Authors: Olivia Thorne
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
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
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
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?
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.
By the time Miranda was three feet away, I could see what was on the screen.
I almost threw up.
It was a picture of two people having sex. The man was fully clothed, the woman… less so. Standing up, against a brick wall, with a glass sliding door off to the side.
I suppose you couldn’t
say they were having sex, though it was pretty obvious from the woman’s legs wrapped around the man’s waist, and her black dress pushed down below her bare breasts.
And the orgasmic look on her face.
Connor wasn’t exposed to the camera, but
features were clear as day.
I wanted to turn away, but I couldn’t.
It was like an out-of-body experience. Standing outside of yourself like a ghost as you watched your mortal body die.
Horrible to see. Impossible to look away.
My mind raced as I fought back my nausea.
Where did the photo come from?!
I didn’t see anybody with cameras!
I remembered the man and the woman who had seen us having sex. Rock ‘N Roll Dude and Hot Chick.
Was it them?
“I have to admit,” Miranda purred, “I thought it would be
before you did something stupid enough to hang you with. But then you went and gave me exactly what I needed…”
Here she looked over at me.
“…wrapped up in a pretty little black bow.”
I glanced up at Connor.
His face might have been carved from stone as he stared down at the screen.
“This is it?” he asked quietly. “This is your big play, your doomsday weapon?”
“If you think you’re not sufficiently identifiable in this one, don’t worry, I have more than enough shots where it’s quite obvious it’s
Miranda started scrolling through the pictures with little swipes of her finger.
Picture after picture, from two different vantage points: one level with the ground, another from high up, probably thirty feet in the air. Maybe the building across from the one where we had been.
It became clear that the couple I’d seen weren’t the photographers. They were on the far side of the frame in some of the high shots, and were blurry shapes in the foreground of others, like they were obstacles the photographer was focusing past.
Every new photo was like a knife stab in the gut.
Shots of me in the throes of ecstasy.
Shots where Connor’s face was in profile, so that you could see it was obviously him, his face contorted with pleasure.
Our reflection in the glass window.
Us afterwards, me pulling up my dress, Connor fixing his pants.
Us walking out of the brick enclosure, hand in hand.
I wanted to die.
Connor was cold and remote as a statue. “Again – this is all you have?”
I stared at him, terrified.
that this was just some sort of fucked-up brinksmanship on his part.
This is all you have?
was sort of like the President saying to a terrorist,
A couple of atom bombs? That’s all you’ve got?
Miranda smiled. “That, and the information that you deposited $50,000 in Ms. Ross’s bank account. From the pictures, it certainly looks like she’s working hard for the money… but I hope you got more than one ‘transaction’ for that price.”
I went from wanting to throw up to wanting to
This was nothing like my dislike of Herr Klaus.
If we had been back in my office with the letter opener on the desk, not even the threat of death row would have been enough to stop me at the moment.
Miranda extended the iPad to Connor. “Here. Take it. Since it’s all digital, I have an infinite number of copies.”
Connor didn’t reach out. He just stared at Miranda coldly.
She shrugged, then walked over and put the iPad on the nearest couch. “I’ll leave it here. For you to look over while you’re debating.”
“Well, there really shouldn’t
any debate. It’s obvious what you should do. But I suppose you have to save face and take some time to make it
like you’re considering the suicidal route.”
“What, exactly, is the suicidal route?”
“I think you know.”
“Spell it out for me. Just for shits ‘n giggles.”
Miranda narrowed her eyes in distaste, like profanity was beneath her, even though blackmail obviously wasn’t. “If you don’t stop your plans in Nevada, we’ll release those photos to every press outlet in the nation. We’ll also leak the information about the $50,000 payment to Ms. Ross. We’ll be sure to tie you to every politician you
you’ve bought here and in Washington, and we’ll mobilize every family values and Conservative Christian group in the nation to flood those same politicians’ offices with phone calls asking why a man breaking the law with prostitutes is getting favors from public servants. I’ve already come up with a few suggested headlines: ‘Billionaire Screws Hooker And American Public.’ Or ‘Billionaire Serviced By Prostitute
Connor smiled tightly. “How about this one? ‘Billionaire To Family And Ex: Go Fuck Yourselves.’”
“I’m not a prostitute!” I raged.
Miranda looked at me coolly. “By the time we’re finished with you, that’s the only thing 300 million people will know about you… whether it’s true or not.”
almost throw up when she said that.
almost clawed her eyes out.
“I’ll sue you for libel, defamation, and invasion of privacy,” Connor said. “And I’ll foot the bill for Lily to do the same.”
“And get what, a twenty million dollar judgment out of it?” Mr. Templeton chortled from the sidelines. “That’s a price I’ll gladly pay.”
Miranda tilted her head. “Not only that, but I think we can persuade the district attorney to go after you both for public indecency, lewd acts, solicitation and prostitution, and probably get you listed on the sex offender registry.”
Connor laughed. “That last one’s really inventive. For what, exactly?”