“One woman, for life. Hell, no.”
Xavier had waited until Tobias was well out of earshot to state his observation. They were sitting outside on leather couches, on the rooftop terrace of The Oasis, the bar his friend owned.
Tobias was flying Luke and his team to his wedding on Kawaya, his 300-acre private island in Fiji. Luke and his staff were taking care of the drinks for the 4-day wedding extravaganza.
“He’s your brother. Be happy for him,” Luke drawled.
“I am happy for him,” Xavier insisted. Tobias seemed more relaxed these days, and it was all down to Savannah and Jacob. “It was about time he met someone. I could say the same about you.” He glanced at his friend, but Luke kept quiet.
“Not me.” Luke shook his head. “I’m too busy to be dealing with women.”
Girlish laughter bubbled around the room making Xavier glance over his shoulder. Even though it was late evening and the night sky had darkened to a rich navy-blue, the soft lights from the lamps made it easy to see everyone. He raised his glass to the group of women who sat around a table scattered with jewel colored cocktails. A couple of them acknowledged him with an interested smile.
“Know them?” he asked his friend. Luke seemed to know everyone who came here.
“Lawyers and legal eagles, celebrating an engagement. That’s all you need to know.”
Xavier eyed them slowly, his gaze lasering in on a woman with long wavy hair and what looked like a big and beautiful pair of breasts. His mouth watered at the sight of her hard-to-miss nipples poking through her silk dress. He flashed a smile at her, appreciating the view.
Even with the slight chill in the air—a promise, in this last week of September that fall was around the corner, it wasn’t that cold because of all the heaters Luke had placed around the terrace. Or maybe the woman wasn’t cold and was just excited to see him.
“Quit bugging my clientele.”
“I don’t see them complaining.” Xavier lifted his beer bottle to his lips.
“That’s because they don’t complain to you.”
“Bullshit.” Xavier looked at his friend dubiously. “Nobody’s ever complained to you about me. You’re making that shit up.”
On second thoughts, it was probably better not to risk anything while Tobias was around. With his wedding to Savannah a week away, his brother could sometimes get easily irritated. In fact his family, especially his parents, seemed to get annoyed when it came to Xavier and his love life. He didn’t understand why. He was young. Maybe not so young. But 27 wasn’t exactly old.
Tobias was going to celebrate his 30th birthday the day before he got married. Talk about hitting two major milestones one after the other.
Luke’s gaze drifted to the table of women before returning to him again. “Is Xavier-The-Stud-Stone in action again? Won’t your girlfriend mind?”
Xavier rolled his eyes at the mention of the nickname Luke had given him many years ago. “I’m only looking.” Gisele wouldn’t like him ogling other women, but she wasn’t here, and he wasn’t about to do anything silly. He wasn’t that much of a douchebag. “You all set for the wedding? All set to show off your mixologist skills?” he asked, his fingers curling around the glass bottle.
“Don’t call me a mixologist. I don’t need any fancy, stupid labels.”
“Okay, calm down.” But Xavier guessed that his cocktail making skills behind the bar helped him pick up a lot of girls. Not that the dude needed to be behind the bar. “Think of the shit ton of publicity you’re going to get from it.”
“That’s not why I’m doing it,” Luke protested.
Xavier snorted in disbelief. “It’s not as if you would have turned this opportunity down.” It was Tobias Stone’s wedding, for fuck’s sake.
“Tobias doesn’t want any press,”
It was true. Tobias was an intensely private person. “My brother’s anal like that.”
Luke leaned forward. His sleeves had been turned up, revealing hard, tattooed forearms that had Xavier wondering if he should get a couple of tattoos himself. Chicks loved that stuff. And that, along with the handful of bars and clubs Luke owned in and around New York, made him a babe magnet. Xavier envied him a little, and for having a thriving business which didn’t seem like that much hard work.
“I don’t blame him. He wants no paparazzi and nothing leaked. I respect that, and I haven’t told anyone outside of my team. My staff is discreet, and they won’t leak anything to the press. I’m honored that Tobias asked me.”
“He’s asked you based on my recommendation.”
“He’s been here plenty of times without you.”
Xavier scratched the side of his jaw. “When?” Tobias wasn’t a party-animal. “He’d rather watch the stock market than hang out in a bar.”
“He’s been here a few times with Savannah.” Luke’s eyes twinkled. He seemed to be enjoying the telling of this news. Xavier angled his head. Yeah, well, things were slightly different now that his brother had met Savannah. These days Tobias was a changed man who had gone from spending most of his time in the office, to actually having a life outside it.
Another shriek of laughter bubbled across from the table behind him, forcing him to cast another look over his shoulder. He quickly scanned around the table and zeroed in on the same woman again. His gaze settled on her a moment longer than usual, until she returned the stare, and then he turned his back on her.
Show interest, but not too much. Raise their hopes, get them excited, and then pull back.
“His fiancée seems like a nice girl,” Luke said. “And he looks happy.”
“He is. He never used to go out much. I had to drag him out so he could mingle and get some pussy.”
Luke slanted an eyebrow. “That was considerate of you.”
“I thought so, too.” Xavier leaned in, eager to know, “Are you getting any?” Luke’s mouth twisted as if he was trying to formulate an appropriate reply. “For a 27 year old, you still talk like a teen.”
“I’m being serious, dude.”
“I am too. Quit the pussy talk.”
Quit the pussy talk? It made him wonder. “Are you batting for the other side?”
“You idiot.” Luke gave him one of his you’re-a-shithead-looks. “Some of us don’t like to talk about it as much as you do.”
“Where were we?” Tobias rejoined them, slipping his cell phone away.
“You were about to order a glass of whiskey,” Xavier replied, then raised his hand to summon a server. He should have ordered Tobias a drink while he was taking his call.
Tobias turned to Luke. “Do you have everything under control?”
“It’s all taken care of,” Luke assured him. “I’ve met with your security guys. We arrive the morning of your birthday, and I’ll be there to oversee everything. You don’t have to worry about a thing.”
The server placed the whiskey glass down, and Xavier slid it over to Tobias. “Here you go, bro.”
Tobias dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “No thanks. I’m good.”
“Since when did you give up drinking?”
Tobias gave him a hard stare. “I haven’t. I don’t need one now. Get me a Coke, will you?”
“Coming up.” He caught the server’s attention again and ordered the drink before turning to Tobias. “You need to loosen up.”
“I still have work to do before we fly out. We can’t all work from home in our PJs.”
Luke sniggered. “What is it that you do again? I’ve never been able to figure it out.”
Tobias grinned back at him. “Let me know when you find out, because I still can’t work it out myself.”
“He drives a 488 Spider, though,” Luke remarked casually. “He can’t be doing too badly.”
It ground on his nerves, the two of them talking about him like this. “I’m here, guys. I’m right here. And I’m doing fine.” Xavier raised his bottle and waved it at the two of them for ganging up on him. Tobias and him were opposites. His brother was far too rigid, far too organized. But then, he was a billionaire running a hedge fund. People thought that because he was Tobias Stone’s brother, that he was as successful, and as wealthy. He was nowhere near a billionaire, and never would be, and he’d almost made it to millionaire status a couple of times.
Sad thing was, a million was nothing in today’s world. You had to have at least ten mill to get by. “Not all of us get Daddy’s trust fund.” This was aimed at Luke.
“I gave my old man the middle finger,” Luke shot back. “And I’m building my empire with my own blood, sweat and tears. I haven’t taken a cent from Daddy.”
Tobias listened and nodded his head. He didn’t need to say anything because he was a self-made billionaire who counted politicians and captains of industry as his friends. Not particularly close friends, Xavier assumed, but close enough that he could call them up if needed.
It wasn’t that Xavier was jealous, but he knew he couldn’t rival that. He had never been as smart, or as astute as his brother, and he was painfully aware of the fact. “Laugh all you want, but I’ve been creating and running businesses ever since I quit high-school,” he said, a little too defensively. “And I can afford the Ferrari just fine.” He lifted his chin in defiance.
“To confirm,” said Tobias, ignoring him and turning to Luke again. “Have you got the agenda?”
“And you’ve signed the agreement?”
“Yes. No talking to the press, no pictures, no exclusives for any of the papers or magazines. Understood and noted.”
Xavier suppressed a breath. His brother’s paranoia bordered on OCD at times. He took a swig of his drink and listened to Tobias and Luke discussing the wedding details. He felt like a third party in a business meeting for two.
He was happy for Tobias. Of course he was, and it was about time things turned around for him, especially after what had happened with Ivy. But honestly, apart from that huge life-changing event, things had always gone pretty smoothly for his brother.
Unfortunately, for himself, things weren’t so easy. Business had been slow lately. He didn’t have the smarts and the genius to run a hedge fund, but he’d had to find his own way.
He wasn’t living off of Tobias’s generosity, nor did he want to. The problem with starting and running lots of small businesses, trying and failing many times over before finding a few that worked, was that it wasn’t consistent. He was always looking for new business opportunities. But when he made money, and sold a business off, or made good with the stock market, he did pretty well. Well enough to afford a Ferrari and a loft conversion in Tribeca. Well enough to easily afford thousand dollar bottles of champagne when he needed to impress.
But things hadn’t been as great ever since he and Petra had broken up. She had been his lucky mascot but ever since the split, at Tobias’s party back in July, he hadn’t seen her. A week later he'd heard she was doing the rounds with a quarterback from the Miami Dolphins.
Not that he'd been lonely for long. Shacking up with Gisele, a cute B-list actress, had relieved him of too much wrist action.
He looked up as a gorgeous woman swept past their table, then stopped and stepped back, placing her hand on Luke’s shoulder and greeting him. Xavier eyed her butt as she talked to Luke, flirting with him like a nymph. Her hand slid down his arm, fingering his skin and tracing over his tattoos. “Come on over and say ‘hi’, when you’ve finished, stranger.” Her pomegranate red nails squeezed his friend’s bicep as a parting gesture. Xavier watched her until she was out of sight, and then turned his attention back to the conversation.
“I think we’re done,” said Tobias, getting up and shaking hands with Luke. “See you in Kawaya.”
“Thank you, for the opportunity.” Luke looked chuffed as he got off from his stool then excused himself.
“Lucky son-of-a-bitch,” Xavier sniped, watching Luke and the woman talking. “I bet he has everyone’s number.” It seemed like a waste because for all the phone numbers Luke might have had, Xavier hadn’t seen him with anyone for a long time.
Tobias gave him another one of his steely looks. “You’re like a walking hard-on.”
“This place is full of beautiful women, what do you expect?” The brunette on that table was giving him the come on. His mind was already in the gutter, and he could see by the way she licked her lips that hers wasn’t far behind.
“You haven’t confirmed if your girlfriend is coming.”
“Would you mind if she did?” His mother would give him a hard time, and he would have to make sure she didn’t get her claws into Gisele for too long.
“I don’t care if she does or not,” replied Tobias, icily. “But if her coming stops you from hitting on all my guests, then go for it.”
“You have the wrong impression of me, bro.”
That’s what he was worried about. He wasn’t sure Gisele could keep her mouth shut. She was easily impressed, and a little too text-happy. Each time they went out she’d take pictures and post them to her social media accounts before they’d even had dessert.
“If she’s not on Vivian’s list, she’s not getting in.”
Tobias and his goddamn lists. Xavier didn’t envy Vivian, Tobias’s new PA, the task of organizing the list of attendees. This ‘small’ wedding was turning out to be a security nightmare, and Xavier was still none the wiser as to what had happened to Candace, Tobias’s previous PA.
He’d had her once, in the supplies cupboard in The Vault, Luke’s club in the basement. He’d had her up against the door with her legs wrapped around his waist, and her panties around one ankle. Maybe he shouldn’t have, what with her being Tobias’s PA, but the girl was a flirt, and she’d wanted it. And he had been single at the time.
It had been a simple case of supply and demand.
Maybe it was as well that she had left, or had been fired, or whatever. Even Matthias, who had been a close friend of his brother’s for as long as he could remember, had gone at the same time, and Xavier was still none the wiser as to what had happened to either of them.
Tobias refused to discuss it.
Xavier ventured another try, at the risk of getting shot down, as he had on the other occasions. “Are Candace and Matthias coming?”
“No.” The tone of Tobias’s voice warned him against probing further.
He could take the hint. He knew that if someone pissed Tobias off, his brother would cut them off and be done with them.
“You’re flying with mom and dad, right?” Tobias asked, indicating the topic was done with.
Fuck, yes. Xavier’s insides tanked at the thought. Gisele had to come, if only to be a distraction. The 17-hour flight from New York to Fiji, with a stop in LA, was tough enough, and if his parents were going to be on the same flight, it was going to be hell on earth. On landing, they had to take a small plane or a boat from the main airport to Kawaya.
The thought of being stuck on the flight made his stomach churn. “Shame you decided to go a few days beforehand.” Otherwise they could all have traveled on Tobias’s private jet, and it would have made the journey bearable.
“It’s my wedding, and I’ll do whatever the hell I want.” Tobias was traveling a few days earlier with Savannah and Jacob. Everyone else was coming a few days later on commercial flights, all paid for by Tobias.
With it taking almost an entire day to get there, then four days on the island and a day to get back, it was going to be nearly a whole goddamn week. He had to make sure Gisele came along because, in that heat, with his parents and god knows who else, on an island that was remote; he’d go crazy unless he had something to do. And doing Gisele would be the best way of passing the time.
Tobias gulped down his drink and announced that he was leaving.
He’d been hoping to hang around The Oasis for longer, and spend some increasingly rare time with his brother who he barely got to see much these days. It used to be the case that he could convince Tobias to come out every few months. Xavier used to insist on it just to get his workaholic brother out into the world of the living. But, ever since he had met and fallen in love with Savannah and her young son, Jacob, his brother no longer seemed to have much time for anyone else. Xavier missed that, a little.
“Has Savannah ordered you to be home for dinner?” The idea of domestic bliss bored the hell out of him.
“I promised Jacob I’d be home early.”
Xavier’s eyebrows shot north. Pretty soon Tobias Stone’s household would be like The Waltons. Saccharine bliss.
Enough to make him want to puke. What the hell had happened to the man once dubbed New York’s most eligible bachelor? Not that Tobias had ever been a player but, as Gisele had shown him on one of those stupid online celebrity websites, his brother still held strong on the list. It didn’t seem to matter that Tobias Stone was getting married. But what irritated him was seeing that he was number 7. And what pissed him off even more was finding out that Luke was number 4.
Number fucking 4.
And the man didn’t even seem to be interested in chicks.
As for himself, he knew why he was so far down the list. He was nowhere near as wealthy as Tobias.
He wasn’t a billionaire.
And if truth be told, he wasn’t so sure he wanted to work that hard to become one. He was doing pretty well as he was.