Chapter One

 

HENRY HUGHES nudged his Tesla Roadster into the second of his assigned parking spots beneath the Capitol Towers, the one in which he’d had a charger installed, praying it didn’t get dented or scratched when either of its neighbors left. 

He struggled to leverage his muscular frame out of the door, and finally just climbed out the top. There was no way this would work long-term. He was way over six feet tall and built like a linebacker. Maybe the other space was larger. He’d already noticed his assistant’s more serviceable SUV parked there. He made a note to talk to her about it, but then he realized if he did, she’d relinquish the larger space without a peep, or worse, buy a smaller car. Then there was the matter of moving the electrical supply for the charger. As he thought about it, he realized it would just be easier for him to climb out the car’s top on a regular basis. 

The parking was a pain in the ass—and not the good kind—but Henry didn’t see much help for it. He wanted to keep a place in Sacramento, but since it wasn’t his primary residence, a house just wasn’t practical, not even one of the adorable bungalows in the neighborhoods east of downtown. Hence the condo, and hence the parking headaches.

Sacramento was the only city of any real size close to Alpenglow, his spread near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sacramento wasn’t San Francisco by any stretch of the imagination, but it was only half the distance from Alpenglow and boasted plenty to recommend it in its own right.

Setting his bags down, he pulled out his magnetic key card, but when he went to unlock the door, he found it already open. Inside, the air was fresh and cool, not at all the stale, warm air he’d expected of a condo shut up for months. 

There could be only one explanation. He sighed. Lillian had arrived early, not to work but only to freshen the place up for him.

“Hello?” he called, shutting the door behind him. He walked into the foyer and through the French doors that led to the formal living space beyond. “Lillian?”

“In here, Henry,” she called from the dining room, where her laptop and several stacks of papers cluttered the otherwise pristine wood.

Lillian Desmond rose to shake his hand when Henry entered the room. She was tall, a scant few inches shorter than his own six foot four. While her face was lined by sun and a storied career in law enforcement and paramilitary groups, the details of which he still found improbable despite vetting them thoroughly, she still wore her fifty-odd years lightly. She kept her graying blonde hair out of the way in a no-nonsense bun, and that plus the reading glasses perched on her nose made her look like a school marm.

“Welcome home,” she said, looking him in the eyes as her reading glasses slid down her nose.

“It doesn’t really feel like home,” Henry said. “It’s more like a hotel suite I own.”

“Maybe you’ll be spending more time down here this fall. You work awfully hard,” Lillian said.

He shrugged. “No harder than you. Who knows, but a bit of a break might be nice.”

“There you go,” Lillian said, herding him away from her paperwork. “Let’s go into the living room. We’ve got some things to go over.”

“The winter schedule and programming?” Henry noted the leather portfolio with the Alpenglow logo on its cover.

Lillian laughed, sweet and musical. “You’re funny. No, we went over that months ago, as you evidently don’t recall. This,” she said, pulling out the portfolio, “is the material for next spring.”

“I guess there’s no putting it off.” Henry sighed. He pretended to be reluctant, but Alpenglow was his baby, built from the ground up out of a moribund ski resort with his own money, starting just with skiing but quickly expanding with a variety of offerings to make it a desirable year-round get-away destination.

Lillian had been an early part of Henry’s operation and had quickly become integral to it. He’d initially hired her to head his security team, but after her first diffident suggestion that perhaps opening the cross-country trails to local horse-riding camps might improve their nonexistent summer cash flow, he and she had put their heads together to make Alpenglow what it was, even if she wouldn’t accept part ownership. “Alpenglow’s all yours,” she said when he’d tried to sign over an admittedly minority share to her. “You pay me a prince’s ransom, and that’s more than enough.”

So he sat next to her now on one of the leather sofas while they finalized their spring plans.

Lillian pushed her readers back into position. “I’ve got quite an agenda for us while we’re here, Henry.”

“I can see that. It looks I may need to go back up there from time to time, but I think it’ll be nice to get away from the place where people go to get away,” he replied.

“First, routine maintenance issues. As you know, the outdoor swimming pools are showing their age,” Lillian said.

“That they are. Frankly, we’re lucky we got through the summer with them in the shape we did. In retrospect, they should’ve been done last winter.”

“Hindsight’s always twenty-twenty,” Lillian agreed. “Now, in the past, you’ve insisted on keeping one outdoor pool open and heated, but this year….”

Henry leaned back, paying attention with only part of his mind as they ran through basic upkeep issues. They’d done this many times before; only the specific details changed.

“Have you had a chance to look into the décor of the rooms in the south wing, like I asked?”

“Yes, of course, Henry.” Lillian flipped through her notes. “You were right. Those rooms have never been updated, and honestly? They’re not looking that good.”

Henry nodded. “That’s what I thought. I haven’t been able to get into every room, but the ones I checked need help, and soon.”

They should, he thought. They were the first rooms, back when the south wing was the only wing and he worked the front desk.

“I’ll oversee it myself,” Lillian said. “Now, about—”

“No, I will. We can probably find designers and decorators whose work’ll do in Sacramento, but if we need to go to San Francisco I’m halfway there. Have the schematics for those rooms sent down here via courier, and I’ll start making calls,” Henry said. “One other thing… don’t fill my dance card too full. There are people down here I want to see, people I hope will invest in the next phase of Alpenglow.”

Lillian nodded. “I’ve heard a rumor that Darren Jessup from Band of Brothers might be in town for a while. I’ll see what I can find out. Now, the last thing on the list, at least for today, is Camp Snowflake. Will you be taking your usual role?”

Henry frowned. “Of course, why wouldn’t I?”

She looked up from her portfolio. “Just checking. I wasn’t sure how long this hankering for city life of yours would last this time.”

“We’ll see, won’t we? It looks like I’m ready for company again, and despite the smaller size of Sacramento’s gay community, it feels like fewer people here know about my past.”

Lillian put down the portfolio with its list and removed her glasses. “People don’t care about your imagined ex-porn star notoriety as much as you think they do.”

“You’d be surprised what people care about, and thanks to the Internet it’s still as fresh as yesterday.” Henry laughed without humor. “It’s only been five years or so. Hell, Badass still has most of the films on the website.”

“I know how much it bothers you.” Lillian touched his arm gently. “Think of it this way… if you hadn’t started making adult films to pay your way through school and then invested the profits, we wouldn’t be here now.”

Henry gave her a small smile. It wasn’t so much that he regretted his adult-film past, but he wanted people to see him for him, not for the image they saw on their computer screens, because underneath his glowering façade, he was nothing like Hugh Jerection. Maybe he was just being naïve.

He was grateful to her. Early in their association, she’d taken on the role of mother surrogate. It hadn’t taken him long to figure out that he’d never convince her he could take care of himself, and it was nice to have someone looking out for him.

None of that meant he didn’t want, didn’t long for, didn’t need that someone special to look after him. And for him to look after in return, a real husband and not the string of trophy men his Uncle Benton supported, tagging along behind him like Mary’s little lambs, always bleating for more cash. He sighed and made a mental note to let Uncle Benton know he was in town.

Lillian snapped her portfolio closed, and then hesitated. She gave him a measuring look. “There is one other thing….”

Henry knew that tone. It always led somewhere, usually right into his private life. He wished he could say the results were always happy, but he’d stopped lying to himself years ago. “Yes?”

“You need to get out more, Henry,” Lillian said without bothering to butter him up first. She held up a hand to hold him off. “I know what you just said about the imagined sins of your past, but you’re never going to meet Mr. Right—hell, Mr. Right Now—if you’re holed up in your pretty prison.”

“Alpenglow’s not a prison,” Henry mumbled. He crossed his arms defensively, trying to ward off the truth of her words. On some level he knew he looked like a petulant child, but right then he didn’t care.

Lillian leaned forward and touched the side of his head. It was gentle, almost a caress. “I mean up here, in your mind.”

Henry jumped. That one slipped past his defenses. He tried to laugh it off, but it came out as a strangled gurgle. He coughed to clear his throat. “So… um, what do you have in mind?”

“Well, seeing how it’s early October…,” Lillian said, exaggerating her tone.

Henry looked at her expectantly, waiting for the rest.

“Early October, Henry. Ring any bells?”

He sat there, waiting.

“National Coming Out Day, Henry,” Lillian sighed. Then, quicker than lightning, her hand flashed out and smacked him on the forehead.

“Ouch!” Henry yelped. “What the hell was that for?”

“You’re gay, you big fool. Hell, you made gay porn for years, and you don’t know when National Coming Out Day is?” Lillian said, shaking her head.

“I came out—was outed, thank you very much—years ago,” Henry said, rubbing where she’d hit him. It still stung.

“My point,” Lillian said, “is that you could show a little gay pride once in a while, considering how much money the gay community’s made you over the years.”

“Technically, they made the money for Badass Productions. I was a contract worker at first,” Henry said.

“Trivia, Henry. Once you bought into the company all those horny men put cash in your pocket. You’re coming with me so I can introduce you to Sacramento society. There are people you need to meet.”

“All right,” was all he said.

Lillian looked at him with suspicion. “That’s it? No argument? No mulish and obstinate resistance?”

“Would it do any good?” 

“No.”

“Then… wait a minute,” Henry said, his eyes narrowing. “If I ‘need to meet’ these people, why haven’t I met them sooner? We’ve both spent plenty of time here.”

“The time just didn’t seem right,” Lillian said evasively.

Henry shrugged. “Why not? I can’t spend all my time on the redesign, and who knows? Maybe I can drum up some business. I do own a high-end resort, after all.”

He made all the right noises, but when it came down to it, Henry didn’t know who people would see when they met him, Henry Hughes or Hugh Jerection, a man and persona he’d long ago come to hate.