by J.T. Geissinger
“Page-turning suspense. HOT. SEXY. WICKED! What to read next.”—Marie Force, New York Times Bestselling Author
“Wicked Beautiful is wicked sexy, wicked emotional, and one of my top reads!” —NYT Bestselling Author Jennifer Probst
A ruthless businesswoman and the playboy who dumped her long ago find themselves embroiled in a high stakes game of love, lies and revenge.
Life coach and best-selling author Victoria Price has it all: a successful career, fabulous friends, a fantastic penthouse in Manhattan. What she doesn’t have—and doesn’t want—is a husband. Fifteen years ago her high school flame broke her heart so badly she swore she’d never love again. Now she makes millions teaching other women how to be just like her: a ruthless bitch.
Drop-dead sexy restaurant tycoon and infamous playboy Parker Maxwell has only three rules for the women he dates: no questions about his past, no expectations for the future and no spending the night. When he meets Victoria, however, he’s willing to break his own rules if it means sating the explosive desire she arouses in him. What he doesn’t know is that the alluring Victoria Price used to be the mousy Isabel Diaz, the girl he deflowered and dumped long ago.
Presented with a perfect opportunity for revenge, Victoria decides the game is on. But when her connection with Parker proves more than just skin deep, she has to make a choice—continue with her plan for payback, or risk her career, her reputation and her heart by taking a second chance on love?
Other Books in the Wicked Games Series
Bitch: noun a slang pejorative for a woman who is belligerent, unreasonable,
malicious, a control freak, rudely intrusive, or aggressive.
From behind a Plexiglas podium on the vast, lighted stage in the Broadway Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square, I stand looking out, scanning the faces of the twenty-five-hundred women in the audience.
Pride suffuses me. Even after raising the price to two hundred dollars a ticket, I’m still packing these seminars to standing room only.
Man-hating is big business. I’ve built my entire empire on it.
I lean forward and speak into the microphone. “Ladies, a show of hands, please. How many of you have ever been called a bitch?”
Over two thousand hands shoot into the air.
“Well, congratulations. You’re doing something right.”
Scattered laughter from the crowd. Smiling, at ease because I’ve given this particular speech dozens of times before, I unhook the mic and stroll out from behind the podium, smoothing a stray wrinkle from the perfectly tailored waist of my white Armani suit.
“Let’s take a closer look at this definition of bitch for a moment.” I turn to the large projection screen on the wall behind me. “Belligerent. A word meaning hostile, combative, warlike. We all know what unreasonable means: uncooperative, unhelpful, difficult.”
Grinning, I turn back to the audience. “So far, so good.”
“Then we have malicious. That’s a real baddie. It means intending to do harm, cruel, or unkind. No bueno, right? And how about control freak? A person who attempts to dictate how everything around her is done. Not so great. Rudely intrusive is self-explanatory, and then we come to my favorite one. Aggressive.”
The smile fades from my face. For a silent beat, I examine the audience, enjoying watching them watching me. I get such a charge from being up in front of so many people, having them hang on my every word. It’s almost better than sex.
Definitely better than the sex I had last night, anyway. I left Mr. Forty Seconds of Fury lying sprawled on his back in his bed without a backward glance. I should’ve known it would be a disaster when he claimed to be packing a python in his pants. I have heels bigger than his dick.
“The word aggressive is commonly only used in reference to rabid dogs, savage dictators, or a woman with an opinion. If a man is aggressive, he’ll be described as a go-getter, or ambitious, or even simply masculine. In fact, every word in the definition of bitch that you see here is a masculine attribute. Warlike? Difficult? Unkind? Controlling? Those are all the antithesis of what society tells a woman she should be, because they are inherently masculine traits. So when a man calls you a bitch, he’s really saying you’re acting like a man.”
I pause for effect and then say forcefully, “And I’m here to tell you that acting like a man is the only way you’ll ever get what you want out of life.”
In the ballroom, it’s silent as a graveyard. Everyone stares at me, waiting.
“This is a man’s world, ladies. It might be cliché, but it’s the truth. Women are born at a disadvantage. We lack testosterone, the hormone responsible for the urge to build skyscrapers and fly to the moon and go to war. We are conciliators, peacemakers, nurturers. We are self-sacrificing, which is not only ridiculous, but also a ridiculous waste of potential. What we need to be in order to live truly fulfilled, productive lives is powerful. Can anyone tell me how a woman becomes powerful? Just shout it out. You don’t have to raise your hands.”
There are a few calls of “Education!” and “Self-knowledge!” and even “Weight lifting!” which brings on laughs. I laugh too, loving the energy of the room.
“Those are all good examples. But none of them get to the heart of the matter.”
I always make sure to use the word heart. It’s every woman’s Kryptonite. Well, that and love. But that word is strictly verboten in my seminars.
And in every other part of my life.
“Here’s a quote from Roseanne Barr. ‘The thing women have yet to learn is that nobody gives you power. You just take it.’ Sounds simple enough, right? The problem with that is that it assumes the source of power is outside you. It isn’t. You already have all the power you need, but you’ve been giving it away. You’ve been trading it, bartering it, squandering it, because your need to be liked is stronger than your need to honor yourself. Every time you don’t speak up if you’re disrespected, every time you say ‘yes’ when you should say ‘no,’ every time you put someone else’s needs or desires ahead of your own, you give away your power. And what do you get in return?”
I wait. The audience leans forward, a collective held in thrall.
“Frustration. Resentment. Anger.”
Heads nod. I’m preaching to the choir. Picking up energy, I turn and stride stage right. Every eye in the auditorium follows me.
“Here’s a fun statistic. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. Twice as likely. Do you think that’s fair?”
When I hold out the mic toward the audience, I get a blistering shout in return.
“Of course it’s not!” I pace back the way I came, my legs eating up the stage, my hair tumbling over my shoulders, a lioness going in for the kill. Agog, they watch me.
“And can you tell me who NEVER suffers from depression?”
Right on cue, hundreds of voices cry out. “Bitches!”
“That’s RIGHT!” I roar. “Bitches never suffer from depression! They don’t suffer from anything, in fact, because if it makes them unhappy, they move on! They don’t try to change it, or whine about it, or spend hours with their girlfriends analyzing why. They simply open their hands and let it go!”
Clapping. Ah, how I adore the sound of clapping. It takes a great deal of effort not to break into another grin, but I manage it. I stand with my legs shoulder-width apart in the center of the stage and gaze lovingly at my audience.
Even in my thoughts, I’m careful not to call them my “minions,” as my best friend Darcy does. The word is far too disrespectful for a group of people who are putting half a million dollars in my pocket for a few hours of listening to me talk.
“The bitch’s motto is, ‘After me, you come first.’ Whether it’s a man, or a job, or a family member, the priority is always her own happiness. In this way, and in this way only, a woman controls her own destiny, and realizes and safeguards her power. She’s never at the mercy of anyone else.” I pause briefly to let that all sink in. “What you need, ladies, is simply a new interpretation of that old insult for a strong woman. A definition you can truly embrace.”
A new graphic flashes on the large projector screen on the wall behind me.
Bitch: noun a woman in control of herself, her life, and her destiny, who always gets what she wants.
Shouts of “Amen!” and raucous hoots of approval erupt from the audience. Now I can’t help myself. My mouth breaks into a huge smile.
“That’s right. A bitch always gets what she wants. A bitch isn’t bossy. She’s the boss. In life, in work, and in relationships, bitches always do better. Now let me ask you ladies…”
I throw my shoulders back, lift my hand to the sky, and raise my voice to the rafters.
“Are you ready to become a BITCH?”
The answering screams are deafening. Applause thunders. The audience leaps to its feet.
And I stand laughing on the stage, soaking in the adulation of over two thousand women, thinking there’s no way life gets any better than this.
Well, if Mr. Forty Seconds of Fury had turned out to be Mr. Four Hours of Foreplay, it would’ve been better, but because men are men, we women can’t always get everything we want, despite the claim of the empowering graphic projected on the wall.
Which is precisely why I own so many vibrators.
* * *
Seven hours later, after the seminar is finished, all the questions have been answered, all the books have been signed, and the last of the audience has finally filtered out the ballroom doors to wreak havoc on the men in their lives with their new, enthusiastically embraced titles of capital-B Bitches—and they have the lapel pins, mugs, and bumper stickers to prove it—I’m exhausted.
Unfortunately, I committed to dinner with Darcy tonight at Xengu, the new hot spot in Tribeca, and there’s no way she’ll let me off the hook, no matter how tired I am. Calling her a foodie would be like calling Jesus a rabbi: accurate, but completely missing the point. Darcy has turned dining out into an art form, and a highly lucrative business. She’s one of the most successful food bloggers in the States.
She’s also the only woman I’ve ever met who can make a grown man soil his pants in fear at the mere sight of her. If a restaurant gets a thumbs-down review from her, its owner might as well close the doors and start over. She’s utterly, unapologetically ruthless.
And brilliant. And loud. And hilarious. If there’s anyone in my life I’d use the L-word for, it would be her.
I’m back in the lobby of my high-rise, awaiting the private elevator that will take me to the penthouse level, when my cell rings. My assistant, Tabby, is carrying it, along with my Hermès bag, my laptop bag, and my rolling travel bag.
Rule #1: Bitches don’t carry their own luggage.
I don’t have to ask Tabby to answer the phone. She fishes it from her pocket, blows her fire-engine red bangs off her forehead, eyes the readout, and holds the cell out to me.
I take the phone and say cheerfully into it, “Yo, girlfriend!”
In response, I hear a sigh. “I take it by your lame attempt to sound gangsta you’re running behind schedule?”
“I could be gangsta!” I say defensively.
Beside me, Tabby raises her brows.
Darcy, who is 5’10”, African-American, and weighs somewhere in the vicinity of two hundred fifty pounds, says sweetly, “Sure you could. And I could be Taylor Swift. Now if we’re done living in a fictional universe, can we please talk about how late you’re running? Because I’m not walking into Xengu late. They won’t hold the reservation, even for me.”
The elevator doors slide open. Tabby and I step inside, and the doors close behind us.
“They wouldn’t dare give away your reservation! Don’t they know who you are?”
“Right?” agrees Darcy, reveling in her bulldozer reputation. Her voice turns sour. “But apparently the owner isn’t fond of food critics, because I was told in no uncertain terms that if I were more than ten minutes late, my reservation would be given away, no matter who I am. This place is totallo en fuego, girl! They can afford a few bruised egos.”
When speaking to me, Darcy enjoys peppering her speech with trendy little Spanish phrases, most of them botched. My mother is El Salvadorian, and my father was from Mexico City, and they both spoke Spanish to me when I was growing up, so I speak the language as well…and Darcy thinks she does too. Her Spanglish is atrocious. It’s also highly amusing.
“FYI, Gloria, if you mean ‘completely,’ you just say, ‘total.’”
I call her Gloria when she butchers the language, after Sofia Vergara’s character in Modern Family. Though Gloria’s butchering English, so it’s not really the same, only it is because I said so.
Rule #2: Bitches are never wrong.
“Tch! You ‘totallo’ know what I mean, V! Don’t hate! And don’t change the subject. When are you getting there?”
The elevator doors open again to reveal the elegant marble-and-glass foyer of my penthouse. Tabby and I walk inside. She leaves my handbag on the mirrored console against the wall. The rolling luggage bag she takes into my home office, where she’ll spend the next several hours going through mail, answering emails, scheduling meetings, and generally making my life easier. I pay her an ungodly sum of money, but she’s worth every cent. I couldn’t do what I do without her efficient support. More importantly, she’s proven her loyalty time and again, guarding all my secrets, exercising total discretion in the running of my affairs. She’s one of only two people on earth I can trust.
The ironclad nondisclosure contract she signed when she came to work for me doesn’t hurt.
Still with my phone to my ear, I unbutton my jacket, toss it to the back of a white leather chair in the living room, and head to the master bedroom and my favorite thing in this six-thousand-square-foot ultramodern space I call home: the Jacuzzi bathtub.
“Give me half an hour. If you get there before me, order me a—”
“Filthy Grey Goose martini with three blue cheese olives. I know. And lemme guess. You’ll be wearing white Armani.”
I pretend I’m offended. “Are you saying I’m predictable?”
“I’m saying you’re anal, V. Why not break out some color once in a while? Maybe a floral print? Or, if you’re in the mood to really go for broke, maybe try a drink other than a Grey Goose martini?”
Because, dear friend, there’s safety in routine.
“I’ll try something else when they make something better. See you soon,” I say, and hang up.
I run a bath. When it’s ready, I strip out of the rest of my clothes and sink into the steaming water, sighing in pleasure. The only thing that mars my contentment is that my legs are too short to reach the end of the tub, and so I have to hold on to the edges so I don’t sink.
I wish I had longer legs.
In my mind, I’m six feet tall. In my mind, I’m a Viking warrior. In my mind, I’m a goddess, irresistible and powerful and, most of all, beautiful.
The reality, however, is that I’m a light-skinned Latina of average height and weight with no particularly interesting features. I admit I do have a good head of thick, dark hair, and straight white teeth. Which, like my crooked nose, weak chin, thin lips, nearsightedness, and flat chest, I had fixed years ago. Thank God for plastic surgery. Even if I don’t look like a swimsuit model, I definitely look completely different from the country mouse I used to be—and that was the goal. There’s nothing of my old life left in the new me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Rule #3: Fake it ’til you make it, bitch.
I soak in the hot water until the muscles in my shoulders and lower back release their knots. Then I get out, dry off, change into a cocktail dress, do my makeup, and fluff my hair. On my way out, I shout a good-bye to Tabby, who has her head buried in a stack of my mail. I head downstairs to the lobby, where my car and driver await. In eight minutes, I’m walking into the noisy, delicious-smelling entrance of Xengu.
Which is when I see him.
And the safe, carefully constructed world I’ve inhabited for the past fifteen years ends with the abruptness of two fingers snapping.