The following is an excerpt of Glitterati Omega, book 2 in the Omega on Top series.
Rupert tapped his foot against the dry, packed earth of the parking lot, mouth twisted in a frown as his skin prickled in the summer sun; he glanced down at his folded arms, noting the new undertone of pink. He peered at the rows of glimmering SUVs, shining examples of American excess. He watched as a group of elderly white folks in t-shirts and shorts waddled toward the store, led by a slender, (presumably) Latinx twentysomething in a crop top, booty shorts, and a cowboy hat with matching boots.
Rupert looked away before he could be any more judgmental. The only person he needed to judge was Morgan Warwick, and that was because the alpha was already fifteen minutes late to their appointed meeting.
And to think, he’d flown all the way across the Atlantic for this. The sheer nerve of some alphas never ceased to amaze him.
He sighed, first in relief and then in exasperation, when a black Land Rover careened into the parking lot, nearly sideswiping a tiny blue Honda as it slid into the only available parking spot. Rupert tucked his phone in his purse and made for the newly arrived vehicle; that could only be Morgan.
Sure enough, he found himself almost nose-to-nose with the alpha’s weathered purple Doc Martens (a choice, but then again, so were Rupert’s lime green kitten heels).
“Hey,” Morgan said nonchalantly as the white alpha hopped down from the running board, their dark curls bouncing.
“You’re late,” Rupert accused.
“I guess I am,” Morgan murmured, glancing down at their phone.
“Apologies,” said a low, rolling voice, one with a decidedly non-Texan accent, and Rupert looked to see a lanky Black man in a neat burgundy suit step around the vehicle. He shook out his sleeves, then adjusted his jacket and, finally, met Rupert’s gaze with a smile. “I’m afraid Mx. Warwick is running behind on my account.”
Rupert almost melted. That brilliant smile and the rolling South African accent was balm to his irritation.
“Seriously?! Mx. Warwick!” Morgan cried, elbowing the man. “C’mon, Winston, how long have we been friends?”
“Too long,” he agreed with that same playful smile, and Morgan shook their head, their curls flying.
Something disturbingly like jealousy wormed its way into the pit of Rupert’s stomach. He crossed his arms and looked away. It seemed to him the Black man might be just as much an alpha as Morgan, although it also seemed that they might be more than friends. But, two alphas or not, that was none of his business. “If you two don’t mind,” he murmured, “I believe we might still be able to make the next tour group.”
“Oh!” Morgan cried, then darted off toward the stone path that led to the store. “Right, the tour!”
Rupert sighed; Winston seemed to chuckle. He glanced at Rupert. “I take it Morgan roped you into this as well.”
“Is it that obvious?” Rupert asked.
“Well,” the other man said, glancing him up and down, “you’re not precisely dressed for the occasion.”
Rupert supposed he wasn’t, although he didn’t think his lilac sundress was entirely inappropriate for a vineyard on a hot summer afternoon. He tossed the man a disdainful look. “And I suppose one ought to wear a three-piece suit to stroll amid the vines?”
Winston snorted and smirked. “I’d think not. I’ve just come from the office—that’s why we were late. I needed to finish filing.”
“Filing what?” He used the excuse of being curious to rake his gaze over the man.
“Ah—paperwork for a client. A sale closing first thing Monday morning.”
“Oh, you’re in real estate then?” And almost certainly an alpha, Rupert surmised.
Again, Winston chuckled. “Not quite. The legal side of it, at least. Sometimes other legal work.”
Rupert nodded, as though he understood. He had lots of property, but he also had people to take care of transactions, including sales and purchases. Besides, his father had handled most of it until his death just a few months prior.
“So why would Morgan ask you to come along?”
Winston lifted his brows, almost like he was insulted, but there was no malice in his tone when he spoke. “I might ask you the same thing.”
Rupert flushed and waved a hand. “I didn’t mean anything—I was only asking.”
Winston held up a hand. “Before I was a solicitor, I worked in hospitality.”
“Dreadful,” Rupert murmured, to which the man laughed, almost like he was startled.
“It was,” he said, rounding on Rupert with a twinkle in his eyes. Was it Rupert or was the sun hotter suddenly? “Did you also work in the industry?”
“Ah—no,” he fumbled. “A good friend of mine, though.” He smiled, hoping to deflect further questioning about jobs, seeing as how Rupert was unemployed at the moment.
“I see,” Winston said, pausing as they queued up with the group. His brow furrowed. “Then what’s your claim to sommelier status?”
Morgan beat him to the punch and said, “Roo owns fifteen vineyards.”
Winston blinked. Rupert smiled at Morgan. “Sixteen now, dear—it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, hasn’t it?”
Morgan huffed, their mouth turning down, brows knitting together. “Yeah,” they grumbled, tossing Rupert a dark look, “it has been.”
“Sixteen,” Winston murmured. “That must keep you busy.”
Rupert laughed, then almost winced at how flighty and airheaded he sounded. “Oh no,” he enthused, “I have staff for that. I just drink the stuff.”
Winston closed his eyes and lifted his brows. “All right then,” he said and turned abruptly to Morgan, leaving Rupert wondering if he’d shoved his foot in his mouth.
Probably. He was exceptionally talented at that.
“Howdy, ya’ll! Circle up for the next tour over here!” A tall, slender person in an identical outfit to the guide he’d seen before waved frantically, and aimless tourists began to flock to them.
“If you don’t mind,” Winston asked, “if you’re not running sixteen vineyards, what do you do in your spare time?”
“I’m trained as a nurse,” Rupert said, and Winston frowned.
Morgan sighed, apparently exasperated. “This is Rupert!” they cried, leaning toward Winston. “You know!”
“I’m afraid I don’t,” Winston muttered.
Morgan waved a hand. “I talk about him all the time! He goes on missions, he’s with MSF!”
“Oh,” Winston said, like a lightbulb had gone off in his head.
“I’m rather disconcerted to hear you talk about me all the time,” Rupert said, smirking at Morgan, who gave him a playful shove.
“You like it,” Morgan muttered, and Rupert barely stayed upright in his heels. He huffed and crossed his arms.
“Am I really so vain?”
“Yes,” Morgan told him flatly, and Rupert rolled his eyes, shook his head.
“A nurse with sixteen vineyards,” Winston murmured, eyebrows raised like he was trying to puzzle that out.
“Daddy’s money,” Morgan stage-whispered as they leaned toward the lawyer.
“Rude,” Rupert told them, then held up his hands. “Judging from your pronunciation, I’d imagine you should be relatively familiar with my surname—Cullinan.”
Winston’s jaw dropped; his eyes closed; his inhalation was almost audible. Then he shut his mouth and opened his eyes before fixing Rupert with a penetrating stare. “That makes more sense,” he said evenly.
Rupert smiled. “I thought it might.”
Winston returned the smile, but it looked tight, almost painful. Morgan elbowed the two of them, and they joined the back of the group, just in time to grab the last of the flutes of wine. Morgan took a big swig of theirs, earning frowns from both Rupert and Winston.
“What do you think?” Morgan asked, apparently oblivious. “I like this one.”
Rupert grimaced, then tried to school his face—and failed miserably. Winston laughed silently at him. “Absolutely not,” he told Morgan firmly, then set the flute back on the tray when it came around. He smiled at the guide, then leaned in toward Morgan and hissed, “I’ve had better swill in a dive in Johannesburg.”
Winston snorted again, but Morgan just looked confused. Rupert sighed. And people thought he was an airhead. “Let’s try the next one,” he said.
“To be fair,” Winston said as they strode down a dusty path between some of the vines, “I’ve never been fond of Hill Country wines.”
“No?” Rupert asked, and the man shook his head.
“The terroir is all wrong for the varietals,” he explained, holding up a hand. Rupert tracked it, noting the lack of ornamentation. “I think someone would do very well with Chianti here, but no one seems to think it a good idea.”
“Well,” Rupert said, “perhaps the climate is right, but what about the soil itself?”
Winston hummed and rubbed his chin. “If you got the right spot,” he mused, “I think it would go well.”
“Well, that’s the thing—the soil pH is—”
“Oh my God,” Morgan groaned, “will you two shut up? We’re at a winery, but I’m still not drunk enough to deal with you nerding out about soil pH.”
Winston quirked a brow, and Rupert shook his head. “Morgan, I’ve put up with you ‘nerding out’ about different types of stitches. I think you can indulge me for one afternoon.”
“Soil,” Morgan retorted. “You’re talking about dirt.” They grabbed another flute of wine off a passing tray and sipped it. Their eyes lit up. “Oh, I like this one!”
“Really,” Rupert said dryly, watching as Winston discreetly dumped his flute out behind a plant. He shook his head at Rupert.
“Yeah!” Morgan continued. “It’s like … kinda spicy or something? Tastes like barbecue!”
“Like barbecue,” Rupert echoed, then looked down at his own glass.
“I think we can find something else,” Winston said as he approached them and collected their glasses.
“Why are we wine-tasting anyway?” Rupert asked.
“Ugh,” Morgan groaned, “my sibling’s wedding.”
“Oh,” Rupert said, because this was the first he was hearing about it. He was surprised—he would have thought Morgan would have told him or even invited him. After all, he was usually Morgan’s plus-one to anything that involved their family, if only because Morgan’s omega parent, Merl, was dreadfully fond of him, always hoping that he could find a way to make Rupert and Morgan hook up.
Merl had set his sights on the Cullinan family fortune the moment Rupert had entered Morgan’s orbit. That much had always been clear to Rupert. You didn’t grow up mind-bendingly rich and not recognize when honeyed veneers were hiding the most acrid of poisons. Merl seemed like sweetness itself, but all he wanted was Rupert’s money.
The fact he hadn’t stopped trying to get Morgan and Rupert to hook up when Rupert had married Thomas was evidence enough of that.
Not that it mattered now anyway—wedding vows hadn’t apparently meant much in the end. Rupert was just waiting for the papers to finalize the divorce.
Maybe there was a good reason Morgan hadn’t invited him to this wedding.
Or maybe it was just that he’d been a bit of a recluse these last … fifteen? Sixteen months?
He blinked, realizing this was his first social outing in probably that long.
A shadow fell over him and he looked up at Winston, who offered him another glass of wine, this one a rosé. The sun was behind the man, gleaming on his melanin-rich skin, highlighting the gentle curve of his lips, the bright of his eyes, the sharpness of his cheekbones, and oh, he looked dreadfully handsome there in the vineyard, the glossy green leaves and dusky-pale sky behind him. Like something out of a magazine or a movie or a dream.
Rupert giggled airily, then coughed and took the offered drink. “Thank you,” he managed.
Winston frowned. Rupert shook his head, waved a hand. “Just … oh, nothing. Never mind.”
“This one is a gamay rosé,” Winston said. “A little more tolerable.”
Rupert pulled away from the flute, taking a sharp breath. “Yes, well, it’s a little strong still—”
“But more muted than some of the reds,” the lawyer said.
Rupert smacked his lips together. “I can see why you think a Chianti might be the way to go.”
“There are other varietals,” Winston admitted.
“I don’t like this one,” Morgan complained.
“Of course you don’t,” Rupert muttered.
“C’mon, y’all, we’re gonna go down to the cellar now!” the guide called, waving their hat. Then they turned and sauntered away.
Rupert glanced at Winston, a half-formed, harebrained scheme taking shape in his mind.
Morgan elbowed him sharply in the ribs, and he stumbled to a stop. Morgan glanced at Winston’s retreating back; he was apparently oblivious to the fact they weren’t walking with him.
Satisfied he was out of earshot, Morgan whirled on Rupert, almost jamming their finger up his nose. “Don’t,” they said, “get any ideas.”
“Ideas?” Rupert scoffed, looking away. “Morgan, I’m blond. You know I’ve never had an idea in my head.”
This time, Morgan did tap his nose. “I can see you looking at him.”
He turned to glare. “Is it illegal to look now? When did America become so oppressive?”
Morgan shook their head, their curls swinging. Their lips were pressed into a thin line. “Listen, Roo, whatever you’re thinking … just drop it. I asked you to come so you can help me pick wine, not so you can try to tap my friend, okay?”
Rupert sniffed. “Frankly, I’m upset you’d accuse me of such a thing,” he said, slowly unfurling as Morgan backed away from him.
“You are not,” they muttered. “We both know—”
He sighed and rolled his eyes. “Morgan, I promise you, I am not the omega I used to be.” He locked gazes with them. “I, Rupert L. Cullinan, solemnly swear I am not trying to get in your friend’s pants.”
“I am being serious! What more do you want from me, Morgan? A signed affidavit?”
“I don’t know what that is!”
“I do, and I don’t know why you’d need one.”
They both paused and looked at Winston, who peered back, one brow lifted. “Are you two going to grace us with your presence in the cellar, or have we quite abandoned the tour?”
“I’ll grace you with my presence wherever you should request it, my good sir.”
“Rupert!” Morgan barked, and Rupert giggled madly, darting past Winston in an effort to escape Morgan’s wrath.
The rest of the tour had been a blur, which Rupert suspected meant he’d been drunk before the end of it. That meant he was hungover the following morning and, as a result, he was late to meet Alina at L’Atelier Wren for breakfast. Or brunch, considering the clock was ticking closer to eleven, and Alina had a pitcher full of mimosas sitting on the table smack-dab in the center of the dining room, surrounded by a sea of white tablecloths.
Rupert wobbled his way over, ruing the fact he’d decided to mix his pain meds and heels, then plonked himself down in the chair. Alina looked up at him, lifting her brows, then poured herself a tall glass. “I take it you’re not having one,” she said.
“Given that I had a good deal of wine yesterday, not nearly enough water, about an hour’s sleep, a hangover, and just finished the fentanyl lolly when I got out of the car, I’d say you’re correct.”
Alina set the pitcher down. “I thought you were off that stuff,” she said, leaning over the table, folding her arms. Her box braids swung low, the beads in them clinking as she tilted her head.
He averted his gaze and looked instead at the sunlight streaming in through the windows. Even if Alina had not been a master chef, L’Atelier Wren almost could have kept its Michelin-starred status on atmosphere alone.
“I’m supposed to be,” he sighed. “It’s probably all expired anyway.”
“You still having pain then?” she asked, which was a refreshing kind of question—not the usual why are you still on that or you really do need to stop taking it sort of response.
“Enough of it, yes,” he agreed.
She considered him for a very long moment. Then she said, “You talking to the doctor?”
“When am I not talking to a doctor?” he grumbled, slumping over the table. “The last two years have been nothing but doctors.”
He sighed into his hand. “But enough about me and my woes—how are things with you?”
“Oh,” Alina said lightly, “well enough. Elise keeps you informed.”
“She does not,” Rupert huffed. “The last time I spoke to Elise was … six months ago, about your engagement.”
“Mm,” Alina agreed with a warm smile and a laugh, “and that is the last time we had any kind of news to share.”
Rupert frowned at her. “I sincerely doubt that—what’s been going on with her fashion house? I saw she had a runway in Milan. And you—surely the Prince of Wales visiting L’Atelier Wren must be something to write home about.”
Alina smiled again. “Are those really the kinds of updates you’re after? We only share news with you about as often as you share news with us, Roo.”
“Well—that’s different! I haven’t any news to share.”
She leaned on her hand, her mouth twisted in a wry smirk, her brown eyes twinkling with merriment. “No?”
He frowned. “Well, not the pleasant kind anyway.” There had been plenty of news in the last two years—most of it decidedly unpleasant. “And besides, you know about most of that anyway.”
She nodded, conceding the point.
“So I’d much rather act as a sympathetic ear, to live vicariously through your triumphs, because, clearly, my own life has gone straight to shit.”
Alina shook her head, then said, “That’s the problem, Roo. You shouldn’t be living vicariously through us or anyone else—just because the last two years have been rough—”
“It doesn’t mean you should sit and wallow! Christ, Roo, it’s been two years—get out and live a little, hm? See if you can find that joie de vivre, you know, before you do die.”
He shook his head. He was not in the mood for this lecture. Honestly, it was rather rude of her to ambush him with it.
“You haven’t even tried any of those dating profiles I set up for you,” she chided. “You know how I know? I check them sometimes. You have lots of messages.”
He scoffed. “I don’t particularly feel like wading through a cesspool of alphas, Alina, just to get my heart broken.”
“Who says you have to have your heart broken? You could just have fun!” She reached across the table and grabbed his hand. “You deserve to have some fun. After all the shit you’ve been through …”
He sighed and pulled away. “That’s entirely the trouble with me,” he murmured. “I can’t have fun with it, Alina. We both know I play for keeps, and I’m bound to get my heart broken. I mean, look at Thomas.”
“Thomas was a dickhead,” she thundered with surprising ferocity. The silverware jumped when she landed a hand on the table.
“I just … I don’t think I’m ready,” he admitted guiltily, then glanced away again. “Not now. Not maybe ever.”
“It’s the truth,” he said, frowning.
“You can’t mope around forever, you—”
She was interrupted by a loud, irritatingly cheerful ring. “Pardon me,” Rupert said, digging his phone out of his purse.
“That’s not you,” she said, then tossed her own phone on the table. Her eyes widened, and she grabbed it. “Good morning, L’Atelier Wren, Alina speaking. How may I be of assistance?”
Rupert waited patiently as she listened; she turned her dark gaze to him, her lips drawing into a frown.
“Mmmhmm,” she said finally, “well, I suppose—”
She paused again, her gaze boring into Rupert’s. “You’re here now?” she said finally, her brows jumping. She glanced around. “Yes—well. All right. Of course. Certainly.”
She hung up, then shook her head. “I’m sorry, Roo—there’s a big to-do tonight, this engagement party, the one with the nightmare bride—anyway, one of the bride’s party just arrived with a cake or something.” She rolled her eyes. “I’ll be right back.”
“Take your time,” he said, pointing to his phone screen. “My flight doesn’t leave until four. I’ve plenty of time—I’ll take a look at the menu.”
Alina smirked and shook her head, then disappeared to the front door. Rupert glanced down at the laminated sheet—he rolled his eyes at “Cape Town Brunch Special.” He’d have to scold her about making up special menus for his visits.
The door banged open. “Are you sure,” Alina was saying, even as she staggered in backward, almost bent double under the weight of whatever confectionary horror the bride had ordered.
Alina tossed a quick look at him. “Get one of the carts,” she called, and Rupert spied a few of them sitting across the way, against the far wall. He trotted over as quickly as his heels would let him, then charged up one of the ramps with it.
Just in time, too, it seemed, as Alina almost threw the damn thing onto the trolly, huffing and puffing. The cake slid a little further onto the tray, pushed by dark, broad hands, which were attached to …
Winston, who peered curiously at Rupert. “Hullo,” Rupert said when he managed to find his tongue. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” Winston replied. He looked at the cake again and, satisfied, straightened up.
“It seems heavy,” Rupert commented, looking at the cake, which was a towering confection of five tiers. “There isn’t a live person in it, is there?”
“Heavens, no,” Winston laughed. Then he frowned. “At least, Jake better not have …”
Rupert giggled a little. “I take it you’re in the wedding party?”
“Yes,” the lawyer replied. “And I have apparently drawn the short end of the stick—I am the lucky one who gets to handle all the errands before the party tonight.”
“Oh,” Rupert said. “That sounds unlucky.”
Winston gave him a strange look. “Perhaps not so much,” he murmured, before his gaze turned quizzical. “What are you doing here?”
Alina, who had walked off to find an appropriate cover for the cake, returned now. Rupert pointed to her. “Visiting my good friend who works in hospitality,” he said, watching Winston’s face transform with understanding. “Before I leave again this afternoon.”
Alina glanced between the two of them. Rupert ignored her. “Yes, I’m heading back to Cape Town.”
Winston frowned. “Morgan was going to ask you to accompany them to the party tonight.”
Rupert frowned. “Oh goodie,” he grumbled. “Another opportunity for Merl to sink his claws in.”
“Merl won’t be there,” Winston said.
“He won’t?” That seemed incredibly odd if Gwen, Morgan’s older sister, was getting married. Gwen was thick as thieves with both of her parents. Rupert couldn’t imagine her not inviting them.
He frowned, trying to puzzle that out. Morgan not telling him, Merl not showing … It got stranger and stranger.
Winston shook his head. “No. Why don’t you ask Morgan? They’d said they wanted you to stay.”
“Well,” Rupert drawled.
Alina laid a hand on his arm. “We should get back to brunch,” she said. “The staff will be in shortly to start decorating.”
“Oh!” Rupert cried, then looked at Winston. “Yes, we were having brunch. Would you care to join us?”
Alina stared at him; he could feel her gaze going right through his skull, like she wanted to X-ray his thoughts. Luckily for him, Winston just shook his head. “Thank you,” the lawyer said with that brilliant smile of his, “but I am afraid I must go. Many things to be accomplished before this evening.” He gestured to the cake.
“Oh,” Rupert said, unsure of why he felt like his heart had stopped. “Of course. Um. Well then. I … guess we’ll leave you to it.”
“Yes,” Winston said with a nod. “And perhaps I will see you tonight.”
With that, he turned and left. The door banged shut behind him, and no sooner had it than Alina pounced. “What was that all about?!” she squealed, and Rupert had to beat a hasty retreat to the table.