear you," Mokuba called through the open door, breaking the spell. "Try Roland's pants." A hand holding a pair of black slacks appeared in the doorway.
Seto snatched the slacks and tossed them at Joan. "This isn't over, whore." He turned and left her to dress in peace. Thankfully the pants fit. Joan tucked in Seto's black silk shirt and secured the slacks with the KC belt, then joined the brothers for a room service breakfast.
They ate with sporadic conversation punctuated by awkward silence. Nobody mentioned love or news articles. Instead, Mokuba went over that day's Summit itinerary, assuring himself and Seto that they weren't missing anything important.
"They'll let Roland go without charges on the condition that I pay five million dollars in property damage," Seto reported. "It will cover their lost revenue too."
Mokuba sighed. "I guess that's fair. But you're still going to get some lawyers on it, right?"
"It will be an iron-clad deal," Seto confirmed.
"Good. While you're handling that, I've got to take Joan out to get some clothes and stuff."
If Seto had been eavesdropping on their phone conversation with Michael, he made no mention of it. "All right, be careful." Mokuba and Joan got up to leave. "Wait." Seto stood and walked around the table. He extended his arms and wrapped Mokuba in a tight embrace. "Seeing Pegasus last night . . . just stay away from that rat bastard, OK?"
Mokuba drew back and saw moisture threatening to drip from Seto's eyes. "I will."
Seto noticed Joan's rapt interest in the touching moment. "And whore."
Before Joan's brain could switch gears from ogling the brothers to registering her moniker, Seto's lips pressed hard against hers. He immobilized her against the wall, applying pressure with his entire torso. Sparks radiated through her jaw, spreading to the rest of her body. It ended too soon but left a lasting tingle.
Seto drew back. "Same goes for you."
Joan touched her lips to make sure they were still on her face. "OK, yeah." She stared at Seto until Mokuba grabbed her hand and pulled her out the door.
Chapter Song Inspiration: Culture Club - Karma Chameleon
Chapter 13: The Article
Mokuba held Joan's hand to the elevator but released it before pushing the button. He crossed his arms and stared at the buttons while he recounted what he'd just witnessed. Seto had never acted that way towards a prostitute. If he kissed them at all, it was only behind closed doors. On rare occasions, one would join them at breakfast the morning after, but Seto would always push her away if she tried anything remotely affectionate on him. "You're right," Mokuba said.
His abrupt words jolted Joan. "About what?"
"That headline is true."
Joan let everything swirl around in her head for a moment. "I think we need to read the whole article."
The elevator opened on the ground floor and Mokuba went about flashing money until he got the hotel manager's attention. Joan followed demurely while Mokuba negotiated wages and promised tips. When he finished, two of the Hyatt's best security officers followed them outside and into the waiting limo.
Once inside the limo, Mokuba found the article on his phone. He scooted close to Joan and they situated themselves with arms around each other so they could both read comfortably. Just as Michael had said, the headline proclaimed: "CEO Falls in Love with Whore."
Mokuba sucked in a breath. There was a photo of Joan, her mascara running, and Seto's iconic white trench coat belted around her. Both brothers had an arm behind her waist and blistering glares. Three Blue Eyes White Dragons rippled across Mokuba's body, and Seto's snarl matched theirs. "Holy shit," Mokuba whispered.
The article itself was lengthy and thorough. Tricia made sure to state that "whore" was merely a "pet name" and that "love" was merely her personal "hunch." The article brought up Marc and Laura but made no mention of Michael, which Joan hoped would keep him safe from his boss' ire, but there were no guarantees. Even so, Michael's wages could never sustain the two of them. Joan kept her fears of unemployment and homelessness to herself as Mokuba kept scrolling down.
Tricia included quotations to back up her conclusion that the rumor — as Pegasus told it — was a gross exaggeration of the facts. The final words of her article drove home her conviction: "The bewildered girl before me was certainly no hardened crack whore but a cherished companion to both Kaiba brothers. I have no doubts that the men responsible for inciting the altercation will be brought to justice."
"Tricia must have stayed up all morning putting that thing together," Joan commented.
Mokuba scrolled back up to the photo. "She did a great job under the circumstances. I told her we needed to get this out before Pegasus and his buddies recovered from their hangovers and realized what hit them."
"Aren't they in jail with Roland right now?"
Mokuba pocketed his phone and took Joan's hand. "Oh, if only. They're too rich to be held for more than five minutes. Maybe if one of them had shot Roland . . . no, they'd have had to kill Seto or me to spend a night in jail. As it stands, the best we might, and that's might, get out of them over this is money, if we settle out of court. Otherwise their lawyers and our lawyers will be locked in a head-to-head battle for a decade. We could tear their companies apart, but we'd risk our own in the process. I'm sure our stock has already taken a dip. Actually, in that case, we could sue Pegasus for defamation, but again we'd want to settle out of court to avoid this flaring up again. I know what Seto said last night, but we've got to face facts."
"Damn." Joan hoped the Kaiba brothers would recoup at least enough money to cover what they shelled out for Roland's release. A night with her was supposed to cost hundreds, not millions of dollars. The limo pulled up in front of a hoity-toity store that Joan recognized immediately. "Hey, Marc and I got kicked out of this place. The attendant was super rude to us."
Mokuba had never been jilted by the attendants at this place, but under the circumstances, he wanted to avoid more drama. "OK, where would you like to go?"
Mokuba took Joan to a store that was more her speed. They laughed at the silly things they saw and exchanged compliments when nice things crossed their radar. It almost felt as if they were pretending again, though the need for that had passed. Despite Joan's insistence that she only needed one dress, not the whole store, Mokuba kept buying until they had six, exceeding Michael's suggestion of five, and throwing in a pair of shoes for good measure.
Though he still preferred not to think about whatever her fees might be, Mokuba accepted that he'd developed a penchant for the same whore as his brother. The word "whore" continued to paralyze Mokuba's tongue, but it ran through his mind nonstop. Mokuba coveted the ease with which Seto could make the word sound respectful, even reverent.
After Joan claimed her purse at the club, she discovered that her phone battery was dead. She sheepishly explained the Clockify situation to Mokuba.
"Just turn it off when you can and don't worry about the extra time," Mokuba said. "Just, you know, let me know when we can do this again."
Joan looked back at the club where she'd been assaulted.
"OK, maybe not that again, but how about this?" Mokuba stepped forward and planted a gentle kiss on her lips. It was sweet but nothing special.
"Definitely," Joan said when it was done.
Mokuba cocked his head at her odd smirk.
"Because you need more practice." Joan pulled him in for a fuller, deeper kiss. Mokuba felt time slow to a crawl. Red, gold, and green paraded through his mind's eye. He thought the kiss was still happening when he heard her speaking again. "I'm not letting you go back to Japan until you learn to kiss like that."
"Hey!" Their attention turned to a young valet, swinging Mokuba's keys around his finger. "You're that escort, aren't you?" He smiled in a casual, carefree way.
"Yes and no." Joan slipped a business card out of her purse and turned it over to the valet. Getting more clients could be the break she needed if her editing career fell through. "If you want something, I occasionally freelance."
"Cool, good to know." The valet slipped the card into his pocket and handed Mokuba the keys.
Mokuba met the valet's eyes. He seemed harmless enough, certainly more harmless than Marc, Seto, or Michael, but if Joan ran into someone else who recognized her, who knew what could happen. Mokuba turned back to Joan. "OK, until next time?"
"Until next time," Joan agreed. She gave Mokuba another hug before stepping back into the limo. One security guard moved to follow Mokuba, but Mokuba waved off the guard, leaving both with Joan.
Chapter 14: NDA
Joan met Michael at the rustic brewery where he worked. When Michael wasn't tending the vats and monitoring their contents, he waited tables for the restaurant side of the establishment. His boss expressed indifference to Michael's personal life and hadn't mentioned anything about the article, so Michael met Joan in the front parking lot on his break. He'd calmed down a lot since the initial shock of seeing Joan's smeared mascara on the internet.
Seeing Michael helped Joan get her head on straight. Ever since she found out about Seto's condition, she'd been wondering if she could fall in love with him too, if the same would happen with Mokuba, if the two of them could give her everything she ever wanted, if she would have to give up what she already had for that. Kissing Michael reminded Joan how it felt when the feelings were mutual, completely secure in the knowledge that he would not only support her when she needed it but that he also trusted her to make the right choices for their mutual benefit.
The presence of the bodyguards disturbed Michael, making him suspicious that Kaiba had designs on locking Joan away if she tried to make a run for it. However, after hearing about the Hyatt's mob of reporters, Michael agreed it was the right course of action. The guards melted into the background, and Michael forgot their presence.
"If this escort thing takes off, I could be a stay-at-home dad," Michael said when he learned about the valet. He felt reassured knowing that, despite how bad the publicity initially seemed, it could have an upside. By the time Joan kissed Michael goodbye, she was excited to get back to work.
When Joan got home, she put her phone on charge while she gathered her things. She decided to pack not only for the evening with Seto but also for the weekend she had planned with Michael – the other Michael, the squirrely 19-year-old whose girlfriend had talked him into trying out polyamory.
Joan also took a shower and applied some makeup. She kept it light, remembering how badly it had smudged after the club and how Seto didn't seem to mind when she wore none at all. She wanted to be prepared in case of paparazzi, though. Pegasus might send out goons in an attempt to prove the "crack" aspect of his story and she couldn't afford to present herself as a hobo.
Clad in one of the dresses she'd selected with Mokuba, Joan slung her stuffed backpack and purse over one shoulder and got back into the limo. She turned on her phone, turned off Clockify, and checked her text messages. There were a few from Marc during early morning, shortly before Mokuba had received Michael's call. Marc hadn't even known that Joan and Mokuba were at the club until Laura had calmed down from the panic that the entire club had been thrown into after the gunshot, and by then he'd felt it was too late to return Mokuba's call. She thanked Marc for his concern and explained why she hadn't been able to access her phone until now.
Joan skimmed over some texts from Michael, some from various friends, some from her mom, and some from her boss. Joan's friends merely asked if she was all right. Her mom begged her to come back to church. Her boss wanted her to take some time off to take care of herself, but she apparently wasn't fired . . . yet. She'd edited with the publisher three years and had recently been promoted, but given how rarely she saw her managing director face-to-face, she couldn't gauge his opinion on her situation.
Then Joan received a text from the other Michael saying he couldn't do this anymore, that he'd given polyamory a fair try and it just wasn't for him. Joan sighed. Thankfully she hadn't grown too fond of the other Michael. She'd spent more time with that Michael than she had with Marc, but the spark had never ignited with the other Michael the way it had with Marc. Besides, she had bigger things to think about than someone she never truly loved.
Joan deleted her upcoming date with the other Michael from her planner and scheduled lunch with her mom on Saturday. She assured all her friends that she was fine and she still planned to visit them the following weekend for the Blooming Planet Festival.
Then Joan logged into Facebook. 68 friend requests and over a thousand private messages registered on the display. She read one of the messages. "Seto doesn't love you and never will, you gross stanky skank! He's not that kind of man. You're lucky he even bothered to save your pathetic life. Stop wrecking homes and buy yourself a clue!"
Joan groaned. Fangirls. She skimmed a few more messages and began blocking people. Then she saw the first explicit death threat. Flashbacks from her internship five years ago flitted through her mind. Tacks in her chair. Urine in her coffee cup. Snuff porn downloaded on her computer when she forgot to log out before lunch. Intimations of worse. Her hands shook and her head throbbed.
The limo reached its destination and Joan looked up at the towering Hyatt. She was going to the top floor tonight, not any of these jealous bimbos. Anger blended with her fear. These girls who had never even touched Seto Kaiba were claiming ownership over him. Joan didn't claim to know the man too well herself, but one thing she did know: Seto Kaiba appreciated experience and skill. He could have the blind devotion these girls offered any day of the week. He'd probably grown bored with girls like that. Teenagers. Virgins. It's because I'm not like them, Joan thought before a similar phrase struck her. It's because I'm brown, Marc's voice popped into her head. Calm down. I'm here now.
Joan watched as the security officers got out of the limo and surveyed the area. This was their turf. They knew what to look for. They gestured for her to get out and she followed them, repeating Marc's words to herself all the way up the elevator and through the hall until Seto answered the knock on his suite door.
Seto froze when he saw the grave look on Joan's face. She closed the door before the bodyguards could follow her into the room, strode past Seto, and dropped her bags on the coffee table.
"Whore?" Worry and confusion edged Seto's voice.
Joan brought up the death threat on her phone, pivoted, and slapped it into his hand. "Do you have someone on your staff who can screen my inbox?"
Seto read the message and his eyes grew stormy. He gripped the phone so tightly that the screen cracked. He looked up and Joan could swear she saw a blue inferno raging in his eyes. "Roland is on his way back. He'll get someone on it. Someone with an NDA."
Joan knew the acronym stood for non-disclosure agreement. "Good. Let me know if there's anything worth reading."
"We'll need your login information." He could always hack into her account or have it hacked, but this would be faster and less hassle.
Joan seized a hotel notepad and recorded the information in short, stabbing strokes. She dropped the notepad on the coffee table. "We fuck now." Joan wasted no time peeling off her dress and tossing it aside. Her simple red lingerie screamed to be taken off.
"Now?" Seto wanted this more than anything, but it wasn't the way he had envisioned their next assignation. Still, the dragon in his pants roused from its slumber.
Joan yanked the broken phone out of his grip and tossed it atop the notepad. Blood dribbled down his wrist from a sharp shard that had been dragged across his palm, but Joan ignored it. She sank her teeth into his lower lip as she undid his belt and zipper.
Chapter 15: Dinner
Roland walked in to find two heaving bodies recuperating on the gray couch. He pretended not to notice their nudity, not to mention the red streaks decorating their skin and the spent condom on the coffee table. "Mr. Kaiba?"
Seto Kaiba nudged Joan off his chest and rolled into a sitting position. "Yes?"
"You might like to know that dinner begins in fifteen minutes," Roland said.
"Dinner?" Joan shot up, realizing she'd skipped lunch. She grabbed her purse and clothes, then dashed to a bathroom to check her makeup.
Roland spotted Seto's injured palm as he leaned in close to his boss. The blood had already stopped flowing from the shallow cut, but Roland still found it alarming. "Sir, will she be . . . joining you?"
Seto rubbed a bite mark on his clavicle. "Obviously."
Roland had read the San Francisco Chronicle article in the taxi he'd taken back to the Hyatt, but Seto's sudden attachment to this woman still struck Roland as surreal. "In the banquet hall, sir?"
"Where else?" Seto rose and headed through the master bedroom into the master bathroom on the opposite end of the suite from Joan. He needed to clean his wound in peace and guzzle water from the tap before she suckered more fluids out of him.
"I'll secure an additional ticket, sir." Roland eyed the broken phone and notepad with what appeared to be an email and password with two drops of blood as he called the front desk. He put the pieces together and figured out that they were a mess for him to handle. Roland counted on a late night. Thankfully, after the police had realized he was a professional who wouldn't respond to any legal interrogation tactics and that his boss could easily sue them over any illegal ones, they'd allowed him to sleep.
After scrubbing the blood from her body and touching up her makeup, Joan emerged from the bathroom with a bounce to find Seto fully dressed in a white suit with a blue tie. She thanked her lucky stars that her wardrobe update with Mokuba had yielded something appropriately matched. Her new blue dress sported a faux blazer with white trim, something she figured she could wear to a job interview if the need arose.
Joan tucked her hand under Seto's arm and they strode into the elevator with Roland in tow. Once on the bottom floor, Roland picked up a small square ticket from the onyx front desk. He then led Joan and Seto to a set of open double doors and handed three tickets to an attendant who merely nodded at them as they passed through the doors into a room filled with round tables decked with white tablecloths.
The boisterous babble of the banquet hall fell to hushed titters as the occupants noticed the CEO of Kaiba Corporation arrive with none other than the infamous whore. Seto and Joan entered the buffet line and began loading their plates. When they were halfway through, someone worked up the courage to yell, "Hey Kaiba, Marc Aurelio wants his whore back!"
Seto turned to face the voice but could not discern who had spoken. It made no difference. His devilish smirk blasted the entire room. "Marc's girlfriend. My whore."
The pressure abated as Joan felt the claim cement her new relationship status. Love or not, Seto never wanted a girlfriend. She would never be that to him, never navigate that limbo punctuated by awkward moments the way she had to with so many others. Being an employee was much more straightforward, not to mention financially stable. She didn't want to deal with intermittent expensive gifts she would have to sell to pay rent, let alone her student loan debt. Her wave of relief swept away her agoraphobia as she smirked beside Seto.
The game developers exchanged confused glances in silence as Joan and Seto finished filling their plates. The duo spotted Mokuba sitting at an almost empty table with a Hyatt security officer standing nearby and went to join him.
The lone small-time Slavic CEO at Mokuba's table stood and offered handshakes to Seto and Joan. "I was hoping to have an opportunity to meet the esteemed kurva. In my country, that is what we call people of your profession."
Joan liked the way kurva rolled off the Slav's tongue. "Thanks." Joan gave Mokuba's hand a small squeeze as she sat down beside him and Seto flanked her other side.
Roland sat beside the Slav, across the table from Joan, keeping a close eye on his employers as well as everything happening behind their backs while he ate.
Seto gritted his teeth and regarded the Slavic CEO with suspicion. Thankfully, the interloper's cordiality towards Joan revealed itself to be nothing more than a strategy to secure a coveted contract with Kaiba Corporation. The Slavic CEO proceeded to pitch his latest game in a heavy accent.
At one point, Mokuba got up for seconds and whispered to Roland, "Joan and I are going to need bodyguards for a while. I tried to drop by my office earlier and it was crawling with reporters, so I just kept driving. Can you pick some reliable people for us?"
"Yes, sir." Roland wondered if he'd be able to catch any sleep at all this night.
The Slavic CEO realized he wasn't going to get anywhere with the Kaibas and graciously excused himself from the table.
Mokuba returned trailed by Duke Devlin. Duke sat down with a plate of devil's food cake and began, "Dude. I am. So. Sorry. That was some fucked shit. That's the absolute last time I invite Pegasus to a party."
Seto gave Duke stink eye while Mokuba said, "I guess that's something. Thanks, Duke."
Duke disregarded Seto's sour expression and spoke to him as if they were best buddies. "That was ballsy saying that in front of everyone, but I still don't get it. What's going on between you three? And where does Marc Aurelio fit into all this?"
Joan gave Duke a primer on polyamory, her open marriage, and how being a whore for the Kaiba brothers changed nothing in her personal life, except for the other Michael, whom she never fully clicked with anyway. Seto glanced at Joan's hands and saw that she wore no ring. He hadn't looked for one before but couldn't recall seeing one earlier either. She bore no tan lines, no indentations, nothing to indicate she had ever worn a ring on a regular basis.
"So you're not making babies with Mokuba?" Duke clarified.
"Correct," Joan stated.
Duke smirked. "How about making some babies with me?"
"I've had enough of this." Seto gripped Joan's hand and stood. Joan shot an apologetic look back at Mokuba, but Seto didn't have to drag her far before she matched his pace, falling into step beside him.
I have a certain monthly budget earmarked for art, and I would really like to share that with actual fans of this story. If you're interested in doing a commission with me, please send me your portfolio and rates and we can chat more. The best time to contact me is at the beginning of the month, before I've spent everything. Obviously I can't afford anyone on Marc Aurelio's level, but I also appreciate gifts :)
Also, I'm displaying more pieces of art on Wattpad because it's a better platform
for displaying images and you can zoom in to view the whole picture:
I have more commissions in progress, both for published chapters and future chapters.
However writing.com is a much better platform for getting feedback with the gift point system.
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