By: Skye Warren

Chapter One

The city looks beautiful at night, its rough edges kissed by moonlight, bright neon lights full of hope. My Bugatti slices through the darkness, smooths over cracked downtown streets. The leather is warm on the steering wheel, the gears smooth under my control. Every muscle in my body hums with anticipation, the certainty that I’m going to get laid tonight. It’s more than sex that gets me off. It’s the journey. Discovering what makes a woman work. What holds her back and what lets her go.

I pull into the valet driveway and toss my keys to Alejandro, who has three kids at home and another one on the way. “Take care of her,” I tell him, slipping a twenty into his palm.

“It’s my pleasure,” he says, giving the gleaming curves an admiring look.

She’s gorgeous, this car. The first thing I purchased for myself once I was done scrabbling for scraps. Once I learned how to use my particular talents. Her form is both sleek and curvy, the kind of body that drives a man to his knees. But it’s not the way she looks that I love best. It’s the way she moves. The engine that has a mind of her own, sometimes sweet surrender, sometimes temperamental.

I love her best when she gives me a challenge.

L’Etoile is a luxury hotel with 24-karat gold chandeliers and white marble floors. A slice of European aesthetic in the center of Tanglewood’s urban sprawl. It’s garish and expensive, which suits me fine. It was founded in the forties by a woman who claimed to be French nobility. In reality, she was the madame of a lucrative brothel.

That suits me fine, as well.

The front counter is carved with ornate scrolls and baby angels. A woman stands behind them. Jessica, her name tag says. I give her a winning smile, and her brown eyes widen. “Good evening to you. Is there perhaps a message left for me? Hugo Bellmont.”

Her expression becomes soft, vulnerable. I should be very tired of this expression, especially when it comes so easily, but my male pride is a simple creature. It does not mind making women swoon, again and again.

“I… I can check for you.” She looks around for a moment, almost dazed. As if it’s never occurred to her that people might come to the desk for messages.

“You have my gratitude.”

After some fumbling, her cheeks deeply pink, she locates a stack of envelopes in one of the little cubbies. There is one with black script that I can recognize as my name from here. “Here you are.”

I think about what would be required to undress her, to take off her clothes and what remains of her defenses. Very little, but we would both enjoy the journey. Alas, she isn’t my intended partner tonight.

Inside the envelope is a hotel key card, which leads to the penthouse.

I’ve been to a hundred penthouses inside the city. And several outside of it. Each one is its own brand of ridiculous luxury. That’s part of the heavy price tag, the ridiculousness. Bathtubs that could fit a baby elephant. Private infinity pools. A helipad complete with exclusive helicopter usage. You don’t spring for the penthouse unless you want to be wowed.

Somehow I’ve never been to the penthouse in L’Etoile.

It’s always eluded me. And haunted me.

It isn’t the amenities that interest me. A bed made of solid gold. Draperies spun from a rare Chinese silkworm. Whatever they are I’m sure they’re lovely, but it’s the person who rents them that I want to meet. My chest feels tight with anticipation. A heavy beat through my veins, because this is more than a client. This is someone who might have access to the current owner of this hotel.

I shouldn’t get my hopes up, but hopes aren’t under my control. They rise and rise, high enough that I have to turn my thoughts away from revenge. To something much more base. Sex.

There’s a private elevator that leads only to the penthouse and the private rooftop gardens. It requires the key card to call it down. There are three buttons on the inside wood panel: L for lobby, P for penthouse, and R for the roof. There’s also the silhouette of a bell. I suppose that’s for if, in the space between the lobby and their suite, they decide they need champagne and strawberries delivered. I could call down for some. Or I could have brought some flowers. Props, you could say. Props to charm a lady, but I don’t need them. Don’t want them. I pride myself on making them feel like they’re the most incredible woman I’ve ever met, because for one night they are.

A soft chime signals my arrival. The doors slide open.

I was prepared for any type of penthouse decor. Something lush and antique to match the lower floors. Something modern and sleek to appeal to the upscale traveler.

What I’m looking at isn’t a penthouse at all. Not one I’ve ever seen.