Bryce Kellog inherited some money, but most of what she has now, she made for herself. She’s good at what she does and she’s good at turning a profit, and one thing she’s learned is that you always know where you are with a man who owes you money.
You can’t predict everything he’ll do, but you know exactly where you stand. There’s a certain honesty about that that she’s always appreciated.
With TJ she isn’t sure any more. What holds true in business isn’t necessarily applicable in private.
Bryce has never lied to him and never made him do anything he didn’t want to do already. Perhaps it suits him to cast her as the wicked temptress – that’s an old story, even TJ must have read it somewhere. But he fell into bed with her before he asked her for the money, so it wasn’t Bryce making this a transaction, was it? She spent a little cash to have him for the day, that was all. If you can afford to buy nice things, why not do it?
The rest was just him putting two and two together. He knows where his best interests lie.
Strangely enough, she does feel sorry for Robin.
But Robin is young and beautiful and honestly, if TJ is that easy to tempt, isn’t she better off knowing now than five years down the line with a couple of his brats in tow? Seducing him wasn’t difficult. He didn’t try very hard to resist. Bryce took him skiing and invited him back for a drink. He protested once then followed her home like a dog, and with one beer inside him his clothes were on her bedroom floor, just like that.
If he were a girl, dirt-poor like he is, that easy and that pretty, he would have gotten himself a reputation in no time. But it’s different for boys.
If Bryce were a man, rich and with new arm-candy every season, she’d have gotten herself quite a different reputation too. But she likes having pretty things and she enjoys the raised eyebrows. Aspen is a small town, and if you want something exciting to happen in a small town, sometimes you have to be prepared to do something exciting. What’s the point in having money if you can’t do what you want with it?
Mostly they move in different circles, but she passes Robin on Main Street once. They pretend not to see each other. Bryce carries on talking on her cell, and she can still see Robin’s blonde head across the street, reflected in a store window. She almost wants to stop her, say: he loves you, you know, but that doesn’t mean he’d make you happy. Of course you hate me, but I didn’t owe you anything. I never cheated on anybody. When I want something new, I make sure I’m done with the old first.
But she doesn’t. Robin will either find out for herself or she won’t.
Bryce likes ski instructors because they’re fun – good-looking, uncomplicated fun. They understand who is smarter and who earns the money, and she picks the ones where there’s no tedious status anxiety to get through. But when TJ sulks, she isn’t getting what he thinks she paid for. She doesn’t have him under lock and key: if he wants to brood and feel hard done by, he’s free to get lost and do it somewhere else.
But if he wants to come to bed and do what he’s here for, then she’ll think a whole lot more of him. Everybody has to live with their choices. You went to bed with me. You asked me for money. Live with it, sweetheart. You can write about it when you grow up.
It’s almost more fun to get him turned on when he’s sulking like a teenager. He really is terribly pretty when he sulks – all downcast gaze, that athletic grace turned slouching and sullen.
Taking his mind off it isn’t difficult. First time he sends a draft to the floor in a fit of pique, Bryce picks it up, sheet at a time, folds a different paper airplane out of each one, and throws them at his suffering artistic head one after another. By the time she runs out of aerodynamically viable designs he’s grinning.
She leans back in her armchair and puts her drink down.
“Why don’t you get undressed and get over here?” she says, and he pushes the typewriter aside and does as he’s told.
She does like that about him.
Selene Van Buren raises an ironic eyebrow when TJ waves at them on the terrace at Maxim’s. They’re drinking champagne and watching the good-looking crowd, and he skis deliberately past looking tousled and fit and good enough to eat. He knows it, too.
Bryce waves back.
“Bryce! You aren’t keeping him, are you?”
Bryce likes Selene most of the time, but sometimes it’s almost like she thinks Bryce cares if she disapproves.
Bryce takes a slow sip of her drink and watches over the top of her sunglasses as he skis down the mountain. Everyone who is anyone in Aspen has told her how pretty he is, and they haven’t even seen him naked. The pretty goes all the way. Selene’s just jealous that she isn’t bold enough to go up to what she likes and take it.
“Darling, don’t be coy, it doesn’t suit you. Don’t pretend you can’t see the appeal.”
Selene rolls her eyes.
“Oh, I see the appeal alright. But aren’t you worried you won’t be able to get rid of him at the end of the season?”
“When have I ever struggled to get rid of someone at the end of the season?” Bryce asks.
Selene shrugs and makes a little moue like putting on lipstick. Most of her money is her husband’s, so their situations aren’t really comparable. If anything, they’re quite the opposite.
TJ is lovely in bed. Beautiful, obviously, like everyone says – Bryce has always liked the skiing physique. He’s just that age she likes, too. Young enough that he’s quick to respond, but not so young that it’s all over in minutes.
He isn’t inexperienced, although he’s smart enough to know she won’t be impressed by his Detroit factory-girl conquests.
When she asks him how many girls he’s slept with, he says,
“Um – twenty….two?” like he knows perfectly well but can’t decide if he should be proud of the number or ashamed of remembering it.
“Any boys?” she asks, just to see.
He looks shocked at the question. “Bryce!” he says, sitting up all wide-eyed and pulling the sheet over himself.
But he didn’t actually say no. She does wonder about his scruffy friend who looks at him like he hung the moon, but this is supposed to be fun and if he’s going to act traumatised then they don’t need to talk about it.
It shows that all of those twenty-two girls were young and undemanding. Happy enough to have caught him at all, even if he never pretended he was staying, and not expecting anything for themselves out of it.
But Bryce is 36 and picking up the tab, and she does expect something for herself out of it. For all that Franz is sophisticated and European, he really never did listen to what Bryce told him she wanted. By the time they’re 30, men think they know everything there is to know about sex, and women, and the whole damn world when you really come down to it. Bryce has had enough of that in business. She doesn’t need it in bed too.
TJ is 25, and that’s half the reason she keeps him around. The next girl that gets him will thank her for it, except Bryce would put good money on him never breathing a word of this to anyone.
What she likes most is how well he takes direction.
Passion is all very flattering, but he has to learn when to slow down and take his time. He actually seems to like it when she makes him.
The first time he goes down on her, she grabs his hair when he tries to move up and fuck her. He looks up, face wet with her, hopelessly turned on and confused, and she pushes his head back down.
“Darling,” she says, “You haven’t finished here,” and sees his eyes go hot and dark before he does what he’s told.
She never says anything about it – he’s quite old enough and cocky enough to feel he has to deny liking a thing like that, getting told what to do in bed. Bryce is pretty sure she could tie him up if she caught him in the heat of the moment, but that’s a little obvious even for her. Besides, she appreciates how he moves – it seems a shame to waste that and have to do all the work herself. She only had to tell him once about leaving in the night, so there isn’t any need to make a point now.
She isn’t surprised, when he sneaks out that night and then comes back to ask for money.
When he turns up in her office, she knows what’s coming. From the tight uncomfortable look on his face he isn’t going to go out and buy a car with it, but he doesn’t explain and she isn’t inclined to ask. He’s realising that money can smooth your way to a lot of the things you want, even things that people say you can’t buy. She respects that about him. When you’re from Detroit, there’s no romance in being a starving artist in a garret. It’s just the same as being poor, in the end, isn’t it?
He doesn’t even ask nicely.
“A friend of mine’s in trouble. I need ten thousand dollars,” he says, just like that, and the words send a thrill coursing through her. Oh you do, do you? And what are you going to do to earn them, pretty boy?
“Is that an apology?”
He looks up at the ceiling and she can see him wanting to walk out. But he doesn’t.
“This isn’t easy for me, Bryce,” he says, through gritted teeth.
Well no, in his place she wouldn’t enjoy it either. But then Bryce has worked very hard to make money in other ways: she never would be in his place. Not that she judges him for it – quite the opposite, in fact. That’s something they have in common, appreciating the things money can get for you.
“You’re doing just fine,” she tells him, and yes, she’s enjoying watching him squirm.
He looks at her across her marble desktop and the expanse of her office, and she puts her pen down. Negotiations are something she’s always been good at.
Bryce looks up at him, waiting for him to go on.
“I’ll pay you back,” he insists.
She lets herself smile then, and her voice go mocking. “How?”
He looks away at that, shakes his head. “I don’t know.”
Oh darling, of course you know. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t know.
Bryce smiles and leans back in her chair.
“It doesn’t have to be this hard, TJ. Do you know that?”
His lips part and oh, this is the hard part isn’t it? Admitting what you’re doing and why you’re doing it?
“Yeah,” he says.
He’s not sulking tonight. He’s dressed beautifully, like an adult, in clothes she gave him. (He lets her dress him, and God knows he needs the help there. Even a boy as good looking as TJ is can only go so far from where he comes from if he carries on dressing like where he comes from.)
But there’s still something puppyish about his energetic cheerfulness that she finds grating. Probably because he isn’t cheerful over anything that matters.
He’s made up with his deadbeat friend – they’re skiing the Powder 8 together, are off early in the morning to practice. And that’s lovely, really it is, but Bryce prefers going skiing to talking about skiing and he’s just getting tedious about it.
“You need an early night if you’re starting at seven,” she interrupts.
He isn’t just a pretty boy – he catches on right away.
“Ok then,” he says, bouncing out of his chair and holding his hands out to her. She really is fond of him when he’s like this. If she didn’t know better, she might be tempted to keep him past the end of the season.
She does know better though.
He licks his lips as she slides her dress off, but when he reaches out to her she lies back down on the cream couch. Her underwear is beautiful and she wants to keep it on – it’s not like she can’t afford to heat the house. They don’t need to hide under the bedclothes.
These shoes are beautiful too. The little clasp at the ankle is fiddly, but he’s good with his hands. He’ll rise to the challenge.
“Undo that for me, would you?”
Oh, there it is, that look in his eye: turned on and confused and something that isn’t quite ashamed but might be later.
He doesn’t have to drop to his knees, but perhaps he knows she likes it. Perhaps he likes it: he never says. He’d enjoy something more traditional too, but then he could get that anywhere, couldn’t he? And he is here still, taking what she’s giving. He isn’t just here for the money. Perhaps he’d like to be, but he isn’t.
“Take off your clothes,” she tells him once he’s fumbled her shoes off, grinning crookedly at his own clumsiness. She can see he’s impatient, now – so is she. If he as much as touches her, she could come right now, with him kneeling at her feet.
But there’s a heady rush in making him wait, in waiting herself. Knowing he wants her and isn’t going to do anything about it until she tells him to. Will hold himself back, hard and aching, until she decides it’s time.
She likes watching him strip. He does it fast, like he doesn’t know half of Aspen would pay to watch. Oh, he knows to a certain extent – some of her friends talk about him as if he isn’t even there. He’s heard. But he’s more innocent than he thinks he is. He doesn’t really know what he could do with what he’s got. And if he does do boys – well. He’ll take ten thousand dollars from her, perhaps he’ll take them from someone else too.
She smiles at him as he drops his shirt on the floor, and he smiles back. He knows what she likes now, she doesn’t even need to tell him.
He leans over to kiss her, arms braced on the couch, hovering just above her as she runs her hands down his sides. And then he’s kissing his way down her body, almost too fast, going back to his knees and pulling her panties aside and then all the way off.
TJ’s better with the written word than the spoken, but he does this beautifully. Pretty mouth licking at her, pretty blue eyes looking up every few seconds as the rush builds and builds inside her. She pulls him off once, wanting it to last. He goes gratifyingly still with her hand in his hair, tipping his head back. He could break away any time he wants, but he doesn’t.
“Alright, I want you to fuck me now.” She’s panting when she lets him go, but she doesn’t care.
His hands are hot on her thighs as he leans back in to lick her one more time and then he’s reaching for a condom.
Bryce can appreciate the symbolism of who’s on top, but they already know where they stand with each other. And as it happens, she prefers to feel his weight on her, leave him to set the pace. He’s bigger and heavier and stronger, but he’s holding back, moving deep and slow and watching her, and that’s what really does it for her. TJ looking for her approval that he’s doing it right.
And he is, oh, oh, oh, he really is, she’s nearly there.
“Now, touch me,” she gasps. He lets out a little desperate sound and slows even more, bracing himself on one arm so he can stroke her clit with his fingertips. He’s not clumsy at this: he’s been paying attention, and his cock hard inside her and his fingers moving on her are perfect, so good it lifts her up like a wave and carries her over the edge and she’s coming and coming, on and on, hips moving to take him deeper as he holds still for her to take her pleasure on him.
When he’s stroked the last aftershocks from her she tells him to move, and it’s only then that he lets go. He pulls her close and really goes for it, fucking her in earnest as the echoes of her orgasm ripple through her. She wraps her legs round his waist and urges him on, reveling in all that strength just for her, how unselfconscious he is. His breath is harsh in her ear, his stubble rough against her shoulder, and he comes so hard he almost sounds like it hurts him.
Bryce lets him lie in her arms for a moment afterwards. He always keeps his face turned away, and she lets him do that too. He doesn’t look at her until he’s got up and thrown away the condom and pulled his shorts back on.
Bryce watches him and doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t feel bad about liking what she likes, but then she’s older than TJ. He’ll learn. Not with her, maybe, but he’ll learn.
Bryce collects him from the hospital herself after the avalanche. Dr Lancing called her, told her what happened. Maybe TJ asked him to, maybe he didn’t. She thinks probably he didn’t.
As soon as she sees him in the waiting room she knows it’s over. It’s not going to be fun any more, and even if she wanted to help him, he would never let her.
So she takes him back to her house, and wakes him up every hour to make sure he isn’t concussed, and tries to decide if it’s better to throw him out in the morning or wait for him to leave.
In the end it seems kinder to let him be the one to go.
It doesn’t take long.
They are alike really, but she has nothing to prove by making him admit it. He noticed her for her money; he cheated on his girlfriend for a drink and a day on the slopes; moved in for ten thousand dollars.
Of course he won’t pay her back – he can’t. But Bryce has money. She doesn’t need it.
He can go.