Home > Sinful Love (Sinful Nights #4)

Sinful Love (Sinful Nights #4)
Author: Lauren Blakely

CHAPTER ONE


The letter smelled like her. Like rain.

He ran his thumb over the corner of the paper and closed his eyes briefly. Memories rose to the surface, bringing with them feelings of hope and possibility.

Things that were far too risky when it came to her.

Michael shut them down, opened his eyes, and stared out the floor-to-ceiling windows of his penthouse on the Strip, trying to focus on the here and now, not the enticing lure of what if. Tonight the lights of Vegas would blink like a carnival unfolding below him, from the miniature Eiffel Tower, to the pyramid, to the blazing signs adorning the Cosmopolitan. Neon, glitz, and billboards ten stories high whispered of the best nights ever.

But he had to stay fixed on the minute details of the present, not be seduced by the past and how good it was, or of how much he’d longed for a future with her.

He wasn’t having the easiest time of that. From his vantage point, twenty stories above the concrete ribbon that beckoned millions of tourists, he brought the letter to his nose for one final inhale.

The scent of falling rain.

Try as he might to fight it, a reel of sensory images rushed back to him from years ago, like the snap, snap, snap of old film. How many times had he kissed Annalise in the rain? Brushed her wild red hair off her cheeks and touched her soft skin? Listened to her laugh?

Countless. Just like the times his mind had lingered on her over the last eighteen years, including that heartbreaking day in Marseilles, which had damn near slaughtered all his hopes in the world.

Carefully, he folded up the letter, slid it back into the tiny envelope postmarked from France, and stuffed it into his wallet next to a crinkled, faded, threadbare note from his father that he’d carried with him always. Her letter had arrived two weeks ago, and he’d read it a thousand times already. He could read it a thousand more, but it wouldn’t change his answer—the same one he’d emailed back to her.

Yes.

It was always yes with her.

Dear Michael,

I hope this note finds you well. I will be in Las Vegas for business in a few weeks. I would love to see you again. Would you like to have a coffee with me? Come to think of it, do you drink coffee now? If memory serves, you were never fond of it. Perhaps a tea, or water, or martinis at midday? Any, all, or some would be lovely.

My information is below so you can respond. I would have emailed, but a letter seemed more fitting. And, truth be told, easier to ignore, should that be your preference.

Though I will be wishing to see your name pop up in my email soon.

xoxo

Annalise

As if he stood a chance of not emailing her. As if there were any universe, parallel, perpendicular, or otherwise, where he wouldn’t take her up on her offer for coffee, tea, liquor, or a few minutes in a café.

Any, all, or some.

He turned away from the midday view of the city he loved and headed to the stereo system above his flat-screen, which piped music through his home. Thank Christ for the soundproof walls—they allowed him to blast his tunes. This Sunday afternoon, following a long, hard run and an even longer workout at the gym, he’d cued up his favorite playlist as he got ready to see her, methodically picking music he’d discovered in the last year, rather than the music he’d shared with her when they were younger.

Not that he didn’t still love his late 90s tunes. He just knew he’d be a goner if he let himself trip that far back in time.

He turned off the fading guitar riff from The Foals, and silence descended on his home.

He grabbed his keys and his phone from the entryway table, locked the door behind him, and headed down the hall, wishing his pulse wasn’t already competing in a race.

The ride down the elevator was both interminable and not long enough. Anticipation curled through him as he left his high-rise building, crossed the big intersection, and headed toward Las Vegas Boulevard. The air had cooled; late October had rolled into his hometown. This brief walk in the crisp air would surely quell the nerves that bounced in his chest.

He didn’t fucking want to feel them. Nor did he want to experience this wild sense of hope rattling in him like a marble sliding down a chute. Dragging a hand through his dark hair, he tried to focus on anything but what might happen when he saw her.

Later this afternoon he had a meeting with a client, then this evening he’d review some new contracts for work. Sometime this week he’d meet with the detective working his father’s case, touching base with him before he left for a trip. He also needed to check in with the private—

His phone bleated from his back pocket, and he grabbed it quickly. His friend Mindy’s name flashed across the screen. “Hey there,” he said, while winding his way through the throngs of visitors on the sidewalk.

“Whatcha wearing?” she singsonged. “Wait. Don’t tell me. You went for your favorite jeans and a lucky T-shirt.”

He laughed. “I assure you I don’t have a lucky T-shirt.”

“Well, you should. I would get on that right away.”

“Duly noted. I’ll order up one lucky T-shirt after this meeting.”

“Meeting. You make it sound so businesslike.”

“How should I make it sound?”

“Like you’ve been counting down the hours for this since you received the letter,” she said, making the note sound ominous. An information Hoover, Mindy had a way of wheedling details out of him, ever since they’d graduated from professional colleagues to good friends over the summer when they’d paired up on a moonlighting project.

“Speaking of counting down the hours, I’ll see you early evening still?” he asked, sidestepping her far too accurate assessment of how he’d measured the time since Annalise’s missive had arrived.

“Yup. I’ll be there at five. I fully expect you to tell me every dirty detail.”

“There won’t be any dirty details.”

She scoffed. “Oh, I bet there will, and I plan on extracting them all.”

“Good-bye, Mindy,” he said.

The thought of seeing Annalise Delacroix had pretty much played on a loop in Michael’s mind since he’d flipped through the mail on his desk two weeks ago, the lavender envelope sliding from the top of the pile into his palm, the past thundering into the present. He had a shoebox full of her letters from years ago. He hadn’t looked at the others in ages. He couldn’t bring himself to chuck them, but he also wasn’t interested in inflicting the kind of self-torture that reading them would bring.

He threaded through the crowds outside the Bellagio as sprays of water from the fountains arced in their daytime ballet, his shoes clicking against the stone pathway that curved around the man-made lake. He stepped into a wedge of the revolving door, which whisked him into the hotel lobby with its polished marble floors, glass sculptures, and grand archways.

As he cut a path toward the casino floor, he tried to pretend he was here at this hotel for business. Meeting a potential client. Seeing an old friend. But the way his heart tried to torpedo out of his skin, he was going to need some much better tricks to fool himself.

When he reached the hostess stand at the upscale Petrossian Bar, he simply resigned himself to the storm brewing inside of him. Besides, how else was he supposed to feel right before he was about to see—as his brother Colin had so aptly called her—his “what if” girl?

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