Caution: This Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Fa/Fa, Romantic, Cheating, DomSub, Rough, Harem, Interracial, Oral Sex, Anal Sex, Petting, Caution,
Desc: Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Ethan swore he would never work in the fashion industry, but that was before he became a cold commodity in photojournalism. He knows he's going to have to pay his dues in the new field, but an offer from an old friend provides him a way to pay them all up front.
It had been days since Ethan's phone had rung and, for a moment, the sound was so alien that he'd forgotten what it meant. When adding his own personal touches to the studio he'd loved the idea of getting a retro phone, a big, heavy plastic base and authentic ring tone, but it was alarming when he tried to concentrate.
By the way his shoulders ached and the sun was slanting into his window, he realized he'd been at it all night. As engrossed as he'd been in his photo retouching, working pixel by pixel to get the shading exactly right, he'd completely phased out the rest of the world.
Wearily, he reached for the phone, "Ethan Ford Agency."
"Stringer, is that you?" asked a familiar, distinctly female voice.
The nickname should have been a tip off to the caller's identity. Ethan hadn't been called "Stringer" since college. After that, nearly everyone he worked with was a stringer--a photographer who took pictures of newsworthy events and then tried to sell them to the wire services. He'd spent nearly all of the last six years in the hot spots of Europe and the Middle East doing just that. It hadn't left him much time to keep up with old acquaintances.
Deciding he wasn't going to be able to guess the caller's identity, Ethan said, "I've gone by that nickname in the past. Who is this?"
"Renee... Renee White," said the voice. "It's been a long time, Ethan."
It certainly had. For the first two years of college, Renee and Ethan had been half of a nearly-inseparable quartet, the other half of which had been Ethan's girlfriend-since-grade-school Katie and his best friend Artie, who had also been Renee's boyfriend.
"Stringer, are you there?" she asked after a few seconds of silence.
"Yeah, yeah." he said, half in a daze, "Renee, I haven't seen you since before graduation. What have you been up to?"
"Taking the world by storm," she said. Ethan had a feeling it was a line she'd used before. "I understand you're back in the States and looking to do more of the fashion thing."
Ethan looked at the picture he was retouching, blown up hugely on his screen. The model was generally pretty, but had flaws that would keep her from advancing very far. Still, she'd been willing to work for free. The subtlety of adjusting her pictures to make him look like a better photographer without it being obvious that he was touching them up was mind-numbing.
"'Looking' being the operative word here," Ethan admitted. "I just got started. Are you still modeling?"
"No," said Renee. "I'm on the management side of the business now. Maybe I can help you out. I've got a few contacts in the business."
That gave Ethan pause. As good as the friendship had been the first two years, it had ended just about as badly as such a thing could. Besides that, Renee had always been far more practical than altruistic, "That would be great, Renee." he said cautiously, "Would there be some favor I could do you in return?"
"Funny you should ask," she said. "I was hoping you could shoot my wedding."
"No," he said flatly. He hadn't meant to be so abrupt, but he was tired.
"I would pay you, of course," said Renee as if Ethan hadn't spoken. "Or, more specifically, my fiance would pay you."
"I don't do weddings, Renee."
"You've been out of the country a few years, haven't you?"
"Yeah," Ethan said. "about six--since graduation."
"Tell people that Renee White wants you to shoot her wedding," she said. "Be as contemptuous as I can hear that you want to be now. Call me at work on Monday with your answer."
Ethan wanted to hang up. Renee's presumptuousness had always been one of her most irritating characteristics. Instead, he said, "What's the number?"
"You won't have any trouble finding it, Stringer. I'll talk to you Monday." The click on the other end of the line indicated that the conversation was over.
Rather than take Renee's advice, Ethan started out by doing a web search on her name. Finding nearly two hundred thousand hits gave him a hint as to what sort of reaction he would get if he told people he'd been asked to shoot her wedding.
"Well, fuck me." he said quietly.
Most of his time back in the States had been spent looking for a full-time job in photojournalism or even a promising lead on the stringer angle. He'd come to realize that he was a cold commodity. When a fellow ex-stringer mentioned he was looking to take a year off and sublet his fashion studio, Ethan had agreed to give it a try.
Ethan had no illusions that he would be working the Paris premiers any time soon. The hundreds of news photos he'd framed on the walls of the office and thousands more he hadn't meant even less in this business than they had in photojournalism. His friend, Jordan, had sent a few clients Ethan's way--models he didn't think were worth his own time who were working on limited budgets. So far, he'd been right every time. Most of them were pretty enough, but...
They weren't Renee White. Renee had always been beautiful, poised, and, although Ethan hated to admit it now, incredibly smart. Although he never would have admitted it, he'd also had an intense crush on Renee once. Scanning a few of the web pages he'd searched out at random, Ethan saw that the world seemed to have come to recognize her beauty and poise. Her intelligence wasn't mentioned much, but it seemed that she'd done some very smart things with her time.
Renee hadn't quite been the biggest of the big, but she'd shared a runway with them. What made her such a big name was explained by the first link that came up on his search: The Renee White Agency.
Most models continued to model until their phones stopped ringing then tried to become singers or actresses. Once they weren't pretty or fresh enough to stand in front of the camera or talented enough to sing or act, they went into management. Renee had done so when her name was red hot, using her leverage and contacts to raid a number of top agencies. She'd engendered a lot of bad blood in the process, but gathered too much talent around herself for anyone to try to stop her.
In the two years since founding her agency, she'd become the topic of conversation in the fashion world. She modeled only as a favor to specific clients, presumably with huge favors in return. That she'd found out what Ethan was doing in the industry before he'd found out what she was doing was a matter of dumb luck. What little research he'd had time for had been focused on the end of the business he could actually expect to work in. He certainly would have stumbled across her name eventually. There didn't seem to be an issue of Variety that didn't mention it at least once.
Looking over a list of Renee's clients, Ethan soon came to realize just how out of touch with pop culture he'd become. His initial impression was that she'd picked up a few big names and a lot of untried talent. Further searching revealed that he had it backwards. The names he thought were big were mostly just past their prime. The ones he'd never heard of were the names on everybody's lips but his.
That it only confirmed his growing suspicion didn't make Ethan's stomach drop any less when he came across a Forbes article that listed "The 20 Most Powerful People in Show Business" and she was listed as number eighteen.
"Fuck me," he said again.
No matter how much he looked, Ethan couldn't figure out for the life of him who Renee was marrying. There was no mention of an engagement and she'd been "spotted" with so many different men that it was hard to tell who she had been dating and who was just an acquaintance. All requests to elaborate on her personal life were had been consistently met with "no comment."
Ethan still wanted to refuse. That Saturday night, he met Jordan at the other photographer's regular watering hole.
It wasn't the sort of place Ethan would have used that particular phrase to describe. Ethan had acquired a number of favorites over the years. They were where he went to get away from the kind of people who packed into Pantheon every night, seemingly oblivious to whether it was a weekend or not.
For that matter, any place that he'd chosen, if it had music at all, would not have required him to discuss his business near the top of his lungs.
"I've finally sunk to the bottom of the pack," he said loudly, pushing in as close as he could to Jordan.
Jordan was accompanied by a svelte, blonde thing. He didn't bother to introduce her, "You're taking portraits of jam-smeared babies at K Mart?"
"Almost," said Ethan. "I'm about to agree to shoot a wedding."
"No shit?" asked Jordan. "I thought you had at least a year before you would have to do that sort of thing."
"I'm being pressured into it," admitted Ethan, "by a high-profile client."
Jordan raised an eyebrow, "You have a high-profile client?"
"Maybe," Ethan said. "I may still turn her down."
Jordan nodded, "Society weddings can be holy hell. But, they pay well and I know you're worried about solvency issues. Who is it?"
Ethan glanced at Jordan's companion. She'd been fastidiously ignoring the conversation until now. Suddenly, her ears were perking up at the hopes of some juicy gossip.
"I'd rather not say," said Ethan. "She hasn't even announced the engagement yet."
The girl scowled for a second before carefully reapplying the bored look like it was blush. Jordan nodded, "Just remember, man. Everybody's got to pay their dues in this business."
Ethan frowned, "But, weddings? Christ, that's like asking Van Halen to play a... well, a wedding."
Jordan laughed unkindly, "You're not Van Halen, man. You're not even Motley Crue."
Ethan was indignant, "I have a Pulitzer."
"Good point," said Jordan, idly stirring his drink. "Maybe you can sell that when you run out of money."
Ethan called Renee's office and was put through as soon as he mentioned his name.
"Ethan," she said. "So good of you to call. Can you come in today at one? We have a lot to go over."
"I haven't said yes yet, Renee."
"No," she said. Ethan could almost hear her frowning over the phone as she elongated the syllable. "you haven't. If you're holding out, hoping I'm going to raise my offer, don't bother."
"You haven't made an offer yet," Ethan pointed out. "And, it's really not a question of how much. I wouldn't even consider becoming a wedding photographer for money, no matter how much."
Renee laughed a little too gaily, "There's no problem there. When this is done, I promise you. No one will think of you as a wedding photographer. If this isn't about the money, why are you considering it?"
"You're Renee White."
Renee laughed again. She seemed genuinely amused, "That's more like it. Come to my office today at one. We'll draw up a formal contract."
"I want more than vague promises that you'll help my career, Renee."
"You'll get them, Stringer." She sounded tired, "Come and see what I have to offer. You won't be disappointed."
Ethan nodded into the phone, "All right. I'll be there. One question, though. Who's the groom?"
"I'd rather not say on an open line," said Renee. "But, it's someone you know. I'll see you at one."
Ethan expected to be underdressed for the RWA offices, but he didn't realize just how out-of-place his khakis and olive-green dress shirt would look until he got there.
Everyone in the office looked like they were dressed, made up and coiffed for a fashion shoot. When Renee's personal secretary told him to have a seat, Ethan asked, "Does this building have a basement?"
The secretary raised one of his perfectly-tweezed eyebrows, "I don't know. Why?"
"I'm just wondering where you keep all of the plain-looking people."
The secretary gave a fake smile, "We ask them to have a seat, sir."
"You know," said Ethan. "Smiling can give you wrinkles."
He was sitting in the waiting area more than five but less than ten minutes when the secretary said, "Renee will see you now."
In the office, Renee came out from behind her desk to give Ethan a surprisingly warm hug. Momentarily stunned into paralysis, Ethan finally managed to hug her back. She'd been beautiful when they were in college, elegant even in unguarded moments. He'd assumed she could only have faded since then. He was wrong. She and Ethan were roughly the same age and he'd just celebrated his thirty-first birthday. Renee was beautiful now in a way that a nineteen year-old could never be. This was a woman in the prime of her power. She'd lost most of her girlishness, but none of her shape. She wore a man's white business suit against her tan skin with no blouse, its straight, mannish lines contrasting and enhancing her curves in a way that a more "flattering" cut would never do. Her hair had gone from an almost-white platinum to an ash-blonde that was either her natural color or an incredibly subtle dye job.
In Ethan's arms, she was all softness and curves. Her hug was warm and genuine. It reminded him of the first time he'd hugged her, before she'd changed so radically. Still, he didn't delude himself into hoping that she'd changed back.
"It's good to see you, Stringer," she said. "Why don't you have a seat?"
Reluctantly, Ethan let her go, "You're looking really good, Renee. It's good to see you."
"You're feeling rather fit yourself, Stringer." She gave him a half-smile. "I guess that Middle Eastern food must be good for you."
Ethan shrugged, "It's less about food and more about dodging and sweating bullets." He sat down, "Nobody calls me Stringer anymore."
Renee laughed and sat behind her desk, "Ethan, then." Leaning forward enough to speak sotto voce, she whispered, "Plenty of people still call me 'that cunt, ' so you should feel free to continue."
There was a playfulness in the words, but it was the sort of playfulness that made little boys throw rocks at frogs. Ethan winced to hear it. In spite of himself, he'd had a moment of hope that the old Renee really was back.
He cleared his throat, "I guess we should get down to business."
"Soon enough," said Renee. "Can I offer you something to drink? We're pretty well stocked here."
"Any particular kind?"
Renee nodded and pressed a button on her phone, "Estephan, would you bring a cappuccino and a water in, please?"
She turned to Ethan, "I'm waiting for one more person to get here."
Renee shook her head almost violently, "Oh, heavens no. With any luck, you won't have to see him again until the wedding day."
Ethan raised an eyebrow, "You don't want any posed shots of the happy couple before the big day?"
Renee looked Ethan right in the eyes, "I told him I don't want him to see me in my wedding dress until I walk down the aisle."
"So," asked Ethan, enunciating clearly and emphasizing the verb, "who is your fiance?"
Renee sighed and looked away for a moment, "I'd rather wait until we've discussed other business..."
"Renee..." said Ethan, a note of warning in his voice.
"Ethan," she gave him a heart-softening smile. In Ethan's mind, she shouldn't have been capable of that sort of smile after what she'd done, "Please trust me to do this in its own order. I need to explain everything before you react."
Ethan raised an eyebrow, "How bad could it be?"
Renee looked away again. It was enough of a pause that Ethan knew if she answered how bad it could be, he would be able to guess who the groom was. He wracked his brain. They didn't have a phenomenal number of common acquaintances. And, it wasn't like he would care who Renee married. So, who could she mean?
Then, he knew. There was only one name it could be.
Still, he didn't believe it, "Wayne Vandevoort?"
Renee looked up at him again and nodded, "You promised to let me explain."
Ethan started to rise, "There's no explanation that can make me shoot Wayne Vandevoort's wedding photos."
Renee came out from behind her desk, trying to gently push Ethan back into his chair, "Please."
Ethan continued to rise. He towered two full heads over Renee, "I need to go."
As he turned to go, the office door opened. Ethan had been out of touch with pop culture for the last few years, but he didn't need much to recognize the young woman who strode in unannounced. The flawless cafe-au-lait skin, faintly upturned eyes, and full lips had been on posters all over the world. Stringer had sold a few dozen photos of an Arab plenipotentiary who had been so impolitic as to offer a half million dollars to touch her breasts. While covering a war in the Congo, Ethan had even found a copy of one of her CDs in the possession of a man who didn't even have the electricity to play it. In some parts of the world, it was presumed that Ethan must know her just because they both lived in America.
As soon as the door had opened, Renee released Ethan's wrist and replaced her pose of supplication with one of calm dignity, "Sondra, good of you to make it." She took the younger woman by both hands, leaned in, and kissed her on the cheek.
"Is this the photographer?" Sondra asked, looking Ethan up and down. To Ethan's surprise, it was an open and friendly look. Even speaking conversationally, her voice had a singsong quality.
Renee nodded, "Sondra, this is Ethan Ford. He's going to be doing your shoot for Substance."
Ethan still hadn't moved from where he'd been standing when Renee broke away. Even his hand was still extended to where he had reached for Renee. Sondra slid her own hand into his and, without meaning to, Ethan found himself shaking her hand.
"Nice to meet you, Ethan," she said. Her Caribbean accent, so pronounced when she sang, appeared only as a bit of extra sibilance on the diphthong in his name.
"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Adour," said Ethan. He tried not to fawn over her, but couldn't tell if he was succeeding.
Sondra laughed and smiled warmly at him, "He's certainly more polite than that other one you introduced me to."
Renee smiled apologetically, "She came highly recommended from someone I thought I could trust on these matters." Indicating the chairs in front of her desk, she said, "Why don't you two have a seat? We can go over the details of the shoot."
As Renee laid her hand on his back to guide him to the chair, Ethan stiffened his spine, "Actually..."
Renee pressed harder against his back, not hard enough to make it a battle of wills, but clearly an indication that she really wanted him to sit down now, "I know you're eager to get back to the other matter we were discussing. But, Sondra needs to head back to the studio soon. And, these two things really have nothing to do with each other."
She emphasized the word, "nothing," and squeezed Ethan's arm. Ethan's eyes widened in surprise, but Renee nodded in affirmation. Eying her suspiciously, Ethan sat back down.
"Ethan," said Renee. "I chose you for this assignment because I know how good you are at being discreet. It's in your nature, even when you've been given permission not to be."
Ethan didn't follow, "What do you mean?"
"You've had days to tell people about our other assignment, but there isn't a breath of it in the papers or the industry scuttlebutt. People would be all over it if they even suspected."
Ethan shrugged, "It's not like I know a lot of people in the industry."
"And that's why you're going to be great for Sondra's shoot." Letting go of Ethan's back, she strode around to her own side of the desk, "People are going to talk about it. The timing of when they start talking about it is incredibly important."
"All right," said Ethan. "As you said, I can be discreet. What are people going to be talking about."
Sondra turned to face him. Doing so involved folding up her long, dark legs underneath herself as she turned, a fascinating and surprisingly graceful movement. It made her seem older and more mature than she was. Then, she leaned her elbows on her knees and chin on her hands, ruining the effect. Ethan couldn't suppress his grin.
"I wrote a love song for my first album that Mad Dog Records wouldn't let me record," she said quietly. "They wouldn't let me record it on my second album, either. I told them if they didn't let me record it on my third album, I would go to another company. They didn't. I came to Renee, who managed to get me out of my contract with very little litigation."
Ethan nodded and shot Renee a respectful glance. Considering how well known Sondra was, that could not have been an easy task.
"This love song... is to a girl," said Sondra. For a moment, she lowered her head and blushed. Then, she looked up defiantly.
Ethan turned to Renee, "I don't see the problem. Lesbians seem to be all the rage now."
Renee shook her head, "Bisexuals are all the rage. Specifically, straight girls experimenting with bisexuality are all the rage. This song is very... honest."
"And personal," added Sondra.
"Entertainers who have come out as lesbians have generally had pretty mixed results," said Renee. "And R & B is not exactly known as a hotbed of tolerance these days."
"So," asked Ethan. "Is that where I come in?"
Renee smiled softly and nodded, "Sondra's going to be coming out in the Substance interview. I want you to do a photo shoot that casts her revelation in the right light--sexy and life-affirming. I want men to fantasize about Sondra more, not less, once this comes out. But, I don't want it to be too cliched or manipulative, either. That will flop just as badly."
Ethan nodded thoughtfully, "All right. I'm sure I can come up with some ideas."
"It's got to be something spectacular," said Renee. "You showed real promise back in college and your stuff from Syria is some of the best I've ever seen. If you can nail this, Stringer, you'll be the hottest photographer out there for a while."
Ethan wanted to ask Renee if she'd really seen his work from Syria. It was the work he was proudest of, although it hadn't been what won him the Pulitzer. But, he was already going over ideas in his head for the shoot, "When do you want to do it?"
"Next Wednesday afternoon," said Renee. "if we can find another model for her to pose with--someone suitably well-known. Sondra, have you thought about who you want to pose with?"
Sondra nodded, "I have a few names. But, I still think you should do it with me."
Renee actually blushed a little, "Thank you. That's very flattering... and an intriguing idea. But, I think it would probably backfire. People would assume I was preying on you. You need someone closer to your own age."
Sondra shrugged, "That rules out a lot of my list, then."
Renee turned to Ethan, "Any ideas?"
Ethan furrowed his brow, "It's not really my specialty, but I remember a shoot done for... Esquire, maybe. K. D. Lang was trying to soften her image and posed with Cindy Crawford. It might be worth considering posing with someone who's an unquestionable sex symbol in the eyes of men."
Renee smiled, "See? I knew you were a smart guy, Stringer. I think I know just the right girl, too."
"Who?" asked Sondra.
"You'll love it when you find out," said Renee, grinning impishly. "I need to talk to her first, though. I don't represent her--at least not yet, but she's looking to change her image too and I think she'll jump at the chance."
Sondra pouted, "Not even a hint?"
Renee's grin got wider, "I just gave you three hints, dear. But, no more. I don't want you to be too disappointed if it doesn't happen."
Sondra deepened her pout, but got only an obviously faked stern look.
Ethan spoke up, "My studio is pretty small and a sublet besides. Do you have some place more appropriate that we could shoot?"
"Actually, I'd rather you use your studio," said Renee. "My facilities are under near-constant surveillance. You're out in the middle of nowhere. It will allow for discretion."
"Tribeca is hardly the middle of nowhere," Ethan said.
"To people in this business, it's even farther away than the middle of nowhere," said Renee. "It's ten years ago. It will be perfect for the discretion we need."
"Discretion," said Ethan. "The watchword of the day."
Renee nodded, "I'm glad you understand."
There was a polite rapping on the door. Estephan came in, pushing a cart with cappuccino, water, and some strong-smelling tea on it. Ethan watched with wry amusement as Renee's assistant did an elaborate dance to try to remain both unobtrusive and obsequious at the same time.
Renee rose from her chair, taking her water with her, and walked over to the floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over Bryant Park. As if taking a cue, Sondra turned to Ethan and began to discuss the minutiae of the coming shoot. Ethan found her surprisingly knowledgeable about the subject of photography and finally said, "You sound like you've been on the other side of the lens."
Sondra's smile was genuine, "Renee lets me play at being a photographer sometimes."
"She's too modest," said Renee from the window. "She's got a real talent."
After that, they kicked around some ideas for the shoot until Sondra had to get back to the recording studio. She gave Renee another kiss and Ethan a hug before leaving.
As soon as the door had closed, Renee said, "Don't let the exuberance fool you. She's a real firecracker."
"She seems awfully fond of you."
Renee laughed, "She's got a serious mommy thing for me. It's a nice change of pace from most of the people I work with."
Ethan chuckled, "Good practice for the real mommy thing?"
Renee shot him a dirty look, "Don't make too many assumptions, Stringer. You really don't know what's going on."
"Fair enough," said Ethan. "Did you really mean what you said earlier? The shoot with Sondra is independent of the wedding?"
"Not exactly," said Renee. "It's a bribe to get you to hear me out. If you still say no at the end of this meeting, I'll respect that. As long as you stay and listen, you're my man for the Substance shoot."
"All right," said Ethan. "But, I have to warn you. There's nothing you can say that's going to get me to shoot Wayne Vandevoort's wedding."
Renee's shoulders dropped a bit, as if in an admission of defeat. For a moment, Ethan thought she was just going to give up. Then, she looked up at him with steel in her eyes.
"I want to hurt him, Stringer."
Ethan didn't know what to say. Finally, he asked, "What do you mean?"
Renee's laugh was bitter, "I can't make it any simpler. I'm marrying Wayne so that I can make him suffer."
Ethan shook his head, "I don't understand. Why would you agree to marry him if you want to make him suffer?"
Renee stood up, "I agreed to marry him because I was in love with him. But, he made a fool of me and now I want him to suffer."
"Renee, do you know how crazy that sounds?"
Renee nodded, "I know. You're the first person I've admitted it to, Stringer. But, that's exactly what I'm doing."
"Maybe you'd better start at the beginning."
Renee sat back, opened a desk drawer, extracted a flask, and took a sip, "I keep this for emergencies." She offered it to Ethan, "Have some. You'll need it."
Ethan took a sip and handed the flask back.
Renee sighed, "Do you keep in touch with Katie these days?"
Ethan's scowl was fierce, "No. Why on Earth would I?"
Renee shrugged, "If you want my advice, you should. You both could use the closure. I know she tried to contact you when she finally got free of Wayne, but you were in Beirut... or some other dreadful place."
Ethan shook his head, "That's advice I don't need, Renee. I'm only barely over her."
Renee shrugged, "Suit yourself. I'm not suggesting you forgive what she did. I'm only saying that I know she regrets ever getting involved with Wayne Vandevoort. All of his women do eventually."
Renee frowned, "Especially me."
"Then, why are you marrying him?"
"It's a long story," said Renee. "Get comfortable."
Ethan sat up a little bit straighter, fingers intertwined, listening intently.
"I met Wayne the very first day of college and fell for him immediately," said Renee. "I suspect that everyone does to a degree. But, to an Iowa farm girl like me, he was a dream come true--funny, witty, urbane, handsome, rich and completely disinterested in me. For all the response I got to my overtures, I started to think he must be gay."
"It took about a month for me to give up on trying to get his attention. It helped a lot that Artie came into my life and was very persistent about having me for his own." She smiled fondly, "Artie was a smart one. He was the only one of us who wasn't taken in by Wayne, I think."
"You know the story at that point. I started dating Artie and for, like two years, the four of us were inseparable. Then, out of nowhere, I'm in the intense, concentrated focus of Wayne's attention. I'd finally attained the one quality he prized above all else in a woman. I belonged to someone else."
Her face fell, "Of course, I didn't belong to Artie as much as I thought. It took about a week for me to give in to Wayne's attentions."
"A week?" asked Ethan. "This was when?"
Renee sighed, "This was the week of final exams, sophomore year."
Ethan felt himself getting angry. He'd always assumed things had started to go bad in the fall, after they'd all come back to college. That summer had been one of the happiest times in his life, "When did he start sleeping with Katie?"
"At the same time," said Renee.
"Finals week, sophomore year?" Ethan asked, hoping that he'd somehow misunderstood.
Renee shook her head, "No. I mean at the exact same time."
It took a few minutes for Ethan to understand what the words meant. When he did, his skin paled, "How?"
Renee sighed again, "It was the Saturday before finals. You and Artie were studying. I didn't want to. Katie did, but I talked her into coming to Wayne's party. I'd planned on meeting Wayne there, but I never meant to get Katie involved."
"And you stayed with him?" asked Ethan. "Both of you stayed with him?"
"Both?" Renee's laugh was bitter, "Ethan, there were more than just the two of us. Women were... and are an all-consuming passion to Wayne. There were... a lot of us. At one point, he found out that one of the adjunct professors was sleeping with a girl he vaguely knew. Within a month, he had both the girl and the professor's wife. He didn't even know the professor, just did it on a whim."
"Jesus Christ, Renee," Ethan said. "Why didn't you leave?"
"I did," said Renee. "Three times. The third time, it would have been for good if he hadn't proposed and promised to get help. I went back reluctantly and conditionally. He spent three months in rehab and nine as an outpatient before I would agree to this engagement. We will have been engaged for a year on Wednesday. That will be the first day I wear the ring he gave me in public."
"You took him at his word that he was behaving?"
Renee shook her head, "I had a private investigator check up on him. But, it was the same PI I use to do background checks on people who work for me. Wayne got to him first and now he's in Wayne's pocket. I didn't find this out until about three weeks ago. I got an out-of-town PI to watch my regular guy and Wayne. As near as we can tell, Wayne never even slowed his pace. He certainly never went to rehab. Instead, he went to the Caribbean with two or more of his conquests."
"And you're still going to marry him?" Ethan was incredulous. "Why don't you just break it off?"
Renee nodded wearily, "I'm still going to marry him. If I just break it off, he wins. Ethan, he's had me for over eight years. There was only Artie and Wayne in all that time. If I just break it off, he's won. He gets to keep doing what he's been doing and I'm a cast-off." Her face got hard, "I can't allow that."
"But, to marry him?" Ethan shook his head.
Renee shrugged and took a sip of her water, "Another year of my life, more or less. It's a small price to pay."
"Why a year?"
Renee laughed, "It's in the prenup. I stay married to him for a year or longer, I'm entitled to one hundred fifty million dollars, no more, no less. His lawyers made the clause air-tight. I assume that was because he knew it would never hold up under scrutiny of his own behavior otherwise."
Ethan felt faintly nauseous, "You're doing this for money?"
Renee's scowl was like a pending thunderstorm, darkening her whole face, "Don't be stupid, Stringer. Do you really think so little of me as to believe that I would do this for money?"
Ethan rose, "I don't know, Renee. You might have the last time I saw you."
Renee chuckled mirthlessly, "You might be right, Stringer. But, who's the same person at thirty-one that they are at twenty? You?"
Ethan laughed, "Not hardly. But, you've got me guessing. You've changed since I saw you last, but I can't tell if you're more the girl from Iowa I met the first day of school or more the evil bitch you were trying your damnedest to be when you dropped out."
Renee's laugh did have some real amusement in it this time, "I know it sounds like a cliche, but I'm more of both. I'd... like to be more like I was. I've seen too much of the world, though. I may not be the bitch I was, but I'm still a bitch."
Ethan raised his hands in surrender, "If this thing with Wayne is any indication, I certainly wouldn't want to be on your bad side."
"No," she said without inflection, "you wouldn't. What will it cost for you shoot my wedding?"
"Twenty thousand," said Ethan.
"Make it forty," said Renee. "If you cost forty, Wayne will know you must be the best."
"About that," said Ethan. "Isn't he going to recognize my name when he pays the invoice?"
"I'm counting on it," said Renee. "It's meant to be my wedding gift to him. It will be right up his alley."