Better Than Sexy
Sexy Series Book # 3
“It’s over.” Landon Bennett sat at the bar of his club surrounded by his partners and best friends, Jason Dare and Tanner Grayson, exhaustion and relief seeping into his pores.
When the judge’s gavel came down confirming Victor Clark’s guilty plea for numerous crimes, not the least of which had been calling in a bomb threat to Club TEN29, vandalism, assault and violating his parole, all three men, Landon, Tanner, and Jason had breathed a sigh of relief.
The bastard who’d killed Landon’s twin brother in a hazing initiation gone wrong would be going away again for a long, fucking well-deserved time. He never should have gotten out of prison in the first place, but apparently the government placed a high value on Vic’s snitching on his cellmate, who’d been a bigger dirtbag than Vic himself.
“To Levi, to the future, and to Club TEN29.” Which had been named for the date Levi died. Jason, from his seat on a barstool, raised his glass and they all took a drink.
Nonalcoholic because despite the fact that they owned a nightclub, none of the guys had a taste for liquor since they’d experienced that horrific night with Levi during their freshman year in college.
Landon drank his sparkling water and let out a long groan. “Now we just have to get through sentencing.”
“Vic’s parole was revoked and he was originally in for manslaughter. Add all these charges including a federal one, and we won’t have to worry about seeing his face for a good long time. Don’t worry.”
This from Tanner, the hotheaded one of the trio. But being with Scarlett, the woman he’d recently met at the club, had mellowed Tanner. Just like Jason’s relationship with Faith had changed him and put an easier smile on his face. Landon was happy for his friends, even if he couldn’t see himself settling down any time soon.
His last serious girlfriend had cheated on him. While Landon had been working nights, she’d been doing her own thing in the evenings. Her own thing being her ex. Landon had left work early and gone over to her place to surprise her … and found her ex’s face between her thighs. She shouldn’t have given him her key. Suffice to say, after the jaded life he’d lived thus far, trust didn’t come easily, except for the guys … and his immediate family.
“So I know you’ve been wanting to talk to us about the club,” Tanner said. “What do you have in mind?”
Landon was grateful for the subject change. The three men, who’d met in college, ran Club TEN29 together and made decisions as a team. Levi’s death had bonded them in a way nothing else could have. Today they had a solid partnership. Tanner dealt with everything inside the club, Landon handled entertainment, and Jason held the position of CEO, running the business end of things. However, they tossed out ideas, collaborated, and made decisions good for them all.
Landon had been thinking about his idea since the night of Jason’s thirtieth birthday party a few months ago, but they’d been so tied up with the Vic bullshit that he’d tabled the conversation. Until now.
“Can we agree that the night we hosted Tangled Royal was a huge success?” The popular band that included Jason’s brother-in-law, Grey Kingston, had reunited for a one-night gig in order to help bring back customers to Club TEN29 after Vic’s bomb threat had scared them away.
Both Jason and Tanner nodded. “We’ve been on an upswing ever since,” Tanner said.
Landon leaned against the glass and wood bar. “What’s the big thing now?” Before they could consider, let alone answer, he said, “Las Vegas residencies. Britney Spears and Celine Dion were a success, now Kelly Clarkson, Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, all bringing in people. So I was thinking, why not host a summer residency here, at Club TEN29?”
His friends looked at each other and Landon let them think, his own gaze going to the darkened stage they’d put in when Jason had the idea of opening the club to live acts in order to give the place a more Miami Beach vibe.
A grand piano sat in the corner, and just looking at it, Landon’s fingers itched to play. But he hadn’t indulged in music since his brother was killed. Both he and Levi had shared a talent few possessed. They could hear a snippet, a piece of music, and immediately replay it on the keys. Same with quite a few other instruments. Prodigies, their parents had called them. Landon’s desire to play had died along with his twin.
“Interesting idea,” Jason said, drawing Landon’s attention from the painful past. “Who did you have in mind?”
“I didn’t. I’ve been tossing ideas around in my head but nothing’s felt right.” Landon knew the feel of what he wanted, he just hadn’t laid eyes on the right performer yet.
“Grey is in Florida. No way he’s leaving his family for a two-month gig,” Jason said. “Avery would string him up by his balls and he’s not fighting with a very pregnant woman.” He chuckled at the thought. “And Lola“ — Tangled Royal’s lead singer – “enjoyed the one night, but again, she’s in Miami and not leaving her husband.” Rep Grissom was the Miami Thunder football team’s wide receiver and they were based in Florida.
“Yeah, I didn’t expect to get that kind of star power for the summer.” Landon drummed his fingers on the glass. “Any other suggestions?”
For the next few minutes, they tossed around names. Big, small, rock, classic, pop, indie, but they couldn’t agree on the first person to approach.
Jason snapped his fingers and pulled his phone from his pocket. “Faith watched one of the morning shows on television earlier today. On their Pop News segment, they featured this woman whose performance video went viral. Vivi something or other. You should check her out. Great pipes. I don’t think she’s going to stay unknown for long. Let me search…” He input something into his phone and muttered to himself as he obviously scrolled through videos.
“While he looks, I want to make sure we’re on the same page,” Landon said. “When I say residency, I mean we need to provide a place for the performer to stay while they’re in the city, assuming they don’t already live here, and depending on what we agree to pay per performance, there may be supplemental payment or things we need to give as well.” He looked to Jason, who was still scrolling through his phone.
As the CEO, he might find holes in the plan Landon had missed. Tanner, too. They complemented each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We could offer the upstairs apartment,” Tanner suggested. “Saves an additional rental fee and we don’t use it much anymore.”
Landon shook his head. “You two very much attached guys don’t,” he muttered.
Tanner shot him a wry glance. “When was the last time you hooked up upstairs, or anywhere, Landon? It’s the cheapest solution.”
Frowning, he gave the point to his partner. “Fine.” He ignored answering the question because he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a good fuck. Or any fuck, for that matter.
He’d been over the club women for a long time and resistant to anyone who had the word seriouswritten all over them. It would take a special woman to get him to change his mind, but he didn’t deny it was possible. Although his ex had royally screwed him over, his parents had an amazing relationship and had been happily married for the last thirty-two years. Even his equally jaded best friends had found their forever women. Landon just didn’t know if she existed for him.
“You’re in charge of entertainment,” Jason finally said, glancing up from the phone screen. “I’m going to assume you’ve done your research.”
“Damn straight. I’ve also got our lawyer working on a contract in case you both agree.” He grinned, knowing he was ahead of them, but hell, he believed in his idea.
Tanner shook his head and laughed. “Fine. I’m in. Jase?”
The other man nodded. “I like it. Now as for who … I found the video. Look.” Jason rose from his seat and walked over to where Landon stood behind the bar and placed his phone on the counter.
The three men crowded around and looked down at the small screen. Jason tapped and the video filled the entire display.
A gorgeous brunette with long hair hanging down her back in sexy waves rocked her way across the stage. Despite the ball cap on her head, she had presence, owning the space as she moved, hips swaying, her husky voice crooning magic.
Landon leaned in, wanting to get closer to her, to view her as clearly as possible.
“Hey, back up so we can see,” Tanner complained, smacking him in the arm.
Feeling oddly proprietary over the video, Landon reluctantly lifted his head and stepped to the side so his friends could also check out the spectacular woman on the screen. But she’d taken off her cap for a brief second, and his gaze was locked on her face, his body captivated by her voice, and his dick completely engaged in a way he hadn’t been in years.
“I want her,” Landon said, hoping his friends didn’t realize he meant it in a wholly different way than as their summer resident performer.
“That’s her,” Tanner agreed, and a rush of adrenaline buzzed through Landon’s veins.
“Then it’s unanimous.” Jason picked up his phone, taking away Landon’s eye candy.
“Email me the video.” Landon ran a hand over the back of his neck. “Also include anything you know about her so I can track her down and make the offer when we’re ready.”
Jason tapped on his phone. “Done,” he said, and Landon’s phone buzzed in his pocket. Something told him he’d be watching that video on repeat later tonight with his hand wrapped around his cock.
“Make sure the contract is in order before you jump the gun and go see her,” Jason said. “I want to cover our asses and not get ourselves tied up with something we come to regret.”
Landon nodded. “I’ll call Ryan and set up a conference call after he emails the documents,” he said of their attorney on retainer, Ryan Walker. “We’ll all be in agreement before we go forward,” Landon promised, his phone with the video burning a hole in his pocket.
He needed to see her again. To pause on her face, listen to her sing, and know whether or not the initial gut reaction that had his pulse thudding, his heart pounding, and his dick hard as hell had been real.
Because one look at the sexy songstress and Landon was hooked.
The sound of banging woke Vivienne Zanefrom a deep sleep. Exhaustion still nagging at her from her late night of tossing and turning, she dragged herself out of bed, pulled on a pair of pajama pants and a sweatshirt, and padded toward the door of her apartment.
She looked into the peephole and saw her best friend and personal assistant, Ellie Roberts, standing at the door, waving at her. “Let me in, sleepyhead! I have news!”
Vivi groaned and opened the door. “You’d better have coffee this early.”
Ellie, with full makeup, blonde hair curling around her face, met her with a smile. “It’s noon. And you won’t need caffeine after you hear what I have to tell you.” She pulled out her phone. “You went viral! I know you didn’t want anyone to know you went out to sing, but oh my God, look at the views!”
Ellie shoved the screen in her face, and Vivi blinked in shock at the number of views beneath the video of her belting out her favorite tune.
“Vivi, this could lead to big things!”
And Lord knew they needed something to shake loose. Between bills that needed paying, her band that required money or they’d have to go their separate ways, and her family that had fallen apart thanks to her brother having been found guilty again, this time of so many crimes she’d lost count, she’d been emotionally drained for too long.
Needing a break, she’d just wanted to just be herself, not someone who had people counting on her to come through. She just wanted to be Vivi, the girl who got lost in music when life was hard. So one night last week, she’d put on a pair of worn jeans, an old tee shirt, and a baseball cap and made her way to a bar owned by an old friend, where she sang her heart out to drunk people.
“I didn’t notice anyone with their phones on me.” Then again, she hadn’t been looking.
“Well, the contact email from your website has so many hits I’m never going to get through them all!” Ellie’s excitement was tangible. “Oh my God! Good Morning Worldpicked it up on their Sunday Pop News segment!” She was practically bouncing on her heels, her body vibrating with contagious energy. “They used your actual music name!”
Vivi swallowed hard. She wasn’t well known in the industry, but she was an up-and-coming artist known as Vivi Z, doing small gigs with her band and hoping to get a break.
“Let me look at it again,” she said, now wide awake and realizing the implications of Ellie’s news.
Her goals, to be a big-name pop star and to take care of her band and her people, were possibly within reach if they leveraged this opportunity the right way.
Ellie handed her the phone, and she began scrolling through the comments. To her shock, not only had the video gone viral, but her fans, people who’d found her as an up-and-coming indie artist, had recognized her and were clamoring for the song to be recorded.
“I’ll be right back.” She darted into the bedroom for her own phone, yanked it off the charger, and returned to her friend, already pulling up her social media pages, which were blowing up like crazy.
She looked up at Ellie in shock. “This is unreal.”
Her friend grinned. “If the world didn’t know who Vivi Z was before, they will now!”
Hard banging on the door sounded.
“Owen,” they both said at the same time. Her manager, Owen Rhimes, who had taken her on last year, would jump on this in a heartbeat.
Vivi strode to the entryway, glanced through the peephole, and nodded at Ellie before opening the door. “Owen, what a surprise,” she said somewhat drolly.
He walked in, tablet in hand, wearing a pair of light-colored chinos and a green Polo tee shirt, collar up, as usual. “If I’d known you were doing anonymous gigs for no money, I’d have been pissed, Vivienne,” he said, using her full name, as he always did. “However, given the outcome, I have no complaints. Now I just need to organize the offers that have already started coming in and present you with the best of the best.” He sounded certain … and full of himself, as if he’d had something to do with her big break.
She rolled her eyes at Ellie, behind his back, of course. He was such a pompous ass, but she’d needed an agent, and very few had been willing to take a risk on an unknown musician.
“I want to see all the offers.” She never wanted to be an artist who blindly trusted her agent. She intended to be in charge of her own destiny.
He cleared his throat and frowned at her. “I know what’s best, Vivienne.”
“And it’s my future. So I want to hear them all.”
He glanced at his tablet. “Well, most involve touring as an opening act. The main acts aren’t huge … yet, but I can make some calls and–”
“No touring, Owen. I want to be in one place so I can hole up in a recording studio during the day and work on new music. I want the time and money to record.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers. We’re lucky that these offers are coming in, but there is no guarantee they’ll be around forever,” he said, his tone full of impatience.
He might have a point. Not that he wasn’t a jerk at times, but she needed to hear him out. “Let’s sit down and you can tell me what you’ve got so far.”
For the next thirty minutes, he went through a list of opportunities that included opening for B-list bands, and if she wasn’t so set on staying around the northeast, both for recording and especially for her mother, who was hurting from her brother’s actions, she might have jumped at the opportunity. But she’d rather play local clubs for the year than take off on her mother at such a difficult time for both of them.
Her father, Victor Clark Senior, had passed away from a heart attack years ago, and that was both a blessing and a curse, because he’d been a big contributor to the bully and abuser her brother, Vic, had become, and Vivi carried her own share of guilt because she’d been his baby girl, his princess. Her brother had been his punching bag. But she preferred not to dwell on either of them now.
She refocused on her agent. “I’ll think about all these, I promise. In the meantime, if something more local comes up, call me immediately.” She really wanted a well-paying gig that would help her afford in-studio recording sessions.
She refused to take help from her mother, who ran a small legal practice but specialized in pro-bono work, so she didn’t make much on her own.
Owen frowned and tapped on his watch. “Ticktock. These offers aren’t going to be open forever. I’ll email you a summary of each.”
She merely smiled at him. He ought to know she couldn’t make a spur-of-the-moment decision. He rose and headed for the foyer. She ushered him out and closed the door behind him, leaning back against it with a sigh.
“He’s such a killjoy,” Ellie muttered.
“Yes. But he’s my killjoy. The only one who’d take me on when no one else would. Now, for the love of God, can we please go get some coffee?”
The next day, Vivi and Ellie went to the gym, where Vivi did her daily run on the treadmill. Headphones on, she was lost in the beat of the music, when an alert from Owen came up on her phone. Since she’d done her requisite miles, she slowed down and came to a stop, checking her screen as soon as she’d caught her breath.
Call me now.
She pulled up his contact name and placed the call. He answered immediately. “Where’ve you been? Never mind. I need you in my office as soon as possible. I have a man sitting here with an offer that’s going to blow your mind. It’s everything you wanted.”
She glanced down at her gym outfit, knew she was a sweaty mess, and groaned. “But–”
“No buts. I’m keeping him busy talking. Get down here,” he barked.
“Owen! I’m in the gym. I need to go home and change!”
“No time. Hurry.” He disconnected the call.
“Jesus. High-strung much?” she asked the empty air.
“What’s wrong?” Ellie had climbed off her treadmill and was wiping down her face.
Vivi grabbed her own towel and began to wipe down, too. “Owen summoned me. He said he’s got someone in his office I need to meet. Now. On the one hand, I can’t go dressed like this. On the other hand, if I go home to shower and change, it’s going to take me at least an hour.”
She lived in a tiny apartment in Jersey City. Her gym wasn’t close to her apartment. She chose both for their cheap cost and sucked up the hassle. But Owen’s office was close to the gym, and she could be there within ten minutes once she got on the subway.
“Well, you’ve got deodorant in your bag and a little makeup. You’re in leggings and a cropped top. If he’s going to insist, it is what it is.” Ellie walked alongside her as they headed for the locker room.
“I can’t shower here and put these clothes back on. Gag. So you’re right. A little powder and freshening up and it’s as good as it’s going to get.” She pushed open the door and they walked into the women’s locker area.
“Want me to join you?” Ellie asked.
Vivi nodded. “A second set of ears is always good. I might miss something.”
They pulled themselves together as best they could. Thanks to the items the gym set out on the counters, Vivi used dry shampoo in her hair and piled it up into a messy bun and spritzed vanilla body spray on her when she finished washing, touched up her makeup, and called it a day.
A little while later, she and Ellie walked into Owen’s office. Anya, his secretary, greeted them with a smile. “Hello, ladies. He’s expecting you. Go on in.”
Vivi knocked once and opened the door, letting them inside.
Her agent remained seated but another man rose from his chair, and Vivi couldn’t take her eyes off him. Tall, broad shouldered, with sexy scruff covering his face and incredibly blue eyes, he was, in a word, gorgeous. His hair was a dark brown, the front dipping lower on his forehead. And that full mouth was made for sin.
“Vivienne, did you hear me? This is Landon Bennett,” Owen said.
She’d been caught staring, and a knowing grin lifted the other man’s sensual lips. Because his eyes had raked over her spandex-clad body and said body had reacted in a very obvious way, she didn’t feel bad. It would have been even more awkward if she wrapped her arms around herself and covered her now perky nipples, so she somehow kept them at her sides.
“A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Zane,” he said.
“Hello, Mr. Bennett.” Her voice sounded huskier than normal.
“Call me Landon.” He stepped forward, extending his hand.
“I’m Vivi.” She clasped her hand in his larger one, and a jolt of awareness licked through her veins.
Was it her imagination or did he hold on a second or two longer than was necessary? For sure when he released her, she felt the loss.
Ellie nudged her in the side and Vivi coughed. This man seriously had her off-kilter. “This is Ellie Roberts, my personal assistant.”
“Nice to meet you, Ellie.”
Even his voice was smooth and perfect, Vivi thought, and when he smiled at Ellie, as ridiculous as it sounded, Vivi was jealous he’d turned that megawatt grin on someone else.
“I’m sorry to have dragged you away from your workout.” His gaze once again slid over her body, this time in a much more blatant appraisal.
Owen cleared his throat. “Now that the formalities are finished, we can move on to business,” Owen suggested in his not-so-subtle way.
“Ladies?” Landon gestured toward the two open chairs, and they settled into their seats. Only then did he follow.
The man had more manners than her agent, she thought.
“So Vivienne, Landon owns Club TEN29 in Tribeca. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.” Owen picked up his pen and tapped it against the desk.
She nodded. “You just had the live reunion concert for Tangled Royal.” She’d read it in the trade blogs and sites online.
“That’s right. We saw your viral video and we’d like to offer you a summer residency.”
She blinked, certain she had to be hearing him wrong. “Residency?”
“Yes. Your agent has the contract.” He tipped his head toward Owen, who had dollar signs in his eyes and was practically drooling on his desk.
Her heart squeezed in excitement; however, she heard her lawyer mother’s voice inside her head. Never show your hand, Vivi. Always say you’ll think about it, then take the time to go over the contract. Show it to me. Don’t rush in your excitement to grab a deal.Her mother, Anne Marie Zane, who’d always believed in her.
“I appreciate the offer, Mr. … I mean Landon,” she said, doing her best to remain calm when all she wanted to do was scream, I’ll take it!
“As I told you before Vivienne arrived, we have certain requirements,” Owen said.
“Vivienne requires an upscale place to stay, food and beverage comped, and a rider with her list of particular items she will need on hand.”
Ellie gasped, then covered it with a cough.
“Owen, these are all things we need to discuss first.” She had an apartment in Manhattan. True, it was a month-to-month shithole, and she lived on tap water and whatever was on sale at the local grocery or bodega. She couldn’t believe Owen was discussing her contract as if she were somebody.
Of course, that was what she paid him for, but she didn’t want Landon to think she was a spoiled celebrity out to milk him for all he was worth. The things she wanted from this contract weren’t frivolous or meant to make her look like a diva. They would help establish her future and pay off any debt she had now. But she’d get into her needs when it came to dealing with her agent. Negotiating with the man was Owen’s job. She just didn’t want him to make her look like a diva.
Landon’s approving gaze flickered to her before he said, “Mark up the contract and forward it to my lawyer. Everything is up for negotiation and discussion. We want Ms. Zane to be happy.” He turned his attention to her, definite interest in his gaze.
Her stomach warmed at the obvious attraction between them, which was definitely reciprocated. She didn’t think it was a good idea to want the man who would be in charge of her employment, but she couldn’t deny the desire she felt just looking at this powerful man with the handsome face and bedroom eyes.
“I wanted to present the offer in person because the summer residency idea is that important to me and my partners.” He rose to his feet. “But please go over everything in detail and get back to me as soon as possible.”
He walked over to her and extended his hand. She slid her palm against his roughened one, and he pulled her to her feet. “It was nice to meet you and I look forward to you answer, Vivi. We could have an incredible summer together.”
She swallowed hard, lost in the husky sound of his voice and the inherent promise in his words. “I’ll go over the contract in detail and get back to you.”
“Sounds like a plan.” He glanced at Owen. “Thank you for your time.” With another long glance at Vivi that had her heart pounding inside her chest, he strode out of the office. And she had to say, his backside was as spectacular as the front.
“Vivienne! You could have shown a little more excitement! This offer is exactly what you wanted.”
Her heart pounded inside her chest and she turned to Ellie. “Oh my God! A residency! Can you believe this?” She flung herself at her friend and they hugged in excitement. Then she spun to face Owen. “I don’t care about a place to live or specific food. I want them to pay me enough money for a recording studio during the day. I want to be able to move out of my shitty apartment, yes, but I’m more concerned about looking forward with my career.”
“What if I could get you both?” He raised his eyebrows, certain in his abilities.
“Send me the contract, Owen. I’ll go over it and send to my lawyer.”
He narrowed his gaze. “I assure you I’m capable of handling the legal end as well. I’m an attorney, as you know.”
She smiled, doing her best not to patronize him when all she was doing was looking out for herself. “It’s good business to have a second look.”
She tipped her head toward the door, and together, she and Ellie headed out.
“Oh my God. Did that really happen?” she asked her best friend.
Ellie grinned. “It did. If the contract is good, you’ve hit the jackpot. And what was that chemistry I noticed between you and Landon Bennett?” She waved her hand in front of her face.
“He’s so sexy. I thought I was hit by a freight train when I looked into his eyes.” She squeezed her thighs together and felt the rush of desire flood through her. The man had had a potent effect on her.
Ellie grinned. “Looks like it is going to be a long, hot summer.”
Vivi certainly hoped so.