SOMEWHERE ALONG the line, at some distant, unremembered stage of a previous life, Perry Goodwood must have done something really good. His too small but tastefully decorated office in the Latham Agency, London, was currently full of men. Tall, dark-haired, dancing-eyed, perfectly groomed, shirt-straining-torso’d men. Four of them. Brothers, no less.
He hadn’t seen such a fine selection of male gorgeousness since he was a young gay teenager with copies of Men’s Health secreted under his mattress. And even then, the gorgeousness had been static, easily creased, and with eyes only for the camera. Today’s exhibition was nothing remotely like that titillating but ultimately unsatisfying experience of his youth. This was, quite honestly, a lusty heaven come to life—and it was all happening in his office! Perry Goodwood, lowly assistant fashion designer, occasional actor/model, and makeover consultant to several TV stars. Well, B-list ones, at least. Admittedly, Perry’s personal client portfolio—and any further plans for developing worldwide domination—was still a work in progress.
But someone, somewhere, had recommended his services to this astonishing group of Adonises. If Perry hadn’t known that person was his rather creepy boss, Eddy Latham, he’d have offered to love them forever.
“So, Mr. Goodwood, can you help us?”
Perry blinked hard. Someone was talking to him. One of the gorgeous brothers was talking to him. The one who seemed older and in charge of the group. He was staring at Perry with earnest dark eyes. An errant curl teased his forehead, and the beautifully trimmed beard brushed his strong, manly jaw like a caress.
Perry’s lower lip wobbled with excitement.
“It’s a matter of total discretion, of course,” the man continued. “My family can trust you on that, I’m sure.”
Perry hadn’t matched all the other names to the faces, partly because they all began with the initial G, and partly because his brain had shorted out after the third firm, warm, crushing handshake. But he recognized this hero at least. Geoffrey Ventura, Premier League footballer for the last ten years, with a hallowed place in the England squad for the last five, though Perry would’ve been hard-pressed to name the tournaments as he never watched football, just the footballers. But Geoff Ventura was also a darling of the press, one of the wittiest and most quoted sports celebrities in the media, and eldest sibling of a family notable for its testosterone-fueled sportsmen and their glamorous social partners.
Perry had suffered crushes on many a straight man in his time, but he didn’t dare admit that, in his teens, he’d had a picture of rising star Geoff Ventura under his bed. And now the man himself was here. In Perry’s office.
Heavens, you already know all this. Get a grip, Perry!
“Of course you can trust me,” Perry said. “We pride ourselves at the Latham Agency in delivering what our client wants in a professional and discreet way.” God, he sounded like he was reading from the glossy brochure.
“Mr. Latham told us we could rely on you,” Geoff said. “I’m so reassured.”
That was amazing in itself. Perry couldn’t remember the last time Eddy Latham, the owner of the PR agency, had been that positive about Perry’s career prospects. Eddy wasn’t the world’s best at staff motivation. But for the moment, Perry’s cynicism was squashed by the glow from Geoff Ventura’s praise. “I’ll certainly do my best for you. What is it exactly you need?”
“It’s not us who needs it,” said another brother at Geoff’s shoulder.
Perry had placed all the other Venturas by now. This slightly more scowly one was Gerry, ex-university rower and now something Big in City Finance. He’d married a supermodel who was purportedly related to the ill-fated Russian royal family, if Who’s Doing Who? was to be believed. It was the magazine of choice in the agency staff room, bought and pored over religiously every week by Perry’s friend and colleague, Antony.
“Gerry’s right,” Geoff said. He looked slightly uncomfortable. “We need your help for our brother Greg.”
Perry didn’t remember a fifth brother in any of the celebrity interviews. “There’s another one like you?”
Gerry Ventura snorted.
“Gerry, please,” Geoff said warningly.
“Greg didn’t want to be part of the family, Geoff. He’s the one who scarpered off as soon as he was old enough, didn’t he? Don’t see why we’re chasing after him now.”
“He ran off?” Perry was having trouble keeping up, let alone understanding what it had to do with him.
“Greg lives elsewhere,” Geoff said smoothly.
“Fucking middle of nowhere,” Gerry muttered.
“But he’s still family,” contributed one of the remaining two brothers. They looked a few years younger than the others, just as well-dressed but considerably livelier, and more alike in the flesh than in photos, which was to be expected as they were the twins, George and Gareth. They’d both had short-lived but controversial careers in movies, and now had investments in a long list of London nightclubs. Lived most of their lives in those establishments too, as Perry recalled from media gossip.
“And that’s the point, isn’t it?” said the other twin. The two of them rocked back on their heels, crossing their arms and presenting a brace of smug, mirror-image grins.
Perry looked to Geoff for guidance. “The point…?” He only had two seats in his office, which he’d offered to Geoff and Gerry at the start, then taken Gerry’s seat himself because Gerry hadn’t seemed to want to settle. He now stood with the twins, all of them ranged behind Geoff like an imperial guard protecting their emperor.
Geoff leaned forward in his chair, reaching out a beautifully manicured hand to grasp Perry’s, as if they were the only people in the world. The one thing that saved Perry’s head from being turned by this personal attention—and it threatened to set him spinning more than that poor girl in The Exorcist—was that he remembered seeing Geoff use this tactic before in a TV interview.
“You see, Perry,” Geoff said in his smooth, very persuasive way, “we have a commitment. A media contract.”
“A potential contract,” Gerry snapped.
Geoff’s shoulders tensed but otherwise he ignored his brother, his gaze still fixed on Perry. “Yes, it’s still potential at this delicate stage of the negotiations. And it’s contingent on the whole family being involved—all the brothers. We all need to be available, and together.”
Perry nodded slowly. Things were becoming clearer. “And your brother Greg isn’t with you?”
Gerry snorted again. “Not in any bloody way.”
Geoff bit his lip as if restraining his temper with difficulty. “Certainly not in terms of location. And not… well, not in his lifestyle choices either. That’s why we’ve come to Latham’s Agency. Greg needs to be back here in London with us—and looking his very best—by the end of next month to sign the deal.”
“It’s all or nothing,” said Twin #1.
“All for one and one for all!” added Twin #2 gleefully. He turned to Twin #1, and they high-fived each other.
“Bloody kids,” Gerry muttered.
Perry was still floundering a bit, but before he could ask any more questions, his boss stuck his head around the door. “Everything going well?” he asked with loud, blustering, and rather insincere jollity.
Perry resisted rolling his eyes. At times like this, Eddy Latham was the worst kind of boss, in that he wanted to be in on all the projects but was never prepared to do any of the work. “Everything’s fine, Mr. Latham.”
Unfortunately that wasn’t enough incentive for Eddy to withdraw. Instead he eased himself into the room with the other five men, taking up a position beside Perry’s chair. Eddy was only five foot six, but about the same measurements around the middle. As the Venturas took several steps to the side to accommodate him, Perry couldn’t help comparing it to a rush-hour commuter jumping onto the train just as it pulled away and squeezing everyone else along inside the carriage.
“As I suggested, Peregrine’s your man,” Eddy said confidently. He was the only person who ever used Perry’s full name. “He launched Mandy Price, the glamor model turned TV presenter. And Professor Ignatius Froome, that academic who never brushed his hair or cleaned his teeth before Peregrine took him in hand. I’m sure you remember them both? The makeovers were impressive. My agency’s credentials speak for themselves.”
Unfortunately, Perry remembered both of those obstreperous clients with nothing less than horror. He’d long suspected Eddy passed all the lost causes to Perry so that if Perry succeeded, the agency would benefit, but if he failed to deliver the makeover—well, it’d be Perry’s fault alone. This wasn’t going to be one of those jobs, was it?
Geoff Ventura glanced at Perry. “This is far more than a cosmetic job.”
“I can do far more than a cosmetic job,” Perry said smartly.
A small smile twitched at the edge of Geoff’s lips. “Yes, I’m sure you can.”
“Geoff, you’re not serious?” Gerry snapped. “This can’t work.”
Geoff frowned at his brother. “We have no other choice.”
“Rubbish! I say we negotiate without Greg.”
Geoff shook his head. “They won’t agree to that. I’ve tried. It’s all or none of us.”