House of Agnes
“You know, all work and no play makes Queen Agnes a very dull girl.”
Agnes saved the spreadsheet on her computer and looked up, masking her irritation at being interrupted. A glimmer of light fell over the bare shoulders of the woman walking into her office unannounced, the emerald minidress a complement to her slim but curvaceous figure. The woman’s high heels teased the marble floor, and her smile said she wanted a lot more than a talk.
“It’s a good thing I’m not a girl then.” She sat back in her leather executive chair, giving Rox the attention she obviously wanted. “The evening went well?” Although if it hadn’t, one of Agnes’s security people would’ve let her know long before now.
“Just as expected.” Rox gave her trademark smile, the one that regularly had men and women offering up thousands of dollars to spend a few hours with her.
She pulled a small stack of bills from her cleavage, all hundreds and all miraculously dry, and laid it on Agnes’s desk. “It went very well, actually. And I kept the tip.” Her cheek dimpled and her red mouth glistened in the soft golden glow from the Tiffany desk lamp. “Care to help me celebrate?”
Before Agnes could accept or refuse the offer, Rox shrugged off her dress. It slithered from her body and pooled around her feet in a puddle of green satin.
Agnes drew in a breath. The lamplight played over Rox’s curves, showing off her high breasts with nipples stiff from the arctic air-conditioning. Her belly was tight with muscle and her hips rounded and smooth. The V at the joining of her thighs was completely bare of hair.
Bald vaginas had never been Agnes’s thing.
She sat back in her chair and rolled her favorite pen between her fingers, leisurely appreciating all the ways Rox had taken care of her body.
The woman was beautiful. Truly. From the loose waves of hair around her fashion model face to her long legs and every worthwhile stop in between. But Agnes didn’t fuck any of the women who worked for her. Never had, never would.
They all knew that and, Agnes was well aware, still tried to make a game of seducing her. She’d seen plenty of naked women before though, had touched enough of them, had made them come. There was nothing special she could have by drinking from that particular well.
“I’ve already had my dinner for the night,” she said with slightly pursed lips, finally smiling when Rox huffed out a sigh of frustration and picked up her dress.
They’d done this dance too many times before for Agnes’s refusal to come as a surprise.
“Look at you,” Rox went on. “With your gorgeous face, all that flawless skin, those tits and legs any girl here would kill for, you’re perfect. But you might as well be a statue for all the use you make of what some of us go under the knife to get. It’s a waste.”
Even for Rox, this was a little far. She usually only took it as far as a little flirtation, flashing bare breasts or sending suggestive texts. However, her attempt at cruelty was nothing compared to what Agnes had suffered on a daily basis at the hands of the man who’d raised her.
“Are you quite finished?” Agnes didn’t hide her amusement at the pathetic stab.
It made her glad, these flashes of meaningless challenge she saw in Rox and some of the others. Before, with her father, they’d been too terrified to do more than breathe around him. Now, they felt safe.
Rox made that frustrated sound again. “Fine, but you can’t sit here untouched in your glass tower forever. One day, you’ll have to let someone in, let them touch you, and feel what it’s like to be a real woman instead of a queen of air and broken dreams.” Rox draped the three-thousand-dollar dress around her neck like a scarf and turned on her stilettos, her nude body again shimmering faintly in the light. “Good night, Queen Agnes.”
“Good night, Rox.”
Agnes went back to what she’d been working on before the interruption, paying scant attention to the petulant stab of high heels into marble as Rox walked away. She barely glanced at the stack of hundreds, content enough to know it was there.
“Oh, God, I’m so sorry!” Her assistant, Clare, rushed in, slight color in her cheeks despite the level tone of her voice. “I tried to stop her from interrupting you, but that woman who keeps trying to see you called again.” She swept up the cash Rox left and sat down on the nearby leather sofa to count it.
“Next time our persistent mystery woman calls, just put her through to Whit.” Whit was Agnes’s personal security. “As for Rox,” she said with a faint quirk of her mouth. “I can handle a woman trying to seduce me.”
Clare acknowledged the order about the mystery woman with a nod. “Was that a seduction? It looked like an ambush to me.”
“To certain wildcats and other prey animals, it’s the same thing.”
Clare snorted and tapped the neat stack of hundreds she’d just counted. “It’s all here. Five thousand.” She made a note on the iPad she always carried and put the money in the floor safe hidden underneath a waist-high bronze statue of Oshun. “By the way, Rox requested the next week off.”
Agnes mentally consulted the schedule. “Of course. She’s earned it. Give her two weeks if she needs more.”
“You know she won’t.” Sitting once again on the sofa, Clare started doing something on her iPad that involved lots of fast but silent typing. “She’d want to get back to work as soon as whatever is keeping her away gets sorted.”
The “whatever” was probably a woman, maybe even someone Rox met on one of her recent assignments. Incredible. Sometimes Agnes was surprised at the stamina Rox had for someone her age. Agnes liked sex as much as most, but she couldn’t understand doing it for work then running off and doing it for fun too. Which was probably why she wasn’t having any sex at all.
“I just sent her the approval of the next week off and your offer for the one after that.” Clare interrupted Agnes’s useless musings on her sex life. She darkened the iPad’s screen and put the device face down on her lap.
“Perfect.” Agnes tapped the mouse to wake up her own screen. A reminder to herself that she still had work to do even if a part of her wanted to step out and breathe different air. “Thank you. You can head home now. I know it’s late.”
“I don’t mind staying.” Clare gave her quick smile, hands tucked in her lap. A trick she used to seem vulnerable and compliant when she was anything but. It also was a trick she didn’t need to use with Agnes. But habits were hard to break, especially ones painfully learned.
“I know, but you need to go home so I can have a clear conscience.” Agnes made a shooing motion toward the door. It was already half past five on a Friday afternoon. Although Clare’s cat wouldn’t be calling the cops to find out where her human went, Clare still needed some time away from The House. Even if she didn’t want to admit it.
“I’ll go, but only if you do too.”
Agnes raised an eyebrow, giving her assistant a single glance.
“Fine. I’ll stay out of your affairs.” Clare stood up, smoothing down her skirt. “You should leave, though. I’m sure there’s someone out there who wants your company.”
Agnes smiled at that not-so-subtle way of trying to find out what was going on in her life. They’d worked together for over five years now, the entire time this current version of The House had been in existence. Despite that, Clare—and most of The House’s employees—knew nearly nothing about Agnes’s personal life, and she preferred it that way.
She’d made The House of Agnes from the ashes of what it had been and created an image for herself—deliberately remote yet fair, untouchable, and just a little bit dangerous—so their competitors didn’t get any foolish ideas. That cultivated persona wasn’t easily worn, but she kept it up in all areas of the business. She didn’t become or stay Queen Agnes by allowing everyone to know intimate details about her, such as whether or not she had a family and, if so, where they lived. Not that many people even knew where she lived.
Her business details, though, were more public. It was common enough knowledge that the top three floors of this twenty-story building housed her offices plus a pair of penthouse apartments for her exclusive company use. H Holdings, the name The House of Agnes did business under, quietly owned the whole building and rented the rest of it out to other businesses.
“Thank you, Clare. I’ll only be here another hour or so anyway.”
“All right. I’ll keep my cell phone close if you need me.” Then, with another apologetic smile, her assistant was gone.
Agnes waited until she heard Clare’s footsteps disappear down the hallway toward the elevator before she stood. Her bones hurt. She stretched her long body and sighed at the sensation of moving muscles held too long in one place. The outer glass walls of her office, tinted and bulletproof, reflected her figure against a background of the night’s darkness. High heels, matching gray skirt suit, white blouse with the high collar held closed by a diamond brooch. Cool. Professional.
Clare was right, though. It had been a long day, and this suit she wore, both the face and the outfit, were pulling tight now over her skin. She ached to get rid of them.
So, she did.
She slipped out of her suit, the matte heels, her boring blouse. Unpinned the stern updo. Her reflection this time was very different from the one everyone saw. Her nearly six-foot body, nude except for the plain black bra and G-string, straightened hair loose around her face and brushing the AC-hardened tips of her breasts. As Rox had so charmingly stated, not bad for thirty-six.
The freedom of being nearly naked and away from the scrutiny of others made her close her eyes for precious seconds. Then she shook herself. It wasn’t as if she had all night.
In the closet, she chose pink. A knee-length pencil dress with three- quarter sleeves and a high neck. It looked good, softened her usually remote-looking features, and hinted at an innocence she no longer had. She stepped back into the matte heels. An attempted smile in the mirror looked more like a snarl, but that was all right too.
After setting an alarm on her phone, she took her private elevator down to the garage. There, she climbed into one of her anonymous-looking cars and drove toward her private club, where she usually ended up at least once a month. It was a routine Whit repeatedly warned her to break.
But she didn’t want to.
How did you come up with the title of your first novel?
It was actually my editor at the time who came up with it. My original title for the novel was Hunting Bliss but, because the lovers in the book were named Hunter and Bliss, he thought it was too cheesy so he cut it in half.
What are you passionate about these days?
These days, I’m most passionate about really enjoying life. For me, this means living absolutely in the moment, noticing the beauty (or the bizarre) around me, and trying something I’ve always wanted to but, for one reason or another, just never got around to it before.
After having gratefully survived cancer, every breath I take reinforces that while nothing is promised, I can still drink up all the juices of life, let them drip down my chin, mess up my clothes, and make my hands sticky from the joy of it. The alternative isn’t worth considering.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
My favorite AND least favorite part of House of Agnes was the challenge of writing it during the mess of 2020. Everything last year felt harder than anything else I’ve ever done. Whether that was being a consistent writer or being a good partner.
All the events of 2020 made the simplest things more difficult. It also made writing House of Agnes an immense task on top of the huge challenge of attacking a new sub-genre of romance. Many writing days felt never-ending and unproductive. Sadness and alarm bombarded me from all sides. After that, it felt amazing to come out on the other side with a good book. An intense fist-pumping session came after I pressed “send” on that email. Of course, the success of Agnes as it is now, I owe completely to my editor. Without her, I’d still be crying in my wine over an unfinished manuscript.
What are you currently reading?
Right now, I’m reading everything by Nalini Singh. The latest book in her addictive Guild Hunter series, Archangel’s Light, comes out this October and I’m SUPER excited about it. A few months ago, I finished her first thriller called A Madness of Sunshine which is set in New Zealand and has an incredible sense of place. Her second thriller and latest release, Quiet in Her Bones, is on my TBR list.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Right now, I’m working on another lesbian romance, Stud Like Her, set for a December release. It’s an age gap, stud4stud (butch/butch), slightly forbidden romance that tackles self-identity, the changing nature of relationships, and has a cute dog. It’s already up for pre-order here: https://books2read.com/StudLikeHer
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
If House of Agnes was ever made into a film, I’d love Gina Torres to play the lead. That woman is perfect. Statuesque. Able to deliver a killer line with an equally killer raised eyebrow. Did I mention how sexy she is?
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I loved how organic the experience was. At least in the beginning. Agnes leapt off the page with her own obsessions, desires, and loves in such a complete way that the first part of the book was a breeze to write. I’d never written a character like her before so I enjoyed how she mentally took me to new places.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
This is the cruelest question. It reminds me that I’m not able to travel right now. My last “pilgrimage” was to Paris to follow in the footsteps of James Baldwin and Josephine Baker. My writing partner and I did a couple of “Black Paris” tours and did some writing of our own. With all the baguettes and Camembert cheese we ate along the way, it was magical.
Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
One of my all-time favorites is Rémi from my third published novel Hungry for It. She was a secondary character from the first book in the How Sweet It Is series. I had absolutely no intention of writing about her, but then she captured my attention during the writing of the first book and basically forced me to begin the series. She ended up being the most popular character with my readers.