The man of my dreams had seen just his ex-fiancée for the first time in eight months.
But from the pain on his face, it might as well have been yesterday that she broke his heart.
Worse, she was holding hands with his brother.
I’m not sure ‘twisting the knife’ adequately conveys the amount of agony involved.
For Connor, I’m sure it was torture.
For me, it was beyond that.
Because the man I was in love with… well, he obviously wasn’t over her.
I didn’t know what hurt more: that he still had feelings for her…
…or that I wasn’t enough to make him forget it.
But in addition to the emotional pain, there was an undercurrent of menace and dread. She had obviously stalked me earlier in the day. She had come up to me and initiated a conversation without ever identifying who she was.
There had to have been a reason.
And oh, there was. Was there ever.
Cue the apocalypse.
Connor stood in front of the penthouse’s giant picture window, alone against the backdrop of daytime Las Vegas.
Johnny and I stood at the edge of the main room, just inside the hallway to the kitchen and dining area.
Connor’s parents, Augustus and Lenora Templeton, were catty-corner from me and Johnny, watching their son like ravenous animals about to devour their young.
Their four Secret Service-looking bodyguards stood motionless at each corner of the room like silent, ominous statues.
And Vincent and Miranda stood hand in hand by the front door.
The room was deathly silent for about five seconds.
Then Connor managed to regain control.
I saw the poker player’s mask slip back into place. All the pain disappeared, leaving only cool, amused disdain.
It might have been a better performance if we hadn’t just seen how deeply Miranda had wounded him.
“The sycophant and the backstabbing gold digger. I hope you’ll both be very happy together,” Connor said with an ironic smile. “You sure as hell deserve each other, that’s for sure.”
“It just happened naturally,” Vincent protested.
I looked him over. He looked like a modified clone of Connor – shorter in height, sandy hair, same chin and nose – but one that had gone to seed: puffy features, slightly protruding gut. And the higher voice did him no favors. Still an attractive man – but one you would say Hm, not bad about instead of Oh HELL yes.
Vincent was dressed like a million bucks, though. That seemed to be the one shared characteristic of the Templeton clan.
Connor gave a bitter laugh. “‘Happened naturally’? I know from experience that Miranda doesn’t do anything without plotting six moves ahead. But sure, okay, whatever you want to believe.”
“You should be happy for us,” Miranda said in that husky, oh-so-sexy voice of hers.
“Oh, I am.” Connor gestured with his hands like he was pushing them together from afar. “Two piles of poisonous waste have been contained in one area, and I dodged a bullet. I couldn’t be happier.”
Miranda smiled as though he had vaguely amused her. Vaguely. “You did say one thing that was true: I never do anything without plotting out six moves ahead.”
“Yeah, that was what I always liked about you,” Connor sneered. “Your chess master brilliance at sociopathic mindgames.”
“Don’t be angry, darling, just because I played you.”
Connor didn’t. The poker mask stayed firmly in place.
But then things got worse.
“Don’t force me to do it again,” Miranda continued. “Take your parents’ advice and call off your little business venture in Nevada.”
“Or what, exactly? You’ll double-cross me? Again?”
She didn’t answer, but instead took an object out of the black, fancy handbag at her side. I couldn’t tell the brand, but that went along with her general style: Miranda Lockwood wasn’t gauche enough to flaunt anything as obvious as a Louis Vuitton. I figured what she was carrying cost at least $30,000, but that you would recognize it for sure only if you were rich enough to know.
I was a little surprised when ‘the object’ turned out to be an iPad. I was expecting something either diamond-encrusted or deadly. Or both.
Little did I know.
She walked down the steps into the main room, holding it out towards Connor.
She looked at me as she advanced towards him. “You might want to see this, Ms. Ross, seeing as it concerns you as well.”
The way she said ‘Ms. Ross’ sent prickles of ice down my spine. Like a hitman or a serial killer. Detached, remorseless, but with the slightest hint of enjoyment.
I walked over to Connor’s side as though hypnotized.