Sunlight glared through the crack in the blackout drapes and Adam moaned, curving his arm tighter around the voluptuous blonde beside him in the oversized king bed. A lithe arm curled into his hair and tangled in his short hair and he reached behind him to run a hand down the brunette’s hip. He couldn’t remember their names right now, but as long as the doorman saw them safely home in the next hour or so, he wouldn’t need to know.
Rubbing his eyes, he tried to remember something about last night, but it was a blur of lights and cash and alcohol. Better known as a Tuesday. His phone chirped and he dug in the covers for it. He found it buried between another lovely set of thighs and nibbled his way to this week’s new device. Only the best. He licked the length of leg and tumbled out of the bed.
“Where are you?”
Adam winced and peeled one eyelid open. Looked like his penthouse apartment, but he turned one full circle to be sure. “Home.”
“You have thirty minutes to get to the courthouse. I’m out of favors.” The phone call clicked off and Adam stared at the screen. His uncle could be such a dick when he wanted to be. This last DUI shouldn’t have even shown on his record, let alone . . . he huffed and slapped the blonde on her bare ass. “Gotta go, sweetie. Doug will see you home.”
She stirred and curled into the brunette. Adam hesitated and thought about crawling back in, but turned on his heel and raced through the shower and dressed. On his way out, he tipped his butler and asked him to handle breakfast and sending them home, earning him a wide grin and a wink.
Cars jammed the courthouse parking lot and Adam ran the front tire onto the curb and tossed the keys to a uniformed chick standing on the sidewalk, slapping a twenty into her palm. “Thanks.”
She spun on her heel and sputtered obscenities, but he waved and nodded his thanks. Inside, the courthouse smelled like musty judges robes and decaying feet. This better not take more than fifteen minutes. He had stuff to do today. His uncle is waiting at the far set of doors, arms crossed and looking pissed.
“Dammit, Adam. We talked about this.”
Adam shrugged. His uncle did his best trying to keep him out of trouble, but he’d played the orphan card for too long to iron out his life now. Babes and cars made him happy. No judge was stupid enough to give him more than a slap on the wrist. Today wasn’t about to be any different. “It’s chill.”
His uncle bristled. “Not this time. Not this judge. You’ve screwed up one too many times and this guy has a zero tolerance.”
A gavel knocked, jerking them upright. Adam followed his uncle into the courtroom and sat on the edge of his seat, feeling insanely hungover. That was the last time he ran out of the house without a bottle of water and six aspirin. He rubbed his temple and his uncle yanked him upright. Adam swayed and gripped the edge of the table.
Then they sat back down.
The judge peered at a stack of papers, then at Adam. “What do you have to say for yourself, young man?”
Adam stood. “I’m sorry, your honor. I made a mistake and it won’t happen again.”
“You’ve got that little statement memorized fairly well by now, Mr. Rossmore. Unfortunately, I’ve seen your show before. You have no intention in modifying your behavior, and for that, I’m sentencing you to a choice.”
He paused and looked over his rectangular bifocals at Adam to ensure he was paying attention.
Adam swallowed and shifted his weight so he was balanced on both feet. The alcohol fled his system like cockroaches in a floodlight. His fists clenched at his sides, but he forced his fingers to relax. Who does this fuck think he is? Doesn’t he know how we play the system here?
Adam didn’t dare look at his uncle, but stared intently at the judge.
“One hundred fifty hours of community service or thirty days in jail—your choice.”
Adam’s entire upper body fused with the anger and fury coursing through his veins. His molars ground together and he narrowed his eyes.
“Well?” The judge didn’t react at all to the fury rolling off Adam, other than to lean back in his chair with a smugness that Adam wanted to wipe of with the back of his hand.
His uncle leaned over and whispered harshly in his ear. “Take the community service you idiot, or I’m going to answer for you.”
The judge raised his gavel. “If you can’t decide—”
“Community service you fucking pig with a gavel.”
Adam’s uncle gripped his bicep and yanked him down beside him, but the judge smiled a cruel smile, then set the papers aside and smacked his gavel. “I hereby sentence you to one hundred and fifty hours at Ivy Hollow Manor.”
“Dammit Adam.” His uncle seethed and yanked him from the courtroom. “You’re a damn idiot.”
In the hallway, Adam shrugged out of the fierce grip. “What’s the big deal, I’ll do my time picking up trash a couple hours a day—”
“Ivy Hollow Manor is a mental institution. You’ll be staying there—under lock and key—until you’ve served your time.
“They can’t do that.”
His uncle shook his head. “I told you this was going to catch up to you.”
“Sirs.” A bailiff stepped into their space and rested a meaty hand lightly on Adam’s shoulder.
Adam shrugged it off, and took a step back.
“Will you be needing an escort? They’ll be expecting you by three.”
Adam’s uncle waved him away. “I’ll see that he gets there on time.”
The bailiff nodded and shrugged, then strode down the hallway.
“Three when? Today?” Alex couldn’t believe how quickly his morning—afternoon—had disintegrated. Barely noon and he’d already ruined his entire week.
His uncle glanced at his watch. “You’d better get going. I’m assuming I can trust you to find your way.”
Adam’s feet didn’t work quite like they had on the way in, and he searched his uncle’s stern features. Surely this was a mistake. The bailiff was probably a washed-up actor his uncle had hired to really let the lesson sink in. Well, it had worked. He’d learned his lesson and now he just wanted to go home.
“You don’t really expect me to drive out to some insane asylum, do you?”
His uncle’s jaw flexed. “Why wouldn’t I?”
Adam threw up his hands. “I get it, okay. I fucked up. No more drinking and driving.”
His uncle closed the short distance between them and pressed into Adam’s space, making him bristle like a challenged rhino. Until now, they’d had a very loose definition of a relationship. Adam’s uncle took his mentorship of Adam seriously, but that didn’t always play out well for Adam, like now. Sometimes it took him a few screw-ups to come around, but he got it. No need to lock him up with a bunch of crazies. “They can’t just lock me up. It’s not jail.”
Sadness crept into the edges of his uncle’s eyes and Adam winced inwardly. Being a fuckup, he was always disappointing someone, but somehow he’d always managed to keep his head above water when it came to his uncle. Until today.
A warm hand closed over Adam’s shoulder. “I warned you, Adam.” He looked like he was about to say more, and then he snapped his lips together. “It will be over before you know it.”
The small-boned clerk who’d been sitting next to the judge materialized behind Adam and handed over a packet of papers. “The address to Ivy Hollow Manor and your court papers. Check in with the Head Physician, Dr. Hamilton when you arrive. He’ll explain the procedure.”
Adam took the papers and she vanished.
His uncle’s hand fell away. “I’ll see you in a month.”
Dumbfounded and dry-mouthed, Adam watched his uncle stride quickly down the marble hallway, his heels clicking against the marble. Adam sighed, shrugged, and headed to the parking lot. As he jogged down the courthouse steps, he punched in the Ivy address and did some quick math. If he was going to be staying at this nuthouse for an entire month, he needed to swing by the pad and grab a survival kit. No way in hell was he going to get through this without his iPad, a serious wardrobe, and his wireless card.
Adam raced onto the freeway, double-parked at the penthouse entrance and loaded a bag with every conceivable convenience he could think of. The horror of what they might make him do for the next hundred and fifty hours was freaking him out. He could barely clean his own toilet—cleaning bedpans or puke pans. He shuddered and stuffed his laptop and iPod in just in case.
His phone chirped and he scanned the onslaught of texts. Apparently news travelled fast. By the time he got out in a month, the tabloids would be screaming about why he’d been admitted to a nuthouse and what malady he suffered.
Rolling his eyes he dropped the bag over his shoulder and jogged to the elevator. The drive out of L.A. didn’t take long and Adam got lost in good tunes and a warm breeze blowing through the window. The further he got from the city, the more often he checked the directions, but the computerized voice never rerouted him. She kept him headed toward the rolling hills outside of town. Buildings gave way to lush, verdant landscapes and Adam wondered why he didn’t spend more time out here. Maybe after this episode he’d look at getting a place further out of town. Not that he’d spend much time so far away from the nightlife, but every now and then he longed for a quiet break. It didn’t happen very often, but it happened.
Two hours from town, and fifteen minutes to deadline, Adam turned right into a gated drive. He pressed the brakes and leaned forward with a scowl. This wasn’t right. He was at some sort of mansion flanked by premium landscape and a winding drive. He dug the court papers out of his bag and reentered the address into the maps on his phone.
“You have reached your destination,” the computerized voice crooned.
He scowled at the wrought iron fence again. Not a chance.
Beside him, a metal box buzzed to life. “Adam Rossmore?”
He turned his glare from the gate to the disembodied voice. “Maybe.”
“Mr. Rossmore, we’ve been waiting for you. Please drive through the gates and park on the north end of the portico.” The voice cut out and the box fell silent, then the huge metal gates swung open. Wide wings of gray brick spread in both directions, split by evenly spaced windows across the first and second floors of a massive mansion. Dormers poked from the roof every twenty feet and probably framed massive floor-to-ceiling rooms. He did glass and metal, but the magnificence of this place wasn’t lost on Adam. Beneath a deep curved balcony, a double mahogany door stood sentry in the long afternoon shadow. Adam slowed but didn’t park, still seeking out the portico. Gravel crunched beneath the tires as he crept along the wide, sweeping driveway and gaped at the precisely trimmed hedges and lawns. At the far end of one long wing, a double dormer hung above a wide, open space that could have housed seven cars side-by-side. Adam eased the Ferrari into the cool shade and cut the engine.
Now he knew this had been an elaborate scheme to get him out of the city. Well played, Uncle Max, well played. Adam grinned and turned in a wide circle. Hell of an elaborate way to set up some R&R but he’d take it. He tossed the keys back on the driver’s seat and pocketed his phone. Someone would be out to get his bags.
Beyond the portico, a courtyard filled the backside of the mansion’s other wings, bent at ninety degrees to form a perfect rectangle of grandeur. “Christ, it’s probably going to take me an entire month just to explore the whole damn thing.”
Adam grinned and turned. This was more like it, though he’d have to let whoever was in charge know that their staff could more punctual. An older guy in a labcoat and name tag stood inside a doorway off the portico wall. Adam grinned. Seemed everyone was in on the gag. Between this guy’s official-looking getup and his chubbiness factor, he’d almost believe he was the real deal. Almost.
The “doctor” took a step back and signaled for Adam to come inside. Hopefully to write a prescription for a glass of aged whiskey and some tight pussy.
Now that would be the perfect vacation.
Dr. Pretend shut the door behind Adam and slid a deadbolt. “Welcome to Ivy Hollow, Adam.”
Adam ignored the dryness in his throat and forced a laugh. The “doctor” led them down a wide hallway, pausing at closed doors to indicate the laundry room, pantry, kitchen, and entrance to the patient quarters. “We keep a very small staff, I’m the only doctor and we have one nurse, Emily, on staff. You’ll meet her in the morning. Otherwise, we have a couple of part-time aides, the janitor, and our Zachary, who is a bit of a catch-all.”
At the end of the hallway, they turned left and stopped at a utilitarian reception desk. Above it all, Adam was impressed at how far his uncle thought he needed to take the charade.
“Adam, this is Zachary.” He gestured toward a whisper-thin blonde whose features were so fair he looked nearly translucent.
Adam nodded and jammed his hands deep into his front pockets. This was getting weird. “Hey.”
Zachary’s gaze slid over Adam and he lifted a pierced eyebrow in disdain.
“Please show Adam his duties.”
Zachary tipped pencil-thin lips upward in a queer grin. “Of course, Dr. Hamilton.”
Adam blinked and fought the panic rising in his chest. This “Dr. Hamilton” turned and held out his hand. Adam looked at it for a long moment then shook it, shocked at the warm strength.
“We’re happy to have you.” Dr. Hamilton gathered a stack of papers and left through a set of sliding doors that looked every bit as aftermarket and out-of-place as the reception desk. Adam swallowed, but the hard lump in his throat didn’t move.
Zachary stood and pulled a hard chair next to his and sat back down. “Not a lot happens up here. Basically, you keep an eye out for people wandering and buzz staff through.”
“Sounds pretty boring.” Adam leaned back in his chair and stretched, rocking the front feet off the polished floor. From somewhere in the distance, a soulful piano solo began. Adam righted his chair to quickly, chirping the feet against the marble. Zachary glanced over his shoulder toward the music and pursed his lips, but quickly turned back to the security monitors flanking his desk.
“Where’s that coming from?”
The corner of Zachary’s pale lips curved. “Our Chrissy.”
Adam straightened in his chair and rubbed his palms up and down his jeans. The notes burrowed beneath his skin, making it feel like the music was actually clinging to him, like cigarette smoke. He blew out a breath and focused on what Zachary was showing him. “She’s very talented.”
Zachary did the obnoxious look of disdain again. “How much do you know about Ivy Hollow Manor?”
“Didn’t know it existed before today.”
Zachary chuckled. “Serious?”
Adam returned the disdain and Zachary stood. “Would you like a tour?”
“Sure.” Adam slid the chair back and rested it against the wall, fingering the once-stunning wallpaper and chair rail. The notes of the song quickened and intensified the pressure on his skin. He either needed to see who was playing or get further away.
They moved deeper into the house-turned hospital and Adam noted peculiar upgrades like sanitizer dispensers and utilitarian signs for the men’s and women’s restrooms. Things could not get weirder and he wasn’t sure that he was ready to admit this wasn’t still an over-the-top case of bullshit.
Shadows stretched and clung to the walls and recessed coping in the ceiling. This place was dope. Or had been at one time. Who turns a multi-million dollar mansion into a house for crazies? None of this made any sense. Zachary turned them left, then right, then left again and the notes got louder. Adam could barely think over the way it affected him. He’d always liked music, but this was different, this seeped into his pores and made his blood twitchy like he was tripping.
Zachary settled his hand into the small of Adam’s back again and pointed him toward a darkened greenhouse.
“Dude.” Adam stepped away, putting some space between them. Every time they’d rounded a corner, Zachary “accidentally” brushed some part of his body against Adam’s. At first, he’d been willing to overlook it, but now it was too overt to ignore.
Zachary’s gaze drifted down over Adam’s chest to linger at the hem of his T-Shirt where it wrinkled haphazardly across his belt. Adam narrowed his eyes and clapped loudly, starling Zachary’s gaze back upward. “Knock it off.”
An undulating shiver raced through Zachary’s body and Adam narrowed his eyes. “I’m straight, dude. Don’t make me hit you.”
Zachary cocked a hip and turned on his drama-bitch, snapping his fingers. “Fine bitch. Then find your own way back.” He turned on his heels and walked away, swinging his thin hips like a Top Model contestant.
Adam shook his head and rested a shoulder against the wall. Today could not get more fucked up. The melody changed again and sounded like it was nearly in the next room. Zachary had led him down several long corridors, so who knew where the hell he was. Straightening, he walked to the end and turned right, following the music. He paused at a set of glass-paned double doors. Beyond the wavy glass, candles flickered in the darkness but he could barely make out a white baby grand on the far end.
Easing one of the doors open, Adam slipped through, intending only to listen to the end of the song, but the notes wrapped around his feet and drew him silently toward the piano.
Beneath a sparkling chandelier twenty feet overhead in the massive ballroom, Chrissy sat on a white bench, her slender hips barely taking up a foot of space. Black on black, a cascade of dark hair covered the back of her dark shirt and hid her face, but Adam crept closer, unable to resist. Arms extended and retreated from the curtain of darkness, coaxing a haunting melody from the keys. Every note layered pristinely upon the next, slamming into his gut like punches from a weary street fighter. Whatever had happened to Chrissy to earn her a spot here, Adam guessed it had been something horrible. Good girls with skeleton-free closets didn’t turn out music so full of loss and hurt.
As his feet carried him closer, an exotic mixture of eucalyptus and lemons infused the space surrounding the piano and pianist. Adam wasn’t surprised that Chrissy’s enigmatic mystique carried all the way through to her scent.
Something in him wanted to protect her, strip away whatever pain caused her to seek solace in such a tortured song. Adam rounded the bench and stood beside the case, watching long, blunt fingers fly over the black and white keys. His gaze traveled up lean arms, across a boyish chest and over a square jaw.
Chrissy was . . . stunning.
And very much a man.
I hope you enjoyed the preview of my book! It can be found here!
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