Scorpio’s Kiss is a spell-binding tale of love, ambition and greed that will keep the reader turning the pages until its surprise ending. Set in New York and Paris amid the glamorous and competitive worlds of art and real estate, Scorpio’s Kiss takes the reader from the late 1940s to the 1960s through the tumultuous lives of its heroes.
There is Alex Ivanov, the son of a Russian immigrant and part-time prostitute. He yearns to escape his sordid life and achieve fame and fortune. His dreams of becoming a world-class builder are met with countless obstacles, yet he perseveres in the hope of someday receiving the recognition he craves.
Half a world away, Brigitte Dartois is an abused teenager who runs into the arms of a benefactor with an agenda all his own. When she finds out that her boss has an ulterior motive, she flees again, determined to earn her living through her art. This career brings her fame, but also the unwanted attention of her early abuser.
Domovitch’s novel is a compelling tale, filled with finely etched characters and a superb understanding of the power of ambition. Scorpio’s Kiss promises to resonate with all who once had a dream.
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The days were getting shorter. The boy looked up in surprise at the sky, which had suddenly grown dark. He pulled his worn sweater tight against the October chill, blew warm breath into his cupped hands and hurried on. The newspaper bag strung across his shoulders was almost empty. He no longer had to put it down at every street corner to massage his sore back. He was almost home.
Alexander Ivanov lived at the end of the world. To the twelve-year-old, that was exactly what Brooklyn was; the end of the world. Maybe because the one time he had been to the city, what he called Manhattan, it had taken forever on the subway.
Alex hated living in Brooklyn, and never more so than when his mother talked about her youth in Leningrad with tears running down her face. She would revert to Russian, which he didn’t understand, but the passion in her eyes spoke more volubly of the beauty of her old country than words could convey.
Every day on his way back from school, weighed down by the load of newspapers, he passed the same dusty old stores, their signs barely legible from the peeling paint; the same ratty tenement buildings in which people suffocated in the summer and shivered in the winter; the same old women in their ritual wigs and shapeless dresses, vacant and blank expressions of hopelessness etched on their faces. Hopeless, that was how he sometimes felt; and then he would remember Manhattan and feel better. If there was one thing Alex wished for, it was to live in Manhattan. He yearned for Manhattan the way his mother pined for her old country.
Alex walked along Main Street, where pickles marinated in barrels, salamis swung from hooks, and sausages dried in their cotton bags. He was oblivious to the sights and smells around him. One by one, he took the papers from his bag, and with a quick, experienced motion, he threw them. His aim was almost perfect.
Tomorrow was collection day. He would stop at each house along his route and wait while his clients went to get their money. After making change, he would thank each one of them politely even though most never bothered to leave him a tip. His work would take him more than twice as long as on normal delivery days. Still, he looked forward to it. Collection day was when he could go home, count out his profits and decide how much of the money he could save. This week, if all went well, he might reach the fifty-dollar mark in his bank account. Fifty dollars! It was a fortune.
He reached into his bag, pulled out the last newspaper and aimed it with unerring precision at the Kodesky’s front porch. At that moment the door swung open and old man Kodesky stepped out. The paper flew through the air like a projectile and landed with a thud in the startled man’s well-padded stomach.
“Hey, you no-good little piece of shit!” He waved his fist. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Alex did not hear a word. He was a million miles away, dreaming of the day he would escape the hell of living at the end of the world.
Even now, two years later, he could still remember every detail of his trip to Manhattan. After a long subway ride, he’d emerged in the city surrounded by skyscrapers so tall, he could only see the top by looking up high and leaning back. People on the street rushed about in the lightly falling snow, pushing and jostling each other, their arms full of brightly wrapped packages. It was one week before Christmas and there was a dizzying feeling of joy in the air. Alex had been almost drunk from the excitement. This must be what Leningrad was like.
Deep in his dreams of unlimited delights, he walked home. Three blocks later, Alex climbed the stairs to the dingy one-bedroom apartment where he and his mother lived.
Before he was born, his mother had tried to make the apartment look warm and inviting. She hung pretty paper on the walls and crisp curtains over the windows. The furniture was inexpensive but attractive and functional. Whatever nesting instinct had once inspired Marlena Ivanov’s efforts had long disappeared. For the past twelve years she had done nothing more to improve her home. Indeed, she had not done even the most basic of repairs. Over time, the wallpaper had become worn and faded. The curtains lost their freshness and the once attractive furniture became old and shabby. The sour stench of poverty clung to the apartment like old dirt.
Alex closed the door behind him and dropped his canvas bag on the floor. He sniffed the air and wrinkled his nose. From the kitchen came the smell of boiled cabbage.
“Is dat you Alexander? Vere ver you? Is nearly six o’clock and dinner is been ready for hour,” his mother’s heavily accented voice called out from the bathroom. “I getting ready to go out. You vill ave to eat alone.”
Through the thin door came the sound of the toilet flushing. A moment later Marlena appeared wearing a tight pink sweater set and a black satin skirt. Her dark hair was freshly coifed, the marks of the bobby pins still imprinted between each wave. Her mouth was painted crimson in the shape Joan Crawford had made popular a decade earlier. From ten feet away the smell of vodka on her breath was overpowering.
“Will you be coming home by yourself?” asked the boy suspiciously.
“Vat you vant me to do?” She picked up her purse abruptly and threw in her lipstick. “You vant to eat. I not do dis for me. A boy need food to grow big, strong. Someday you understand.” A moment later, she was gone.
Marlena Ivanov was a bitter woman. She made no secret of the fact that raising a boy by herself was a heavy cross to carry, one she deeply resented. Alex sometimes thought his mother hated him almost as much as she did his father. He had never seen his father. He knew, only because his mother repeatedly told him, that Pavel Ivanov had been a gambler and a womanizer. Whatever wages the man had earned, he just as quickly spent on those two vices. The day Alex was born was the day Pavel Ivanov decided that married life was not for him. He disappeared, leaving his seventeen-year-old wife to deal with the struggles of working and raising a son by herself.
After a dinner of cabbage soup, Alex turned off the lights and climbed under his blankets. In the dark, he could clearly see his mother’s empty bed a few feet from his own. He turned his back to it and curled up.
Hours later, the muffled sound of laughter woke him up. The bedroom door swung open and the light turned on.
“Turn dat off. You vake up boy,” his mother ordered in a shrill whisper. The light flicked off. “Das better. I like dark.” She laughed. “Now, come to Marlena.” Clothes rustled. From his cot, in the corner of the room, Alex guessed every gesture, every movement. Old springs creaked. The sounds were loud, magnified by the stillness of the night.
Alex covered his ears. By trying hard, maybe he could keep the noises from reaching him. It was too late. The guilty stirring in his loins had already begun. His mind swirled in a mix of emotions too strong for him to understand. Maybe if he thought of something else. Someday I’ll drive in from the city in a brand new Cadillac. I’ll show them all…
The next morning, Marlena kissed the man goodbye and turned triumphantly to Alex. “See dis?” She pulled out a ten-dollar bill from between her breasts. “Dis can buy food for whole week.”
Alex looked away, embarrassed and ashamed, and returned to the picture he was drawing on the back of his spelling book.
* * *
By the time he became a teenager, Alex Ivanov believed his ambitions were just dreams. He still felt a raging desire to be rich. Except for the endless stream of buildings he drew, which everyone agreed were beautiful, he had no special talent. Other than the goal of saving up a lot of money, he had no real plan.
Alex kept delivering newspapers and watched his savings grow. At this rate, I’ll never have enough money to move out of here.
He decided to look for other opportunities. Soon, he found what he was looking for. He sold his paper route to a younger boy for two dollars, the amount of a normal month’s profit, dipped into his bank account for another five dollars and invested in a second-hand bicycle with a large wicker delivery basket. The next day he began to work for Yonah Schimmel’s Knishery.
From then on, every day after school he raced down to Schimmel’s and loaded up his basket with bags of sweet-smelling homemade knishes, jars of savory borscht, and fine yogurts with a crust of cream on top and packaged in drinking glasses. With a speed never before seen from any of Schimmel’s boys he raced through his deliveries. Yonah came up to him one day. “What are you trying to do, boy? Get yourself killed? Slow down,” he told Alex. “No sense in going so fast. Slow but safe, that’s the way to go.”
Alex nodded politely, but just as soon as Yonah turned away, he jumped on his bike and sped off.
Alex was tall and well-built for his age. The years of delivering newspapers had helped develop his once lanky frame into a strong, muscular body. His shirts, which were often a size too small, hugged him in a way that exaggerated the ripples on his chest. His hair was black and his eyes ice blue in a face that could only be described as sensual. The sight of the young and virile teenager, slightly flushed from carrying Schimmel’s parcels, did strange things to his female clients.
Often, when Alex rang a doorbell, the woman who answered appeared even more flushed than the delivery boy. Alex smiled and greeted each client politely by name—“Good afternoon Mrs. Zawisny”—and he would walk away with a fresh knish, and more often than not, with a generous tip. Within one month, he had made enough money to cover the expense of the bicycle, plus what he would have normally saved with his paper route. Alex was beginning to feel like a rich man.
The way women reacted was a constant source of amusement for Alex. Since he’d started shaving the year before, he knew the effect he had on the opposite sex. Still, he had no interest in any of them, except maybe in Miss Mateus, his homeroom teacher.
Rita Mateus was a big-busted brunette in her mid-thirties, with smoldering brown eyes that made Alex blush when she looked at him. Sometimes he caught himself dreaming about what he would like to do to her, given the opportunity. Never in a million years did he believe the opportunity would come, and that when it did, it would prove to be his ticket out of Brooklyn.
For months, and to his great pleasure, every time he asked Miss Mateus a question, she would leave her desk, come up to him, and as she bent over his books she would rest her ample breasts on his forearm. One day, as he prepared to leave class after school, she asked him to stay.
For the next hour, Miss Mateus went over his homework book, studying drawings one after another, while her breasts brushed against his back, his arms and even his cheek. “You’re a talented boy. I love this drawing of—what is it?—the Empire State Building? What do you want to be? An architect?” The fourteen-year-old boy blushed and stammered a response, praying the whole while that she would not notice the erection in his pants. Miss Mateus—or Rita as she asked him to call her—noticed. Then she did the most shocking thing. She put her hand right on top of the swelling in his crotch. She looked at him with limpid eyes and said in a melting voice, “Why, Alexander Ivanov, you’re not a boy anymore. You’re a grown man.”
The next day after school, Rita invited him to her apartment. Alex raced through his deliveries faster than he ever had and arrived at her doorstep in record time. She invited him in and poured him a glass of Chianti. “What sign are you?”
He looked at her, confused. “Sign?”
“What’s your birthday?”
“November fifteenth,” he replied, still perplexed.
“November, hmm? That makes you a Scorpio.” She leaned forward and traced a lazy finger along his upper lip. “Scorpio men are intensely passionate and ambitious. But beware a Scorpio’s sting.” She smiled, and his heart skipped a beat. “But, you won’t sting me, will you?” Before he could think of an answer, she rose and picked up a deck of cards from the table. “Do you play cards?” He shook his head. “Well, you’re going to learn.”
That night, Alex learned two things: strip poker and the grown-up game of sex.
Rita pulled off her bra and stood triumphantly before him—the loser thrilled to be vanquished. “You like my tits, Alex?”
“Oh! Yes!” he answered, not daring to move.
She came closer. “You heard me. Touch them.”
Small beads of moisture broke out on his upper lip. He hazarded a hand out to the soft flesh, and thought he might come there and then.
He took a nipple in his mouth and felt it harden. Rita moaned. It was too much. His erection, which had been dangerously close to bursting, exploded in his shorts.
“Hey, sweets, the idea is to keep a little for me.” Rita motioned him toward her bed. “Lucky you’re young. Let’s see how long it takes to get you going again.” She cupped his balls into her hands and took him in her mouth.
“Oh God, I love you,” he cried out. He had never felt anything so delicious in his life. It was so good it hurt. This time, he didn’t come until Rita begged him to.
After that, the routine never varied. Every day after school, Alex would hurry through his deliveries, spend a few hours with Rita, and then rush on home.
It was months before his mother noticed how late he was getting home in the evenings. When she asked him about it, Alex brushed it off easily. “I go to the library and do my homework.”
Marlena chose to believe him. “I no cook for you ven you late.”
She’s happy she doesn’t have to worry about fixing my supper, Alex told himself and swallowed the lump in his throat. Then he thought of Rita and his heart filled with joy. I love Rita and she loves me. That’s all that really matters.
* * *
Every night, as soon as Alex walked in the door, Rita pulled out the cards. It was her favorite foreplay. In the beginning Alex invariably found himself losing and in no time was playing completely naked, but the promised vision of Miss Mateus pulling off her bra was enough enticement to make him yearn to win.
After sex, Rita liked to talk. Surprisingly, she seemed to enjoy their conversations.
“I don’t know why that surprises you. You’re a bright boy. With a mind like yours, you can do anything you choose.”
I can do anything I choose. It was a staggering thought. Maybe he really could be an architect. It was a dream he’d never dared voice.
The next day, Alex went to the one place in Brooklyn he loved. At Highland Park, he climbed the hill to the old reservoir, where he looked straight out to the skyscrapers of Manhattan. He sat on the cold, damp grass and thought about what Rita had said. He didn’t want a job just for the sake of earning a living. What he wanted was a position with prestige. He wanted people to look up to him with admiration and respect. He wanted Rita to be proud of him.
His eyes wandered back to the skyscrapers across the distance. Skyscrapers like those he dreamed of building. From his position they looked like monuments. Monuments to the builder. His heart swelled. That was what he had always wanted to do—build big important buildings like those skyscrapers.
Rita laughed when he told her. “Be serious. Why don’t you want to be a plumber or an electrician? An architect! That would take years of studying. I know I told you that you’re smart, but not that smart. Besides, sweets, you don’t really expect me to wait for you to grow up, do you?”
The words were like a knife in Alex’s heart, but they only made him more determined. Rita meant everything to him. He would have to show her.
The relationship endured until his senior year, when he was ready for college. One day, when he rushed over after his deliveries, he found Rita in bed with another man. For a few minutes, he hid behind the door and listened in horror as Rita said to this stranger all the special secret things she had said to him. “That’s it baby, don’t stop. You’re the best, baby. The very best.” He heard Rita’s familiar moans rise until she screamed. Tears welled in his eyes.
He closed the door silently behind him and went home. All night he tossed and turned, shocked that he could feel so much pain. Never again, he vowed. No other woman is ever going to hurt me.
The next day after school, Alex went back to Rita’s as usual, and made love to her as though nothing had happened. Afterward he had a talk with her. “Rita, does anybody know about us?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she answered sharply as she straightened the seams of her stockings. She sat on the edge of the disheveled bed and watched him covertly.
“I guess you’d be in real trouble if anyone ever found out. Right?”
Rita adjusted the straps of her brassiere and paused in her dressing, long enough to light a Lucky Strike.
“You might lose your job,” he continued.
She took a long drag on her cigarette and exhaled slowly.
“You might even be prosecuted for—what is it—something about a minor?”
She exhaled, blowing the smoke in his direction. “What is it you want Alex?”
He told her.
At his next report card, Alex Ivanov was at the top of his class. He was accepted at NYU with a full scholarship; he had seven hundred of Rita’s dollars in his bank account; and the pain of finding her in bed with another man was just a distant memory.